Monday, 28 December 2009

The Cassini Maps (updated)

When we unearthed the colombage wall of the lounge with its mud torchis, I wondered if that was an indication of the age of the house.  Did mud filling between the wooden beams come before brick?Unfortunately it's not that simple. The filling used depended partly on what was available and also the wealth of the owner.

I went to our local mairie to see if they had any information, but all they could suggest was to look at the Napoleonic maps.  Drawn up in the mid-nineteenth century, the maps were for tax purposes and certainly are an amazingly detailed record of the period.  Every field and building is marked and numbered.  However I was looking for something earlier.  And I found it in the Cassini maps.

Italian-born Giovanni Domenico Cassini moved to France in 1669 and became astronomer/astrologer to the Sun King Louis XIV.  He developed a method of measuring longitude based on an approach suggested by Galileo and started to map the topology of France in the 1670s using Gemma Frisius's technique of triangulation.  Through the following century the work was continued by his son, grandson and great grandson to produce a total of 180 maps covering the whole of France.

The maps are available on-line in several places, but the source I find the most useful, because of the quality of the reproduction, is  Finding our small part of France was a challenge as the mapping does not follow a logical sequence.  So the map for the environs of Agen was published in 1778, whereas our neighbouring map of what is largely now known as the Lot and Garonne was not published until 1783.

I was not sure I would find us. but I think we are there.  Although our lieu-dit is not named that of our neighbour is and a house stands on what looks to be our outcrop.  Two streams run down to the river in the valley below.  Where those streams were we are now bounded by ditches.  Given that the land was being mapped over many years, we now have a pretty good idea that our house is at least 220-230 years old.

The maps are wonderful in their topographical detail, we can see the walls of bastides, chateaux, churches, windmills, barns, woods, streams, the shapes of hillsides and valleys.  We can see the lack of roads and how in most places around here people would have crossed fields to reach their destinations.  There are only one or two bridges that cross the Garonne and the Lot, so crossing would have been by ford or ferry.


I've been asked for a legend for the maps.  Again there are several sources, some more complete than others. The best I've found (in colour) is on the website. On their navigation page, under the map of France, on the left hand side, there is an L in a circle. Click on this and a new page opens up with an excellent index of all the symbols.

Link to this page:  : cassini maps in colour.   Click on the L in the circle on the lefthand side under the map for a very detailed legend

Other links:
Giovanni Domenico Cassini  historic maps from all over the world
Geoportail:  another source for the Cassini maps : a useful link to a short version of the maps' legend

Monday, 21 December 2009

Vita helps in the Garden

Yesterday, in clear, cold-ears-and-nose weather, Vita helped me dig more builders' rubble out of what one day will be the lawn in front of the cottage.

I call it "rubble" but some of it's useful.  The old flat red bricks that were placed horizontally in the buttress and the large pieces of soft sandstone that the French call "tuffa" can be made into garden walls.  The smaller fragments will make good filling for our potholes.

While working we saw and heard high to the south, cranes travelling due west, perhaps trying to skirt the Pyrenees.  I tried to photo them but they were too high and too far away.  They were no more than a faint cloud of dust against the blue sky.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

And by Saturday Afternoon ...

... the snow on the surrounding fields was beginning to disappear.

Friday Morning, We Woke to a Smattering of Snow

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Things Christmassy

Snow in Villeneuve. Big, splodgy wet flakes that settle on my coat and scarf and then disappear as they hit the tarmac in Leclerc's car park.

Tod's stollen cake for last Tuesday's French lesson. Yeasty and rich. Only the crumbs left after we had seconds.

Carols at Nigel and Angie's. Sung with gusto and much nostalgia.

Our postman, walking down the drive with next year's calendars and a smile.  Among the penguins, cats, dogs and cars I find the last one with landscapes of France.

Writing Christmas cards and realising (too late) I haven't bought enough from the limited choice in the post office.  Making some more using Photoshop and wondering if I can find labels and the right sized envelopes within a half-hour drive radius.  (Oh, for a WH Smith's.)

