Sunday, 27 April 2008

Without Clara

Tod comes back from the morning walk in town for the bread, looking drawn. I ask him how he is and he says "Fine" and I know it's not true.

I hoovered "her" sofa in the lounge this morning and took off the covers to wash them. This was where she slept when her back legs weren't too arthriticky. Front paws up first, then a big stretch as she brought her back right leg up, the left wobbling on the floor as it took the strain. The covers were full of her hairs, the soft grey ones that Airedales shed if they are not being regularly stripped back to the hard, smooth coat of black saddle and rich tan to fawn legs, belly and face. She had a small white curly patch on her chest. Not all Airedales do.

Sitting on the recliner on the veranda, having a tea break from clearing the brambles, I thought I heard her step coming out of the kitchen - slow soft padding, as if she had all the time in the world.

She had a panting grin that she would use as she greeted friends or asked for a titbit and an imperious single bark to say "Let me in". Sometimes, she would stand in the rain the other side of the wooden door at the end of the veranda (there to protect us from the north wind), waiting to be "let in" never having quite sussed that she could just walk round.

We did our favourite walk this evening - the hills lovely in the late afternoon sun. Everything is now so green.

Just the three of us - Smudge, Tod and I. It was hard without her.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Two Days in Spring

Yesterday: four mobile homes in Leclerc's car park (tourists arriving like swallows); silk tree by the swimming pool that has looked so dead finally sprouting one or two tiny buds with just a hint of green; Tod, sitting on the veranda reading, just wearing shorts. Spring is here at last.

Today: our vet has put Clara to sleep, our courageous, beautiful eleven year-old Airedale whose tough old heart finally gave out. May heaven have many squirrels for you to chase.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Wet Sunday

It's raining. Again!

Also, had a couple of late nights, so lack the energy to do much more than wander round the house listlessly and snack on the last bit of pecan and chocolate brownie, a box of chocolates (brought as a gift and opened over dinner last night), a couple of pieces of toast and the cold remnants of last night's chicken, plum and leek casserole (sharing this with the dogs).

Although the thermometer on the veranda says 15ºC, inside the house feels colder. But to light the kitchen range and heat the house means putting on wellington boots and a jacket and trudging to the wood store at the back of the house with the wheel barrow and then crouching in the cold and wet to split up some wood that Tod has just cut. That feels much too active and purposeful. So back to the chocolates.

We had Eric and Phoebe and the kids round last night. It was a sort of anniversary dinner. We first met them a year ago when we were buying the house. They were looking after it for the owners and they showed us round. Last year the sun was shining and the irises in the garden were in full bloom. This year the garden is sodden and the irises, much chewed by tiny snails, are still struggling to open.

Last night we gossiped, ate and drank too much and after supper played Mexican train dominoes. In theory the game was for the benefit of the children, but it was the adults who got excited and wanted to go on playing long after bedtime.

Friday night we were late too. We went with friends to a dinner cabaret in a little theatre in Monclar. The title "Mes Nuits à Montmartre" and the poster convinced the men amongst us that this was not to be missed.

With only squeezing space between the tables and a pocket handkerchief for a stage, in the deep red gloom, we were royally entertained and fed. Starting at the beginning of the twentieth century and coming right to the present, songs were weaved between banter, dance and dinner. All the cast were rake thin and by the end of four hours of high energy entertainment and dozens of high speed costume changes it was possible to understand why.

We struggled to understand the dialogue - just catching the odd word here and there and looking bemused while the mainly French audience roared at the jokes. But the sheer exuberance of the cast as they filled the stage and spilled over into the auditorium, left us breathless and applauding for more. Two can-can dances kept the men in the audience happy and me wondering when was that moment I stopped being able to do the splits - about fifty years ago, I think.

Mexican train domino rules
The theatre company

Friday, 18 April 2008


Eleven o'clock at night, nightingale in the garden, singing its heart out against a background of frogs and distant dogs.

Pictures of nightingales

Wednesday, 9 April 2008


We sat in our local galette restaurant this evening debating where we are going to put the heat exchanger for our geothermal heating. I heard one in action a couple of weeks back and it was noisy. So we're rethinking the plan to have ours bang in the middle of the house in what's now the utility room, just behind the dining room and lounge. Perhaps the garage would be a better place?

Our architect, postponed a meeting last week and now is sick. We get anxious when he's not here to reassure us that things are on track. Something like installing geothermal heating feels like an "elephant task" and we fret about how it will all happen.

The plans for the changes we want to make to the house are now with the mayor of our commune for approval. The plans include: double glazing to keep the house warmer in winter; two new bathrooms so that when we have guests we're not queuing; a front door (which the house doesn't have at the moment, anyone new coming to the house wanders round, peering in through windows, not knowing how to get in); a new porch and connecting corridor that will integrate the apartment/gîte/whatever with the rest of the house; a new window in the kitchen to bring in more light and, of course, the geothermic heating with its noisy heat pump.

Over the last few weeks, our architect has been showing round "artisans": plumbers, electricians, carpenters, plasterers, heating companies to get quotes. General building firms are rare, so usually each part of the process is costed and contracted separately; hence our nervousness. How does it all fit together and in what order?

Closing the shutters tonight I came across our first glow-worm on the gravel path at the side of the house, its tiny light shining through the dark. Perhaps a good omen? A thunderstorm's just started, I hope she is safe and dry.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Saint-Émilion in the Sun

Friday there was real warmth in the sun, so we took down the hood of the batmobile and headed through the vineyards of the Gironde to Saint-Émilion.

On our fertile alluvial plain, we are used to a whole variety of crops: maize, rape, tobacco, salads, sunflowers. But the Gironde is nothing but row upon row of vines to each horizon. At this time of the year the vines are still bare, the stubby main stems cut back to one or two new tendrils curved out and fastened to supporting wires. Occasionally we'd see a solitary battered old car parked among the vines and a solitary worker, bent double or down on hands and knees. If they look up, all they can see is a landscape of more vines that need work.

Suddenly it comes home to us - the sheer scale of the French wine industry and its foundation on the work of generations of individual men and women, tending one vine at a time.

Saint-Émilion scrambles up a hillside and is a maze of narrow cobbled streets filled with restaurants and wine shops. In the warmth of the sun we lunched outside, in the square below the great mediaeval monolithic church carved out of the limestone.

Tod is still recovering from the shock of seeing premier grand crus in every shop window and wines up to €2,450* for a bottle of Château Le Pin on our otherwise very mundane menu. (* That's £1,932 or US$3,853 at today's less than exciting exchange rates.)

Listening to the American voices around us, we window-shopped for wine but didn't buy (we didn't need to; this is here for us any time). Instead we took a tour of the catacombs and the church. Our English speaking guide told us that in summer she has groups of 50 or more throughout the day. On Friday there were just four of us wandering in the cool gloom and marvelling at the faded paintings, the empty burial niches and the towering nave, with its huge columns carved from the rock, now locked in great metal bracelets to hold the weight of the enormous bell tower that is pressing down from above.

Saint-Emilion tourist office
An American site describing viniculture

Wednesday, 2 April 2008


I sat on the veranda at dusk this evening listening to the frog chorus from the stream below Serge's field and watched two bats flitting between the just-coming-into-bloom apple trees.

The deep mauve lilac tree at the back of the house filled the moist, still air with perfume.

I've been away on a course for a few days. It's good to be home.