In this part of France we moan about the plastic covering the fields in summer to grow melons. Where we stayed in Portugal is on the edge of a delightful dell, plunging down to a stream bordered by immense eucalyptus trees. Beyond that hectare after hectare is covered by estufas, plastic greenhouses growing raspberries and tomatoes that are tended by immigrants; most seemed from the Indian subcontinent or Nepal. We threaded our way between them and looked into one that was growing tomatoes. Inside in the stifling heat the workers wore goggles, masks and hazard suits. One of the greenhouses held shipping containers that had been turned into living accommodation. The growing medium is plastic bags filled with some material that allows the plants to root. Great dunes of used bags surrounded the greenhouses and these are fed into furnaces that provide heat in winter. It does not add to the aesthetics of the countryside or to outlook of the scattering of large houses, mostly owned by the rich from Lisbon. Another consequence is the decline of open country for the wildlife. When a fruit tree is ready to to be picked, our hosts are usually beaten to it by 20 or 30 azure-winged magpies that descend and strip it. They’re lovely birds, confined to this corner of Europe.
I erupted into a humdinger of a cold soon after we arrived, my first for a year. I’m told it had nothing to do with the flu jab I took a few days beforehand. The matriarch remains in hospital. Her kidneys work only if she is given a particular drug but it sends her blood pressure off the scale.


We’re in Portugal for a few days. The intention was to take the dogs, but then we discovered their rabies shots were out of date and decided not to risk it. The car was stopped by the police a few hundred yards before arriving at our destination and they went through our papers very carefully and I suspect the dogs would have been confiscated and turned into sausages had they been on board. Another complication would have been our host’s new dog, a 20 week-old deerhound, already the size of a Shetland pony and bouncy with it. Poonkie would have made a good afternoon snack for it.
We had booked accomodation en route with the dogs in mind and we ended up in the midst of maze of dirt tracks on a farm with a block of half a dozen rooms attached to a barn where the farmer made wine; his wife ran the accomodation. We were the only guests; nobody spoke anything but Spanish and communication was possible only though her iPhone translate. They couldn’t have been sweeter people.
The lack of cars on the motorways of the Iberian peninsula remains startling. In both Spain and Portugal one can have the road to oneself for mile after mile. One puts one’s foot down since going too fast does not seem to be dangerous in the absence of other traffic. The limit in both Spain and Portugal is 120kph. I was dozing peacefully at 160 and was passed by the Guardia Civil who didn’t spare us a glance.


The matriarch went clunk at a family dinner a day or two ago. She was initially thought to be dead but she perked up a little by the time the ambulance came by and was whisked back to hospital. The village is in a sombre mood since hers is a presence round which the community revolves.
The chateau had its first viewers, a young couple said to be representing Americans along with a brace of experts. The maire was in charge of them and he came back gloomy. The experts said €2m to bring it back to life and who would spend that when there are plenty of chateaux in the region for less than that in decent condition? Apparently the building could be made watertight for €10k but what would be the point? In 20 years time the same economics would apply. It could end up being dismantled for its bits but there would still be a substantial ruin left behind that would quickly return to being an overgrown folly opposite our terrace.
Since its peak – in my time – last November, the £ has lost 20% of its value against the €. I can recall Harold Wilson being derided when he claimed that his 14% devaluation half a century ago did not mean that the pound in your pocket had lost value. It did, but long term. For expats here, this depreciation is being brutal.


I spent two hours in the Prefecture in Toulouse wading through the dossier of paperwork required if I am to be permitted to become a citizen. We faced only one potential international incident when the document declaring that I had been free of sin in the UK was deemed unacceptable since the Scots police rather than their English equivalents issued it. I pointed out that I’d been in Scotland for 20 years before I came to France, that anything English was irrelevant and I could get Nicola Sturgeon on the phone to back me up. My interlocutor disappeared for 15 minutes to discuss the matter with a higher power and took the point. I was asked my opinion on Brexit. Contrary to the French principle of Fraternité, I replied, and an English thing, not Scottish. I’ll know the outcome of the interview within a year.
A pretty sinister crack has appeared in the loft as a result of the dry weather. It may be that this house will have to join the myriad of others in the locale that is pinned together with iron bars. A natural catastrophe is being declared that will give a smooth ride through the claims department of the insurance company.


There were a scary couple of days when mist crept up from the valley and long trousers were needed. But no longer; all is back to blue, the temp seems set for 25 and higher ahead and we’re on the terrace again. The swallows are still tooling around but other avian wimps have all gone south.
I go to the prefecture next week to see if I’m worthy of becoming French. A letter has been slipped to le Grand Fromage of the department, now a minister in Paris, asking him to fast track my application. In my experience, admittedly in the UK, such attempts to influence the process can be counterproductive, but I’m told it’s the best way to achieve the desired result in France. I know one American and another Brit who have such interviews next week.
At the moment we have four dogs here during the day and three at night. In the mornings the sky can rain shit as I flick the latest harvest over the hedge from the turd trowel. The smallest dog was at the vet again earlier in the week, this time to remove a twisted claw. The animal is fearless and loses any instinct for self-preservation when in pursuit of its favourite toy. I was puzzled by how fast it can run, keeping up with and even passing dogs that would be expected to outpace it. But I looked at it the other day and noticed that its back legs are disproportionately long, a bit like a hare’s.


