Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sound of silence.

There is a time in the evening, roughly between seven thirty and eight thirty, when  absolute silence falls over the village. The six pm curfew means there are few cars about and the screeching owls haven't yet taken up their positions on the trees along the lane. This hour long window of calm is what village life must have been like a hundred years ago. How strange that the sound of silence should be the hallmark of this pandemic.

This morning Angus is on a Zoom call at first light. 'The Font' observes that the backdrop is of ' a bomb has just hit the house' variety. Today will be a day of 'decluttering'. The men in dark suits are unlikely to have noticed.

Sophie is in fine form.

Our corner of paradise is known for vacation house boat trips along its rivers and canals. This morning a house boat, the first of the season, is moored on the river bank. It's a modern and rather fancy minimalist affair. The folk on board are cooking bacon. Sophie feels this is carte blanche to wander over and say hello. Angus has to retrieve Sophie from the dockside while apologizing to the woman in the galley. Sophie does not leave 'quietly'.

The cherry trees also coming out in bloom. The world is getting its Mojo back.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The perfect playground.

The Spring equinox only three weeks away. The year seems to have picked up pace and is rolling merrily along. Overnight the blossom has come out on the hawthorn trees that line the ox track . Sophie is  too busy following a scent to notice. Despite the early hour, two large, fat bees are buzzing merrily away. Blossom and bees - what more satisfying sight could start a day ? Natures reminder that all is well.

The lady at the medical centre reception desk phones to say that Angus might get a jab in April but they don't have any more information than that. So far France has inoculated 4% of its population, the UK seven times that number.  The sense of national urgency just doesn't seem to have developed here. Still, Angus will happily accept April. The Scandinavians are also getting their act together.  Sweden hopes to have 100% of its population done by the end of June and Denmark might get everyone vaxed by the end of May.

The tree surgeon shows up mid-morning. He's brought his 'lively' twin daughters with him. ' My wife's been working nights so I'm looking after them today'. The girls clamber down into the ( empty ) swimming pool where they  run around and shout to their hearts content. The tree surgeon will come back in a month or so to take down the sycamore branches over the pool. The tree that has started to lean at a 20 degree angle will also have to come down. The four year old girls protest when their father tells them it's time to go. He gets down in the pool and 'encourages' them up the steps. Nothing like an empty swimming pool as a magical playground when you're four years old.

For those who think dogs only communicate by barking :

The hotel gives you a wicker basket. You go to the market. The chef cooks what you've bought. First time I've seen this :

Hong Kong cakes :

Friday, February 26, 2021

Alert !

Bad hair day alert ! In fact a mega bad hair day alert !

Some days a major grooming isn't planned. This morning plans change. Sophie has chosen to follow a scent through, rather than round, the ceanothus bushes outside the church. She is hoisted onto the garden table for an emergency, post walk, brushing. Angus once again informs her she's a walking advert for short haired breeds. He is ignored.

So much remains unknown but 70,000 ? :

The Scream yields up its secrets :

Can't think I've ever, knowingly, had Korean food. The number of restaurant operating Korean expats in Scotland a small demographic.  This sounds like winter food :

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The gesture.

The days longer, the weather warmer. Yesterday, for the first time in ages, Sophie could lie in the sunshine at the open front door without being told she had to move.

The man with anger management issues and the German billionaires builder are still waiting for a court date in Toulouse. It's been delayed ( to our knowledge ) three times and has been postponed again due to the courts pandemic reduced timetable. Both protagonists have settled into a routine where they 'blank' each other out . You'd think this might be exhausting but they seem quite adept at it as they drive off to work , staring straight ahead, unsmilingly, in the morning.

The old widow has been taken ill. We walk by as they roll her out of the house on a  gurney. The retired mayor had stopped by her house, as he does every morning, and found her on the kitchen floor. ( They were 'sweethearts' sixty five years ago before he went off to do national service in Algeria ). The sapeur pompiers were there within eight minutes. Not a bad response time in the depths of the countryside.  As she was loaded into the back of the paramedics truck the old lady sat bolt upright and held out both arms as if she wanted to hold onto her home. This gesture went unnoticed by the busy medical team. One of those whispered ' turning of the page ' moments. Through it all the retired mayor stands by her side, his red tartan pork pie hat clasped to his chest.

