Thursday, December 31, 2009

A year without fear.

A glorious sunny morning, cloudless and mild. The two boyz have been on the early morning croissant run followed by a long walk around the village and are now exhaustedly asleep in the hall. Wilf's periodic stomach pains have, for the moment, gone. He's once again a happy dog.

Over the holidays I've been dipping in and out of a new book on the American Civil War. It's interesting to be reminded of the reasons why there are southern (as opposed to northern) methodists and baptists and a West Virginia ( nearly called Kanawha ) separate from Virginia itself.

When you look at photographs of the period you always see the men sporting luxuriant beards and moustaches. It seems that the reason for this was both practical as well as fashionable. At the siege of Sebastapol in the Crimean War of 1855-1856 it became so cold that British soldiers had been excused from shaving. London dandy's took up the hirsute fashion and it soon spread to America where by 1861 barely any mature man remained clean shaven. General Ambrose Burnside even invented a style of 'sideburns' or 'sideboards' that perpetuate his name to this day.

General George McClellan was the Unions first general in chief. Sadly, he was a ditherer and failed to make the most of the opportunities offered to him in the early days of the war to march, largely unopposed , on Richmond and end the conflict with minimal loss of life. It was said that he always believed himself to be outnumbered by his confederate foes and that " he was a man always too ready to take counsel of his fears".

After the housejacking and violence of our Italian 2009 one of the lessons we've learnt in moving to France has been not to be too ready listen to our fears - they can deafen you to lifes opportunities . It's good to take counsel of worries but they can so easily mask opportunities. So, as we enter 2010 the very best New Year wish I can think of making for family, friends and all those of you who read this blog ( some of you in parts of the world where the wish needs to be taken literally) is ' may you have a year free of fear'. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hot water.

The always smiling, always whistling, and (as we discovered yesterday) chain smoking young plumber finished the installation of the new eco-friendly boiler at 8.30 last night. What luxury it is to have a shower without having to calculate when a stream of scalding,super heated water is about to erupt from the plumbing system. There is a general air of well washed contentment around the breakfast table this morning that could only be improved by the arrival of more beds. We're all agreed that after two months the old house is slowly but surely becoming less raw at the edges and losing some of its less attractive personality traits.

A new range was ordered yesterday for (supposed) delivery in mid-January. An ordering process that I thought would take five minutes maximum took an hour and a half. Style, colour, gas or electric, width, weight, hood, stainless steel or enamel; all the possible options and then some had to be carefully mulled over by 'the font' . My opinion was frequently sought (usually when I was about to drift off) and then promptly ignored. At some stage in the last two decades the lunatics have taken over the stove making industry. I couldn't believe the price when it was finally calculated and shown to us - who buys these things? How in heavens name can they possibly justify charging a sum equivalent to the GDP of a small African country for a cooker? 'The font' helpfully says I should get out more.

Wilf has had a bad day with his manic paw licking and ear scratching. It seems to be related to his once every ten days post-pancreatitis stomach upsets but this time is much more severe. I got up at two thirty and then again at four to calm him down. We've ordered more Zymox from the US which is the only thing that helps with the ear scratching but we're at a loose end when it comes to the paw biting and stomach pain. Such a shame as he is usually the happiest of dogs. He's on a rice only diet for the next 24 hours. Digby can't believe his luck at being able to purloin Wilf's favourite toy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lunch - a major success?

Lunch with our French guests seems to have passed without incident - which in this household must be counted a major success. Their arrival was a little too punctual for the chef's liking ( we still think in Italian time ie add an hour ) but while 'the font' screamed in the kitchen I poured a glass of wine in the drawing room and engaged in what I hoped was polite conversation. Wilf and Digby were for some quite unknown reason on their very best behaviour . They allowed themselves to be tickled and stroked without snarling (Digby) or dropping a ball at the visitors feet (Wilf). After lunch the two boyz trotted around the garden with toys in their mouths , heads held high, receiving a wealth of praise from the French visitors who trilled away and used words like 'adorable' and 'charmant'. If only they knew! The shaggy troubadors received an extra Ryvita each for doing their bit to cement the entente cordiale. Knowing 'they'd done good' the two of them rug surfed in the hall late into the night.

