Sunday, 15 December 2019

C'est Pénible!

The young woman steps out of the kayak at the edge of the water and onto the road. The young man (presumably her husband) follows with the paddles and drags the canoe onto the muddy verge.

"C'est pénible!" she says as she reaches me. "It's painful" doesn't quite convey enough of her distress as we look back along the flooded road to where brown, twig-filled water swirls around her house.

In brilliant sunshine (the first in what feels like weeks) small groups of townsfolk stand on the belvedere in the town centre, looking down over the flood plain.  Water glistens in the fields as far as the eye can see. Isolated farmhouses stand as small islands.

Families, camera phones raised in all directions, wander across the bridge in the middle of the empty road, passed by the occasional gendarme and rescue vehicle. Elderly men in caps, swap anecdotes about which of the floods has been the worst and lean over the balustrade to watch the thundering water fight its way under the tops of the arches, great branches packed with debris banked up against the pillars. On the far side of the bridge the water laps across what was once a road heading south.

After two months of rains, the land is finally saturated, brooks and streams are filled to overflowing, pouring into the two big rivers.  The sirens first sounded two days ago when the Garonne initially broke its banks and the water's been rising ever since. This morning the record height of 9.04 meters (29.6 feet) set in January 2009 was broken. By nine o'clock this evening the vigicrues website reports 9.25 meters (30.3 feet). Fortunately the level is beginning to fall back.  The graph peaks well below the 10.72 meters (35 feet) of March 1930.

Hopefully the young woman and her husband will only need the kayak for a few more days.

And from SudOuest newspaper:

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Only in France!

A wine "offer" in this morning's in-box.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

I'm darning ...

... and my grandmother will be turning in her grave.

We think Bertie may have been weaned too early.  He sucks and chews blankets, towels and (to our horror) the deep red, heavy-duty linen, loose covers of the sofa in the lounge.  The latter he has only attacked twice, following a fair old ticking off.  He sucks them 'til he removes a small, perfectly oval piece of fabric which he then proceeds to chew contentedly.

The covers have had these three small holes in them for some considerable time.  They do not look pretty as the beige lining fabric of the cushions peeps through.  The task has been "on the list" but never reached the top.  Until now.

As we are staying in the house and not decamping to the cottage this winter, we are beginning to realise that the house needs more loving care.  It is too easy to live on the veranda and in the kitchen throughout summer and ignore the scruffiness elsewhere. Not any more.  Especially as we have friends coming for Christmas lunch and no doubt by late afternoon we will want to collapse in front of a roaring fire against the said Bertie-sucked deep red cushions.  So I am darning the holes, having found a spare bit of the loose cover fabric which came with the original washing instructions, what, some twenty-odd years ago.

My father's mother never had her hands empty.  She was always busy.  I have a faded black and white photo of Mum, Nana and Granddad relaxing in the garden.  I'm in my pram, so it must have been the summer of 1947. Mum on the grass, Granddad in a deckchair and there Nana is with a colander on her lap shelling peas.

If she wasn't shelling peas, or stringing beans, then she was darning socks on a pale beige wooden mushroom.  Beautiful, small, neat darns, squares of interlaced grey wool, the blunt end of the darning needle passing over one thread, under the next.

I'm sorry Nana.  My darns are much coarser and lumpier, but I promise you, no-one will notice after a good Christmas lunch.  (You will though!)

Monday, 25 November 2019

Yet again ...

... I am weeping for a dog and a family I have never met.  Yet through the magic of this Blog Land and Angus's eloquent words, I have been privileged each day to share a little of their lives and learn to love deeply this family fellow, who at only six years young has left them and his sister bereft.

Sleep in peace Bob.  The messages from round the world tell you how much you and the family you cared for are loved.

Bob. The Family Fellow. 2013 -2019

Friday, 15 November 2019

Still Life

This month's theme at our photo club is "Still Life".  Struggling to find anything to photograph, between downpours I dashed out and grabbed a few bits and pieces from the garden.

I'm amazed at the amount of colour still there. Haven't had much of a chance to see any of it these last days.  We've even been keeping the shutters closed. Very gloomy.  Very French.

