Monday, May 31, 2010

Water = torture.

Out for a long early morning walk with a supercharged Wilf who tore out of the front gate. His first port of call was the flower stall in the village where he greeted the owner with a lusty, head full back 'good morning' bark . Then time for a leisurely sniff of the various potted plants before heading off to the bandstand. The rain over night had thrown off a host of exciting smells and scents so our progress was decidedly leisurely with halts every three feet or so. By the end of our perambulation his muzzle was black from exploring unsavoury nooks and crannies. Once home a quick wash with a flannel and the worst of the mud and detritus came off . From the squeals, yelps and shrieks that accompanied his face wash you would have thought that he was being tortured with electric cattle prods.

This morning a vast flurry of completely unexpected activity around the house. Two huge trucks full to the brim with earth have arrived to fill the subsidence in the garden.Miraculously Yves, Ross his wild haired Irish sidekick, and the morose lad in the blue bib overalls have turned up to finish off the library and complete the decking. After an unproductive stint in the kitchen Wilf is now positioned in the courtyard where he can monitor events as they unfold. He is hoping for illicit Jaffa Cakes from Ross.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Freudian imagery and the alarmed Iowans.

The plane trees that line the roads and provide much needed shade at the height of the summer are shedding their leaves. Usually they drop their foliage in September so it as matter of much concern when it occurs this early. Madame Bay, being a walking repository of country knowledge, says that this is a bad sign and that the last time this happened was when she was staying with her grandmother in May 1940. In these parts a date replete with unspoken significance. We take this nugget of country insight with a pinch of salt as Madame Bay would have been barely four at the time.

Having said that the weather of late has been wildly changeable. After a blistering morning it clouded over in mid -afternoon and the temperatures fell to the high teens. A perfect time to go out with Wilf in the car for a walk along the river banks. We had barely gone three miles when the road through one of the local villages was completely blocked by a seathing mass of humanity. The local gendarme informed us that it was the ancient feast of St.Noe - the villages patron saint. It seems the feast day is celebrated by chopping down a tree and a processing with it around the village.

When we arrived the village maids were engaged in directing the village lads to manhandle this huge tree, complete with its leafy canopy , through the streets. The Freudian symbolism of the event didn't warrant thinking about. By six in the evening the lads, copiously fuelled by wine ladled out of buckets by the village maids , were six sheets to the wind. Not surprisingly the boys had increasing difficulty in coordinating their movements and had got the tree stuck firmly in the railings of a balcony where the high street takes a sharp right angled turn to the left.

Two American couples on a driving tour of France were standing under the village gate seeking protection from the heaving crowd of clog wearing revellers in front of them. The couple from Dubuque had the look of folks who were wondering if there was an earlier flight out . The etched on 'Sure I'm enjoying myself ' grin did little to conceal the worry that another bucket of wine and the increasingly latin public dispalys of affection might spiral out of control into lusty bacchanalia.

On with the televison last night to catch the eleven o'clock news. Instead we found ourselves watching transfixed at the Eurovision Song Contest .The perfect smile inducing end to an eventful day was caused by the appearance of the Icelandic performer -an admittedly younger, but nonetheless a dead ringer, both in looks and dress sense, for our much loved Madame B.

Today Wilf and yours truly shall be outside testing the new paint colour on one of the shutters.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

East, West homes best.

In his own inimitable way Wilf made it known that fancy hotels might be fine for a night or two but there is nowhere like home. Within two seconds of getting down from the back of the car he was careering round the garden like a puppy. A picture of pure canine joy. Soft toys were discovered, picked up and shaken ; starlings chased, and balls retrieved from those special hiding places under bushes. As he slumped exhausted in his spot in the kitchen, soft toy du jour in his mouth, there was an audible sigh of relief - "East, West .... "

First thing in the morning we'd gone for a long walk through the St.Emilion vineyards - some of the viticultural worlds most prized real estate. Wilf being a luddite at heart carefully and iconoclastically christened as many vines as he could. Russian oligarchs tasting the 2010 vintage may note a certain added piquancy . On the way back Wilf was prevented from visiting the two fancy vase d'Anduzes at the front door of the hotel - there is a decorous limit to how much christening a boy can do.