Tod's stollen, photo-ed by Angie just before we ate it

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mild December

Gardening all day. Taking photos.  Sitting on the terrace eating ice-cream.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Thank Heavens for George and the Tractor

I set off in the merc yesterday morning in search of parsnips for Christmas lunch (note the forward planning - not my usual behaviour at all).  Parsnips to the French tend to be something to feed to animals, so I wanted to make sure I could get some in the local Saturday morning market before (if necessary) setting off further afield.

Tod was feeling frail (late night on Friday playing bridge) and Vita was being bouncy so I packed her in the car to leave Tod in peace thinking it would be good for her to wander round the market with me. In the confusion of collecting dog, lead, shopping bags, car keys, I'd driven half way up our chemin to the road at the top when I realised I'd forgotten the handle that I wanted to take into the local Brico store to find some special screws it needed. 

So I reversed back down the chemin - dog bouncing in back, watching out for the ditches on both sides, carefully avoiding our postbox, mesmerised by the black metal gate post - when there was a horrible crunch and the car sagged.  I climbed out to find the back right-side wheel hanging in mid air over the deep hole where the drainage under the chemin emerges before it runs off down Serge's field.

So back down to the cottage, feeling foolish, dog in tow, to ask Tod how frail he was feeling and whether he could help. Looking at how the car was balanced over the hole, all its weight on the (very flat) back left tyre, we decided we needed George's expert help (again!).

Fortunately Tod had discovered the secret of getting our tractor going. It took George a couple of determined tugs on his tow rope - tractor wheels grinding in the mud - and the merc jerked back onto the chemin with a flat tyre but otherwise unscathed.

That's three of us now who've been in the ditch. (Breakdown assistance.)  I was too embarrassed to take photos.

George went off to the bank. Tod and Vita went back for a snooze. I took the Batmobile and got the parsnips and the screws for the handle.  Could have been a lot worse!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

What Fun!

Tod's bought a second-hand tractor.

It will be useful for taming the bits and pieces of rough land that we've got.

At least it will be when we can get it going.  It's being temperamental and even George (who is our source of advice on all things technical) is struggling to get it to behave.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Vita gets a Bath

What is it about Airedales?  Their gene pool includes Otter Hound, you would have thought they would like water.

Clara used to hate getting her feet wet so much she would walk round puddles.

As for Vita, I've just hauled all 20-something kilos across the bathroom (all four legs spread out, clamped to the floor) struggling to get her into the shower.

She found a very dead mole, which she rolled in and then walked round proudly holding in her mouth.  She then wanted to come and tell us how good she smelt.

I think I'm wetter than she is and the bathroom seems to have water up to the ceiling.  But at least she doesn't smell so rank.

I think she's now in the garden searching for something else to roll in so that she smells like any self-respecting dog ought to again.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Last Night I made Pasta

I have a juicing machine with which I have a love/hate relationship: love the juice, hate getting all the little bits of fruit gunk out of the cone-sieve-thingy once I've used it.  So the juicer gets used for a couple of mornings and then sits on the side for months until I have another "must eat more healthily" fit.

Anyway, this much neglected juicer - which I have had for at least three years - comes with another cone (a smooth one) and a special nozzle for making pasta, which I've never tried.  Until yesterday.

I read up about making pasta dough on the internet and it looked easy.  Pile a heap of flour on the work surface, add some salt, make a well in the middle, drop two eggs in and using your fingers gradually mix the flour into the eggs.

Firstly, I finished up with most of the dough stuck between my fingers and spent several minutes scraping it all off and back onto the work surface.

Secondly, I think our work surface is not meant for making dough.  It's slightly textured and the dough formed a fine film, nicely filling up the dents in the worktop.  By this stage the dough would have been excellent for grouting bathroom tiling.

I persevered, having read that one has to put considerable effort into making pasta dough and gradually it formed something approaching a squidgy, springy ball, which I popped into the fridge to rest.

Having assembled the juicer/now pasta maker, I took the springy dough, cut it into chunks and fed it into the top of the machine, switched the machine on and using the plunger pushed the dough towards the nozzle.  To my delight, three thin pasta worms started to emerge and curl into the bowl I had waiting underneath.  This quickly got out of hand as the curly worms kept on coming and I could see there would be no way I could separate them as they formed their Gordian knot.

