Wednesday, 22 June 2022

I leap in the car and drive off ...

 ... as the thunder, lightning and rain roll in, leaving Vita with her nose pressed against the kitchen worktop where her half-prepared breakfast sits above, tantalisingly just out of reach.

Tod and Bertie have gone for their morning walk and although dressed for inclement weather, the rain is coming down harder and faster than they anticipated and the lightning is uncomfortably close. 

I meet the drenched pair trudging up the road between Monsieur F's two fields and Tod mildly suggests it would have been nice if I had come looking for them two minutes earlier. 

We cover the pool - stable door and bolting horses come to mind.  Last night the water was nearly 30°C. It's dropped to 23° and the heatwave has abruptly left us overnight. We will struggle to get the water anywhere near those lovely warm-bath temperatures again for our current guests. Not that the outlook invites much lounging by and in the pool.

Still, our guests may sleep more easily at night and opening up the cottage (and the house) first thing in the morning to let in the fresh, cool air will be a real pleasure.

We're due more rain (and possible storms) through the coming days. As the rock hard clay in the rose beds begins to soften, I may finally get some long overdue weeding done.

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Triumph of Hope over Expectation

 We have had a very elderly red tractor for over twelve years.  Tod bought it second hand and for a time it trundled backwards and forwards across our field with a large (modern) grass cutter attached to the back.

For a while, all was well because a near neighbour knew all there was to know about the innards of old machines and he kept it going for us.  Sadly, he went back to the UK and we, and several farmers around, were very sorry to see him go.

From then on, the tractor has gently gone into decline and Tod hardly uses it these days. He thinks he knows what's wrong but doesn't have the skill or tools to do the necessary repairs and those who might are too busy servicing John Deere mowers.

So the tractor has been sitting in a corner by our entrance, looking more and more sad.

Wednesday, I was strimming the gulley that runs down from the road alongside our farm track.  We have guests arriving Friday and we need the place to look tidy.

A van comes down our track - a young man offering gardening services.  I fob him off and suggest he continues down the track and turns in our driveway in order to get away easily.  As he comes back up, he stops his van.  "Is the tractor for sale?"  I get Tod. A deal is struck and a second visit - with his mechanic (who turns out to be his Dad) - is arranged for Thursday morning.

I am in the cottage ironing when I hear the noise of a car? van? outside.  Not sure what's going on, I wander out to find a small, scruffy, white lorry and two men unloading ramps.

"They'll never manage it"  I think.  "That lorry is much too small." And I return to my ironing.

Through the open bedroom window I hear the rumble of the tractor and much yelling. "Stop! Arrêtes!"  I imagine someone under an over-turned tractor.  More yelling, more rumbling.  The dogs join me in the cottage to escape from the drama outside.

Then it goes suspiciously quiet. Tod calls up to me through the open window. "They've gone, and taken the mower with them - never thought they've get it up the ramp and on the lorry."

Goodbye red tractor.  I'm sure you are going to a better life.  And we've got a bit of cash towards a "proper" John Deere mower for the field. A mower that the young lad in town will be only too happy to service.

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

"April is the Cruellest Month"

 Maybe not every year, but certainly this year April has flung everything at us - frost, high winds, drought and now rain.

Mind you, after the drought the last one is very welcome.  But the first three have been cruel to gardens and the farms and vineyards around.

Up in the Gironde at the beginning of the month they were burning fires through the night to try and save this year's grapes. The photos are beautiful - until one sees the stress in the faces of the vignerons.

For the first time in the fourteen springs we have been here our wisteria has been badly scorched - its pendulous flowers were beautifully in bud one day and the next, they had become thin brown tassels.

Roses just coming into new growth, their plump young stems and baby leaves a ruby red, are now curled over and brown.

Some trees and shrubs have sailed through all this and are virtually in full leaf.  Others are still bare stemmed, early buds burnt to a crisp.  There is sometimes a faint glimmer of new growth.

After soaking with the big water canons last week, Monsieur F's dormant corn has suddenly burst into life - rows of two-inch green shoots now above the baked earth.  The seedlings are lapping up last night's steady rain. Our water butts are full and there is some hope the underground tank may see us through summer this year after all.  

Fingers crossed that the bushes which are still bare and the damaged roses finally recover.  

