Monthly Archive for May, 2011


A thunderstorm went crunching through this afternoon, the first rain for weeks. It’ll need several such to properly soak the ground but at least I won’t have to water. A farmer was bemoaning to me that this had been the driest spring here since 1949 and his pockets will suffer. And I thought it was quite normal. The weather forecast here is spookily accurate. There’s a button which will tell you the chances of rain during the next hour, and when during that hour. And it’s always spot on. It’s so local that I suspect one of my neighbours must be peering out of his window at the sky to the south, which I can’t really see, and feeding the info into the system.

A panicky jackdaw was skittering round the chateau at top speed this morning with an oriole close on its tail. I have tended to avoid the place this year since I became tired of picking ticks off myself and the dog after a visit but I went over earlier to check on the ripening of the delicious little damsons which abound – just about ready for harvest. I beat a retreat when I noticed a swarm of bees sagging down from the tree in the courtyard. The bees there take no prisoners.

Brendon Chase

Yet another good score for my I-Spy book this morning in the shape of a Purple Emperor butterfly. All such creatures that I have read about and never seen till now are part of what makes this country often feel strangely old-fashioned. The days are always golden, there are no sounds of machinery except the occasional tractor and traffic is rare. The book of my childhood was Brendon Chase. It featured a wild pig and, of course, there are plenty of those about. I think I’ve even seen a Honey Buzzard but, unlike the hero of the book, I have no desire to climb a tree and pinch its eggs.


More oriole flutings from the chateau today and, thank heavens, the bird revealed itself – or rather birds. Two cocks suddenly spiralled into the air above the rooftop in combat and that is worthy of a tick on my list – if I had a list to tick.

For the umpteenth time the sorcière’s grandson has been told to stop building his garage. He tends to wait for about a month, hoping that the maire has forgotten about him and then there’s a lorry delivering a load of sand and he has a busy Saturday before the maire goes to reason with him and everything stops again. It may be that some day he will stop for good and the 7-foot wall of concrete blocks that has been partially completed since I arrived will be removed. But it matters less and less. Before I arrived he had chopped down part of the laurel hedge that screens this house from the road so that he could build his wall, but I have been fertilising and watering the stumps and the hedge is beginning to rise again. By next year’s growing season it should be back to normal and I will not really care what he gets up to.


For much of the day an oriole has been calling from the chateau. In fact it still is. The web says that it’s secretive and this I can certainly endorse. I am pretty sure that it’s in a large fig tree but I can’t spot it through my binoculars. It’s remarkable how such a distinctive bird can remain invisible. A couple of magpies were in the same vicinity for some time and they seemed to be having the same problem as me.

So far this month there has been little more than half an inch of rain and the temp has been up to 30 degrees. This is not a lot of rainfall even for here and my few plants even though they’re supposed to drought resistant have been tippling enthusiastically from the hose for some time. This is one of the few places in this part of the country where a hose pipe ban is not already in place and it can’t remain so for much longer. The forecast tends to predict rain a few days ahead but changes its mind as ahead becomes closer. At least the grass has stopped growing.


Problems, problems. How far do I let the Virginia creeper in its dogged effort to envelope the house before I start hacking it back? This concern doesn’t give me much in the way of sleepless nights but it shows that even Eden must have had its drawbacks even before boredom led to Eve to succumb to the charm of the serpent. It’s been consistently sunny and in the mid 20s over the past few days. The French window has been open and I split my time between the terrace and the computer. Probably attracted by Bach, the tits spend more and more time indoors but I gently discourage them. And in Scotland it’s 12 degrees and roaring gales are flattening trees and ripping off slates.
I signed on with a doctor today since I was told that if I failed to do this I wouldn’t find one if needs must. Which of the partners did I wish for? I asked for the prettiest and the receptionist thought long and hard before making her selection. I think she selected a male which is faintly distressing since I hadn’t even got the fluffy dog in my arms.


I lost Wednesday last week. One day it was Tuesday and the next it was Thursday. I thought the computer was lying to me, but the BBC agreed and that had to be authoritative.

Along with a nightingale, a nightjar calls from the chateau at the moment. None such birds could one ever hear in Scotland. It’s like being part of some pre-war southern English book by “BB”. As a child I heard a nightingale once in Stirling below the castle. I was dragged to hear it after dark. It was cold and the damn thing is said to have tweeted once or twice and then shut up. Experts over the years have always called me a liar when I mentioned this but I’ve just checked it on the web and it is mentioned as singing there in 1952.