Some of the internet articles suggested hanging the pasta over a broom handle to dry.  I balanced a rolling pin between a tall glass and the wine cooler, found some scissors and started again. Push dough through until it's a sensible length; switch off machine; cut off three pasta worms; hang them over rolling pin; start machine and repeat.

The thin strands of dough hanging over the rolling pin had rather a strange grey tinge.  It reminded me of when I was very young and the colour of the tarts I used to make with bits of left-over dough from my mother's baking. Mind you, I had nice clean hands and the work surface looked quite shiny.

By this time it was getting late and the large saucepan of ready-boiling salted water was half empty.  So I decided we'd do without the drying stage and just tipped the pasta into the water to boil.

There are times when Tod's irresistible urge to get involved in my cooking proves useful.  He started stirring the pasta and noticed that each bunch of three pasta worms was staying firmly stuck together.  They were cooking along the edges but remaining stubbornly raw in the middle.  So with much "ouching" we fished around in the boiling water, lifted out bundles of pasta, pulled the three strands apart, dropped each individual strand back and fished around for the next ones.

Amazingly, in the end, when thoroughly covered in spicy Breton sausage, tomato and veg sauce, the pasta tasted quite good.

Next time I'll forget the hand mixing and use my multi-mixer with its dough hooks.  I'll also see if I can find hard durum flour in the Bio shop and not the soft supermarket flour that the French love.  I might try adding some tomato, or maybe even black squid ink to the dough (just to hide any suspicion of grey).  And I'll hope that Tod's around to help me separate the pasta worms before they go in the boiling water.

There will be a next time.  The pasta cone and nozzle are really easy to clean.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Friday Afternoon

With the cottage we rushed round buying things at the last minute.  For the house we plan to be more organised and are already getting ideas for the kitchen.

So Friday afternoon we went to Cuisinella in Villeneuve and spent two hours looking at façades, worktops, taps and playing around with ideas for a layout.  We made a good start and left later than we'd intended.

We had an appointment at the house with the builder at five and hurried to get back. Along the empty roads that cross the Lot and Garonne valleys, no one behind and the road ahead totally clear, it is all too easy to speed at more than the legal 90 kilometres an hour.  And then we saw the flash; a roving police radar trap hidden behind bushes waiting for the Friday afternoon dash home.  And we thought they only did it to annoy tourists in the summer!

Bizarre.  On the main roads you are politely told with a sign whenever there is a fixed camera ahead, giving you time to slow down, but there's no warning of the roving traps, other than (if you're lucky) a quick flick of headlights from the occasional car coming towards you.

Ah well.  No doubt the letter will be in the post this week with points on the license and a fine.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Walk before Breakfast

Thud of Vita's paws as she races to catch up with me across the sodden ploughed field.

Swish of my boots through the long grass.

Splash and gurgle of water flowing out of the ditch into the stream at the bottom of the valley.

Angry chatter of a wren from the hazel bushes.

Distant cock crow, bark of dog and hum of occasional car speeding along the ridge.

Snuffle and snort from Vita as she buries her nose into holes and crevasses between the clumps of wet grass.

The crunch of our feet on the loose grit of the recently-repaired lane that climbs up between Monsieur F's two fields.

The snort of the horse in the field at the top and a sharp "Leave it!" from me as Vita shows too much interest.

The "pop, pop" of a distant shot in the woods on the far side of the valley.

The murmur of the Today Programme on the radio as we come back in the front door and the welcoming sound of the kettle coming up to the boil.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

And Now the House

The blog about the cottage has nearly run its course.

The cottage has become our home for a while. And now it's the turn of the house to be renovated.

I thought I wouldn't be blogging about the house renovation, but I am, as I find there is a story to tell here too. If you would like to follow it, this is the link ...

And Now the House

Driving Home

Sunday week ago I drove the merc to the UK. About 800 miles. Alone.