In the aftermath of the Anglo-French lunch we are off to Auch today to 1) look at the cathedral 2) have a glass of wine and 3) choose a new range to replace the 40 year old lump of brass and iron that dominates the kitchen. 'The font' has made it entirely clear that if we are ever to have visitors again then the behemoth with its dicey thermostat and explosive,hair singeing, gas jets must go. My observation that the old oven has character and seems to work just fine ( viz the wonderful lunch) was met by the retort ' well you cook on it then!'. So much for my diplomatic skills.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Our first French house guests.

A hasty post today. We have our first real live French guests coming to the house for lunch which entails much preparation and requires a trip into the local market town to track down some chervil for 'the fonts' recipe.

Yesterday saw a trip to Toulouse to see the Christmas decorations. The two boyz were left alone to guard the house and catch up with their desperately needed sleep.

In the sonorous romanesque cathedral in the heart of the city a charming scene in one of the side chapels by the high altar. A young priest in red and gold conducting a baptism, the family clustered all around, four generations looking on somewhat self-conciously. Just as the priest moved to the font with the child in his arms the sun burst through the clouds, illuminating the twelfth century stained glass and flooding the scene with the sort of living , full-spectrum light you usually associate with those Merchant-Ivory films set in Edwardian England. At that moment the formality disolved. The stern medal bedecked great-grandfather beamed,the grandfather laughed, the father sighed, and the young one gurgled. A very European scene that could have been enacted in the same spot for fifty or sixty generations and a reminder to us all that whatever the challenges ahead life goes on.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bath time.

Some scrambled, some clambered, while yet others had to be hoisted up , but after numerous delays and false starts the family set off in the Land Rover for a Boxing Day trip to the local town , Montauban - the capital of Tarn et Garonne. With a population of fully 50,000 its sophistication and shopping opportunities act like a flame to we moth like country dwellers. Montauban when we got there and finally found a parking spot was humming. It looked as if the entire population of the departement was out in force to enjoy the glorious sunny weather and the Christmas decorations - every store was seasonally festooned and crowded. 'The font' carefully studied the cheese being cut of huge rounds in the market while others of us enjoyed comparing prices in the wine stores. We had gone with the intent of visiting the paintings in the Ingres museum but somehow a vote was taken and it was decided that this could wait until after lunch. Naturally, after lunch another vote was taken and we came home. Calvin would not have approved of our presbyterian lack of self improvement - the Ingres museum will have to wait until another day.

Wilf and Digby overnight developed an extremely unseemly odour - probably as a result of rolling in something completely unmentionable on one their long winter walks.I point the finger of blame at the two cows in the field across the lane. After their morning stroll and assorted helpful comments from various members of the household the two of them went straight into the bath for a thorough , and I mean thorough,hosing down . With a Ryvita as bait they both stoically endured this soaping-up torture with a relative lack of complaint. I ,by contrast , am now suitably frazzled and soaked to the skin . Does anyone out there have a bathtime trick that avoids floors,walls, ceilings and washer getting drenched ?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A lovely day.

Christmas in the old farm house was well nigh perfect with weather to match. Despite, or perhaps because of, the temperamental boiler, the lack of beds, the missing DHL parcels and the peculiarities of the electrics a day of laughter and happiness was had by all. Wilf and Digby were to the forefront of the action in their role as family clowns. As each present was unwrapped they would sit , side by side, in front of the recipient watching in unadulterated fascination as the gift emerged from the paper. After a cursory sniff to make sure there were no sausages left hidden in the parcel they would move on to the next recipient, where the whole process of sitting and staring would be repeated. Their attention didn't flag once in over an hour - 'surely' , they seemed to be saying, ' there has to be something good to eat around here ?'. Tears of mirth flowed. The boyz have understood that they are not family dogs , they are family.

