Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The last night of the decade.

The weather cold but bright. Perfect grooming weather.

Sophie revels in the attention. I'd swear she was smiling in her sleep.

The hyacinth bulbs haven't taken the hint that it's time for them to bloom. At this rate they'll be be out in time for Valentines Day. This is also how long it may take for Angus to find the sporran he put away last year. He put it somewhere so obvious that he'd find it easily.

The large Mahonia down by the barn alive with fat, happy, loudly buzzing bees. That's a pretty good sign for the New Year ahead.

And here, sung as it should be sung, is a  song for the last night of the decade. May it  (and every night that follows) be one where the stars shine as brightly as the moon : 

A Happy New Year to all from the residents of  The Rickety Old Farmhouse.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Ensuring compliance.

Yesterday the village was deserted . A couple of cars drove past in the morning and a tractor went through after lunch. One of the cars had a 78 registration plate - which I think is from Paris. It stopped by the church for its occupants to get out and look at what was, but is no longer, the swaying Jesus. They seem unimpressed and move on quickly.  Apart from that, nothing. One of the mysteries of France is where the people go. Late in the afternoon we go out in the car to see whether the wine merchant in the little market town was open.  He wasn't. The village donkeys, horses, goats and cattle continue in their unchanging routine and seem unperturbed by the silence.

This morning the weather bright and sunny. Unseasonably warm. Madame Bay, who stops by for a cup of coffee and to provide an update on village gossip, repeats an old country saying '' Sit on the terrace at Christmas, sit by the fire for Easter ''. This is presumably to tell us that the good weather will be replaced by a bitter cold snap.

Sophie is awake at first light. She hears me stir, rushes up the stairs and stares intently while I put my shoes on. No mistaking that PON enthusiasm to go out into the garden and face whatever the day has in store. There may be C-A-T-S !

This made me laugh : https://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2019/03/28/redux-every-decision-my-kids-made-me-make-in-one-day/

Octopus farming is now added to the list of things I didn't know about : https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-have-warned-that-we-absolutely-must-not-farm-octopuses

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Disappearing privet.

Overnight someone has cut down the privet hedge belonging to the man with anger management issues. What was a nine foot high screen of trees now reduced to a three foot high row of stumps. The branches neatly piled up on one side of the lane. I fear the altercation with the builder has moved a festive step higher. The man with anger management issues has not yet returned home after his Christmas break and has yet to discover what's happened. 

At dinner  last night Sophie looked shaggy. This morning she looks as if she's been on a three week cross country adventure. PONs are not low maintenance dogs. Angus wonders what sort of life the fluffy PONs you see at dog shows live. Presumably one far away from mud, twigs, owl kill and anything else that might adhere to fur.

In the supermarket a display of lemon juice in plastic lemon shaped containers. I'd thought these had died out in the 1970's. Seems they're making a comeback ... if they had indeed ever gone.

A quick trip to the garden centre.

After loading the plants in the back they have to be unloaded. No way the family princess is going to squeeze in alongside them.

At the greengrocers the largest avocado I've ever see, They are sold not by the piece but by the kilo. 

Amazing. How whales sleep : https://twitter.com/wonderofscience/status/1210341740831313920

I'd never thought of this as a carol - but of course it is :

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Controlling those stress levels.

The country isn't heading into 2020 in a particularly upbeat mood. The train drivers are on strike along with the firefighters. So too the hospital staff. No wonder the little market town is quiet. 

The bakers by contrast is humming with early morning baguette buyers. A touch of excitement when a handsome Golden Retriever notices Sophie and is is keen to make her acquaintance. The interest is not shared. We leave. The Golden is told by his master that he has to stay. Sophie emits a single, shrill yap of irritation as we head out of the door. A divas farewell. 

After excitement like that ...

... what else can a girl do other than switch off and recharge her batteries ?

Something so far removed from what folks usually read : https://gen.medium.com/my-semester-with-the-snowflakes-888285f0e662?

A murmuration : https://twitter.com/wonderofscience/status/1199244636495261698

And what a surprise to see a live calf in this Christmas service . Do the cleaning staff get paid double at this time of the year ? : 

Friday, December 27, 2019

A positive.

A corker of a sunrise this morning.

Today, Angus and Sophie decide to try out the bakers by the motorway pay station. It's one of those nationwide chains that we feel slightly snooty about. The croissants turn out to be remarkably good. The young ladies behind the counter find Sophie to be 'cute' and deserving of a piece of wholemeal biscuit. Sophie is of the opinion  ( if manic tail wagging is any indication ) that we should frequent this baker more often. Two or three times a day - between meals - would be her ideal. The fact that the croissant was served warm is an additional positive.

