Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sun bathing.

Off bright and early with Wilf for a leisurely early morning walk. Today, we headed down the hill, across the stream and turned right, instead of left at the crossroads. New territory for both of us. For a while we followed the stretch of old roman road that runs along the valley floor, stopping so that Wilf could christen the weathered mile markers. Madame Bay had said that an American woman and her Dutch husband have bought a house on the river bend and are 'doing it up' in contemporary style. Contemporary in deepest Tarn-et-Garonne? This was something I had to see.

Despite my curiosity we didn't make it quite that far. After twenty minutes of carefree exploration Wilf had completely tired himself out. He sauntered slowly off the road and found himself a sun drenched spot on the river bank. There he sensibly settled down, head resting on paws, to watch the wild pheasants and plump, quarrelsome partridge scurrying through the long grass. From time to time he'd rouse himself to sniff the scent of the wild boar or deer in the forest. At one point a woman in a large Renault with Toulouse number plates raced, too quickly, along the narrow lane. The only car we saw all morning.

I wanted to get back but why hurry ? What in life could be as important as an extra half an hour on a sunny river bank with a faithful old companion ? Maybe we'll make it to the contemporary house tomorrow. Some journeys simply shouldn't be hurried.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Small apartments - big Turkeys.

While the rest of Europe shivers in the unseasonable cold our little corner of paradise continues to be blessed with clear skies and bright sunshine. You could almost believe it was spring if it wasn't for the arrival of the Christmas decorations in the bar. The waitress with the peroxide hair greeted Wilf and yours truly wearing an apron that spelt out 'Bon Noel' in battery powered flashing red lights. I fear the aprons novelty will have worn off by Christmas. Wilf gets fed pieces of croissant while I examine the new and truly hideous collection of postcards for sale behind the bar.

There is a decidedly unpleasant smell emananting from behind a radiator in the hallway. Wilf spent much of last night sniffing the skirting boards with evident delight. My guess is that a field mouse has decided to build its hibernatory nest on top of the central heating pipes . 'The font' has asked me, several times, what I intend to do about it. A solution - short of moving out to a hotel or ripping up the floorboards - seems hard to find.

Today a day for chasing up workmen. Perhaps one of them will have experience with malodorous mice. The gutterer hasn't been seen for a month and has disappeared without fitting the new downpipes or the all important final length of guttering above the front door. When it rains a Niagara of water cascades on unsuspecting guests. The painter also needs to be chivvied along. Five weeks ago he applied undercoat to the shutters on the street side of the house and completed two windows by the kitchen in the smart new Farrow and Ball colour scheme. Since then nothing. As for the electrician he's seems to have decamped to South America leaving wires sticking jauntily out of ceilings and power sockets unconnected.

Over lunch one of the lady professors informed me that restaurants in New York are required by law to stay open on Thanksgiving. I find this improbable. More likely that restaurants in New York enjoy a bumper days takings on Thanksgiving. Small apartments - big turkeys - seems sensible that New Yorkers would decide to go out to eat .

Sunday, November 28, 2010


By the time we've parked the car the sun has risen and taken the chill out of the early morning air. Down by the river bank Wilf is in his element. He scampers backwards and forwards from tree to bush, from bench to tuft, from sign to post. All are deemed worthy of leisurely examination and christening. A library of information to be recorded and stored away until it can be re-examined during his pre-lunch Sunday morning doze .

Today is a good day. He's had a few bad episodes over the last week but this morning he's back to being our carefree, fun loving, family prankster. After fifteen minutes, worried that he's going to tire himself out, I turn to go back . Wilf has different ideas. He stands, four square in the middle of the path, staring resolutely ahead and making it absolutely plain that he wants to carry on. His 'life is for living' look. We carry on.

These days are as joyous as they are unexpected. The extra weeks have given us a chance to see and enjoy the world from his perspective. Walks don't need to be hurried, ditches are always more interesting than the sidewalk, mud is to be welcomed not avoided and spaghetti bolognaise and coconut ice cream , preferably mixed together in the same bowl, make the perfect meal. The priceless luxury of knowing that there won't be much left unsaid when the final full stop appears at the end of the chapter. For the time being we rejoice in the happy,'extra day' miracles. There comes a time when bittersweet segues naturally into being just plain sweet.

On our way home we stop off for the statutory cofee, croissant, bowl of water and hair tousling.Wilf beams as he meets his extended pack. The three lady professors from Ohio are coming for lunch today so a call into the wine merchants for six bottles of the new season Beaujolais. The bright summery labels shout out ' drink me now '. Then home for Wilfs first contented doze of the day.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Minitin' for Christmas.