Monday, 11 April 2022

"Interesting Times"

The French have voted for their next president - well, round one anyway.  

Within minutes almost of the polls closing small communes are already posting their results - perhaps not surprisingly when only a few hundred ballot papers are in the box.  And there it is for all the world to see. Forty percent of our neighbours voted for Marine Le Pen.  We knew they were right wing, but not to that extent!

Rural farming areas, aging populations, cautious and conservative, inward-looking, such communities see little of merit in Macron and these days have no interest in socialism and, whilst her father's extremism was unpalatable, Marine in recent years has mellowed her messages and has made herself acceptable.

Across the country as a whole Macron has the lead - just.  Last time, the second round of voting was easy for him.  This time, probably, not so much.  Le Pen has a real chance, especially if the socialists hold their noses and vote for her, in preference to Macron. She may be the lesser of two evils. 

We are in for an interesting two weeks.  And possibly beyond ...

Sunday, 20 March 2022

The Dog Whisperer

Our Sunday afternoon peace is shattered as bedlam breaks out in the garden. A stray dog has found his way onto our land and Bertie is vigorously defending his territory, while Vita wanders round just wanting to be friends.

Bertie has a bloody eye and I scoop him up and put him in the car, whilst yelling to Tod for help.  The stray meanwhile is enjoying romping around marking every inch of our terrain.

Vita is firmly encouraged into the kitchen and I leave Tod with the task of corralling the stray while I head to the emergency vets.

The eye looks worse than it is - just a scrapped eyelid which needs cleaning, antibiotic cream twice day for a week (that's going to be fun to administer) and a hood so he can't get at it.

I return to find Tod at the top of the road talking to our neighbours.  They, of the boisterous dog pack that barks enthusiastically at us as we go about our lives.  Every house in rural France has dogs, usually chained up.  These, at least, have the run of their garden. 

The stray has eluded Tod and we thought it might be one of their pack, but it's not.  So we head back down the drive to play "ring a ring o' roses" round the cars, while being given full-on vocal support from Bertie who has been left locked in the back of the merc. Each time we get near the stray he scoots away.

I take a couple of photos on my phone and resolve to set out in search of the owners while Tod sits on the garden steps with small chicken pieces as a vain attempt at a lure.

We look up to see Monsieur, our neighbour, standing on the drive.  He wears dark glasses all the time so we are not sure how well he sees and he looks across at us asking: "where is the dog?" and "has it has left?"  Like something out of a pantomime we say: "he's there, right behind you!"

We now understand why they have so many dogs.  Quietly, calmly, he gets down to the intruder, murmuring gentle nothings and administering cuddles. A grasp of the collar leads to a moment of anxious bucking and diving, but the dog is secure and on a lead. The neighbour tells us he knows someone at the mayor's office who will help (even on a Sunday) and that he's happy to take the dog.  We marvel at his skill and breathe a sigh of relief and, after a few minutes to give stray and dog whisperer time to get safely back up the hill, Bertie and Vita are released from their enforced imprisonments. 

The neighbour returns later with our lead and tells us the dog belongs to a hunter from the local town.  Although the hunt season is closed the hunter was out along our valley and the young dog flushed a deer and was off. The hunter knew where to come for help.

From now onwards we will see our neighbour and his dog pack in a very different light.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Ahead of Ourselves

 Standing on the terrace, surveying a mowed lawn, a clear swimming pool and a bright blue sky Tod asks: "Are we getting ahead of ourselves?"

February has turned benign. All too often over the years we have huddled indoors until well into March and then rushed round trying to catch up with all the tasks that need doing before any guests arrive in the cottage.  Not this year. And hopefully it will stay that way.

The sparrows have been banished from the cottage roof. Over recent years under the tiles has become sparrow Hilton and I've had to explain to each set of arriving guests not to worry about the noise above their heads when they are lying in bed - sparrow feet are amazingly heavy.  Not this year - all being well. 

A man who knows about roofs has concreted the ends of our curved tiles (so there is no way in underneath) early enough in the year before they start looking for nesting sites.  We apologise to the sparrows but point out that there are lots of other places in the garden they can now go, including some nice fat tall leylandii that finally, after sulking for several years, have put on a whole new spurt of growth.  We think they have found ways to break down through the sandstone outcrop on which I less than kindly planted them. They were meant to hide the pylon (but don't) in the field that belonged to Philippe who left a lovely strip of uncultivated land down to the stream and now is owned by a young man who farms right to the very edge.