The bakers have  Galette des Rois out on the counter in readiness for the New Year. Although its still early in the morning people are buying them. Two workmen in overalls wander off to their van laughing. They have paper crowns on their heads.

Back at home the family princess demonstrates her ability to be groomed and then five minutes later look as if she's never been near a brush in her life.

Breakfast upstairs. 'The Font' is trying out a new stuffing recipe. This requires pork shoulder and peaches. Sophie demonstrates a keen interest in the pork shoulder being minced. In fact Sophie believes she should be on the kitchen counter helping.

The new Australian ad designed to attract UK tourists :

Thursday, December 26, 2019


7.00 pm on a cloudless Christmas night. A pre-dinner tour of the garden with Sophie. Venus low in the south west sky as bright as a car headlight. Earlier in the month Saturn could be seen just below it.  Some say it's the same rare conjunction of the planets that the wise men followed.  As I turn to come back into the house three satellites can be seen moving slowly east . I've never seen three satellites on the same heading before. Makes me think someone has a lot of interest in something. North Korea perhaps ? Sophie  couldn't be bothered about what's going on in the sky. She's heading across the lawn at speed following a scent with great determination.

This morning the village deserted. So is the shopping street in the little market town. It seems that most of the locals are taking the rest of the week off.

Sophie goes for an hours walk with 'The Font' down to the valley and then back up the hill. It should have been a half hours walk but Sophie is in one of her smell every flower study every clod of grass moods. Progress is glacial.

The sound of this drifted across the village green last night. Anyone who has lived in France at Christmas will have heard this being sung at village gatherings by local farmers. Wine adds to the solemnity of the performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxB7od-l89s

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A new and glorious morn .

Christmas Day dawns bright and fair. A faint hint of warmth in the air. The French countryside enveloped in that deep silence that you only get at Christmas. No aircraft, no traffic, just the distant lowing of the cattle at the farm in the valley. Something calming and unchanging about this one special morning. The antidote to fire and fury.

Sophie is given a post walk grooming. She flips onto her back and pretends to be asleep but keeps one eye open in case wise men arrive bearing Jaffa Cakes. She looks as though she's never been near a brush or comb in her life.

Her cold wet nose is truly one of the seven wonders of the canine world.

Even an old Calvinist has to say its difficult to upstage this. Christmas song 22 : https://youtu.be/jydVlB4RYqU?t=6199

A wonderful Christmas to one and all from everyone at The Rickety Old Farmhouse. And some innocent Christmas Day viewing : https://www.wsj.com/articles/down-syndrome-and-the-gift-of-innocence-11577144899

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Last minute hectic.

Sophie is awake at six and making it quite clear she needs to go out. There are some things in life that simply can't wait. On our tour of the village it's deathly quiet. The tikes have been despatched to their grandparents in St.Etienne. The man with anger management issues has also headed off. The young couple who have been living in the flat above the town hall have decided to get married and are moving out.  I know this because the young man has rented a white van to move their belongings. ' It's not my van. I'm just renting it to shift our furniture ' he tells me with great solemnity while carrying a microwave oven. He repeats this to make sure I've understood. I wish him a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and all the best for the future.

Off with Sophie to the covered market.We park in the multi-storey with the spaces that are too close together.  It's difficult to get the drivers door opened wide enough to get out. Angus informs no one in particular that the architect who designed the car park must have been a contortionist. This dispensing of wisdom is another sign I've become my father. In the back of the car Angus finds the cards and presents that he should have posted two (maybe three) weeks ago. Angus puts this forgetfulness down to 'recuperation'. We make a detour to the Post Office but it doesn't open until mid morning.

The freshly made Buche de Noel are flying off the bakers shelf. They will all be gone by 11.00. Peak shopping day.

Sophie sniffs the hyacinths at the florists but is much more taken with some pate en croute at the traiteurs.

This mornings wet weather has done nothing for the family divas coat.

Not many Gaelic Christmas carols, perhaps because Hogmanay was always more of a Scots thing. However, here is something seasonal in Gaelic : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SV9XqbYVp4

We briefly think of heading off en famille to this hotel in Paris with Sophie ( the Place des Vosges is just across the road for all those canine necessities ) but decide it's better to be empty nesters at home :

Monday, December 23, 2019

Monday decisions.

Off to the fancy bakers in Toulouse at first light.

The collection of cakes on display requires some careful studying. By the time we get to the front of the queue we opt for an Opera, a mille feuille, a raspberry tart ( for The Font ) and something with mandarin slivers on top. I ask what the mandarin thing is but the bakers has seasonal music playing and I miss the explanation in the all enveloping sound of Bing Crosby. A buchette exotique is considered but rejected as being too adventurous at this time of the morning. A young labrador comes into the bakers and makes a friendly bee line for Sophie. This is the time for us to pay and go. 

