Monthly Archive for October, 2013


A sign has appeared at the bottom of the village banning lorries from entering, unless they belong to residents. Since the whole point of the exercise was to prevent the resident grandson from roaring, hissing and beeping his truck round the square I doubt the saga has yet ended, particularly as the sign does not permit delivery of CH fuel etc. I was led to one of the two-metre block walls that front his plot by my neighbour and he pushed. We both watched gravely as the structure rocked from the bottom.

Cato’s life has changed. The new puppy is still no more than two-thirds his size but it has feet that could belong to an Alsatian. My neighbour looked on benignly as she grabbed his tail and tried to drag him off my lap. ‘She was always the most spirited of the litter.’ And we were hoping she was the stupid quiet one.


It took me two years to discover that there was an official viewpoint about 100 yards from my front door. Then they put up a couple of sign posts to highlight its location. It’s only about 20 feet above the road that circumnavigates the hamlet so you don’t see anything more exciting than is visible from everywhere else but, like streetlights, a viewpoint is a declaration of the importance of a community. A couple of months ago somebody turned the signs round so that they faced the wrong way. It cannot be said that hordes of disappointed tourists flooded the village trying to find the attraction. In fact I’ve never seen anyone go there, but someone turned the signs back the right way round recently. I doubt it was the same person who puts bullet holes in some of them.

Only one speeding ticket so far resulting from the trip to Portugal. It was a pretty wimpy one about 50 miles from home for breaking a 110 kph limit by 7 kph. The Portuguese or Spaniards could get me for busting theirs by 40 or 50, but so far I have no notification. I paid my €45 online without demur. Since my Mac could not handle it, I updated my satnav through a Windows-based PC for the first time after the device got its knickers in a hell of a twist coming through the Pyrenees. The site informed me that I could obtain up-to-date maps for the thing for only £16 a quarter. This confuses me since I thought that’s what I was downloading without charge.

The only thing that went wrong with the car was a bust light bulb at the back end. My heart sinks when the onboard computer tells me this has happened since I must set aside the best part of an hour sitting at the back with the tail gate up and one hand stuffed up the nether regions of the vehicle fiddling furiously to try to get the replacement in. Eventually it slots into place but I have never been able to establish what I did that worked. This time I went to Google for aid, but all I came across was impotent rage at the design that makes it such a difficult task.


They don’t yet seem to be grubbing up the cork oaks in Spain and Portugal, but the time can’t be far off. In Lidl just now I came across a very acceptable South African white wine and the clincher to buy a case was that the bottles had screw tops. You never get corked wine; you don’t have to scrabble for a corkscrew, and if you have the restraint to leave anything in the bottle, it’s a damn sight easier to put the cap back on rather than force in a cork. The only drawback is that you don’t end up with corks for the puppy to chew.
Another executive decision being made is to stop automatically serving cheese in this house. The food in Portugal was delicious and our hosts appeared bewildered when we mentioned the French custom of always offering cheese at some point in the meal. It seems unnecessary, expensive, there is always waste and I am not French.


We returned yesterday, again on eerily empty motorways until we were approaching France. We were the only customers in the service station in the middle of Spain where we lunched and received very attentive service. Coffee, steak and eggs for €10 apiece, which wasn’t bad.
The Portuguese peasants above a certain age are still largely illiterate and not very enlightened. A farmer near where we were staying had a broken gate into a sheep field and was too idle/poor to replace it. He chained a dog to the post and it does the same job, and survives entirely on sheep shit. The next farm to his must have 50 hectares of polytunnels. Conglomerates are renting the land that used to be weeds and stones and throwing huge money at it for intensive market gardening. On Brit has an enormous turf farm and much of his trade comes from carpeting golf courses in the US.
We were on the Atlantic coast 50 miles north of the Algarve. Prices have held up well compared with inland. The climate of that area is tempered by sea breezes. When it is early/mid 30s there, it can easily be 45 half an hour into the hills. The foolish virgins don’t check it out in summer before they buy houses and end up sweltering and miserable. Many expats – largely German and Dutch – in that area of Portugal are ancient hippies or crusties, often in communes. They pad round the supermarkets, the women in a swirl of 60s fabrics and the men, gaunt and bearded, in half-cured leather.


