Friday, February 28, 2014

A ship in port is safe but that's not what ships are built for.

'The font' is at the passport office by Victoria Station at 6.30 in the morning. The new passport is ready three hours later. Cost €150. Anglo-Saxon efficiency. By contrast there is still no sign of the French driving license.

Angus gets a recorded delivery letter. '' That doesn't look good " says the Post Lady. He's been clocked by a police camera doing 55 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. Who knew there was a speed limit on the slip road between the motorway and the toll booth ? €90 fine and 4 points off the license for being 10% over the official limit. The first time he's been docked in thirty years. Archly irritating. How the loss of points will work with the non-existent French license remains to be seen.

It's windy. Bob and Sophie clamber up onto the old table in the garden and sing.  They throw their heads back and treat us all to the full PON chorus. A day for howling wind and howling PON's. They also sing in delight when they collect 'the font' at the airport.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Appreciate everything that you have

Madame Bay appears at first light. She has found an old watercolour painting of the house. The palm tree has grown to at least twice the size shown, so it must have been done at least forty years ago. '' There wasn't so much traffic then " says the saintly septuagenarian with a sigh. This uncharacteristically maudlin tone of voice may have something to do with a large, fresh, dent that has appeared on the rear driver side wing of the gold metallic 'Wild Child' voiturette. It almost matches the old, still unrepaired, dent on the front passenger side caused by a wayward lamppost in the supermarket car park.

The warm weather has brought the builders out of hibernation. Work on the German billionaires garage once again feverishly underway. Bob looks on in silence as a large truck delivers the elevator that will whisk cars from the garages lower levels to the floors above. He carefully picks his way home, en route chosing to walk through every muddy puddle he can find.

In the afternoon a trip to check out a local kennels . Always a useful thing to have in case of emergencies.The kennels aren't the Ritz but they're clean and the people that run it seem sensible. Bob spends an hour on the 'dressage' course with the kennels owner. Weaving through traffic cones and old car tyres a source of evident delight. Sophie sits this out. She's not going to let just anyone hold her lead.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf.

Nine o'clock. The plumber arrives at the front door.  He's not expected. '' Just passing and wondered if there was anything that needed doing ? ". At the Rickety Old Farmhouse there is always something ' that needs doing '. Bob and Sophie find the plumbers shoes to be a source of great interest. An olfactory delight.

The plumber finishes as the satellite man arrives. Two old dishes are taken down and replaced with a single, larger, one. We can get the BBC news again. He charges €200  which seems reasonable considering he's been clambering on the roof for an hour. The satellite man, somewhat half heartedly, tries to interest me in a subscription for Sky - €75 a month. '' That includes the sport ".  Bob and Sophie discover that if you stand on an old satellite dish it rocks. This keeps them occupied for all of ten minutes. Rockin' Pons.

Finally, it's the turn of the oil man. We've used  4,000 litres of heating oil since October. 'The font' thinks this reasonable for a 9,000 square foot house. Angus thinks it's extortionate. Bob and Sophie aren't allowed to say hello to the oil man . Heating oil and furry coats are not a combination made in heaven. They bark in frustration.

A summer storm blows up. Blue skies one minute, battle ship grey clouds the next. Lightning. Lots of lightning. Bob doesn't notice. Sophie does. She runs inside in a panic. There is an incident in the hallway. Our first 'incident' in four months. It's soon mopped up.

Out for the ten at night 'pit stop'. Sophie finds a hedgehog in the garden. This is a cause of great delight. Bob, being the strong silent type makes no noise. Sophie does her deliriously happy dying pig scream and alerts the whole village to her find.

Just another 'quiet' day in deepest, deepest, France profonde.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If we believe that tomorow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

To say the Very Old Farmer and the mayor do not get on would be an understatement. In fact the words 'mutual loathing' would be a poor reflection of their antipathy towards each other.

