Monthly Archive for March, 2011


I’ve a run of visitors over the next couple of weeks & stocked up in the supermarket this morning after a French lesson. Beforehand I took the dog round the lake. A long string of dozen of so red-faced teenage girls were jogging round its perimeter and all of them were decidedly chubby. Could there be a local school that specialises in Rubenesque girls? They are not common over here.

There was an absurdly chic woman of a certain age in the supermarket, wearing black trousers of the shape worn by Muslims. Other patrons kept coming up to her and paying her homage. She was either famous or the local Lady Bountiful. There appear to be a few local gentry but very much à la Camilla rather than Di. And this was OTT Di which looks a little incongruous outside Paris. I reckon she was famous. I filled with fuel and calculated that it’s currently 18p a litre cheaper than in the UK. It’s 10p cheaper still in Spain.


It’s that swithery time of year when sometimes the house is more comfortable with the heating on and sometimes it’s unnecessary. It comes a couple of month later in Scotland. Today’s an ‘on’ day and showery but 22 degrees is forecast at the end of the week. From here one can see the showers coming and take avoiding action. They tend to be more ferocious than those I am used to.

I heard an R4 prog about a frozen food chain here called Picard. It sounded the answer to an idle cook’s prayer so I made a run for the nearest branch this morning. I bought a few bits but not the instant dinner party for which I was hoping. But, just to show its class, the check out girl helped me pack my bag a unique event so far. I regret that I am not a fan of pizza since it is ubiquitous in the crap food section of every store in absurd variety.


There was a gathering with speeches in the salle de fetes yesterday morning to mark the retirement of the maire‘s secretary and the arrival of her replacement. These secretaries are peripatetic and will act for several communes and know how to weave through the thickets of the bureaucracy on behalf of their political masters. As at all such events run by the municipality, the wine comes in unmarked bottles and is better than the stuff I buy from the supermarket. The maire‘s wife did the rounds to pour. The nibbles are created by the old lady who used to run the defunct restaurant at the bottom of the village and feature prunes wrapped in Parma ham, little vol-au-vents and similar goodies. I know most of the people who turn up at these receptions now but there were still two expat couples that were new to me. One of them has a holiday house here and was over for the first time this year.

One elderly farmer’s wife was apologising for being unable to speak any English. Times have changed. In her young days it was the duty of the world to speak French and totally unnecessary to learn the tongues of barbarians. But the barbarians have come through the gate and the younger generations are learning English with great enthusiasm and the old are embarrassed that they can’t.


I’ve added couch grass to the evil things that grow on the lawn and should be removed; execution continues. We’ve had several dry sunny days and the grass has almost stopped growing. The French windows remain open all day. The downside of this is flies but they’re worth putting up with. I have a visiting dog for the weekend and it was outraged when, bizarrely, a roe deer stuck its head over the gate at the bottom of the garden. The deer skipped across the field below to disappear into the grounds of the chateau.

The sorcière has hirpled over once or twice to give me lettuces which seem to be her first crop. She is 90 and spends much of the day swinging a mattock over her head to cultivate her patch. I feel faint with exhaustion just looking at her.

The nuke does an excellent tour, I’m told. And looking down into the tanks full of pristine water to the fuel rods at the bottom, blue as they pulse out the gamma rays, can shiver one’s timbers. You have to be part of a group and they take some time to check that you’re not a terrorist but it sounds like a pleasant outing some afternoon.


I become increasingly confused about which words are French and which aren’t. Virtually every English word that ends -ion can be often used in French and often has the same meaning. So I tend to plough on during conversation and, when a mental blockage occurs, and I can’t think of the word I want, I’ll put in an -ion and hope it works. I look for feedback from my interlocutor and it very rarely comes, so I don’t know whether he understands or feels pity for this foreigner babbling nonsense at him.

French phone numbers are grouped in pairs. For example 0171 123 1212 would comes out as 212 and it is said to be desperately uncool to say it the British way. This is a bore because I know my number in English but utterly fail when it comes to saying it in French. When I try to work it out the rhythm of the thing disappears and I find I can’t say it in English either.


I have a very sneaky trowel, thin with a long blade. Even though the soil is drying out, it slips into the lawn like butter. Three kinds of weed are under attack. Dandelions, and I can’t swear that I’m getting out all the tap roots, something that looks a bit like a dandelion with faintly hairy leaves. It, too, has a tap root but a puny thing and prefers to spread its roots sideways. The third comes out of the ground like a tulip…I’ve just played google and it is a tulip, but has no right to try to grow on a lawn. Kneeling on the grass – kneeling on the grass in March without soggy trousers – and prising them out is a most restful occupation but could become obsessional. The lawn is beginning to look as if it’s been peppered by a gunship.

