Off to the fancy kitchen designers for the rescheduled meeting.
The fancy kitchen designer is late. The fancy builder later still.
A moment out of Jane Austen when Angus queries some of the items in the estimate. The designer has what might best be described 'a fit of the vapours'. He gasps for breath and reaches into his suede satchel for a pill. Not to be outdone the fancy builder throws a piece of paper onto the table. '' Oak isn't cheap ! My price is fixed. People love my wood, my craftsmanship, my style ". Meetings in the Anglo-Saxon world lack this element of drama.
An hour later we leave. Angus tries to explain the concept of a budget. Being France this is a novel, and unwelcome, idea. To calm troubled waters praise is heaped on the standard of their workmanship and design. 'The Font' raises an eyebrow when Angus informs the builder that the quality of his fittings are known around the world. The builder takes this as a compliment.
Home for a late lunch. Sophie and her brother get a walk down to the stream. They try their hand, ineptly, at fishing. Sophie yelps in frustration. Bob sploshes and sighs. Angus who rarely drinks a glass of wine at lunchtime, does.
Deposit paid, work on the ( much reduced in scope) kitchen will start in the atelier next week. Installation is promised for Easter. We shall see.
This morning I wake to the news a man I've known for more than twenty five years has been shot dead in Moscow. How lightly we take our freedoms.
One of those wet days when there is always a damp dog under your feet.
Madame Bay arrives, settles in the kitchen with a large cup of coffee, then starts reminiscing about village sixty years ago. " I was a mere girl then ". The fact that Madame Bay was well into her twenties sixty years ago is politely overlooked. '' There were forty in the church choir . We'd be tipped after weddings but were expected to sing for nothing at funerals ".
In the rare gaps in the downpour Bob takes up position on his stump seat. He barks at the Post Lady, the Old Farmer ( who is pumping up the tyres on his venerable Ford Transit motor home ) and the mayors secretary. They all wave at him. Somehow the fact they wave reinforces Bobs view that he is the worlds most ferocious guard dog.
Sophie starts the day looking shaggy. By the end of the day the rain, humidity and adventures in puddles ....
have combined to create the ultimate bad hair day. Not that this bothers her.
Midnight. Every owl in Europe is perched in the trees outside the Rickety Old Farmhouse. Whoever thinks owls go tiwitawoo are deeply mistaken. French owls make a screeching noise like a busy day at the wrecking yard. Angus gets up and wanders through to the snug to watch television. The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Impenetrable in English, even more so when dubbed into French. After twenty minutes of this sleep comes easily.
Six thirty am. It goes without saying that the PONs have slept well, are fully rested and are keen to get their day started.
Off to the red trousered kitchen designer. ''Try to look as though you're interested" and " don't growl when he shows you the estimate " says 'The Font'. Thankfully there has been an argument in the workshop and the kitchen designer hasn't prepared our quote. The good news - we leave early. The bad news - we have to go again on Friday. '' It will all be settled then " says the kitchen designer, grandly .
Bob and his master discuss their respective days. Bob gives Angus a look of deep sympathy. Either that or he's just having a squiffy moment.
Overnight three of the 'bad' farmers cows have escaped from their stalls and wandered into the orchard. Bob bursts out of the front door, charges over to them, decides they're bigger up close than he thought and takes an executive decision to retreat. His sister gives noisy encouragement from the safety of the door.
Another day of bright sunshine followed by short, torrential, bursts of hail. Presumably warm and cold fronts are battling it out in the skies over the Rickety Old Farmhouse. Not even torrential hail can penetrate deep into a PONs winter coat. The same cannot be said for their masters jacket and trousers. The ferocious storm has of course waited until we're at the far end of the village.
Off to the electrical store to look at kitchen appliances. We apparently need an oven with a 76 litre capacity. What interest Angus might have had in the matter evaporates when 'The Font' starts looking at hot plates. Bob and Sophie are retrieved from the back of the car and taken for a long walk through the car park. Bob christens tyres. Tomorrow we we go to see the fancy kitchen designer with red trousers. He's even more irritating than the builders. He also wants a deposit.
