Monthly Archive for February, 2011

La Chasse

A fizz of excitement in the village this afternoon and a sudden arrival of vehicles. It turned out to be la chasse in pursuit of sangliers. One quite often sees a two or three figures with their guns slouching by the roadside but this was a larger affair. It mostly took place in the 20-odd hectares of scrub surrounding the chateau so, from my eyrie, I had a reasonable understanding of what went on. The pack consisted of fifteen or so lolloping pointery things with a few smaller hangers on. Les chasseurs all wore yellow – hard hats and day-glo jackets, one or two with battered horns attached to their belts. There were even half a dozen followers. The hounds sounded off, belled their way into the distance and, three of four bangs later, came back again. They would return in a fleet of white vans. It seemed that they would chase something up to the road about a mile a way where they were fielded by their owners, brought back and released once more into undergrowth round the chateau. The performance went on for rather more than an hour. If the guns got something, I hope to be eating it at the chasse lunch later in the year. It’s not an upmarket or expensive hobby as it is in the UK. In this immediate vicinity it is reserved for local farmers and their guests.

I think I’m now down to the smart mice, the ones that manage to pinch the peanut and avoid being snapped. Such creatures don’t win in the long run. They’re playing Russian roulette which always has a fatal outcome.

More mice

I’m up to about fifteen trapped mice so far, beginning to suffer from battle fatigue and there seems no end to them. I gave up slaughtering my fellow creatures for pleasure the best part of twenty years ago but killing and through necessity produces a tiny pang of distress in me – much worse for the mouse. The tiny pangs do add up. And the trap does not always produce a clean kill.

I removed the tree remains from the lawn. They were down to trunks about 4 feet high and six inches in diameter. One I hacked down; the other seemed fairly loose and I heaved it to and fro until it came out like a rotten tooth leaving an embarrassingly large cavity in the clay. It looked the most dreadful stuff in which to try to grow.

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On top of the CH boiler I discovered a portal between the house and Mouseworld and set a trap baited with a raisin which has been a long-proven attractant. After a day without action, I replaced the raisin with a peanut and, within a couple of hours, put five little corpses in the bin. It’s an unpleasant business but the alternative is poison and I do not want to have their remains decaying and smelly behind the skirting and leave their skeletons and sad little ghosts to wander the hidden pipework.

The French ‘r’ is the same as the Scots ‘ch’, as in loch. Sometimes I try to listen to French radio until its tedium overwhelms me and some of the broadcasters make such a meal of their ‘r’s that one tends to flinch away from the speakers for fear of receiving a shower of saliva. The language tends to be rattled out with very little inflexion or emphasis on individual words or syllables and such ‘r’s explode out of the sentences.


They say one should see a garden through a season before making changes. This gives me until the end of April before the aforementioned one dictates I need turn my mind to it. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. It’s largely green, moderately tidy, takes virtually no work and I’m afraid that fills most of my priorities for a garden. Its paths are lined by scalloped tiles. I have no opinion on them. One visitor looked at them and shuddered. Another wanted to know from where I had obtained them. When I arrived here three little trees had been planted in the lower part of the garden. That seemed an extremely silly place to put them since it would block the view from the terrace as well as turning cutting the grass into an intricate dance. The one disadvantage of electric mowers is the trailing flex. I hacked down the most intrusive of them and the other two had the grace to die over the summer. I have snapped off their skeletons but have still to grub out the stumps.

We have two seasons here. When it’s noisy and when it’s not. With the onset of winter all the buzzes, trills, whistles and chainsaw noises that local insects employ for sexual purposes disappear. I’m am curious to discover when and why they start up once more. A frog is croaking from the chateau and I heard a tentative dawn chorus this morning. The orchestra will likely be tuning up quite soon.

Les bavardages

My new tyres were fitted half an hour ago in my neighbour’s workshop just down the road. It sits on the edge of the village overlooking miles of rolling farmland and is likely the only faintly industrial building unconnected with agriculture within a five-mile radius. It’s where he keeps his car collection and he’s fully tooled up. After a few exchanges such as ‘What’s the French word for a valve?’ ‘Une valve‘, I decided it was not a good time to improve my motoring vocabulary and I honed up on my local gossip instead. A much lamented cousin, a social anthropologist, told me that gossip was the equivalent of mutual grooming in apes. By being able to exchange it – and contribute to it – is the only way to become part of a community. There’s a French word for malicious gossip les ragots but this is les bavardages which are entirely harmless.

I sniffed gas and discovered that I’d left open a tap on the cooker. It’s not something I’ve had to think about before but filling the ground floor with butane is not a clever idea. I’ve read too many bad thrillers when people get blown up, usually on boats, not to be aware of the dangers.


