Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Should auld acquaintance be forgot ?

New Years Eve. The house a hive of activity. Kilts unwrapped and pressed, tables set, cutlery found, then mislaid, then found again. Bob and Sophie's first experience of pre-Hogmanay chaos. Sporrans eyed warily.

Tripped over in the kitchen, chased out of the library, exiled from the dining room they finally settle on the staircase. Not the first generation of PON's to have watched Hogmanay preparations from the staircase. Different PON's, different staircases but on the stroke of midnight tonight they'll know they're family. " I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be " - PON wisdom.

And here's a New Year song which will be heard here at midnight.

A Good New Year to one and all from all of us in The Rickety Old Farmhouse. . 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Everything in life comes to you as a teacher. Pay attention. Learn quickly.

Not a good year for Buche de Noel. The young bakers display cabinet full of them. Priced at €44.95 each. He's rather optimistically made fifty and so far sold three.The austerity that's affected the rest of the world has been slow in coming to France. It has now now arrived. '' There's bound to be a rush on New Years Eve " says 'the font' brightly as the bakers wife wraps up a red fruit sponge. The young baker and his wife both shrug their shoulders in unison. Angus sees a Buche de Noel on tomorrow mornings shopping list.

A day without grooming and Bob and Sophie are looking particularly unkempt. A PON's winter coat is a thick and quickly tangled thing. Not that they are in the least bit bothered. They spend their morning digging holes and ineptly chasing blackbirds. A great start to the week.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.

Sophie is a free spirit. 19 kilos of condensed mischief. Not for her the worries and concerns that come with being top dog. Obeying commands? She leaves that to her big brother.

Sometimes when she runs across the lawn, three paws off the ground, head high, tail higher ; there's a sense she's in a private place where joy and life are completely intertwined.  And then, when you come to write it down, you realize that there are no words that can begin to describe her happiness. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.

Seven in the evening. The mayor pops in for a ' wee chat '. He brings with him the lady with the Marge Simpson hairdo and the man in the yellow reflective jacket . They settle in the drawing room.  It seems that the staff at the special needs school in the little market town have taken to driving through the village on  their way to work . Some of them are speeding . '' M'Ongoose ! There may be an accident " says the mayor. He repeats himself to make sure I've understood. The lady with the beehive hairdo sips her champagne and adds " we must think of the children ". The man in the yellow reflective jacket thinks speed cameras might be needed. Angus, unhelpfully, points out that the authorities might not want to install a speed camera for the twenty or so cars that use the lane every day. After a second glass of champagne our visitors leave. It seems more research is needed .

Bob and Sophie discover white truffles. They approve. In fact their attention is so intense you might believe they are Polish Lowland Truffling Dogs. Bob has that look that says that white truffle pasta is a staple of the PON diet. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fail, fail again, fail better.

Brussel sprouts for dinner with some slivers of turkey. Both bowls licked until they shine. Bob eats slowly, savouring every mouthful. Sophie adopts a more industrial approach. Six gulps and its gone. She does her plaintive ' you've forgotten to feed me ' routine. When this doesn't work she tries to steal some of her brothers food. This also doesn't work.  As a final resort she does her multi-octave dying diva act. This involves lying on her back with her feet in the air while simultaneously howling. She is ignored. There may be peace on earth but with Sophie around you can be sure there's no peace in the kitchen.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Resist much, obey little.

Christmas Eve mass. The one time the French go to church. The cafe under the arcades full of happy farmers waiting for the service to end and their devout spouses to reappear. Benignly ignored six year olds and farm dogs running riot. We find a table outside. A bottle of Cote du Rhone quickly follows. Bob and Sophie settle down on our feet as if this is the most natural thing in the world for them to be doing. Finally, the slot machines fall silent as the sound of ' Minuit ! Chretien ' ( can there be anything more French ? ), echoes out of the church. The high point of the year for ten thousand choirs and organists. The farmers join in; some hum, some whistle, most, stand and sing. Our waitress, wearing the plastic apron with the battery operated flashing Christmas tree, stops serving and joins them. The barman does the same. That magical moment when there is no such thing as a stranger. The France tourists go in search of. In a hundred years time the grandchildren of these six year olds will be doing the same thing.