Tod worried about my going, the age of the car and three of the tyres losing pressure during the journey. So I had the pump that you run off the cigarette lighter in the back. Just in case.

Driving up through France on motorways is easy (unless it's a bank holiday). Most of the time it's clear road in front and maybe one or two cars coming up behind in the rear mirror. I worry sometimes that I don't concentrate enough. With so little traffic and the car on cruise control, my eyes drift off the road searching for distant chateaux or river views or flocks of birds.

I came up through Normandy. With its black-beamed, steep-roofed white houses it felt like another country. I stayed in a small hotel that claimed to be in an orchard, but omitted to mention the road in front. The lorries going up to the ports started at five in the morning and I reminded myself that half the excitement of travelling is the sleeping arrangements.

I worried about remembering which side of the road to drive on in the UK, as I'm used to being on the kerb side with our right-hand drive merc here in France. I need not have worried. From the moment I drove off the Eurotunnel train I was hemmed in by vehicles. There was nothing to do but get in line with the cars in front and behind. And over the week, as I drove round the South East so it continued, from Folkestone, to Henley, to Wimbledon, to Sussex, to Folkestone.

I think the English countryside was glorious, with sunlight filtering through rich autumn colours, but I barely saw it as most of the time I had my eyes glued on the brake lights of the cars in front.

On my return journey, as I left the train I panicked that I had missed the turning for Paris. The road was empty, I was in total darkness and I could not believe that there would be so little traffic going my way. But I was fine.

I loved my week in the UK. It was good to catch up with friends. But it was even better to be driving, alone in the dark, through the French countryside. Driving home.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

This Morning's Sunrise

Reflected on the house

Sunday, 18 October 2009

On a frosty Friday morning ...

... minus five in parts of the Landes, Tod, Vita and I headed south west for Saint-Jean-de-Luz and the sea.

We arrived bang on time for lunch, tucked ourselves into a sunny corner of a restaurant terrace, snuggled into our puffa jackets, people watched and ate crispy fried cod with a sweet pepper sauce.

Post-lunch we wandered along the front but although they can sit in restaurants, dogs are strictly not allowed on the beach. We thought we'd try our luck further south but sadly Hendaye was the same. So we watched the few hardy surfers braving the sharp wind, Vita peered over the promenade wall looking for something to chase and we decided next time we'd choose a more remote location where she could safely be let loose to get her paws wet.

In the late afternoon, as we contentedly drove home, the car thermometer just crept into double figures.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Some time in the last two weeks...

... we missed the moment when we could have had our last swim of the summer.

This morning Tod walked up the drive to meet the workman who have started on the restoration of the house and the air was cold.

We watched cranes flying south this afternoon and the météo promises temperatures near freezing later this week.

Today feels like new beginnings, a new season.

First stage of the restoration: removing the lounge floor

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sleeping in the Cottage

In the dark, sound of heavy rain (at last) drumming on the cottage roof.

No leaks. I turn over and go back to sleep.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Old House

All of a sudden, Vita has been spayed. The chasse started in earnest two weekends ago - men with dogs and guns walking across Monsieur F's fields and then back up the side of the cottage through Serge's land. And (late in the day) we realised we had a female puppy about to come into season surrounded by testosterone-filled hounds on the loose! Even fencing would not have stopped them.

She is walking round, quite unconcerned with a tatty T-shirt bandage round her middle which slowly works its way down to her haunches and then has to be hitched up again. Apart from the occasional nibble and lick, she's doing fine.

She and I wandered up to the house this morning. It still has bits and pieces to clear, but now largely empty it has regained some of its original magic and I remember again why we chose this place.

How could we have just stacked all our books and bits of furniture in front of the colombage in the gîte? When we move back, the gîte will have become our entrance hall. This time, we'll leave it uncluttered to show off those splendid old walls.

Vita and I explore the loft. She hunts mice and loir between the insulation. I realise I have never seen into the pigeonnier. The entrance has been barred by a new beam, but I can point a camera between the struts up to the roof .

Living in the Cottage

Slowly, over the last few weeks, we have been pouring "the quart" of our possessions from the house into "the pint" of the space that is the cottage.

