Friday, 28 March 2008

A Year Ago

It was about this time last year that we first saw our house. We had only been looking for a few weeks and never expected to find somewhere so quickly.

We fell in love with the veranda, the old tiles and beams, the large rooms and the feeling of space. We thought that the derelict cottage could be a great place (eventually) to put up friends. We discovered our local town functioned all year round, not just when the English came out in summer. We liked the curves of the hills and the great sky above.

A year ago, we were going through all the uncertainties of purchase: legal documents in a language that we barely spoke; signing, knowing that we really didn't understand what we had signed; relying totally on an inexperienced estate agent to hold our hands through the process; trying to book a removals company while not knowing when we might move; concerned about rabies vaccines for the dogs and pets passports; the mixture of fear and excitement.

It seems impossible - where has the year gone? Sometimes we feel breathless at the speed of change. Other times it feels like we have been here forever.

Saturday, 22 March 2008


I miss grown-up conversation.

My weekdays (and some weekends) used to be filled with words like budget, deadline, proposal, new product development, presentation, client meeting, supplier. Now we talk about food, dogs, plants, builders, geothermic heating, birds, weather. It's comfortable language and none of it is challenging or mind stretching.

I have two cardboard wardrobes still unpacked from the move, full of business suits that I'm reluctant to let go. Here we wear jeans, T-shirts, sweaters. "Going out" usually means just putting on a less scruffy pair of jeans.

This transition was happening in the UK, but here it is sharper, more painful. The me that used to talk to senior managers in big companies is not quite sure what she is doing here and is feeling bereft.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Les Giboulées de Mars

I've learnt a new word that gives me great pleasure - giboulées.

I like the feel of it in my mouth. It's a completely new word that I could not possibly have guessed, unlike some words where I optimistically say the same as in English (direction, electricity, silence) with what I hope is a French accent and hope that it means the same.

I first heard it from our French teacher, Yvette, as she opened her front door to me a couple of weeks back and we shuddered in the sharp hail-filled wind. She told me that the French have "April showers" in March but there is a coldness in les giboulées which is not there in the benign English version.

I promptly forgot the word, as I do with most new words. Then Yvette said it to me again last week and this time, for some reason, it stuck. So, to my immense pride, I was able to use it to a new acquaintance we met at friends on Sunday as we looked out at the rain clouds scudding across the landscape. Then, when we were walking the dogs last night, one of our neighbours used it in conversation and I understood. (Neighbour by the way means anyone within a kilometer radius.)

The dictionary tells me the word means "wintery shower", but it also embraces a wider sense of the changes in the weather in March - four seasons in a day, according to our neighbour. We were in T-shirts in the sun on Friday and now we are back to thermals.

We've promise of frost over the next few nights, so the little mandarin tree will be back in the shelter of the dining room.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Signs of Spring - PS

We lit the kitchen range last night and didn't need to.

First mosquito of 2008 whining round the bedroom, briefly kept me awake.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Signs of Spring

The buds on the Reine Claude plum (greengage) in our garden are slowly breaking open to reveal small white ragged petals.

Chris on Total France has posted that he has seen his first swallows and hoopoes.

The bundle of junk mail that always arrives with our Monday post (unless we have no post on Monday, when it arrives Tuesday) this week had two garden catalogues and two lawn mower catalogues. We can refuse to have them ("pas de pub" is on lots of post boxes) but it's good for learning new words. This week's new word - Pâques: Easter.

Clusters of small black ants have reappeared on the kitchen worktop. They like hiding under the electric kettle stand.

What we laughingly call "the lawn", better known as "the dandelion patch", needs mowing again after less than a week.

Big fat tick on Clara's head. In the UK I would have done nothing more than remove it. Here tick fever is serious. So tonight (reluctantly) I've given both dogs a dose of Frontline on the back of the neck.

In Marmande this evening, after dark, people were sitting at pavement cafés. Wrapped up puffa jackets, but still outside.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Dust Bunnies and Other Detritus

Items swept up from the kitchen floor this morning:

- Bread flour and crumbs from the cotton Leclerc bag that sits on the shelf where we keep the dog leads, which Tod has taken into town with the dogs to get today's bread.

