Friday, 31 January 2014

Night Walk

The owl lifts noiselessly off the field, his ghostly shape caught at the edge of the torchlight.

Startled, Bertie looks up at me for reassurance and his eyes glow green-gold.  Other eyes, across Monsieur F's land, reflect back the same colour and immediately vanish - a fox or feral cat.

We reach the brow of the hill and walk down the slope towards the small bridge crossing the stream.  Our cottage comes into view on the left. A grey outline with two small diamonds of light shining out from high in the end wall. No doubt Tod is still at his computer.

Vita and Bertie hunt ecstatically along the pitch black ditches. The wet grass sparkles with rain drops lit by the torch as we pass. The sky shimmers with stars.  Orion's Belt to the south and west. The Plough to the north and east. The only two constellations I recognise. A plane's lights wink overhead - too high for the engine noise to carry.

Heavy rain clouds lie along the western horizon, deep grey billows touched with orange from the light spill of a distant town.

We turn down onto Monsieur F's left-hand field , slipping and slithering through the mud, and follow the stream, swollen with all the rain, gurgling and splashing in the dark.

Sloshing across the gully that borders Philippe's farmland, we head back for the final trek up our meadow to the cottage. To warmth. And dry towels for wet muddy paws. And bed.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Shirtsleeve Weather

We have friends who arrived a year or two before us, who told us the first January they were here they gardened in T-shirts.  As they tend to be hardy types and as every January we've been here it's snowed, we've taken their tale with a pinch of salt.

We thought they were exaggerating. Maybe not.  T-shirts are perhaps a step too far (we're not as tough as they) but we've certainly gardened steadily through this month and even have shed jacket and sweater because it's been  so mild. Oh the joy of being outside and getting to the tasks that rarely get accomplished in the rush of March and April.

Hazel saplings have been planted in the lawn behind the cottage. The apple trees and wisteria have been pruned, the banks strimmed, the borders weeded, cuttings potted, bulbs that were hiding in the shed planted. I've reached parts of the garden I haven't touched for years and discovered young elms springing up and a Japonica with fat flower buds completely smothered in the long grass.  Pots stand against the cottage wall with no more than a thin fleece over them for night-time chills - underneath geraniums and begonias continue to thrive. The violas I flung in a pot without much hope before Christmas are radiant.

Ten thirty, the early mist has cleared and the sun is streaming through the cottage windows. Time to grab the gardening sweater and jacket, find the gloves and secateurs and get outside.  Who knows, by mid-afternoon I may be in shirtsleeves again.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Mayor hugged me ...

... and planted a kiss on each cheek as he said "meilleurs voeux" (best wishes, for the New Year).  I was a trifle surprised as I didn't think we were that well acquainted and I would have been quite content with a hand shake.  It's true that Tod and I had gone into the Mairie after Christmas to register as voters - there are elections coming up in March - so perhaps that raises us to a new level of intimacy.  The mayor needs all the votes he can get, so if that means kissing an English OAP, so be it.

We were standing in the village hall surrounded by what felt like the whole of the commune, children scrambling between legs, weathered agricultural faces on all sides, a few women in dresses and high heels, clearly communicating that they had office jobs.

We were all there for the major's "state of the nation" and to welcome newcomers to the village. Although the hall has a stage, he stood amongst his people (egalité, of course), which meant most of us could not see him and had to rely on hearing his disembodied voice floating ceiling-wards via the amplifiers.

Tod and I understood about one word in ten, but could see from the somber faces and the nodding and shaking of heads that he was reporting on the poor state of the French economy and the certainty that it would continue for the coming year (indeed years). This will have a direct effect on what the commune will be able to achieve. Round here, people are stoical, they shrug and take in another belt notch.

The mayor was wise.  He finished on a cheerful note.  Two pétanque courts are being constructed in the centre of the village and (raising a cheer from the assembled company) this year the Tour de France will be coming our way.

As the slightly sickly white wine and cassis cocktail was being poured and the congealed pizza cut into slices we slipped away, our duty done.  Our neighbours are gracious but talking to us is hard work for them. We often see a slightly panicky expression in their eyes as we approach.  We have, however, met the new secretary to the Secretary of the Mairie.  She was one of those in high heels and her English is excellent.  No panic in her eyes, just a welcoming smile.  Hope her fluency doesn't make us lazy.  We need to practice our French as often as possible and the mayor's office is always a good place for a chat (and who knows, these days maybe a kiss as well).

Tour de France 2014