Monthly Archive for September, 2010

Rhino

The builder returned today with one major job left which is to insert a light tube into the landing ceiling. I hope that light will come through the door into the ground floor which has windows at either end but is somewhat gloomy in the middle. Otherwise he’s just finishing off.

The ebay carpet oriental rug arrived today and is quite impressive, not old but it must have worn out the tiny fingers of many a child labourer. I have put in the kitchen, demoting a flash modern number to the landing. It’s given me a mild taste for such things and there’s an hour or two left in the auction for one currently at €2. It seems a very cheap way to cover floors and, once they are two or three deep upstairs, one might not be able to hear the mice clearing their throats from beneath. I’m assured that most old French properties have no sound proofing between floors but it could be disconcerting. When painting upstairs, the radio downstairs is quite sufficient.

Something sounding like a charging rhino thundered across above me a couple of hours ago, lifting the dog from my lap in a paroxysm of barking. Nothing was evident and I suspect that the creature was using the space between my semi-attached neighbour’s house and this one.

Pools

Most of my day has been spent grinding away at my French. Half a century ago, a teacher at school said that by far the best way to learn the language was to find a child and learn from it. There’s a 7 year-old girl next door, angelic, much smitten with the dog and inclined to be friendly but, these days, I doubt that the sort of contact required to yield results would be wise. I brought out with me one of those enhanced disclosure forms which declares that I have never been caught copulating with a goat or indulged in similar louche activities – at least as far as the police are concerned – but I don’t think it would cut much ice.

I investigated a new walk today round another lake about five miles away which is a major tourist spot during the months of July and August. It has been recommended to me as a good alternative to spending £35,000 to install a decent pool in the garden. At one end it has a sandy beach and all sorts of water chutes, piscines etc. At the stroke of 5pm at the end of the month, all such establishments go into hibernation and, in spite of advertising an open restaurant, it showed no life at all. Consequently I felt able to ignore the ‘no dogs’ notices although I did pick up the daily turd. The generic dog on such notices is a black Scottie although they don’t seem to exist out here.

Bugs

At the moment the countryside is only yielding the remains of the blackberry crop and sloes. I tried a handful of millet en passant, only because I’d never tried it before, but it was no better than raw wheat although it doesn’t have husks to spit out. I’ve begun to look hungrily at the large snails that slip around the garden but have not yet popped any in a pot, cushioned in garlic and butter.

The richness of insect life round the chateau is remarkable. I was admiringing a large beetle, iridescent green with white spots, that was part of the crowd on the flowers of a bank of ivy when a gargantuan hover fly landed beside it. It can only have been doing its best to imitate a hornet. Having googled it, I find it’s called, logically, a hornet fly. I had only just taken it in when it was smashed into by a proper hornet and the two of them tumbled into the depths of the ivy where the latter would have enjoyed its lunch.     A dozen large fat frogs live happily in the unspeakable goo that remains in the deep end of the derelict swimming pool and have done throughout the summer. You’d have thought they would have been snapped up by a predator months ago as they sunbathe in the debris at the shallow end and are reluctant to take to the liquid. The sagging lining would give an easy ladder for a snake and there are plenty of perches on trees that have lowered their branches across the pool.

Woodpecker

Sometimes I paint matt white; sometimes I paint eggshell blue, but today was the turn of green gloss. This is probably the best because it allows me to sit on the terrace and gently dab at the railings whilst keeping an eye on the doings of the wildlife round about. And, although it’s a fiddly job, the colour is unquestionably a huge improvement on the in-your-face brilliant white that is being covered. Like many other things I have been told that the railings would be illegal in the UK because of building regulations and/or health and safety. They protect me from falling some 7 feet off the terrace onto the lower part of the garden when drunk, but they’re climbable, so small and stupid people would be capable of shinning over and falling to their doom.

It’s been about 17 degrees today and the insects have been quiet. I wonder if they’ve done their dash for the year or will find their voices again when it warms up a bit. After tomorrow it should be in the low 20s as far ahead as Météo France is willing to predict. Without their zithering the most pervasive sound is the green woodpecker, le pivert, which lives in great and noisy numbers here.

Nippy

Another of those splendid lunches today. Being hassled by the dog who, rightly, thought it was well past his nosh time, I was the first to leave after 7pm.

It’s nippy this evening, c.13degrees. I suppose it could have been a chance to put on the central heating but, instead of spending frustrating minutes trying to translate and understand the instruction manual, it seems much easier just to put on a fleece and let the dog create a hot spot on my lap.

