Monthly Archive for August, 2011



I was wrong about figs. A retired professor of music passed over a crate of excess fruit from his garden – apples, figs, apricots etc. Before I dumped the figs I tried one and found it delicious. Half a dozen later it dawned on me that this gluttony may have been unwise. I can only hope that they give me adequate warning before they triumphantly complete their journey through my digestive system. The sorcière was lurking when I took the fruit from the car, so I gave her some and received in return courgettes and tomatoes. This allowed me a first entry into her house which was disappointingly normal for a house lived in by a 91 year-old which didn’t look as if it had seen any upgrade since 1920. The wall held fancy certificates which looked impressive until I saw they were presented to her daughter for moderate success in primary school in 1951. I rather revised my opinion of her, having previously been told that she was mildly potty as well as a powerful witch and Satan’s handmaiden. But her bright blue eyes sparkled with intelligence and humour and, with her teeth securely in place, I was able to understand much of what she said. She shows no sign at all of physical infirmity. I would crouch to pick courgettes; she just bent at the waist.

On this morning’s dog walk, we passed a tree which had carpeted the ground beneath with large pears. I quite fancy a pear-based chicken thing but I was too idle to harvest any of them. We also passed a cork oak carrying a sign which translated as ‘Ancient oak, planted at the time of the Revolution’. Such a tree in Britain would be classed as a teenager and would scarcely warrant a preservation order..


A couple of hours this evening were spent in a tiny village surrounding a chateau. A barn, 60 x 30 x 30 ft, had been converted to a concert hall. The walls were whitewashed stone and brick, the roof suspended on a dozen 18″ thick tree trunks with the fiddly bits supported on whatever timbers had been handy a couple of centuries earlier. The sun streamed through the windows. Doves and church bells were occasionally audible over the extraordinary music being coaxed from a grand piano by one of the world’s top pianists. About 60 folk, most of them expats, had come together to enjoy what is intended to be the first performance of regular musical evenings. It was a remarkable, beautiful and enormously civilised happening and the sort of thing that I have not experienced anywhere else. And afterwards we got pissed.

Candy floss

There are some days here when my brain feels as if it’s turned to candy floss. It may have a lot to do with overindulgence the previous evening but it’s very easy to amble through the sunny days without doing very much, or even anything at all. The grass demanded cutting today and the dog needed a walk and these have been my two most productive achievements over the past 24 hours and neither will go far to help solve the international financial crisis. I have a couple of articles due but I have successfully procrastinated both of them till tomorrow. That may be optimistic since I’m out again this evening – tomorrow, too but that one will be sans vin so I might be firing on all cylinders.


A dozen swallows are hawking in front of the house – right in front of the house, swooping round the very small lawn and zipping across the terrace. It makes me a bit twitchy. What’s so special? Is the septic tank hatching clouds of flies? They’ve got the rest of the village and miles of countryside through which to hunt. Why me?
I had lunch at the chateau, feasting on the last of the blackberries. They grow some whoppers down there, berries that are three to a mouthful. I’ve no doubt that each will have been trampled and shat upon by scores of insects during their growth and often used as anchors for web supports since they’re at the delicious stage when the shine begins to go and they’re dull and pregnant with the sweetest flavour.
I was going to cut the grass but it’s Sunday and the sound of the grinding is low. The only activity in the village was a meeting of the chasse committee alongside the salle de fêtes. The dog usually sails by in his quest for the one cat that runs from him but there were chasse hounds right and left and he steered a wide course round them.


Peaches, apricots, French beans, tomatoes and garlic are the latest donations that I have gratefully received from neighbours. I spurned figs. I remember them as being delicious but I haven’t found one round here that is worth eating. Nobody seems interested in walnuts which are left on the ground to rot – if they ever do. Blackberries also seem to be ignored by everyone except me but the season for these is just about over.
I once farmed in deep Devon, the last outpost of the English peasant, and I found myself in curious places in my time. I was once given a cup of tea and a seat on a sofa alongside a scouring goat; fortunately I was adjacent to its front end. However I quickly understood the accent and dialect. Yesterday I got lost and stopped at a large and dilapidated farmhouse – and the line between dilapidated and crumbling ruin is not easy to discern. A very small, very old man shuffled out, his face almost lost beneath a battered hat, akin to a Baden Powell titfer after a dozen years maturing in a peat bog. He was very sweet but absurdly incomprehensible. French is a language of crisply spat consonants. This old boy sounded gently oriental. I had a fluent French speaker beside me and she was as baffled as I. I found out later speaks French rather than Occitan but I haven’t managed yet to discover why his accent seems unique.


