Monday, January 31, 2011

The UFO's return.

We've bought solar lights for the garden. These help Wilf find his way back to the front door after his nocturnal pit stops. A necessity now that the septic tank hunters have criss crossed the lawns with trenches . Today, the top cess pit man, a bizarrely named Monsieur Risotto, is coming to inspect their work and check for blockages. After the events of last week perhaps I should write a book - My life with middens. Wilf is of course delighted with the olfactory improvements to the garden.

The tranquility of a French Sunday morning interrupted by the thrumming of a two cylinder engine and the crashing of gears. Madame Bay and her gold metallic 'Wild Child' voiturette have arrived at the front gate. Unexpectedly. Her chance to reclaim possession of the house while the various dust producing workmen are enjoying their weekend.

By the time the first cup of coffee has been poured Madame Bay is in full flow. " Had we heard the news ? " The local radio had reported that a farmer in St. Antonin has seen strange lights in the sky for the second night running . The lead story on a station that exists on reporting the results of the regional crocheting competition or the price of milk at the wholesalers. For Madame Bay proof positive that her garden is a homing beacon for aliens. For the more cynical amongst us puzzlement as to why you would travel 35 trillion light years and end up here. Paris, yes. Biarritz, maybe. But deepest France Profonde ? Wilf sensibly settles down for some serious alien banishing sleep.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Electronic publishing.

Off to the rugby with Wilf. A typical wet January afternoon in South West France. By the time we get to the stadium the rain and the mist are melding seamlessly together. The visiting team, from the Cote d'Azur, in a comment generating canary yellow strip with pink highlights. Our local boys in their rather more conservative red, white and blue. The crowd full of thirty something farmers with a six and a four year old son in tow. Maybe two dozen dogs, the smaller of them sitting on their owners laps. The sheepdogs, like Wilf, nestled under the bleechers, emerging briefly on the rare occasions a try is scored. At half time the car park full of beret wearing fans exercising their tyre christening charges. The family fellow is in his element.

Wilf remains the perfect companion. Even tempered, affable and content. Over the last week his eyesight has weakened. His night vision is now almost certainly gone. He is having to learn to navigate around the house by scent. A process that involves much confused bumping into things and unexpected, and sometimes lengthy, diversions. Laughter, patience and understanding all thrown into one big pot.

We've been trying to find the right balance for his insulin . His glucose levels have been high. Probably from the stress of having a house and garden full of strangers. Last night, another accident. His second. Instead of turning right to go outside, he turned left into the drawing room. An event which clearly upset him. A devastated ' I didn't mean to ' look on his face. Ten minutes of serious, and I mean serious, tickles from 'the font' before his male pride was restored. Who would believe that dogs can be embarassed ?

In the lunchtime post a hard copy of the old, pre-France, 'Life in Italy' blog. 'The font' had arranged for it to be printed up and shipped over by a firm in the US. The photos are a bit small and the page breaks leave something to be desired. Despite that it's really good to have a record of our journey that can go onto the library shelves. When the time comes we'll have them print and bind this blog.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beautiful brickwork.

" You've got a blockage mate !" announced the taller of the two government septic tank men. ' Completely blocked ' added the second for good measure, resting a large beer belly on the handle of his spade. Sudden panic at the thought of the drainage system in the rickety old farmhouse exploding. Gaseous build up causing two and a half centuries of detritus to fly through the air . Time to make some phone calls while we still have a home.

Straight after lunch a very large red truck arrives to resolve the problem. A veritable leviathan with no less than three sets of axles, orange flashing lights and a vast array of hydraulic devices . Wilf watches from the safety of the terrace as a small army of boiler suited 'technicians ' set to work. A series of pneumatic hisses and groans telling him that bravery is best displayed from a healthy distance.

An hour or so later and an outrageous € 360 poorer, the three, so far discovered, septic tanks are drained. " Beautiful brickwork " says the foreman, admiring the quality of the cesspits construction. " They don't make them like that any more ". ' Thank God for small mercies' my unspoken response.

Into town with Wilf. We pass the smile inducing Mutant supermarket en route to a walk by the river. I turn to him and say "Looks like we've got the plumbing sorted ". He turns to me as if to say : ' Hope is patience with the lamp lit '.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Malodorous sludge.

Outside, the landscape gardeners, the builder, and the two government septic tank men worked diligently away. Inside, Aude, the decaratrice, finished sanding down the old doors in the hallway. A slow, time consuming job. Under layer and layer of varnish an unusual, but not unattractive, combination of oak, elm and chesnut. For a while we toyed with the idea of leaving the woodwork bare but finally decided to go with the original grey limewash. It highlights the little eighteenth century paintings on the plinths and helps obscure the worst of the blemishes.

