Monthly Archive for October, 2010

Celts

I took the friends who are staying up the road to La Chapelle where is a remarkable baroque conversion done just before the Revolution of a little church that was once the private chapel to the adjacent Templar castle. ‘Ah! You are English,’ said the guide, delighted to have someone to break the empty tedium of his day. In winter the building is only open on Sunday afternoons. ‘No, Welsh,’ replied the guests. ‘And I’m Scots.’ ‘Wonderful,’ came the reply. ‘I am not French. I am a Breton. A Celt. We are all cousins..’ Up to a point, I thought. The intention was that we would walk the dogs afterwards, but a ferocious shower came through as we left the place which ruled this out.

The lodger disappeared for an awkward half hour this morning, having forced open a bolt on the gate. The attraction was one of the little dogs next door which seems to be on heat. I knocked up my neighbour who hadn’t seen either of them and he sent off down the road where his beast was wont to go, but they were in his back garden. The lodger has lost his balls, but it was not preventing lots of dry humping. Cato, in the same unfortunate state, showed no interest. I’m not sure whether I should be pleased or sorry.

Cold callers

I received a letter back from the Council. The sheaf of forms in quintuplicate with which I applied for planning permission for the sky light, which is already in place, was inadequate. I went down to the mairie for help. A red mist appeared to blur the vision of the secretary. They wanted a diagram of the roof, its measurements and a photograph of the spot where the sky light would be inserted. They already have this tasteful image of the thing which I took from the internet. The secretary began to mutter and heap curses upon Madame Somebody-or-other who signed the letter. She snatched up the telephone and, with tightened lips, waited to be put through. Madame was unavailable, so I must return on Tuesday by which time I was assured that madame would have been put in her place.

The utilities here take what money they feel they are owed from your bank account. So does the government if you pay taxes here. If in consequence you go overdrawn, a heinous offence here, that’s just tough. There is more than one phone supplier but gas, electrics, water are still monopolies. It’s actually very restful. You don’t have this gnawing guilt that you should be shopping around for a better deal. I know I can do better with the telephone but I prefer not to think about it. Wrestling with French-speaking telesales folk does not appeal. At the moment I just tell them to piss off when they come at me on the phone which they do quite frequently. I have not yet discovered if it is possible to bar cold selling calls.

Serpent

I was given a lift to the supermarket and bought quantities of comestibles for the next week. It took more thought than usual as I have people coming to stay and one must make some kind of an effort for visiting Brits who are expecting to sample of the local culinary delights. My lifter gave me lots of useful tips for those who do not often concentrate in the kitchen.

I returned to find the sorcière looking gloomily at the mess where her grandson is trying to build something adjacent to my hedge. It seemed a good opportunity to find out what he’s up to. I commiserated with her at the ponds that have filled up the excavations that he made a few weeks ago. He can dig his way to Australia as far as the mairie is concerned but cannot go upwards. She was not wearing her teeth. I was able to make out that he had been told to stop and this seemed a good sign as the prohibition has seeped in. She hirpled back to her garden and returned with a couple of courgettes. ‘She is a serpent,’ I was told when I encountered another neighbour. ‘She did bad things to the English predecessor in your house.’ That didn’t come through in the searches.

Bad French

The birds now come in profusion to the feeders erected on the terrace but they’re dreadfully dull. Sparrows, great tits. blue tits, collar doves. And that’s it. I was hoping for something a bit more exotic. The birds are different here but mainly because their behaviour. Jays, for example, which are scarcely seen bar a disappearing backside in the UK are in your face. The quantity and variety of raptors is also striking. Perhaps the most exotic is the cattle egret which drifts around at the moment in flocks of 20 or more. I was surprised to encounter an old lady who asked me what they were. It turns out that they’re a comparatively new arrival here and very new in terms of the numbers that now exist. I read that they’re now beginning to colonise southern England.

I had my weekly French lesson this morning. I’m beginning to feel I’m going backwards. Far too many words and expressions come readily to mind, but only five minutes after I want to use them. It feels as if I’m involved in one of those comedy sketches in which the sidekick answers the question before the one that’s been asked.

Definitely frost

Definitely frost on the grass first thing.  Since I am off the road a nearish Brit neighbour gave me a lift to join the dozen or so other dogs and their owners on the Wednesday dog walk about a dozen miles to the north west. A lovely part of the world and obviously better dog walks than here. And a wine-growing area which this isn’t. The grapes have been harvested but the machines that stroke the fruit from the vines with rubber fingers miss some and the remaining grapes were delicious – on the way to becoming raisins. One could have filled a bucket in five minutes with what was left but that seemed a bit uncool.