According to a letter I received the other day, at some point an official is coming round to inspect the septic tank. When I bought here I was told that there was mains sewage but estate agents here have a loose relationship with accuracy. The builder discovered there is no no such thing in the village with the notable exception of the salle de fete which has the privilege of voiding into the rain water drains. I have lived with private sewage systems before but I have always been able to get away with ignoring them and don’t really know the difference between a cess pit and a septic tank. The builder found the one on this property, just over the terrace. Its iron hatch lay casually on top of a hole beneath 6 inches of gravel. Just below that was odour-free still water. At that stage I was still convinced I was on the mains and vigorous interior flushings did not appear to disturb the tranquil surface. But the tank must be of a certain size – 1,000 litres per bedroom. Heaven knows how big the one here is or how you can tell & heaven knows where it all the contents eventually go since there is no sign of run off in the vicinity. With a bit of luck the official will turn up with a wet suit and will descend into the interior and tell me that all is tickety-boo.

When it has nothing better to do the dog growls at the birds feeding the other side of the French window. They’re becoming an expensive hobby since they can happily go through half a dozen fat balls a day with a similar quantity of peanuts although they’re a bit sniffy about the seed I offer. The star of the show is a blue tit with one leg. It has no sign of another. It bounces other tits – blue or great – that try to share balls or feeders with it.


The cathedral in Lectoure a couple of days ago had someone playing Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor. He was very good at it although he – or she – was only practicing and kept degenerating into twiddles and fol de rols. But the organ was precisely the right size for the building and its acoustics and, when he got it together for more than a few bars, it was magnificent. Albi, on the other hand, had piped chanting monks. That was quite good too and the interior of the building has to be one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. In fact it is so florid that I could feel my Presbyterian genes squirming in protest. But the monks shut up and were replaced by Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes – a ghastly kitsch noise, on a par with Highland Cathedral – that made me embarrassed to be Scots.

My neighbour pointed out that I had a couple of bald tyres, something of which I was aware and had not got round to doing anything about. €80 apiece is the fine & you can’t move your car if you’re stopped until they’re replaced. He, bless him, has ordered a couple on the net and will replace the dead ones himself next week. He and his small son dropped in this afternoon for a cup of tea. He reinforced my prejudice against putting in a pool. Costs a fortune, he said, and he’s always having to piss about with his in the season. He will allow any tiny visitors here the use of it. Grown ups can just do without.


My visitors departed this morning and life returned to peaceful normality. I pottered my rubbish down to the wheelie bins at the edge of the village and encountered the sorcière who lives opposite. ‘You’ve been out a lot,’ she told me. ‘Where did you go?’ I did my best to fill her in. ‘You all drove away in your car three times the day before yesterday and were away most of the day on Monday. Where did you go then?’ That was the day we went to the stunning Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at Albi. She wasn’t particularly interested in that but quizzed me instead on what we ate for lunch. I think we just made do with a coffee but I made something up. We ate out yesterday and one of us ordered roll mop canard and was disturbed to be given raw duck wrapped round a salad. It was quite good, if a bit chewy.

There’s a house within a house here. The electrics and plumbing are now all sealed in and snake between the walls or are boxed between floors. Here is where the mice – at least I hope they are mice – live and I have no access to their living accommodation to set traps. And they do sometimes make a hell of a racket. It’s worst where a false ceiling covers the kitchen and there they seem to organise nightly ceilidhs. The dog gazes up at the ceiling and barks at them but they are not phased. The only way to deter them is when I establish their position and thump directly beneath their feet. They then break from their partners and scurry off and allow peace to return for a few hours.


As I’ve mentioned before, the ticks here are different from the ones I’ve met before. They carry, of course, Lyme’s disease and their bite is more virulent to dogs. There’s said the be a 24 hour window for the vet between noticing a seedy dog and ending up with a dead one. On the other hand they are larger and don’t seem so sneaky.

I took my guests round the chateau this afternoon where the garden has reverted to a wilderness of long grass, brambles and bushes – no nettles, oddly. Relaxing in an armchair after supper an hour before writing this, with the dog asleep on my lap. I observed two ticks crawling determinedly up the sleeve of my jumper. I picked them up and put them in the cigar tin that serves me as an ashtray and looked down to see if they had fellows. By the time I looked up, one had clambered out of the tin and did a dive into the depths of my chair, In spite of removing the cushions, there is no sign of it. I have sprayed mosquito killer into the corners where I think it may have gone to ground, but I feel no security as I tap this out.


A curiosity about this country is that if you wish to make it big time you must lose your provincial accent. In the UK it’s quite a badge of honour to retain the cadences of your youth and politicians can even try to estuarise their speech to appear less elitist. And the BBC no longer speaks exclusively BBC English but seems to prefer Scots. Here it’s not so. The ambitious aim to speak Parisian French and, unless they do, they won’t be taken seriously. And yet the locals are extremely sensitive about the way they speak. They do not like to be patronised, to be considered bumpkins, or for more conventional francophones to appear to have difficulty understanding them. On three occasions I have been given lectures by those from Paris on the subject.

I cut the grass a couple of days ago. This is a downside of the climate since cutting grass must be  one of the more fatuous ways of spending time. In Scotland you can usually get away with not doing it until May and can knock off by the end of September. But the stuff grows here for 8 or 9 months of the year, especially if the summer, like last year, is somewhat soggier than the norm.

I have people turning up to stay later on today and already I’m getting myself into a catering tizzy.