There are two new wooden windows and a door lying in the hall waiting for Tod to oil them. Josh brought them round yesterday minus their double glazing - easier to oil that way. He'll be back in three weeks or so - double glazing company willing - to install them. They will be a great improvement on the draughty single glazed battered windows and door that currently take the full brunt of north and west winds at the back of the house.

It's that wind-blown side of the house that has the wisteria. Ever since we've been here we've been waiting for a moment to repaint the wall before the wisteria comes into bloom and leaf and completely smothers it.  Usually we think about it too late, but not this year. We're not doing anything fancy. Just knocking the worst of the old flaking white paint off and slapping a "ton pierre" (more the local vernacular than white) coloured cheap exterior paint on top of the messy bits. The wall is so uneven that any attempt to get a good preparatory surface is pointless. I've said I'll do it - gulp - as Tod wants to do the huge wall that backs our terrace.

We may be ahead of ourselves, but there's still a lot to do!

Sunday, 30 January 2022

There I met an Old Man Clothed all in Leather

There was a soft tap at one of our doors that set the dogs barking.  The challenge was to find which door.

The layout of our house confuses new visitors as there is no obvious front door.  On one occasion Tod was lying in bed when a tap at the bedroom French window revealed a woman who was looking for the chateau her mother worked in during the seventies.  Tod assured her there was no chateau round here. This was the early days when we knew no better.  In fact the farm along the ridge, perched on the next sandstone outcrop is clearly sitting on huge foundations that show where the chateau was, until the then owner gave up the fight to keep it going and knocked it down.

Those who know us just come along the terrace to the kitchen door. So I headed out that way in search of the tapper, to be confronted in the late afternoon cold mist by an elderly gentleman with a sweet smile wheeling a sensible bike with a panier full of folders, clothed from head to foot in sensible weather-proofed clothing.  A childhood poem (song?) immediately sprang to mind, not thought of in nigh on sixty years:

One misty, moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather,
There I met an old man, clothed all in leather, 
Clothed all in leather, with a cap up to his chin,
How do you do, how do you do, how do you do again.

After we had said our "how do you dos" it transpired he was the census enumerator, come to collect our data - it was our turn.  I knew he was due.  We'd had a letter from the mayor's office a couple of weeks earlier to say, among other things, that we could do the census online.  In COVID times that makes a lot of sense.  The letter included codes so we could get online and I had carefully put the envelope to one side.  I apologised to the elderly gentleman and assured him I would do it online straight away and sent him on his way into the cold with the words "bon courage". On reflection, I suspect he would have much rather come indoors for half an hour to warm up and complete the census by hand.

So, after supper, I resolved to do it. That's the point where my plans fell down.  I had put the envelope on one side. Safely, I thought. But a search through the pile on my desk - the cardiologist's paperwork, Tod's prescription for glasses, the letter from M&S about my unit trusts, the pension company letter asking me to confirm I'm still alive, and the latest newsletters from various local government bodies - revealed nothing.  Well, not entirely true. The 2022 calendar with the rubbish and recycling dates did drop out from one of the newsletters. So that was useful.

My heart sank as I began to think the mayor's census letter with the necessary code numbers had gone up the hill behind us to the recycling bin, which was out on the road ready for tomorrow's collection.  By this time it was dark, foggy and very cold.  I began to imagine large fines for not completing the census.  They would know we hadn't done it. The French are very bureaucratic and no doubt not doing the census would be frowned on heavily.

So, we took the car up the drive and heaved the big black bin with its bright yellow lid into the back - thank heavens for an estate car.  The bin refused to go through the kitchen door so we opened both French windows into the lounge - which was warmer with the log fire alight.  This was the moment Tod announced it was past his bedtime.  I found a large black sack and began to take out Amazon cardboard envelopes, empty dog food tins licked spotless, old copies of Private Eye and the weekly advertising rubbish from all the supermarkets and the DIY stores (we really ought to put a "PAS DE PUB" sign on our letter box, but we always think there might be something useful - there rarely is). I had to get some steps so that I could get up higher and reach down further in the bin.  And there, nestling alongside the week before last's Lidl catalogue was the mayor's envelope, complete with contents.