This animosity stretches back many years and, quite possibly, many generations. The most recent conflict was over the mayors decision to distribute bottled water to all the pensionable age villagers during the heat wave of 2012. The Very Old Farmer somehow imagined that as an old soldier all the water was for him and that the mayor was actually selling off the rest or '' letting that fancy woman at the crossroads have it ". That ' fancy woman at the crossroads ' being the little old widow in the orange crimplene housecoat.

We are reminded of the feud on our morning walk. The Village Fleuri Committee are toiling away on the gardens in front of the church. The lady on the lawn tractor has inadvertently started work on ground that belongs to the Very Old Farmer. This results in a twitching of the net curtains followed by a window being flung open. '' You can't bring your machines onto my land. It's mine not the mayors ! ". The 'not the mayors !' is followed by some linguistic flourishes that are best left untranslated. The lawn tractor beats a hasty retreat.

So it is that the whole village will be spruced up in readiness for the national floral village championships. All the village that is bar the strip of ground next to the Very Old Farmers house. This remains a wilderness of long grass, overgrown shrubs and rusting iron. A mayor free zone. Sophie finds this rustic wilderness a delight.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.

Another sunny day. Bob digs, Sophie finds something unmentionable to chew. Pilgrims get barked at. The PON duo learn to shelter from the sun under a bench. Muddy noses get washed.

After lunch Sophie settles down for a doze in the kitchen. There's roast chicken for dinner. Bob heads off with me to the rugby game. After ten minutes he's asleep, head on my lap. He's recently started to snore, loudly, when he's in a deep sleep. This is a deep sleep. On our way home we stop off at McDonalds by the motorway tollbooth for a coffee. He gets a bowl full of water. The table next to us have ordered a McFarmer. Bob eyes it, and the occupants of the table, adoringly. As we leave he casts longing looks back in their direction. An early lesson in dealing with disappointments.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Where does a thought go when it's forgotten ?

Heavy rain overnight but the new day dawns bright and fair. By the time we've reached the old roman road the sky is blue and the sun hinting at warmth ahead. Sophie glares at two Coypus paddling contentedly along a water filled roadside ditch. Their sheer audacity renders her, for once, barkless.

Bob is oblivious to birds ( apart from the blackbirds he chases in the laurel hedge ) but his sister will sit, head turned skywards, carefully following the passage of herons and egrets and eagles. This morning she watches a new Airbus, on a proving flight high above the valley, turn in a half circle  before soaring soundlessly away. She sits lost in the wonder of this miracle until it's long out of sight. Bob, not one for reflection, wades, knee deep, through the water looking for fish. Disappointed, he finds a pile of old walnut shells and munches happily away.

On our way home we meet the Old Farmer. Fur hat with ear flaps, cut off dressing gown doubling as a jacket, string vest, pyjama trousers and green wellington boots.  '' I'm thinking of going to Brazil " he announces without so much as a 'Bonjour' of introduction. 'Why ? ' I find myself asking in sheer amazement. The Old Farmer looks at me with that half pitying look that the French reserve for foreigners and then says very slowly, "they're holding the Olympics there the year after next ".

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The years teach much which the days never knew.

The climbing rose at the front door,  painstakingly trained to grow twenty feet up into the wisteria, has had an accident. The stem and the root have somehow become severed.  Sophie is found lying on the kitchen floor contentedly chewing on a three foot long length of rose stem. A look of sublime achievement written on her face.  Coincidence ?  

'' It will grow again " says 'the font '. This is a philosophy of life that is much employed in the Rickety Old Farmhouse. The philosophy does not , however, work for rugs or shoes or curtains or laundry. These do not 'grow again '. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

If you have crazy friends you have everything.

The 'exotic' food section at the supermarket being restocked. Steak Sauce and Peanut Butter among the delicacies appearing on the shelves.The Peanut Butter comes in two varieties - Arkansas Creamy and Mississippi Crunchy. Would anyone in America know what Arkansas Creamy is ? Or, for that matter, Mississippi Crunchy ?

