Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Boy is it cold.

Boy is it cold. The sky is bright but the air has that shimmering refractive quality that tells you it's way below freezing. The PONs are supercharged. The frigid temperatures triggering deep DNA memories of herding sheep in Bydgocsz. Sophie finds a half eaten vole in a drainage ditch -  presumably discarded by an absent minded owl. For her it's already shaping up to be the best day ever. 

The couple with their special needs son push him slowly along the lane. Bob and Sophie are uncharacteristically calm with the boy. They sniff his wheelchair and Sophie licks his hand. Being excellent judges of character both treat him as a fellow friend in gladness. The PONs have 'issues' with some people, others they display an amazing gentleness with, others they reserve judgement on and maintain an aloof distance. The parents are delighted that the boy can meet two shaggy dogs. Maybe it's a sign of age but I'm left in awe by the simplicity of their devotion .

Back in Scotland it's also bright but even colder. 'The Font' goes to the little cafe on the corner with steamed up windows ( much frequented by tourists as the place where Kate and William met ) for coffee and the free WiFi. The carpets come from Sweden. Delivered by four affable young Vikings who efficiently shift furniture, unroll rugs , tidy up and take away the packaging. ' The Font' has decided to decorate the house in a Swedish style and let it out to an American university for post graduates with young children. Children are usually a red rag to a bull when it comes to letting but why shouldn't the parents enjoy a touch of comfort and style ? Angus is less sure of the practicalities ( and economics ) of this but knows better than to argue.

At sunset the view from the front door is bright and sunny. Shortly after sunset the heavy, heavy snow arrives :

'The Font' is due back tomorrow but is under strict instructions not to drive to the airport if the weather is as bad as its forecast to be. Never schedule travel in February - there will be 'surprises'.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Will the second preclude the first ?

Bright but cold. The PONs are oblivious to the near freezing temperatures and after checking the garden for c-a-t-s settle down for a long snooze in the weak morning sun. Amazing how a thick, double coat can keep out the chill.

After breakfast Bob and his sister are given some pieces of croissant which they demonstratively and noisily enjoy.

We head off in the car to the wine merchants.  Three foreign wines ; Chilean, Australian and New Zealand have made it onto the shelves. '' They're for the adventurous " says the wine merchant with a stutter. He doesn't stutter at all when he talks to me ( and presumably other foreigners ) but has difficulty when talking to French folk.

'The Font' hires a bright orange Citroen C3 'Cactus' and drives up from Edinburgh as the first snowflakes drift down onto the motorway. The newspapers have christened this coming weeks weather '' The Beast from the East ". In the old days it would have been  called a cold snap. Mr.Robertson the electrician, Mr.Paterson the plumber, Mr.Robinson the painter and Phil the joiner are all hard at work on the '' wee house " despite calls from the local radio to stay at home and avoid unnecessary journeys. Phil the joiner who has a lot of facial piercings, loves working with wood and presumably has a surname but chooses not to share it, is also there. Rather than put down new flooring Phil has sanded and restored the solid oak beams on the ground floor. They've come out looking as good as new. '' The Font'' who is determined to keep as much of the old house as possible is delighted. Angus, when he discovers it's cheaper, is even more delighted. Mr.Allan the roofer was expected to replace some of the cracked pantiles but has postponed until the weather gets warmer and the roof less icy. Carpets are due from Malmo today - a foot of snow is also expected. Will the second preclude the first ? 'The Font' thinks the Swedish delivery drivers should be used to a little snow.

They played this on the radio this morning. The announcer informed us that it was British 'electropop' . He put the emphasis on the 'pop' at the end of the word  :

Monday, February 26, 2018

The altercation.

The Rugby World Cup is to be held in Japan next year. Angus reads the travel agents brochure with interest.  He gently steers the breakfast conversation towards a trip to Asia. '' Wouldn't you love to go to Japan and see beautiful Suruga Bay and the view across the water that has inspired so many artists ? ". 'Which artists ? ' inquires 'The Font' with a slightly irritating and unanswerable matter of factness.  Angus will either need to learn the names of some Japanese artists or find a better way of broaching the subject.

The man with anger management issues stands in his garden and rows with the man who runs the electrical wholesaler.  The electrical wholesaler has objected to his neighbours use of a chainsaw on a Sunday morning. From the garden we catch snippets of conversation. '' It's supposed to be a day of rest ". ' I've got to work during the week - perhaps you'd like to cut my hedge ? '. Tempers soon become heated.  The electrical wholesaler has a creative but impractical suggestion for what the angry man should do with his chainsaw.  The language soon takes on an intemperate air. Then silence. Ten minutes later the chainsaw starts again.

