Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The motley crew.

The tree man arrived with his colleague at seven followed by the roofer and his mate five minutes later . Apologising for his tardiness the gutter repair man drove up with his team of likely lads five minutes after that. Ten past seven in the morning and the driveway already looked as though we were hosting a white van convention. By the time we'd all finished saying 'bonjour' to each other, lit a Gauloise , analysed the Toulouse rugby teams chances and determined the health of respective spouses and children it was getting on for seven thirty.

Wilf sat proprietorially in his position by the front door step as this array of workmen set about their analysis of the fallen tree limb and the damage to the roof of the barn. He quickly made the judgement that no Jaffa Cakes were likely to be forthcoming from this motley crew in their bib overalls and withdrew into the hall to resume his morning nap.

My French vocabulary when it comes to tree diseases is somewhat limited . However, it seems that woodpeckers have been busy on the old oaks and wasps have built nests in the weakened branches. "No cause for alarm" said the tree man smiling broadly while looking at the huge, life threatening branch balanced precariously on the barn roof. By eight they had all gone . 'Au revoir M'Ongoose' . It seems the roof, the gutters, and the remaining overhanging oak limb are all to be dealt with another day - something to do with getting the right materials. " No problem. We'll call you later this week " they shouted. ' Yes, and I'm the Pope' I mouthed to myself as they disappeared out of sight down the lane.

At least the large branch has been cut into sections by the tree mans chain saw wielding colleague. Progress of sorts ? Wilf gave me his best quizical look.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let's do something different.

Wilf sat on the terrace as the sun was rising with an alert ' let's do something different ' look on his face. Off we went in the cool of the early morning for a walk by the river. No cars, no people, no bugs at this fresh, unsteamy hour. Wilf was able to gambol to his hearts content, his nose assailed by a million, new, enticing scents. Exotica, esoterica and erotica all sniffed and filed away . The canine version of a day in the reference section of the British Library.

Whereas Wilfs little brother was of the "Where are they? Let me at them ! " school, Wilf prefers the " Hello. Got any sausages ?" style of greeting. This makes chance encounters with noisy humans much, much easier and altogether less stressful. As we walked back to the car I realised that there comes a stage in a dogs life when he's no longer a family dog but a family fellow. Wilfs now at the family fellow stage. Communication is well rehearsed, trust is absolute, boundaries respected and 'if it doesn't bother you, it doesn't bother me' the rule for a day out. The gentle joy of dog and family growing older together . Laughter and whimsy .

The Sunday morning walk.

One very happy Polish Lowland Sheepdog scampered down the lane followed by an equally happy old black labrador. The sudden arrival of cooler weather to replace the searing heat has finally enabled Wilf and Jerome to get out and about again . Every shrub, tree and flower along the grass verges was expertly sniffed, studied and marked - then vigorously sniffed,studied and marked once more. The foals and calves who wandered over to follow the contented progress of these two senior fellows were disdainfully ignored. No time for day dreaming or reflection today - after three days of thermofan weather action was their watchword and pent up energy their driving force. Every so often Wilf would stop, look back over his shoulder and give me that ' Come on . What's keeping you ?' look. A day for brusque enjoyment. Swing biffing, touch rugby and 'bee' catching are on the cards this afternoon to be followed by rug surfing and indoor rugby tonight.

In the small hours of the morning a sudden whoosh followed by the sound of breaking roof tiles and shearing timbers. Up with a torch and dressing gown to see what it could be. A quick tour of the inside of the house followed by a cursory walk around the outside. Nothing to be seen. Then this morning as Wilf and I were heading off to the car all became apparent. A huge limb from one of the old oak trees had fallen down on top of the barn roof. Broken roof tiles and cross beams everywhere. Thankfully, the two cars we park there were quite unscathed apart from a thick layering of dust. The builder will be here at seven tomorrow morning. The rickety old farmhouse never ceases to surprise.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cooling those parts that need cooling.

Another scorcher of a day with the temperatures soaring above 45 degrees - that's nudging 120 in old money. Not pleasant . I've only experienced heat like this once before and that was in Saudi Arabia in mid-summer. Wilf was up and out at six , in the semi-darkness, to position himself on his back on the cold gravel of the courtyard. Sensible fellow. The perfect time and place to cool off those parts that need to be cooled off. The intense heat has brought on a bout of paw licking so a soothing ten minute foot soak in a bath with two inches of cold water was in order.

It's just as well we were up early. Madame Bay deigned to arrive, unannounced, a little after seven - an hour ahead of schedule. The perfect time to join us for a cup of coffee and have a 'wee' blether. To cope with the heat Madame Bay was wrapped in what appeared to be a 'Lady of the Lake' outfit made out of yards and yards of white net curtain material. Above it all sat a turban made from the same diaphonous fabric. It was rather like breakfasting with a cross between a well fed and cocooned Gandhi and a wraith. It seems that the 'adorable' young locum has returned to Toulouse so Madame Bay's health has reverted to its usual state - robust. I couldn't help but think that Monsieur Bay must be mightily relieved now that the cause of his wifes amatory fever has departed.

