Friday, October 31, 2014

“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

Grey and cold. The biting wind a reminder that there is nothing between Berlin and Siberia bar five thousand kilometres of fir trees. A quick trip into the cathedral, not out of piety, but in search of warmth. Quite possibly the worlds ugliest building, both inside and out.

Coffee with an old friend in the Hackeschen Hofe. At night this is the 'hip' centre of Berlin. First thing in the morning it's quiet, the few early morning office workers wrapped up against the chill. Nothing quite like catching up with old friends but all too soon his phone is chirruping away like a lusty starling. The Christmas decoration shop has a wonderful ornament in the window. The shop doesn't open until lunchtime. I jot down their website. 

Back through the wartime Jewish ghetto. Paris wears its history lightly, Berlin doesn't. Brass plaques set into the pavement commemorate those who were deported. Herbert Budzliawski made it to 23 before being arrested . Further along the road a monument to the former inhabitants of these buildings. The plinth covered in stones. Do I remember reading that leaving stones is a Jewish sign of mourning ?

Sophie lets out a squeal of joy when she sees me. The three soldiers with machine guns patrolling the arrivals hall look at her. Bob is unaware that I'm home. He is using a large furry paw to trigger  the motion detector that makes the hissing doors hiss . A boy has to do what a boy has to do.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Boy is it cold.

Half term. The schools are closed for two weeks. Everything in town is shuttered for the holidays. The cafe under the arcades included. The florists facing the church is open but there are no takers for her chrysanthemums.

At the barbers Bob settles down under the sickly aspidistra. Can he sense an earlier presence ? I tell the barber I'm off on business. '' You'll need it short then " he says. 'Not too short' I reply. Bob barks when the barber approaches me with a cut throat razor. " You got your money's worth there " says 'the font' when reviewing the barbers handiwork.

Time to put on the going away shoes. The PON duo give me the '' and what do you think you're up to " stare. They get a trip to the airport. A chance for Bob to play with the magic sliding plate glass doors that hiss.

The hotel in Berlin a mix of architectural styles. The faux marble Corinthian columns in the lobby a travesty - they should be twenty feet higher. More stump than column. Architecture Harry Potter style. The American men in dark suits are all identically dressed in chinos, blazers, blue button down shirts and brown shoes. Angus thinks of commenting on this uniformity but decides against it. Free spiritedness is clearly not considered a corporate virtue . 

On Potsdamer Platz a bakery with very un-French patisserie. Boy is it cold. Back tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How can I work with these animals around ?

Caroline, the ever unhappy cleaning lady, arrives at eight. This is the cue for Angus and Sophie to head off leaving 'the font' and Bob to deal with her litany of complaints. As we close the gate I can hear a conversation about dog hair. ' It's really not good enough. How can I work with these animals around ? '. 'The font' has decided that Caroline brings out the Grizzly Bear in Angus and that the less interface between the two the better. 

There are wild boar about so Sophie is kept on her lead. Not that this bothers her. She's just happy to be sniffing and nosing in the long grass. We've not had rain in a month so the fields are now looking decidedly parched. 

At the churchyard we bump into the mayor and his wife. They're tidying the graveyard in readiness for All Souls Day. The mayor's in a short sleeved shirt ( it's still in the 70's), grey crimplene trousers, open toed sandals and red tartan pork pie hat . His wife is dressed in what appears to be a tweed jacket with matching plus fours. Closer inspection shows that it's a check cardigan of voluminous proportions with black tracksuit trousers tucked into a pair of brown wellington boots. They wave their respective trowels at Sophie. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Indecorous ? Moi ?

For Sophie an action packed day. Well, action packed if you're a 21 month old PON princess. A brisk walk from the car park to the cafe under the arcades followed by a tail wagging hello to the waitress bearing the illicit half croissant. Before lunch there's time to race round the garden, nap, play tug of war with an oaf of a brother, savage aforementioned brother, nap some more, then play touch rugby in the upstairs hallway. After that a girl has to do what a girl has to do. Sleep. Oh, and snore. Indecorous ?

Late in the evening the angelic duo unearth a very large and very prickly hedgehog in the orchard. Bob discovers that prickly + nose = painful. He lets the whole village know that life is not fair. His muzzle is carefully checked and lashings of love are doled out. 'The font' explains to him this is what happens when you live life in the fast lane. He looks unconvinced but finally settles. Sophie has very sensibly headed off into the kitchen at the first hint of danger. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Normal service resumed.

70 degree temperatures and blue skies. A reminder, if any was needed, of the pleasures of living in southern France.

The two PON's safely collected from the kennels. Sophie hurtles out of the pen and into the back of the car. Her feet barely touch the ground. Big brother Bob stops to say a noisy goodbye to Bacchus the Labrador and Mo and Jo a pair of improbably named King Charles Spaniels. Sophie's weight has stayed the same. Bob has lost half a pound. 

An hour spent checking that the garden and orchards are safe. Then twenty minutes of tug-of-war with a debuttoned flannel shirt. Finally it's time to settle down under the table on the terrace for some roast chicken followed by a carrot and a long, long nap.

Normal PON service resumed.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A serious affair.

