Monthly Archive for May, 2010

Driving etc

My work stations are about eight feet apart at the moment. On hot days it’s the terrace, otherwise a few feet inside the house with the french window open so that I can keep tabs on what’s going on outside. Today is the latter. It’s grey and windy. The oddity is the temperature which is 22. If I leave the door to the stairs open, the wind funnels through the house. Bar a little light weeding – which is not easy since the soil turns to rock unless recently rained upon – and a short dog potter I’ve spent a peaceful day in front of the computer. I try to listen to French radio to help my language skills but, unless I concentrate to the detriment of anything else, it just washes over in a gabble of sound.

I find driving on the wrong side of the road, even in a right-hand drive car, requires no thought at all which is odd. I have not been tempted to drive left which I did once in when I came to look for a house in February with a locally hire car. There’s a bit of difficulty when you join a main road and have to crane to see if there’s anything coming up on the left but otherwise it’s not a problem. I find myself driving as casually – and as badly – as I used to. The local roads, even the main-ish ones, have some ferocious bends on them and I did a shimmy round one yesterday after it had been freshly gritted. They’re all a little narrower than I’m used to but people happily take to the verges and these don’t seem to hold the nasty surprises that they can do in Scotland.

Crack & pilgrims

One thing I miss here is good dog walking from my door. Bar a wander round the environs of the chateau, one is restricted to roads. I did a bit of a local explore today to remedy the matter, trying the community woodlands of which this village proudly boasts 44 hectares. The nearest bit is a couple of miles away, so I took the car. It doesn’t really work. A track runs through the middle but the undergrowth means that you can’t really go off piste unless you have a machete. The track continues across a muddy stream and climbs up through fields growing maize, wheat, barley, rape and various unidentifiables. This a big garlic and melon-growing area and plums which are turned into Armagnac. Strange tweetings from hedgerows are irritating because one can’t see the tweeter. I did see a hoopoe within 50 yards of the house. I suppose the fluffy dog and I covered a mile the other side of the wood before rain drove us back. It’s grey today, windy, damp but about 20 degrees.

The tourist office can provide a map showing walks in the vicinity but they seem to hug the roads and be used by earnest groups with determination to tramp many miles burdened by rucksacks, sensible boots and grey hair. I potter and prod interesting things with my stick that I pass. The stick may get me confused with the pilgrims following the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela. Various routes through this part of the country are used by them and to carry a stick is essential. I believe 200k people will do the pilgrimage this year.

There’s a hood over the cooker and, after bashing my forehead on the corner once too often, I have fixed an inch of padding to it to prevent further damage. Most houses round here are too low for me but this, bar the cellar lintel, isn’t too bad. I was expecting a builder over the week end to quote for removing the cracked wall and putting in an RSJ, but he failed to show. I have pasted a cigarette paper across la fissure to check its expansion.

Cousteau

The only source of wild bird food I’ve uncovered is a bit more than half an hour away at Castelsarassin – birthplace of Jacques Cousteau, it proudly claims – in a garden centre adjacent to Le Clerk, a fairly formidable supermarket. The latter has a shaded car park which is useful for the fluffy dog. My highlight of trips there is going to boggle at the cans of sardines. In Tesco they cost less than 40p. Here they’re over £1 and it offends my Scots soul to pay that much for a can, so I doubt I’ll ever eat one again.

A quantity of valerian grows just inside the gate. This morning it was being raided by five kinds of butterfly, painted lady, fritillaries & the swallowtail, as well as humming bird hawk moths and other assorted goodies. A jay, of which there are large numbers here, is taking an interest in the bird food. Otherwise it’s queues of tits and sparrows who bring their fresh-fledged young to participate in the experience.

I’ve just seen the Maire leading a party of dinner-party dressed guests out of the track up to the chateau. It’s not really smart shoe territory, so I hope they found it worthwhile. It’s the first time I’ve seen anyone taking an interest.

Manners

The French don’t do litter to a quite remarkable extent. My eye is caught every time I leave the house on foot – I slip out the gate at the bottom of the garden – by a few tiny pieces of blue plastic a hundred yards down the track which the municipal mowing machine ran over and turned to fragments. Otherwise there’s nothing. And nothing in the ditches in the vicinity that I can see. In the towns it’s not perfect, but not far off it. If you don’t say ‘Bonjour’ to a shop assistant as you approach the counter, she gives you a funny look, as does anyone else standing around. And the aggression that emanates from so many young people in the UK is not present here. But the husbands are all probably wife beaters.

The fluffy dog disgraced himself at a social even a day or two ago by chasing a beloved and mentally fragile cat up a tree to the anguish of its owner. He finds this house disconcerting as I’ve rigged up a mirror to throw light onto a rather dark staircase and he keeps being surprised by his own reflection and growling at himself. He’s a simple soul. We bounced a pretty laid-back roe deer by the chateau. It may have thought it hadn’t been noticed as it played peek-a-boo from behind a bush.

bureaucracy

There’s a great Monty Python foot up there somewhere which is the bureaucracy. Apparently it’s Byzantine and full of jobsworths who, fortunately, are usually on strike against attempts by the government to raise the retirement age above 60. I think the car may have to be my first encounter with it since its UK insurance is only good for three months and I’ve been here a month from tomorrow and it needs to be registered here. Health should be another such matter that I come to grips with in the not too distant future. But procrastination is a dangerous temptation.

The bird feeding has come on by leaps and bounds. Not only do I have great tits, but blue tits and even sparrows. A collar dove is contemplating joining them but there’s no sign of exotica. I’m still seeing large predatory, unidentifiable things overhead but I’ve ordered a book about birds in SW France and should begin to make sense of them. An insect book is also on the way. A frelon and I frequently meet by the shed at the bottom of the garden. I’m told it’s just a queen hornet and the same as can be found in the UK. Not where I come from.

