Monthly Archive for January, 2014


We went round a large Japanese garden in the rain. Three people joined us for shelter in one of the pavilions. ‘Bonjour’ said one. They came from Moissac. I bought a pair of shorts in Macy’s. An old man came up to me. ‘Parlez-vous francais?’ he asked. ‘Un peu,’ I replied. He looked terrified and scuttled off to hide amid the socks.

The house in which we’re staying backs on to a canal full of large fish and terrapins. I spent some time last night communing with a remarkably tame Canada goose. Its docility became explicable this morning when I saw that it was made of plastic, its job to hold the hose that feeds the lawn sprinkler above the mud. I killed a mosquito sitting on a window screen. Our host said that he’d once seen two of them in his garden, had phoned pest control and they were out within the hour to comprehensively spray his premises.

We went to an artist reception where the great & good quaffed drink & nibbles and admired the work of a French Canadian sculptor. He was rather sweet and resented the fact that he was on a plane to do marketing a two or three times a month. His promoter was covered in rhinestones and gave a heavy-duty sales pitch. It continues to rain.


It’s always sunny in Florida. Balls. We were greeted by torrential rain yesterday and it’s overcast today, but at least it’s warm. Because BA used a ‘partner airline’ we were unable to select seats that gave a little more legroom, which made the 9-hour flight horrendous as far as I was concerned. We were shoehorned in amid some 40 Nepalese – Nepalis? – all looking very jolly in their national costumes. Some charity had whisked them out of their own country and they were all bound for a new life in the US. They did not join the scrum at immigration. The ferocious officials decided that I was likely a baddie and hauled me aside to some annex for further examination before they released me after 20 minutes without further investigation. Every time I tried to interlocute with one of them, he would look alarmed and say ‘Stand Back. Stand back’. I have just watched ‘Breaking Bad’ so I knew that such people are charm-free. I suspect the problem is that when I unfold myself from a chair, there’s rather more of me than they are used to, but I am careful to show the proper respect. Perhaps Americans need more personal space than Europeans are used to.


The dogs were outraged this afternoon when they went on their usual short walk, down at the bottom of the hill on a traffic-free lane that is tarmacked and thus they do not pick up mud. But it was covered by a fast running, quarter-mile wide river. The Arrats is usually nothing more than an unattractive muddy stream but it rises in the Pyrenees and has now turned the valley into a lake.
The chasseurs were doing their thing. They can’t shoot within some designated distance of the village but their lugubrious hounds were loping around, most with prettily-tolling bells on their collars. The patriarch flung open the back of his van to reveal a large dead boar. It had taken up residence in the garden of an expat’s holiday house until it met its end. I gloomily wondered if I’d have to be chewing some bit of the damn thing at the next chasse lunch.


One can do little more on dank, dull, wet days but sit indoors and pursue sedentary interests. Fortunately those are my favourite kind. Even the dogs show no inclination to exit the house to do more than pee. These conditions look set for as long ahead as the forecasters can predict. We are hoping to escape by departing for foreign climes but the aircraft controllers are saying they will strike at just that time. At least the evenings and mornings are perceptibly lighter.
I discovered that Orange had decided that my telephone line was unstable and so had placed some sort of gizmo on it that had the only perceptible effect of halving the speed of the internet connection. I remonstrated; they removed it and things are back to normal. I was also told that fibre optic cables have been laid but it’s a question of when their engineers will get round to hooking us up. The one promise I was made was that the cost of a faster link would be substantially more than I pay now when they come to offer it. And I see that the S Koreans have a standard of 100 Mbit/s at two thirds what it costs me for 2 Mbit/s. It’s a cruel world.


At this time of year the very early mornings are often clear but then the mist rolls up from the valley and blankets the chateau. It comes and goes for several hours before finally clearing. The birds are all over the feeders. One addition this year is a mouse that munches away at the fat balls an inch or two the other side of the French window. As long as it remains an outside mouse I am willing to cosset it and indoors there seem to be none at the moment and they are always evident when they scuttle above the false ceilings.

My neighbour is trying to put together his list of consigliore for the election for maire; I am resolute in my refusal to join. In the past few days I have been his instrument in attempts to buy a couple of cars owned by Brits, one in London and one further up country here. The owners are either idiots or conmen since most of time they fail to respond to messages or else feed back irrelevant information.

I’m trying to read what I can on the German occupation in this part of France. As always, the more you learn the more complicated the subject. All one can hold on to is Germans bad, French good, but the wickedness was not exclusively on one side. All warfare must be like that and for the umpteenth time I bless the fact that I am part of a lucky generation that was never put to the test. In wars over the past two hundred year, I can name three members of my family that fought within 50 miles of this village.