On our morning walk Bob stops and stares at the sun reflected in the windows of the old garage. One of those '' Blimey ! I've never seen that before " moments. We stay there until it's fully risen and out of sight. We also stop at a football that some children have left on the lawn outside the town hall. This is an object of some concern. We don't go until I've kicked it . As we leave he glances over his shoulder three times to make sure the footballs not following us. A walk is a very serious affair when you're 21 months old. Finally, the fire hydrant is carefully christened. 

In the afternoon we wander down to the pilgrim chapel by the stream. Bob and Sophie chase birds in the hedgerows. The birds have nothing to fear. 

'The font' is joining me on a trip to see men in dark suits. Bob and Sophie are off to the kennels for a brief 'holiday'. 

And here's the design for the new Norwegian 100 Kroner note. What do you think of the obverse side ?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A look that says it all.

It's half term. The cafe under the arcades closed. The only sign of life the greengrocer perched on the front wing of his car texting his wife. He looks up as we pass and says ' quiet this morning ' before returning to what he was doing . The cafe cat wanders up to me as if to say 'where is everyone ?'. A little French market town can be very quiet indeed. Where could the beer and absinthe crowd have gone ?

Sophie plays in the garden. She hasn't quite got the hang of sharing things with her brother. She's a believer in the old rule ' what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine '. Bob, who has had his tail nipped, gives her a look that says it all. He finally settles down in the doorway well away from his troublesome sister.

Just another day in deepest France profonde.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A consolation for what ails the world.

Too much wheat in their diet disagrees with PON's. They develop skin irritations. Manic ear scratching the most common sign. Bread, biscuits and the illicit morning half croissant (shared) kept strictly under control. Thankfully, the little angels consider rice cakes to be a wonderful reward for their rare moments of good behaviour. If only humans were as easy to please.

On the supermarket shelves rows of halal sweets ( didn't know they existed ). Even more bizarrely packets of Hershey's cookies and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups displayed on the Asian specialty foods counter. For most of the locals Hershey's might as well be Chinese.

We head off for a walk by the river. As we get to the car park there's a mini bus unloading a group from the special needs home. I recognize the young teacher in the primary school - one of the local rugby players. He's walking with an elderly and very disturbed lady. Hearing the dogs he glances up briefly, gives a smile of recognition, then turns back to his companion. They walk away slowly. He six foot three, she five foot nothing. His arm draped protectively and tenderly around her shoulders. A model of  unwavering attention. In a world that's always worried about something - Ebola, terrorism, the economy  -  a reminder that kindness is alive and well. This makes me smile.

Monday, October 20, 2014

La Fievre du Dimanche Soir

The final day of the petanque tournament. Scores of visitors descend on our little corner of paradise. After lunch Angus is told to go out and socialize. He doesn't recognize anyone apart from the Belgian lady who ( against all planning regulations ) has converted the garage by the town hall into a bijoux retreat. The Belgian lady has a ferociously bad tempered Pekingese that tries to disrupt the nearest petanque game. The Pekingese gets sworn at. Angus leaves.

Seven o'clock. Time to dismantle the beer tent. A shout of '' Lads ! There's another keg here that we'll need to finish off " echoes from outside the Salle des Fetes. The dismantling is a lengthy process that has not been completed by the time the 'gala' dinner starts. 

Last night it was Crazy Ed. Tonight it's 'Wilbur' , a gentleman in his forties wearing a blue ruched sparkly satin shirt, black flares and red patent leather shoes. He, and the two young ladies in blue sequined tank tops and black leggings, start their 'La Fievre du Dimanche Soir' performance at ten. By this stage of the evening the local farmers are  in  a 'tired and emotional' state.  Wilbur wisely sticks to smoochy ballads. The local farmers join in, enthusiastically. Their wives look unimpressed.

And here , for those who remember the early 80's, is a flavour of Wilbur's repertoire ,

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A hard act to follow.

Overnight a wind has blown the acorns from the oak trees. The road and verges carpeted in them. Bob decides they're a delicacy.

The Village Square a hive of activity. The petanquers are covering the cracked tarmac with a layer of fine pea gravel. Bob stands on his stump seat observing. He has an old tee shirt in his mouth. This does little to enhance his 'ferocious' image. It doesn't do much for his bark either.

Crazy Ed and his band start to play at 11.30. By this time they are well lubricated. Crazy Ed is dressed in black leather trousers and a black leather jacket. The jacket is left unbuttoned. This is perhaps unwise in a gentleman of his age. Despite their advancing years the bands style is enthusiastic. '' It's Saturday night fever time !! " Crazy Ed informs us while pirouetting on the stage. We circulate and then slip quietly away. In the small hours the music is still going strong. The sound has an immediacy that the walls of the Salle des Fetes, the village green  and the shutters of the rickety old farmhouse fail to diminish. Bob  howls when the last of the revelers slam their car doors shut at four. Why do people feel the need to honk their car horns at that time of the morning ?

Tonight 'Wilbur' will be playing at the end of tournament bal de disco. Crazy Ed will be a hard act to follow. 

And here is another gentleman dressed like Crazy Ed.