Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Chalk Cliff

The field behind us climbs to above roof level and after heavy rain mud slides down the bank at the corner of the field and across our drive. These mudslides have periodically happened for years and the previous owners had an agreement with Monsieur F (who owns the field) and the local commune that "after the harvest" the corner would be shored up to hold back the mud.

That agreement was made three years ago and when we bought, the notaire confirmed that the work would be done "after the harvest". That was a year ago. From time to time we trotted into the mayor's office and with lots of smiles all round, various excuses were put forward and new dates suggested. So when the mayor said "after the harvest" this year, we smiled, nodded and didn't believe him.

But this year it happened! Three lorry loads of chalk cliff were dumped in our drive. The corner of the field was scraped back, the ditch at the bottom deepened and a bastion of white rock layered with mud created.

It is very white. So I've planted ground cover in the pockets between the rocks: cotoneaster, ceanothus, ivy, vinca, rock roses, variegated elaeagnus. In time they will spread and the whiteness will be subdued.

When it rains heavily the water that runs down into the ditch is milky.

Monday, 27 October 2008


We've been cosy-warm today despite the grey wet weather. For the first time since last winter we've had the kitchen boiler on all day and the radiators have been piping hot. It all seems a lot easier than this time last year. Tod has been chain-sawing and splitting last year's logs - we've still got a good stock - and we've been steadily feeding the stove throughout the day. Having got the firebox up to a good heat this morning, every 20 minutes or so we put on another couple of fresh logs to keep it well fed.

Keeping the house warm is not the only thing that feels easier than last year. Yesterday Serge drove up with his girlfriend. They'd come to check his field that runs down the side of our track. He planted rape (colza) a few weeks back and it's coming up well except for a patch alongside us, which he says is being eaten by insects, despite having been sprayed.

We chatted about the neighbours (she has a new boyfriend), the spring that he's piped and diverted into a ditch (wish we'd known, we could have used that water for gardening), the sale of his field that's fallen through because of the credit crunch, the cows that are his pride and joy.

The conversation wasn't fluent. If you'd asked Tod and me at any moment, "what's he just said?" we probably couldn't have told you. But, we muddled through, got the gist of it, smiled a lot and managed. That too gives a warm, cosy feeling.

Friday, 24 October 2008

A Further Week

I can't settle to anything.

Smudge collapsed again a week ago and he was breathing so quietly we thought we'd lose him. But again he pulled through. This time though, when he tried to walk, you could see every step pained him. He could barely stand and we had to hold him. He would hunch his shoulders, walk a couple of steps and then stand panting. Several times, he fell and just lay there.

When our vet touched him, he cried in pain. She thought it might be leukaemia, triggered by the tick fever. She gave him steroid and antibiotic injections and took blood. Within a day the change was amazing. He was walking more easily. He could get himself up without help. We have continued with the steroids and antibiotics and he potters about the house, almost his old self, but thinner and still very tired.

In the meantime, initial blood tests imply some form of autoimmune disease. That seemed better than leukaemia until I began to read articles on the internet.

The tick fever has totally compromised his immune system. To minimise further damage, I give him filtered water, organic chicken, rice, lentils and vegetables. I add ground seaweed and elderberry juice to his food to build strength. I trickle homeopathic drops between his lips.

I dread the side effects if we have to keep him on steroids and hope that acupuncture and herbal remedies will help. I read about flax oil and cottage cheese, raw food, spirulina, vitamins, laetrile and wonder what's best.

We still do not have the results of all the blood tests. I start doing something, but then break off to check my emails, read more on the internet and watch him sleeping.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Bordeaux for Lunch

Last Friday under blue skies we had lunch in Bordeaux for Tod's birthday.

We took the train for an adventure and we knew we were nearly there when the fields alongside the track changed from maize to vines.

Through the bustle of Bordeaux we rode a sleek modern tram to the quay alongside the Bourse and we sat in the sun, ate good seafood and watched the world go by.

