Monday, September 27, 2010

The principal business of life is to enjoy it.

We saw something yesterday that we'd read about but never thought we'd ever see. Stilt walking shepherds from the marshy, desolate Landes region near Bordeaux. Although letters were still delivered by postmen on stilts until the 1930's these shepherds and their way of life have now almost disappeared. Thankfully, fifty or so families resolutely keep up the tradition. The shepherds used to spend whole days on their ten foot high stilts, using a stick as a tripod when they wanted to sleep or rest. During a week they would walk hundreds of miles perched atop their stilts , scanning the horizon for stray sheep or wolves. People who saw them in the distance used to compare them to giant spiders. Its when they move that interest in a historical oddity turns into amazement. They can walk as fast as a horse can run. A magnificent, graceful litheness - half ballet, half RoboCop .

Needless to say the formal crowning of Lady Nut was delayed. We arrived at the scheduled time of ten thirty to find that the Market Square was deserted. The reason soon became apparent. The pre-crowning aperitif in the town hall had miraculously turned into pre-crowning aperitifs. An air of unconcerned, armagnac fuelled happiness was the order of the day. The head of the cofraternity , resplendent in green silk beret and brown cloak, had to be helped into the donkey cart that took him and lady nut 2010 to the petanque court. The other members followed along behind, perched precariously,banners waving, atop a mix of pit ponies and mules.

Having bought some walnut oil, a hazelnut loaf, and a bag of roast chesnuts we headed back to the car.Wilf had viewed the days proceedings with interest, particularly the stilted shepherds. He fell asleep with a contented look on his face that told me he was dreaming about rounding up sheep - on stilts. Wilf has wisely learnt that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Back from Asia.

' We do not remember days , we remember moments '.

Wilfs end of week PONder.

' After all is said and done , more is said than done '.

Wilfs Thursday PONderings.

' Learn to pause ... or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you '.

Wilfs Wednesday PONderings.

' The day will happen whether or not you get up '.

Wilfs Tuesday PONderings.

Somehow or another I agreed to go to Asia to give some speeches to serious folks in dark suits. Wilf is not happy that I shall be away for the rest of the week. He gave me his most ferocious
' The trouble with life in the fast lane is that you get to the other end in an awful hurry' look.

Wilf , with a little help from 'the font' will be posting more of his home spun aphorisms while I'm away.

Lady Nut or The Nut Lady ?

Overnight, an eight foot papier mache squirrel has appeared in the middle of the market square . It appears, from a large sign suspended across the main street, that today is the nut festival or as the locals would have it ' la noisette est en fete '.

Wilf joined me as we parked the car and examined a flyer that set out the days activities. After a seven am cycle tour of the nut groves there follows folk dancing, a performance of traditional songs by a local singer, line dancing by the Country and Western club, donkey rides and at ten thirty the crowning of Lady Nut 2010 by the Cofraternity of Nuts. You could never, ever make it up. At eleven, five new members are coopted into 'la confererie de la noisette'. I guess that makes them brother nuts.

Nothing will stop us from going to see the crowning of Lady Nut 2010. Pictures and a full blow by blow account tomorrow. As Wilf settled down with his squirrel in the newly decorated downstairs hallway I jokingly said out loud ' We've ended up living in a lunatic asylum'. Wilf looked up, squirrel in jaws, as if to say " Life is God's novel. Let him write it ". Then he fell asleep.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What we love to do we find time to do.

After three months of almost continuous sunshine a day of heavy autumn downpours. The sky blanketed in grey from dawn to dusk.Whenever the rain eased up Wilf and yours truly would head off down the lane past culverts overflowing with water. I might have been happier staying indoors in the dry but Wilf was in seventh heaven savouring the fresh scents that the heavy rain had restored. Completely immersed in his exploration of trees and fence posts he was oblivious to time,cloud bursts or growling thunder.

Forty minutes of post-dinner quality time - mano a mano. Touch rugby, hide the meerkat and finally rug surfing before he fell sound asleep damp and happy. Somewhere along the line Wilf has learnt that simple lesson - what we love to do we find time to do.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More Scarlett than Rhett.