The car is largely serviced; only one of the bits didn’t turn up which will require a repeat visit to the mechanic, after, no doubt, having to go again to the depot because delivering to the sticks is beyond the wit of the carrier. It was one of my simple pleasures when passing someone who had got up my nose by blocking the road by accelerating hard as I went by and covering them in a roiling cloud of black diesel smoke. I tried it just now and nothing happened, most disappointing.
To put a suitcase in the aircraft hold for my week in Scotland would cost £56. I hope a substantial number of their passengers aren’t Scots because no native would be willing to shell out that much. It means that I shall not be taking my kilt and my magnificent bronzed knees will remain concealed. Actually they probably would not be seen anyway. An oddity of Highland kit is that the gap between stocking top and kilt bottom has been narrowing considerably over the years. It used to be that the stockings only came up as far as mid calf. And that the kilt should bottom at an inch above the ground if you knelt. Now stocking and kilt have virtually met, even in the best of circles, and Braveheart imitators sashay around bare-legged in kilts well below the knees. Since the whole outfit is a comparatively modern construct, it hardly matters.


I blue-arsed flied around a bit today to towns some 20 miles apart. One trip was to collect bits for a service of the car which is to be done by a peripatetic mechanic. For a premium they were to be delivered to the door within 24 hours but as apparently is often the case, the driver couldn’t be arsed and dumped them 15 miles away at their depot. I turned up there at 2.30 to discover that their lunch break went on till 3. As far as I can tell from UK news sites, the British really feel that they’re in a recession and that times are hard. This country seems to amble slowly and contentedly on. All the tiggering goes on in Paris and who, beyond the Périphérique, gives a damn what happens there?

The roads round here are busy with tractors and lorries. It happens intermittently over the summer. This time it’s the melon and sunflower harvests. The latter is staggered over, perhaps, a month and now some fields are bare, some have depressing rows of blackened dead flowers and some are still bright and yellow and smile as one passes.


Home alone once more. Bliss. Not quite true since having visitors and family around is unquestionably rewarding but it can be quite difficult to hear the peace and quiet of France which is one of the most best parts of living here. The dog is zonked, having spent much of the last few days at Defcon 2 for fear of being trodden on or grabbed and turned into a dolphin in the paddling pool.

My grandson is into insects and bugs. This is sensible here because they’re pretty spectacular and are easily to hand and thus identified. Birds are much more frustrating. For example a skein of good dozen or more eagles flew purposefully overhead yesterday evening. Working out why, from where, and what species is above my pay grade. And I gave my son-in-law who quite fancies himself as a twitcher the mission of identifying an elsusive small bird that, for weeks, has been emerging from a thicket of woodland and circling above the meadow just below the house and cheeping like a squeaky bicycle wheel. It’s at it at the moment. But after much effort he failed, was crest fallen and I rather wish I hadn’t issued the challenge.

After the hottest few days of the summer, rain is falling, thunder is grumbling, the temp is 20 degs and a cool breeze is slipping through the house. Lovely.


I was visited by a bat this morning which came through a half open French window. It showed much less intelligence than the average hornet. These arrive, leisurely inspect the room and its fittings and then go the way they came. This creature flitted round the beams for some ten minutes, occasionally settling on one or another. Its mates were darting about outside. Eventually I got out of my chair and opened the doors fully and it still took a minute or two to escape.

This afternoon I went with the small people to the piscine by the lake that it one of my normal circuits with the dog. I hadn’t visited it although I have walked by scores of times. The visit was short. I managed a couple of lengths before I was thrown out, ejected for failing to wear approved budgie smuggling, speedo-type trunks. I knew that surfing dude gear was unacceptable, but these are modest, short and only mildly baggy where they should be. But a bored, bronzed damsel bounced me as I was about to try the water slide. It’s one of those curious rules for which I can think of no good reason. I once saw two carfuls of gendarmes intercepting a cruising family of Brits on a canal. Their sin was sporting a toy skull-and-crossbones.


Everyone went to the Garonne. Most used the piscine there which met with high approval and I took the beau fils up the river to look at birds. He’s a buff and carried a telescope. He saw his first purple heron posing so that it filled the lens and then showing off by catching a fish. I think four kinds of heron were there and the small blobs through my own binoculars manifest themselves as various species of wader. A bit of a puzzle was solved when it heaved itself out of the water and turned into a coypu. But it was and is hot.

I had taken the precaution of buying an inflatable paddling pool which sits on the terrace alongside a supervising adult and provides all the necessary entertainment. It’ll be good for two or three years and then be deemed grossly inadequate. The children are governed and tamed by logical argument which I’m sure is very good for them. The eldest is 7 and I recall at that age being bent over by a six-and-half-foot sadist headmaster to be beaten with a cane. But, by God, it has made me the man that I am.