Odd how different generations have such contrasting views of how a house should look. A hundred and fifty years ago all the traces of grey limewash were painstakingly removed. Replaced by heavy, dark staining. Here we are reverting to the now fashionable original.

Wilf spent his day supervising. The septic tank excavations a particular favourite. He was finally ushered inside when 'the font' found a certain white fluffy dog getting up close and personal with an ever growing mound of malodorous sludge. Aude helped cushion the blow by sharing a biscuit with him. He settled down happily while she worked. A look on his face that said : " Silver linings aren't just discovered, they're created ".

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The roar of the ocean, the warmth of a dog.

Three am. Wilfs finally asleep. Chin on my right foot. Large paw on my left. Two weeks of good nights. Tonight not so good. Time to settle down together in the library.

What do dogs remember ? Wilfs first summers were spent at a battlemented old house a hundred yards and a granite ridge from the Atlantic. As a puppy he'd follow us down the brae to the old bothy at the oceans edge. Rabbits to chase. The occasional otter or doe for company. On a good day a view south to Ireland. More usually, driving rain direct from Nova Scotia. Facing us - Corryvreckan - the ship swallowing whirlpool. Millions and millions of tons of water tumbling down to form a cauldron of seething water two miles wide. The sound audible for miles inland. Green, luminescent water spouts whipping across the surface. The spirits of Scots-Irish legend.

Even then they were different characters. Digby cuddling into 'the font' or making a nest out of a tartan rug. Wilf standing, head on into the sledge hammer gale, ears streaming aerodynamically behind. The roar of the ocean, the warmth of a dog, three am laughter. When he's asleep, nose twitching, it's just possible to imagine that he's dreaming of those long ago rabbits and summer storms.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

" Dust ! "

Wilfs weight has held pretty constant at around 25 kilos. These last few days it's become evident that he's getting lighter. His appetite remains healthy, he's alert, his pit stops are down to just one a night, but the pounds are starting to fall off him. We're hoping that it's just a side effect of the new, twice a day, insulin regime.

Madame Bay showed up at her customary hour - bright and early. She stayed for fifty minutes but left when the cohorts of workmen arrived. " Dust ! " her parting comment.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lifes greatest mystery .

A great day for Wilf. Five white vans parked in the courtyard. Time for the serious business of sniffing wheel arches and christening tyres. Aude, the bib overall wearing decaratrice, arrived with a pack of biscuits. She received a lick. The other workers were greeted with a warning bark. The canine house rule : Biscuits = Acceptance. No biscuits = Disdain.

Few things on earth as mysterious as the plumbing system in the rickety old farmhouse. Pipes appear, then disappear into the ground, only to reappear again in improbable places far,far away. Faucets exist where no faucets should be. Water flows in enigmatic ways. The whole labyrinthine system a gurgling tribute to two and a half centuries of gallic improvisation. Logic and an understanding of the laws of gravity notable by their absence.

Two large, track suited, gentlemen arrived in the late morning to conduct a survey of the village septic tanks. Could this possibly be the worlds worst job ? They poked around in the garden for three hours, returning with the news that we have two ancient and hitherto unknown, fosse septique, by the front door. A plumbing enigma inside a pipework riddle.

They'll be back this morning for 'further explorations '. Wilf slept solidly from ten last night until six this morning. No early morning pit stops for him. A dog completely and delightedly exhausted by the discovery of fresh, highly pungent, odours . Heaven.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Natures neurotics.

First light. Out for our morning walk. Suddenly, the days are getting longer. At this early hour the hedgerows are alive with chattering crowds of pheasants and quail. We stop to look as they run first this way, then that. Natures ever squabbling neurotics . A solitary jay with topaz wings ignores us as he hunts for worms under the canopy of leaves. The unscripted tempo of life in this forgotten corner of the world. Simple sights and sounds - a reminder that somehow France is different.

Later this morning the house will be full of workmen. Furniture to be shifted, pictures taken down, dust sheets to be hung. Ahead of their arrival Wilf has taken up his spot in the kitchen. Somehow he already knows that there will be fresh tuna for lunch and lamb for dinner. There is a hint of that " too much of a good thing can be wonderful " look on his face. One happy,hopeful boy.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Our Sunday morning routine. Into town with Wilf . First stop the bakers for the breakfast croissants .Then a cup of coffee at the bar on the square. Wilf accepts the hair tousling and the 'Salut Ongoose , Salut Wilf ' as though it's entirely natural. Another cold, cloudless day. On our way home we stop by the river. Wilf rolls and rolls in the hard, frosty grass. Carefree. Fear of the future a human, not a canine, trait.