Even putting van-loads into store, we are still struggling to find room for all our stuff and the cool emptiness of the finished cottage has given way to the busy muddle of our daily lives.

We've managed to keep one or two corners of tranquillity, but as for the rest....

The cottage is only 300 yards from the house, yet when we relax on the terrace after another packing case-filled morning, this peaceful, tree-shaded, sunny corner feels so different it's as if we've come away on holiday.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Moving In

The last few days have been exhausting.

The removals men are coming on Monday to shift our things down to the cottage and take the rest into store but we have already started walking stuff down or ferrying it in the merc so that we can see what we have space for. We've moved a wardrobe, chests of drawers, a computer desk, books, papers, china, cutlery, linen, clothing and in between we've packed more of the same for storage. The kitchen table is covered in pots, pans, cutlery, jars, plastic whatsits and thingumy-bobs that come from an accumulation of lives and now are waiting to be packed because they can't fit in the cottage but might just be useful in the future - sometime.

I'm letting go of my father's LPs, but still clinging on to years of videos. I shifted what I thought was an empty suitcase off the top of the wardrobe and found yet another collection of clothes that I haven't even missed in two years - so I guess they will be going to charity.

Too tired to cook, we staggered out to the crêperie at Clairac and sat with Vita at our feet. We slowly relaxed in the warm night air as we relished the light crisp pancakes: in the background, the murmur of French from the other tables, smiling faces caught in pools of light.

Feeling revived, I carried down yet two more pots for the kitchen and closed up windows and doors. The cottage felt welcoming. I walked back up the drive to our scruffy, mouse-ridden, damp old farmhouse and looked up to see The Plough right overhead in the dark sky.

Only two more nights and we will be in.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Left Past the Bins

In the French countryside we don't have house names or numbers.

We each live on a lieu-dit - an area of land. There may be one or several houses on the same lieu-dit. We share ours with one other farmhouse and the fields between us.

The English often arrive in France thinking they have bought a house called "Le Bourg" and buy a house sign to put on the gate, but that just means "village centre". Look up any of the older villages in the phone directory and lots of people will have Le Bourg as their address. The country postman's job can be challenging and describing exactly where you live becomes an art form.

We're packing to move to the cottage and we need more boxes from the removals company. And I've also finally plucked up the courage to let go of my business suits (and my previous life). There's not much call for black trouser suits in South West France - even among those who work - and someone agreed to take them back to a charity shop in the UK. So yesterday I set out to drive to two places I'd not visited before. Having a GPS reading for the sat nav is one way to pinpoint a destination. I prefer the graphic description ...

"It's not really a proper roundabout, just a traffic island and then after 50 yards it's left past Hill [something] construction and then left again past the bins, [which side of the bins?] up the hill for two kilometres, then keep going 'til you see the removals lorry parked on the right-hand side"

"I expect you'll be coming from Lafitte, keep going then turn left, carry on through the village and after about a kilometre you'll come to a sharp V-bend with a sign back to San.... [gobbledegook], not sure if you will see it coming from your direction, drive past it and our turning is immediately the next on the left - you can't miss it [oh yes I can]."

I try to grasp enough of the French names so that when I look at a map on the internet I can piece it all together. Ah! San-gobbledegook is Saint-Sardo.

IGN maps show the names of nearly every lieu-dit in France and I print off copies of the pages I need and hold them on the steering wheel as I get near to my destination, reading them off as I cautiously drive past: Tuques Hautes, Le Burgas, Les Bouygues .... just a bit further.

I turn in front of the construction company yard and there, sure enough, up ahead, is the left-hand turning with the big black village rubbish bins. Good. I'm on the right road.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

End of the Party

The house martins are gathering on telephone lines. The cows have gone from the field the other side of the valley - no more distant bells. This morning we heard the first of the guns for the hunting season. And we had friends round for supper last night and bless them, they left early.

For two months we have all supped, drunk, barbequed, visited night markets, had friends and families to stay, danced, been to concerts, watched shows and suddenly, for all of us, we'd had enough.

