Monthly Archive for May, 2013


I escaped the hospital after only a dozen hours. Wonderful! But it still is my least favourite venue. The surgeon, a card with dyed blond hair, wants me to churn back down the motorway in 8 days in order to hear the outcome of tests on the bit of me that he removed. I told him to send the report to my doc. I’ve spent enough time in waiting rooms and if the result is dire, I have no doubt I shall be informed. That’s me done with medics. Life’s too short to look after one’s health.


Tomorrow I’m under a surgeon once more for a minor knifing but should escape from his clutches the following morning. I know two other people due for general anaesthetics tomorrow morning and we’ve agreed to meet up outside the Pearly Gates should it all go horribly wrong. The other two regularly attend church, so I would hope to slip through in their wake without any blokes with wings and fiery swords noticing me.
It is said that there has been movement on the illegitimate half-finished garage adjacent to my hedge. The Prefect – a roll of drums required – will allow a concrete floor and walls to the height of two meters, but no roof. Who is that supposed to make happy? And my neighbour pointed out that the roof ridge on one wing of the chateau has given way. Even he admits that there’s no way back for the building now. I look forward to further collapses. I might live long enough for it to become spooky but will miss its most picturesque years when the tower becomes ivy-mantled and the walls crumble. The owls already do a lot of moping there.


The French moan about the weather just as much as the British. ‘It’s sheet,’ says my neighbour. Always, sotto voce, I hear myself say ‘But not half so sheet as the highlands of Scotland.’
Today I cut some of the hedge. I shall leave the remainder for a week by then the weather is promised to be dry, if not toastie-warm. It’s a satisfying task since it only consists of stroking the great bank of laurel with a minor boy’s toy and makes an instant improvement. This year I have re-discovered the ancient skill of kicking the detritus beneath it – for compost, of course, not because I’m took idle to rake up the leaves and transport them elsewhere.
It’s a relief to get back to normal bisous. In South Africa the ritual seems unknown. I would approach some woman that I had known through visits to my sister for years and automatically attempt a bisou when we met. Sometimes my intended would rear away like a startled zebra; at others I’d be met with a full-blown soggy smacker and it would be my turn to wonder what the hell was going on. I was alarmed to be faced with a whole gaggle of bisou-worthy relations from junior generations one evening and was wondering quite how I ought to proceed. A nephew short-circuited the whole process by grabbing me in a bear hug and then delivering a soggy smacker. Bless.


The central heating rumbles away. It’s most unreasonable for this time of year and I am thankful that I started off the winter with a full tank. The locals say that plant growth is a couple of weeks behind where it normally is but this garden doesn’t seem to have noticed. My first job was hacking back two weeks of grass growth and I’ve begun to tackle the weeds but it’s dispiriting when the temp is 11 degs. What is odd is the valerian that dominates the single bed – and would dominate the garden if allowed – is normally busy with bees, butterflies and hummingbird hawk moths. But none are around. Even the cicadas have shut up to wait for warmer weather. I’m about to go out to show compassion and fill the bird feeders. After seeing what could be achieved in South Africa I’m going to make an attempt to upgrade the variety of goodies on offer.
A dear old friend, an expert on such matters, once told me that gossip served the same purpose as grooming in monkeys. It strengthened social bonds within the group and that the most successful monkeys initiated grooming, as the most successful humans were those that brought fresh gossip to the party. But I was told yesterday that the tom-toms said that I had sold this house. And that a friend recently returned to the UK was now dead. And that I’d had an affair with a friend a few miles from here. All are complete bullshit. Does this mean that the social groups round here are dysfunctional? Gossip is useless if it’s nothing but fantasy.

Opium den

South Africa, at least the parts I saw, is a stunningly beautiful country with a climate to match. We went down to Durban and stayed with kin. As with so many houses, the most important room was the veranda that sat high on a hill overlooking the curve of the seafront where we ate dinner. It’s so remarkable that incoming planes used to – and probably still do – turn off their lights so that passengers could look down on it. It now has a great arch over a stadium that was built for the world cup that further enhances the necklace of lights strung along the sea. We were given a guided tour of downtown on the way to a beach for breakfast where the young surfed and I dowsed myself in the Indian Ocean. Just a street or two back from the glitz and the skyscrapers are desperately sinister darkened tenements with iron grilles instead of doors, police cars every few yards and drug deals being done beneath their noses.
The monkey came raiding the house we were staying in yesterday. It bounded down the side of the house and made a swerve when it saw us sitting on the veranda and had to content itself by snatching grapes and an apple from the bird table. It retired to the roof to eat them and then swung itself over the guttering to examine us and see if it was worth chancing another run. The householder normally shouts and yells at it but he was absent and I found it hard to show the aggressive outrage that is the normal deterrent. I heard of someone who left a bathroom window open and a dozen of the animals weekended inside. The house was trashed with damage as bad as that created by a teenagers party that had been advertised on Twitter. At least they would use the lavatories. Monkeys don’t.
The airport in Johannesburg has a smoking lounge that is wonderfully absurd. It’s very dark with brown walls and carpets, addicts sitting on the floor or in booths in complete silence contemplating blank walls with an ashtray in front of them. It felt like a 19th century Shanghai opium den. I patronised it twice during a four-hour stop over and found it rather giggly.