We pass through the neighbouring village. There on a cottage doorstep, soaking up the sun , Oliver, the old widows labrador. He took up this position a year ago on the day her husband died. He resolutely spends his days there come rain, sleet or snow. Waiting patiently for his masters return. Now he's the man of the family. Literally guarding hearth and home . Invisible routines of life in deepest France Profonde

Wilf has had a good week. The new insulin regime working wonders. Only one pit stop a night. The rickety old farmhouse echoing with laughter at his escapades. He's recently taken to falling asleep in the oddest places. Late at night we find him slumbering contentedly away under the dining table or in downstairs bedrooms. Places he usually never visits. His eyesight is clouding over but he lives by that old philosophy " Faith makes all things possible. Love makes all things easy ".

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Polish DNA.

Down to fill up the car with petrol. Surprised to find that the price has gone up to €1.54 a litre. That's the equivalent of $8 a gallon ! Must remember to keep the tank half full in future.

Much to Wilfs delight a constant stream of visitors to the house. The joiner came to say he'd start work again on Monday. He was followed by Aude, the chain smoking, bi-polar, decaratrice. She'll also be starting on Monday. Then the lunatic curtain lady returned. At this point Wilf and yours truly opted for a long slow amble across the fields. We came home to find ' the font ' chatting to the landscape gardeners . Guess what ? They also plan to start work on Monday. All we need now is the plumber, the gutter repair man, and a bee expert.

There's something about cold weather that tweaks Wilfs Polish DNA. Its minus 6, the ground is coated with a hard frost and Mr.Affable is in his element. On our morning walk we have to stop every ten yards or so while he rolls and thrashes around, indecorously, on his back. Pure unadulterated joy. No sign of self conciousness in this old fellow. Wilfs attitude : " You can't have a better tomorrow if you're thinking about yesterday all the time ".

Friday, January 21, 2011

The 'wild child' model.

The crack of dawn. A turbaned Madame Bay arrives at the kitchen door exuding girlish happiness. " Come and see M' Ongoose ! Come and see. It's perfect ! ". Thus bidden, off we dutifully go. Madame Bay in the lead, yours truly next, the font and a somewhat bemused Wilf following behind. Left out of the front gate, across the lane to the village hall. There, in pride of place alongside the delivery vans, the cause of Madame Bays excitement.

Our saintly cleaner has become the proud owner of a micro car. Not just any micro car but a metallic gold 'wild child' model with a thrumming two cylinder engine , a top speed of 30 mph and a length of nearly eight feet. " It has two electric windows " we were told by the new owner. On the back window a sticker that proudly states " Small on size, big on charm ".

It seems that Sandrine, the daughter who runs the imaginatively named 'Sandrines' hair salon in the local market town, is expecting, again. With her own set of wheels Madame Bay can now turn up at the salon and help out whenever called upon. No need to rely on the long suffering Monsieur Bay and the ageing Renault Twingo. Sandrines views on the improved accessibility of her mother are not recorded.

Wilf entered into the celebrations by christening two of the tiny tyres. Safely home he settles down by the front door for a nap. He has a ' Blimey ! That's a turn up for the books ' look on his face .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Curmudgeonly behaviour.

The third week of January and the old farmers electricity devouring Christmas star and lights are still twinkling merrily away. Pilots coming in to land at Toulouse airport during the night must thank him for making their job easier. What earthly reason could there be for having your Christmas lights up at this time of the year ? French tradition ? Or, a sign of his bloody mindedness ?

Yesterday, he was up a step ladder trimming his box hedge with a pair of shears. Nothing unusual in that you say . True, but then most people don't trim their box hedge in the middle of a winter afternoon wearing nothing more than a string vest, a pair of black briefs, black socks and sandals.

The electricians showed up on the dot of nine. New power sockets in the library and kitchen , lights in the utility room and new door lanterns upstairs and down. When leaving he pointed to the half finished gutters and said " you really should get them fixed ". I bit my tongue.

Wilf spent most of the day supervising the electricians. After lunch they returned with a peace offering of a small pack of biscuits which he enthusiastically devoured. The family fellow has a new schedule for his insulin injections. One at seven in the morning and a second smaller one in the evening at seven . Only one pit stop last night so it seems to be working. There is an air of mischief about him this morning.

We await the arrival of Madame Bay.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The telephone call.

Madame Bay telephoned to say she wouldn't be here on Tuesday, as planned, but intended to come on Thursday instead. " I have something important to do M'Ongoose. Something important to do ". The sentence was repeated , slowly, as if she was talking to a small child. Madame Bay has never bothered to inform us of her movements before. Indeed part of Madame Bays charm is the entirely random and unpredictable nature of her appearances. Whatever could have happened ?