The fitters finally came to instal the new Norwegian wood fire in the kitchen. A few days late , but hey, what's a couple of days amongst friends ? Wilf was consigned to the downstairs hallway while the incredibly messy job of sweeping the chimney and removing decades of accreted soot and grease got underway. It goes without saying that the messier the task in hand the more interested Wilf became in what was going on. White inquistive dog, black soot - there's a marriage made in heaven.

Two vans, two sets of tyres for him to christen. From Wilfs perspective so far, so good. However, this group of workmen fell far short on the all important ' what treats have you got today? ' question. It took five minutes of focused sniffing but Wilf had soon decided that there were no Jaffa Cakes , sausages or other delicacies to be had from this boiler suited crew.

Clearly disappointed with the quality of the hired help, Wilf sat in the garden with his toy squirrel watching events from a distance. From time to time a squeak would remind us that he was there and in charge. Some of the young workmen offered to play with him but each time they approached Wilf stood up, toy in mouth, head held high and moved cautiously away. In the process he gave them his best Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler look - " Sir, in the absence of Jaffa Cakes I do not lightly bestow my friendship on strangers " . I didn't have the nerve to tell him that the squirrel clenched between his teeth ruined this stern, formal image. The overall impression was rather more Scarlett than Rhett.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

40% of women prefer Frenchmen.

While Wilf enjoyed an after lunch doze we set off to visit the new supermarket that has just opened in what passes for our county town. 'The font' was navigating so what should have taken half an hour turned into an hour and a quarter odyssey of wrong turnings and inexplicable diversions. Why is it that when a new supermarket opens the parking area is never ready? Just how difficult can it be to level and tarmac a plot of land? We finally found a place for the car on the far side of the universe and navigated a trolley with a woggly wheel across an obstacle course of concrete mixers, electrical cables and partially laid pavements.

Leaving 'the font' to check out the fish counter yours truly trailed happily up and down the wine aisles. September is 'Foire aux vins ' season and the supermarkets clear out their old stock with huge discounts. What combination of factors could make a Scottish male happier?

Sitting this morning at the cafe in the square two articles in Le Figaro caught my eye. The first heralded the findings of a survey showing that France is the best place to live in Europe. It has the earliest retirement age, spends the most on healthcare and has the longest life expectancy in Europe. Its workers benefit from 36 days holiday a year and it comes just behind Spain and Italy for hours of sunshine. The UK and Ireland according to this survey are the most miserable places to live - a fact the newspaper was only too happy to give star billing to.

The second altogether more serious survey purported to show that 40% of women worldwide consider Frenchmen to be the most intelligent and proficient lovers. 40% of all women - worldwide! I couldn't help but think that for a country of 60 million people those Frenchmen certainly know how to get around. Hearing my snort of derision Wilf stuck his head out from under the tablecloth with a look that said ' Four out of five people are more in need of rest than exercise".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Janis Joplin, Freddie Mercury and Madame Bay.

That all singing all dancing human rainbow , otherwise known known as Madame Bay , arrived bright and early this morning. This sobering vision of loveliness - orange ballet shoes, lime green leggings, pink angora sweater, purple pashmina and orange turban - stood in the kitchen, arms folded, looked around and declaimed " You've not made much progress here ". With that accusatory welcome she was off to tune all the radios to her favourite programme on the nostalgie channel. Diplomacy prevented a retort along the lines of "Progress can only be made in a country where the workmen bother showing up ".

Down into town with Wilf to escape the cacophony of Freddie Mercury in chorus with Madame Bay and the hoover. A relaxed morning coffee and bowl of water with the beer and absinthe crowd. We seem to have crossed some rubicon of acceptance. One of the absinthe imbibing gentlemen has a new maroon and chrome motability scooter which we were cordially invited to inspect. 'C'est magnifique!' I said, hoping that the enthusiasm sounded convincing. Do you think there are laws about drinking and driving motability scooters? If so he was over the limit by the time most folks are thinking about their second cup of coffee. Wilf gave me a look that called to mind that old Janis Joplin line : " Now that I'm here, where am I?"

Back home via the chocolatiere and the florists.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Patience is a virtue.

