Monthly Archive for October, 2015


The zapper usually sits on the arm of a chair. It services a TV about 30 years old that sits in the corner and emits a loud parping noise when switched on that scares the pants off anyone who is unused to it. The zapper frequently falls off onto the floor. I have put sandpaper on the base of the thing, but it still falls. It used to scatter its batteries everywhere, but I taped it up and it just goes down with a sullen clatter. Except for a few days ago when the thing exploded into its component parts. I did my best to put it together again but it was irredeemably bust. So, for a very small sum of money, I bought another. It seems a bit flimsy and it’s a race against time between working out some method of padding it and it similarly blowing itself to pieces against the tiles.

This garden produces a surprising amount of waste, mostly in the shape of prunings from the trees and the annual crop of laurel leaves. Since the hedge is up to 5 feet wide, the harvest is considerable. I used to worry about what to do with it all and occasionally chuntered it to the green dumping site, but that required a trailer. Now I put it outside the back gate and the ground works team that keep the village in order turn it all to mush and scatter it to the winds with their huge tractor and mower as part of their verge trimming.


With the skill and delicacy of a brain surgeon – and rather more trepidation – I stuffed a couple of new memory chips into the computer a couple of days ago. I’ve done this a couple of times before to various machines and it always surprises me that they whir back into life immediately and with much more vim than before.

We ate out at a Belgian couples’ house the other day. The decor was different, strange masks on the wall and even a witch. I assumed that this was the norm in such foreign cultures until it was pointed out that Hallowe’en was approaching. We did much clicking of glasses and took other guests’ lead to leap to our feet to do so. Again we thought this was a Belgian convention but, after their initial alarm when we all erupted from our seats, they assured us that this was not customary.


One of the visiting dogs left for home yesterday and gave me a pressie for looking after it – a mechanical branch lopper. Such devices are indeed wonderful but they have a drawback. It is almost impossible to work out how to put them back into the moulded plastic box once you have taken them out.

The maire could tolerate the whiskery curtilage of the chateau no longer and took his tractor and chopper over to give it a trim – both recently bought and in need of an outing. This was going to be my job but I’m glad he couldn’t wait. He bust a blade on the chopper and I suspect I’d be in deep shit if it had been me. All Frenchmen love their boys’ toys, although they must have noisy little petrol engines. Electric devices are for wimps.

I am hopeless when it comes to dealing with official letters in this country. I look at them, my brain glazes and I skim desperately through them to discover whether I can safely bin them. I put it down to them being in a foreign language, but I realise I went through the same process when they were in English.

Bronze medal

I went to a meeting of the water committee this week. I suppose we were a dozen with another half dozen communes unrepresented. There seems to be no more than two such get togethers each year and it may have been the most aggressively tedious couple of hours I’ve spent since coming to France. Most of it was about loans for work to be done with detailed explanations of the quantity of interest that each offer from each bank entailed. The chairman was not a happy bunny and gave us a long moan at the unfairness of life since his screw for being the grand water fromage has been cut. It baffles me that unqualified locals are given the decision for investment in both electricity and water infrastructure. The high point of the morning was seeing a friend walk by the window outside.

This garden is contained by a splendid chain-link fence. As a consequence two extra dogs are staying here for a week. Four dogs is a lot, particularly since they all want to sleep on the bed.

I was delighted to read that a school friend with whom I’ve kept intermittent contact over the years has just been awarded a Nobel Prize. It’s an awfully grown up thing to achieve. My only such success was winning a bronze medal life-saving certificate, but that was a long time ago.


The grandson initiated a conversation, the first in five years. He came to tell me how to sort out uneven tyre wear and said he’d phone his mate to make it better. The snag is that I take my car advice from the maire and went to a specialist to have the problem put right in the summer. So I now have to spurn his suggestion, which is a pity. Tomorrow a couple of bureaucrats are coming to inspect the next-door plot on which he wishes to build a house. The maire says it’s not safe since previous buildings there have slid down the incline towards the chateau, so the experts will have to take responsibility if they approve and something goes wrong. A go-ahead seems unlikely.

We avoided the local nut festival over the weekend. I didn’t feel the same about it after I discovered that one was allowed to use a blowpipe in the nut-spitting contest. Such an apparatus lacks authenticity. There used to be a 4-foot wooden squirrel chewing a nut on the roundabout outside town, but it now languishes in a storeroom behind the salle de fetes. Perhaps it was considered too naff by the powers that be, but you’d think the whole festival would revel in its naffness. Bizarrely a friend in Dundee once saw the squirrel on a local TV programme that featured this festival. A very dull news day, I suppose.


Sophia Robertson copyThe electricity supply failed yesterday evening – trees on the line a couple of kms down the road, said the maire, and he’d warned them about it several months ago. Being too dark to read and alone, I looked into the bowels of my computer. For a while I made a faintly incestuous living by researching and writing up my ancestors and came across stuff that I had forgotten. The deaths register entry for Sophie Robertson in Blair Atholl, for instance. She was a bright vivacious girl who seemed ready to take the world by storm. For no good reason that I could ever work out, she married at 23 a dour minister Alexander Irvine, a widower 15 years her elder with a 10 year-old daughter. He seemed to have drained the life out of her and people commented on it. She died aged 34 in 1856 half a dozen children later. ‘Neuralgia 3 weeks. Haemorrhage from the bowels 36 hours’. The next entry in the register is her 3 month-old daughter who died three weeks later. Not all the lives seemed as bleak as hers, but lots did.

We’ve developed a routine of walking the dogs round a lake for 20 mins before buying groceries. The lake is alongside the canal and is, for France, well frequented by dog walkers. Cato charges forward barking furiously and makes a careful circle round the other dog at a 10-yard distance. Only occasionally does he share a bottom sniff. Poonkie will run forward to make friends but will comes screaming back if the other shows the faintest sign of unease or aggression. So one interlocutes with the other owners. Most are English.


The CH has been on and yesterday I saw what must be about the last swallow passing hurriedly overhead on its way to find some winter sun. I haven’t worn shorts for a week and, next thing, I’ll be picking through my sock collection and that is the final knell for summer. But does the grass slow down? No chance, but it becomes more difficult to find a dry window in which to cut it.
The sunflowers are also about done and the stalks ploughed back in, but along the borders of some of the fields are some stray seed heads that were missed by the machinery. It’s worth stopping to harvest them as they keep visitors to the bird table very happy.
The maire has a piece of land behind his workshop and he’s bought a used tractor and a mower to trim it. He now wants to use these to buzz about the grounds of the chateau that have not been touched since the great €40k clear up last autumn. I don’t mind that nature wants to overwhelm the policies once again but he does as it makes his village look untidy. He is proposing that I share the work with him but this depends on the agent agreeing to pay the cost of the diesel that we use. I will be surprised if the money materialises since the sum will be too paltry for them to bother with.