An hour later the phone rings again. It's the electrician. Would it be all right if he came along on Wednesday ? "Of course. No problem " I said , trying to hide the sound of euphoria in my voice.

Wilf was in sedentary mode. He spent a couple of hours , before and after lunch, soaking up the sun on the lawn. He then moved inside to catch up on some serious beauty sleep. His motto of the day " Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful ".

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sleep, mostly.

Afte the excitement of chasing the village cat Wilf spent most of Monday catching up on his sleep.

'The font' decided to take the last flight from Heathrow to Toulouse rather than spend a second night in London. Home at just shy of midnight. Interestingly,Toulouse airport was crammed full of folks heading back to Tunisia. You'd have thought it would have been the other way round.

From eight o'clock onwards Wilf was positioned on the terrace in readiness. To the untrained eye he was gently dozing. Underneath it all his welcome home radar fully engaged. How could he possibly have known 'the font' was returning ? Was it the tone of my voice ? A change in my behaviour ? The dishwasher hastily filled and the dining table cleared away ? How could he have heard the car when it was still two miles away ? Somethings about dogs are just plain mysterious.

For fully half an hour he sat in front of 'the font' . Immovable. Exuding happiness. That flock reunited joy that is part and parcel of a sheepdogs nature. Was it my imagination or was he really saying : ' thank heavens you're home ! He overcooked the coq au chambertin, destroyed the boeuf braise aux carottes and don't even get me started on what he did to the clafoutis !'

This morning some signs that the tumour is stirring back to life. Breakfast ignored. A trip into town rejected in favour of another hour in his warm cosy bed. Our first 'accident' .

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Brute !

Five thirty am. A cloudless, star studded sky. Orions belt directly above us. A camembert coloured moon setting behind the turrets of the chateau. Wilf out for an early morning pit stop. All is calm. The deep, deep peace of French village life.

At this very moment Amelie, the moustachioed village cat decides to saunter across the courtyard. On and on she comes. Oblivious to the white furry presence standing, leg cocked, by the palm tree. It is after all her village. What dangers could possibly lurk at this early hour ?

Wilf bides his time. Somethings in life a boy simply can't hurry. Finally, he's ready. Ten yards maybe fifteen . He bounds with silent, purposeful, balletic agility towards his nemesis. The aches of age and illness forgotten. Best rugby playing technique. Head down, legs powering away. Amelie stops for the briefest of moments, then turns. As she disappears at high speed through the laurel hedge she emits a piercing , scratching , onomatopoeiac scream. " The Brute !".

We've not been into town for over a week but this morning the family fellow follows me into the cafe. A decided ' the boy done good ' swagger in his walk. On the way back to the car the woman from the bakers shop comes out and gives him a sliver of pain au raisin. We even manage a short stroll down by the river. A couple of hundred yards before he gets tired. A good day. One of Wilfs Simon and Garfunkel style ' Life I Love You, All is Groovy ' type days.

Simple pleasures.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Liquefied raspberries.

In the distance the clouds above the Pyrenees bubble up and up in an angry cauldron of purples and reds. The heat of the Maghreb clashing with Europes winter chill. Here, on our little ridge there are blue skies, a warming sun and the barest hint of a breeze. Perfect lazing weather for Wilf. Warmer than many a summers day in Scotland.

He dozes on the grass outside the church while the mayor and I clamber up into the belfry.
For the last three months the church clock which used to chime thirteen , on the hour, every hour, twice, has been frozen at three minutes past one. Sure enough, a dead pigeon has fallen into the mechanism . A mass of feathers and bones freezing the cogs. What's left of the carcass thirty five feet above the ground . Tantalisingly out of reach. The mayor looks at me. I look at him. Neither volunteers to venture out into the void. A job for the experts.

Wilfs early morning 'pit stop' time put to good use. A start on decorating the wall behind the cooker in the downstairs kitchen . At three in the morning the first coat looks wonderful. In the harsh light of day less so. The effect akin to a blender full of liquefied raspberries blotchily spread over the wall. 'Mischief by Little Greene Colours of England' it says on the can. The choice of a younger generation. Maybe the second coat will look better.

Time to review the week. Wilfs world becoming smaller. The routines less sure. He sleeps in different places. Barks if he finds himself alone. The chateau, pond, village sign and town hall marking the four corners of his universe. Two pit stops most nights. Last night four. For the very first time no interest in breakfast. An umistakeable downshift in pace. Like one of those old clapper board hotels on a quiet finger lake in upstate New York . The season nearly over. One by one the laughing vacationers go. The lights turned off. A place of happy, gentle memories .