- A cornflake from yesterday morning's breakfast, found under the kitchen table. I'm surprised it hasn't got chocolate on it. They are big on chocolate covered breakfast cereals in France.

- Wood ash. More than recently because, for the first time in weeks, we had the kitchen range going all day yesterday. The wind has moved round to the north and all day strong gusts brought in hail storms. We bought a small mandarin tree with one mandarin on Monday. It proudly sat in its pot on the veranda for half a day, dark green leaves gleaming in the sun. It's now sheltering in the dining room until the weather improves again.

- Small chips of wood and bark that march across the floor, escaping from the wicker basket, which sits by the range and holds the logs we bring in from the veranda.

- A long bleached thread of rye grass, dry and jointed, brought in caught on the dogs' coats or our sweaters.

- Rolls of Clara's and Smudge's fur that emerge from under the bottom of doors, each a small universe of bits of dirt and dust snagged in the hairs. Lisa calls them dust bunnies.

- Half a homeopathic pill that one of the dogs has spat out. I anxiously dose them periodically when their aches and pains and Smudge's licking seem to be worse.

- Small white flakes of paint from the old walls that seem determined to shed their recent owners' attempts to smarten the house up.

- A piece of dried up cauliflower leaf. Not last night's supper. Must be an off-cut from preparing the dogs' dinner a couple of nights ago. Where's it been hiding?

And it will all be there again tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

One for Gardeners

The mallow on the bank has been cut back to stumps. I know it will regenerate, but for the moment I want to leave it (I may regret this) and see what grows back. There are about 20 stumps scattered along the bank and some are already showing signs of new soft grey-green growth.

The shrubs I bought from Leclerc are spread in three groups at different heights on the bank between the mallow stumps. On the far right looking back towards the house, there is a group of mainly yellows and whites, with a touch of blue and red: spirea bridal wreath, kerria, photinia red robin, and a low spreading ceanothus.

In the middle is a big group of pinks and reds again with splashes of blue: weigelia, abelia, another two spireas (both Anthony Waterer) as pink ground cover, more ceanothus. In this group there are shrubs that I haven't grown before that feel more "Southern European", even if two are from Australia (tamarisk, grevillea and callistemon).

On the left, the colours revert mainly to white and green: more spirea bridal wreath, a choisya, two philadelphus (seringa in French) alongside the gate that opens from the lawn down on to the bank so that their perfume catches passers-by and a berberis for another splash of dark red.

Between the three big groups of shrubs there is space to put some big grasses, stipa gigantea maybe, to soften the transitions from white / yellow to pink / red and back to white / green again.

For the birds and small beasts, I've also planted two red currants (blackbird's favourite), two blackcurrants and a hazel.
Leaving the mallow threading through means that during much of the summer the white / yellow / green effect will be blurred with pink, so I may just keep cutting the mallow back and treat it as ground cover. A bit bizarre, I know, but the bank is largely fine sandy loam (joy of joys, great for weeding, just tug) and until the new shrubs have established, the mallow is holding the bank in place.

The mallow was dull and dusty. The glossy leaves of the new shrubs gleam in the late afternoon sun as it slants across the bank.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Five Hundred of the Forty Thousand

Five o'clock yesterday evening, we were walking the dogs in town: letter to post, cakes to buy. Strolling across the town park, I looked up between the tree tops and the roofs of the post office and the corner patisserie and there they were - phalanxes of cranes, immediately over my head, great curving lines of bird after bird, right across the width of the sky, moving forward relentlessly.

I tried to count them - quickly guessing what fifty roughly looked like and then taking the same approximate space in the sky to add them up: fifty, one hundred, one hundred and fifty, two hundred ...

I thought about six hundred, Tod reckoned five hundred. Maybe one day this will seem nothing special, but for the moment it is heart stopping.

The migration website said that forty thousand cranes had left Sotonera in northern Spain in the morning - imagine.

Cranes over Perigueux (about 100 kms north of us) posted yesterday

Le Retour des Grues
Crane Migration