As for Christmas day itself, nothing will move Sophie from the kitchen. Bob, as top dog,  is torn between staying by the stove and keeping an eye on his unruly flock. He settles on a Master of Ceremonies role which requires him being everywhere at once. Late in the day the noisy male pheasant makes a reappearance in the garden. The PON duo go wild.

Here's a little flavour of a French Christmas.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

This happy morning.

Bob and Sophie, despite a late night, are awake at seven. Somehow they sense a day of great adventures ahead. 

A neon sign of sun just rising as we follow the ox track down the hill to the stream. Two carefree sheepdogs chase trout, ineptly, in the frigid water while a herd of deer and an inquisitive hare look on. Absolute silence bar the sound of water tumbling over the small waterfall, a busy woodpecker  and Sophie's squeals of joy. High up in the shelter of the walnut trees a large, amiable, eagle owl; a gravity defying mass of feathers. The French,so much better at bird names than the English, call these feathered aristocrats Grand-Ducs. Local farmers say they live for 60 years.

As we turn to retrace our steps home a Christmas morning rainbow, brilliant against the clouds. Dogs and owner stop, heads trained skywards. Natures reminder to keep hold of what is important. When we get back the house is still quiet . It remains quiet until Bob and Sophie notice two scruffy dogs in the mirror on the stairway. They greet the interlopers enthusiastically.

A very happy Christmas to you all from everyone here in deepest , deepest France profonde.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Their watch of wondering love.

A male pheasant decides to roost in the laurel hedge . There's something about it's trumpeting that drives the PON's into a frenzy of activity. Two uninterrupted hours of charging through branches in search of this noisy intruder. Our canine guardians look at ground level. It doesn't occur to them that the unconcerned pheasant is sitting  preening himself in the sunshine on top of the hedge. Exhausted, the PON duo sleep all afternoon.

The Christmas crib retrieved from the basement. Wise men. sour looking angels, shepherds, the boy with a bird, Mary and the lady in the blue dress. We bought it in Prague thirty years ago. Every Christmas we wonder what could possibly have happened to Joseph. Is the lady in the blue dress the mother in law ?

Monday, December 23, 2013

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Pre-Christmas grooming day for Bob and Sophie. PON's have two coats. A thick, harsh, outer one and a soft, down like, inner one. Perfect protection for Polish winters. The good thing about PON's as a breed is they don't moult , so they don't leave a trail of hair as they career through the house. The bad news is they require a thorough grooming once a week and preferably a daily run through with a brush to get out the tangles, twigs and dried on mud.

Sophie adores being groomed. A chance for her to be the undisputed centre of attention. She can hardly wait to get on the grooming table. Bob, by contrast, views grooming as something to be endured. He comports himself in stoic silence. Within three minutes both look as though they've never seen a brush in their lives. Muddy noses are permanent features on these two little angels.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Le drapeau ecossais .

We arrive late. The second village Christmas party in full swing. The depressive physiotherapist providing background music on his accordion. Tonight he's been joined by a friend with a Hammond Organ. The two of them wearing ill fitting dinner jackets and clip on bow ties.You can tell their 'clip ons' because one side of the organists bow tie has come unclipped. The loose end flaps around in time with the beat.

We've missed the fish soup and the chicken and prunes. However, we are in time for the unveiling of the ' traditional ' Scottish trifle. This is contained in a large, black, enamelled dish which has pride of place on a trestle table by the kitchen door. The silver foil, when it is removed reveals a pale green topping with what appear to be large Chinese letters piped on top. '' This must make you feel at home ! " says the mayors wife somewhat mysteriously. " Le drapeau ecossais " adds a smiling Madame Bay. Angus decides that it would be churlish to point out that neither the colour nor the design resemble the Scottish flag. These after all are mere details in the scheme of things.

A traditional Scottish trifle, a la Sud Ouest, is a  Creme de Menthe coloured Creme Chantilly topping over Creme de Cacao infused sponge. Texture is provided by a layer of plums. Angus , unsure of quite how to respond to this assault on his taste buds, comes out with a " just like my mother used to make it ". From the smiles and laughter of the ladies of the  Beautiful Bye Ways Committee this was the right answer. '' Very traditional " adds 'the font' for good measure. How kind these strangers are.