Jokes from the crackers:

Q: What fish sleeps the most? A: The kipper

Q: What did the woodworm say as he walked in the bar? A: Is the bar tender in here?

Q: What do you get if you cross a snowman with a vampire? A: Frostbite

Friday, December 25, 2009

'A thrill of hope' to you all.

Over the last forty eight hours Wilf and Digby have taken to sitting in a corner of the kitchen, nose and eyes turned towards the oven . The undying hope that something will slip from our fingers and fall to the floor radiates from their faces. The two of them love all the attention they get at Christmas and run around like puppys but eventually all the high life of late nights and long walks catches up with them. Digby disappeared for half and hour last night in the middle of a game of catch and was found, snoring loudly under the granny bed , ball in mouth - the look on his face said it all 'peace and quiet at last'.

A simply glorious start to the Christmas morning here. A smattering of early snow has gone to be replaced by bright sunshine and a cloudless sky. There's a 25% chance that we will be able to eat our lunch outside on the terrace.

Moissac abbey was stunning. Some say it has the best carved 12th century church doorway in Europe. Even better were the cloisters behind which miraculously survived the revolution untouched. When we arrived there was absolutely no one else around which made sighseeing an unallayed pleasure. In the carol service it was soon evident that Celine Dion's rendition of 'O Holy Night' has become a cultural Christmas staple in France - the carol being (naturally) French in origin and Miss Dion being Canadienne ( ie French). Whilst Miss Dion's rendition is near perfect in both pitch and tone this is not necessarily true of the local versions which can best be described as displaying unbounded verve and enthusiasm . Much of the male component of the choir also play in the local under 20's rugby team so gusto rather than finesse is their hallmark - the line 'fall on your knees' lends itself particularly well to the vigorous style in vogue here in deepest Tarn-et-Garonne. At one excruciating high note ( at the point that it goes ' O night, O night di - vi-ii-ii- ne ' ) I found myself involuntarily, and ungraciously, making a mental reminder to myself to go to the dentist for a check-up . I caught sight of 'the font' ,who never criticises ,wincing as the choir lustily straddled the note. 'Perhaps it was the feedback from the amplification system?' Perhaps. Anyway, a great time was had by all - audience and choir.

There are two lines in the English translation of the carol that are intriguing . ' Long lay the world in sin and error pining ' is both wonderful English as well as an unusual example of pining, as in pining away. Even more unusual is the line ' A thrill of hope the weary world rejoyces'. There's something about 'a thrill of hope' that sums up everything there is about Christmas. What greater emotion could there be for the prisoner, the poor, the war bound, or the hospital patient? Even better, the use of 'rejoyces' rather than refreshes is quite simply glorious in its creativity. There is a singular poetry and sentiment lodged in our carols that is all too often obscured by the pace of the modern Christmas.

So, may all of us here wish that each and every one of you, whoever and wherever you are, receive the gift of 'a thrill of hope' this Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The pre-Christmas hiatus

A gloriously sunny morning enticed the two boyz out into the garden bright and early for a bout of squirrel chasing. The fact that the two boyz have never got within twenty metres of a squirrel doesn't deter them from trying. Perhaps if they understood that squirrels can climb trees their record , and technique, might improve.

The plumber was here again working on the instalation of the new eco-friendly boiler. Anything has to be an environmental improvement over the gas guzzling, water churning monstrosity that currently lurks in the cellar. Everyone in the house has been warned about the ageing boilers propensity to produce a wave of super heated water every 110 seconds or so - a happy shower takes 109 seconds .