I went to the Bee Gee to have my haircut today. I do it a couple of times a year when people begin to flinch when they see me coming. At €17 a chop it will happen no more often. `Curiously the last haircutter I patronised in Scotland was a pretty French girl, the partner of the Turk who ran the establishment. She charged me £5, with a reduction for my sweet smile and because I was very nearly an official geriatric.

The Bee Gee made quite a production of the affair. He has a brown room on the street with its window filled with instruments of torture that I imagine were the tools of the trade when his great-grandfather started the business. Leafing through the chasse and fishing magazines were a couple of tremulous ancients, there for a morning out rather than need, with whom the Bee Gee incomprehensibly gossiped. His radio played old pop such as Bonnie Tyler  I was sprayed with warm water, cut with at least five separate instruments including a cutthroat razor and then blow-dried into a rather fetching bouffant – an attempt, I assume to replicate his own grey-locked coiffure with rather inferior material. For some reason I gave him a €2 tip before escaping to allow the rain to return his creation to something more normal for me.


The little dog now wears a cone for much of the time to prevent her licking her wound. Understandably she’s miserable, but not half as miserable as she was 24 hours ago. I went speeding to the vet first thing and returned with a syringe filled with morphine that knocked her out for the best part of the day yesterday and now she’s more pissed off than sore. For Cato it’s a bit of a holiday since she is not up to dragging him around by his tail or hanging from his ears.
Only few years ago, dial-up internet came in with a speed of 56kps and it was a marvel. Now I’m irritated because the speed here has recently reduced from 2 Mb/s to 1. It’s just enough to do most of what I want, but it’s not satisfactory. I think it’s a problem for the whole village and I suspect that Orange have overloaded the local exchange. There are communities round about that have fibre-optic cables in place but I doubt we’re worth the trouble of putting them in. For me, at least, a good net connection is as important as sewage and electrics. I’ll have a moan at the helpline tomorrow, but I doubt much will be achieved.
The cash machines here make the assumption that one only wishes to withdraw €40 at a time and one has to keep tapping away until they reluctantly offer more. I needed more a few days ago and the machine refused me, so I asked the bank cashier what was the problem. None at all. I could have €150 a time, provided I pay for an upgraded card. I wouldn’t, and she gave me a sympathetic smile. I ought to buy bank shares here since they are outrageous cash generating machines.

Hair cut

Poonkie hair cut

The little dog went for a haircut yesterday and is transformed. The main purpose was to remove all the tiny tangles in her fur that she came with and were irremovable. She’s being spayed tomorrow and her pink bare belly should make the vet’s job easier. One ear is always up and the other down. It does make her look as though she’s making a Nazi salute. Cato has lost about a kilo since she came. It may not sound much but it’s nearly 20% of his body weight and shows how much exercise he gets through rabbling.

The weather has been very kind so far this winter. A couple of times the windscreen has needed scraping but now the trees are in blossom. While the UK was suffering under the worst of the depressions that have afflicted the country, tranquillity reigned here, except for a half hour of crashing gale that came through late one afternoon. It featured prominently in the local press the following day as it snapped trees and blocked roads when it tore through the department.

The dogs’ lavatory is the patch of lawn outside the French window. The grass is littered with worm casts and one has to step very carefully to avoid picking one up on one’s shoe, but I collect the shit in a trowel and flick it over the hedge into the grandson’s property. I used to enjoy hitting one of his decaying cars with a soggy thump but I now have the grace to dispose of it further down where it disappears into the weeds.


The local electorate is down to 64 registered voters. My neighbour has to come up with 11 of them to stand on his list for the maire’s election and any rival must find the same number of different folk. Since the old council is resolute in not standing again, it means that anyone still able to grunt will be approached. Apparently the law says that candidates must declare support for one of the political parties. I’m afraid this village will not comply. Both the local Nazis and the Communists share the same policy when it comes to the positioning of the wheelie bin and party politics are not deemed relevant.
Thirty-odd boars were wandering down the road to the airport the other evening. Every so often one hears of one being hit by a car – on the autoroute back to the UK just before New Year at 80mph, for example – and that is very expensive and bad for the health of both pig and driver. A motorway sign the other day warned me of an ‘animal errant’ ahead. I speculated happily about what it might be, but failed to enjoy a sighting.


Hogmanay is traditionally a time that I like to keep my head down and avoid going out but we were insisted out of the house and next door where we joined four other adults and much the same number of children to make whoopee and it was the best way that I’ve seen in the New Year for many a day.
My neighbour is going to stand for election as maire in three months. The current incumbent is retiring along with the brightest sparks on his council, so it will be all change. My neighbour will likely have a couple of expats on his council and it will be interesting to see if his ticket attracts sufficient votes from the 97 electors. The village does need someone to take a grip of it. It has the bones to be a very pretty little hamlet but nobody has put in the effort to clear up the clutter, bar those who labour over flowers in summer.