Monthly Archive for July, 2013


The golden orioles are very frustrating birds to observe. One can hear their lovely and distinctive calls throughout the summer over at the chateau but seeing them is not easy since they like to make their noises from the deep canopy. I watched half a dozen, presumably a hatched nest or two, arrow their way into a poplar tree no more than a hundred yards away and begin calling. In spite of having binoculars clapped to my eyes, I still could not see them. In fact the only good view I’ve had of the birds was when a brace of males forgot themselves and spiralled skyward in combat, a bit like fighting bananas.
One of next door’s yappers, Pussy, gave birth last night. She had three this morning, cross Yorkshire terrier & low-slung hairy terrierish whatever-she-might-be, but may have had more since. One is going to the postie, one has been booked by my neighbour’s brother and the other is up for grabs, but not by me. Would I look after them when he spends a few days in Brittany? asked my neighbour slyly. I told him to piss off. His father normally does that sort of thing and I’m certainly not getting involved for fear that I melt and end up with one.
My new teeth are wonderful and I’m being worked on to replace some more. I may well crack. My mother got some new teeth when she was over 90 and she would proudly smile after a lifetime of never daring to do so.


At last we had some overnight rain and the temperature is reasonable today although it’s set to climb up to the late 30s later in the week. It’s a tough job being the weather as it’s always in a lose/lose situation. My neighbour was complaining about the cold a month ago and now he’s complaining about the heat. This is in spite of telling me that this corner of France has the best climate in the country, just like Goldielocks’s porridge. It can be uncomfortable at this time of year but for me the weather here is always bliss. I relish putting on shorts and a t-shirt in June and not having to think of any other dress till late September. And you may need a sweater in winter, but not endless rainwear, scarves, mitts, skiing parkas, and, if you’re lucky, a skulking St Bernard.
We went to the lake in the cool this morning. In a narrow arm were two footballs of 3-inch swirling fish. I’ve seen this before in the same place and cannot think what they’re up to and can’t find anything helpful on Google. The camping site has a few prime sites by the path. The neighbouring pitches were sharing storm stories as we went past. Sitting by the tent in front of her caravan that contained a variety of cookers, freezers and fridges, a woman was on the phone and I did a startled double take because she was the spit image of Boris Johnson.


At 4.24 pm one of the matriarch’s chickens laid an egg. Sitting on the terrace waiting for a thunderstorm, this was the excitement of the day. She made quite a fuss about it, as did her entourage. The whole village must have noted the event. It was a pity the paparazzi weren’t at her nest door so that the world could have joined in the celebration..
The sprayers are hard at it, jetting water over the fields, mostly on the maize. There are two types, the macho variety that lustily covers a hectare at a time in a slo-mo semi-circle, and chorus lines that daintily squirt around them in unison, each being very careful not to intrude into their neighbours’ own prissy little patches. The sunflowers are just bursting into bloom and seven fields of them can be counted on the hillside beyond the chateau.
Yesterday, late afternoon, took place an excellent concert – Mozart and Ravel – in the church at Marsac. The audience could remain still and try to conserve their cool. No such luck for the violinists in the passion of the piece.
People stay up late in the heat. At 1 am the two benches on the opposite of the square, if that is not too grand a word for such a humble space, were still occupied by murmuring natives.


I found myself in the local barber for the first time for many months yesterday after my weekly trip to the delightful Marie-Claire who is creating me some new teeth – just one more week and I may no longer frighten the horses when I grin. I normally persuade anyone who may be passing my door to have a bash at it when I decide on a haircut, but it was beginning to look a little odd and I needed to return to a professionally sculpted baseline. The establishment is largely brown and a bit creepy, as is the man’s own grey bouffant coiffure. In its window and scattered dustily about are what could well be instruments of torture but I assume must be hair-cutting implements from yesteryear. All his magazines are about the chasse. The big difference between this guy and other barbers I have known is that he does most of the work with a cutthroat razor. This is faintly alarming, but even more so when one of his mates calls in or something interesting goes on in the street beyond his window just when he’s slashing away above one’s ear. I don’t much like being charged €17 either. But he does have air-conditioning and, with the temp at 38, this was agreeable.
One of the little yappy monsters next door is pregnant having found a toyboy of a Yorkie a few months old. I am already being worked on to take a puppy but however dinky the things turn out to be, I shall resist. The cats at the top of the village have exploded in population this year and one can easily squelch up the road on kitten if one isn’t careful.


I keep hoping for a decent thunderstorm. Lightning flashed round about yesterday evening and the electricity went off long enough to disturb the router, but nothing fell from the sky and the forecast has decided it’s not worth pretending that they might happen and just shows blue sky, 32-35, as far it is prepared to go. My neighbour drops in for his coffee before 7am with the thermometer at 24 and we sit on the terrace in the comparative cool and watch the country come to life for an hour or two before the heat of the day brings back silence. He fitted two new tyres to the car yesterday and changed the oil and filters. He’s had kin staying next door. Uncle was a bureaucrat, retired at 55 and receives a very fat pension. How long can it last? I know people who start up businesses and have given up under the weight of taxes, charges and the complications of trying to make sense of the myriad of forms and regulations that are required.
I go for a fourth rendezvous at the dentist this morning. The lovely Marie-Cecile is taking an eternity to fit me with a few new plastic teeth. I have become used to girning at people with my cool and dignity in tatters but I hope this will be the penultimate visit. After that I shall try to put the garden back together after the work done on the terrace. I’ll scatter grass seed around over all the bare patches and may even attempt to rake up the worst of the rubble that will otherwise ricochet from the underside of the mower. Any grass seed will require diligent watering but I’m unwilling to delay matters till autumn.


