The PONs are being well behaved. They clamber into the back of the car and then stay there. Neither wanders off. They are rewarded with a slice of carrot. Sophie has finished hers by the time Bob picks his up.
Saturday is the day of the village 'beautiful garden' prize giving. The mayors wife, who has had a hip replacement , is out and about again. In readiness for the great day she is setting out the prizes - her dried root vegetable arrangements - on a trestle table in the village hall. '' I've been able to spend more time on them this year " . She says this while beaming lovingly at a triangular arrangement of carrots, turnips and baby swedes .
This morning the PONs and their owners are up early. For the next week or so there is a particularly important alignment of planets in the pre-dawn sky. Bob and Sophie think venturing out with their flock in the darkness is wildly exciting. By contrast their master wonders why anyone in their right mind would be out in the garden at five thirty on a chilly January morning staring at the stars. The chance of lying in bed was not an option. That famous phrase " You'll enjoy it ". 'The Font' sets up a telescope. Early rising farmers driving their tractors through the village can be in no doubt that the foreigners in The Rickety Old Farmhouse are completely mad.
Much to 'The Fonts' horror two field mice scurry across the kitchen floor. The fact that they're out and about in January testimony to how mild the winter's been. The poor things must be terribly confused ... and tired. We've spent a small fortune plastering up all the holes in the outside walls to stop them coming in to hibernate. This has been as effective as Canute trying to halt the incoming tide. Mid-morning a group of workmen arrive on the lane outside the gate. They cut down all the little branches that have sprouted from the trunks of the plane trees. A green lorry with a man standing on the back drives slowly forward. This is followed by four workmen in green overalls who collect the branches. Behind them, with no obvious purpose, is a van with orange flashing lights. At the end of this procession is a man in a small Peugeot , presumably the boss. From time to time he stops, gets out and sprints down the road to point out a branch that his colleagues have missed.
We find this street theatre interesting. The PONs find it absolutely riveting. Bob sits on his stump seat and watches the workmen. They say hello.
Sophie adopts a less decorous means of welcome. She stands on her back legs. front paws on the gate and howls.
Bob arrives at the front door with a muddy nose. He looks guilty.
Sophie tries to pretend that nothings happened. The lumps of clay hanging from her fur suggest otherwise.
Angus marvels at the size of the hole that's been dug in the lawn. Bathed and toweled dry the PONs are loaded in the back of the car. Sophie is wearing her patented ' I cannot tell a lie. It was my brother ' look. Angus points out that in a court of law the evidence would be stacked against her. So begins a Thursday morning with two happy dogs.
Windy this morning. Bob sports his aerodynamic look. Sophie is in a feisty mood. This may have something to do with the whistling sound the wind makes in the branches of the plane trees. This annoys her intensely.
'The Font' heads off to Toulouse with the big car. A chance to do some shopping while it's in for its annual service. All does not go to plan. The air traffic controllers, cab drivers, civil servants and school dinner ladies are on strike. The motorway spur into town blocked by abandoned taxis and protesting bureaucrats. Any hope of getting to the garage by 9.00 am evaporates amid the grid lock. A cab driver tells 'The Font' that the strike is '' all to do with them Hebrew drivers. Six hundred of the B*****s signed up in the last month alone. None of them pay tax ". After being challenged it emerges he means Uber drivers. The garage is very good. 'The Font' arrives at 11.00. They promise to reschedule the days work and have the car ready by close of business. This wouldn't have happened if Angus had been driving. The courtesy car is the most basic model imaginable. In fact it's so basic it's devoid of carpets . It also has Corsican registration plates. Corsicans are to French driving what Quebecois are to Canadian.
At the crossroads on the edge of the village the first of the daffodils make an appearance.
We pass a team of workmen taking the down the glass covers on the street lights. They wash the glass and replace the bulbs. Bob christens the tyres on their truck.
The workmen due to build the raised zebra crossing still haven't shown up. The mechanical digger remains parked by the churchyard. Madame Bay says the work on the new crossing was due to have finished last Friday.