Cloudy and warm. 60 something degrees. Bob has a long leisurely paddle in the stream. The humidity wreaks havoc on Sophie's hair. A bad hair day extraordinaire. Soon, if the weather holds, a major haircut may be called for.

A family of wild boar wander through the village. A huge male starts to dig up the grass on the village green. From a distance the little ones and their protective mother look sweet. Every dog within a two mile radius starts to howl. Bob and Sophie are no exception.Thankfully, by ten thirty, they are thoroughly worn out and sleep soundly until dawn. Wonders never cease.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.

Two 'street dogs' at the market. It's wet and they're sheltering under the concrete stairs next to the elevator. Their master , a gaunt, dread locked, young man in his early twenties standing collecting coins in an old tobacco tin. A length of rope wound round the dogs collars and tied to a rucksack . As I pass, the two dogs leap to their feet and come rushing over. They rub their heads against my legs and stand, heads held high, while each gets a tickle behind the ears and a quick word of encouragement.  Why this sudden interaction ? A dogs need for love and companionship ? Or just a greeting for a passing 'dog person ' ? Their eyes speak volumes. The young man gets a €2 coin, the street dogs a small bag of kibbles we had in the back of the car.

It's taken ten months of experimentation but Sophie has discovered that if she sleeps on the staircase she can monitor everyone that comes in and out of the house.  This makes her a very happy sheepdog.

Two inconsequential events. Too unimportant for a diary but a reminder that life is constructed through these 'little'  moments that shouldn't go completely unrecorded.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

There are two great days in a persons life. The day we are born and the day we discover why.

February 18th. The Old Farmer finally starts to dismantle his Christmas Star. Bob and Sophie lend him loud and frequent  encouragement from their vantage point in the garden.

At lunchtime the mayor arrives at the garden gate. He has three spare ' 2014 - Seasonal Scenes from the Churchyard ' Calendars. '' Perhaps you could send them to friends in Scotland ? ". He says this in a tone of voice that implies autumnal churchyard scenes might be a subject that Presbyterians would particularly enjoy.

To the fish market for Sea Bass. Bob and Sophie are kept in the back of the car. The smell of fresh fish enhances their already unbridled enthusiasm for life. 

Amid the chaos of events in Kiev this video of a piper stands out :

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I'm not telling you it's going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it.

Bright sunshine. Just like a Scottish summers day - not too hot, not too cold. Perfect weather for long walks with the irrepressible PON duo. Around us the fields freshly ploughed and sown. Spring on the way.

After our morning trip into town, Bob goes in search of worms. He digs half a dozen holes along the drive. Each time he finds a worm he happily brings it over to show me. He then turns his attention to repositioning a standard rose . Finally, he empties the flowerpots of soil and whatever might have been growing in them. Time for a nap.

Sophie loves prawn risotto more than anything else. We know this because she's clambered head first into the dishwasher looking for the Pyrex bowl that held the prawns. Her tail left sticking out. ''Outrageous" says ' the font ' before dissolving into laughter. When it comes to food Sophie is completely fearless. 

Perhaps today's header should be the motto of all dog owners .

Monday, February 17, 2014

The first committee meeting.

Sophie and 'the font' head off across the village green to the first meeting of the Beautiful Bye Ways Committee. Two items on the agenda. 1) The 2014 Pottery Fair and 2) the Floral Village Competition. The full cast of characters are there. The little lady with the broad brimmed purple hat, the woman with the Marge Simpson beehive hairdo , the man in the day glo jacket who does 'interventions', various farmers, the depressive physiotherapist and Madame Bay in a red velvet turban secured at the front by a large piece of purple costume jewellery.

Faced with an hour and a half of tedium most dogs would curl up asleep under a table. Not Sophie. She wanders across the floor of the Salle des Fetes and leaps up onto the small wooden stage . She then turns on her side, settles down and starts snoring. At nine thirty she wakes up, leaps off the platform and wanders back over to 'the font'. This proves to be an excellent time for 'the font' to make excuses and leave. Sophie has already learnt that a PON girl should be two things : Classy and Fabulous.