I came downstairs just now and found a young great tit sitting looking mournfully out of the window. I thought I would give it a nasty fright if I grabbed it so, more in hope than anticipation, stuck out my finger alongside. It hopped on and allowed itself to be carried outside. It even sat for a few seconds before taking off to a tree.


Sunshine is a  wonderful thing. Sitting out each evening with a glass of wine to watch the sun setting is not something would could readily enjoy in Scotland. I’m willing to pay for the privilege with the need to water the garden. At the moment, 9.30pm, the thermometer reads 23.

A mantis came to visit yesterday evening. Extraordinary insects. They say the creepy thing about a gorilla is that it can look you in the eye as an equal, So can a mantis. This thing came and sat on a stool; the dog came to sniff and growl at it. The mantis examined it and thought ‘arsehole’; then it turned its head to scrutinise me and came to the same conclusion. Then it buggered off.


The neighbouring departments have declared drought conditions. I thought the weather was par for the course, but no. The conditions are exceptional. I’m well into short trousers now, but, come to think on it, I may well have had the odd blast of central heating this time last year.

Much of this afternoon disappeared in a lovely haze of wine when I had an unexpected visitor and, just as I was about to buckle down again to real life, the matriarch turned up bearing gifts – a partridge which had been squashed by her car and some dried boar sausage made by her son. I can likely cope with the sausage but the partridge, feathers, guts and all, is sitting in the fridge. I may have the courage to do something about it but it could well end up in the bin. She has asked me over for supper sometime soon and that will be a most interesting evening. I had to cope with her customary drizzle of hate against the sorcière but, once that was over, conversation was quite easy, so my local French must be improving. The sorcière‘s latest sin is going round cutting flowers from other people’s gardens. I explained that she’s no enemy of mine but, I was told, she drove out my predecessors in this house by being beastly to them and casting spells on them. Apparently the sorcière‘s grandson has been given a notice forbidding him to continue building the garage over my hedge. We shall see.


One of the pleasures of this blog is the spam comments it attracts. It’s not quite clear to me why they turn up but they drizzle into a folder at the rate of about a dozen a day and they all disappear with a click. Today, for example, I’ll paste two of them.

‘Wow, what a weblog! I mean, you just have so considerably guts to go ahead and tell it like it can be. Youre what blogging wants, an open minded superhero who isnt afraid to tell it like it really is. This is definitely some thing individuals must be up on. Very good luck in the future, man.’ and ‘The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as considerably as this one. I mean, I know it was my option to read, but I really thought youd have some thing fascinating to say. All I hear can be a bunch of whining about something that you simply could fix if you werent too busy seeking for attention.’ The rude one is from an insurance company and the other from a purveyor of photo frames.

Paris seems to be on a different planet from this part of the world. It dominates France to a remarkable extent with about 12 million people in its curtilage. Lyons, the next nexus, has less than 2 million. Paris holds almost all the power and most of the money. No Frenchman has made it unless he makes it in Paris. The rest of France considers Parisians arrogant and elitist. Remarkably, expats who settle in this area are more popular than Parisians. My primitive soundings round about reveal a feeling of schadenfreude amongst the natives as regards DSK. He is seen as a typical bloody Parisian who thought he was above the rules that apply to ordinary mortals. Le Pen successfully exploits the unpopularity of members of the elite and she is helped by the reluctance of the French media to criticise them. But the DSK affair seems to have shaken them all and may even begin to change the culture.


With the demise of DSK who looked like a shoo-in for president next year, French politics is now in ferment – as is the media – but the nation has been spared an apparent shite hawk whose wheels would likely have fallen off once he was in the Elysee. It must raise the chances of the grisly Le Pen but I have sufficient faith in the sense of the French to believe that she will not succeed. It’s interesting to compare nationalist parties in mainland Europe with that of Scotland. The Europeans are all right wing and covertly, usually, racist. The Scots are not. If the Front National policies were followed to the letter, all expats would get their marching orders, but we are white, not Muslims and rich so there’d be no problem.

The sorcière came over twice today, first with lettuces and then with cherries. I found a box of oatcakes to recompense her but I’m now down to a haggis in the freezer for future exchanges and that may well frighten the natives if offered.