'The Font' heads off at sunset to spend the night at the airport hotel. For some reason a Lufthansa flight to Edinburgh via Frankfurt is half the price of British Airways via London .  The 6.00 am take off time might explain why there's a special offer with Lufthansa. Angus stays at home. His usefulness in matters of choosing soft furnishings deemed to be limited.

Bob is not happy that part of his flock has gone. He stands in the garden staring at where the car should be until the sun and the last of the light has left the sky. Sophie is less emotional. She sits in the kitchen hoping that the dinner time roast chicken will somehow fall off the counter onto the floor . 

This weeks '' how could we survive without this ? " shopping idea :

Sunday, February 25, 2018

PON boy wisdom : Sometimes a quiet life is a better life

'' My Sunday morning trip in the car requires me to squeeze into a corner and sit bolt upright ..."

'' .... because my sister insists on  stretching out and having a nap ".

'' She says 70% of the space belongs to her. You don't want to disagree with my sister first thing in the morning. Sometimes a quiet life is a better life ".

Amazing photo of starlings in Rome :

A candidate for the most beautiful music ever written  ? :

And this happened :

Friday, February 23, 2018

Infuriating Nuthatches.

Just another Saturday morning for me but for the PONs it's the start of the best and greatest day ever. Bob races to the front door, his sister is half a head behind him. Bobs legs go through that strange climbing an invisible staircase routine while I put on my shoes. Both tails do their peculiar 360 degree circular motion in both directions at the same time. Humans may view this as comical. For Bob and Sophie it's a sign of purpose. Enormous purpose. Let the derring-do commence.

Air France has been on strike. The air traffic controllers haven't.  At the modern cafe the television is on. The farmers are either having or are about to have another jour de mobilization. A farmer, straight out of central casting, is being interviewed. He is ' uncompromising '. It seems the French President wants to wean the farming sector off government subsidies. Good luck with that.

In the supermarket discounted Father Christmas's are on display next to the first of the ( non-discounted ) Easter eggs. Their is probably a lesson in that but it's too early to think about what it might be.

Maison du Monde, the furniture store on the Rue de la Republique, has closed. Workmen take down the signs to reveal the 70's era logos from the previous occupant - Galeries Billieres. All the town centres around are slowly dying or if not dying retrenching into their cores. The French have discovered out of town shopping malls.

Sophie is infuriated by the Nuthatches. She sits on the lawn and barks at them. They ignore her and munch away at he sunflower seeds in the bird feeder. She finds their audacity infuriating. Nuthatches have, perhaps, the most soulful eyes of any bird. 

Bob plays touch rugby, does a little rug surfing and , while his sister is otherwise engaged with the Nuthatches, heads upstairs for a nap.

So starts a Saturday morning in deepest,deepest France profonde.

Esoteric insight of the day. The earliest evidence of human social structures :

And why Scotland - and its railways - will always be different :

Declining an invitation.

Woke up thinking of this less known stanza from Yeats:

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity".

Bob sits on the storm drain next to me as I recite it to him. The young garagiste on his motorbike en route to opening up the atelier sees us and beeps. I wave. Bob , unmoved, ponders and stares into the distance. Sophie, for some reason, has found a small fallen branch that she's chewing on intently. Sophie is not a Yeats fan.

The mother of the tikes drives by in the large white Renault minivan. She has a broad smile on her face. I assume she's left the father and the two tikes at their skiing lodge and returned home with the six ( or seven ) little ones. They can be seen bouncing around in the back. Peace and quiet when you have a large feral brood must be relative.

Down to the barbers. There is a man in black track suit trousers and a tee shirt who insists on getting up from the chair and kissing me on both cheeks as if I'm a long lost friend. I'd guess he had garlic for dinner last night. Bob eyes him suspiciously. His accent is completely impenetrable.

The three retired farmers haven't yet arrived. This means that while the man who smells of garlic has his hair cut I can read the local paper.

The barber is off to Peru for two weeks in mid-March on his annual holiday. Last year it was India. ''Better give you a trim that will last until I get back" he says. Angus tells him not to make it too short. The clippers get to work. Angus now sports a twenty five to life style  buzz cut.'' Goodness" says 'The Font' unhelpfully when we meet at the car park.