The upstairs kitchen is drying out with the help of a dehumidifier that's running non-stop. Sophie clearly sees the dehumidifier as an unwelcome interloper. She stops and very determinedly 'biffs' it with her nose.
One of those 'quiet' February days in deepest,deepest France profonde.
It's windy. Very windy. The snow storms that blanketed Boston last week now drifting feebly across the Atlantic into the Bay of Biscay. The gales don't do anything for Bob and Sophie's appearance. Come warmer weather and a thorough hair cut is on the cards. ' Shaggy dogs ' indeed .
The helibores turning from white to red. A sure sign of Spring. In the flower bed by the well some miniature irises have appeared. Testament to what surprises lie in store when you clear fifty years of overgrowth from a garden. In the afternoon an unusual downpour mixing rain and hail in equal measure. Bob comes inside to keep dry. Sophie sits in the middle of the orchard watching the downpour. Angus has to go out and bring her in. She's quite oblivious to the storm.
Sophie's predilection for recycling any and everything continues to confound our attempts to keep her svelte. An hourglass figure it ain't.
We park on the top floor of the multi-storey car park. Bob and Sophie like the top floor of the car park. They have five flights of steps to sniff going down and five flights to sniff coming back up. They go up and down at the same 'enthusiastic' pace. Angus has got to an age where descending is done more enthusiastically than climbing.
In the market hall we come face to face with this. Bob wants to say hello. Sophie wonders if it's a snack. We hastily retrace our footsteps before there is a 'moment'.
Darkness and solitude hold no fear for 'shy' Sophie. She's always the last to come inside at night. Perhaps this is a girl dog thing. Bob by contrast is most content when he's with us. I'm convinced he smiles when he's happy.
Those little Monday morning things too small for a diary but too important to be completely overlooked.
Ten to eight. Sophie is waiting for me at the foot of the stairs. Bob, impatient to get the day started, is by the front gate. He looks at me with his '' get a move on - this is going to be the best day ever " look .
The market is in full swing by the time we make it to the cafe under the arcades. The fruit seller slips the angelic duo a piece of carrot. He is rewarded with a lick from Bob and a whimper of delight from Sophie
At the rugby ground, Bob and his owner order a burger from the vintage caravan. To avoid a half time rush the hot dog / burger man has introduced a pre-ordering system. Should our burger should have a foie gras topping ? Angus thinks this might be too rich. Lard is also rejected as being better suited to a younger digestive system. We opt for Cheddar. Bob seems quite satisfied with this choice. He smacks his lips with delight.
This being France no one seems to think it odd that a man is discussing the merits of a hamburger with a fluffy dog.
Late at night, in front of the fire, Bob falls asleep. From time to time his tail wags. He's dreaming of a hamburger with everything.
The builders idea of 'tidy' is different to 'The Fonts'. Master and dogs head off into town for the mornings illicit half croissant while the shaven headed lads are issued with mops and buckets. They look surprised.
At the barbers Sophie settles under my feet while Bob takes up his spot by the sickly aspidistra. The four bushy eye browed old farmers on the faded leather sofa aren't customers. They're there to read the morning paper and put the world to rights. The barber conducts a conversation with them while cutting my hair. Being disdainful of modern technology he uses a cut throat razor. Angus prays that he doesn't get too distracted.
Home to find the builders finished and the floors mopped. The eighteenth century floor tiles remain in situ despite the builders enthusiasm to rip them out. The new plaster on the walls will need to season for a month before it can be painted. The builders go as soon as a cheque is in their hands,
Outside in the garden two fat, happy, bees clamber over the hyacinths. Another sign that Spring is on the way and Winter is tottering gently to its close.
The PONs are delighted to have the house to themselves again. This is nothing to the joy their owners feel .
