Monday, 29 September 2008

Sunday in the Park, with Judy and Paul

(with apologies to Mr Sondheim)

The weekend before last was "le weekend de patrimoine" when stuff happens - fairs, open days, walks - all of which are usually an excuse to eat.

Sunday lunchtime, long trestle tables were set up in the park by the mill in the village where we often walk Smudge. A bandstand went up. The stalls around the edge offered food: pâté and tomatoes, cooked chicken, fried whitebait, cheeses, wines, gooey deserts.

We wandered from stall to stall, piling our plates, and contentedly settled at one end of a table.

After lunch, as we lazed, couples danced in the early afternoon sun to rock and roll numbers. With a weekend theme of heritage, the old dance tunes seemed appropriate.

Sunday in the Park with George, Stephen Sondheim

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

I have no words ....

... to adequately describe the blue-skied wonder of these early autumn days.

Hot sun on my back as I dig the weeds out of the bank below the lawn - almost too hot.

I stand up, stretch and turn to watch a tractor in a distant field and feel the sharp, fresh cold wind across my hot shoulders - like stepping into a cold shower.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Late Summer Visitor

Scarce Swallowtail, photographed by Tod 14/09/08.

We have raised walled borders along the front of the veranda. In the corner of the right-hand bed beside the steps down onto the lawn, there is a buddleia. It's grown too big and is beginning to break down the wall of the border. Buddleias are lovely when they are first in bloom, but by September the gone-over blossom - more brown seed than mauve flowers - looks ragged and tired. So, of course, it will have to go.

But it's also a magnet for butterflies. What can replace it and bring us visitors like this?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Sand between my Toes

Joy of joys - went to the seaside yesterday!

As the day promised to be fine, we set off in the batmobile, hood down, for Lacanau-Océan, on the far side of Bordeaux: round the rocade, turn left and keep going west until you hit the Atlantic. It's a "proper" seaside town: pink, yellow and blue paint in abundance; rows of small shops selling the French equivalent of "kiss me quick" hats; ice cream in every hue and flavour and every other shop a pavement cafe.

We found a seafood restaurant (paella good, sardines not so) and sat under an awning watching the world go by. In August, the town heaves, but now the pace is more leisurely; mainly the elderly and couples with toddlers have their pick of places to eat.

Afterwards we strolled down to the front. The beach is breath-taking. Look left and as far as the eye can see there is golden sand. Look right, and as far as the eye can see there is golden sand - just a small slice of the 150-odd miles of beach that stretches from the mouth of the Gironde to the foothills of the Pyrenees.

We bought a folding chair for Tod so he could sit and read while I splashed about in the small surf (yesterday was a quiet day), wading out to chest level and then attempting to swim in on the rollers as they broke, puffing and panting back out again with sea in my eyes and ears, feeling about 8 years-old. I splashed my way around the tourists learning to surf and enviously watched the instructors effortlessly catch the waves that took them almost to dry land.

Driving back, (for Tod's entertainment) we detoured across country to join the D2, the road that follows the Gironde estuary and weaves between the Grand Cru vineyards and chateaux. Under cloudless blue skies we turned south towards Margaux and Bordeaux. A journey up to Paulliac and the Chateaux Lafite Rothschild and Latour will have to wait for another day.

We arrived home tired and happy. It was a good day. I sat on the edge of the bed last night and brushed out the sand from between my toes.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Lasting Memories

Stas and Anka came, stayed for a while, then left again, like two exotic birds.

They slept lots (sometimes in the tent); cycled to town in the heat of the sun; helped clean and prepare the house for the party; mowed the lawn; strimmed the brambles; did the washing up; left intriguing photos on my computer; squabbled; made up; worried us; made us laugh; played with Smudge and massaged his back to ease his aches and pains; ate greasy crêpes with nutella at a night market (why do we always fall for them?); played Mexican dominoes and scrabble; hitched to Spain and came back; drew our portraits; went to Biarritz with Tod in the batmobile and got caught in a storm.

ANKA is scratched on the stonework of the cottage.

Photos by Anka

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Cottage

I've been playing with floor planning software for the last few days.

Our plans for the house have not moved forward, so we've turned our attention to our derelict cottage (also know as the guest accommodation) which lies at the bottom of the garden, beyond a mess of brambles where nightingales sing in spring.

The cottage has no roof and at some point there was a fire, so many of the fallen beams are blackened and crumbling. The chimney is still standing but it is bowing out and the adjoining wall has cracks you can get your hand in. (Mind you, there are people living in houses up in the village with cracks bigger than ours - no one seems to worry that much.) But we do have four walls and the chimney still has the TV aerial on top.

Our first task has been to get a "certificat d'urbanisme" which gives us the right to restore the cottage. Without that, it has to stay a ruin. A delicate conversation with the local mayor along the lines of "would we possibly be thinking of using the cottage as a chambre d'hôte" and "well, we would not rule out that possibility" may well have helped the process. This is a region where there is little accommodation for tourists .

So now we are on to the next stage of getting planning permission to do the building work - especially putting the roof back before winter rains penetrate further into the walls. The cottage is not large - it will be less than 150 square meters over its two floors - and therefore the plans do not have to be drawn up by an architect. Hence the planning software.

Clutching tape-measure, pad and pencil, we crunch our way across the debris of bricks, tiles and wood that litters the earth floors and gingerly ease ourselves under half-supported beams. We peer into small rooms where young saplings are growing through broken pallets. I wait while Tod gets a ladder and in the stillness I can hear the sound of wasps gnawing on rotten wood. This is hard hat territory.

Thin wires trail everywhere and catch our feet. They were strung from the long-gone ceilings and used for drying tobacco. Broken light switches hang off walls and I nervously eye the meter still there in the hall. The power is off - I hope. There is no running water or sanitation, but a thin electricity wire stretches down from the pole by our house. This is the wire that the swallows are gathering on this week. They'll soon be gone. We measure pitted window cavities and doorways and try to decide what are the "right" lengths to put on the plan as the gaps vary by centimetres.

We begin to notice things: a doorway has been narrowed; an added window is bigger than the others; here was the hole where the water from the sink came through; the step into the hayloft is worn down by years of use; the angle of the missing roof can still be seen on the chimney; there is an outline on the back wall where the stairs went up to the loft.

Gradually the cottage speaks to us of what it used to be and what it could become.