At the fishmongers lobster is the 'fish of the day'. The price seems high but there again Angus is constantly surprised by the price of everything. We decide to buy some smoked salmon instead.

Sophie gets a little sliver of Roquefort from the cheese lady. They have Brie de Melun which has a better texture than Brie de Meaux but more difficult to find.

Christmas song 20 and a cheerful Annie Lennox. If you're going to hail redemptions happy dawn this is the way to do it : https://youtu.be/nAMbRDGabXw?t=34

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The storms return.

What a night. A once in a decade gale thunders in from the Atlantic. Power shower rain and 100 km/h winds. We lose some more cypress trees. Through the night the power goes on and off and on and off. The security system emits that sleep interrupting screech each time the electricity fails.  The gutters are filled to overflowing. Literally. 

This morning there is a brief eye of the storm respite.  Angus and Sophie set off at a brisk pace to the storm drain. The ground is wet so we opt to stand under a plane tree and look out across the valley. Sophie gets an ear scrunch and is told, as she is told every morning, that this her home. Angus tells her about  Barry Loudermilk and his views on Pontius Pilate. She is unimpressed.We scurry back for a coffee before the wind and rain start. En route Sophie finds some owl kill. She trots home, head high, with whatever it is proudly clamped between her jaws. What a wonderful day !

Christmas song 19 from Washington. 20/10 for effort. The world would be a poorer place without end of term carol services. Someone has understood what it takes to get male teenagers to volunteer for the choir : https://youtu.be/uAcUXoV8PEs?t=5412

These dropbox notes of an American living in Germany are strangely addictive. The language is 'generationally different '. Who ever knew that about Danes ? :

Saturday, December 21, 2019


'The Font' heads off to the local dog sanctuary with a collection of blankets, sheets, towels, 'treats' and a cheque. The cheque is how much we've saved by eating at home since Angus has been recuperating. Angus is rather surprised to see the total. ' It includes wine ' I'm told. The staff at the sanctuary are happy.

While 'The Font' is away a group of whistling workmen arrive and assemble three DIY reindeer on the village green. Some of the the trees that have been blown down in the recent gales are being recycled as seasonal art installations. Municipal good cheer.

The reindeer have  a certain minimalist chic.

At the end of a long day Sophie decides that the sensible thing to do is switch off. Sophie knows how to turn 'switching off ' into an art form.

From Bloomington Indiana a thing of rare beauty. Christmas song 18

Friday, December 20, 2019

How wrong could you be !

You might expect Sophie to drink from  the nice porcelain bowl in the hall, the  bowl in the kitchen or the metal bowl at the front door. How wrong could you be !  Nothing quite like standing precariously on your hind legs and slurping at length from the rainwater on the swimming pool cover.

The post arrives .'The Font' reads a card and emits a loud splutter. The message on the inside not the most festive of seasonal greetings.

The gardeners show up to deal with the fallen cypress trees. Three are hauled away. The others staked up, trimmed and where needed cut back by 50%. Loic also shows up to blow leaves.

For a Polish Lowland Sheepdog girl it's turned out to be a pretty good day. The trip to the bakers was fun but now there's mud to roll in, Loics leaf piles to scatter and gardeners to supervise. There is also a man on one of those telescopic arms to stand and bark at. If only there were Jaffa cakes.

A very Dutch Christmas song 17 : https://youtu.be/hPFU2Du3hVY?t=2923

Fifth Risk was book that was worth reading. Here's the author talking about America : https://play.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics/834ddcb6-0bfb-4e4e-8e62-fe0f0f59120a

Thursday, December 19, 2019


The storms that swept in from the Bay of Biscay and felled the cypress trees have gone. The morning turns out to be bright and warm. Sophie hurtles out of the houses as fast as those titanium knee joints will carry her. She is keen to get her day started. 

The Old Farmer returns with his lady friend. He has come to pick apples from his orchard. ' Not like those things they sell in the supermarkets. These things have real taste ' he informs 'The Font'. Later today, after the apple picking,  they will be going to the over 60's spectacular in the little market town. A day out for the areas retirees. Songs are sung, wine is consumed, two hot meals are served and a band comes all the way from Toulouse to entertain. Gossip is dispensed. Coincidentally, the local politicians will be there to remind the attendees of the upcoming municipal elections in March.

Angus heads off with Sophie to the bakers. Sophie is given a small choux pastry treat by the girl behind the counter. On our way home we listen to the impeachment proceedings on the radio. Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz , Steve King and a soon to retire Mark Meadows fill the airwaves with their take on events. What will the French radio audience make of it all ?

The PON princess thinks a buche de noel might be a good thing to buy but we settle for a wholegrain loaf.

Christmas song 16. Bavarian man in a snowy field with an electric guitar:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX826naanRM