Barely above freezing this morning,the sun shining half heartedly through the crisp mountain air. Wilf made his way to the door, peered out and turned to me as if to say : " Blimey. I went to bed in France and I've woken up in Norway ! " . The magic word 'croissants' and he was scampering across the courtyard and into the back of the ageing Volkswagen.

Madame Bay joined us on our trip into town. Her youngest daughter, Sandrine, runs a hairdressing salon by the covered market. Sandrine of the imaginatively named Sandrines. Our saintly septaguenarian has volunteered to help her with the pre-Christmas rush. Thank heavens the raspberry tinted Sinead O'Connor style Madame Bay got in New York last year has grown out . It might have proved to be just a tad too challenging for the local, conservatism writ large, farmers wives waiting in the reception area.

On our way into town Madame Bay informed me that Monsieur Bay was taking her to 'Minitin' for a week in mid-December. " Minitin ?" I inquired, none the wiser. Madame Bay gave me that 'you should really get out more ' look and then slowly, very slowly, explained that after the great success of last year the retired gendarmes club were off to New York again. "Ah, Manhattan" I exclaimed. ' Oui, Minitin ' came the somewhat pitying reply. Guess I'll never cut the ice as a jet setter.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Not a polar bear.

The first frost of the year. Wilf looked out of the front door, looked at the frost on the grass, then turned around and lay on his bed. ' I may look like a polar bear but I'm not '. It took the magic word 'croissant' to stir him from his warm, matressed comfort.

Each day now we're taking him somewhere new for the first walk of the day. A wave of fresh scents and sights seems to stimulate him and get him powering along . This morning he charged along the footpath of the Canal du Midi head down in a riot of fresh smells. A full twenty minutes of fun filled sniffing and snorting. A few joggers on the other side of the canal but not a single walker or dog on our side. To look at him you'd think he was the happiest, healthiest boy on the planet.

Back into the market town for a coffee and the promised croissant. Too cold to sit outside under the terrace so into the cafe proper. I dutifully shake hands and say 'bonjour' to the two barmen, the waitress, and all the early morning absinthe and beer drinkers. Formality a factor of French life even amongst our dipsomaniac friends. A loud chorus of 'bonjour Wilfeee' and much hair tousling as we come through the door. Add to the scene a bowl of water and half a croissant, torn gently into pieces by the peroxide waitress, and you have one very content family fellow.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wilfs Thanksgiving PONder.

" Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops ".

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The pilgrims donkeys.

Long time readers of the blog will know that the little lane that runs past the front door of the rickety old farmhouse is part of the Chemin de St.Jacques. This is the route that tens of thousands of pilgrims follow to the Cathderal of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. It's said that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried there.

Yesterday afternoon two Italian pilgrims, eye surgeons from Turin, dressed in their red pilgrimage shirts and wearing the traditional broad brimmed hats, stopped by the village church to fill their water bottles. They unsaddled their donkeys, settled down on the bench on the green for a rest, and within two minutes were blissfully and ignorantly asleep in the late afternoon sun . However, the donkeys were far from asleep and were soon off exploring.

The first we knew about their presence was when the ever watchful Wilf wandered outside into the garden for his afternoon constitutional . He was decidedly put out to find two large intruders munching their way across the flower beds. Wilf barked which had the immediate effect of getting the donkeys braying. It took a large bag of carrots and much gentle encouragement to unite pilgrims and their steeds. Our family fellow followed events from a respectful distance not quite sure what to expect from these large noisey visitors. Donkeys and eye surgeons reunited, he followed me back down the lane with a long suffering look on his face that said - " another crisis successfully dealt with by Wilf - time for a sausage ".

To the vet for the ten day check-up. 35 days. There are three vets in the practice. Two who cover Wilf with bisous and tickles and the third - a Parisienne - who is more 'clinical' in her approach. We got the third. Some stiffening of the hip and the first , tentative, signs that perhaps the liver is now being damaged. 'What about the confusion ?' I asked. "Oh, that's to be expected as he gets older " she replied. Then looking straight at me she said " We all get like that ".

Once outside I lifted Wilf tenderly into the back of the car. ' Did you hear that comment about getting older? ' I said to Wilf. "Women !" he replied, the pain of the Polish farmboys rejection by the French show girl obviously still smarting. We both headed off to the cafe in the square for a reviving coffee and choux pastry bun. Still no pain. Real cause for celebration. Our own little early, unexpected, private Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


After the rain of the last few days a beautiful clear morning. Up and out early and off in the car for an amble by the river. A fancily coiffured poodle with the rather unlikely name of Josephine was being walked along the path just ahead of us. Needless to say Wilf was immediately smitten by this vision of French loveliness and trotted off after her like a love struck puppy. Sadly, Josephine was less taken with the somewhat dishevelled, fluffily white creature with a large black nose that was in hot pursuit. Our chivalrous troubador was greeted with a growl and a snap.

