Monthly Archive for June, 2015

Suckle

The weekend was spent near Bath attending a celebration thrown by friends. I received updates on the lives of people I had not seen for 30 years. The most surprising transformation I heard was that of a rather dim cowman once employed by a neighbour who is now the revered leader of a charismatic church in East Africa and lives in 5-star hotels.
The urban English now seem to need to eat and suckle cardboard cups of coffee as they ambulate. This is not a custom that as so far crossed the Channel. Nor have bevies of young women, mostly overweight, parading through the airport bearing sashes saying bride, maid of honour, bridesmaid etc, presumably en route to some Med resort to behave badly.

Uber

In a bit of a flap at Toulouse airport on the way to the UK for the weekend. The traffic was well backed up and the jams were caused by taxi drivers doing an Uber protest by leaving their vehicles all over the road. The usual car park was blocked but I found an alternative and then followed a nervous wait to see if the shuttle bus could get through, which it did. At check in, we were behind a jangling Airbus worker. He had innocently taken a taxi in. It had been stopped by the protesters. The driver had been hauled out and severely beaten up. The Airbus guy was pepper sprayed. ‘I didn’t think this sort of thing still happened in Europe.’ There were police everywhere, not doing very much. I loathe travelling even when things go smoothly.
It’s beginning to get hot. Late 30s is forecast next week. What does one wear for a return to the UK when temps are supposed to be 15 degrees lower? I have bravely put in no more than a short-sleeved sweater but have left my shorts behind.
I think the total of kestrel chicks is four. They sit on odd corners of the chateau, which makes life difficult for their parents. They used to go straight to the nest hole. Now they pause, survey their scattered brood before deciding which one should be fed next. Favouritism severely pisses off those neglected.

Robber

A couple of the kestrel chicks fledged yesterday. Until then I had no idea how many were crammed into what must have become the extremely noisome niche where they were laid and hatched. There’s at least one more blocking the entrance that looks on the point of flight there may be others. The stable wall has another half dozen similar cubbyholes and these two explored each of them and the surrounding roofs but return home, squeaking with hunger as soon as a parent hoves in sight with some rodent in its claws. Yesterday a robber crow bounced one incoming flight and, zigzagging in three dimensions the kestrel dived over a line of trees with the crow hot on its tail.
IMG_20150621_150355The village has a rhythm that doesn’t change. On the street behind the house, the school buses pass through at 7.30 and 8.15. Then comes the district nurse, followed by the postie. A van will come in and out from the family wood yard below the village and the process largely repeats in the late afternoon. Other traffic rouses barking dogs and curiosity. Obscured from the terrace by the hedge, two or three tractors come and go along the road in front of the chateau and occasionally a massive lorry thunders by, diverted from the main-ish road where they are, at last, repairing the collapse that left only a single lane. Otherwise it’s just birdsong punctuated by the bells on the church ringing out the hours and half hours. The French are inordinately fond of scurrying about in little aircraft so these pass by and, one or twice a week, a brace of Mirages go past, either sliding along the valley or splitting the air overhead.
Sunset has been moving north along the horizon and today’s its furthest stretch. I shall mark the spot – I think it’s just to the left of a wood – and gloomily watch the ensuing retreat.

Putti

On the horizon about five miles away as the crow flies sits a village that possesses a video of its fete a few years ago that shows Tony Blair playing petanque. From this place, for the entire weekend, emanated the ghetto-blasting thud of the kind of music I would travel to avoid. The village was having a rave and sharing it with the surrounding 100 square miles.
Ten years ago the maire taught in an educational institution a dozen miles away. He was witness to some dirty dealings, whistleblew and quit. He went back to work there last year and found, in the French way, that the prime malefactor had been shifted sideways and is now in a position of power as an administrator. The administrator has been able to make life very difficult for him, hoping to force his resignation. But the maire is not a victim. Nothing inspires him so much as a battle against injustice. He has marshalled his ammunition, alerted his extensive network of influential connections and is relishing the campaign to come. If I was his enemy, I would be very afraid.
In olden days, peasants would often see armies fighting in the sky, which presaged a battle to come. We have a magnificent view of the cloudscape from the terrace but have yet to see any battles. It may be we live in peaceful times. Just the same, particularly after a drink, it is evident that we have rabbits, copulating dragons, putti and lots of other interesting things to be seen in the heavens. On those days when the sky is all blue, we still can usually see the discreet puffs that emanate from the cooling towers of nuclear power station to the north. They roll out either 45 or 450 litres of water a minute – I forget which. In the village at their feet one can be sitting enjoying a coffee on a bright day under a delicate drizzle that condenses from the steam.