For the first time in weeks we finished the evening indoors, curled up on the sofa, the shutters closed against the cool night air. And today I just gardened - tugging at the thistles that have grown over the muddy trench where a new land drain lies. The earth around their roots still feels warm, but the gold evening light across the bare fields and the sharp breeze speak of autumn.

Building work is about to start on our house and in two weeks we'll be moving into the cottage. Our days are going to be busy with packing and decisions about what to take and what to store.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Upstairs in the Cottage

I'm at an upstairs window of the cottage fixing a new handle.

The opening used to be a small hayloft window and the deep wooden lintel is at the height of my eyebrows. Tod has to stoop to see out but I can look directly down through the dappled green of the lime tree to the sloping brown lines of Monsieur F's now-harvested field beyond.

I feel like a child in a tree-house.

LinksThe Handles - Progress (of a Kind)

Sunday, 16 August 2009

No Rain ...

... for the next seven days, the météo chart tells me.

Obviously the few splodgy splashes falling over me this morning as I trudge backwards and forwards with the watering can don't count.

We have a hosepipe ban and most of our plants will have to fend for themselves, but the roses and small kaki tree I planted earlier this year need the occasional soak to keep them going.

Today's lowering grey clouds are respite (and good watering weather) from the fierce bright heat of yesterday. Even last night on the veranda, where we sat over supper with friends, there was no breeze to cool us.

In the dark warmth, as our friends left, we lingered over our goodbyes, looked up at the Milky Way and searched for shooting stars.
After midnight I swam and cooled down enough to sleep easily.
Shooting stars

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Muck and Mahler

Monsieur F has been muck spreading in the field at the back of the house and behind the wood store. Clods were flying over our fence and onto the grass between the fruit trees. The hot wind was blowing from the north west and as I started to do supper I realised that we would only be able to smell and taste ammonia .

We fled to the crêperie in Clairac.

The tables in the courtyard were crowded as everyone was there to eat before the evening concert in the church - the last in a week of classical music. So we sat inside in the cool, brick-walled gloom listening to Madame chat behind the counter as she whisked up her crisp, light crêpes.

The performance was Mahler's Fourth Symphony, played with great verve to a packed, sweaty and enthusiastic audience. There was to be another piece by Mendelssohn, but we slipped away to escape the heat and took great gulps of fresh air driving home in the batmobile, to store up for our return to our smelly valley.

Today, after a garden-reviving downpour, the air is sweet and clear again.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Brother Love

Taken for granted
He would always be there - following.

First, the toddler on pudgy legs
Then the adult
Who knew me better than I knew myself.

He told me he could not stay
I did not listen
And then I looked round and he was gone.

Today is Peter's birthday.
He would have been 60.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Book Club

Sunlight filters through the trees overhead. In the distance the Lot valley shimmers in the heat. We sit silent, bare brown arms crossed, elbows resting on the table, empty plates and glasses pushed aside. And between courses we listen as he talks of being an author and reads soft voiced from his own words.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Oh Those Summer Nights!

Summer is in full swing.

We meet with friends for a barbeque and with the hot afternoon breeze blowing across the valley, laze in the shade and plan where to go Saturday night.

Our commune is having its big fête. But last year's was disappointing and the mood is to go elsewhere. There's also the tomato festival in Marmande, but that seems too far. So we plump for a rock and roll band in the covered market square at Mas d'Agenais.

The evening starts slowly - empty tables and no-one dancing except for a plump middle-aged French lady in a beige skirt who happily keeps going (on her own) for the whole evening. The English, somewhat self-consciously, begin to shuffle into the space in front of the band and bob up and down for a bit, but as the night progresses it's the French with their elegant ceroc who show us how it should be done.

Sunday we hope to have more of the same in our local village square, but the music is heavy metal - no one's dancing (not even head-bangers) and the disco that follows is French teeny bop. So we watch the fireworks and somewhat reluctantly leave the young ones to the night.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Too Much

Sometimes the house is too big and dirty, the garden too scruffy and weedy.

Today is one of those days.