Bob and Sophie are oblivious to the uncertainties of village life. In fact Bob and Sophie are oblivious to all uncertainties. Walks are taken, trips in the car made, food consumed, blackbirds chased, tickles received. To round off their day Lamb on a rope is savaged then hidden in the laurel hedge. Night falls but it doesn't get dark. The Old Farmers star on a pole continues to provide guidance to pilots descending towards Toulouse. The strings of Christmas lights around his gutters continue to shine. In the village hall window the garlands of gaudily coloured bulbs twinkle. Above it all the brightest of full moons. Here in deepest, deepest France profonde the festive illuminations are alive and well.
For Burns Night someone asked what was the most Scottish of all songs. This might just be it :
The unruly little eight year old tyke is up and about early. While waiting for the 7.40 am school bus he rattles the metal railings with a stick. To add to his enjoyment he rings the bell. This combination of rattling and the ding-dong of the bell 'electrifies' the PONs. The mornings much lighter now. We can venture out onto the lane without having to worry about the school secretary racing through the pre-dawn dark in her little Renault. At the 'S' bend at the top of the ridge the farmer is planting out onions. He stops and gets out of his tractor to say hello. Bob and Sophie sniff his boots. He says that cold weather is due to arrive next week.
Further down the hill the PONs disappear into a potato field. They reappear twenty yards further ahead. Bob looks over his shoulder to make sure I'm still there. Sophie charges on oblivious to everything other than the scent she's chasing. Down in the valley the house owned by the Spanish family remains locked up. It's been like this for a year. They're discovering that the love affair with a second home quickly fades.
Finally we're back at the front gate. Bob makes it clear he'd like a game of Throw the Furry Fox. He doesn't so much run round the garden as fly round it. Aren't dogs supposed to get tired ?
Sophie waits inside for 'The Font' to appear. If she plays her cards right she might get the end bit of a breakfast croissant - again.
A misty start to the day. The PONs are up early in search of moles. They dig enthusiastically. The moles hearing the rhino like thunder of snuffling PONs disappear. This in no way diminishes the angelic duo's enjoyment.
Bob and Sophie get into the back of the car. Bob drops his carrot. He has to get out of the car to retrieve it. Sophie follows him down. Bob gets back in the car. Sophie wanders off. Bob gets down again to find her. Sophie leaps up and liberates the slice of carrot that he's left behind. Bob spends five minutes looking for it. After Bob gets a replacement carrot we head off. None of this kerfuffle is conducted silently.
Not yet eight am and the PONs are already having a most wonderful day.
And here for a Sunday morning is something briskly Scottish : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBYVmnMFMtA. We used to have a flat facing the castle in Edinburgh. During the tattoo the sound of the pipes used to linger in the ears long after the last piper had gone.
Bob displays his skills at multi-tasking. He holds a piece of carrot in his mouth while simultaneously using PON ESP to ensure the rear door doesn't slam on his tail. His sister howls.
A large orange mechanical digger has been parked outside the church for three days. The mayor tells 'The Font' that a zebra crossing is being installed. Not just any zebra crossing but a raised zebra crossing. When asked where it's going to be built he waves his hand non-committaly in the direction of the war memorial. He adds '' The money's approved and in the budget ". The twenty cars that pass through the village each day will now have to watch out for non-existent pedestrians. Life in a French village.
Two stern looking police women at Paddington station. The sniffer dogs with them are having a whale of a time. The contrast between dogs and handlers makes me smile. No one told the dogs they have to be serious while on duty. On the plane a well known classical actor. As we deplane he stands next to me in the aisle. A chance to tell him that thirty years ago we saw him in London in Breaking the Code. A few weeks later he was sitting alone in a cafe in LA but British reserve prevented me from going over to say what a powerful performance it had been. A lost courtesy I've regretted. Now is my chance, three decades later, to put the matter right. He looks at me as if waiting for the punchline to this story. Perhaps something along the lines of the performance was so moving I gave up my day job and became a stage designer . '' That's all " I say to break the slightly embarassed silence. 'Oh ! How Kind. Thank you ' he replies clearly delighted that this conversation is over. These are exactly the same words I used when Madame Bay gave me a jar of pigs trotters in brine.