I rise from my bed about 7am, come downstairs and potter through the online newspapers. I also hitch up my nightie to show as much leg as possible and zap any mozzies that are attracted with the electric tennis racket. Normally they don’t bother me much but over the last week I have been well nibbled.
About a dozen melons and about 15 kilos of plums are the latest freebies that have come our way. We know nobody who would do anything other than scream with horror should another melon turn up on the doorstep. Plums are not quite at that stage yet – but 15 kilos? I had a friend, a South African academic, who in apartheid days would buzz round Johannesburg on a motorbike throwing tomatoes at policemen. Melons, rotting melons, would have been even more fun.
The matriarch has return from hospital to a changed environment. A couple of her sons have spent days with a chainsaw and a digger hacking their way through the jungle that she encouraged to grow round her house. Surprisingly she didn’t go ape as everyone expected. Her second house is more of a problem. She has a daughter who has need of it but it is so crammed with stuff that she has hoarded that one can no longer get through the front door. I have been told she has a maladie.


We’re used to mice scurrying over the false ceiling that covers much of the ground floor, but I’ve just heard one pad across above my head like a prowling lion. Perhaps it’s time I called in the chasse. The collared doves now come to schmooze with us when we’re on the terrace. They’re also often at it like rabbits on the railings. A visiting Frenchman marvelled at the phenomenon and said that the hunting season is open on them until the end of February. I won’t shoot them myself and I hope that they will stay sufficiently close to the village to come through it safely. At the moment they are as interested in water as seed since this is likely the driest spell I’ve experienced since coming here. The natives whinge about the heat, but I close my eyes and think of Scotland and manage to cope.
My interview – said to last an hour and a half – at the naturalisation section of the prefecture in Toulouse, begins to loom. I am unable to complete all the required paperwork but I hope that a letter proclaiming my wonders from the maire may compensate a bit. I have managed to identify a few mega great uncles who were killed fighting for France against England at the battle of Verneuil in 1424 which may also help, but I won’t talk about the Napoleonic wars when various greats did a lot of French bashing – and looting.


The melon harvest is beginning to wind down. This is a relief since many hectares are rented in the vicinity and tractors and trailers shuttle from the fields to unload their cargo at the depot a mile or two west from here. The two buses that carry the field gangs spend much of the day in the large car park at the bottom of the village. Their drivers are monoglot Spaniards and spend the day processing gently round the hamlet. Occasionally they are called upon to pilot a tractor. It is difficult to know how many tractors and trailers are involved in the operation but eight roared through the village in procession at the end of yesterday.
To sort out something dull I went to the doc yesterday. We had our usual brisk exchange and he picked the telephone to make an appointment for me to see a consultant next Wednesday. The delay, he explained, was to allow time for the results of a blood test to be available. I agree that the French system may not be free at the point of delivery but the amount of money one pays is not a consideration for anyone – native or expat – that I know. And I would prefer not to be marooned in the middle of some months-long waiting list and be at the mercy of whatever strikes come to pass.
The doc has decided that I speak good French and he takes no prisoners when it comes to conversation. I have noticed that people consider that I speak better French than I do. It may be due to having a reasonably convincing accent. This is faintly disturbing since I can find myself too often skipping from noun to noun when someone speaks to me, a bit like jumping across a pond on stepping stones without much idea of what lies between.


The heat shuts down the village. All shutters are barred and nobody goes out to play with their noisy machinery, except the grandson who mucked out his car with a leaf blower. Alarming cracks are beginning to appear in houses as the clay beneath dries out, but the maires will be declaring a natural catastrophe, which will make the insurance companies pay for repairs. I don’t think this house has any new or expanding fissures but next door has a problem and I’ve heard of others. The lawn by the house has subsided by several inches, but at least I don’t have to cut the grass at the moment.
The matriarch had her three operations and is still bristling with tubes in intensive care. There was initial gloom as to her prospects but she is rallying. The junior dog, a tough little beast, suddenly began to scream in pain. It was taken to the vet who anaesthetised it and pulled from its ear a bloody grass dart that was burrowing into its eardrum.


At this time of year one spends time trying to dodge melons. A neighbouring farmer wouldn’t take no for an answer and came round the side of his house with a full wheelbarrow. 10 was the lowest number we could escape with. You drop them on nearby doorsteps and flee before the householder can come out to decline them.
I was introduced to Pokemon Go by grandchildren, a craze that seems to have erupted over the past month. In the botanical garden in Toulouse more than 50 people of all ages were clustered by one of the gates busily stroking their telephones to catch the Pokemons that had been lured to the vicinity. I stopped updating my understanding of technological things before the smart phone came out. I’ll stay that way but it won’t be that long before I’m barely able to function in the modern world.
The only time a swimming pool could be useful in the garden is when children visit, but the swimming lake with unrivalled slides is only about 10 minutes away and there the thrill is clogging, finding someone with a fat arse to back up the water flow to create a mighty skoosh that hurtles you down into the water before the life guards get there to tell you to desist. I did spend five minutes in the water one day when the thermometer hit 35, but it wasn’t that much fun.