Remembering childhood Christmases that followed the Polish tradition, Tod likes to see the decorations go up on Christmas Eve. This year, I persuaded him to let me put them up for the winter solstice. No holly yet (our bushes are still tiny) I find plenty of ivy to cut and dead branches of twisted willow that I spray gold and hang with small crimson baubles.
Bertie races across the fields around, nose to the ground, tail wagging frantically as he imagines small furry beasties beneath every clod of clay. Periodically he checks in with me as I gather handfuls of honeysuckle, the last of the roses coming into bloom, branches of viburnum tinus with its bundles of tiny white and pink flowers and straight bright red stems of cornus.
I am spoilt on Christmas Eve as Tod prepares our special Polish supper: borscht, monkfish in a bouillabaisse that fills the kitchen with sweet oriental aromas, a fruit macedoine, with crème anglaise (custard to you and me) and stollen cake and panettone to finish.
While he cooks, I escape into town and hunt for images for the latest photographic competitions on The France Forum – people queuing for mussels in the market, piles of small, ripe tangerines, sun on the Garonne in full flood – all the images in my head far better than those I capture through the camera.
Christmas Day we spend with friends and relish the banter and companionship, the good food and the good wine. Perhaps a tad too much wine? Late in the evening, while I head down to the stream with Bertie, Tod ventures forth with Vita on a lead (she has hurt her back pad and cannot walk far). I return to find that, in the dark, torchless and following Vita, he’s tripped over the remnant of the tobacco barn wall that juts out into the lawn and is lying in agony on the sofa.
Dreading A&E on Christmas Day night and expecting to be hours, I fill a bag with water bottle, books to read and a box of biscuits. Tod slumped in misery in the passenger seat, shivering with the shock of the pain, wrapped in a blanket, I drive as fast as I dare the half hour to Marmande, to enter a crisp, white world of tranquillity, speed and supreme efficiency, coupled with a touch of Christmas celebration as those on duty wander round in red Santa hats. The X-ray shows a broken right collar bone, and he is strapped tightly into a Velcro sling and given a prescription for shed loads of pain killers and anti-inflammatories. We’re back home quicker than I could possibly imagine – the books and the biscuits not needed.
Boxing Day, and he’s dozing and watching daytime TV – from the raucous music and squeaky voices floating up to where I type this, I’m guessing a nostalgic American musical.
He was humming earlier. Whilst not the best of ways to end Christmas Day, I think he’ll live!