Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Never interrupt a lady in the morning .

" Walk ! " . We must have gone through this routine at least twenty thousand times but this morning Wilf looks back at me with utter incomprehension . His face has the canine ' I have absolutely no idea what you're trying to say ' look etched on it. He's cosily curled up , chin on paws , at the foot of the stairs and nothing is going to get him to move . By contrast , when I return home with the croissants he's up and in the kitchen within a nano-second .

The combine harvesters at work until late into the night cutting the sunflowers. The local farmers trying to get in the harvest before Irene , or a weak shadow of her former self , gets here . The yellow sun blobs in the long range weather forecast replaced by clouds and lightning forks . At the cafe under the arcades the talk is about a week of thunderstorms . If you thought the English were weather fixated then you've never been to France .

After breakfast Wilf embarks on his morning tour of the village green . Kelly , the hover dog , is sprawled out in the middle of the lane grooming herself . Wilf, barreling along head down , is oblivious to her presence . As a result he blunders into her at high speed . Kelly leaps to her feet, growls, bares her teeth and then nips him gently on his behind . That thick PON fur proving to be extremely useful padding . Kelly then disappears back to the safety of the old widows porch . Wilf , who has no idea what has just happened , looks around quizically as if to say ' what was all that about ? '. Honey and cheese and a head tousling when he gets home .

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday morning .

Off to the neighbouring village for an early morning walk . The sun still drifting into the sky . We park the car on the grass verge opposite the farmhouse with wonderful blue painted gates . Envy is a sin but I must admit to being envious of these huge , oh so French , oh so formal, metal gates . I'm also envious of the cared for, weed free, garden that lies behind . Clearly this is a house that has been looked after for generations and doesn't suffer mysterious early morning odours or frequent power outages . Although the farmhouse shutters are open there's no sign of anyone in the garden or lights on inside . This is just as well as Wilf decides to give the gates a lengthy christening .

We turn right beyond the Post Office and pass in front of the chateau . The chateau dog , a rather plump fox terrier called Henri , wanders out to say hello to Wilf. He's followed out onto the square by a shaggy, but much loved , mutt from the restaurant . A few moments later and we're joined by a shy , black and white , hunting dog from the melon farmers house. All three of them bark in unison and then, deciding that Wilf is not a great playmate , hurry off , line abreast , down the lane in search of adventure. The amiable social life of village dogs is a wonder to behold . Wilf is too busy christening the tyres of a little blue Peugeot to pay them any attention .

Monday, August 29, 2011

The trug , the apron , and the cheeks of it all .

Indian summer weather. 28 degrees, no humidity, and the faintest of breezes. The weather forecast say it's going to stay like this until Thursday . Perfect temperatures for heading off with Wilf through the sunflower fields.

Sunday lunchtime . Completely lost we stop in a small village to get directions to the farm that makes wild flower honey . The hamlet is quite deserted apart from a woman in a straw hat and black apron working away in her garden by the church . We shout out and she wanders over to her gate , trug in one hand trowell in the other , and gives ' the font ' precise instructions on how to get to where we want to go . It's only as she turns and walks back down the path away from us that we see that the hat and apron, and a pair of flip flops, were all she had on . The cheeks of it all !

On our way home we have to stop the car while a girl shepherds a flock of turkeys across the road in front of us . Traffic hold ups Tarn-et-Garonne style . Wilf , wrapped up in a blanket in the back of the car , sleeps soundly through it all .

Sunday, August 28, 2011

An earthly paradise.

The air crisp and fresh . A bright, cheerful, post-thunderstorm morning . After our pre-breakfast coffee and bowl of water at the cafe , it's off to the valley for an early morning saunter . We park by the old roman mile marker. A dozen eagles flying overhead .Who ever knew they flew in flocks? Wilf sprints past the field of recently pregnant cows in pursuit of a particularly intriguing scent . The young calves look suspiciously at him as he ploughs, head down like a little lost polar bear , along the grass verges .

Just beyond the old farmers jerry rigged ' tractor / irrigation device' , Wilf stops , settles down on the tarmac , turns over on his back and immediately falls into a deep, innocent, sleep . Worn out by his early morning adventure . He lies there quite immovable and quite unperturbed , all four paws pointing skywards . Nothing is going to make him get up .

Quickly back the sixty or so metres to fetch the car . As he's lifted onto his blanket he gives me an unconvincing " Honest . I wasn't really asleep just guarding with my eyes shut " look . Time for a laugh and a hair tousle . At this stage of the journey old dogs know beyond any doubt that ' in paradise everyone naps ' .

