Noisette

In spring and early summer the birds are still vocally strutting their stuff and the background noise is crickets or cicadas. In autumn, during the day when the village is largely empty and unless the wind is rustling the trees, there can be no sound at all. Sometimes one can hear an aircraft, sometimes a tractor in a far field and once every 20 minutes or so a car runs between our terrace and the chateau but often there’s just stillness and peace.

The quantity of punaises around at the moment is astonishing. Open a shutter and 50 will be nestling in the cracks. They’re not very good fliers and prefer to potter around. One becomes inured to them and will carefully, because the one thing to avoid is squashing them, pull one from beneath one’s shirt and cast it out the window.

Added to the cackling of a successful hen and the cooing of the doves as the sounds of the village is the plaintive cry of ‘Noisette!’ This is Lucy dog’s new name and her owner goes walkabout when she does yet another runner. We keep our heads down when we hear him as the last thing we need is to have her back.

Half term

A brace of expats, here for the best part of 20 years, are returning to the UK. Someone lent their house, everybody brought food and wine and 50, almost all Brits, sat down for a very good meal to say good-bye to them. There was even a live band playing generationally appropriate music. One of the few French present told me how impressive he found the foreign community. As a Frenchman I could only agree.
It’s half term and much of the village will empty for the week as people visit relations and have a change of scene. We take charge of four extra dogs, a cat and a hamster and I have been instructed to call the gendarmes if anything untoward takes place. They were out again to see the grandson over the weekend concerning some months-old motoring offence. Their van must be able to find its own way here by now.
The people threatening to buy the chateau are German, not a nationality that often settles round here. There’s a bit of a mutter about this amongst the more ancient inhabitants of the commune but I think I’d prefer them to French buyers who might try to turn themselves into the local squires. They also would be unlikely to be here that often.

Tears

I went to a commemoration for the 25,000 French soldiers, mostly conscripts, killed in the Algerian War. No wars are good and that was worse than most with a total of some 300k casualties and dreadful brutality on both sides. 14 flags borne by ancient combatants were paraded; a service was held in the local church and I hoped my hordes Presbyterian minister ancestors were not spinning in their graves at my presence. Lots of maires were on display as well as the great and the good from the sapeurs/pompiers and the gendarmes. I now know sufficient of these guys to do some schmoozing. Mr Biggish Gendarme was a fan of single malt whisky and said ‘Bye bye. Have a nice day. Toodle-oo’ when we parted. The French do like making speeches and the microphone was handed round to anyone who wanted it. They also have some spectacularly miserable tunes to mourn the dead and tears were on the cheeks of some of the veterans.
An expert dropped by to advise on beautifying the village. The most interesting suggestion was to surround the grandson’s premises with a 6′ wooden fence. By coincidence the local gendarmes turned up to confer with the maire and they thought this was an excellent scheme, so it will happen. He will not be a happy bunny. Tant pis.

Forgery

The gendarmes were out again, this time summoned by the grandson and his cohorts among the village dissidents. The document we produced in support of our claim to the boundary wall was a forgery and thus criminal. The particular problem was that, alongside the details of the position of the boundary marker, someone had handwritten that we owned the wall. A little claque of his supporters showed this falsification to three gendarmes at the other side of the square. We were not arrested or even consulted. Apparently it is entirely normal that any of the parties concerned should make such a notation, and it was obvious that the handwriting was that of the grandson’s mother, one of the four who had witnessed and agreed the affidavit. I have prepared a letter saying that should we have any further problem about the boundary we will go before a tribunal. This would be expensive and the loser would pay all costs. I have been advised not to point this out since it could be considered a threat. I don’t know why, but I will take the advice and hold my peace for a bit.
The hunt trawled the grounds of the chateau yesterday. Spectating from the terrace is one of the most exciting things that takes place in our dogs’ lives. About 10 great rollicking hounds were decanted from trailers and hullaballooed off with stout hunters in dayglo orange in attendance. They disappeared round the back of the building. Five minutes later a couple of deer delicately bounded past in the opposite direction. A hunter appeared and hid behind a clump of bushes. A deer tiptoed behind him and crossed the road in front of us. Both our dogs barked frantically but across at the chateau nobody was listening and the deer made its way down the path in front of the terrace in the direction of the mairie. I don’t think anything was shot and they all went away after an hour.

Bite

I’ve just spent two hours with the maire and a brace of gendarmes in the square having a shouting match with the grandson. He has been encroaching on our property in his eternal building of his garage, which has progressed little in the seven years I’ve been here. There is a wall topped by a fence between our properties and he has cut a large chunk lengthwise from the masonry to extend his border. Who owns this border wall? We do and found a document proving it. I wouldn’t care that much if we lost three or four inches on the boundary, but if he builds there, any flaw and subsequent accident becomes our responsibility. And his construction work is always flawed. So we all shouted for a bit. Actually I largely held my peace, as did the pretty young gendarme in attendance of Gendarme Lala, but he, the maire and the grandson made up for it. The upshot seems to be that he will replace the wall he has cut away. I don’t imagine that our relationship with the grandson will ever be the same – but it never was.
We have some friends down the road with a very large and unintelligent Alsatian. The maire went to pay a visit and the dog bit him, twice. It’s one thing to bite Jehovah’s Witnesses and casual passers by, but biting the maire is as uncool as it gets. Fortunately the dog did not do much damage and apologies have been accepted but the animal will have to watch its step.

