Monday, 30 December 2013

"Ouvert tous les jours" ...

... is the most mendacious phrase in the whole of the French language.

I checked - that's what it said: "Ouvert tous les jours" (open daily). It's true, I only checked quickly, so I was pleased that I spotted the website went on to say "except bank holidays" - fair enough. So that rules out Christmas Day and New Year's Day.  But today's a normal day. So I decided to go as today is the only day this week the météo shows no rain.

Next Tuesday is a photography club evening and it's a competition night. The topic is roofs (rooves?) and I'm struggling.  It's true there are plenty of old, interesting roofs round here, but they are all much of a muchness and I need four different, contrasting images to make an impact. So Bordeaux seemed like a good idea - old roofs, maybe some new, perhaps some glass for contrast. I googled and found that there is a splendid view to be had over the rooftops of the city from the top of the Tour Pey-Beland. But maybe the tower was only open in summer for the tourists? So I googled again, and there it was, that phrase: "ouvert tous les jours". Great. And off I set.

Only of course it wasn't! The heavy red doors to the tower were firmly shut. Perhaps it was because I was too late?  I found the notice with the opening hours alongside and no, I was on time, still another hour before closing. But then I found it. There. The dreaded phrase in small print underneath - sauf lundi (except Monday).  Aaaah!  You would think I would know by now. That I wouldn't be taken in any more.  After all, this is our seventh Christmas in France.

Well, the trip wasn't entirely wasted.  I now know where to come when the sun is shining and I've spotted some other potential scenic shots.  Today wasn't the right day - too dull and washed out.  If the tower had been open I would have been dissatisfied with the shots I took.

So now I'll just have to make the most of the images round here - starting perhaps with the cooking pot (or maybe chamber pot?) on top of our own pigeonnier.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Post-Christmas Ponderings in the Sunshine

Bertie sits in guard dog pose on the bank up behind the house, next to Monsieur F's maize field.  He's watching the "fauchage" tractor on the skyline clearing the ditches that border the road along the ridge and gives an occasional "woof" of encouragement.

Near-by, Tod is chain-sawing a dead elm that came down in one of the windy days over Christmas. Shame! Although it has been dead for years its gaunt branches reaching skywards continued to offer some sort of shelter and perching point for birds. We have too few mature trees in our garden. Those that we have planted are still tiny.

My task is cutting the long grass on the bank that tips down into the field where our tiny trees are slowly growing.

We're making the most of the sunshine. We need the exercise and fresh air after much feasting and merriment; thoroughly indulged by friends on The Day and then too much chocolate, Lidl's ice-cream "bûchettes de noël" and panettone thereafter. (We're doing our best to finish it all before New Year resolutions start.)

Over Christmas lunch we reflected on how tough Christmas must have been for so many this year. And there seemed a particular poignancy to our reflections as we know well and love some of the areas worst affected.

I grew up alongside the River Mole.

A placid, gentle river, meandering through reed beds and round islands, it was there I paddled, learnt to fish, played hide and seek with my brother, walked the dogs, picked cowslips and day-dreamed of boyfriends.

It is a Wind in the Willows kind of river and all too easy to underestimate.  Because occasionally, just occasionally, it becomes a raging torrent that tears its banks, hurtles over weirs, roars round the arches of old brick bridges and pours over its flood plain.

When I was very young, this didn't seem to matter that much as the plain was largely playing fields, scrub land and watercress beds. So as kids we just thought it was fun and stood at the edge of the brown swirly water as it washed across Guildford Road and stopped the buses from the garage getting into town to take us to school.  

But over the decades, with pressure on housing in the South East, what were playing fields and watercress beds became building plots. And this year the River Mole has become again that raging torrent, flooding homes, disrupting travel and leaving thousands without power over the one time in the year when we are told: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that we are "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." For many, it must have been anything but.

Here's hoping that the River Mole quickly returns to its normal beautiful tranquillity and that 2014 is a good year for all.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Benign December

Some days we wake to deep frost and a thick mist which lingers on into early afternoon. Tod and the dogs disappear into a muffled world on their morning walks; just the sound of Tod's boots crunching on the brittle grass. As the sun slowly breaks through, the farm on the next outcrop of sandstone further up the valley beyond Monsieur F's maize fields emerges as an island lapped by a grey sea.

But this week the weather has turned benign.  Blue skies and an almost mildness have me stripping off my heavy gardening jacket as I strim the weed patch to the left of the cottage that remained untouched through the whole of this spring and summer - just too far down the "to do" list. The scrubby bumpy terrain deserves to be something better, with its splendid views across the fields to the distant chateau and small hill-top village.  As I cut back the great mounds of weed and grass, I dream of a rose bed and arbour where our guests can sit and watch the changing light on the fields and the swoop of the buzzards as their hunt their prey.

It may take some time before that dream is realised.  The ground is above what I suspect are the remnants of a flint walled barn that is shown on the Napoleonic maps. Older than the cottage, sadly all that is left of the barn (Serge having dismantled it) is one long wall, the support for a tatty breeze-block cow shed with a tin roof held down by tyres.  We've never understood why the barn was flint. After all, this is clay and sandstone land and no landowner in Napoleonic times would have transported building materials far. Then we learn from one of our farming neighbours (they whose family has been here longest) that there is a small flint quarry just beyond the distant village. Mystery solved.

I fear I will be quarrying flints in our own garden for the foreseeable future if we are to have that new rose bed.  Something to add to the "to do" list. And maybe, just maybe, if December stays benign, it will be a task that I manage at least to start, if not accomplish, at the end of this old year.