After the walk we all have coffee and biscuits. The hosts’ sitooterie was alongside their pool and, in spite of being no more than 10 degrees, the direct sun was too hot to endure without finding shade. A small lizard used me as a sunning spot but, pissed off, scuttled off when I sought cover. The terrace of this house faces north which makes it too chilly to sit out at this time of year, but there are places in the garden which get the sun all day and I shall organise something.

Frost

Yum-yum-ish for gizzards. I think I’ve done my dash as far as duck offal is concerned. I resent the time and thought that goes into filling my belly if I try to play the foodie. The gizzards are there again for tomorrow night but, as a rule, I think I’ll revert to instant microwaves – dull but more inventive than what Tesco offer – and bone-simple stuff. But I have to do a bit of guest entertainment over the next couple of weeks so I shall make some kind of effort. A drawback in cooking at the moment is ludicrous pressure imposed by the dogs when I flourish my chopper. I tripped over the visitor twice by the stove and the bugger had the cheek to snarl. His owners bribe him to behave with biscuit snacks and I’ve learned to throw them to avoid losing a finger as they’re snatched.

The lower section of the garden had frost on the grass this morning. It’s enclosed by the thick hedge so it’s a classic pocket. Nonetheless it was unexpected and had dissipated by the time I went back 15 minutes later to check that I hadn’t imagined it. Otherwise blue and 10 degrees.

Baths

I put in a shower adjacent to my bedroom here and have had nothing but showers since I came out at the end of April. In fact I’d been showering for six months before that. This morning I thought I’d better try the facilities of the house that I’ve prepared for guests to see if they work, so took a bath. It fills rather slowly and the plug doesn’t fit its orifice but these little difficulties were easily overcome. The bath itself was sheer bliss. I gently wallowed with a book until my skin began to crinkle and emerged with a warm glow that stayed with me for a good hour. Showers get you clean but they can’t be described as one of life’s pleasures. Baths are. The Romans knew a thing or two and you didn’t find them pissing about with showers.

After yesterday’s rain the stream alongside the fields where I’ve found a walk had quadrupled in volume and was the colour of milky coffee. It never runs clear. For only the second time another dog was being walked there and, like the last time, its controller was a Brit. We exchanged ‘Bonjours’ as we passed but the lodger decided to tag along with the other beast and I was forced to stop and shout for it. You can’t pretend to be French when you yell ‘Bertie!’ The French don’t walk their dogs.

There’s about a mile of road before I hit the fields and it’s quite fun at the moment. The oak trees have shed their acorns on the tarmac and they give a very satisfying sensation when crunched under foot.

More tree

My identification of the tree that needs pruning was wrong. Google tells me it’s a white mulberry. Neither dogs or I are inclined to leave the house and I check trees on the computer. This shows the sort of day it is – leaden sky, dripping rain. Here you never seem to get ‘showers and sunny periods’. It’s mostly blue and, on average once every ten days or so, it’s like this. So far. People keen about how cold it can get in winter but I remain unmoved. Last winter in Scotland has surely inured me to anything southern France can throw at me. I’ve found French TV stations on the web and watching the news is a help when it comes to understanding the language.

A neighbour told me that the French judicial system can be pretty flaky. The fact that officialdom has taken no interest in following up my driving ban is not unexpected. It all seems a bit Third World.

Planes

I have been eyeing up the plane tree in the garden for a day or two now. It must change from pic 1, as it is now, to something akin to pic 2. Pic 2 was what it looked like when I arrived here. I did bring a tool with me previously used for pruning apples, but the plane has put on very stout shoots over the summer in remarkable profusion and I wasn’t sure if my pruner was up to it. But a neighbour has volunteered to do the job. I suspect that the tree is considered too precious by the village to risk it being butchered by an ignorant foreigner.

On the left of pic 1 is the block wall illegally erected by the sorcière’s grandson which excites everyone in the community much more than me. He dug a hole a few weeks ago with a JCB. And he’s begun to sneak on a few more blocks at the far side of the patch. His intention, apparently, was to build a garage. I’ve no idea how far he’ll get but I live on the opposite side of the house to his erection and it matters little.

Work ethic

Still no fuzz. I have begun to take steps to discover whether the driving ban is mere flimflam and can be ignored.

The weather at the moment is delightful, still and largely blue with the thermometer climbing to about 20 in the afternoon. I take the dogs down the road to the fields at the bottom of the hill where there’s a pleasant mile or so when one doesn’t have to have an ear cocked for the occasional car. The lodger is beginning to lose some weight. I think he’s here for another ten days or so.

There’s a danger that I will put away the paint brush and become used to what I have done. Since some walls are par-covered I may rather drearily attack them tomorrow. Since I’ve got back to the MS I’ve been working on for too long, I rather resent the time that it will take up. However I am very old and should try to get my head round the fact that nobody but me makes me do anything. But I still have to eliminate the Presbyterian work ethic. I’ve been trying for half a century and haven’t yet cracked it.