Thursday, 28 January 2010

Meeting Tod

The phone rang just after six and I struggled out of vivid restless dreams about missing deadlines and forgetting my lines in a play.

By the time I got to the phone it had stopped but I guessed it was Tod phoning from Paris to say ... what?  His plane to Bordeaux was delayed?  Why aren't you up yet?  I tried phoning back but he'd switched his mobile off.  Grrr!

Through a blurry haze I made sandwiches for the journey, had a shower and got Vita up. Like me she just wanted to curl up and go back to sleep. At least she could do so in the back of the car on the way.

The motorway at seven is busy - heavy lorries thundering towards Bordeaux where some will head north for Paris and the ports, others south to Bayonne and Spain.  In the dark and really too tired to drive properly, each time I overtake I worry if there is enough space between the barrier and the high sides of the lorry, conscious of the lights from each car behind, right on my tail pushing me forward, faster than I really want to go.

We turn onto the Bordeaux rocade and see the estimated time sign "Merignac18 minutes". Excellent, time to walk Vita before he lands.  Ten minutes later, we pass another sign "Merignac 24 minutes". Not so good. Have we been going backwards?  Might just arrive as he's coming out of the terminal.  Remember to switch on mobile in case he arrives early and phones.  Feeling hungry sitting in stationary traffic so eat sandwiches.  At least now it's daylight. Watch the minutes tick away on the dashboard clock.

The short term car park's packed.  More time lost finding a space.  Yet again I'm arriving at an airport to meet Tod later than I planned.

Vita and I hurry across the tarmac.  She knows something's up and lunges hopefully at every passing man. I find her a piece of scrubby earth - better widdle here than in the terminal.

We then turn and I see him coming out of the glass doors, face grey with fatigue from the long journey.  Never mind. He's safe. He's home.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Vita sees the Sea

Last Friday the sun shone and I decided it was time Vita saw the sea properly and ran along a beach.  (It's true she saw the sea at Saint-Jean-de-Luz back in October, but only from the promenade.)

I remember our previous Airedales - Clara and Smudge - leaping and playing through the waves on a deserted beach in Ireland and I thought it would be great if Vita could do the same.

To get to the Atlantic coast we have two choices: up the motorway to Bordeaux and then back down the coast, or (quicker as the crow flies) cross the Landes. 

The Landes is like an enormous Centre Parcs resort - endless straight roads cutting through pine woodland dotted with occasional enclaves of bungalows grouped around their small spired village church and neat square.  The journey to the sea via the Landes seemed to take forever.

I parked in an empty car park and walked Vita up the sand dunes and looked down on the beach (empty except for a solitary fisherman) and the Atlantic rollers. She was singularly unimpressed, found some other dogs to say hello to and then kept to the scrub among the dunes.

I strolled along the beach towards a small headland where the waves occasionally lapped against the rocks at the bottom. Splashing through the wavelets at the base of the headland in my wellington boots, I looked back thinking that Vita would have to follow.  She'd disappeared.  A few moments later she reappeared above my head, picking her way delicately across the rocks, determined to keep her paws dry.

So we left and came home via the motorway.  I bought her a pack of chicken slices when we stopped at a service station.  That, for her, was the best part of the day.

Biscarrosse: South Beach

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

I Found It!

Walking Vita up the drive in the dark for her last-thing-at-night stroll, something on the gravel glinted in the torch light.

It was the post box key. 

All I need to do now is find somewhere that does key cutting while you wait.  I'm not letting that key out of my sight.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Mishap Waiting to Happen

We have a locked mail box on a post by the entrance to our drive. 

Our postman comes down the chemin rural does a sweep into our drive turning the van so it's alongside the box and leans across and puts the post in without getting out.  When he has a large package (usually something from Amazon) which won't go through the slot, he has a master key to unlock the box.  He grumbles from time to time about having to drive down the chemin and says we should put the box right at the top on the road.  That would mean we would never see him, which would be a shame.  He doesn't grumble much - I think he likes his Christmas Box - so we've left the postbox where it is.

We only have the one key.  And we've been saying for over two years that we must get a copy.  It comes on a fluffy small teddy bear key ring with a not too robust clip.  Unwise to have something small and fluffy lying around with an Airedale terrier in the house.

Yesterday I dropped the key and didn't notice.  Vita did, grabbed it and then proceeded to "kill" the small teddy bear all round the garden.  By the time I rescued the key ring there was no key.

The advice from someone on Total France: "Go to your local brico and buy a new barrel (barillet) that is PTT agreed. Ask the postman to open your box and leave it open. Change the barrel."

So the post box now has a note attached to it (hope my French makes sense).

I'll make sure the new barrel has at least two keys and I'll get two very non-furry key rings.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

It's Gone!

It rained heavily over night and by this morning all the snow had gone.

In the late afternoon sun and a mild 12°C, Vita and I walked the canal tow path.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Home Alone

My fears were unfounded.  The drive to Bordeaux airport was easy.  Round Bordeaux you wouldn't even know it had snowed.   In the end we took the batmobile because it is left-hand drive and so was easier for me on the way back, on my own at the peages. The hardest bit of the journey was the beginning, up our chemin rural as the car struggled to get traction on the packed ice.

