Monday, November 30, 2009

They lurk outside at dawn.

Out of the gate as the sun was coming up for the boyz morning walk. Digby immediately came face to face with the two young cows in the field across the lane. After a quick check to make sure I was still behind him, he bravely made a sharp right angled turn and moved away from them as quickly as his little legs would carry him. The look on his face seemed to say ' you never know what lurks outside before dawn'. Wilf either didn't notice the two calves or was quite unconcerned. With Wilf either interpretation is equally likely.

Today is a busy day. The Rentokil man is due this morning to deal with our little furry friends. Having become an expert in the subject of rodent infestation over the last five days I shall be interested to see what 'devices' he suggests we put down.

At eleven the local joiner is coming to talk about replacing the downstairs kitchen . It is of that strange 1960's Formica era vintage with lots of shiny plastic work surfaces in colours that have not been in vogue since the Beatles first visited New York. We thought about trying to be environmentally friendly by refurbishing the cabinets and replacing the dishwasher and drier but you can only refurbish what is refurbishable.

This afternoon the plumber is coming to quote on a new boiler. The present one, which has done sterling work for the last forty years works wonderfully but has two major drawbacks. Firstly, being of the same age as the downstairs kitchen it guzzles fuel as if it's going out of fashion . This might have been fine when heating oil was 10 cents a gallon but at todays prices is a quick route to penury. The second problem is a faulty thermostat that unexpectedly produces scaldingly hot water in limitless amounts. The sudden, and unsignalled , move from hot to scalding water can make shower time an exfoliatingly exciting experience. 'The font' and I have been at a loss to explain how the previous owners managed to live with these variations in temperature. Perhaps they learnt to leap out of the shower after a certain number of minutes?

Wilf had a bad day yesterday. Once every ten days or so he gets laid low with colitis like stomach pains - a legacy of the pancreatitis he suffered in Italy. Usually he skips one meal, but yesterday it was two. This morning he is fully recovered and eating for France.

Apologies for not commenting on the usual blog sites. Somewhere between Umbria and France Google has managed to lose the list of 'blogs I follow' . Try as I might it will not come back. As a consequence , the daily round of news gathering between Atlanta, the Rockies, South Africa, Australia, et al has suffered. I promise that resetting 'blogs I follow' is on the 'to do' list straight after dealing with the mice.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sun gives way to drizzle.

We sat outside on the terrace yesterday having lunch in the late November sunshine. This morning we've woken to find that the blissful, cloudless, warm weather has changed to grey drizzle. Wilf and Digby, who have now become used to warm, dry weather, went to the kitchen door, undertook a peremptory saunter into the garden, and were back inside again and snuggled down on their blankets - all within two minutes. Now that they are getting older their behaviour is changing. They were once super charged bundles of energy 24/7. But these days they are more gentile - before eight in the morning and after eight at night comfort takes precedence over excitement.' The font' rather unhelpfully has just leant over my shoulder to point out that they are taking after me in this regard. Hmmmph!
Once again our Gallican critters have outsmarted and outwitted the cunning, and expensive, contraptions set up so carefully to catch them. Faced with fresh evidence of their nocturnal partying, it has been decided (by 'the font') that a telephone call to a professional will be the first order of priority tomorrow morning. By the way, thanks for the comments and e-mails about how to bait the traps. Nothing works - not even peanut butter. These are clearly gourmand mice.
Yesterday lunchtime saw the Toulouse - Montauban rugby match take place - a major event in the life of Tarn-et-Garonne. By eleven the streets were deserted and the shops were empty of baguettes, croissants, beer and cheese as the entire male population of the departement migrated en masse for picnics outside the stadium. The French certainly know how to enjoy themselves and do so without any signs of public drunkeness or aggression - a clear sign that we are not in an Anglo-Saxon society. In this part of the world rugby rather than soccer dominates the headlines. With the obvious exception of the US, I wonder if there is anywhere else where soccer doesn't overshadow everything else? Perhaps some of those American dependencies where they play baseball or Greenland where it's presumably too cold?

