Monthly Archive for November, 2013


It froze overnight. I woke this morning to watch the sun kiss the top of the mulberry tree in the garden to trigger a gentle cascade of leaves. I had hoped to have the thing pruned before it shed its foliage which would have saved a lot of trouble, but the ground beneath has been 18 inches deep in leaves and I have been carting them off the premises. Fortunately the day is still so they have not been scattered. Unfortunately half of those that have let go are still cradled in the latticework of this year’s shoots on the boughs of the tree and the next wind will carry them all over the place.
A visitor has just left who is into Bitcoins. He has made tens of thousands from them, but it all sounds a bit too clever and uncertain to me. He earns his living in the crannies of the economy. Another method is by buying left-over holiday euros and dollars on eBay. I had a little look, but that seems too clever for me as well. I saw one optimist trying to sell €15s of shrapnel for £15.


Punaises are a variety of shield bug that bring terror to many people out here. At this time of year they’re everywhere, bumbling about crashing into walls or hiding behind shutters. I found a dozen behind the flap to the fuel cap of the car. They’re frightening because they are smelly, particularly if you squash them. I watched a group of young run shrieking from a patio when one spotted a punaise beneath a chair. I must be faintly kinky because I don’t mind their smell. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I liked it, but it is very inoffensive to my nose. I tend to brush them aside or tenderly pick them up to chuck outside. I do admit that years of tobacco, alcohol, if no cocaine, may have done odd things to my sense of smell.
I watch the launch of the white paper on Scottish independence. Bloody bizarre. Why should we consider dismantling 300 years of a United Kingdom for which so may Scots died because a bunch of political pygmies and parochial fantasists say they’ll bring down energy bills a bit? I see the odds for a ‘yes’ vote are 8/1 against. Perhaps I shouldn’t bother to follow the debate and turn off my brain as I do when the Loch Ness monster is spotted, or reading that Cadbury’s cream eggs give you cancer.


There was an antique fair held locally yesterday. I required a couple of wee pressies for people and these were adequately sourced. It was all pretty dire stuff. There was one smart furniture stall, but who can live with Empire furniture at its most florid? One guy was good at carpets, but the rest was largely tat. And when we came to leave we were faced with the very French situation of the local grandees – maire, prefect etc., etc. – blocking the exit while they all made speeches at each other in front of a photographer before they settled down to a fat lunch. In the end we barged through them to escape.
The grandson has been starting work on his garage, if garage it will ever be, at 8am and going on till 9pm. Yesterday was spent wheel barrowing a 5-ton heap of sand from one side of the square to the other. Today has been about cutting holes in his collapsing front wall and re-enforcing it in some way that I fail to comprehend. It seems a shame that his remarkable application cannot be harnessed for some more practical purpose.


I have Freesat, which means I can watch Peppa Pig and the Teletubbies but no French programmes at all. It’s quite hard work. The TV schedule will say something’s at 8pm. My eye will flick up to the computer’s clock and it will say 19.35. So my brain creaks into action and interprets that at just after half seven. But then I have to deduct an hour since UK time is an hour behind French, so it’s only half six in teletime. By which time I’ve often given up.
I had a truckload of logs delivered yesterday and carefully stacked them up in the Wendy house over one of the wells in the garden. The truck helpfully waited outside, which meant I could use the tipping mechanism, whilst its owner took my car and went for his lunch. The Wendy house was built by one of the clan who showed me the rare and very significant ancient stone that he built into its back wall. It looks vaguely millstoney to me. He also indicated the ox yoke with which he made the lintel. This I know too well. It has lots of projections one of which will usually crunch into my skull when I try to go beneath. It’s also beloved by large spiders whose webs wrap round my face before letting me through with a sound like tearing Velcro.