To the local supermarket with Wilf and Digby for all those things that I was supposed to have bought last week . The aisles were full of what might politely be called characters ie local farmers dragged out for their once a year shopping expedition with their wives . They had clearly had an Armagnac enhanced post-milking breakfast - the bright red noses said it all . While I was at the supermarket 'the font' was at the butchers enjoying a glass of mulled wine with the other customers. Where else in the world would you go to the butcher and be introduced as 'the Scottish family' to all the regulars ? There was much shaking of hands - something that the French do every chance they get - frequent and repeated handshaking is a social formality here that has pretty much been lost in the UK. We are apparently having chapon instead of Turkey for lunch tomorrow followed by the Fortnums pudding. Being a Calvinist household where time should be spent purposefully we are now off en masse to the old twelfth century Abbey at Moissac for some culture and carols (and hopefully a glass or two of an appealing burgundy if 'the font' can be persuaded to drive back).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Light snow,T.S.Eliot, and the 'wild creatures'.

A light dusting of snow from the Pyrenees but otherwise a lovely start to the day. Wilf and Digby went rolling on their backs in what remained of the snowfall and were soon charging around following squirrel scents. It has become well nigh impossible to separate Wilf from his latest toy which is carried everywhere. The plumber arrived at seven thirty (unexpectedly) to start installing the new eco-friendly boiler and to top it all the DHL courier phoned at eight to say he would be delivering some parcels from 'Grande Bretagne' sometime today. He pronounced 'Grande Bretagne' hesitantly (and did I imagine it, distastefully?) as though it was somehow a deeply mysterious place populated by 'wild creatures from the north'

Over dinner we learnt that T.S.Eliot apparently thought the most succesful lines he ever wrote were part of the "water dripping song" in part v of The Waste Land:

If there were the sound of water only

Not the cicada

And dry grass singing

But sound of a water over a rock

Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees

Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop drop

But there is no water

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Transformational happiness.

After a three hour delay last nights British Airways flight from London to Toulouse finally got to the front of the deicing queue and took off on its journey south. The Christmas angel was working overtime - shortly afterwards the airline cancelled all its domestic and European services as the snow closed in.
When the family arrived safely home in the small hours of the morning Wilf was transported back to puppyhood. In a split second he went through a process that took him from being happily asleep to being HAPPY! and very much awake . The suddenness of the transformation rendered him completely voiceless - not a single bark escaped his lips. His front quarters wanted to move forward but the rest of his body from the neck backwards was wagging from left to right at high speed in pure uncontained and uncontainable joy. The lack of coordination between front and back legs made motion in a straight line quite impossible and he was reduced to going round and round in circles desperately trying to determine who should be the first to get a lick. He lost eight years of age and aches .

Now that the family is reunited everything else falls into its proper perspective ie the singularly unimportant category.In terms of the deliveries that were expected the score card stands as follows.
  • The beds are in a snowbound van somewhere on the M20 en route to the ferry at Dover - chances of getting here by the 25th: nil. Granny does however have a bed of her own.
  • The Fortnums hamper with the cake and the pudding is lost in a parallel universe where delivery drivers can't read maps or phone the number provided for directions- chances of delivery 50%. Helpfulness of Fortnums and their agents : nil. It's really uplifting when someone advises you that your village doesn't exist and therefore 'you must have put the address down incorrectly'. Sigh.
  • The DHL parcels with the presents posted from London .These are in the same parallel DHL universe populated by the same non-map reading drivers - chances of delivery 50%.

This morning the happy,always smiling,plumber unexpectedly arrived. He brought with him a huge, jazzily coloured , blue and yellow panthecnicon and three of the local rugby team to deliver the replacement boiler. As he's here I've got him to replace the valves on the radiators that unhelpfully decided to stop functioning on Sunday . The surprises old houses spring on you. In the midst of all this activity the florist appeared with two replacement garlands for the front gates. Some sort of Emmaus road experience seems to have taken place since our last meeting. The surliness of yesterday has been replaced by a host of smiles and a charming admission that the previous garlands weren't quite right.

'The font' has come across a marvellous little guide to 'Important dates in the history of France'. Under the entry for 6th June 1944 it informs us that 'the 2nd French division under General Leclerc disembarked with its associated allies ( the Americans,Canadians and English) on the beaches of Normandy'. I guess it's all in the emphasis.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Digby faces a new day - from behind a tree.

