Sunday, 6 January 2019

So, the decorations are down ...

... packed in plastic crates and waiting to go up into the loft.

The lounge looks denuded and needs a good hoover.  Bits of that long fine shiny stuff that everyone used to drape over Christmas trees (no, not tinsel) get everywhere and there are always one or two pieces that only emerge once everything has been tidied. Bertie rolls on the carpet and then walks away with glitter in his fur.

Before I finally say farewell to Christmas 2018, some photos I took at our neighbouring farmer's house.  First time I've been through their door (only taken 11 years) and he and his wife proudly showed me their conservatory - filled with a "Village de Noël".  They told me it takes about a week to put up and take down.  Unlike in the UK, there isn't the tradition here of taking down decorations on twelfth night.  Perhaps as well! She tells me her village will stay in place for another couple of weeks.

It's difficult to do it justice with still photos.  Many of the models move: roundabouts, skaters, an airship, a train, windmills.  Lights flash and Christmas carols pipe in competition with one another through tinny (and tiny) speakers. She has been collecting the models since her now grown-up children were babies and admits to being addicted.  I'm not surprised.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

We Need a Dowser!

Despite the fact that it's winter (and very frosty) we are doing the best we can to stay warm in the house.  The cottage meanwhile is standing forlorn, empty and chilly with the power off.

Before Christmas, harking back to our flood in the hall last January, we thought it would be a good idea while the weather was still mild and dry to locate the mains cable under ground and do something fancy with pipes and drainage ditches to direct the rain water flowing through the ducting away from the cottage.

How hard could it be? After all, I took a couple of photos when the builders were laying the cable.  Both pictures show the red netting that is laid in the trench so that anyone digging has an early warning of what lies beneath.

Where the cable passes in front of the cottage we now have a concrete pathway.  And that's also the same territory where the pipe to our septic tank goes, not to mention the rainwater from the gutters to our large underground tank.  So to dig in that area seemed like folly and we moved to higher ground, using the right hand photo for guidance which shows the trench dug from the electricity pole diagonally across what used to be Serge's land, down the slope towards the cottage.

SEVEN holes later, we are still no nearer finding the cable!

It looks like the Time Team* has taken over.  We expect to bump into Tony Robinson and a camera crew any day now.

And we now understand why it is the builders we asked to do the work for us have all been unexpectedly busy.

* Programme on British TV that follows archaeological digs over a three day period.  Tony Robinson is the presenter.  

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Tod was Lucky

Christmas Day we will spend with friends.  Christmas Eve is just us and a traditional Polish evening meal.  It's a day of fasting and abstinence in the Catholic calendar, so the break fast happens at the first star and the meal is fish.  Traditionally in Poland the fish is carp - bony and pretty tasteless.  I think I had it once, many years ago, when Tod prepared a meal for his mother, sister and her children.  We've always agreed since: "not carp". 

So it's usually something like monkfish or a meaty piece of "dos de cabillaud" (fillet of cod).  The challenge is that the French (also following a day of fasting and abstinence) opt for seafood.  So from now onwards great swathes of the fish counter in Leclerc are given over to huge platters of mussels, prawns, oysters, crabs, lobsters, clams. Boxes and boxes of oysters are stacked in great piles.  And the white fish vanishes from sight.

This morning's early dog walk was close-by the Garonne on the edge of town and not wanting to make the car journey twice, Tod nipped into Leclerc to buy the cod on his way home.

He was lucky.  As he was leaving, the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) were setting up their barriers on the same roundabout where I got caught a month ago. These are not "casseurs" (a new word I learnt through all of this meaning hooligan) but just local guys who are very, very fed up with the way their central government has been treating them and they are just not giving up or going away. 

Tough though on anyone who has only this weekend to prepare for Christmas.

Monday, 17 December 2018


My role in life has become keeping the medical profession in full employment.

If it isn't teeth it's eyes.  And if it isn't eyes it's feet. Today, it's feet.

Do you remember the large brown x-ray machines in shoe shops?  A lifetime ago.  As children, my mother always insisted we wore "sensible" shoes - Startrite I seem to remember.  The giant advert on the walls at tube stations of two small children, hand-in-hand marching away from us along an endless road,  a perfect image of me and my brother.

The man with the brown box - I was always a little nervous of putting my foot into the black hole (a touch prescient maybe) - informed my mother I had "expensive" feet.  How right he was!

Apart from a relatively brief irresponsible moment in my late teens and early twenties when my father despaired of the impact of my stilettos on the lounge parquet flooring, I have, on the whole, continued with my mother's advice ringing in my ears to wear sensible shoes.  So, I find it hard now to be lumbered with a set of aching clodhoppers that our new GP recoiled from exclaiming "deformés" several times when he asked me to remove my socks. (It particularly rankles that Tod has such beautifully straight feet.)

Still, our less than tactful GP gave me a prescription for some orthotic insoles and I headed for the best podiatrist in the whole of Lot-et-Garonne. Somehow, shoving little coloured wedges of differing heights under my heels and insteps, bonding them all into scruffy grey insoles and with fearsome instructions to wear them always, the podiatrist has done it.