Pressure was at the root of the CH’s problem. I worked that out thanks to Google and even found a pressure gauge, but then I was beaten. The controls, the boiler itself and the associated maze of pipes and taps remain a mystery to me. The instructions are in German and operate on the principle of ‘fuzzy logic’, as bullshit a phrase as I’ve ever come across. I have downloaded endless translations and tried to marry with what is in front of my eyes but have got nowhere. Nor have my neighbours, the man who commissioned the system or an expert on boiler controls that I managed to buttonhole. Sometimes I go and press lots of buttons. When I do little lights come on and off. Sometimes they flash red, as one has been doing for the past month and however I fiddle it still shouts alarm. The odd thing is that whatever I do the thing still keeps the water hot and turns itself on and off at quite sensible times. It may well be that the controls are not actually connected to anything. But my neighbour bustled confidently in this morning for his ritual of coffee and razzling up the puppy, which spent her first eight weeks in his household. He is an expert on the levers and taps and after a bit of slick organ playing on them announced the problem was solved. He was right, too. After he was gone I took a look at the pressure dial. Google says it should at 1.5. It’s now 2.5, but it’ll do me.


I am due an article about a clan. I’ve been doing these for a while and have to scrabble around a bit to find one with a sufficiently interesting story to engage me. It can be a problem until I think of the cheque. I discovered such a clan and spent a happy morning reading it up and then turned up a fascinating piece about it on line. And found I’d written it myself a few years ago. It’s the beginning of the end, or perhaps the middle of the end. I’m on to another clan now and I’m almost certain I haven’t done it already.
Grimly damp and cold at the moment. One of those days when you wonder why you bothered to come out here, until you remember the reality of autumn and winter in the Highlands of Scotland – the spring and summer, too. In this weather walking the dogs becomes unattractive and the puppy lets off steam by rabbling with Cato. Rather surprisingly he quite often joins in. He has lost his fat roll, has muscles where he never had them before and I’m considering entering him into the local bull-baiting league. There is a problem with dogs that are too short in the leg. They pick up every burr going. Cato was bad, but the puppy carves a smooth path through undergrowth no longer than three inches and almost all of it ends up on her coat. I suspect that I’ll go no longer leaping over the heather – small ‘h’ – with faithful hound at heel.


The damn grass still needs cutting. The trick is waiting till late afternoon when it isn’t still wet with dew or rain since the rainy season is upon us. Even then isn’t easy because of the worm casts. These creatures have to be pretty heroic since the land is concrete for most of the year but they make up for lost time now and the lawn looked like Ypres after I had finished, smeared with mud from their casts. One of my core beliefs is that grass should never be left to get too long before you cut it, but it doesn’t really work out here. Another core belief is ‘when in doubt, wear wellie boots’. I used to have three such foundations for a tranquil life but I’ve forgotten the third.
Another dreary bit of husbandry almost due is the pruning of the mulberry tree. It and the adjacent conifer have burgeoned this year and both need cutting back. The mulberry has begun to raise the concrete slabs on the path at the edge of its canopy. The only cure for that is to chop the thing down but that is politically unacceptable since the village patriarch planted it and is very proud of the result. The first year here I let it drop its leaves before pruning the year’s growth and the garden ended up a foot deep in discarded foliage. Now I cut it in full leaf but the window of opportunity is tight and I need to borrow a pick-up truck to station outside the gate to put the bits in. If I could find a professional to do the job, I would since the task stretches my ladder, my tools and me to the edge of possibility.
Another little problem is a brace of CH radiators of ancient design have stopped working. The first thing to try would be to bleed the air out of them, but they do not seem to have a bleed valve. I’ve been at it to remove layers of paint from where the valves ought to be but am still baffled.
The maire took the opportunity to look over the shoulder of his secretary at my passport this morning as I was registering to vote. ‘May? Were you born in May?’ He sounded so astounded that I waited for a punch line but none came. So I changed the subject to the doings of the grandson who is still beavering away over the hedge. I confirmed that he’s not allowed to put a roof over his vast concrete floor to be.