Vanman

The ubiquitous vehicle round here is the little white van. It’s the equivalent of the working Land Rover in the UK and the sign of a countryman. The attraction is that it costs no tax. They buzz around all the roads, sit in the middle of fields and, at this time of the year, gather in little clusters by the roadside while their owners enjoy la chasse. This nothing like so irritating as the equivalent in the UK when the urban hoorays gather to blow away streams of battery pheasants and bang away all day. Instead of beaters, the rootling out is carried out by louche-looking but much cherished hounds and the prime quarry is the wild boar. A few times a day you may hear a couple of rifle shots. The village hunt killed three pigs last weekend and guys came from as far afield as Paris to participate. A bit like the coach trip to Andorra to buy duty-frees with the clan matriarch and her chums, taking part in la chasse is an activity that I have an invitation to join but may not take up. Having been blood thirsty in my younger days I experienced an epiphany when I chose a game of chess over an afternoon’s driven pheasants and haven’t shot anything since.

Carpets

I didn’t pick up a paint brush today. Instead I enjoyed one of those leisurely lunches that being retired and living in France entitles one too. The hosts had four large dogs and the fluffy Cato initially found them rather intimidating but being the only male amongst them, albeit incomplete, he quickly regained his cool. It’s not the weather for outdoor entertainment at the moment – blustery and around 20 degrees – so we ate in. It’s predicted to be in the low 20s next week, but summer may be over. Here the season is defined by 25+ and blue sky.

I’m beginning to build up hospitality debts here that must be repaid and this is a fairly intimidating thought. But I shall have to don my pinny sometime quite soon and settle to it.

Having discussed the impossibility of finding old and tatty oriental rugs in France over lunch which is the only kind of floor covering in this house, I came home and moodily prodded ebay to find one up for auction with 8 minutes left.  So I bought it for the cost of a tank of petrol. It’s supposed to be antique and should be delivered here from Alsace next week.

Candy floss

Two kinds of French are spoken by expats, provided one forgets the substantial minority who speak none at all. These usually rely on a partner to interface with the natives.

There are those who speak pidgin. ‘Me go baker’ is perfectly comprehensible to a Frenchman and many such pidgin speakers understand a great deal more than they can say and are able to function perfectly well. The other group aims for or already achieves a higher standard in the language and, alas, I aspire to join the latter group. I had a lesson this morning and my teacher niggled away at the pluperfect tense. I tried to explain that I don’t know what the pluperfect is in English, let alone in French but she would have none of it. I said I would learn such subtleties as I went along but, at my advanced age, I was told that osmosis doesn’t work. I must buy a French grammar book and study. Bugger.

A rather wimpy thunderstorm rumbled through this afternoon while I was smearing paint on all relevant surfaces. Apparently I missed some real crackers earlier this month. The dog is not remotely phased by them.

Can I be bothered to finish ‘Tony Blair A Journey’? Having chugged through half of it, I feel I no longer care to continue sharing his strangely candy floss trip.

Pyrenees

More interminable painting today. And, if I can be bothered, more tomorrow and the next day & the next. The whole of the top floor needs to be done &, distressingly, even two coats is insufficient for perfection. However I’m not a perfectionist. Many of the ceilings consist of brown-varnished interlocking wooden planks which are popular here. They’re dark and give the feeling of living in a sauna. They’re being turned white.

It suddenly blizzarded swallows and house martins yesterday evening. By the hundred they stacked above the chateau swooping and circling as they hoovered their supper out of the warm air. Scotland is on the migration route for very little that has not got webbed feet and honks, but many northern European birds could easily pass by here on their way to the routes through the Pyrenees. And I suppose these were en route to warmer climes. The mountains are usually invisible behind the haze. But sometimes they uncloak and show themselves as a startling rampart stretching across the southern horizon.

Lulworth blue

There is a season for everything and I have a fear that it may be the time for collapsing appliances. I have been warned that holiday houses, which this used to be, are furnished with the cheapest of white goods and I inherited a full set here, but the first death has been the vacuum cleaner. Faced by the tonnage of gravel and coal dust held by a tatty Persian carpet that I brought back from Scotland, it whined to a permanent halt. Its health has not been great recently and it may have been suffocated by the swathes of gaffer tape which held it together. A jolly soul from Amazon France turned up with a replacement within 36 hours and this has sucked chunks out of the carpet.

It’s been 23 with hazy sunshine and, bar a single passing tractor, not an unnatural sound outside today. Much of my time has been spent with a paint roller. Walls and ceilings will be a fashionable off-white. I bought a couple of pine beds with the house, and was surprised to find they came with four chests of drawers, a wardrobe, a bookcase and a mirror. They’re new and good quality and I’ve turned them Lulworth blue.

The garden is infested with a fledge of what I’ve identified as blackpoll warblers. But since these only live in North America my classification must be unsound.