A day more like summer than winter. By eight the sun is already warm. 'The Font' and Sophie head off for a power walk round the lake. Bob and Angus navigate past the builders marooned trailer and head down to the stream through the mud on the ox track. By the waterfall a family of Kingfishers dart in and out of the reed beds. Dog and owner stop and stare in happy amazement. Spring can't be far away.
Bob spends his morning, standing, guarding in the garden. I explain to him that having a soft toy clenched in his mouth might not send quite out the right signal. He's convinced he's the most ferocious guard dog in the world, which, when you think about it, is all that matters.
Sophie guards, in her own way, from the shade and safety of the front door. She is less keen on having half a dozen builders around than her brother
A quiet end of the week in deepest, deepest France profonde
. The builders say they should be finished tomorrow. Or there again they might finish on Monday. What's an extra day in the scheme of things ?
The builders arrive at seven thirty. A cue for dogs and master to head off down the hill to the stream. When we return Caroline the cleaning lady is in the house. She is not happy. In between sighs there are staccato bursts of invective. Dust, dogs and debris. An unholy trinity.
Bob's ears dip in the water when he drinks from the stream. Time for the angelic duos hair to be trimmed and their fringes thinned. PONs are nervous when they can't see clearly. Purists disapprove and say you shouldn't trim the hair over their eyes. PON purists have never had to live with a house full of builders who shout and make sudden and unexpected movements.
For the briefest of moments I consider trimming their beards but think better of it. They've accepted the ear and fringe trimming with good grace. Best to quit while you're ahead.
The old walls in the kitchen are out and the new walls are up. The builders are heavy Gauloise smokers. I ask them to open a window. They mutter. A vent for the hood extractor hangs jauntily from the ceiling. They've been in the attic to fit it. Amazingly the ceilings seem to be intact.
The trolley with the ancient, and very heavy Godin cooker, remains mired in mud up to its axles. Around lunchtime a pick axe through a central heating pipe raises the blood pressure. Time to display a stoic mentality. The miniature flood is mopped up and the pipe repaired by the time 'The Font' returns from London. Bob is overjoyed his flock is home and demonstrates his delight by lying on his back and howling. Sophie checks the carry-on bag to see if there are biscuits.
Today the red trousered kitchen furniture man is due. Angus has to tell him that all his measurements are wrong.
The ancient Godin is finally maneuvered out of the upstairs kitchen. There is a moment of breathless excitement as one of the shaven headed lads loses his grip. Despite the best efforts of the remaining lads the old cooker falls and bounces balletically down the stairs. A beam on the terrace is broken by the shock of a ton and a bit of steel and brass landing on it.
The discarded kitchen units, the cooker hood and the venerable Godin are loaded on a trailer. It has rained overnight. The builders have failed to notice that the trailer has sunk up to its axles in mud. Their van tries to pull it out but it too gets stuck. Phone calls are made and cigarettes smoked. There is much shoulder shrugging.
More builders arrive. The crack in the terrace is deemed to be serious. The builders disappear. They return with half a dozen metal supports. These are put in place to support the terrace should it decide to collapse.
A mate of the builder has a Jeep Wrangler. This is called upon to pull out the van. It does. The trailer however is immune to being moved. '' It's stuck fast ". The builders mate has a tractor. He disappears to get it. The builders cluster in a circle and smoke.
Meanwhile, back in the house the water has been turned off due to a tiny problemette with a burst pipe. The electricity is also off. There is a reason for this but Angus doesn't want to know what it is. Sophie is miffed that the builders haven't brought biscuits. Bob lets me know that there are people in the house. I explain to them that their vocal contributions to the days events is not helping their masters inner karma.
By six the builders have gone and the water and electricity are back on. The promised tractor has not shown up so the trailer with the venerable Godin continues to sink deeper into the muddy ox track. Bob settles down on his wooden table and sleeps. His sister, still turbo-charged after the days excitement, sits on guard.
The Rickety Old Farmhouse is now just that little bit more rickety. 'The Font' who is back in London phones to ask how the day went. '' Fine, just fine " I hear myself saying.