My feet may still be clodhoppers but at least they no longer hurt. Today, three months later, the foot-man is proud of me (and himself) exclaiming "superbe!" at least half a dozen times as he asks me to stand and walk.  So much more encouraging than "deformés".

Basking in my new-found sense of well-being, I contemplate even going so far as to buy some new (sensible of course) Merrell's sandals for next summer.

As I leave, we shake hands and wish each other "bonnes fêtes".  He tells me to come back in a year - but then hastens to say if I need to see him in the meantime, not to hesitate to do so.  Ah, of course, I must always be mindful of my new role in life!

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Yesterday ...

... I think I may have been lucky.  Not displaying my "gilet jaune" on my dashboard to show my solidarity with the "manifestation" I could have encountered a much more aggressive response than just a leaflet through the window.

In this morning's Sunday Times ...

The protests continue today. On the VINCI website alone there is a list of over a hundred places on their motorways where traffic is being obstructed.

Free parking at Disney World Paris today apparently, thanks to the demands of the "gilets jaunes".

They are talking cheerfully about carrying on through the week.  We'll see whether tomorrow's temperature in single figures cools their ardour.  Or just encourages more burning of pallets and (as is usual in France) car tyres.

We, in the meantime, are spending a bright but cold windy day moving summer pots against the shelter of the cottage terrace wall and building our own barricade of large black bags of swept up leaves which will help to keep the plants cosy through winter.  Very satisfying to have geraniums and begonias continue year on year.

If we venture forth tomorrow we'll be displaying very prominently our yellow vests for all the world to see.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Well That Was a First!

I had our large Leclerc supermarket entirely to myself this morning - except for a few dejected staff.

France is having a national "manifestation" against the rising cost of taxes on diesel.

Blissfully unaware, I took the back road to the retail park where Lidl and Leclerc sprawl. Emerging from a side street I found my way onto the roundabout blocked by middle-aged men in "gilets jaunes"- the yellow safety vests we all have to carry by law in our vehicles.  A leaflet was thrust through my window. No one was going anywhere.

Slowly it dawned on me - they weren't blocking Lidl's entrance!  Possibly because the "gilets jaunes" needed somewhere to park their own cars.  A quick u-turn, a parking space found and I struck out on foot for Leclerc on the far side of the estate.

More "gilets jaunes" and several pallets blocked my way.  Uncertain of the etiquette in France about crossing picket lines, I asked if I could pass. Sometimes being an elderly English woman speaking bad French has its benefits and I was waved benevolently through.

As I walked between the rows of empty parking spaces, the entrance doors swished apart and a solitary, scowling man emerged. Good! That meant the place was open.  Curious to know what was going on, I crossed the deserted hallway to the information desk, to find the staff clamouring for information from me!  How had I got there?  Had they let my car through?  When I explained Lidl was open and I had been able to park and walk, an irate manager promptly got on the phone. (I nervously wondered if his call would lead to Lidl and my car being blocked.)

In half an acre of cash tills, only one was open, the young cashier idly chatting to a colleague.  They told me the manifestation was foolish and that it was likely to happen again next weekend.

Carrying my shopping and retracing my steps, a woman with a knapsack, wisely wearing her "gilet jaune", came towards me.  As we passed we smiled at each other conspiratorially.

It's going to be a very long, very slow Saturday for Leclerc's staff. They are going to need the "bonne courage" I gave them as I left, especially as Lidl is still open.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Lot-et-Garonne has been Invaded!

Open a window and they emerge from the frame. Take down washing from the line and they scuttle out from the folds.  Get into bed at night and one is bound to wander out from the sheets across your pillow. They huddle on electric cables, lamp shades, the backs of chairs, the edges of books. Pick something up and they will be hiding underneath.

They fall badly - lying on the floor, or the desk, or the kitchen worktop, legs waving in the air - and so they stay until, exhausted, they are comatose.  Pick them up and they wriggle back into life, using your fingers to right themselves and heading off purposefully to explore your hand.

They startle when they burst into flight, wings emerging from beneath their greenish-greyish hard shiny cases. Their deep buzz is out of all proportion to their size and their flight, as they zigzag across the room, is decidedly erratic.

Happy to be in orchards and maize fields throughout the summer, they definitely prefer indoors to outside at this time of the year!

They are shield bugs or stink bugs (crush them and they give off a nasty smell). "Punaises" in French. And their numbers this autumn are so extraordinary (perhaps the hot dry summer has contributed) they have made the front page of the newspaper.

Among the places they have found to hibernate are the gathered curtains of our gazebo outside the cottage.  Unfortunately for them, and some sleepy wasps, we are taking down the curtains and fabric roof for winter.  The task involves much shaking out and grumpy bugs dropping to the ground, picking themselves up off the terrace and trundling off into the grass.

As soon as we put down the folded material a small contingent tries to sneak back into their shelter.

No doubt late next spring, as we set up the gazebo for summer, a few will contentedly re-emerge, having survived whatever this coming winter has to throw at us.