On our heat abbreviated morning walk down the lane a stranger in a white van stopped, rolled down the window and said ' Glad I'm not wearing a fur coat in this weather'. I looked blankly at him. He pointed at Wilf. "Ah, yes" I said . He chuckled. I chuckled. And then he drove off. Another sign that when it comes to dogs the French forget their aloofness.

Congratulations to the Four Seasons Resort Hotel in Vail . Here we are still in August and already they've sent out the first unsolicited e-mail of the year offering Christmas vacation packages . A picture showing snow and offering a 'Ski Free' tariff ! Where do I sign up ?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cool words for the hottest day.

The hottest day of the year so far. 45 degrees. Too hot to do anything. The sort of heat that doesn't just grab you by the throat but picks you up, twirls you round and throws you down the stairs. After an early morning walk along the lane Wilf just had time for a quick game in the garden with his favourite 'bee' before it became too clammy. For the rest of the day Wilf lay on the cold stone floor of the downstairs hallway. Once he was comfortable he refused to move. Sensible fellow.

Picked up a book called Paradoxical Commandments and found these words written in 1968. Not great poetry but calming and cooling amid the stultifying heat.

" If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway

If you are succesful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building someone could destroy overnight; build anyway ".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A second Bermuda triangle.

Wilf and yours truly were left alone while 'the font' went back to London to deal with a certain cost centres departure for New Haven. Too nice a day to be inside working on the house so instead Wilf and I play rugby in the garden. I drop kick, he retrieves. I drop kick, he retrieves. Somehow something kicked into the air is always that much more exciting than something thrown.

At the end of a perfect day, we settle down , me on the sofa , Wilf by me on the floor, to watch trash tv. After a few minutes of channel surfing we find a great 'documentary' on the Bermuda triangle. A young assistant professor from Baylor saying that there might be a ' primeval dark energy force that eats time'. Wow! How cool is that! This calls for another glass of St.Estephe.

Now the spooky part. The next thing I know an hour and a half has gone. Simply disappeared. The Bermuda triangle documentary has been replaced by replays of 'Friends', Wilf is on his back sound asleep and snoring, the bottle of St.Estephe has mysteriously emptied itself, and the clock that was showing midnight is now showing one thirty. Uncanny. The primeval dark energy force that eats time has appeared here in deepest France Profonde . What's worse it guzzles my best clarets. Remember, you saw it here first.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Annual days vacation in the US :13. In France :38

The painting of the ceiling in the downstairs hallway has at last been finished. What was once a warren of dark cattle stalls has now been turned into a functional entrance hall and library. Wilf was happy to settle down once again in his key 'guarding' spot between the front door and the office. The perfect place to monitor those who live here as well as all those who wish to enter. A PON's herding work is never done.

The average American takes 13 days holiday a year, the average Brit 26, and the average Frenchman 38. Holidays are of course unknown in this household. No sooner had I moved the last piece of furniture into the downstairs hall than 'the font' in fine Swedish Lutheran style announced we were going off to a concert. Something about too good a day to stay indoors. So much for my plans for spending the afternoon in the wine cellar. In the car and off in the searing heat to the local cathedral - a building of quite unparalleled ugliness. One of those places that makes Grand Central look delicate and beautiful. The facade is home to a series of huge, pigeon crowned, stone prophets. Square jawed, frowning faces, billowing robes . Here the sculptors have made them look less like Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments and more like a group of angry folk who've just popped out for a pizza and walked into an unexpected blizzard.

Home in time to open a 2005 Margaux and enjoy an hours 'catch the sheep' with Wilf .

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rug surfing and rugby = PON heaven.

A day of rug surfing and touch rugby. Wilf was in PON heaven, charging down the hallway, leaping onto a rug at the last moment and then skidding helter skelter across the floor tiles in best surfer dude fashion . Then at bed time twenty minutes of touch rugby with the soft, ludicrously coloured, bounce anywhere, rugby ball. For some reason this is definitely not 'the fonts' favoured game.

When he gets really happy Wilfs rear end 'wags' from side to side - rather like the back end of a car before it goes into a skid. This 'wag' makes forward movement rather difficult. The result is a highly amusing but rather inefficient combination of waddle and soft shoe shuffle that simply radiates happiness. Trotting off, reluctantly, to bed the look on his face said " All we need now are some sausages".

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday reveries.

Left out of the front gate, across the village green, then past the war memorial where Jerome, the old farmers black labrador, has been sitting waiting patiently at the church door. Freed from his daily round of ploughing by the Sabbath he trots briskly over to join us. A new, but seemingly timeless Sunday morning routine. Despite the early hour it's already getting warm . The weather forecast on the radio says it may be the hottest day of the year. As we pass the pond a hundred frogs, one after the other, hop, then splash into the water. Nature as if synchronised by Busby Berkeley.