The cold, still, calm weather of the last few days has been replaced by a stiff wind blowing down from the Pyrenees bringing milder air - the temperature must have risen six or seven degrees overnight. With the ice gone, Wilf has been able to resume his 'on guard' position by the front gate ready to bark at the palm tree each time its fronds rustle in the breeze. Digby has propped himself up in the lee of a large plane tree where he can observe all the comings and goings without having to exert himself too much.

The family are at last en route to Toulouse and there is a chance that by midnight tomorrow the logistical nightmare will be behind us. A few problems remain such as cancellation of the Eurostar cross channel trains , snow closed airports in the US , and seasonal chaos at Heathrow. 'The font' stayed at a hotel at Terminal 5 last night and retreated in horror from the restaurant where long lines of stranded Boston and Kennedy bound passengers looked as though they had settled in for the duration.

Christmas garlands to jolly up the front gate were delivered at seven thirty this morning. When I went to hang them up they immediately crumbled into twenty or thirty pieces. The florist had made them out of that strange green water retentive material and had left them to soak overnight .By this morning they had absorbed so much water that they had tripled in weight and lost any torsional strength they might have had .Hang them up and voila watch gravity do its trick. I leapt in the car and took them straight back. My remonstration was met with a Gallic ' c'est la vie' shrug of the shoulders. After a somewhat lengthy conversation they have agreed to make new ones - the inference being that it is entirely my fault .

Still no beds, Fortnum hamper , or DHL present deliveries.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

So farewell SAAB.

So, the new GM is closing SAAB, the Swedish car manufacturer. It's not unexpected but still a shame as we have happy memories of owning them. As a student in Scotland in the 1970's a SAAB 96 was one of the first cars I had ; it was also the first car 'the font' was alowed to drive. For some long forgotten reason it was christened 'Bernadette', perhaps because it was bright red. Thinking about it, and it's unusual wallowing motion at anything over 40 mph, still brings a smile to my face.

Years later when our circumstances were different we bought a large four door SAAB 9000. Like all SAAB's it had the ignition peculiarly situated between the seats but apart from that was pretty characterless - just a large,safe, family swallowing saloon. It was also one of the first cars to have electrically heated seats - now pretty much standard but then state of the art. When taking delivery I blithely ignored the salesmans run through of all the features opting instead to get the car home and go for a long drive with 'the font'. About three miles down the road from the dealership, on the road out of Edinburgh to the Forth Road Bridge, the area between the small of my back and my knees started getting hot , indeed very hot- and more alarmingly the area at base of my spine had started to sweat. Approaching home an hour later the hot flushes were now constant and my symptoms indicated that I had contracted some rare, hitherto unknown, tropical illness . The hot flushes lasted for about a month ,recurring anywhere more than two miles drive from home. It was only by chance when out of the blue someone asked me how we liked the heated seats that the source of the disease became clear.

It was Wilf's day for grooming yesterday. Long haired dog and exhausted groomer can be made out in the bottom photo. You will be pleased to know that much of what you see is fur and not the real state of Wilf's waistline.

'The font' is off to the airport this morning to attend to 'Granny font' . The weather is beautiful, sunny and cold, so there should be no travel delays at this end. Thankfully, the disruptive BA strike seems to be on hold. The boyz are here with me to await the delivery of the beds, the Fortnums hamper , and the presents that were entrusted to DHL when I was last in London. Talk about cutting the deliveries fine. I intend to enjoy the peace and quiet before the 'gannets' arrive.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Wilf and Digby adore porridge. In these arctic conditions we boil up enough oatmeal at breakfast for ourselves and for them .They wait patiently side by side in the kitchen like two canine gourmands, relishing the smell of the porridge while it cools. When its ready they hunker down over their bowls where amid much lip smacking and delighted snorting it's quickly demolished . We find that Wilf gets indigestion and allergies if we give him wheat based food ( an after effect of the pancreatitis) but porridge he can eat to his hearts content. Not surprisingly the boyz muzzles require a thorough cleaning post breakfast to remove the last of their breakfast from the long fur around their mouths.

