Monthly Archive for November, 2011


A good turn out at this morning’s dog walk. 26 punters paraded out of the village with the motley pack under blue sky and took to good green fields where the beasts could roam pretty well unchecked. It’s a blessing that livestock has virtually gone from the countryside here; otherwise and the dog walks would be rather more fraught. One or two hounds would love to be red in tooth and claw and one occasionally and embarrassingly is when faced by a passing hen. Nowadays there are more deer than cattle and very, very few sheep.
I managed a soggy grass cut. It showed the conditions when my electric machine roared its way along the hedge and a chorus of frogs loudly croaked its passage. Perhaps it sounded or vibrated like Alpha Frog.


I’m trying to get in a grass cut but despite a sunny blue day it refuses to dry out sufficiently for my pernickety taste. The nuke is a useful indicator of drying conditions. When its twin towers bellow forth rolling clouds like an erupting volcano, then you know that the grass will remain soggy. When its steam is invisible, you’re in with a chance. The aircraft con trails serve a similar function. Only when the air is damp does one realise just how heavy the aerial traffic can be. A couple of times a week, the Beluga flies into Toulouse, losing height as it passes over. It’s an extraordinary thing to see in the sky. Its function is to bring in wings and fuselages to the Airbus factory in Toulouse from other centres of production in Europe.


An antique fair was held locally over the week end. I’ve been to several places where scruffy brocante has been laid out on stalls in some village square but this was a more upmarket affair, even changing €2 for entry to the hall. It was actually similar to the antique centres that I used to patronise in Scotland with one glaring difference. Each section had a hungry dealer, usually a dramatically dressed woman above a certain age, who would start murmuring sweet somethings in one’s ear if one’s glance so much as paused in a roam over the merchandise. The exception was a young man with the air of a well-bred Christie’s porter who presided over a large quantity of oriental carpets but even he wriggled with excitement as one passed by.
I didn’t want anything. Such staffing inevitably meant that things had to be expensive and I don’t enjoy browsing under pressure.


The matriarch has just padded out of the house after I entertained her for tea following her kind donation of a great bucket of boar stew to my fridge. She also brought a small and rather sinister piece of squishy cake which was left over from her birthday party yesterday. She has a rather fine new wig which distracted my gaze a bit from her remarkable scarlet-painted cheeks, each with a sky-blue splodge in the centre. She prowled the house, picking up small artifacts and asking how much I paid for them. After being told by my neighbour how rich I must be, I have retaliated by telling members of his family that I’d heard they have more money than Mme Bettencourt. The matriarch bridled with pleasure when I pursued this theme by suggesting she bought the chateau as a birthday present for herself. To my knowledge the family own a farm and five houses and there could well be more.

On heat

I let the dog out into the mist for a pee just now and he proceeded to go bananas by the gate at the bottom of the garden. I went to see the source of the upset and, beyond the fence, one the little dogs next door was in flagrante with an Alsatian – Lula, rather than Pussy. The little dog has very short legs and the Alsatian long, so they were having their problems. What’s the etiquette in such circumstances? I thought I’d better give my neighbour a heads up and let him pour on a bucket of water should he so wish. I tried to form a snappy sentence in my head. The French for on heat? Even copulate, which I’m sure I must know, escaped me. But my neighbour is out. So I’ve left the animals to it.

House sales

Very November today, dull, faintly misty and the temp peaking at 8. I want to get in a grass cut but it doesn’t dry sufficiently in these conditions.
I heard of an expat house sale to a Parisian. There are a few, a very few, of these that have been sold since I’ve been here. The French market is very like what it seems that the British market has now become. People have high expectations of price and a house will stick unless a substantial reduction is offered. Some people have no option and must take a serious hit if health or overstretched finances make a sale imperative. But many seem content to place their houses on the market on the off chance that some kind soul may wander by and offer the price. If not then they will just sit tight. The saving grace for many is that they bought when the Euro was high and can afford to take a 20% cut in the price they paid for a French house in order to recoup the £s they spent for it.


The last of the three flushes of red roses is over. There won’t be another, for sure, because it erupts from the laurel hedge that surrounds this property in great straggly shoots and I hacked them all off. Perhaps this should be called pruning. I’ve only been out of the house to walk the dog. A mist has been hanging around all day and the thermometer has barely risen above 10 degs, which seems outrageously cold.
Otherwise I have been working on an article on one of the Scots clans, the Macphees, for which a magazine is kind enough to pay me. The most captivating part of their story is that they may descend from a liaison between some burly Highlander and a seal. This is not quite as kinky as it may sound since many seals had the custom of turning into lissome damsels during the hours of darkness. The McLarens come down from a mermaid, the Mackenzies from the horned god Cernunnus. A monkey is good enough for most of us.


I did a little light gardening, mainly tidying up leaves. The Virginia creeper has shed, but the mulberry is very slowly yellowing up from the bottom and still holds on to its vast and thick canopy. The one disadvantage of a dog proof garden is manifest at this time of the year. Most neighbours rely on the wind to waft the leaves into the street where they are sucked up by the Council. Mine just pile up against the fence or the hedge and have to be removed from the premises.
It is scheduled to be a dull day and even to rain a week today. By then the grandfather clock may have arrived. Doris tells me that it lands at Bordeaux tomorrow and then it disappears into Customs for an indeterminate period.


The leak in the heating system is being sorted as I speak. The Man, now he’s here, is going to investigate a brace of taps. In the UK, I’d have had their tops off and changed the washers but I cannot figure out how to dismantle the double taps here. I believe an Allen key thrust into their interior is part of the process but all seems immovable. The plumbing differences are interesting. One would think there was a ‘best way’ and all the world would have adopted it. The enthusiasm of bogs in the US seemed faintly alarming when the bowl emptied with a sucking roar and seemed contemptuous of the paucity of one’s offering. Here the loo fills a bit before whooshing away. I have two kinds of flush, both unknown in the UK. One has a lever to be pulled, the other a button to be pressed. Visitors like them because they feel triumphant when they discover what to do and always come to tell me about it.


Compared to sorting out the Eurozone, you’d think shipping a clock from Kenya would be relatively straightforward, but a crisis has been developing and relationships in Nairobi have deteriorated to a grave extent. Air France refused to take the thing on board since its coffin was constructed from plywood that had not been fumigated, or at any rate did not have a certificate – in French, Swahili and English – that declared its fumigation. The guy who built the coffin was affronted. The shippers are saying ‘I told you so. You should have left the job to us who are professionals.’ To which the riposte has been ‘I wouldn’t trust any damn thing to your shambolic packing, let alone anything delicate. And I sent an Alsatian dog that way and neither it nor its crate needed disinfection.’ Poisonous cc-ed emails flit across my screen. So far as I can understand the packer has now built a coffin of his own, sterilised it and transferred the clock but this may rescind the insurance. And who’s to pay for it?

The packer’s local rep, the lovely Doris whose appetite for bits of paper I have finally satisfied, sits sadly at Orly waiting for the clock to arrive so that she can bring it south to present it to me. She could be in for a long wait.