The boyz were groomed within an inch of their lives yesterday in order to make them look less like waifs. Digby loves the attention and is soon asleep as the brush runs over him. Wilf in contrast squirms and squeals and utters loud yelps that make it sound as if he's being tortured with electric cattle prods. This morning both of them look as though they've never been near a brush or a comb in their lives.

Finally, thanks to our friends at Rocky Creek Scottie Adventures for awarding the boyz the prize in a wildly technical and complex quiz.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our daily routine

Another day and another visit to the hardware store with Wilf and Digby to seek out ever more desperate and esoteric solutions to our problem with the little furry visitors. A box with a rather fetching, almost bucolic, artists rendering of a mouse on it caught my attention . Having been stung with the purchase of the 100% guaranteed electronic deterrent system , which has since proven to be 100% useless , I carefully read the description on the box all the way through. No more impulse buying - Mister careful shopper here I come ! The blurb on the packaging stated that the product was ecological, 'radical', proven over many years of use with hundreds of attestations ,and most important of all - painless.What's more it sported a suitably official looking logo which seemed to be the French version of a good housekeeping seal of approval. An absolute bargain at €24.80.
Late last night , after 'the font' retired, the boyz and I sat in the kitchen setting the 'legacy' traps and assembling the new 'radical' device. This turned out rather mundanely to be lengths of balsa wood with glue attached. Rather more low tech than I had imagined, and hardly 'radical' in the accepted sense of the word but hey the attestation of hundreds of happy users was good enough for me. All we had to do was add a sliver of a rather fetching Reblochon and we were ready.
Up early this morning and into the kitchen before ' the font' had stirred to view the results. The Reblochon on the 'systeme radicale' was looking a little tired, but otherwise untouched.The 'legacy' traps were just that - a legacy. And just behind the electronic deterrent system with its red blinking light ,guess what? Yes,one of our little furry friends.
Wilf and Digby are in fine form. The trip with me in the car to the hardware store in town has now become a part of their routine. Having barked at the gardener, chased a few squirrels, and spent half an hour closely observing the cows in the field on the other side of the lane, they have now settled in the family room ready to be harnessed up and taken out . Digby has found an old chew which he is clutching in his mouth as if it were a fine cigar. There is of course nothing in the world that Wilf wants as much as the old chew that Digby is carefully stewarding.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What do you think happened?

Returned from the hardware store with an array of devices to deal with the mouse infestation. My suggestion that we learn to live with the harmless wee critters was met by a tart rejection from 'the font'. Madame Bay helpfully pointed out that she didn't have mice as her dogs chased them away. At this point she looked disdainfully at Wilf and Digby who are self evidently not the sort of dogs who would act as successful mouse catchers.
Yesterday afternoon was spent setting up an ultrasound mouse scarer in the kitchen that was 'guaranteed' to keep an 80 square metre room free from mice and other rodents. The boyz joined me in the kitchen but soon retreated to a quiet spot on their favouritte carpet when it became apparent that food was not on offer. As back up I also planted standard mouse traps, 'super-luxury' mouse traps made of a rather attractive hard grey plastic , and a number of rather gruesome tubes with bait inside. My total investment in keeping the kitchen and family room free from our little furry friends came to a grand total of €78 - half of it being for the 100% guaranteed state of the art electronic system.
Imagine my surprise, and delight, this morning when I found all the traps empty and all the bait in place. Imagine 'the font's' surprise this morning when coming face to face with a mouse sitting on a shelf by the can of Illy coffee. It didn't even run away but sat there polishing its whiskers. Why is it some people have such an illogical dislike of mice?
After our return from the hardware store Digby spent much of yesterday morning making a nest out of a pile of cushions Madame Bay had absent mindedly piled on the floor in the hallway. She won't make that mistake again. Chased from that spot he then spent the next twenty minutes stalking her bright orange chiffon scarf , one end of which had somehow come unravelled and was trailing, enticingly, along the floor behind her. He was put out in the garden before he got into any more trouble.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Monsieur Ongoose and the mice.