I should obviously put on my mac and wellington boots and get out more!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

He Marched Them Up to the Top of the Hill and Marched Them Down Again

Tod and the dogs returned bedraggled and wind-blown from their early Sunday morning walk. Normally a long, leisurely stroll along the ridge before the hunters are out in their white vans, today was a quick march up to the top of the drive, an investigation of the large open barn that houses a couple of containers and some mouldy old bales of straw and then a turn into the teeth of the wind and the rain and back down again, home.

Our Indian summer is long gone.  We've had days of "raining cats and dogs" (the library of congress tells me the meaning is lost in the mists of time.  I like the suggestion that it might be a corruption of an old English word "catadupe" meaning cataract or waterfall.) We've certainly had waterfalls of rain - the water butts and the underground tank by the cottage are full to overflowing - and weeding between the cloud bursts has become a pleasure as the mud easily gives up normally recalcitrant roots.

The wind, however, is something new, arriving during the night and due to continue through the next couple of days.  Further west, the Gironde and Landes are on orange alert.

Normally, with weather like this, we would be thinking of decamping to the cottage for winter, but this year we're embarking on a new venture - staying put in the house.  In recent years our annual transhumance has become tedious, not least because there is a Bermuda Triangle between the house and the cottage and important papers - tax statements, annual estimates for the electricity - vanish without trace.

Our decision to stay put has been made possible by changing our wafer-thin watery glassed, small-paned, draughty windows along the veranda.  A precious reminder of the age of our old farmhouse, it's taken me, with aching heart, twelve years to agree reluctantly with Tod that enough is enough.  So they are gone and we have doubled-glazed, hand-made, beautifully sealed, easily opened, new wooden frames.

In all the gusting wind and driving rain our new windows are proving their worth. Shutters snugly shut, the noise from outside is but a distant murmur.  The house has become cosy.

Monday, 14 October 2019

A hot, bone dry wind ...

has been blowing hard from the south east for the last three days.

The shutters rattle at night, making sleeping a challenge.

On top of weeks with little or no rain, this cruel wind has the garden gasping.  Monsieur F has planted rape and nearly half his field is bare earth.  The plants that have come up droop in the heat.

Down at the cottage the walnuts cover the ground.  I gather as many as I can. They are not worth keeping but Vita eats them and I worry they are not good for her.  As I work, I feel the wind shifting. Gusts are coming out of the south west.

We are due thunder storms this afternoon (promised before, but not materialising) and I hope the shifting winds are sign that this time they will arrive.

In this heat it feels strange to be packing long sleeved T-shirts, sweaters and a mac for London.  My flight leaves later today from Bordeaux and, never a good flyer, I'm not looking forward to the take-off in this wind.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Noisy Sunday Morning

Bertie sits on the bank under the silk tree and barks - VERY LOUDLY - at the intruders in what he considers "his" territory.

Two huntsmen are walking up the narrow road between Monsieur F's fields and their dogs are runing hither and thither on the land nearest to us. Fortunately Monsieur F has just planted rape so the men are restricted to the road, but not their dogs.  Bertie cannot believe the cheek of it.

More noises are coming from the woodland on the other side of the valley - the sound of guns and hounds baying, on the scent, or maybe just joyously grateful to be out in the open after six months in a cage.

We have guests arriving next Saturday, expecting no doubt to be enjoying a lazy, tranquil week with us in what looks likely to be wonderful Indian summer weather.  We need to warn them (and perhaps provide ear plugs).   What with Bertie, the guns and the hounds, autumn Sunday mornings start early - and noisily!

Monday, 22 July 2019

Refusing to Leave Us

This time last year - in fact almost exactly this time last year - I wrote a eulogy to our mercedes, left broken and forlorn in a distant garage, unlikely to be repaired and unlikely to be in our lives again.

I was premature. Our old stalwart was needed (the batmobile in turn broke down and remained so throughout August as we waited for the garage mechanic to return from holiday).  So the merc was repaired and has lived a somewhat sheltered life this last year, only used for short local journeys, mainly ferrying the dogs and an occasional plant.