Rich old Americans are generally mad. I met one once from San Francisco who said he had blown away a thief with a rocket-propelled grenade. The baddie had already made the garden so it didn’t make too much of a mess.
One such American is a friend has been trying to become the Baron of Garth for the last twenty years. He’s outlasted two Lord Lyons already. Innumerable ancient solicitors and experts in this least testing branch of Scots Law which specialises in fleecing rich old Americans who want a Scots barony have begun pushing up the daises and his case has been lost amid the dust and cobwebs of their offices. I suppose a barony is the equivalent of the English lordship of a manor but a bit more upmarket. These days I believe you can just pay money for such things, but when my friend began his journey you had to buy a bit of land within a barony where the local laird could hold a baron court pre-1747 and had the right of ‘pit and gallows’. And, of course, there can’t be anyone else around who says he’s already the baron. To continue this diversion, great magnates accumulated lots of baronies. I once asked Atholl Estates if they had the odd spare kicking about and they came up with a list of something like twenty. My friend bought Garth Castle, has spent big bucks on doing it up and, bless his heart, he organised the arrival of coach loads of American young who spent lots of dollars round about.
I have listened to him weep over the years over the shambles of the process of getting his barony through the Lyon Court and being able to stick his coat-of-arms on the wall. It looked as though he’s on the home straight, only requiring affidavits that he’s been going round calling himself the Baron for the last couple of decades. But the now current Lyon has announced that he will retire at the end of the year and everything might again shudder to a halt. I hope it doesn’t. My friend has already made a significant dent in the balance of payments between the US and the UK.


I visited the optician – he must be smarter than that, perhaps an ophthalmologist – this morning, a trip of some 40 minutes on a miserable, blowy, wet day. The man was faintly forbidding the first couple of times I went and I had to ask him to explain further a couple of points that I couldn’t understand. This time he gave me a sweet smile and asked, in impeccable English, if it would be easier than if he spoke in French. It turned out that he’d spent ten years in New York with his family before returning to France and university. I should have asked why he spoke with a good RP accent rather than American. The paraphernalia of eye doctoring is different from that in the UK. I am used to machines that flash points of light to check peripheral vision and squinting until red and green horizontal lines are aligned. Today I had a comprehensive set of photographs taken of the innards of each eye instead. I am used to having to answer a call for Monsieur Errveen in such premises, but the receptionist got all of a twitter when it came to tracking down this outlandish moniker in her appointment book. His waiting room is the only place where I have found myself outnumbered by racial minorities. This time a gaggle of giggling girls in hijabs were engrossed in their telephones.
My latest speeding ticket comes with a one point penalty on my driving license, which means that this particular document will have to go native. I was intending to do this anyway. My existing licence is several addresses old and, quite soon, I’d need to fill in a form to declare that I was still medically up to the job of hurtling along highways in a 2-ton lump of machinery to get it renewed. In France they don’t ask such awkward questions.


3 sisters

The sign forbidding HGVs in the village has been changed. Now all are banned. At least it’s progress. Now all that is needed is the addition of ‘Sauf livraisons et vehicules publique’.

A few 19 degrees days are forecast next week, but not a 20 in sight. This could mean that autumn has arrived. Of course the grass still needs cutting but it doesn’t dry out until late in the day. The current insect plague is shield bugs, the punaises that are said to smell disgusting if you squash them. There are also lots of little flies, not much bigger than fruit flies. In the height of summer we have their slightly larger cousins that come in and cruise round each other in the same spot beneath a beam. This makes it very easy to engulf the lot with one squirt of aerosol.

We babysat Poonkie’s two local sisters when my neighbour, who was already looking after his brother’s puppy went to collect his wife from hospital after she underwent a light hacking from ‘le boucher’. They spent most of the afternoon scrumming and utterly knackered themselves. Cato, who now even initiates horseplay kept himself well out of the way. Left to right is Poonkie, Kitty and First, I think.

The mulberry in the garden has begun to heave about the concrete paving slabs. The only cure is to remove the tree but it’s one of the prettiest in the village so it may be allowed to continue to do its thing. I shall try to lop back some of its limbs this year to reduce the size of its umbrella.