By this stage Tod was snuggled in bed, so I lugged the bin back up the drive - the exercise was a good test for my new pacemaker.  Our neighbour's dogs went frantic at all the to-ing and fro-ing that late in the dark and were yelled at by our neighbours.  An hour later our census form online was completed. Result!

Sunday, 16 January 2022

Misty Frosty Mornings

The fourth morning in the row we wake to minus five and mist.

Normally Sunday mornings are a walk along the ridge.  These days, to save Vita's back legs I drive them to the entrance to Monsieur F's farm, drop them off and they walk back.  It's flat and then downhill all the way.

Twenty minutes of defrosting the car, putting on layer upon layer, wrapping Vita in a tartan jacket, getting kitted out with hats and gloves and Vita gets as far as the now-warm car and stops.  She very determinedly heads back towards the house for breakfast. Tod sets out with Bertie.  Two minutes later, they too are back at the kitchen door.

No walk today.  Can't say we mind too much.

A single shot from a hunter somewhere in the field up behind us sends Bertie racing back out to set the world to rights. Heaven only knows what the hunter thinks he can see in this weather.


Friday, 14 January 2022

C'est Chouette!

 For those of a nervous disposition, who are inclined to faint at other people's descriptions of their operations, rest assured this is the last time I will be talking about my pacemaker op.

As an aside, for a time I lived in Brazil with my then boyfriend.  He was of a nervous disposition when it came to details of operations.  Part of his job was shepherding visiting American management round the local chemical plants.  On one such trip the visiting elderly American was enthusiastically describing his quadruple by-pass operation over dinner.  Said boyfriend fainted at the table and had to be helped from the dining-room by elderly American and nearby waiter. 

Anyway, I digress.

Part of the impeccable National Health Service in France includes post-operative care by nurses every two days to check all is progressing well with healing and to clean and replace the dressing.  So this is what I have had for the last two weeks.

Every nurse who has peeled back the dressing has exclaimed when they have seen the work of the surgeon.  I think I have the best operation scar in France.  It is immaculate.  It has been described as "jolie", "impeccable", "magnifique" and my favourite: "chouette" which literally means "owl".  

So I have an owly scar! Of which I am very proud. And the surgeon should be too. I will tell him when I see him in three months time.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

Done and Dusted

 Well, I have it!  My new pacemaker!  That and a somewhat battered left side to my chest.  

I have strict instructions from the cardiologist not to drive or garden for two weeks (what am I going to do with my time?) and not to raise my left elbow above my shoulder. No hanging washing out on the line or reaching up to get a mixing bowl from the top shelf (or even the middle shelf).  

I'm learning just how much I lead with my left hand and arm - the first to reach for the heavy swing door or to open the boot of the car or to lift a kettle full of water. The NHS website advises putting a phone to the ear furthest from the pacemaker. Answering the phone with my right hand and putting it to my right ear feels very strange - almost as if I cannot hear properly.

Being at the hospital on the eve before New Year's Eve, I feel I have the place to myself - empty waiting rooms and wards, a radiologist standing ready for me as I am wheeled to the X-ray department, an orderly who arrives in a trice to wheel my bed back to my room when the op is done, nursing staff who are chatty and friendly and have time to gossip (including the one who has been at a language school in Brighton and wants to practise her English). When Tod picks me up, the large car park, normally packed to the gills, has half a dozen vehicles. I begin to wonder whether the cardiologist has come in specially, just to "do" me?

My paperwork includes a prescription for a nurse to come to our house and change my dressing every two days. Doctors who live in the centre of towns don't realise just how onerous such an instruction is for community nurses in the country. I phone Vero and we agree I will come to her "cabinet" in town on Sunday - even that feels unkind at New Year, but she reassures me "c'est normal". Tod will have to drive me - I'm not used to this.

And among the papers there is also a small blue booklet which I must have with me at all times, twenty-seven pages of instructions and details about me, my pacemaker, my doctors (GP and cardiologist), tables to be filled in each time I have a check-up and from now onwards to be waved under the noses of the border police so I don't go through a body scanner. A friend in the UK says he has "a bit of paper" to show. The French do not do these things by halves.

Celebrations are foregone this year and we are all in bed by ten-thirty and asleep soon after. I wake briefly at midnight to hear distant fireworks from our neighbours up the hill behind us.  The dogs don't even stir.