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The wings of angels.

Yesterdays thunderstorm proved to be a half hearted affair. It arrived at lunchtime, rattled the window frames a few times and then quickly disappeared , leaving the skies as blue and cloudless as they had been earlier in the day . Wilf slept unconcernedly through it all. By the time of his evening walk , batteries fully recharged , he had the energy to make a full tour of the village . Vacation homes shuttered, chateau gates padlocked , only Kelly for company . The newly vacated houses a reminder that the holiday season is over and autumn's on the way.

A long queue at the bakers this morning . The bread when it arrives straight from the ovens warm and soft . Wilf sits at the front door of the shop, harlequin patterned lead wrapped round the downpipe, head high , happily sniffing the promise laden air . The freshly baked smell of France . A little old lady wearing a chintz apron stops as she leaves the bread shop, tousles his hair and slips him a small piece from the end of her flute de campagne . He beams . Old dogs know better than most that " the wings of angels are often found on the backs of the least likely people ".

Friday, August 26, 2011

Keeping it simple .

Todays weather forecast in the local paper a mass of black clouds, yellow lightning flashes , and , in case we still hadn't got the message , THUNDERSTORMS ! marked in big red letters across the page . This confident assertion of meteorological gloom seems at odds wih the cloudless blue sky overhead. Wilf isn't bothered one way or the other. He's focused on the croissant on the table above .

At the supermarket the bad tempered cashier gets up fom her chair and huffily rearranges the wine bottles on the conveyor belt. " If you lay them with the necks pointing forwards they won't roll about ". She then tisks once and tuts , loudly , twice .

Two thirty seven on Thursday afternoon . Dunk- bonk - dunk. The afternoon peace of the village rudely shattered by the mayors latest attempt to restart the church clock . Another 'professional ' has shown up with promises to repair the mechanism . Ten minutes later another dunk-bonk-dunk . On our afternoon walk Wilf and yours truly wander over to see what's going on . '' This is the clock repairman " says the mayor by way of greeting . ' I'm the clock repairman ' says the clock repairman . I can't help but wonder if his is how the locals really talk to each other or do they keep it simple specially for me ? .

On our way home across the village green Wilf has a run in with the water sprinkler , getting soaked in the process. His hair , when it finally dries, develops a decidedly 'punk 'look . It stays like this for the rest of the day . Excitement , France Profonde , style .

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Instinctively known .

Just Wilf and the two of us in the house. Peace and quiet . For the first time in months no one belly flopping in the pool , no squabbling over the breakfast croissants , no midnight games of Hooley Hound touch rugby in the hallway , no Harvard professors working away in the library . Heaven .

After the excitement of the holidays Wilf is determined to catch up on his sleep . He appears at meal times and barks when he wants out . Apart from that he's tucked up at the foot of the stairs snoring gently away . Time to recharge the batteries . As all PONs instinctively know - " No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap " .

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The smelly ghost

After a hectic summer the village is emptying . At first light the French tourists from Rouen left the little whitewashed gite by the crossroads . At the chateau the German billionaires were packing cases into a fleet of large black limousines. Brunhilda wandered down to the gatehouse, propped herself up against the wall on her hind legs and barked at Wilf - half in proprietorial warning , half in farewell. On our way back from our morning walk the old widow gave me a plastic carrier bag of peaches and tomatoes . '' I know you're all alone at the moment " by way of explanation . Kelly , the hover dog, bounced around us . Wilf remaining completely oblivious to her presence.

The rickety old farmhouse has many peculiarities but one in particular stands out . It has started to develop unusual smells. Not all the time , never during the day, and only upstairs . In fact the smell only blossoms between midnight and four , and then only when the weather is calm. This olefactory phenomenon occurs maybe once every six weeks or so.

Going downstairs at one thirty to let Wilf out I noticed that the upper corridor smelt of vinegar . Last month it was mixture of carbolic soap and bees wax. The time before wet smouldering wood. Never strong enough to offend but just enough to let you know that the septic tank is up to no good . At breakfast this development is mentioned to Madame Bay who listens attentively with a peculiar, somewhat wide eyed , look on her face .

Ever practical , I ask our saintly Septaguenarian to check the cleaning cupboards to see if anything in there might be leaking . She leans across the table and touches my arm with her hand in much the same way a surgeon might impart bad news at a patients bedside . " M'Ongoose , M'Ongoose it is a presence ". Having imparted this news , twice , she then sits there , coffee cup steaming in front of her , one hand clasped to her decolletage , the other hand , motionless , index finger pointing skyward. This, I was not prepared for.