So Tod is on his way and Vita and I are home alone.  Coming quietly in the front door, I heard her jump off the bed upstairs as she realised I was back.  She charged downstairs, said hello and then rushed out to the car expecting to find Tod. 

To keep her mind off the fact that part of the pack is missing, I took her for her usual long walk: down the side of Monsieur F's field; turn right alongside the stream; across the bridge, back left past the donkey field (which is still a bit scary in case the two White Faces are close by the fence); along the other side of the stream and through the muddy, still snowy woodland; back again across the stream and left again following the edge of more fields to complete the circle.  We startled a heron who flapped slowly away, grey wings in the gathering dusk.

As I walked round I could hear the scream of the saw cutting into the great stone blocks in our kitchen as our builders fitted the lintel for our new window and reshaped the stonework in our thick old walls.  With the noise resounding along the valley I was glad that most of our neighbours were safely behind closed windows and shutters.

I felt like Good King Wenseslas's page as I followed the imprints of Tod's boots, still there in the remnants of the snow and ice.  This is "our" walk so I know they were his.  At the steep cut where the drain off the top field runs down into the stream, I found where Tod had stepped and crossed safely without getting my shoes wet.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Trip into Town

Been feeling envious of everyone who has snow that didn't disappear almost as soon as it fell.  Not any more.

We've only had a couple of centimetres or so, but it is enough to keep us trapped in our cottage.  The track from the cottage that goes past the house then joins the chemin rural between the fields and up to the road along the ridge behind us is very steep in places.

We blithely thought we would go into town yesterday lunchtime, so de-snowed the merc and then set off. We got about 20 metres up the slope when the merc began to slide backwards, heading straight towards the shed wall and the batmobile beyond. So we stopped (quickly) and then spent the next hour barrowing grit from off the drive in front of the house where it's flatter, down the slope to the cottage and the merc.

This time, when Tod set off (I walked) the car tyres held and the merc got up the drive as far as the house. I bravely got back in, held my breath and we headed off up the chemin, between the fields, single car width track, ditches on either side and no room for error.

The top of the track onto the road is especially steep, so not the place to stop. With a couple of sways and slipping of wheels we took the top at a slow skid and turned onto the ridge road. Used to the heavy traffic of South East England, we naively had thought that the top road would have cleared but the French (sensibly) had stayed at home and so the roads were no better than our drive. We crawled our way into town, wondering quite what it was that we so urgently needed that we felt we had to come out.

On the other side of the road a van and a trailer were stuck half way up the hill that we were going down to get into town. We had that to look forward to on our way home. At a cross roads there were skid marks and a car with its front wheel wedged against the concrete of a land drain in a ditch - ouch, that looked expensive.

Tod slowly drew into a factory entrance to let a young road racer charge past. How was her car keeping its grip?

Apart from them, we had the road to ourselves.

We climbed out of the car in Leclerc's car park feeling like we'd driven up the Matterhorn. Inside there was a feeling of camaraderie among those of us who had made it and a surprising number of people in ordinary shoes (how did they manage on the snow) as we clumped round in our wellington boots. We added salt to our list of things to buy.

The roundabout coming back out of town caught us unawares (essential not to get complacent) and we gracefully glissé-ed into the kerb with a heavy thump, but otherwise the journey home was slow and tense but uneventful. Mind you, we haven't dared try getting out since.

Tod is off to Thailand tomorrow for two weeks and I am supposed to be taking him to Bordeaux airport. It's the first few hundred metres that are going to be the challenge. Fortunately if we really can't make it, Mick has offered to take Tod in his 4x4. Bless you Mick.

And the advice on the French forums? "Buy snow chains."

View from the top of our chemin rural

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Grey Day

Feeling stodgy - too much cake and computer and not enough fresh air.

To blow away the cobwebs we go for a walk alongside the Canal de Garonne.

Canal de Garonne (also called Canal Latéral à La Garonne) 

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Sechoir

We have the remnants of a sechoir - a barn for drying tobacco -  on the bank above the cottage.

This part of France used to be one of the largest production areas in Europe for tobacco, which is still grown here in considerable quantities.  Nearly every farm has at least one high wooden-slatted barn, the vents at the sides designed to let air pass over the hanging fronds of tobacco leaves.

These days most sechoirs contain farm equipment rather than tobacco and we envy our neighbours' useful storage space. Ours is no more than a weed and bramble covered concrete footprint at the side of the track between the house and the cottage.  The previous owners took the wooden structure down because they thought it spoiled the view.

We've now realised that the floor of our sechoir can still be useful.

The large sandstone and flint boulders that we are digging out of the soon-to-be-a-lawn are in the way.  At the moment they are where eventually we will have parking for the cottage and it seems wherever we put them we then decide the space is useful. Moving great boulders more than once is not much fun.

So with renewed enthusiasm for tidying up, we decide the base of the sechoir, cleared of weeds, can become - for the time being - our builder's yard. I trundle the largest boulders, one at a time, on a sack barrow up the track from the cottage.  The slope is too steep to push the barrow, so I tug it up, walking backwards, Vita snapping encouragingly at the wheels.

No doubt once we've moved everything, we will then decide we need the sechoir floor for something else!