Wildlife is a bit more in your face here than in France. A monkey cleaned up the bird table yesterday and one has to be careful that it doesn’t come inside to raid the fridge. Zebras cud peacefully beside the road leading to this house. The house is a charming curiosity at the top of an estate of new fat cat Lego houses surrounding a golf course. A rather sour-faced bloke below us stomped round with a bucket and a paintbrush flicking what must have been some sort of animal repellent over the plants in his immaculate new garden. Once he was indoors a couple of duikers arrived and delicately nibbled at his roses.
I’ve been coming to this country since 1967. It remains astonishingly different from the rest of the continent with an infrastructure far superior to anywhere else. Crime, corruption, unemployment and grinding poverty have always been problems but now there’s a prosperous African middle class. The greatest change seems to be that racism has all but disappeared. It’s very surprising.


justin bieber and sarah

A stushie in the local (South African) press today. A couple of traffic policewomen were caught on CCTV augmenting their income by selling sexual favours from their police car to passing punters.

And Justin Beiber came to Johannesburg over the weekend. The baddies, of which there seem to be an inordinate number in this country, broke into the safe where the boodle was being kept and escaped with millions from his concert but I suspect he could afford it. The pic is of Himself with my 15 year-old great niece. She blagged her way into his presence and outcooled all the squealie boppers of the nation by having her pic taken with him. Apparently he was much more charismatic than he appears from the snap.

We spent last night in a game park and drove round the appalling dirt roads in an ancient estate car oohing and aahing at the beasties. The drawback was that the car had a faulty starter motor, so I had to exit the car to push start it. WARNING! Under no circumstances leave your vehicle as the animals are dangerous! Knowing that a couple of tons of rhinoceros was certainly lurking behind a bush made sure that I did not hang about.

The weather remains practically perfect – what France should be but, I gather, isn’t at the moment.


Here, 9,000 miles from France, the terrace is called the veranda. The birds that come to the feeders are weavers, barbets, mannikins, Cape robins, as opposed to tits, great and blue. They’re also rather tamer here and are quite happy to sit tight until you’re a couple of feet from them. The view is not dissimilar although there are probably half a million people within long telescope range, rather than 500.
We arrived to rain and 17 degrees, similar to France, but it’s now blue and 23. Here winter is approaching, the trees are changing colour and the maize is desiccated waiting to be harvested. They worryingly drive on the left which no longer feels natural and one feels a bit of a prat when you automatically say ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci’ in the shops. Zig-zagging down the runway at Heathrow amid white-knuckled passengers on the way to pick up a connection was different from last time I made that flight. But the pilot, just like last time, apologised for keeping us on the plane because, inexplicably, there were no steps to disembark us or bus to take us to the terminal, which meant we made to next flight just as the gates to it were closing after a sprint through Terminal 5. Does flying have to be such a profoundly distasteful experience?

Coochie coo

The end of the month is the deadline for filing tax returns. Consequently the tax offices are besieged by punters trying to obtain help in filling in the forms. In order to cope, the opening hours of our local office have changed. They have decided to take an extra half hour for lunch and now close at 11.30 am. This is very French.
I have been busy cutting grass, trying to avoid showers, in order to avoid coming back to a meadow after a trip to foreign parts. It’s 23, still, humid and I badly need a shower. The trip involves an 11-hour flight in cattle class, which is a little depressing. My neighbour will take the house keys and come to inspect the premises at regular intervals. He may well set up shop on the terrace since the view from it is better than his. I have not yet decided whether or not to ask him to water the garden. He and family have gone to the fair in the town up the road. I did it once – streets crammed, po-faced line dancers, rip-off stalls and guys on stilts – so I don’t have to do it again. I had the small dog tucked under an arm and the guys of stilts freaked him out, particularly when they swooped down from a great height to say coochie-coo.


I was faintly horrified that I found myself rooting for the Tories in the local council elections. I’ve voted for almost everybody else during my electoral life. None of my selections have yet gone to jail, but it’s been a pretty close run thing. Bar an aberrant moment when I voted for Tony Blair, I have nothing of which I am ashamed. I even voted for the far right once when some bloke wanted to do some almighty stir in the Scots parliament. I thought this was a good thing, but quite what he wanted to do I have long forgotten. But to think, in my dotage, I may be a closet Tory is definitely shaming.
It’s now broken into proper summer here, and about time too. We had people here for lunch this afternoon and most of the time was spent on the terrace, which reminded me of why I came to this country in the first place. The countryside is lushly green and the birds are still noisy with spring.