We are anxiously waiting for new beds to be delivered from London. When we first moved in, seven weeks ago, I ordered replacement beds for the ones we had left behind in Italy. It is only now, with the imminent arrival of family,that the manufacturers dilatory approach and frequent last minute delays in getting them to us is becoming irritating. Having been told they would be here on Friday ( at the latest) they are now promised (firmly and finally) for Monday - snow willing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thick snow, Digby gets groomed thoroughly.

We woke this morning to find a raging blizzard swirling round the house and the poor palm trees in the garden covered in thick snow - somehow the dappling of snow makes them look strangely exotic - it must be the juxtaposition of the tropical and the arctic. The morning croissant run with the boyz was cancelled, not that I doubted the Land Rovers ability to deal with the conditions, but because Wilf and Digby steadfastly refused to venture beyond the porch. Wilf just gave me one of his 'you must be joking ' looks and turned tail back into the house closely followed by his little brother.

Yesterday was a major grooming day for the boyz. A week of running around in the garden has transformed their coats from their natural, soft, fluffy white condition into a grey and brown matted morass. Thankfully, Digby simply adores being groomed. He spreads himself out on the table, basks in the sun, and exudes happiness. After forty five minutes of careful brushing the waif like dog had been transformed into something looking vaguely like a cross between a Polish Lowland Sheepdog and a Dandy Dinmont. Wilf by contrast views grooming as something that should only happen to girl dogs. He squirms, whines, wimpers, holds out his paw, circles round, lies on his back, scratches his ear and utilises every trick in the book to avoid being put on the grooming table. Once he's there it's no better. Of course all the investment in grooming time and attention has been rendered completely valueless by the arrival of heavy snow. When the two of them do deign to venture outside the snow will cling to their coats in great lumps like iron to a magnet. Blankets and towels have been laid in the hall to soak up the melting lumps of snow.

France Telecom came to repair the supposed broadband access yesterday. The engineer took Gallic taciturnity to the extreme but the intermittent fault that has plagued us since we moved in seems to have been resolved. I've discovered that 'the font' is much better at dealing with the difficult representatives of the French state in its many guises - I simply get exasperated whereas 'the font' employs charm and succeeds.

I caught a sobering glimpse of Madame Bay in the kitchen, completely lost in the reverie of her thoughts, dancing to one of those French ballads with a heavy beat and annoying lyrics. One would have to say Madame Bay dances with an unexpected delicacy for a lady of such statuesque proportions although the occasional rapid up and down movements with the right arm were perhaps a little too 'Saturday Night Fever' in style to be termed truly delicate. I tiptoed gently away before being asked to join her on the impropmtu dance floor. The happy dancing routine is a sign that the Bay family is getting into the party mood and will shortly be en route to Manhattan for Christmas - if any of you are booked on the Air France A-380 from Charles de Gaulle to Kennedy on the 22nd and are seated next to a group of lively seventy somethings - you, and Manhattan, have been warned.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

C'est froid.

Heavy frost this morning and the sky that strange crystal blue colour that always accompanies extreme cold. We've both taken to wearing ski hats indoors in an attempt to cope with the arctic draughts that sweep through the windows in our large old rambling house. Despite having the boiler turned up as far as it will go the rate of heat loss always seems to exceed the rate of heat generation - at night it gets decidedly chilly although ice hasn't formed on the inside of the windows yet. From time to time we both look at each other and say that this is the sort of experience that makes buying a large unrestored house worthwhile and that we are storing up a treasure trove of knowledge. If we were American we'd write a book about it - " for the price of a secondhand Buick and with the loving help and support of a few dear neighbours and friends we turned a ruined barn in Arangoset into a stunning example of contemporary architecture". Baloney ! Anyone who moves into a house , in the middle of winter,that hasn't had any TLC in twenty years deserves to suffer. I'll tell the family at Christmas that it's character forming as we huddle around the open oven.