The countryside is under the summer cosh of the sun now. The grass plays dead unless a storm comes by and, to date, we haven’t had one. My neighbour tells me that the mozzies are a real pain this year but I have found that a fan at night keeps them away as well as allowing sleep. I can’t think why I had not discovered this many well-bitten years ago. I keep a damp cloth in the fridge that I apply to the dog’s belly when he overheats.
The workers did not finish but say they will tomorrow. The terrace will be marginally improved and I have now the reassurance that little short of an atomic explosion will bring it down. Not only is the concrete wall immovable but also the lawn behind it has steel rods sunk into it that probably go down to bedrock. The sorciere’s grandson owns the plot next door where he has tried to build his garage. I was told by the maire that no house could be erected there, as the ground is unstable. I suspect the ground here was equally dodgy before the work was done to stabilize it, which seems to have taken place more than 50 years ago.
Ferocious roars from the direction of the chateau yesterday turned out to be rutting roe deer and not the boar as I had first thought. I’ve heard red deer at it many times, but never the roe and they sound more formidable than their larger cousins. In South Africa an impala was bellowing away. They look delicate, harmless creatures but watching that beast in a sexual frenzy made me realise that I’d come off second best in a fight. If a few of them ganged up against a lion, my money would be on them.


The workers are busy making good in the garden. It must be hot since one has bared his 6-pack for the first time. With a bit of luck they may finish tomorrow and I can begin to make it as if they had never been here. A casualty has been the Virginia creeper that thrust its tentacles over the wall and had ambitions to take over the entire property. I suspect it will resurrect itself, but not till next year. Thunderstorms are forecast for later today. I am hoping for a goodie that will test the new drainage system. The terrace is more inviting without the railings that topped it, but a sufficiency of wine is drunk there that would make casualties inevitable if it is not replaced. The drop is six feet to the bottom bit of the garden, which would not make for a comfy landing if one went headfirst.
I was sad to discover I needed new tyres for the front of the car. One in particular is badly worn. I discussed this with my neighbouring expert as I thought there might be a problem with the tracking. No, it’s because that’s the wheel that does the steering and spends more that its fair share of time off road as it crunches along the verges to avoid oncoming cars, tractors, trucks etc. At this time of year it is also faced with oncoming combine harvesters. These one cannot argue with and must find a turning in which to take refuge. The largest ones straddle the road with a wheel on both verges.
My neighbour sold a car to an expat who turned his over the other day. ‘Because he is a friend of yours, I make a special price.’ Alas! He did a final check of the car before delivering it, discovered a fault in the aircon and has ended up €600 out of pocket.


TractorThis morning, early, a four-wheel drive tractor belonging to the clan patriarch arrived at the bottom of the garden. A stout hawser was attached to its backend and it pulled the wall. The wall resisted, so the tractor dug its wheels into the lawn. The wall stayed put and the tractor retired defeated. Would it not be easier to just leave the wall where it was? I asked. No, it was moving because it had no foundations, but not to worry since a tracked digger was on the way that would make short work of it. The tracked digger lumbered importantly through the gate, donned its meanest little bucket and heaved at the wall. The machine’s back end left the ground but nothing else happened. So it began bashing the top of the wall. It made the minutest scratch. ‘We must dig down in front of the wall.’ The wall went on going down towards the centre of the earth. A couple of feet below ground level, it ended in a concrete platform. The boss turned up. The wall does not want to come down; it must stay, said I. The boss agreed. He began to instruct his work force how to make good. I pointed out a rat run beneath some concrete going towards the house. I suggested it be left open since water had clearly been finding a way through it. He concurred and traced the run back. It turned out that the downpipe from the roof was unconnected and the run off was forcing its way down the little tunnel and behind the wall. Now a pipe is to be inserted that will exit at the base of the wall. The making good looks like being a major pain, particularly the removal of pieces of concrete rubble from the grass so that it can be cut.


The muscle is here, chewing up the terrace. The damn thing has a concrete retaining wall six feet tall and fifteen long. The wall that needs replacing since it was moving. The idea was to pneumatically drill down at one end so that it was free-standing, then rope it to their truck and pull it down. Plan A has come adrift as the wall refuses to topple over. At the moment heads are being scratched. And I am wondering why need it come down at all if it is so damn solid.
A couple of stag beetles cruised past my nose yesterday evening. They trundle through the air at an angle of 50 degrees with their antlers held high, looking like a miniatures of items of ordnance that might be deployed in Afghanistan.
The chasse lunch was down in numbers this year, due to both to the heat and because many of the farmers who normally support the event were too knackered as they’re working all day and half the night to catch up with fieldwork after the late spring. From here at night the lights of the combines are dotted across the far slope of the valley. Next year I may just pay my money and avoid the lunch. Boar is just too chewy for pleasure – at least it is for my geriatric teeth. I’m not sure that a plateful of rubber whelks as a starter was much better. Normally the raffle consists of the usual bottles but this year winners were invited to inspect the chasse freezer and select the chunk of beast that they fancied. I’m pleased my number did not come up.


The machinery turns up on Monday to rebuild the terrace. I note that the devis for the work is dated June last year so it’s as well I was not in a rush. The trick will be the extent to which I can get them to make good before they disappear again. It’ll obviously leave a mess, but a mess sorted out by their machinery is a lot easier than one sorted out by me and my trowel once they have moved on. We’ve been socialising on the terrace a lot recently, along with the lizards and snakes. They move faster for every degree the thermometer rises. I don’t mind the odd grass snake slipping across my foot but there are those that do, so I don’t warn visitors of the possibility to preserve their tranquillity.