Monthly Archive for February, 2013


One of the drearier aspects of life in foreign climes is having to take an interest in the exchange rates. Most elderly Brits out here seem to have done their sums and arrived here when £1 bought €1.45. It went down to near parity which knocked nearly 50% off their incomes and pensions. It has since struggled up a bit, but this year it has lost 7.5% and is back to where it was when I first came out here. There are folk who lock into a rate for the whole of the year. Others, of which I am one, get on to some smooth London currency dealer and bring over a chunk of money every couple of months. But this means you look at the current rate and worry about it. A credit agency downgrade. Aaargh! But the Italian election may go pear shaped and the £ might perk up. Goodie. But how far might it perk? Is now the moment? Bugger! Missed it. And so on. It’s all a big waste of time and rather wearing.


Cold with flocons de neige and it is set to continue thus. The sorciere was visited this afternoon. For her she was in good form. Her side is sore. Her few remaining teeth are loose – she demonstrated by shoogling a particularly ferocious survivor. And she took herself off for a potter and fell down next to the church and had to be rescued. This filled her with merriment. She is convinced that a near contemporary in the village has died. This is not so and I denied it again. I shall not deny it thrice since the idea of outliving the other old lady is obviously a pleasing one. It’s a pity she’s such a brute to understand. We can never get much beyond baby talk and I’m sure she’d have interesting things to say. She shares a room with another old lady who was busy watching the rugby, but the institution is modern and seems spotless with sympathetic staff. She signed over her goodies to her grandson, but she remains the owner of the house till the day she dies. My neighbour can’t understand why she doesn’t come back.


Our visitors parked their rig behind the house and plugged into the electrics in the shed at the bottom of the garden. It caused a bit of a flutter in the village, as there were dark suspicions they might be gypsies, particularly as one of their dogs is a lurcher and they bought the other from a Romany encampment and the animal shows its origins. They were off again this morning and one could hear a collective sigh of relief.
A large lorry arrived yesterday and decanted a forest’s worth of 6 foot-long logs opposite. The naughty grandson is now buzzing away with his chainsaw to convert them into what will be a couple of year’s worth of fuel for his wood burner. He must be autistic as well as naughty since he is measuring each log before he cuts it and stacking them into a pile of awesome beauty. The pile will need to be moved again, which seems part smart. He’s quite a restful neighbour generally since he doesn’t rouse himself before midday. At weekends he works on his ghastly selection of rusty motorcars and can have the radio blaring out heavy metal but it doesn’t carry through into this house and fatigue normally overwhelms him after an hour and he retires indoors. His most endearing quality is his hatred for the neighbour’s yappy little dogs and this is reciprocated. Yesterday, for instance, he pursued them down the street, shouting and hurling stones at them. Cato and I were cheering him on.


The neighbours came round yesterday for curry lunch. The French are rumoured not to like curry but this lot, aged from 4 upwards, rolled up their sleeves and chomped their way through two or three helpings each.
Friends turn up tomorrow who live in Portugal. In the depth of winter they get itchy feet and take off in a van with two large dogs and towing a caravan behind them. This year they went down to Sicily and now their on their way back. I’m delighted not to be that enterprising.
There’s been no rain for three days and the river is sullenly retiring to its normal confines. One hasn’t dared to go walkies off tarmac since before Xmas for fear of disappearing into the mud. The terrace in front of this house is patiently waiting for a contractor to take it to bits and rebuild it since it’s going through a slow-mo collapse. It’s still on the move but I hammered a drain hole into the gap which spouts gravel in heavy downpours, so I hope the whole structure will not slide down to the lower lawn before the JCB turns up.


It’s stopped raining. The sun is shining, blackbirds are singing and there’s a whiff of spring in the air but it doesn’t stop the tits from blizzarding the peanuts. They must have got through 20 kilos so far this season. They may suffer next year unless I can persuade someone to bring out a sackful from the UK.
I had my first French lesson for some three months yesterday. Mme decided it was time I got subjunctives right. Bugger that. I’m afraid that if I slow down to worry about such things, my interlocutor will have gone to sleep. They may come if I talk enough and hear enough of the language but it’ll have to be through osmosis.
I have been pretty anti-social over the past couple of months, being content to do little more than sit on my backside but I’m beginning to sniff the air although not yet pawing at the ground. The dog will be grateful since he has had virtually no sensible exercise.


Between the showers I ran the mower over the top bit of lawn this morning. The grass only stops growing on odd frozen nights during the winter and where the dog has done his duty great tufts arise that are not seemly. It looks better now but I should think there are 20 or more different varieties of grass and weeds that try to flourish there. I moodily pick over it with a trowel at intervals, frightening dandelions and other things that are obviously devil’s spawn but there would be nothing but bare clay if I were ruthless. The bottom lawn is being taken over by something very fierce, a bit like the grass that one plants to anchor sand dunes and I don’t think I want to tangle with it. I thought I’d rake up the leaves that have lain there for a couple of months but gave up when I had gathered a knee-high heap of moss after a few passes. Perhaps it’ll disappear with the coming of summer.
I turned on the tele last night and got a bit of a fright when I suddenly showed up, spouting about Scots history. I’d forgotten I’d done an interview for the programme. It was filmed at the bottom of Glencoe and required endless pauses to wait for motorbikes to pass on the other side of Loch Leven and great care avoiding sheep shit as we marched importantly across the field while we talked. I noted I was wearing my green corduroys. Alas! The day before yesterday I dumped them in the poubelle by the chateau. Not only had the pile worn off but flesh was showing through at the knees.


I paused the car as I thought I’d seen a seagull slip behind a farmhouse and you just don’t see seagulls round here. It was a male hen harrier, which I should have realised since the bird lives in the same nearby patch of countryside all the year round. I watched for some 30 seconds as it hunted adjacent to the road. It didn’t look much fun as a sleety drizzle was being driven by a cold wind. The chasse hunts there intensively and it’s nice that the harrier is not molested. The same can’t be said for buzzards; sad piles of feathers are not uncommon but I have seen four or five sitting on adjacent telephone poles so they can tolerate a bit of a cull – along with the magpies and jays.
I did some minor bricolage this afternoon, probably the first exercise other than a gentle potter for nearly three months. It’ll be a while before I’m ready for my next marathon. My neighbour says the amount of rain is unprecedented and the river at the bottom of the valley has burst its banks again. I tutted my tongue at such horrors. I was out in it in a pullover earlier on. In the Scottish Highlands I’d’ve needed a wetsuit.


I become less inert, though inertia is still my favoured state. We’re grey, damp and a bit chilly most of the time, so it’s no hardship to sit in the warm with the CH on, pottering away to write a year’s worth of articles for the Scots magazine who still employ me and looking out at the scrum of tits on the peanuts that hang above the French windows.
We went for a stroll yesterday in a hilltop village about four miles up the road. It was the first time I’d bothered to go there, which shows a lamentable lack of curiosity and that this part of the world can still be surprising. It was filled with rather grand old houses. Since it’s only a mile or two from the motorway, I imagine they were lived in by commuters. Just the other side of the village was a pocket of undulating countryside, quite unlike what is in this immediate vicinity, with a tiny 12th century church in its midst.