In search of wood fired stoves we drove into the local town of Auch yesterday afternoon. A beautiful cathedral and a quite unspoilt market square. It seems that the days when you bought a stove, lined the chimney, and then connected the two together to generate a functioning heating system have long gone. Our respective hearts sank as the salesman informed us that there were new regulations. In France there are regulations for everything - most of them being 'new' and therefore subject to interpretation.It seems that in order to reduce the risk of fire no chimney lining can be installed within 16 centimetres of a wooden beam - with our attic a veritable forest of wooden beams that is a tough stipulation to follow. When asked if they could come out to look at the house and instal a stove they said 'but of course' and gave us a date in February. Perhaps I'll book everyone into a hotel for the duration.

Madame Bay arrived this morning with a cheery 'It's cold ,m'Ongoose, it's cold'. Madame Bay is largely in green today, the chiffon replaced by a large multi coloured woolen creation that swaddles her neck and the lower half or her face - in fact this mornings greeting was muffled by the acres of woolen scarf and came out as ' mmmwah, mwongoose, mmmwah'. I note that Madame Bay is wearing trousers under todays ensemble - a sop to the elements - giving her something of the look of a Tajikistan mountain tribeswoman - tres chic.Wilf has ignored her, while Digby is keeping a wary eye on her in case she makes a sudden dash for the hoover

A parcel from America arrived in the noon time post - the prize in a competition mounted by Rocky Creek Scotties and Java. Wilf and Digby knew immediately it was for them. Despite every best effort to get the two little angels to strike an appreciative pose for the camera the photos above are the best you're going to get. Also a picture of the Christmas tree in its forlorn, pre-trussed up with wire state.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Admonitory glances.

At breakfast time,after checking the house from top to bottom,Wilf finally noticed that 'the font' wasn't anywhere to be found. He then spent the rest of the day giving me his most severe admonitory look . From the intensity of the glare I could gather that it was clearly my job to go out and find the lost member of the pack. What's more,as far as he was concerned, I was failing miserably in my family shepherding duty - the ultimate canine crime. The howls of delight when the lost sheep returned from Paris later that evening could have been heard twenty miles away.

The rodent man came yesterday. The good news is that the kitchen, morning room and guest bedrooms are free of the little critters. The bad news is that the wine cellar and the attic are not. He has relaid liberal amounts of whatever noxious chemical he uses and will return in the New Year. I gave 'the font' the good news part of the message but omitted the latter.

Discovered that the term 'scapegoat' has an interesting religious connotation. In ancient Israel circa 500 BC , the high priest used to put both hands on a goat's head, confess the sins of Israel over it, and then send the animal off into the heart of the desert, never to return. The physical sin would be carted away into the wilderness to disappear forever. Interesting how 2500 year old Judean farming imagery still peppers our language.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A special thanks and rug surfing dogs.

A special thanks this morning to the wonderful cabin staff at British Airways who have announced a twelve day strike starting on December 22nd. Their kind actions will barely have any impact on those of us bringing together family and friends from around the globe for the holidays. 'The font' was particularly happy to discover that the carefully booked pre-Christmas flights to pick up and return to Toulouse with the ninety year old 'granny font' will not now be going. However, we take comfort in the fact that it is easy to rebook flights on rival airlines at this time of the year. To draw dire parallels with other carriers who treated their passengers in this way - PanAm,TWA, Eastern,Allegheny and Alitalia spring to mind - would be churlish. Come on guys get real! By chosing to strike when it inconveniences the travelling public most is simply to destroy the brand and ensure that job loses are even greater. Once you lose passengers to the competition it's difficult to woo them back. Ryanair and Easyjet must be chuckling - Christmas has come early for them.