" Maybe she'll be in better mood tomorrow ?" Wilf seemed to say as he settled down under the cafe table while waiting for his bowl of water and portion of croissant from the peroxide haired waitress. 'Maybe' I said tickling him behind the ear. Hope springs eternal.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Marmalade and Madame Bays petit dejeuner.

Into breakfast to find a turbaned and house coated Madame Bay seated at the head of the table with a large pile of hot buttered toast and a jar of marmalade. Wilf had cannily positioned himself on the floor at her feet and was listening attentively to some lengthy diatribe about Hugo, the husband of Madame Bays long suffering daughter Delfine. It was difficult to piece together exactly what Hugo had done this time other than it alternated between being 'imbecilic ' or 'extremely imbecilic' and had apparently cost a lot of money.

Wilf may be physically slowing down but when it comes to extracting food he's as quick and nimble as ever. Every twenty seconds or so Madame Bay would punctuate her invective by spreading maramalade thickly on a piece of toast, taking a healthy bite, then breaking off a piece for Wilf. In return Wilf would turn his head as if to say " she's a princess that girl, a real princess" or " that man doesn't know how lucky he is " or sometimes simply " Men ! - By the way this toast is delicious, did you make it yourself ? ". Toast and marmalade finished Madame Bay bustled off while Wilf settled down where he was for a little doze. Both in their own way equally happy. Wilf the marmalade eating confidante and conversationalist.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A change.

The early morning sky a startling mass of pinks, reds and russetts. Natures palet at its most vivid. The 'red sky in the morning' a sign of another storm working its way towards us across the snow clogged mountain passes from Spain. Outside the village church Wilf stopped,stock still, on his walk. There ahead of us a sight neither 'the font' nor I had ever seen before. A vertical rainbow. Somehow a columnar cloud rising two or three thousand feet in the air had managed to catch the dawn light and reflect it back with all the clear perfection of a prism. The old farmer saw us standing there and wandered over with Jerome the black labrador to look at the spectacle. Two minutes later, as the sun rose higher, it was gone.

Sunday morning, a good time to reflect on the week and take stock. Wilf soldiers on. He's not in any pain. His appetite remains robust - the effects of the vole or shrew long forgotten. Yet, in some imperceptible way the pace of life has gently but markedly slowed . Our walks are much shorter now . Much shorter . His goal the churchyard or the last street light at the edge of the village. Leisurely progress punctuated by lengthy pauses for just sniffing the air and staring distractedly along the lane. He's sleeping more. The spot on the kitchen floor by the oven his favoured haunt. Cake baking time his absolute nose twitching joy. Last night he didn't want to play - a first for this active fun loving boy. Instead he came over , lay on his side and held out his paw for me to hold. We've reached the stage on his journey where the greatest comfort is found in the simple reassurance of touch. Paw holding trust.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Two in the morning - a great time to call the States.

One of those nights that might euphemistically be called difficult. On yesterdays morning walk Wilf found and swallowed a small dead rodent - a vole or shrew or possibly even a small mole. All I glimpsed was a short wispy tail disappearing into his mouth. From discovery to delighted despatch took all of a nano second. Not even the chance to shout out a futile ' No ! Leave it '. By one thirty in the morning the small rodent was starting to cause some discomforture and by two its increasingly rapid passage through his system was having the anticipated effect. Trips outside into the garden , wearing a dressing gown and a pair of bright blue Crocs , at two o'clock, three and then four fifteen. This morning yours truly is suffering from sleep deprivation but Wilf is full of vim and vigour.

The small hours are the perfect time to do all those things that are otherwise left until later. Two in the morning in France is eight at night in Princeton and five in Stanford - a great time to call the Croc owners aka the gannets . It's also a great time to read magazines from cover to cover. And I mean cover to cover. This morning I now know that Bristol Palin is still on Dancing with the Stars ( apparently this is thanks in no small measure to the votes of Sarahs political supporters ) and that it is impossible to buy a copy of the dress that Kate Middleton wore when she announced her engagement to Prince William. It seems that the Issa sapphire blue dress - ' a perfect blend of modernity and conservatism' - retails for $615 and Harvey Nicols' in London have been " simply inundated with callers from the US wanting to get their hands on one ".

I recounted these timeless pieces of information to 'the font' as we sat with Wilf at the cafe in the square. " Goodness, you must have been bored " came the reply. For his part Wilf was ignoring me and giving the croissant bearing waitress his best ' I love you ' look. So much for Angus the renaissance man. In future I'll stick to rugby and golf.