' The font ' will be back later today to deal with the peaches and tomatoes , our smelly ghost, and a part traumatised, part enervated Madame Bay.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The spectral glow .

It's dark when we head off to the airport. The only light visible for miles around the spectral glow from the old farmers arc lamp. He's using the cool of the morning to continue work on his ancient Mercedes. As we drive past he looks up and waves .' The font ' can't help but wonder if the "improvements" he's making to the original design would be approved of by the manufacturer.

The American professors, ' the font ' and attendant baggage all delivered safely to the terminal . Wilf sits bemusedly in the back as luggage is unloaded, farewells made and passports and wallets checked for the umpteenth time . Ear tickles from them and a kiss on the head from 'the font'. Wilf beams .

McDonalds doesn't open until ten so the family fellow and yours truly drive back home, windows down, listening to
Radio Nostalgie . At ten to six a phone in with a lady who has sixty five goats. She claims to improve the quality of her goats cheese by singing to them . She then gives a five minute rendition of which songs are the most successful. '' We ain't in Kansas now " I say to Wilf.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A classic ...of sorts .

42 degrees yesterday. The same forecast for today . An insufferable wall of heat . A day for living in the pool .Wilf sensibly spends most of his time on the cool tile floor in the downstairs hallway . He ventures out for a long walk through the sunflower fields at first light but after that he's happy to stay close to the house. He's particularly happy dozing in front of the kitchen fan while 'the font' cooks.

The old farmer has bought a Mercedes. It's what an opportunistic car salesman might call a 'classic '. One of those with the headlights inset in vertical clusters either side of the radiator grille. Thirty five , maybe forty years old . Largely silver with a not quite matching spray job on the rear passenger door. Two hubcaps .

He's rigged up an arc light on his driveway and is working feverishly away as we set off on our morning perambulation. On the ground next to him a transistor radio tuned to Radio Nostalgie . The sound of " If you go to San Francisco - Make sure you wear flowers in your hair " wafting across the lane. A disembodied voice attached to a pair of maroon bedroom slippers sticking out from under the rear axle shouts - '' Bonjour ! Going to be hot again. This'll be worth a bob or two when I'm finished "
. Optimism , you will be glad to hear, is alive and well in this part of South West France .

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Absolutely the best - guaranteed .

Barely seven. It's just getting light but it's already hot . We head out of the front gate past the two cows peering dreamily over the fence and head towards the village pond . At our approach a cohort of sleepy frogs leap, one after the other , from the shade of the grass into the cool water . The sound of their splashing and croaking a simple and unpretentious pleasure . The synchronised swimmers of the animal world . I walk four paces ahead. Wilf follows on behind, legs stretched out ahead of him . The assurance that comes from knowing that someone is there, clearing the way . " Come on , come on , stop ! Quick-quick-quick, Stop !" - that constant flow of reassuring commands that owners of blind dogs soon develop.

Home through the sunflower fields. A time for intense snuffling and concentration . For breakfast ' the font ' gives Wilf some cheese and honey on toast. Polish dog, Swedish breakfast . Happiness all round. He licks his nose no less than nineteen times . A record ?

What time is the best in a dogs life ? The mad, getting to know you antics of puppyhood ? Races across the beach when young ? The solid routine of maturity ? Or old age when the trust built up over a decade becomes absolute? For a dog every day is the best . But if laughter is a guide then I guarantee you that days like today are absolutely the best that a dog , or his owner, could ever hope to enjoy .

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hot and humid .

Moscow was hot and humid . The men in dark suits sensibly sporting summer outfits. My host , a senior politician , dressed like an inverted daffodil in lime green shirt and yellow trousers . Hartford Country Club meets Russian oligarch . Angus in dark blue suit, shirt and tie stands out like an undertaker in a field of exotic , pastel shaded , flowers .

The meeting wasn't , as thought, in the airconditioned luxury of the boardroom but in a plywood chalet at the Moscow Airshow . Any pretence of business lost amid the roar of engines and fighter jets performing improbable, gravity annulling , gyrations in the sky above .

On my return home Wilf does a ten minute soft shoe shuffle routine . Paws out in front of him, body turning first this way then that , every part of him in a state of constant motion . High pitched whoops rather than barks of delight . His body simply unable to contain the joy that's welling up inside him now that he's found his lost sheep . A quart of love bursting out of a white furry pint pot. ' The font ' looks at me , laughs and says " I guess you could say he's happy ".