On we go, the three of us, along the lane, past the last of the houses, through the burnt ochre fields of shrivelled sunflowers into the walnut and hazelnut groves. Here in the dappled shade Wilf and Jerome run free. Finally exhausted, the two old fellows slump on top of the ridge, eyes turned towards the line of anvil heads already building up on the horizon. The daily battle between the searing heat of the Spanish cordella and the chill, moist air of the high Pyrenees.

Wilf and Jerome soon settle down, paw to paw in the cool, shaded, grass. I stand behind them, my back to a tree, happy in their simple contentment. They look out entranced across the plain to the mountains. While I see the fields, the hamlets and the mountains they seem to see so much more. Beyond the rising rose coloured clouds a glimpse of their role in this world of mystery and beauty, grace and wonderment. A sense of their origins beyond the bounds of sense. All underneath this Sunday sun of heaven. Bliss for man and dog.

When we get back to the village half a dozen local farmers are setting up the stalls for the Sunday 'bio' market. The simple, season driven childhood life of my father and grandfathers. Lost elsewhere but still holding on here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Funeral, ceremony and anniversary all in one.

"M'excuse but I can't be with you today" said Madame Bay standing in the middle of the kitchen as large as life and looking, to all intents and purposes, as if she was very much 'with us'. Not that we needed to be told that something was amiss. No primary colours and trailing chiffon this morning. Madame Bay was dressed entirely in black complete with elbow length gloves and a flying saucer shaped broad brimmed hat with veil. A village funeral.

The 94 year old colonel had passed on. We'd never seen him, nor indeed heard much about him. His run down house stands at the corner of the village and is quite honestly a bit of an eye sore. A fleet of rusty old 50's and 60's era Citroens, doors ajar, are scattered across what might once have passed as the garden while above them stands a flagpole proudly flying a rather battered and faded 'drapeau tricolore'.

By ten the village green was covered in cars and the bell in the church tower was sounding out a mournful angelus. We watched from a distance as the local veterans associations lined up on either side of the church porch, their flags lowering in life affirming disarray as the coffin passed by. Thirty minutes later they were all out of the church and clustered around the war memorial. An inaudible speech by the mayor, the presentation of scrolls to two ancient sabot and beret wearing villagers, an atonal rendition of the Marseillaise and then, as the little lady in the lilac hat sang the Song of the Partisans, they were off.

Afterwards, sharing a glass of restorative 'elevenses' champagne in the garden with the mayor and the little lady in the lilac hat we discovered that the government has decreed that all surviving Second World War combatants must be honoured with a ceremony, a scroll and a bottle of 'good' champagne. The mayor had been putting it off but in light of recent events had decided that it wouldn't be wise to delay too much longer. It was also he brightly informed us the anniversary of the day that the village had liberated itself in 1944. The diplomat in me did not congratulate him on another great feat of French arms. Funeral, ceremony and anniversary all in one day. Wilf sat quizically through it all patiently wondering when the sausages would arrive.

Friday, August 20, 2010

No bees.

There's no sign of the bees. It looks as if the 'environmentally friendly' way of dealing with them has worked. Mark you, that's what we thought before they came winging back bringing family and friends with them. The octogenarian apiarists parting comment before speeding off was - " Monsieur Ongoose, the honey could have fallen on you in the night if I had not removed it". The thought of 15 kilos of gooey honey dripping in large dollops through the bedroom ceiling in the small hours made me giggle. 'The fonts' reaction may have been somewhat different. I giggled even more.

To the wine counters in the hypermarket. For a moment thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Aisle after aisle of Burgundy, Beaujolais, Brouilly, and Bordeaux. Used the chance to load up the trolley with ruby nectar. On the way out passed the dog section and bought a fluffy rugby ball for Wilf - tonight we'll expand the party envelope and move from rug surfing to touch rugby. A picture of a PON - suitably groomed - beamed back from the packaging of a tick collar. The bakery counter had seasonal mirabelles and myrtilles gateaux - only in France.

Headline on the front cover of todays paper from Paris - 'A fifth of Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim'. Wilf gave me his most incredulous look.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A quick post.

The bee man came bright and early. After a cheerful chat about his recent heart operation and the weather he was soon suited up and clambering onto the roof. Amid much puffing of smoke he carefully removed the Queen and then carefully shepherded the rest of the swarm into two large carboard boxes. Just when I thought it was all over he climbed down, asked for a saw, and was off up the ladder again. Twenty minutes later he was back with three buckets full of honey comb that the industrious little devils had built in the roof eaves. Only one tiny problem - the eight roof tiles that fell to the ground and shattered.

Will post more fully later this morning after Wilf and I track down a builder to cover the hole where the tiles used to be. The look on Wilfs face says it all.