So I retreat to the small world that is my desk and computer.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Stormy Night

We are dog-sitting Guccio, a large shaggy Italian Spinone while his master does a week's tango workshop in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Guccio does not like storms. So he wedged himself under my desk amongst all the trailing wires when the distant thunder started yesterday evening.

By midnight I decided we should go to bed. In the time it took me to clean my teeth Guccio had settled himself on my pillow. He's big. But I managed to tug him down off the bed. So he went round the other side and climbed up again. We did this a few more times until he finally agreed to lie down at the side of the bed on top of a spare duvet.

Lights out, we doze off for a while until the rain, thunder and lightning start in earnest. He is panting hard and I fetch him some Rescue Remedy. Vita, who has been sleeping by the bathroom on the cool tiles, follows me back to see what's going on.

Guccio, still panting loudly, now decides he'd rather be inside Vita's crate. She pops her head in, decides there is nothing she can do to help and quite unconcerned by all the noise and the flashes settles down to rearrange the duvet. Then the power goes off. We find torches and try to sleep. Guccio by this stage has his head jammed under the bedside table and Vita has curled up alongside him.

He continues to pant and as the storm begins to move away I reassure him that it will soon be over.

We doze and then the next storm arrives. This time the rain is pouring through the gap where the roof over the lounge meets the roof over the bedroom (which used to be the cow shed). Padding about with a torch, I find a couple of the Sainsbury's shopping boxes that we brought with us from the UK (immensely useful for carrying tools) and put towels in the bottom so that the dripping from the beam high above is muffled. Vita stretches out asleep. Guccio pants and I pretend to be brave. Again, I reassure him it will soon be over.

When the third storm arrives I don't think he believes me any more. This time, in the dark, I can hear the water dripping in different places, from the other side of the room. I flash the torch and see rain water seeping through the cracked beam above the window. The window used to be a door on to the veranda and there are steps up from what was the cow shed, now bedroom, floor. I keep my shoes on the steps where the water is now dripping. I'm too tired to get out of bed and move them.

I turn the torch off and realise there is another drip - closer. The water's coming through the ceiling where a big beam crosses the room. The end of the bed is wet. I wonder about getting a pail or something, but don't have the energy to get up.

I finally drift off thinking of Goldie Hawn in the film Overboard, lying on a sofa trying to get to sleep holding buckets to catch the rain coming through the roof.

And I said in my blog last night that a storm would be a welcome relief!

Guccio recovering from last night

Monday, 13 July 2009

Before the Storm

My hair is sticking to my forehead and the back of my neck. It's a relief to get in the car and have the air conditioning going full blast.

I'm heading to town for door mats for the cottage. We're starting the big clean-up and we need to find a way to stop walking in dirt across our new floor tiles.

I pass Monsieur F's parents' bungalow on the ridge and his mother is sitting chatting with a friend, chairs leaning against the shady side, away from the sun.

The sunflowers in the sweeping valley where the two brothers farm have all gone over. Heads are bent against the heat.

Great rolling clouds are building up on the north west horizon and it's a relief when the sun disappears for a short while.

I heard a rumble earlier and thought it might be thunder but it was just one of the grain lorries up on the road behind us heading towards the cooperative yard.

The meteo promises a storm tonight. It will be a welcome relief when it comes.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Muddy Knees and Fresh Bread

Sunday was hot. Very hot. But also overcast and not too sunny to garden. So I spent the morning on my knees inching through a flower bed that I'm creating out of the lawn. Heavy thunder storms a few days ago have left our clay soil workable again and I'm pulling out couch grass and dandelions.

We had an invitation for the afternoon to walk from the town centre along the Garonne to an old village bread oven. We gathered - people and dogs - sun hats, shorts, water bottles, cover-up shirts ready for our stroll when Judy asked me what was wrong with my mud-caked gardener's knees. You can tell she's a mother of boys. She gave me a wet wipe so I could clean up before we started.

We gossiped and ambled through woodland with glimpses of the river, past old farms with chicken scratching at the roadside and between hot, airless fields of maize. We sat in the bake-house and listened to Gascogne songs and waited for the fresh crusty bread to emerge.

Later, we ate the bread with our supper and it smelt of wood smoke.