Sunday, 22 February 2009

We've Bought More Land

Friday we became the proud owners of another hectare of land.

Google tells me that a hectare is 10,000 square meters, or 2.471 acres. And this is where I'm supposed to say: "The size of a football pitch" - or something. So you can visualise what I am talking about. Anyway, it's big and at the moment is planted with rape.

The land (carefully measured out by the géomètre and marked with red plastic borne markers at the far corners) swoops in a curved dip the other side of the track that goes down to our derelict cottage. The cottage - which becomes less derelict by the day - is the reason we've bought it.

We've been restoring the cottage (when I say "we" I mean the builders have) and we needed drainage access from our fosse septique to the ditch on the far side of Serge's field.

We were already in the process of buying a small scrubby triangle of land from Serge, which would make us the owners of a large walnut tree and a scruffy corrugated iron roofed shed attached to the remnants of an old barn wall. Because we needed access to the ditch, Serge thought it would be a good idea if we bought his football pitch sized piece of field as well. (For full details of the story see Problems with the Drains on La Petite Maison)

At the same time we've bought a small piece of the field up behind the house from Monsieur F. This means that he can no longer plough close to the edge of our boundary and hopefully that will help stabilise the bank and stop the mud sliding across our drive when it rains.

We sat in the notary's office for an hour and a half as she read through every paragraph of the two sale documents and we all initialled or signed every page. Having been through this when we purchased the house, we knew what to expect, but it still is painful to discover how little French we understand.

Serge has the right to harvest his rape up to August 1st. After that date, he would have to pay us a fine of €100 per day. He tells us he will be harvesting on July 14th - Bastille Day. In the meantime, he tells us we can get access to the ditch on the far side, ideally via an underground pipe so he can harvest above. Good, we have friends staying in the cottage in June. We need the plumbing to be working!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

To Smudge, with Love

It was time to let him go.

So often he rallied, only to gradually weaken again. He no longer sat in the back of the car, watching the world go by. Instead, he lay, gently grumbling with pain and just looked at me when I tried to entice him out for a walk. I could feel every bone of his ribcage and spine as I lifted him.

Smudge, beloved dog, these words are for you:

"He knelt down beside him and took his head on his lap. He stroked Beaumont's head and said, 'Hark to Beaumont. Softly, Beaumont, mon ami. Oyez a Beaumont the valiant. Swef, le douce Beaumont, swef, swef.' Beaumont licked his hand but could not wag his tail. The huntsman nodded to Robin, who was standing behind, and held the hound's eyes with his own. He said, 'Good dog, Beaumont the valiant, sleep now, old friend Beaumont, good old dog.' Then Robin's falchion let Beaumont out of this world, to run free with Orion and to roll among the stars."

from The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White (posted on Total France by Tygerbright in memory of Dandy)

RIP: 3rd February 2009

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Joy of Joys ....

.... we're back on line!

Three weeks ago, Friday night, south west France was hit by a "tempête" and we lost our electricity, 'phone and internet, a few tiles and an elderly plum tree. The electricity was back after three days, but the 'phone has taken a bit longer.

The storm came on top of days of rain and everywhere was waterlogged. The previous morning, I'd walked across the kitchen floor in bare feet to find I was standing in a small pond. The rainwater had found a new way to ooze out of our clay foundations - up between the kitchen tiles at the join with the concrete floor of the cupboard where the old hot water tank sits.

With no 'phone, over those first days, we dropped in on friends to find out how they were, drank tea and shared war stories. Some friends lost power for only a few hours; others were off for days and some had no water. We drove into town in the evening from the pitch darkness of the countryside, looking for light and warmth.

Over that first weekend, small groups gathered on the belvedere in town to look down on the raging torrent of the Garonne and the flood waters that stretched to the horizon. The main roads to Agen and Villeneuve were under water and we watched rescue boats travelling between the lines of trees that had marked the roadsides, bringing people in from outlying farms. A tractor surged down one flooded road and gently deposited two people at the water's edge. They calmly stepped out of the lowered bucket scoop on the front and made their way up hill to the shops.

We wondered at the effects of a wind that chose to tear down that tree and not the one alongside. Some plantations were ravaged, others hardly touched. A cedar in a park on the edge of town has been ripped and torn from its trunk, yet the two on either side still stand.

Later on, we learnt that over a million homes had been without power and that the Gironde to the west of us took the brunt of the storm, with winds over 170 kilometers per hour. People debated whether this was worse than the storm of 1999 and discussed buying generators "for the next time".

We now have a box full of camping gaz lamps, candles and fat torch batteries - just in case.