French breakfast radio news leads with the quote that 'a gun free school is a magnet for bad people'. The gulf between the old continent and the US just got wider.

Angus is invited to come to Moscow to talk to men in dark suits. It's -20 they inform him. Angus politely declines the invitation. It's - 2 here which is quite cold enough.

How long before the caption under this photo is changed from the Kerch Straight Bridge to the Kerch Straits Bridge ?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The first of the year.

The PONs are let out of the front door for their early morning comfort break. An ear shattering cacophony of barking, howling ( not just any howling but the full on PON howl ) and yelping follows. The angelic duo have found the first hedgehog of the year. A large dozy fellow who has just woken from hibernation. His arrival means Spring must be here although you wouldn't know it from the frost on the grass. Angus runs inside, finds a towel, and lifts the still groggy hedgehog up and gently places it on the other side of the hedge between the orchard and the wheat field. The PONs, having made enough noise to wake the entire village, look on in interested silence. They both have their noses and paws checked by 'The Font'. The hedgehog remains tightly curled up and seemingly untroubled on the other side of the hedge.

The angelic duo are directed, reluctantly, back into the house. After a walk along the ridge and a breakfast of kibbles and cabbage they're loaded into the back of the car. Noses are intact, normal service has resumed. How the villagers must love us and our 'quiet' dogs.

Bob and Sophie exude that quiet satisfaction that indicates that they believe they've done a sterling job in guarding their family from the hedgehog threat.

A little known part of Scottish culture with its slogan : ' Made in Scotland from girders ' : Click on the Wall Street Journal video link ( with subtitles) 

And here's one of the old classic adverts : 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Masculine silence .

Much brighter in the mornings now. If you look hard enough there are signs that winter is drawing to a close. Bitterly cold temperatures are forecast for next week but also an end to the rain. In readiness for the change in season the summer carpets are laid on the upstairs hallway. They're smaller than the winter ones but if you know how to leap on them at just the right spot and with sufficient speed they're great for rug surfing.

Bob rug surfs in masculine silence. Sophie has a different modus operandi. She scoots across the floor then lies on her back, waves her paws in the air and screams with delight. This is her patented ' I'm so happy. I'm being tortured with cattle prods ' scream. Inhibition in not a word associated with Sophie. While Sophie screams Bob naps.

So starts a day with dogs in deepest, deepest France profonde.

The 300 to 700 years to clean up line will be the one I remember :

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

''Do not come to your house today. I can speak English well ''.

It's still dark outside but the PONs are ready to get their day started. Sophie's paws show she's already been engaged in a little pre-breakfast mole hill digging.

It's half term in Scotland. The Polish cleaning lady and her husband the Polish odd job man are taking their children back to Krakow. 'The Font' has arranged for things to be delivered from Sweden. '' Do not be worrying ! '' says the Polish cleaning lady breezily. '' My mother will be visiting  in Scotland and she can open up the house. My father is old but he can help ". We agree that the parents will be there at noon to open up. Late morning a mysterious text arrives from the mother.

''Do not come to your house today. I can speak English well ''.

Underneath in blue : ''  I am writing  through telephon interpreter ".

The Polish mothers phone, like the front door of the wee house, remains unanswered. Which is, perhaps, just as well. 'The Font' and the carpet shipping agent in Malmo spend much of the afternoon rearranging deliveries. 

A local pizza maker is going to Paris to enter the Pizza of the year award. His tajine style creamed carrot, seasonal vegetables and deboned rack of lamb topping has got the local papers restaurant critic enthused. Angus silently wonders how much the Italians must loathe the French.

The local special needs school is having a lunchtime disco. Madame Bay, wearing a red knitted string hat, arrives to open up the Salle des Fetes. She 'pops in' for a cup of coffee. The young staff that look after the special needs kids are gentle and kind and patient. Madame Bay says they're the sort of people who'd " held you through a stormy night and guarantee the dawn ". The English translation doesn't do her words justice. 

This Italian song from Puglia is beautiful :

Monday, February 19, 2018

Not this morning.

Sophie is in one of her ' I refuse to move ' moods. This morning she decides that she's not heading out of the gate. Angus kneels and talks to her. She gets tickled. She is 'encouraged' along. She gets more tickles. Sophie remains  a complete 20+ kilo dead weight at the end of her leash. Why she doesn't want to go out along the lane ( as she has done four times a day for the last five years ) a complete mystery. 

There is a change of plans. Bob , who was coming with me to the garden centre, goes for a ten thousand step power walk round the lake with 'The Font'.