Along with both dogs, we’re currently staying in southern Portugal. It’s a long – very long – strange drive down the motorways. In France they’re busy, in Spain less so and in Portugal they’re downright bizarre. For the first 30 miles after crossing the border, we counted less than a dozen vehicles, half of which were vans servicing road works. For great stretches there were none at all. We passed two full-blown service stations. One had a single car stopped at an outlying area of the car park and the other had nobody at all. It made little sense to stick to the speed limits, so we didn’t. I suppose that’s where all the euromoney went before economies tanked.
The puppy saw the sea for the first time yesterday. The tide was going out but and we were investigating a shoal of fish that were foraging at the sea edge where a small stream came joined it. A large wave came in. Cato saw it coming and skipped out of the way and was only soaked up to his belly. The puppy was whisked off her feet and sailed past paddling furiously and was collected by one of our party some 25 yards higher up the beach.
Here is a kinder climate than France. The garden drips with bougainvillea and the insect life is more exotic. Strange cries in the night turned out to be a lynx, a Siberian lynx rather than the Iberian variety which has no right to be resident here since it is a thousand miles away from its normal territory, but one has been seen several times by various people and there’s now an expert setting camera traps round about to try to capture it on film.


Becoming bored by a blocked sinus, I visited the pharmacist. They have the reputation of being more high-powered than their UK equivalents and dispense medicine on their own initiative as well as saving many from death each year by identifying strange fungi. I was initially sold a very expensive spray that did nothing so I returned and asked if they would try again. I was sold 60 tablets – Snottystop or something. I looked it up on the web and was outraged to find it is homeopathic. I am not Prince Charles. I am unhappy at paying good money for placebos and my trust in French pharmacists has evaporated.


We came across a lady boar and her family of eight tiny striped boarlets crossing a lane last night. She stopped and turned belligerently towards the car until her family were safely across and had scrambled up the bank above the ditch. The chasse is in full bang at the moment. Boars are fair game till February, but only the males. The air today has been full of flying spiders, quite substantial ones. One, on the rise, was busily running up and down its silk rope making adjustments, rather like a sailor scrambling round the rigging of a man-of-war.
A friend came round for a drink recently and parked his car down at the bottom of the village rather than outside the house. I queried this and he said that he has twice had a puncture and found a nail in his tyre after parking here and darkly suspects the grandson of sabotage. I suspect this is paranoia since this has never been a problem for me but his granny, the sorciere, was caught red-handed doing precisely that. She was also found leaning against a wall, busily scraping her hobnail boots down the side of one of my neighbour’s vehicles.


More gendarmes this morning hassling the grandson. One I know – it’s a bad sign when you start to know the constabulary by name – was Gendarme Lala. To be fair his is not a name that one is likely to forget if one has sat with small descendants watching the Teletubbies. The grandson has been pounding the soil of his building site with a large Zebedee machine powered by a compressor. This disturbs the puppy who now prefers to pee indoors. He must know that the ground there is slo-mo quicksand that shrugs off down the hill any building that is sited there. The old photos show houses that slid away and that’s the reason that building there is not permitted. But he can piss about with concrete should he so wish.
TEEM next door is due a birthday soon. If last year is anything to go by, we get a twenty-minute warning that we’re expected next door to consume chocolate cake in celebration. Today we went over to a terrifying toy emporium, a vast celebration to the bizarre things oriental manufacturers can do with plastic, and invested €20 in some appropriate toy. I did consider handing over my poker dice, but I wouldn’t want him to learn to cheat better than I can.


The lake round which the dogs – note the plural since the puppy now comes too, at a gentle pace – are pottered held a national carp fishing competition the other day. We went round it this morning and I suspect one of the competitors had stayed behind since he had the most formidable array of rods – a good dozen of them – all with their lines 100 yards or more away from the bank. I wondered vaguely how he got his bait out so far. Then he demonstrated with a hefty radio-controlled boat that took out a line out and dropped it near the centre of the lake.
Tranquillity disappears with a little dog in the house. It’s worst for Cato. He tours the furniture above ground level since he is liable to be scragged if he descends to the carpet. This works at the moment since the newcomer is very close to the ground and cannot jump onto the sofas. When it grows a bit, he may have to rethink his strategy.


Yesterday in the fairly early morning in the pouring rain the sound of an altercation in the square pricked my interest. Often the matriarch is at the centre of such events, but the voices were unfamiliar. I took a look and saw two gendarmes having a shouting match with the grandson. He was the one doing the shouting and they were putting their anger management training to good use. Just the same it took a good 25 minutes of their time before they were able to go on their way. I imagine it must have been on the subject of his truck, although it may have been trying to something about controlling his bizarre activities on his garage. His lorry has been regularly outside overnight and at weekends but was absent today and I saw the maire cruise through the square, his eyes darting, to check it out this morning. His car is conspicuously large and shiny as befits the largest landowner in the commune.
Four deer have been pottering round between the house and the chateau. It’s likely they’ve been disturbed by the chasse. Indeed the sound of melancholy cowbells heralded the passing through the square of a lugubrious and very large hound with a radio antenna sticking out of its collar. It disdained to become involved with the village young in camouflage kit and balaclavas with fierce looking automatic weaponry stalking each other round the houses at the time. I suspect they’d attract a SWAT team in many parts of the world.