The shutters on the large rickety old farmhouse are painted a most dreadful dark green. The colour looks as though it had been used for a stage set of 'MASH' and then recycled to deepest France Profonde. Originally the woodwork on the house would have been left unpainted in the same, natural state as the front doors. However, over many generations they have acquired a patina of ever deeper, less arresting colour. To dip them in acid to remove the accumulated layers would damage, if not destroy, the underlying wood. The only alternatives seem to be either to have new shutters made or paint the existing eighteenth century ones with a new colour . Today Wilf and I shall venture into town to try to chose a new colour scheme - we have been told to look at 'taupe' whatever that is.

Plans are underway to start visiting Polish Lowland breeders. Thanks to those of you who recommended the Belgian and Dutch ones. Wee Alec or Wee Archie seem to have merged as the most likely candidates for names although Calvin reared its head on this mornings drive. Both kennels have litters due in July and are accredited by their national kennel clubs.

Friday, May 28, 2010

I could get used to this.

No sooner had we sat down on the terrace for a pre-dinner drink than the skies clouded over and it started to rain. Within a minute the town emptied of tourists and a serene calm descended on the squares and boulevards. None of this bothered Wilf who was being royally entertained by the waiting staff on the broad balcony of the restaurant. While we dined inside he was feasting on a low-protein meal of fish and rice followed by a low fat yoghurt specially prepared in the hotel kitchens. Despite firm instructions that he was not to be pampered ,the kitchen staff , Michelin chef included, would appear every ten or so minutes to chat with him and illicitly slip heaven alone knows what calorie enhanced goodies in his direction .

From Wilfs position on the first floor he could look through the balustrade to see who was entering and leaving the hotel. This activity and the onerous responsibility that went with it kept him fully occupied for the full three hours that we were in the dining room. From time to time he would cast a half reproachful glance through the French doors in our direction until another member of staff arrived and he would reprise his ' I'm an orphan, please feed me' routine . Being France none of the other diners thought that this behaviour on the part of dog, staff or owners was in the slightest bit strange. Quite a difference from Scotland where the presence of a dog in a hotel would cause much tutting and murmuring about health, cleanliness and sanitation.

Dinner started with a preamble that " dining in the restaurant was like eating with friends. There would be no menu, the chef would just serve the freshest of todays produce. However, if we had any allergies then we should let the kitchen know and it would be taken into account". My response ' Aye, I'm allergic to the prices' elicited a quick kick on the ankle from 'the font' and a blank, unhumoured look from the maitre'd.

When I was a boy spume was the off white frothy foam that used to be found on beaches at the high water mark. These days spume has clearly become an intrinsic part of dining. My fish was submerged under melon spume while 'the fonts' poached egg (believe it or not the chefs speciality) swam in a sea of fennel spume.A wonderful, carefully prepared, delicious meal, but very spume heavy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A 'solo' outing.

Beautiful weather so off with Wilf to spend a night in a hotel and buy some wine. We loaded up the big SUV with its ferocious air-conditioning system and set off for Bordeaux and the beautiful little town of St.Emilion. No matter how hot it gets the big engined monster allows us to travel in comfort up in the front 'zone' while Wilf luxuriates in his own sub-arctic microclimate in the back.

This is his first outing as a 'solo' dog so we were keen to see how he got on. Travelling with his little brother always used to be something of a lottery. Most times the little one would sail through a hotel lobby without a murmur . However, occasionally he would sniff the pheromones in the air and take a sudden and immediate dislike to a doorman or a bell boy - turning into a little white mound of loudly barking , constantly squirming fluff in the process. We eventually learnt that we should ask for a room with wheelchair access, that way we could avoid revolving doors, uniformed staff, and leg cockingly enticing statuary.

Wilf, being Wilf, is the perfect travelling companion. He likes everyone and views public places as a God sent forum to meet people and look for Jaffa Cakes and sausages. Yesterday was no exception . He trotted into the hotel lobby, sat while the doorman and reception lady chatted to him, and then did his best 'I've never been fed in my life' routine when two of the waiters came out of the restaurant to say hello. This routine works on the unwary. Within two minutes he was settled down under our feet with half a croissant. Thus far this butter rich morsel has not had a deleterious effect on the workings of his stomach. Give it time.