But this cannot continue.  Its "controle technique" (MOT) is due and it will not pass, even with repairs.  So its time really has come.  Taking it to the scrap yard doesn't feel right.  So we've asked an English mechanic who repairs and restores old mercedes whether he can make use of our old brute and he says he can.

We were due to drive over there this morning.  But the mercedes has other ideas. It won't start. The mechanic is coming round this afternoon.  We shall see.

Monday, 8 July 2019


In the twelve years we have been here we have never had so many apricots and mirabelle plums.

Conditions in the spring must have been perfect.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Grey Morning

There's an apocryphal story in São Paulo that women in Rio wear their fur coats when the temperature drops to 70°F.

Tod tells me when he was in his early twenties and came down to Biarritz he  found the weather deeply depressing.  Expecting to lie on the beach all day in glorious sunshine, most days low cloud swept in and hung around until late afternoon.  Tough for tourists (like those yesterday in Leclerc, wearing most inappropriate clothing), but wonderful for locals who are able to get on with their lives in relative comfort.

We've had such a day here and I've gardened with pleasure all morning.

And the Cariocas in their fur coats?  The difference between the 100°F of the last few days and the 70°F of this morning means that I've been wearing long trousers and a sweater.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Yesterday, for the first time ever in our twelve years here, we walked into the post office in town and it was empty. Three counter staff lounged around chatting and greeted us warmly.  Again, a first.

Normally we avoid the local town post office like the plague.  It always takes at least twenty minutes to get served and it has a deeply frustrating system of different queues that wind round various marketing displays, so it's almost impossible to work out which is the shortest and (not necessarily the same thing) the fastest.  I invariably pick the wrong one.

Our preferred option is a tiny sub-post office in a village ten minutes drive in the opposite direction.  The post-mistress is plump and cheerful and her office acts as the local bread collection point when the scruffy, badly stocked little supermarket in the village centre shuts in high summer.  It still takes ten minutes to get in and out, even if there is no-one else there.  But we engage in cheerful conversation (good practice for my French) while she taps about twenty different keys just to tell me how much my parcel to the UK will cost.

But yesterday it had to be the one in town.  The Chronopost delivery man (I suspect it was the man, the woman is more accommodating) had made no attempt to deliver Vita and Bertie's dog food and had just dumped it at the post office. (Much to their regret as they enjoy getting into the van to help find it.) It's true he may have tried to phone us to see if we were there (we were) but we have given up answering our phone.  We are suffering an endless stream of nuisance calls which vary in content from silence, to a recorded message, to a "press one to speak to someone" and then nothing, to speaking to someone who talks too fast and won't listen.  We gather we are being offered, under government edict, loft and basement insulation for one euro.  The offer lasts until the end of June and after that we are hoping for some peace. Curiously, we may be eligible, but we are so irritated by the number of times the phone rings (three times since I started this blog) that it has become almost a point of honour to refuse it.

We may live to regret our stubborn refusal.  Driving back from town yesterday the car thermometer hit 41.5°C (that's over 106°F).  And the météo says it will be even hotter by this evening. In future years we may need that insulation. Not for warmth, but to help keep the house cool.

In the heat of the mid-day sun yesterday our town was virtually deserted. People are taking their cue from Paris where schools are closing, polluting transport is banned and residents are being encouraged to stay indoors or seek air-conditioned sanctuary.  Leclerc's cool cabinets and freezers are irresistible in this weather.

We are lucky. Our old farmhouse has thick stone walls and we keep shutters closed and manage to create draughts by opening french windows facing north and east.  Vita lies on the tiles in the kitchen, strategically placed across one such draught.

We have had heat waves in previous years but never to this degree.  Welcome to a brave new world.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

It's only taken twelve years ...

... Well there's no point in rushing these things.

All our friends have done it.

They all said life would be so much easier if we did it too.

And we'd save so much money.

We thought about it, but there was an added complication with the merc and it would be expensive.

And then the years slipped by and as we still hadn't done it there didn't seem to be much point.

But then we bought the Skoda and it came already equipped and suddenly it seemed to make sense to do it.