At the airport chairs that double up as instruments of torture. A narrow base and no back means you have to crouch in a fetal position if you don't want to fall off. Someone somewhere has decided that the travelling public shouldn't be allowed the luxury of comfort.
Dogs are supposed to get less emotional as they get older. This rule does not apply to PONs. In fact the reverse seems to hold true. Bob looks up from waving a large paw in front of the motion sensor on the arrival hall door to see me coming towards him. He throws his head back in a howl of delight. Not to be outdone his sister joins him. They both then turn on their backs and wait for a tickle. They squirm - a primary symptom of joy overload. 'The Fonts' greeting is less uninhibited.
Safely back at home Bob suggests a game of throw the Furry Fox. Sophie wonders if there are sausages in my bag.
Bob and Sophie are loaded into the car and driven to the airport. Angus is heading back to London for a memorial service. Or, to be more precise, two memorial services. Both former colleagues and each 43 ( or should that be a 'mere' 43 ? ). A task of duty rather than closeness. 'The Font' knowing neither,wisely, opts to stay at home.
One former colleague steps outside a restaurant for a cigarette and is found ten minutes later, sitting on the pavement, as if asleep. The other leaves two young daughters mid-breakfast and goes to the barn with a shotgun. The second the more shocking. One of those always cheerful types. A reminder that an overly jovial surface is no signifier of the burdens shouldered beneath.
Decorous English affairs. Primarily masculine congregations in uniforms of grey suits, white shirts and black ties. You can always tell the ex-rugby players in the congregation. To the horror of the clergy they sing 'Abide with Me' and 'Jerusalem' without inhibition, as if on the touch line. Today, the words thankfully the 'correct' ones. At the end the handshakes by the church door. The parents seem aged by the unanticipated. Standard words of condolence. '' He was such a kind and talented young man ". The 'such' emphasized. Hebrideans have at least that simple ' we go to sleep here and awaken there' attitude to death that has survived wars and pestilence. Sadly, I fear there is no such certainty at either of todays gatherings but much worry about mortgages and debt and tax bills.
A walk back through Georgian squares as night falls then several hours spent in the bar at Boodle's with old friends provides a rosier end to a rather dour afternoon. What the house claret lacks in sophistication it makes up for in cheer inducing robustness.
I can relax. Back at The Rickety Old Farmhouse Bob is on guard. There is no time off for the male PON who has an important job to do. The flock is in his care.
Unlike humans PONs don't need a cup of coffee to get their day started.
Why waste valuable time when you could be charging around with Furry Fox ?
The old wall pier that abuts the ox lane has developed a crack. It's also started to lean. The alternating drought followed by torrential rain has undermined the foundations. Later today I'll speak to the builder. Better to catch it before it falls down. Bob does his bit by carefully christening the base.
The Happy Holiday sign in the village hall window has been taken down. It's been replaced by a string of flashing blue, red and white lights. The 'cheery' handiwork of the couple that have moved into the apartment above the town hall ?
Even Bob and Sophie, who have a disregard for the elements shown only by those blessed with a double layered coat, opt to stay inside.
The little road lined with restaurants is being dug up. This is VERY exciting. Our progress towards the newsagents is undertaken at a ' Bob !!! Have you smelt this ? It's wonderful ! ' pace. The joy of drains, manhole covers, piles of sand and of course mud.
Then ten minutes later he stops to look at nothing in particular.
The PONs are loaded into the back of the car for a journey to the little market town. They are each given half a carrot. As I close the tailgate Bob looks up, opens his jaws and drops his carrot in front of him. Quick as a flash Sophie finishes her treat and liberates his. Ever trusting Bob can't understand what's happened to it.
A grand unveiling in the middle of town. Somehow half a dozen 13th century houses have managed to survive the round of wars and revolutions and are being restored. This morning the scaffolding is down and we can see them in their full glory. Quite what the municipality intends to do with them remains to be seen. The relatively modern 14th and 15th century houses around are considered two a penny and slide into gentle disrepair.
The cafe in the Square deserted. Bob and Sophie settle under a table. The French huddle inside in the warmth. The foreigner and his two woolly friends are the only ones to be found outside.
A display of hookahs in the tobacconists window. France profonde is changing.