And to think we were worried that he might not like travelling without canine company.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rarest of all

At some time in his life Wilf learnt that he should sit down and remain absolutely stock still whenever he sees a camera. To make life even more difficult for any would be photographer he will only agree to have pictures taken from his 'best' side . It's as if we're sharing our lives with the reincarnation of a truculent 1950's Holywood matinee idol. Very occasionally it's possible to capture him in motion while he's stalking his favourite soft toy 'du jour'. Today it's the stuffed cow , yesterday the yellow baboon was the sole focus of his attention. Here , to prove that he does move are those rarest of all animal action shots - Wilf on the prowl.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


There was one very crotchety Angus here last night. After Sunday's unexpected delay in seeing the kennels ( and the puppies ) I telephoned the owners yesterday afternoon to check that everything was going to be fine for our visit. A man answered the phone and said that his wife arranged the viewings and she was out at work, could I call back in an hour ? An hour and a bit later the phone was answered by the same man who now informed us that his wife was very ill and it wouldn't be convenient for us to come. I bit my tongue and growled out a quick ' thank you for letting us know' before curtly putting the phone down . This was presumably the same wife who called on Sunday and who had been out at work when I'd phoned earlier in the day. Why not simply say they couldn't be bothered ?

'The font' pointed out that it didn't take a great psychologist to work out why I was so grumpy ! Someone in the family had clearly begun to think about bringing a puppy home with them. My mood wasn't helped by the sad news that Max in South Africa had passed on. He'd fought long and hard . Over dinner we toasted him, his adoring family, and all those canine companions who become such an integral part of life. Whether we like it or not they become fully enmeshed with our routines and lives and we with theirs.

This morning the search for a new puppy starts all over again. 'The font' thinks that for practicalities sake we should stick with the breeders outside Toulouse despite their strange behaviour. Even after sleeping on it I'm not convinced. Are they trying to hide something or is there a genuine reason for delaying twice ?. A major problem if we look elsewhere is the logistics of bringing an eight week old puppy across the border from Belgium , Germany or Switzerland - a full ten hours drive away - and a mass of additional paperwork.

Wilf had a bath yesterday and for a while his level of grumpiness matched mine. He gave me his best ' I am not happy' look. As a treat he had a long sunset walk through the next village, christening the plants as he went - the more observant villagers may notice that their roses seem to be growing remarkably well. Wilf seems to be in no rush to change his increasingly sybaritic lifestyle. He doesn't have to share tickles with anyone else, meal times are quiet and decorous, and he has undivided attention at rug surfing and swing biffing time. But sometimes at night when he's nestling into me I catch a quick look in his eyes that say's 'why must things change ?'. Good question . They just do.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Puppy visit delayed by 24 hours.

It's going to be hot again today, very hot, so off with Wilf to town for a thirty minute walk , a coffee, and the breakfast croissants at six o'clock. The town was humming and the beer drinkers at the cafe were already licking the froth from their lips by the time we arrived at 6.35. This morning we walked up from the square to a rather anonymous looking building that houses what is said to be the best 'artisinal' bakers in town. A recommendation of Madame Bay. The smell of freshly baked croissants caught Wilfs attention fifty metres down the hill leading to an immediate, and marked, increase in speed. If we did this routine every morning that hour glass figure might reappear.

It's another national holiday in France. The fourth this month after May Day, Victory Day, Ascension Day and now Pentecost. Both we and the kennels had overlooked this fact until a late night telephone call asking us to delay until Tuesday. Tuesday it is. A firm promise to take lots and lots of photos.

Yves, Ross his wild haired Irish side kick, and the morose lad in the blue bib overalls have e-mailed to say they will ' be back on the job on Thursday. Just as well as their tools are still outside where they left them last week. At least it can be said that national holidays don't interrupt their schedule.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Life's fine.

Who in their right mind would restore a rickety old farm house in the Pyrenees ? 'The font' reminded me that we've been here now for exactly seven months. The rate of progress in making the place habitable has been leisurely.

Don't believe for a moment those television programmes where a run down barn in some mountain valley is miraculously transformed into a haven of luxurious living in the space of a fortnight. In this part of the world builders move to the rythmn of the stars not the dictates of the calendar. The view from the terrace this morning looked like the assault course at Fort Benning- the bare decking spars vying for attention with the subsidence in the lawn where the new pipework was installed.