So we borrowed one from a friend and four trips to the gravel pit and two to the town tip later, we found (of course) everyone was right.

We've done it!  We've bought a "remorque".

(The Skoda comes with a tow bar, whereas the merc needed one fitted and we baulked at the cost of fitting the tow bar and buying the trailer. We now know better.)

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

I've said it before ...

... and it's worth saying again, a cool wet May does wonders for the roses.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Pandemonium on the Terrace

Two baby blackbirds, one on the ground hidden among the pot plants, the other still up on the beam above our heads. And mother, with tempting morsels in her beak, on the low wall below encouraging her offspring to come down.  The noise that can be made by two small birds and one mother is astonishing.

Earlier, one of their siblings, already saying "look I can fly" crashed into my study window. I found him/her dazed in the grass and after some frantic fluttering from the baby and raucous anxiety from the father I carried the fledgling to longer grass by the sour cherry tree (smothered in small fruit) beyond the reach of the dogs.

This is a dangerous time for the blackbirds and this year's nest is in a particularly inappropriate place - on the high beam facing the kitchen door.  Bertie has been watching and waiting all week.  The landing site is right in front of him.  Sadly one youngster has already been found and dispatched.  So we keep the dogs in as much as we can and pray that the rest of the brood wastes no time learning to fly.

Fortunately it's been cold and raining all morning and the dogs are content to be in the warm.  Another few hours in which the blackbirds have the terrace to themselves and hopefully have time to find their wings and seek sanctuary further afield.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

A Misty Moisty Morning

Camper vans and sleek cars with strange number plates are beginning to appear in the supermarket car parks. An elegant pair of women - mother and daughter I guess - pick over the fruit in Carrefour. Tall, thin, in taupe and beige cashmere, leopard skin ankle boots and fashionably too short wool trousers, their perfume and demeanour reek "Parisienne".  Incomers arriving for Easter.

If they are hoping for the sunny days of February and March they are in for a disappointment. For those of us who are gardening, however, these subdued early mornings are a delight.  A cuckoo calls across the valley.  A pair of pheasants have made our garden their home and they cluck contentedly as they peck at the driveway. Noises are muted in the damp air and cars driving along the ridge to work sound more distant.

I inch my way along the bank below the house lawn.  Twelve years on and various "make-overs" and it still defeats me. The coarse grasses and brambles barge their way through the bushes I am so carefully nurturing.  A small forsythia and a shrubby cistus planted last year need weeding and there, inches from my nose, are two tiny grey-brown honeycombs, hanging delicately from brown twiglets, barely visible. The bane of my summer gardening - wasps nests!    By high summer this bank will be their domain and I will stay well-away, however much the brambles and the grass need attention. But this early in the day and in this cool dank air, I'm safe. Wasps are late risers.

For the moment, our hoopoes are silent.  They too, as incomers, are happiest later in the day, in the sun, chattering noisily as they play chase across the roof of our cottage.

There's another welcome sound this spring - the buzz of hive bees on the blue flowers of the rosemary that flops over the edge of the terrace flowerbed.  The second summer we were here Serge had planted rape in our neighbouring field and the noise of contented honey bees among the yellow flowers was thunderous.  But over the years since their numbers have dwindled to almost nothing.

The apiary in the woodland across the valley had been cared for by an elderly couple, but it became too much for them and was left to decay.  Now though, a white van is often parked among the trees and a cluster of new hives has appeared.  To our joy the honey bees are returning.  Though not this early in the day, nor on such a misty, moisty morning.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Monday, 25 February 2019

The Archbishop of Canterbury ...

... is preparing the United Kingdom for five days of prayer after Brexit.

Surely, five days of prayer BEFORE Brexit would be more appropriate.  Then, who knows, we might achieve a miracle.

Talking of miracles, the front door of the cottage has been open for days as we let the dogs wander in and out at will in this glorious sunshine.  We mow, prune, weed and stop frequently to say how unbelievable the weather is.  I suspect we should be more worried than we are about climate change, but against the background gloom of Brexit, in this blessed warmth, it's hard to be anything other than happy and grateful that there is something to smile about.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Dig Deeper!

