Monthly Archive for August, 2017


Bar the rumble of traffic and the police sirens, the background noise of north London where I was staying was the screech of parakeets. A French market was in operation in Muswell Hill over two days with about 25 stalls selling anything from Eiffel Towers to old French CDs. Heritage tomatoes were a thing costing £8 a kilo. Most of the participants seemed to have come over from Brittany and the prices reflected the cost of the trip. Weaving through the slow moving affluent young with their trophy children were tiny solitary ancients in trainers.
A mighty orage crunched over the village and brought down the roof of a cottage that once housed staff for the chateau. The maire was inside the main building a few days ago and reported that the roof beams have begun to rot and he predicted a collapse this winter. I haven’t been in for a couple of years because it’s pretty depressing and through fear of falling through the floorboards.
The new dog, Lucy, is settling in but I doubt she’d ever been in a house before and the necessary habits for communal living can still confound her. She is the same colour as much of the furniture and creeps around like a ghost creating a tripping hazard. She has a trip to the vet in a few days to be vaccinated, sterilised and chipped that will likely depress her.


I’m in London being grandfather for a few days. It’s the first time here in summer for more than a decade and the temperature is what I wish it always was in SW France, a comfy 25. I don’t think I’ve worn short trousers in the UK since doing violent exercise at school but it feels entirely right to do so now. Being a man of conservative habits I have worn the same kind of shorts since I came across a particular brand and found that they worked for me, even though I don’t scramble up the mountains for which they are designed. I had a new pair delivered to my daughter’s address in London and I’m mildly discommoded to find they’ve been updated. They’re now stretchy and hug my nether regions more than I am used to. They also have a little square of material on an elastic band inside a pocket that I am supposed to use to wipe my specs.


The grandson has been quiet over the last couple of weeks. He and his missus have developed a new interest. She drives a rather flashy white car and they clean it every day. This process takes four hours. It begins with a power wash. Then the front bumpery bit is removed and taken indoors to scrub off any bugs that still stick. Then it is dried and polished. Each of them has mittens – pink and blue – with which they go over every inch. Then little pads of cotton wool and cotton buds go into all the orifices that might contain contamination. The whole process is faintly unsettling as it must be a sign of pottiness but, bar the power washing, it’s silent and can only be encouraged.
We have four or five Muslims in the commune. All are upstanding citizens. One in particular does more than virtually anyone to keep the village in good order. He went along with the maire to sort out one of the village dissidents who brought a large truck into the square which a breach of the bylaws. Hot words ensued during which the dissident, not the brightest of people, described him as an Arab and therefore of no account. The authorities have a very low level of tolerance for such racism and a complaint has been made to the gendarmes. I’m told the dissident will get a severe ticking off and, if the offence is repeated, he’s likely to get an ASBO forbidding him to come within 5 kilometres of the village. Since the dissident has two houses and his family here, this could be problematical for him.


The origins of Lucy, the new dog, were discovered. She’s a boar sniffer whose owner, some five miles away, lost interest in her when he decided his new lady friend made for a more absorbing pastime than the chasse. She has to be watched. Leave the gate ajar and she’s off at a gallop but seems to go no further than a couple of hundred yards before she sits down and wonders what on earth she should do next. She’s easily recovered.
I’ve just fired off an article about William Jaffray, who died at a ripe age in 1829 in a village near Stirling where he lived his entire life. He was a radical, a weaver, who was hounded by the authorities. Aside from politics, his interest was promoting inoculation and later vaccination against smallpox. He did it himself for no charge in the days when a doctor would ask half a guinea. He would tramp the lanes about his home with his kit looking for subjects. Over 25 years he dosed some 16,000 children and is reckoned to have saved 4,000 lives.


We have visitors. They’ve had thunderstorm and cloudburst and now the temp run for them is forecast to be 23, 26, 28, and 34. Then they return to England. Is weather shock a known complaint?
With the dry weather, melon picking tractors and trailers have created beaten highways across the fields. But yesterday’s inundation was enough to turn their roads to mud and mud here is very muddy indeed. This morning a coach load of pickers was swarming across a small field on the edge of the paved village perepherique, but it won’t have kept them busy for long.
The ex-maire has had a marble sepulchre erected for his family in the cemetery. It’s had to be shoehorned in, but it’s a magnificent thing adorned with a golden wheat sheaf. I hope it’s a while before it receives its first occupant. And I see there’s now a photo of the sorciere on her family’s tomb, looking 40 and formidable. But that never really works. Faded 1920s peasants morphing through 40s uniforms to teddy boys is no worthy memorial. If I’m not offered a statue in Trafalgar Square, I’m for a wee pile of ash under the roses.


The dogs ate something disagreeable and the night was spent playing catch up on piles of crap and vomit. Cato was the only one to keep everything in and the others were fine after eventually voiding their interiors. Perhaps three dogs are too many. Perhaps one dog is too many. We now have an official document signed and stamped by the maire that says that Lucy is our property and anyone who turns up to claim her can piss off. She is the only dog I’ve lived with that can recognise dogs and other animals on television and usually barks at them.
The fete went very smoothly. No arguments amongst the local team, nobody became too drunk and the temp was a comfortable 25. One starts with drinks and nibbles. An astonishing number of the natives make serious inroads into whisky beforehand – three fingers and a dash of coke in plastic cups. 80+ were present for lunch and a bloke with a trumpet and a microphone crooned us at. It’s not something I’m used to, but he was good at it. I sat beside the ubiquitous photographer who attends all functions in all villages in the canton and feeds in to the local newspaper. He told me about his vast archive. ‘Are you familiar with the entertainer?’ ‘I’ve been listening to him for forty years.’


We have the village fete this weekend. There’s a gathering of old cars, most of them sourced from the maire’s garage. Lots of petanque, a fancy lunch, a vide grenier and a disco that will thump away just beyond our bedroom window. I suspect that our various dogs will do a lot of barking at these unusual goings-on, but Cato, who can erupt in fury if a mouse farts beyond the garden, seems to be going deaf. It may be no more than wax in his ears but I’m not rushing him to the vet as it gives us a more peaceful life. He still can’t jump onto sofas but otherwise his life seems back to normal. Lucy is settling in. Her most lively time of day is early morning, which is a bit of a pain. This morning she dragged her bed into the garden and began to eat it. This was discouraged so she had a go at a carpet. This was discouraged even more and she seemed to take this on board. The solution is an early walk but she can’t be trusted off a lead. I hope this changes. She’ll soon be chipped and sterilised, at a substantial discount as she’s a rescue dog, in a week or so.
The swifts left about a week ago. I can’t think why they’re always in such a hurry to go as the summer has a lot of baking still to do. One looks forward to it and enjoys sitting out early on, but the heat soon palls and one scours the weather forecast for cooler days ahead. Tomorrow is supposed to be no more than 23, nicely down from today’s 32.