Meslin

The maire informs me that a very rich man has viewed the chateau and has been struck by a ‘coup de coeur’. I should feel a bit windy, but a man who has made or held onto large amounts of money is unlikely to be daft enough to spend it there.
At intervals I take a visitor to Auvillar. Although always infested with pilgrims who are distinguished by extendable metal walking poles without which they cannot peregrinate, it’s consistently voted as one of the most beautiful villages in France and thus worth a visit. I gaze at its covered grain market and read the names painted on the wall of the various kinds of produce that used to be sold there and resolve to look them up on Google translate when I get home, by which time I’ve forgotten them. This time they were written down. Wheat, barley, maize, oats, rye don’t present much of a problem but méteil translated as meslin, not a grain I know. This turns out to a be a mix of rye and wheat although why a farmer should combine them I cannot imagine. Champart was even more baffling, but seems to be the proportion of the harvest in a field that is used to pay the landlord’s rent. So now I know – and so do you.

Abbey

The commune declared a secheresse, a natural catastrophe due to shrinkage of the soil and thus causing cracks in houses. Under instruction I have examined the numerous small fissures that seem to be part and parcel of almost every house round about and will point them out in a few weeks when the expert comes to assess all the damage. The house was built prior to 1750 and has done well to have no more than one iron staple holding one corner together. However I have been told that repair money may be forthcoming.
I went to seek advice on the subject at the mairie and, while there, asked whether I should update my name on the voter’s list, as I am now French. The clerk laughed. ‘French? With an accent like yours?’ I was rather hurt, as I had thought I was doing quite well.
This may have been the last real summer day and we lunched in front of the abbey in Moissac – a thousand years of repairs and patchwork and that stunning entrance. Even at this time of year, it’s still a splendid place for people watching. You can’t have a comparable experience in the UK.

Slog

I have been told to expect a congratulatory letter from President Macron since I now have dual nationality, having apparently been French since 6th Sept when an announcement was made in the Journal Officiel de La Republique Francais. To achieve this was a bit of a slog to begin with but nothing but a peaceful wait since the start of the year. It makes sense since I hope to spend the rest of my days in this country, want to be a fully functioning participant in it and have a degree of insurance against our lives being disrupted by the most dispiriting and mendacious English politicians I have seen in my lifetime frittering away Britain’s honour trying to attain the unattainable. Even the best outcome of Brexit can only make the UK a poorer, meaner nation.
Lucy dog decided to attack Poonkie twice in the same day for no good reason and gave her a nasty bite on her leg. So we have consciously uncoupled ourselves from her. She has a new home and, I hope, doting owners on the other side of the village with a secure fence, no cats and no other dogs.

Itch

Lucy dog is now let off the leash on walks, but it’s a heart stopping moment. She powers off with the other two panting in her wake for a couple of hundred yards before they give up. She becomes a faint dot on the horizon before she disappears from view. Perhaps you hear her belling in a wood somewhere far off, or a ripple of faint barking when she comes within sight or smell of dogs on nearby farms. Then, perhaps 15 minutes later, she re-appears. At least this way she gets sufficient exercise but one is faced with half an hour’s work removing burrs from her coat once you get her home.
We’ve got summer back, nudging 30 over the next few days. It coincides with my annual hedge trimming. This is an art since blocks of the top have to be left to grow in order to screen out the latest visual outrages by the grandson. When I first got here, I’d purr through it in a day. Now I take gentle nibbles at it with long rests in between when I dab the insect bites with anti-itch cream. Sometime I should give up smoking – but not yet.

Lovat

It’s a legend in my mother’s family that its head is the rightful Lord Lovat. His forebear was the younger brother of the Lovat who was the last man to have his head chopped off on Tower Hill in 1747 when he was 80. His lifetime of wickedness caught up with him when he backed the losing side in Prince Charles’s Rising of 1745. His younger brother John was his enforcer earlier in the century and he is said to have been killed in 1716. Not so, runs the family tale. Scotland became too hot for him and the brothers concocted the story that he was dead, but instead he escaped to America. And the title was eventually claimed by a junior branch of the family who have held it ever since. John’s grandson, Alexander, heard about this and came over from America, briefed his lawyers and laid claim to the title in 1845. His petition was heard in the House of Lords and went no further. He may have run out of money, but more likely was that his son thought it a waste of time and that such family vainglory was unseemly. He and the next five generations of his descendants were ordained parsons and were busy doing the Lord’s work, mostly round the Empire. Now the story is just a quaint family myth.

But next month they are going to disinter the bones of the executed Lovat and try to find out if the occupant of the coffin is indeed the man who lost his head. That won’t be there since it was stuck on a spike on London Bridge, but the rest of him was bought home to lie in the family mausoleum. The skeleton should be that of a burly decapitated old man. They hope to extract DNA.

So it may finally be proven that my coz is indeed the descendant of brother John. Or not. It’s a shame really. Such things should remain a mystery.