It was bitterly cold last night (minus 7 with the wind streaming down from the mountains) and our rambling old farmhouse with its poorly fitting windows and antiquated heating systsem felt decidedly chilly. I must try to find, and have installed, a couple of wood fired stoves in the next week if we are to avoid hypothermia. In the absence of 'the font', who is still shopping in Paris, the two boyz joined me in a protracted late night bout of 'fetch' in the upper hallway to keep our circulation moving. Despite the cold the Christmas tree at one end and the creche at the other made it all look quite festive. I dressed up like the Michelin man with sweaters and a scarve and happily threw a soft toy up and down the hallway for the boyz. Wilf and Digby discovered early on that by leaping at full speed onto the rugs they could get them to slide for twenty or thirty feet over the old smooth floor tiles. Backwards and forwards went two two rug surfing sheepdogs enjoying a very happy forty five minutes. I shall feign ignorance when the font asks me where they learnt this latest trick.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Education completed.

A bitterly cold start to the day but the snow that was supposed to fall overnight has somehow missed us. The two boyz stuck their noses out of the door at first light but faced with frost on the grass and a wall of glacial air they turned on their heals and retreated to their respective beds for some additional beauty sleep . I went off to the bakers in town for the croissants alone - so much for mans best friend. Let's hope their lack of energy is a seasonal thing and that they'll revert to being more active come the spring and the brighter,warmer weather. Wilf is having less exercise but consuming as much food as before - a check on his waistline will be in order later today.

Lunch yesterday with the nuclear physicists was a convivial if intense affair. My knowledge of lithium and deuterium and the benefits of fusion over fission is now as complete as it is ever likely to be. As compensation the wine list was wonderful and a peaceful 20 minutes was spent studying it while 'the font' engaged in meaningful conversation. Everyone chose fish so the bottle of Chateau Figeac was replaced by a Grand Cru Chablis. Strange,when I was a child cod was the most of mundane of foods but overfishing has elevated it to luxury status alongside turbot and halibut.

' The font ' is off to Paris for the night , ie shopping. A beef stew has been cooked for me and left in the oven. All I have to do is remember to heat it up and of course take it out again at roughly the right time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

All went well until......

The joiner knew where we could find a real Christmas tree. Armed with this news the boyz joined me in the 4x4 and off we went carefully following his directions. After twenty minutes driving ever deeper into La France Profonde we arrived at an old farmhouse with a small plantation of trees to one side. After a brief conversation with the beret wearing owner (to ensure that we weren't Parisiens) a nine foot tree was cut down, attached to a wooden base, lashed to the top of the car and €20 handed over. While all this was going on Wilf and Digby enthusiastically explored the farmyard maintaining a watchful distance from the glowering geese. A triumphant return home.

After lunch, the boxes containing the ornaments were hauled up from storage and the process of decorating began. We soon found that many of them had been broken either in the move or in the robbery. Nonetheless, what was left sufficed to cover a fair portion of the tree - or more particularly the front half - the back half was left decidedly bare . We'll get in the car next fall and drive up to Poland to load up on new glass baubles so that the 2010 tree can be suitably dressed all round .

Somewhere between being cut down and arriving home the top third of the tree had developed a somewhat alarming 30 degree tilt. This tilt meant that the fairy on the top slumped at rather an alarming angle. 'The font' felt that far from looking angelic the little winged figure looked as though she'd been on the gin all day . The drunken fairy has been taken down while a suitable replacement is sought.

This morning we awoke to find a scene of devastation. Overnight the tree had fallen over knocking pictures off the wall, and ornaments from tables . For once Wilf and Digby weren't responsible - they had snored away contentedly all through the night outside the bedroom. I suspect that despite the best efforts of Rentokil our little furry friends may not have entirely disappeared.

'The font' has arranged for us to go out to lunch today with two retired French nuclear physicists who have left the bright lights of Paris to retire to the village. The thought of chatting with two nuclear physicists, in French, over lunch fills me with dread. Let's hope that we don't have to talk about physics - a conversation about trends in fusion research would be brief enough in English let alone a foreign language. When I commented that I'd rather have my teeth pulled rather than go out I was reminded that we must make every opportunity to settle into the community. As always there is a silver lining, 'the font' has booked us into a restaurant that has a rather interesting wine list so I've volunteered to drive us there if 'the font' drives us back. A good bottle of Chateau Figeac may work wonders for my scientific conversational skills.