Afterwards we strolled along the west bank of the Garonne and, like others, were drawn to the constant film of water on the pavement that reflected the blue sky and the grandiose quayside buildings. Suddenly, to much delight, everything vanished magically in clouds of steam.

We wandered on and browsed in the foyer of the Grand Theatre. The Nutcracker at Christmas perhaps?

Bordeaux is only an hour away. Next time we'll come for longer.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Two Weeks on

Smudge is recovering, but slowly.

We had fierce instructions from our vet not to walk him through his convalescence. But he likes his walks and hates doing his business in the garden, so we compromise.

He gets a car ride and then a gentle shuffle round for a few yards and that seems to be enough most of the time. On good days he wants to walk further and has to be steered in a slow arc back towards the car. On less good days he stops. Just stops. And looks as if he would stand there forever.

Sometimes we sit for a while and watch the world go by and he seems content.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Wednesday Morning

Yesterday morning we went to the funeral of our mayor.

He died suddenly of a heart attack and the commune is still in shock. Several hundred of us stood outside the small church, chatting quietly, waiting patiently for the cortege. Gendarmes arrived in full dress uniform. A flag was unfurled.

So many weather-beaten faces were touched with grief, as the service was piped to those of us outside through wavering, crackly loud speakers.

People spoke of him with affection and remembered his warmth and kindness. He will be missed.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Smudge has tick fever ....

.... and I'm zonked.

Yesterday evening having written a cheerful catching up email to Pat in Mexico, I went for a walk with Smudge. He bounced (as much as his rickety old legs will let him) to the Merc and up the ramp that lets him get into the back, where he likes to sit facing backwards, grumbling at cars that tailgate.

One of the villages where we walk him is five minutes drive away. I parked in our usual place and opened the back. He likes to lean against the wheel arch for support and he just sat there. "Okay", I thought, "he's bored with here. We'll go a bit further, to the next village." Another five minutes or so away.

Again, when I opened the back, he just looked at me. So I tugged on his collar and he reluctantly stood up. It was then that I realised that the sweet sickly smell I had sub-consciously noticed in the car was because he had done his business. "Poor mite" I thought "he's embarrassed and that's why he doesn't want to get up and out of the car". So I tugged him down the ramp, cleaned him and the car as best I could and then watched him just stand there, swaying, tail between his legs, head hanging low. And it was only ten minutes ago that he bounced to the car. "Oh Lord" I thought "he's had a stroke, or something" So tugged him back up the ramp and drove home as quickly as possible, more concerned at what I could see happening in the rear-view mirror than looking ahead - as his head sunk lower and lower.

I left him in the car and sat with him in the drive as I waited for our vet to arrive, still thinking stroke or something as he lay there panting. We knew it was serious when he made no attempt to grumble at her as she examined him and took his temperature (high). Then she turned back his lips and showed me his pale gums - anaemia. And suddenly we were talking tick fever.

When feeding on the blood of its host, an infected tick passes a parasite which lodges in the red blood cells. The host body responds to the invasion by destroying red blood cells. Smudge's lethargy and panting were in response to the rapid onset of anaemia as his cells died and his heart struggled to pump round enough oxygenated blood.

This is life-threatening.

Taking no chances, our vet gave him three injections and I gave him a homeopathic remedy - ledum 1M - to support him. Tod carried him in and tucked him in bed. Our vet drove away in the dark, doing her best to reassure me.

The first twelve hours are the most critical. So we put a mattress in the kitchen and I settled down beside him, listening to his rapid, faint breathing and watching him just lying there in the faint glow of a nightlight. The slightest thing jerked me awake with a cold anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach. The American fridge turning on and off was thunderous. I thought I heard mice. Tod crept in to see how he was. I took the kitchen clock out because I couldn't hear his breathing over the ticking. Once or twice Smudge licked his lips, so using a syringe I trickled water into his mouth - dehydration is a serious risk. He took it without raising his head.

And then suddenly it was ten to seven on the microwave clock and we had come through the night and he was still with us. Our vet said he was tough.

I'm getting an early night tonight. I know I will sleep soundly and so will Smudge.