The church
The Town Hall
Today is Madame Bay's day to come to clean the house. Madame Bay, for those of you who haven't been introduced, is a lady of a 'certain age' with a penchant for primary colours and somewhat earthy language who has been 'looking after' the house for many years. She arrived, mid-breakfast this morning, in what appeared to be a bright lilac smock surmounted by yards of orange chiffon, tightly and lavishly wrapped around and about her neck. I had barely struggled to my feet ,coffee in hand,before I was wrapped in her customary embrace. Not for Madame Bay a curt 'good morning' or a quick handshake but an arms wide greeting coupled to a emotional 'Oh! Monsieur Ongoose' (Angus rhyming with mongoose) as though I am a long lost son returned from four years at the front. All a bit much at seven thirty in the morning and a source of much amusement to 'the font'.

Madame Bay repeats her sentences to me - possibly for effect or possibly because she assumes I'm either deaf or slow witted. " It rains,monsieur, it rains" or " the poor children,monsieur,the poor children". The effect is rather akin to living in a radio adaptation of a classic French novel. I for my part am happy to go along with it responding with a jolly " Yes,madame, it rains" . This morning our conversation took a different and darker turn . " There are mice,monsieur, there are mice". 'Yes,madame, there are mice'. "Yes,monsieur there are mice". Eventually after a few more repetitions of this formulaic conversation and a shriek from 'the font' the message got through. Yes, there are mice, and in abundance.Spurred on by an agitated 'font', the boyz and I shall shortly be enroute to the local market town to see what humane but effective ways of dealing with our uninvited visitors are to be found. Oh and by the way, a Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wilf and Digby explore the village

On our first walk of the day, Wilf and Digby followed their noses left out of the gates, past the speed bump, and into the village. Our itinerary was exhaustive, taking in all the major sights - the church, the war memorial, the chateau, the large 'Madonna' on its plinth in the centre of the village green, and the five houses that together form our little community. We also stopped off at each of the ten street lights and the telephone box before re-emerging into open country on the other side of 'town'. Digby had a stressful moment - he was deep in thought , following a scent, when he happened to look up and find a very large cow leaning over the hedge looking at him. You've never seen a dog levitate and move back three yards so quickly. Valour is not a virtue Digby holds dear.

We've now been in the house for a month and the list of things to do seems to be growing ever longer. The old heating boiler guzzles oil as if it's going out of fashion, the lighting seems to have a mind of its own, and the hot water system has been set to produce super heated steam. This morning on our way back from the walk I noticed that the gutters were not only full of leaves but that one of the downpipes had become clogged and burst. Faced with a rather larger than planned system of renovations , both 'the font' and I are quickly becoming fluent in the French for such technical terms as wood fired stove, cistern, fuse box and water main. The plumber and electrician are rapidly becoming close friends. None of this of course bothers the two boyz who have discovered that the polished floor tiles in the upper hall make an excellent skating rink.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Croissants and the speed bump.

Our daily routine here in France is now firmly established. Up, and out with the boyz bright and early for a healthy twenty minute walk. Then quickly off to the local bakers to pick up some fresh croissants for breakfast. While I'm off in the boulangerie, Wilf and Digby sit contentedly in the back of the car with the windows down observing the morning shoppers and savouring the lingering smell of baguette, tarte tatin and other goodies. Purchases complete it's quickly home before the croissants get cold stopping off only briefly to pick up the morning paper .The boyz are supposed to be on a wheat free diet but their 'angel dog' routine usually means that my stern resolve evaporates and they end up getting a small morsel from either end of the croissant.

One of the peculiarities of our little village (of which more anon) is the presence of a speed bump outside the front gates of the house. It would be a busy day if more than twenty cars were to pass through the village and quite why the powers that be decided to locate a traffic calming device ,complete with warning signs and large chevrons,in our little hamlet quite defies explanation. Perhaps every commune has to have one or perhaps there was money left in the budget at the end of the year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stress:Wilf and Digby's take on dealing with it.