Out along the leaf shrouded lane with Wilf. I am 100% convinced that he deliberately walks along the verges so that he can enjoy the satisfying crunch of the leaves beneath his paws. Back home by the track under the chateau walls. Jerome , the old black labrador,was sitting on the village green so while the two of them chatted I looked in the church. The morning light was streaming through the stained glass windows and breathing life onto the rather alarming plaster statue of Joan of Arc . Simple but beautiful.

Despite waiting in all day no sign of any workmen. Experience teaches that they never like to come alone. When they do finally arrive you can be sure that they will turn up en masse - rather like a latter day Pharaohs army in white vans. For the time being all we can do is dream about gutterers, plumbers, electricians, joiners, tilers and all those other vital trades needed to get the rickety old farmhouse ready for winter .

Is the world going completely barmy? Telephoned British Airways to change a flight reservation. The usual questions - frequent flier number, postcode , address. And then a demand to know my date of birth. I was just about to answer when it suddenly struck me - what in heavens do they want to know my date of birth for ? Found myself saying 'I'm only changing a reservation not proving I'm old enough to fly the plane'. The young man at the end of the phone was clearly in no mood to discuss this as he slammed the phone down. I could almost hear him mutter " what a nutter !" as receiver and cradle met.

Tried to order a new computer from Dell. The staff in Hyderabad were efficient and courteous until it came to delivery. It seems that if you live in France you must get a computer with a French keyboard. If you live in the UK you get a good old logical Anglo Saxon one. Try combining the two so that you can get a UK spec computer in France - impossible ! Is there as anything as inflexible as the rigid systems of a big corporation ? Is there anything as annoying as the indifference of telephone sales staff?

Wilf looked at me with sage eyes - " The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook ".

Monday, September 20, 2010

Polish climate and sheepdog reunited.

Wearing sweaters on the morning walk. A bracing twelve degrees today. Sure sign that autumn is here and winter in all its glory can't be far behind. To say that Wilf loves this cooler weather would be an understatement of epic proportions. Wrapped up in his double layer fur coat he is out of the front gate and off down the lane like a whippet. Nose down, trampling through the fallen leaves that carpet the verges, he is quite simply in his element. Far too engrossed in exploration to notice, let alone acknowledge, the horses and cows that wander over to see him scurry by. Sheepdog reunited with the climate of the Polish Lowlands. Perfect harmony. Porridge for breakfast so he's now asleep in the kitchen. Let me rephrase that. You'd think he's asleep but he's got that ' Please remember the important contribution I make to the well being of the family' look on his face and his nose is pointing towards the cookie jar.

The arrival of the colder morning weather is a reminder that the house needs some urgent tender loving care before the Pyrennean mountain winds start in late October . To put it mildly, 'the font' does not retain fond memories of the wrap around draughts and perma-chill that were our lot when we first moved in. Curtain material has been ordered from London, the stove fitters are due to arrive on Wednesday, and the builders have promised to come this afternoon to strengthen the floor in readiness for the stoves installation . Even the specialist joiner has promised to show up and insulate the roof beams . It would be somewhat churlish to observe that he has been promising , faithfully, to do this for each of the last seven months. I'd be equally happy if we saw the men to renew the gutters or replace the roof tiles that were destroyed when the oak branch fell on the barn.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A walk with happy cows.

Perfect French weather for Wilfs morning walk. Not a cloud in the sky and a refreshing 18 degrees. Wilf bounced rather than walked down the road completely lost in a reverie of exploration. Today, we took the farm track that runs below the chateau to look at the cows in the fields along the river valley. A dappled place of wonderful, exotic scents and smells. Some of the cows were content to lie ruminating in the early morning sun while others were busy with their demanding young. All of them seemed to be happy with their lot. A few of the heffers lifted their heads as we approached but with Wilf in turbocharge mode we soon swept past them. Farming as it used to be. After an hour the old fellows legs were beginning to get tired and he turned, uncomplainingly, home. He is now deep asleep on the front doorstep, the sun warming his tired bones. You can guarantee that he'll surface from his dreams and wander upstairs the very second he hears 'the font' start preparing lunch. Uncanny.

'The font' has just reminded me that we saw the rickety old farmhouse for the first time exactly a year ago. My, how time flies. Put it another way - how far behind we are, and over budget, in the renovation schedule.