Thunderflies

I’ve been up and down to the airport quite a bit recently. The time it takes via the motorway is about the same as that taken to wind through endless dreary villages and s-bends up and down the ridges since you travel against the grain of the land. You pay tolls if you use the autoroute but the trip is vastly less hassle. The traffic only becomes heavy on the pereferique at Toulouse. The French are much better at that sort of thing than the Brits. There’s lots of lane changing and one is never blocked. Put on your indicators and a space always opens for you. Coming off the motorway from the peage, for instance, the road goes from 20 lanes down to one. In the rush hour, of course, it’s slow stuff but everybody filters in, nobody is aggressive and the only hazards are the motorbikes that zip between the lines of traffic.
For a couple of hours last night the horizon all round was strobing with lightning, illuminating the countryside with a flat, white light. None of the storms came directly overhead although we had enough rain to satisfy the garden for a few days but no hail, which strips gardens and destroys crops. I had just received an email from Orange telling me to disconnect the router in such circumstances, so I did. More storms are forecast over the next few days and the temp has dropped a welcome 10 degrees. The tiny thunderflies that get everywhere, including behind the computer screen, have temporarily disappeared. Such bugs and their kindred can mar the pleasure of sitting outside, but it’s true everywhere. Midges make it impossible in the Highlands. Flies and wasps ruin picnics elsewhere.

Calvary

The village handyman, who puts in nine hours a week, has been doing up the salle de fetes, re-plastering cracks and damp patches and repainting. He’s repainted the railings and gate to the cemetery and an impromptu meeting at the bottom of the village discussed what colour he should paint the church door and the nearby Calvary crosses. Having dismissed my suggestion of pink, it was decided to leave the decision to the ladies who know about such things. There was also talk of the quantity of mosquitoes that are around this year, the fault of the stagnant swimming pool at the chateau. This household is used to them – shut windows at night, a handy can of fly spray and a fan for hot emergencies since the insects can’t cope with moving air. A recently departed visitor slept with his window open. It hadn’t occurred me to advise him contrary. He mournfully counted 37 bites on his person and must have donated sufficient blood to ensure a thriving generation of mozzies to come.
A fine quality thunderstorm crunched by yesterday evening. The temp was over 30 and it did not pop the heat but today it’s a pleasant 26. The dogs sat and shivered, the matriarch opposite draped all her pots in fleece for fear of hail and the grass received enough of a soaking to ensure its continued, irritating growth. A day or two ago she was sitting on a bench in front of her house getting her nails done by some employee of the health service. Being of advanced years myself, there may be all sorts of wonderful services from which I can benefit. The local doctors offer you a free fortnight in a spa for all sorts of conditions but that would not be for me.
The kestrels are feeding young. The parents are much more discreet than when they had only eggs. Then they’d sit and scream at each other from telegraph poles and the chateau roof. Now they silently flash to and from the nest hole and can be very easily missed.

Jobsworth

Proper heat – 35+ – is forecast for later in the week but at the moment it’s very pleasant. After a series of sunny days today is overcast, which makes it possible to use the computer on the terrace and be able to see the screen. It was 20 at 7am and should not rise very much further during the course of the day. I don’t think it’s been above 40 degrees since my first summer here when the ancients of the region were toppling like dominoes. Big heat requires the shutters to be closed and the fans to whir. Fortunately the house now has a full complement of these. My neighbour has air conditioning and seems to spend thousands of euros a year to keep it working, so I am not tempted.
The kestrels went ape a few days ago, screaming and tumbling through the sky over the chateau. It must have had some purpose other than to send the jackdaws into a panic. My first assumption was that their eggs had hatched, my second that they were abandoning their nest. Now I don’t know. They are still around and still visiting the nest hole but very intermittently. I would have expect a constant shuttle of mice had they been feeding young.
Our local postmaster, a man of sunny disposition who tries to practice his English whenever I drop by, has a South American girlfriend and intends to retire to Peru as soon as he can, which may be later in the year. In fact he may already have gone since, when I called in last week, his seat was occupied by a sullen jobsworth, who made it bizarrely difficult to collect a parcel that had failed to be delivered since there was nobody at home to sign for it. I hope he doesn’t stick as it makes depressing what used to be a jolly encounter.