I hate to become a bore on the subject but the snap shows the steam rising from the nuke once more. Its prominence must be due to atmospheric conditions but I’m insufficient of a scientist to work out what makes the difference.

Pottered with the dog down a different road today. Lots of poppies as well as flowers unidentifiable and a whacking great orchid. I turned back before the first steading to avoid the dog’s tail going worriedly between his legs.

Lessons

I am blessed with a beautiful golf swing. The drawback is that I never have the faintest idea where the ball is going to land. My French is, apparently, similar. I had a lesson today. My pronunciation was said to be excellent, the snag being that I can’t speak the language. However if I persevere matters should improve.

M Le Maire nearly hit the ditch in his enthusiasm to wave at me as I passed this afternoon. I need to build up brownie points there since the mairie is dominated by a large portrait of him, painted by another Brit in the commune whom I have yet to come across and I can’t compete with that. I went some 10 miles for a drink at a lovely decaying chateau this evening. The fluffy dog disgraced himself by treeing a beloved and mentally fragile cat. Compared to most of the expats round here that I’ve come across, my residence is decidedly downmarket but I wouldn’t swop with any I’ve seen so far.

I took a trowel to the chateau opposite earlier on and nicked a few plants to brighten my flower beds. It’s 9.30pm & 20 degrees and another of those ludicrously OTT sunsets is in progress. I’m finding a biography that I’ve been pottering at for the best part of six months is beginning to progress quite well and I put it down to the terrace work station. It’s the second best such office I’ve ever had. The best was on the river in Somerset but that required sweaters and thermals except for a month in one fabulous summer. I hope I can work outdoors here till November – with the occasional storm break. The thunderstorms flashed and rumbled their way roundabout overnight but amounted to very little here.

Vets and storms

The most efficient utility provider was the Brit who turned up almost as I arrived and stuck a satellite dish on the roof to attract British TV and watch Jackie Bird. He had been ordered by the estate agent as it is unheard for any immigrant not to have it. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t offer French TV and watching that, particularly news progammes, is a great way to learn the language. But I have made contact with a local who teaches it and hope shortly to improve by leaps and bounds.

The vet and the supermarket made up today’s excursions. The fluffy dog wrenched his shoulder and has been a bit miserable over the past few days, but he perked today till I took him in for his shots. We made polite conversation with another customer – a tattooed woman with an ancient, smelly, hairless, Yorkshire terrier that still had a top-of-the-range yap. Vets can vary from Harley Street to worzel. This one was laid back and dry. ‘What’s the French word for that nasty beast that bites the skin and eats blood?’ – a half-decent sentence, I thought. ‘A tick’, he replied. He kept talking French but spoke impeccable English at moments of confusion.

Tonight storms are forecast, breaking the last few days 28ish heat. They are said to be spectacular and I have been warned to unplug electrics as they strike pooters dead even through surge protectors..dear me, check Google and surge protectors do nothing to save equipment from lightning. Another cherished belief must be binned.

I haven’t had a moment when I regretted coming out here. Long may it remain so.

Mozzies etc.

Aaargh! A mosquito bite. I’d forgotten about them. I am regularly advised that the countryside here is infested with serpents, just adders but they are said to be much more venomous than they are in Scotland. It’s another of those tales that I take with a pinch of salt, although I did see a snake last week rising from a field in the claws of a buzzard. I once spent a slightly sozzled 10 minutes near Nairobi trying to persuade a small black mamba into a cake tin with a soup ladle for closer examination, so I should be able to cope with an adder. I thought I was about to be assaulted by some kind of low-flying aircraft this afternoon, but it was just a swarm of bees thundering over the terrace.

One butterfly round here is the Scarce Swallowtail; it is blown over occasionally to the UK where it is, indeed, scarce. Here it isn’t. The Camberwell Beauty is also said to be native. Many years ago I used a brand of writing paper with that name and a pic of one so I look forward to my first encounter. An odd creature is the owl fly. again there are lots round here. Slow flying and yellow-winged, they’re like nothing else.

Routine

More socialising in the sunshine today but I can see a difficulty in never being able to find my way back to where I have just been. The road system is like a cauliflower, starting out with a few decent branches from Toulouse which narrow before exploding into the flower, and round here the bloom is rather overblown.

Circumstances, efficacy and inclination turns everyday life into a series of routines. I am beginning to notice my life here falling into them. I suppose it’s inevitable but with a clean slate in most things perhaps this should be resisted. I shall try to remember to plonk my bottom on the lawn as the sun rises and chant a bit of ‘om’ tomorrow morning. But the grass is horribly spiky. The neighbouring dogs plant turds on it too – quite interesting these. Within minutes they become a seething mass of little beetles and heaven knows what all trying to breed or have some breakfast before the sun dries them into potsherds.

Lunch

I went to a jolly expat lunch in an open-sided barn overlooking rolling countryside. The whole region rolls. You’re either down looking up at an undulation, or you’re up looking down as it billows. This was near the top of an up, so we looked across the down to the opposing up. I am fortunate that this house looks down from the other side of the up pictured below but all significant up-tops have been bagged by a church or a chateau. All those castles built in the days of clanking armour crown summits and have all round views of their old domains.

One of the other guests is in the process of slowly restoring such a fortress likely built by Edward I, although the French would prefer a more local origin. Here was the backyard to the Plantagenet kings who much preferred life here to soggy Britain.

In Scotland you can still see the Primark price tags when people don light-weight summer clothes. Here they are well worn and often tastefully shabby, at least in the case of the men.