On our way back across the village green 'the font' wonders how many Hebridean cooks, fifty years ago, would have had Creme de Cacao as a staple of their larder.  

This morning Bob and Sophie are up and out at first light. They are keen to get their 'traditional' half croissant at the cafe under the arcades.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

To see far is one thing, going there is another.

Scottish summer weather. Warm in the sun, decidedly chill out of it. Bob and Sophie in full on play mode. The morning spent chasing thrushes ; the afternoon spent 'helping' Loic the gardener sweep up the leaves.

Madame Bay appears at the front door. A festive sight in red turban, matching pashmina, tartan leggings and knee length green boots. Rather like one of Santa's little helpers, only not so little. The ladies of the Beautiful Bye Ways Committee are in the village hall kitchen busily preparing for tonight's ( second ) Christmas party . Madame Bay has come in search of creme de cacoa. '' We're making a traditional Scottish trifle ". For once 'the font' is rendered speechless.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The things that make me different are the things that make me .

Off to the garden centre for a Christmas tree. We always have a Christmas tree. Usually one that's at least 12 feet tall and will barely fit through the front door. A special time of the year when Angus, armed with a large glass of Gods amber nectar, deals with face slapping branches, missing light bulbs, wobbly step ladders and falling ornaments.

The arrival of the two little angels with their boundless energy and their '' if it's within reach, chew it " attitude to life means a rethink. Glass baubles, electrical cable and enticing branches the stuff of dog owners nightmares.

By this time last year all the big trees had gone from the garden centre.This year the place is full of large trees but the small ones have all been sold. All, that is, apart from the top of a large tree that has had an accident and snapped off. We pay the large tree price ( ' do you want it monsieur or not ? ' says the less than charming check out lady when I quibble about the price ) and head  home with our three and a half foot pine.

'' It looks very jolly " comments 'the font' when the tree is unveiled. Damned with faint praise ? Bob and Sophie are so far undecided as to how to respond to this new addition to the house.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

'The font' in London for a small thumb operation. The hospital friendly and efficient. The whole process a delight, or as much of a delight as a small thumb operation can be. Everything arranged within 24 hours. Reading the newspapers you'd think that Britain, or for that matter France, have become sour, complaining, places. The people and the reality quite different.

Bob and Sophie spend the day in the garden with Angus trimming the wisteria above the front door. They get up early and go to bed late. A bacon sandwich the highlight of their day.  When 'the font' returns at midnight they're both in a deep sleep. Bob wakes briefly, barks twice and then settles down again. 'The font' comes in through the door on the upstairs terrace so as not to disturb them. Bob will be reunited with his pack at breakfast later this morning. An emotional reunion can be guaranteed. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.

Not a soul to be seen. The sun just rising behind the churchyard, the moon still high over the mountains. Bob and Sophie sprint down the lane to the old Roman Fort before heading down across the fields to the valley. They're watched from the walnut groves by deer; a large white rumped female and a gaggle of adolescents. For some reason, the mild winter perhaps, the deer are much more numerous and less fearful this year.

At the stream Bob clambers over the small waterfall and heads off in search of adventure. He's soon head down, staring intently at the small trout that flit backwards and forwards on the sandy river bed. Then he lunges. He does this with all the subtlety of a small furry hippopotamus. The small fish scatter. Bob picks himself up, stares intently into the water and repeats the whole process. Over and over and over.  Refraction a concept too time consuming to understand. His sister forgets her loathing of water and rushes off to join him. She lets out a whimper, half of excitement, half of delight.  I find myself, as I so often do, laughing out loud. PON's, it would have to be said, are not natural fishermen.

There used to be a time when I took our dogs out for a walk. A chore that needed to be squeezed into the day. Now I walk with them. A chance to look at a canine world that's full of mud and adventure. A place of happiness and peace with a bit more happiness squeezed in for good measure. Dogs know exactly why the world was made. Absent the mud it's what humans might call heaven.