I send out a distressed round robin email to everyone we know who is either DIY competent or a builder.  We dug down to the suggested 50 cm and still no sign of the red warning netting over the mains electric cable.

Back comes the universal message "dig deeper".  But how much deeper?  My heart sinks.

Then Ian's email arrived: "Cable is normally a minimum of 50 cm but if put in with a digger it could be a lot deeper, but normally no more than 75 cm, but if ground goes up and down can be deeper at some points, mesh is normally around 20 cm above cable, so should find it first."  Now that I can manage - I've already dug 50 cm.  Another 25 cm is only half that!  With renewed enthusiasm I get back in the trench with pick axe and trowel.

Within ten minutes, down at 80 cm a tiny corner of bright red webbing emerges from the clay.  Joy of joys.  I bounce back into the kitchen to tell Tod the good news.  We check another two holes and again, at last, the warning netting coyly appears - so now we know the route the cable is following and a call to Ian yields the promise of a visit with a digger to put in the French drain to divert the rain water away from the cottage.

He finally finds the cable itself at 120cm depth - our Polish builders obviously thought they were installing power in the Tundra. A nick through the protective ducting shows the importance of what we're doing. Water immediately starts to seep out and along the new drain.

The cottage heating has been on for over a week now to help dry out the wiring under the floor.  With almost continuous rain these last days the work has been done just in time.  Standing in the hallway, the cottage envelopes us in warmth.  And there is a blissful absence of the sound of dripping water from inside the electricity meter cupboard.

We've decided it's time to go back down to the cottage for what's left of winter.  There's even a hint of early morning sun to help with the move.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

So, the decorations are down ...

... packed in plastic crates and waiting to go up into the loft.

The lounge looks denuded and needs a good hoover.  Bits of that long fine shiny stuff that everyone used to drape over Christmas trees (no, not tinsel) get everywhere and there are always one or two pieces that only emerge once everything has been tidied. Bertie rolls on the carpet and then walks away with glitter in his fur.

Before I finally say farewell to Christmas 2018, some photos I took at our neighbouring farmer's house.  First time I've been through their door (only taken 11 years) and he and his wife proudly showed me their conservatory - filled with a "Village de Noël".  They told me it takes about a week to put up and take down.  Unlike in the UK, there isn't the tradition here of taking down decorations on twelfth night.  Perhaps as well! She tells me her village will stay in place for another couple of weeks.

It's difficult to do it justice with still photos.  Many of the models move: roundabouts, skaters, an airship, a train, windmills.  Lights flash and Christmas carols pipe in competition with one another through tinny (and tiny) speakers. She has been collecting the models since her now grown-up children were babies and admits to being addicted.  I'm not surprised.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

We Need a Dowser!

Despite the fact that it's winter (and very frosty) we are doing the best we can to stay warm in the house.  The cottage meanwhile is standing forlorn, empty and chilly with the power off.

Before Christmas, harking back to our flood in the hall last January, we thought it would be a good idea while the weather was still mild and dry to locate the mains cable under ground and do something fancy with pipes and drainage ditches to direct the rain water flowing through the ducting away from the cottage.

How hard could it be? After all, I took a couple of photos when the builders were laying the cable.  Both pictures show the red netting that is laid in the trench so that anyone digging has an early warning of what lies beneath.

Where the cable passes in front of the cottage we now have a concrete pathway.  And that's also the same territory where the pipe to our septic tank goes, not to mention the rainwater from the gutters to our large underground tank.  So to dig in that area seemed like folly and we moved to higher ground, using the right hand photo for guidance which shows the trench dug from the electricity pole diagonally across what used to be Serge's land, down the slope towards the cottage.

SEVEN holes later, we are still no nearer finding the cable!

It looks like the Time Team* has taken over.  We expect to bump into Tony Robinson and a camera crew any day now.

And we now understand why it is the builders we asked to do the work for us have all been unexpectedly busy.

* Programme on British TV that follows archaeological digs over a three day period.  Tony Robinson is the presenter.