Wilf takes it all in his stride. Workmen come , workmen go, some bring jaffa cakes, others don't. At the end of the day if he's biffed the swing, surfed the rugs, snaffled some human food and had a tickle then life's just fine. This morning he's had two walks, greeted the furniture deliverers who arrived from London at seven thirty ( score 6/10 ,no Jaffa Cakes but a half ways decent Garibaldi biscuit) , and had a pat on the head from the mayor. Not bad for eleven o'clock on a scorchingly hot Sunday morning. After all this excitement he's now settled down for a serious PON snooze under the shade of the old oaks.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Liberal and conservative.

Summer has arrived and with it the heat. To avoid the circotherm effect Wilf and yours truly headed off into the local market town bright and early. By quarter to seven , after a detour to the lamp posts in the light industrial park, the place was already beginning to heave with activity . A bowl of water for Wilf and a quick pre-breakfast cup of coffee for me amid the beer and absinthe drinkers in the cafe on the square . As we sat there , me in the sun, Wilf snug and secure under the table , there was just enough time to muse that with each passing year my outlook on life becomes more liberal while my stomach becomes ever more conservative. There was a time when beer for breakfast would have been a great pleasure - now the very thought of it leaves me cold.

Then off to the bakers for the baguettes and croissants. While there Wilf pondered the relative merits of the lemon meringue pie or the wild strawberry gateaux. He and I were in absolute agreement - both!

Walked back to the car via the tourist office. In the window a strange notice for what appears to be a concert by the French Navy bagpipe band. Can such a thing really exist ?

PS. Bougalou Bear - we'd be delighted.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How daft is that ?

A delivery van showed up late yesterday morning. Wilf was in his full volume 'we've got visitors ' greeting mode by the time I made it downstairs to open the gate . One look at the packing cases and it was clear that the furniture ordered in London last month was going to be in a bad state of repair . One look at the ' we don't enjoy our job and it shows' delivery men and Wilf knew that there weren't going to be any Jaffa cakes for him . Both of us were to be proved right. The store in London had simply put the tables and chairs in brown cardboard boxes; no bubble wrap, no padding, no nothing. How daft is that ? Daft enough for everything to have been smashed to pieces. The charmless shipping duo ( representatives of the French chapter of the international order of 'Don't ask me mate, we only deliver the stuff ' ) were unhappy about having to unpack the contents for me to check. They were even less happy about having to repack them and take them away again. Lesson - never sign for anything before getting it out of the box.

A quick call to London, photos of the devastation sent by e-mail, and then a quick return call from the store saying that replacement items will be delivered on Sunday. We shall see.

Have just finished reading a book ' The Great Silence' about life in London in the year after the end of the Great War. In it a description of the first jazz band to visit England from the States in 1919. The band leader , Mr Nick La Rocca, had an uncontrollable tic in his shoulder that had made him ineligible for the draft, but on stage his erratic arm movements had the unexpected bonus of making him disturbingly attractive - 'like a filleted eel about to enter the stewing pot' according to the Tatler magazine . The wildly popular new jazz music was opposed by the usual suspects. The medical profession advised young women against dancing to the new fangled music as 'all this jumping about could cause permanent damage to the arrangement of the internal organs as well as placing additional strain on their delicate nerves'. A Canon of St.Pauls cathedral viewed jazz as a 'lowering of moral standards and a sickness in the pulse of the country. An American invention with every conceivable crude instrument designed not to make music but noise'. They probably say the same about Lady Gaga today.

Read an article about puppy proofing your house. After nine years it's amazing how much I'd forgotten. If ever there is anywhere on the planet that is puppy unfriendly it's the rickety old farmhouse with its antiquated electrical system, widely spaced stair bannisters, uneven floor tiles and maze of corridors. A lot of work lies ahead. It looks as if we'll be driving off to the breeders on Monday. Thanks for all your advice - I'm determined that we don't buy a puppy on our first trip out. 'The font' just gives me a wry smile when I say this.

Over breakfast a family disagreement. 'The font' says that Jaffa Cakes aren't sold in the US. Can this be true ? It's too early in the morning to consult any of our own junk food experts on the East Coast . Wilf is most concerned.