Out for a hearty walk in the bright winter sun. The new house sits on a well maintained road,lined with trees, and the two boyz are delighted to be able to saunter along the firm tarmac trunk by trunk. They become completely lost in canine rapture over the new scents they discover each morning - squirrel, goose,fox, boar, hare, deer, and who knows what else. Digby is not so sure about the cows in the field opposite - half of him is intrigued by their presence, the other half simply appalled by their intimidating size and alarming mooing. Wilf,being Wilf,hasn't noticed them yet or if he has he's not deigning to acknowledge them.
The views in this part of France are gentle and soothing. We can't see the Pyrennees from the house, but go a mile or so down the road and there are the mountains rising sheer from the plain, an interrupted,jagged line of snow capped peaks, turning rose pink in the morning sun. There are no foothills, the rocks just soar,uninterrupted three or four thousand metres up from the smooth farmland below.
If the boyz are stressed by the move they're hiding it well. Post walk they settle down on the gravel by the front door. Digby, secure in the knowledge that his big brother is on guard, is soon on his back, snoring away, legs twitching as he dreams of chasing rabbits. Nothing disturbs him, not even the leaves falling from the oak and plane trees onto his chest.Bliss.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Wilf and Digby have settled into their new home and new routine without any problems. The first thing the removal men brought into the house was the boyz favourite Turkish rug. The two of them lay on it,secure in its friendly scents, while imperiously watching the organized chaos that unfolded as the rest of the furniture arrived.
Staying in hotels was remarkably easy. The two boyz were on their best behaviour and treated the whole experience as if it was part of their daily walk. Only once did we have a problem. After two nights at a miserable Italian hotel in Chiantishire (never stay in a converted mill in the late fall - cold and damp will be constant companions) 'the font' insisted that we stay somewhere chic and warm.I dutifully booked us into the Royal Mougins Golf Hotel which according to the Michelin guide claimed to be dog friendly. Everything went swimmingly to begin with. The hotel was luxurious, the location stunning and most importantly the staff charmed the boyz and the boyz charmed them by being on their very best behaviour. Digby even held out his paw to the receptionist - something he has never done before and I'm absolutely certain will never do again. Such was the rapport established that the chef sent over to the room two low protein meals for the two 'adorable dogs'.
Next morning ( a Sunday ) I was up at seven, showered, dressed and harnessed up the two 'adorables' for a healthy twenty minute pre-breakfast walk. No sooner had we gone three yards down the path outside the room than it happened. Wilfs nose went straight up into the air, the nostrils twitched for a fraction of a second and then he let out an earth shaking cry of delight - BACON!!! Any Polish Lowland owner will know the sound - its 25 kilos of compressed air attached to a fog horn combining to produce a 200 decibel wake up call that can be heard seven counties away. The early morning breeze had brought the scent of his favourite food up from the hotel restaurant which was busy serving a mass of enthusiastic Floridian golfers keen to get out onto the greens. It was a dog owners nightmare - the two boyz were by now standing outside the front of the hotel,happily howling away at the top of their voices and shattering the early Sunday morning quiet. They were simply delighted that they had at last found that elusive canine bacon heaven. The more I told them to be quiet the more they howled - discipline is one thing, crisp rashers of bacon quite another.
We left the hotel soon after having destroyed any chance of any of the guests enjoying a long lie in. I also managed to leave all 'the fonts' clothes in a wardrobe in the room in the rush to depart before we were lynched. The check out clerk was slightly less charming than her colleague the night before.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Connected at last!

Bonjour and welcome to the first post on France Telecom has unexpectedly connected us to the internet but now Google is playing up.
Here are a few pictures of the journey:
1) How can it be 80% of the car was taken up by dog beds and blankets?
2) The boyz looking sceptical about their onboard accommodation
3) Crossing the border into France from Italy
4) Wilf choosing to fall into a deep sleep just as we were packing up and going
5) Wilf observing the furniture going out of the door.
Thanks for keeping in touch - will read all your blogs and post about the new house and the boyz adventure tomorrow.