A wonderful World of Disney style start to the day. Ten young deer standing in a line in the field by the crossroads. The early morning sun rising behind them. They're completely unconcerned by our presence. We stand with the PON's and stare. The deer look back. One of those simple, joyful moments.
Hogmanay chaos. The kilt unwrapped and pressed. Sporran found, then lost. A lantern set out in the courtyard ready to guide travellers to the door. Logs for the fire. A 'wee dram' decanted for the magic hour.
To one and all a wish from everyone here at the Rickety Old Farmhouse for a peaceful, prosperous and healthy 2015. Whatever the New Year brings may you always have a sheepdog ( or a brace of them ) to guard your door .
Someone has set up a 'New Years Party ' mannequin in the supermarket. It commands pride of place by the cash tills. A spot where three year olds can look at it and develop phobias while their mothers load up the shopping trolley.
The invitation to Chateau Opulent said 'black tie'. Our Muscovite host greets us in white tail coat and trousers with matching shirt and shoes. A red cummerbund and bow tie enliven the ensemble. A memorable combination.
We were supposed to go in the big 4x4 but at the last minute Angus can't find the keys so we go in the Skoda. The security men read our invitation closely. Very closely. They look at Angus in a way that suggests they think he's here to serve the canapes.
The weekends wet weather has been replaced by bright sunshine and frigid temperatures. Minus 10 this morning. Something in Bob and Sophie's DNA considers this to be prefect weather for doing pretty much everything. They come in for lunch and again for dinner but spend the rest of their day outside - digging, barking at passing tractors and basking on the wooden garden table.
Through the day Sophie sports her '' Cold ! You think this is cold ? " expression. Bob is too busy chasing invisible things to sport any expression other than that of unalloyed happiness.
Just another day in deepest, deepest France profonde.
This clever albeit a little unsettling : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhg7Xm4FXAY
The fresh Cranberries in the supermarket already being sold at half price. The inhabitants of deepest France profonde clearly unimpressed by fancy foreign imports.
The air traffic controllers aren't on strike. Nor are the airport check-in staff. Uncharacteristically most of the French population ( doctors and EasyJet crew excepted ) seem to be working.
Bob plays with the sliding door at the airport. Sophie glares at the armed soldiers. When they return home they dig and bark .
After an hour rearranging the lawns Bob comes into the kitchen looking disheveled. Sophie looks frightful.
Tonight is the night of the Russian billionaires New Year concert. The invitation says 'black tie'. Angus would prefer to stay at home and slump in front of the fire with a bottle of Pomerol and a good book. 'The Font' says we can't be standoffish. How standoffish you can be with Russian billionaires ?
It rains. Not just the sort of heavy rain that keeps you indoors but the sort of downpour that could have been sent to try Job. Why is it that early morning ' open the door and let them out ' walks take three minutes on a dry morning but twenty minutes when it's pouring and very muddy ?
The lady at the the bakers has made too many chocolate logs. This morning she's sliced them up and is attempting to sell them as individual portions. We resist the temptation.
The rain continues all day. The clouds unloading all the water they've picked up on their long journey across the Atlantic . Bob and Sophie sit silently staring at us : '' What a lovely day for a leisurely walk across the fields ".
No Christmas would be complete without some part of the Rickety Old Farmhouse having a 'moment'. This year the shower in the farthest guest bedroom springs a leak. The leak turns into a trickle, then a torrent. Buckets lined up in the cellar below. Amazingly, the emergency plumber shows up within an hour. Bob stands and watches him at work. This plumber is clearly a farm boy. He tousles Bob's whiskers and tells him '' Stop barking. You're over excited ". Bob does. When the plumber is finished and gone the male PON wanders back into the breakfast room to tell us everything is once again safe. Sophie has stayed near the bacon croissants.
The weather forecast said it would be a cold,wet day with torrential downpours. It turns out be to be bright and sunny.
A sale of brassicas in the wrought iron market hall. We buy a 5 kilo bag of brussel sprouts. '' Picked this very morning " says the farmer . Some cynics believe the local farmers actually buy their products in the local supermarket, repackage them and sell them on at a profit to gullible foreigners. This I'm sure is expat folklore.
The sun brings out some pilgrims in search of the Holy Well. Sophie greets each and every one. Exhausted having guarded her house and flock, she falls asleep. She snores.
Turkey curry for dinner. The family diva settles in the kitchen to oversee its preparation. People can come and find her if they want. Bob stands at the front door. Every inch the host. A look on his face that says " Assieds-toi confortablement " . What contrasting canine characters.
A day of high octane excitement. Every present carefully examined by cold wet noses. Wrapping paper shredded and then dragged off to unseen nooks and crannies. Ribbons leisurely gummed until they form small gelatinous balls . Caroline the 'unhappy' cleaning lady is going to have a field day.
Bob plays the role of host. In and out of the drawing room, up and down the stairs, a picture of conviviality as the champagne is poured. His sister takes up residence in the kitchen. Why socialize when there's turkey around ?
Christmas Day ends with the electronic chiming system in the church belfry suffering some kind of malfunction. Everything is as it should be until six in the evening whereupon it starts to chime maniacally. Sixteen chimes ( twice ) and a peel at seven. Seventeen chimes and two peels at eight. At eight thirty the man in the day glo yellow jacket opens up the church. The lights go on, the system is disconnected, the chimes stop. It proves to be a silent night.
Bob and Sophie would like to stay up for the festivities but by ten they're out for the count. Shepherding an unruly herd is hard work.
