Monday, 26 December 2011

A Christmas to Remember

Remembering childhood Christmases that followed the Polish tradition, Tod likes to see the decorations go up on Christmas Eve. This year, I persuaded him to let me put them up for the winter solstice. No holly yet (our bushes are still tiny) I find plenty of ivy to cut and dead branches of twisted willow that I spray gold and hang with small crimson baubles.

Bertie races across the fields around, nose to the ground, tail wagging frantically as he imagines small furry beasties beneath every clod of clay.  Periodically he checks in with me as I gather handfuls of honeysuckle, the last of the roses coming into bloom, branches of viburnum tinus with its bundles of tiny white and pink flowers and straight bright red stems of cornus.

I am spoilt on Christmas Eve as Tod prepares our special Polish supper: borscht, monkfish in a bouillabaisse that fills the kitchen with sweet oriental aromas, a fruit macedoine, with crème anglaise (custard to you and me) and stollen cake and panettone to finish.

While he cooks, I escape into town and hunt for images for the latest photographic competitions on The France Forum – people queuing for mussels in the market, piles of small, ripe tangerines, sun on the Garonne in full flood – all the images in my head far better than those I capture through the camera.

Christmas Day we spend with friends and relish the banter and companionship, the good food and the good wine. Perhaps a tad too much wine? Late in the evening, while I head down to the stream with Bertie, Tod ventures forth with Vita on a lead (she has hurt her back pad and cannot walk far). I return to find that, in the dark, torchless and following Vita, he’s tripped over the remnant of the tobacco barn wall that juts out into the lawn and is lying in agony on the sofa.

Dreading A&E on Christmas Day night and expecting to be hours, I fill a bag with water bottle, books to read and a box of biscuits. Tod slumped in misery in the passenger seat, shivering with the shock of the pain, wrapped in a blanket, I drive as fast as I dare the half hour to Marmande, to enter a crisp, white world of tranquillity, speed and supreme efficiency, coupled with a touch of Christmas celebration as those on duty wander round in red Santa hats. The X-ray shows a broken right collar bone, and he is strapped tightly into a Velcro sling and given a prescription for shed loads of pain killers and anti-inflammatories. We’re back home quicker than I could possibly imagine – the books and the biscuits not needed.

Boxing Day, and he’s dozing and watching daytime TV – from the raucous music and squeaky voices floating up to where I type this, I’m guessing a nostalgic American musical.

He was humming earlier. Whilst not the best of ways to end Christmas Day, I think he’ll live!

Thursday, 15 December 2011


Sometimes, just sometimes ...

While looking down at the soapy washing up water;
Or sniffling over a sliced onion on the pan-scorched chopping board;
Or waiting while the checkout girl and the customer in front chat as if they have all day ...

I wonder: "Is this it? 
I used to think there would be more."

But then ...

On a wet night, boots squelching through mud and long grass,
Throat-catching drift of wood smoke from a distant farm,
Dogs running at the edge of the torchlight, noses to the ground, tails high ...

I know that this is enough.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


We've been talking for ages about having a vegetable garden - but where?

The best place physically is probably on the bank at the edge of the field behind the shed with the corrugated iron roof that we bought from Serge.  It's roughly half way between the cottage and the house, so wherever we are living it's not too far to walk to get fresh veg.  It's a good sunny position too with no overhanging trees and reasonably close to the underground water tank down at the cottage.

But it's also a sandstone outcrop, the soil isn't good and the veg wouldn't thrive there.  So it would mean making raised beds of quite some height to give the plants a good root depth before they hit the sandstone.  And the beds would need filling with earth from elsewhere, which all begins to sound like hard work.  I don't do "hard work" if I can help it.

The alternative location is up by the house at the back, alongside what I laughingly call "the orchard"  - two elderly plum trees, a suspect mirabelle, a sour cherry and a doubtful perry pear tree. At the moment the possible veg garden is a lawn. The soil is good and it's sheltered from the north by the wood store and the east by the house.  But there's a large silk tree shading it and the old fosse septique tank is still underground in the middle.  Also, it's as far away as you can get from the cottage, so a trek for any friend staying there who thinks: "great I'll just go and pick a few French beans for lunch". And they probably wouldn't anyway,  because they would be entering what they would think of as "our" private space alongside the house.

On balance, the sandstone bank and raised beds is probably the better option.

Now is the time to be doing it - building the beds, filling them with soil and compost and deciding what goes where.  But I'm still dithering. Maybe because the last time I had a veg patch I was working full time and the gardening just became a burden every evening and weekend. And I gave up. It's that "gave-up-ness" I can still feel.

Then there's the reason why we're considering it ....  The media and the forums are full of anxiety about what is going to happen in the eurozone and what our world will be like in the future.  Doomsday scenarios are being written and there is talk of needing to be self-sufficient when the financial and economic world collapses around us.... that doesn't seem to be a joyous and uplifting reason to have a veg patch.

Better to focus on the delicious River Cottage veg dishes I've been cooking and think how much nicer they will be when I can just walk outside and pick my own basketful of organic vegetables fresh.