The septic tank lady came. I found two chambers for her, both which seemed to have a concrete cap beneath the manhole; something I have not seen before. I must have them sucked out, she said. Her nose wrinkled with distaste at the idea of not cleaning out the tank when I moved in. And it should breathe. A vent pipe should be inserted. This seems a lousy idea to me. The system has been operating peacefully since I arrived and huffs off no noxious fumes. I would be reluctant to disturb anything that lives down doing such a good job. I have a mild concern that there seems no way to access the system. A blockage could be horrendous. But there is a sharp 6-foot drop from the house and, short of the dog taking a dive, not much could impede the rapids.

I also asked about the appalling smell which invades the house on the rare occasions when the salle de fêtes is used. Apparently it’s just the sudden volume of water sloshing through the dry and noisome pipes which take everything the village offers, save for that which must go into the septic tanks. I think it comes up the waste pipe from the washing machine and I shall slap bluetack over the end when needs arise.


The first swallow was twittering on a phone line today and the field where I potter the dog had dozens of little white butterflies wooing and winning each other. The nuke was towering two great solid columns into the blue sky. Later in the afternoon they disappeared bar the occasional cotton wool puff high above them. It’s a shame that I don’t understand quite why they come and go. When the reactors explode it’ll be bad luck if the fall out comes this way since a north wind is not common here. If I ran the industry, I’d triple the salaries earned by the guys in charge of safety. I’d also write into their contracts that they faced summary execution should their safety measures prove inadequate.

My standard dish is chicken, onions and anything else that I can find kicking about. I was delighted to see that my neighbour last night had precisely the same concoction simmering away in the frying pan. It may be that I am a French chef manqué.

I lived and worked once in a house with a babbling river frontage. When I felt like a couple of minutes break I would pick a rod off the wall and throw a few casts into the water. The two little trout I would catch – William and Henry – I would return for next time. A similar brain clearer may well operate here. Pop out the door and prise from the clutch of the clay a couple of weeds from the lawn. It should keep me occupied most of the summer. Clover doesn’t count because something green has to be left behind.


I had a drink with a neighbour just now. Shame, really, as I intended to have a dry day, but I coped. He has the most astonish quantity and variety of artefacts that he has picked up round about the village. His Roman goodies alone would make a respectable collection for a local museum – beautifully patterned tiles, a dozen of more belt buckles, seals, weights, pottery, enough coins to start a modest bank spread across four centuries, glass fragments and a perfect, decorated clay oil lamp. He has a metal detector which explains the tonnage of coins but the rest he has just found casually in the fields. He says it is a popular local hobby but his success must be exceptional. The Romans  are said to have had farmsteads dotted across the district. Here they talk about the Gallo-Romans which seems sensible. I suppose that 95% of the people known as Roman in the UK never saw Rome in their lives.

One of his shelves of goodies were the result of a holiday many years ago on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Bullets and their cases are one thing but one feels the original owners of things like belt buckles probably never made it off the sand.


It looks as though the weather here has moved on from winter. Next week is forecast to be almost entirely blue with the temp around 18 degrees. That’ll do me, though an extra couple of degrees is useful for working outside. The birds are only intermittent visitors to the feeders rather than scrumming round them so the insects must be hatching. Heating has been unnecessary for most of the day for the past fortnight. It looks as though I can get away with about 1,000 litres of oil a year – probably less if only I understood how to set up the timing mechanism. I hope to have a drink with an expert this evening and will try to entice him to call round.

I bought a couple of lights this morning and re-painted a wall where I had been too sloppy even for my low standards. I took the dog to basin where the Tarn joins the Garonne. A circus had paused there. The animals – highland cattle, ankole cattle, ponies little dogs – were tied to trees adjacent to the car park. The camels, a good dozen of them were allowed to roam free. Shelduck were on the water  in numbers, the first time I’ve seen them. I’ve an excellent pair of bird-watching binoculars but they sacrifice magnification for a large field of vision and it can be hard to make out species across half a mile of water. The basin is the only place recommended within a 50 mile radius in ‘Where to watch birds in France.’ I’m seeing more hen harriers round about.

I shall soon be extremely rich since, with a bit of help, I managed to upload an unsold MS onto Kindle yesterday.


A dog walk yesterday. Cato is by far the smallest member of the pack but he has a lovely time. One of the inept all-singing, all-dancing ticks that infest the area came out to perform cabaret on the top of his back when he was on my lap in the evening. I flushed it down the drain. I can think of only a very few hobby sheep here and not much more in the way of cattle. The abundance of tick is a product of the abundance of roe deer and boar.

A useful French lesson this morning with a discussion of quality French curse words. It seemed important to mug up on the subject since listening to the matriarch’s mutterings on the return trip from the bank. They have some very good ones that you can throw your heart into uttering and I hope soon to be fluent in these if little else.