They may not know its Christmas but from all the activity in the house they recognize that today is something special. Angus is woken by a cold wet nose poking under the duvet. A second colder and wetter nose follows shortly after. PON's have no idea of what 'a morning after the night before' means. They've waited patiently until 07.15 and then taken an executive decision to get their day started.
Christmas is a time when you either have too little or too much milk. We have too little. A quick trip to the 24 hour store. Three chickens have gone inside. A fourth, fearful of the sliding doors, waits outside.
The dining room and the drawing room are out of bounds to PON's. Assuming everyone is too busy to notice they creep in. Bob looks sheepish. Sophie adopts her ' I''m only here because my brother's here ' look.
There will be Turkey and gravy and sprouts and potatoes later. Amazingly, the angelic duo consider brussel sprouts to be the height of culinary sophistication. For the time being they are focused on the pile of bacon croissants on the breakfast table.
Happy Christmas to one and all. And here as a reminder that German television operates in a separate universe is a cheerful Teutonic Christmas greeting : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRB8aMl_Hok
Sophie starts her day attacking a toy bought for 50 cents from the 'odds and ends' section of the dog aisle at the supermarket. It has a resilience lacking in toys fifty times the price.
At the cafe under the arcades the waitress is wearing her plastic apron with the battery powered flashing Christmas tree. Bob eyes it suspiciously before starting his illicit half croissant.
The beer and absinthe crowd are nowhere to be seen. They've moved across the square to the market hall to watch a pair of elves put up a trestle table. Today is the day Santa Claus comes to visit the under-eights. The bibulous clearly feel they're included. Father Christmas pointedly ignores the lady in the pom pom slippers, blue dressing gown and curlers attempts to engage him in conversation.
As we head off we come face to face with a rather fine old horse pulling a trailer containing twenty or so excited little ones. Adults may adopt a world weary cynicism when it comes to Christmas but children don't. Bob and Sophie watch silently as they pass. Sophie positions herself behind my legs. One three year old is sucking his thumb in a way that indicates he's not entirely happy at being dragged along at such speed by a wild beast. The old horse would be delighted to know he's considered a 'wild beast'.
After such excitement the only thing for a PON to do is return home, check to see if anyone's dropped anything interesting on the floor and then find a quiet corner for a nap.
The photography on this French Navy advert can only be described as awesome - best watched full screen. A reminder that not everyone will be home for Christmas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dlXmuYuAYc&feature=player_detailpage
A chilly start to the day. The sky a frosty chalky blue. Outside The Rickety Old Farmhouse the beep of an asthmatic horn followed by the crashing of gears tells us that Madame Bay has returned from the retired gendarmes Christmas trip to Madrid. '' The food wasn't good " her somewhat curt take on the Spanish capital.
Madame Bay has been shopping. Blue plus fours, an almost matching smock and perched above it all a jello green coloured beret speckled with glass beads . Bob quickly heads upstairs before he can be caught in a Lily of the Valley scented hug.
Bob rejoins us in time for lunch. Afterwards he and his sister play 'let's savage each other' for half an hour in the orchard. Miss Sophie makes it abundantly clear when she's had enough and wants to go in.
The hectic run-up to Christmas in deepest France profonde.
Here's a happy, if unusual, Christmas video from a part of the world where good news seems to be rare : http://video.ft.com/3957010699001/Bagpipers-bring-festive-feel-to-Jerusalem/World??ftcamp=crm/email/_DATEYEARFULLNUM___DATEMONTHNUM___DATEDAYNUM__/nbe/FirstFTEurope/product
Sophie stands looking out of the back of the car impatiently waiting to get her day started. Closer examination shows that even though it's not yet eight o'clock she's already suffering from a bad hair day.
After the illicit half croissant we go to the morning market. Today there is a man selling hens. The PON duo are very interested in these new arrivals. Bob is 'encouraged' along. Sophie has to be dragged away. She protests.
Another carol service. The church has a ferocious heating system. Wonders never cease ! Gas rings set into the chandeliers.Within twenty minutes the chill has gone, replaced by what might best be described as a lobster broiling heat where gas flames meet damp air. The church is supposed to be twelfth century but has been painted by the Cecil B DeMille school of restoration.
At the cafe across from the church they're serving a wine called Chateau Le Crock. This causes much hilarity. Bob and Sophie are given some chicken and rice (" My dog's having some so I'll make some for your two " says the cafe owner ). The PON's people watch then fall asleep under the table. The French are very civilized when it comes to dealing with our canine friends.
The Christmas decorations go up on the village green. Last year they were underwhelming. This year they're worse. Someone has taken the idea of spreading a little Christmas cheer quite literally.
Bob and Sophie are not entirely daft. They understand that if they sit on the wooden table they have an excellent vantage point from which to observe Angus while simultaneously keeping their undercarriages dry.
This article about the Three Kings from the Christmas edition of The Economist was one of the most enjoyable things I've read all year. The last paragraph a joy - " For three encompasses everything: past,present,future; here, there, everywhere; earth,sea and air; positive,negative , neutral; this, that and the other. Through these trinities the kings, who might be any Tom ,Dick or Harry, wander is search of answers ( yes,no,maybe ) to mysteries even older than that of Father,Son and Holy Ghost : the birth of light, the dawn of life and the primacy of love ".
A good five minute read last thing at night. http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21636508-what-those-magical-royal-wanderers-through-desert-really-signify-rule