Monthly Archive for November, 2014


A flight of cranes flew over, heading southwest. A skein of geese and their music overhead in Scotland would always make the heart leap; it’s more so with cranes, perhaps because they are so much less familiar.
We went to the antique fair. It gently declines year by year. This time the stalls had thinned and the dealers had lost spirit and that terrifying hunger they used to display if you so much as cast your eye over their merchandise. It may be that their lack of enthusiasm was because we went during the lunch hour. The nation has this curious belief that rolling up its sleeves and tucking in between 12.30 and 2pm is a human right. It can be damn dangerous when you’re pottering along the usual empty road and it suddenly fills with kamikaze cars all hurrying home for lunch. I coveted nothing but the oriental carpets and they, as always, were way out of my league. Some of the ones in this house were considered by a smart-arse auctioneer as probably being worthy of restoration, but that was several years and several dogs ago.
19 degrees and sunny this morning. I read that we have had second mildest autumn since 1901, a curious date to choose as the baseline, but perhaps that’s when records first began. It feels mildly sinful to walk the dogs in such conditions at the end of November. One should be in wellies, woolly scarf, Barbour – and cold, driving rain.


An earnest soul turned up in the village today who was an expert from the Art and Fart section of the Department to pass comment on our artefacts and old buildings and what needed to be done with them. He managed to get excited by the church, which to my eye is the least exciting in the locality. There’s a sort of vestry that is guarded by spiders’ webs of great age and thickness that we macheted our way through. It contained a large and depressing army of 19th century plaster saints a yard tall that would once have graced the interior of the nave, almost all with a head or an arm missing. What interested him was the stucco mouldings that were, mostly, still on the wall of the room. 18th century and never before had he seen such things in an ecclesiastical building rather than a grand house. There were also some dusty 250 year-old religious books and a 10-foot painting with holes in depicting a nun staring up at a hanging Christ that was startlingly bad. We had a 16th century font which sent him off into a riff about the generations of natives that had been christened from it and a cross that he decided was from an even earlier gravestone. He said that a stone in our garden was from a similar source and would have had supported such a cross. We stood on the terrace and looked across to the chateau. He bumbled on about the sort of subsidies that might be dangled in front of the owner to encourage him to keep spending money. I was mildly aghast since the tree munchers have been busy today and the place now looks like a mildly blowsy woman whose covering towel has been snatched from her. We should get used to it and some of its rawness will green up in spring.
The car failed its controle technique, but not too seriously. It had a long list of flaws…for example all the lights come on when I change gear these day, and the more gaffer tape that holds it together, the wider a berth I’m given by other drivers…but I only need to replace some brake pipes to pass. The maire has volunteered to perform the task and the bits have been ordered. He reckons it’s in its sunset years but it’s done only 250k miles and it could do double.


The very local deal this week has been the construction of wheelchair access to the salle de fetes directly opposite our kitchen window. This has given us heavy machinery both fore and aft, since monstrous trucks and tree munchers are still roaring away over at the chateau. This is the result of the election of the new regime in the village, specifically M. le Maire who rarely stops grafting at his civic duties. The village had a page to itself in the local paper today and it sounds as though we may become the local equivalent of Castle Combe.
A pleasant addition to the neighbourhood is a substantial murmuration of starlings. Their roost spot is about half a mile away as the crow flies and I’ve only seen the full performance once as I was driving past. But we catch the morning rush hour when they stream by the French windows for a minute or so, and we get smaller flocks of them, often practicing their moves, on the way to bed. We had a week in October when substantial numbers of juicy-looking insects hatched. I never got close enough to establish their species, but the starlings took the place of the swifts and swallows that would have hoovered them up earlier in the year. They cruised slowly at treetop height, often looking as if they might stall when they snatched at their prey.


I caught the mulberry tree before it shed its leaves a day or two ago. The timing largely depends on the day that the local patriarch leaves his truck outside the front gate, thus allowing me to load the prunings straight on to it. For success the loppers must have a razor edge since the tree can produce shoots a good ten feet long and a couple of inches thick in a season. In fact I have decided the thing is really a bit of a pain. It’s very elegant with its branches creating an even level canopy beneath, but it shades too much and produces far too much greenery. There’s not a lot I can do to stop its roots heaving the massive slabs on concrete on the adjacent path an inch or two out of true. This year I’ll do a bit of serious lopping to try to reduce its spread by at least a half. The dilemma is whether to attack it with a blunt bow saw, or try to flag down some passing chainsaw. I may be unique in the village for not owning such a tool.


I sat beside a small Scotsman in his 30s on my flight from Edinburgh to London. He panicked as we took off and grasped my hand in an iron grip. He told me that he had diazepam from his doc but was saving it up. He was on his way to LA to hook up with a lady he had met online. There’s a lot of that sort of thing about. One wonders how many people are in the air at any one time, crisscrossing the globe in pursuit of love.

We had a decent turnout at the war memorial at the bottom of the village at 11am. There’s not the same time discipline out here. We drift over after the church clock has sounded and pass out bisous to all and sundry. Then the maire digs out his bit of paper once we’re settled and reads out the president’s speechwriter’s address. Next the names of the dead on the memorial are read out. One died on the 10th November. The French government decreed that nobody was killed on the 11th since that would be too bitter for his kinsfolk. Our maire has a voice that could startle sheep a mile away, but the convention is that he must mumble, so we miss what he says. Then we have the minute’s silence before entering the mairie for a glass of wine and more bisous for anyone we’ve missed. The top brass were wearing a plastic bluet, a corncockle and the French equivalent of the poppy, rather than the usual paper sticker. I pinched one and was interested to see that the stems were identical, although that of the bluet was white. The poppy is said to be made in the UK, but I reckon they buy the bits in China.


I treated myself to new underpants at Sainsbury’s, the only place that seems to do the style I like. But I’m a bit leery of them. They are called Stayfresh and tell me that the fabric from which they are made has antibacterial properties. Are my balls safe within them? Am I encouraged to wear them for days since they will remain pristine and the properties will pounce on any bugs that escape my person? My hostess, perforce a serial visitor to hospitals, has picked up MRSA. Should I advise her to eat my shorts to sort it out?

I dropped in on a magazine editor who is willing to publish articles from me on the subject of Scots history. I’ve been doing it for 10 years and am scrabbling for subjects now and am down to writing about Robert the Bruce’s relationship with his pets and such like. I was half hoping Ed would fire me, but no. He caught me off guard by asking if I’d like more money. I reckon I’m already indecently overpaid for what I do and refused the offer before I could properly consider the matter.


I’m in Scotland for a couple of days and the weather/climate reminds me why I moved to France. I brought two sweaters with me and I have to wear them both to survive. And I find air travel does not get any more agreeable as I age. Being stuck within the system either on a plane or pissing about in the terminal rouses in me the same aggressive boredom that I recall from being stuck in front of a dull parson in church on a Sunday. It took 90 minutes between the gate opening and take off at Heathrow. I can’t help thinking it should do better than that.