Sophie is loaded into the back of the ' Loonj'  and heads off with Angus. Despite her refusal to move she is in fine form. Eyes bright, nose shiny, gums just fine. Put it down to the psychology of a family 'diva'. She has a good long scratch.

There are goats at the garden centre. Sophie is greatly taken with the goats. The goats less so with her. She is kept well back. She emits high pitched ' I'd like to play with them ' whistles. 

There are chickens. These are also viewed from a healthy distance. The chickens don't elicit high pitched whistles. This may be because they don't have the same charming odour as the goats.

The family diva is allowed off the lead to explore the green house with the lemon trees. Some great examples. 

Finally, dog and master stop to look at the Anduze pots. When we arrived the medium sized ones were E200 each. Now 8 years later they're E279 each. During this time the government claims that inflation has never been above 2% per annum. Pot making must be an inflationary activity. On our way home we stop at the cafe where Sophie gets given some croissant slivers. Could it be that she's understood that without her oaf of a brother she doesn't have to share the morning vienoisserie ? Surely not.

A record of those 'dog' things that non-dog owners will never understand.

Factoid of the day for anyone wanting to go on a long walk :

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pedestrian counterparts.

Dawn. I turn on the lights and find Sophie waiting downstairs to greet me .

I compliment her on her film starlet appearance. Irony is something dogs, thankfully, don't understand.

To the cheese shop in the market town. They stock Brie de Melun. Sometimes, very rarely, they will have some Black Brie which is aged for six months.

Some Banon for ' The Font '. The PONs get a small sliver of Tome. Sophie lets out a barely audible whimper of delight. Bobs tail thwack-thwack-thwacks against the door.

They're selling pots of rice pudding and - something I've not seen in years - semolina pudding. Both the rice and semolina puddings are upmarket affairs. Orange and Cannelles and Rum and Raisin flavours marking them out from their more pedestrian English counterparts.

On the way back to the car we pass an old house with two palm trees in its front garden. Lack of light has forced the trees up. They must be at least a hundred years old. The trees , like the house, look as if they've suffered from years of neglect.

Back in Scotland the workmen remain hard at work on the wee house. The outer door has been painted and new locks fitted. Long distance organization is working .... so far.

The historic 'Gates of Hell' rediscovered :

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Looks a bit like Bob.

On Thursday it was close to ( or below ) freezing all day. Yesterday it's sunny and twenty degrees.

With the arrival of warm weather Bob is allowed to sit - on guard - with the front door wide open. An activity forbidden when it's cold. He's delighted. The front door step is his natural habitat. 

The first of the small orange bees is seen, drinking happily, on the Rosemary flowers. 

Daffodils have appeared on the roadside verge in the valley.

The internet connection finally arrives at The Rickety Old Farmhouse. There has been a technical 'delay' in linking the village to the fibre optic cables . Our speed increases 80 fold. Downloading this mornings pictures done almost immediately rather than taking ten minutes.

Mid-afternoon all the birds on the feeder suddenly stop what they're doing and scatter in every direction. They fly off in complete silence without even a chirrup of alarm . Spooky. The reassuring background banter of birdsong suddenly absent. The reason for the little birds disappearance down to the arrival of four Kites high overhead. The Kites circle, majestically, then drift away. The Bull Finches are the first back to the feeder. The chatter resumes. 

A Spring display at the florists. Bob considers christening the wooden boxes but is ' encouraged ' back to the car. The stern faced florist doesn't look like a dog person.

The boys in blue from the Mont de Marsan airbase have been grounded because of the constant rain. They're making up for lost time and are out and about in force. The PONs lie in the courtyard and watch unconcernedly as low flying pilots practise their tree top hugging skills. The PONs stay outside on the grass until the sun sets then they process in for dinner.

A list of little things too unimportant for a diary but too life affirming to go completely unrecorded. 

What a dog . I'm exhausted just looking at the video :

This new movie ( to be released in March ) opens the Berlin Film Festival. Anything described as dystopian is usually best avoided but the lead character looks a bit like Bob so we'll probably go and see it :

Friday, February 16, 2018


Sometimes, at the end of a long day spent with an absolute oaf of a brother ...

.... all a girl wants to do is snuggle up with a day-glo orange squeaky friend ...

.... and have a long uninterrupted nap and dream of self filling yogurt pots.

The New York Review of Books is eagerly awaited in this household. The latest edition has this piece of gentle lyricism.

After a couple of days with old documents this seems like a good idea :