Monthly Archive for July, 2011

Ceps

I am about to eat four enormous ceps, dropped in by one of my neighbours, for my supper. It felt a great honour to receive them as the French take such things very seriously indeed. After the recent rainy week the fungi have enjoyed a second wind and in the morning the ditches alongside woods are lined with battered cars. In theory the woods are private and the ceps are the property of the land owner; clashes and bad blood are common, particularly if more than a few are gathered. In Scotland I would harvest ceps and chanterelles. Either I took them or they rotted. Here that could never happen.

Lunch was enjoyed beneath the shade of a mulberry tree. Such leisurely afternoons are probably the best reason for living here.

Socially whirling

A desperately social 48 hours. Supper a few miles away yesterday, outside surrounded by sunflowers and Cato patrolling the perimeter growling at potential deer or wild boar and nearly coming to grief when he decided to walk on the bubble wrap covering the swimming pool. The hostess is wed into a family I know in Perthshire. Another guest was born and brought up in Stirling, my home town, so we talked mutual acquaintances and places. Turn a corner in this part of France and, I imagine, many others and another network of  expats reveals itself. There’s no equivalent in the UK. Here it’s as if a significant portion of the rural middle class and, come to think of it, the upper class is foreign. And the locals think it wonderful.

And today was the Chasse lunch. It was very nearly 50-50 expat/French. At, perhaps, €20 a pop when one includes the raffle, it meant a good €800 flowing into the coffers of the hunt from foreigners. Having grossed out on pig and filled a doggie bag with sausages and chops, I retired across the street to the house for a bit of tranquility before others joined me on the terrace. I suppose the event lasted from 12.30 to 8pm as far as I was concerned. A dramatic shouting altercation took place in the street towards the end of the festivities involving my neighbours, but I kept my head well down. And tomorrow on the toot again.

Tennis ball

The weather is back to normal here and the expats have stopped talking about emigrating. But next week is forecasting strings of thunderstorms each day. With this I mind, I thought I’d better do something about a blocked downpipe which was sending water cascading from the roof far into the street. The gutters here are double the size of the ones I’m accustomed to since when it rains it usually deluges. I couldn’t find a ladder long enough in the village to reach the gutter so clambered onto the roof at the back of the house and gingerly made my way across. Lovely views. It’s the first time I’d been up there and it was positively organic with mosses lichens and layers of inch-thick tiles of assorted colours and ages. I know they were inch-thick as three broke as I made my way across but I slid one beneath the other and I hope they’re still watertight. The downpipe was solid and it took me half an hour to extract the tennis ball that was a few inches down. It was black and manky and had obviously spent many months on the roof – there’s not much of a slope – before one the recent inundations floated it out of the nook where it had been nestling.

Keys

Some years ago I was introduced to a South African. He’s awfully rich and important, I was told, and he had the sleekness that one might expect. ‘How lovely to see you again,’ he said. He informed me that he and his wife had stayed with me for a week when I was farming in Devon but I had no recollection of him or the event.

Until now that has been the most worrying brain failure that I have suffered. But this morning I lost my keys. I must have spent an hour, off and on, looking for them – torch under chairs, searching impossible pockets and drawers etc. Just now I got out of my armchair for another quick trawl and put my hand on them. They were lying on the chair arm. The only explanation can be that I’d picked them up without thinking about it and put them where they often sit. But where could I have picked them up? And why didn’t I notice and emit squeaks of relief? It’s a shame I don’t believe in fairies or poltergeists. At least then I’d have an interpretation other than a loss of a significant number of my marbles.

Tinned veg

I was lost for less than five minutes trying to escape from the airport after dropping off. I must have been there well over a dozen times and it’s pleasing to know I’m on my way towards remembering a route out of it. I did a little mild supermarketing afterwards. Behind me in the queue was the woman in charge of the catering for the Chasse lunch here on Saturday. Her trolley was piled high with wine, aperitifs, tins of beans, tins of mushrooms, tins of potatoes etc. The meal is really about boar meat in a variety of guises but it’s nice  that veg etc. will be good as well. She’s a professional chef and so doesn’t piss about in the market critically fondling greenery.

Dull

Another pretty grim weather day. It is most unusual to have had a week of dull rain and it has neatly coincided with my guests’ stay. It is back to wall-to-wall sunshine and 28 as soon as they take off tomorrow. They were whisked away today for lunch and a visit to a honey farm while I got on with indexing. And correcting. Many, many years ago one expected the publisher to check proofs  but such days are long past and horrendous mistakes can occur unless the author is meticulous. Come to think on it, 20 years ago a paperback publisher spelt my name wrong on the title page. I was promised a case of champagne in compensation but it never turned up.

Dinky

Albi again today. I didn’t feel up to Toulouse Lautrec again but I spent a pleasant hour in a pew in the cathedral people watching while my visitors boggled at its floridness. No dogs are allowed so the beast hid beneath my jacket and peered out to encourage billing and cooing from passers by. I stopped off for a pee on the way back to the car and the dog thought I was lost and did a panicky runner. He was not difficult to find. I merely followed the cries of ‘Oh, comme elle est mignon!’ He looks so dinky that most people assume he is female. Fortunately both he and I have learnt to cope with this.   We returned via Picard, the upmarket frozen food shop, and the freezer in now pretty stuffed with its goodies. The weather has been continual rain today and much the same is forecast for tomorrow.

Yesterday we went to a large flea market at Nérac and I bought a dull but practical shelf arrangement for the utility room. The freezer is now perched on top of the washing machine which had provided a work surface so a replacement was needed.

Freezer

Today I shuffled off my visitors on a mutual friend and spent the morning indexing the book that I have coming out in a few weeks. The publisher described this as ‘The worst job known to man’ but it not quite that bad. Fortunately I came across a proof error a few hours in which will change the page numbers so I have knocked off until this is corrected.
The visitors went to market this morning and came back raving. 40 peaches for €4 etc. Not that I’d ever want 40 peaches but, with an empty new freezer there must be some sort of desirable glut that could be stashed away. On Monday we go to Albi where lies a branch of Picard. I listened to a R4 programme all about the wonders of this frozen food purveyor, so perhaps a few judicous buys there might be a good idea. But I have also heard good noises about the Chinese supermarkets and those are surely worth a visit.

Truck

We spent much of the day waiting for a freezer to arrive here. A lorry phoned me from the mairie to ask for the precise directions and then proceeded to back very gingerly up the street to the house. The neighbouring young came to sit on their steps to follow its progress. Why the hell the fellow did go up frontwards was not clear but it added drama to the small appliance sitting in solitary splendour inside the cavernous interior. The driver and his mate were gritty SAS manqué bravely venturing into the depths of France Profonde.
Between times we had people for a midday drink. One brought an enormous flan which we consumed for lunch which means that my helplessness in culinary matters is at last beginning to pay dividends. And we did more jolly socialising this evening.

Fiddly Nibbly

Fed people at lunch today – supermarket salmon & spinach lasagne & some fancy cake also bought there. Along with a salad & a faintly fiddly nibbly with cheese and smoked salmon, it wasn’t much of a problem. And a second bout of Chicken Thing will be fed to residents this evening to universal acclaim; what else can the poor bastards say? They are going to market on Saturday and I am quietly confident that they will return bearing booty, otherwise it’ll be cassoulet in tins from Lidl – which is not bad at all. The supermarkets do convenience food better than in the UK which is why the French eat more of it than the Brits. I don’t know the answer to the chicken-and-egg question of supply and demand. But they don’t offer a remotely decent curry.