By the 'Y' junction the man with the fancy bungalow has laboriously shoveled all the leaves from the drainage ditch  onto the grass verge. This is a strange thing to do as come the next windy day they'll all blow back into the ditch again. There must be some logic to his labour but what it might be escapes me.

The tree surgeon will be here later on this morning. The end tree by the barn has developed a rather jaunty angle in the latest gale. It looms threateningly over the barn roof and the big Volvo.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Best in the world variety.

A busy start to the day. Angus talks to men in dark suits about Nord Stream 2, Joe Mancin as the next W.Virginia governor and the leisurely roll out of the vaccine in France ( the UK manages in a day and a half what the French do in a week ). Angus would really like to get back to see the dentist ( words I'd never thought I'd write ) but can't make travel plans until he's had the jab. At this rate it's goiong to happen in November.

The electricity company helicopter flies over checking the power lines after the recent gales. Great flying skills but a noisy wake-up call for the villagers. It's just as well we're up and about because the security company is on the doorstep at seven thirty.  This is a surprise as I'd only phoned in the fault last night. The technician lives in a neighbouring village and has opted to schedule us as his first visit of the day. He is not a talkative man so we have no indication of what's caused the system to go down. Sophie takes a keen interest in what he's doing but soon tires of him when it becomes apparent he's not brought biscuits. The repairman works diligently and quickly. The surprising thing about France is that half of the workmen are of the 'best in the world' variety. The other half aren't. The builder and pool repairman fall in this second category.

It's hardly surprising that after the helicopter wake up call and the arrival of a repair man Sophie feels the need for a quick nap on the doorstep  in the start of day sunshine. 

This is something I don't get :

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A sense of accomplishment.

A blustery start to Tuesday morning. Perfect weather for a Polish Lowland Sheepdog to head off across the garden in pursuit of an overly audacious red squirrel. Sophie employs her head back, full throated, hunting technique. This is entertaining but not efficient. The squirrel is long gone by the time she's a hundred yards from it. This does nothing to dampen Sophie's sense of accomplishment.

The strong winds have stripped the mistletoe from the trees. Great swathes of it lying on the lane as we set off on our strat of day tour of the village. We've never seen this before. The mistletoe purge must be down to the unusual wind direction.

Sophie is an independent spirit. She's usually quite happy to lead the way. This morning she's unsure about the mud around the waterfall. Angus is given a quick over the shoulder ' Is this alright ?' look.  I assure her it is.

Back to the kitchen to rejoin 'The Font' who takes a little longer to surface in the morning than Angus or Sophie. After a tickle and an ear chook Sophie cleans out the yogurt pot then settles down for a restorative nap. So begins another day of high excitement in deepest, deepest France profonde.

Will there be an Olympics or won't there?  We get an e-mail from this hotel which may be a sign that reservations are being cancelled  :

Monday, February 22, 2021

An unreported success.

A morning to fill the lungs with fresh air and stride out purposefully . Both Sophie and her master are ever so slightly sleep deprived. Angus because the wind was so strong it forced one of the shutters in the drawing room open at 3:26 am. Sophie because three of the village cats decided to shelter from the wind by the front door. Having returned to bed after sorting the shutter Angus is called upon to deal with the errant cats. Can Sophie smell them through the thick wooden front door ? Or, can she hear them ?  She is told that there's no way anyone is heading out to deal with the C-A-T-S in the middle of a gale . 

The UK plans to have vaccinated it's entire population by the summer. Here in France the roll out continues at a leisurely pace. So far a third of over 75's have been vaccinated. When asked when we might be eligible the receptionist as the medical centre informs us that ' You'll probably get it this year', Meanwhile in the US Walmart and Sam's Club will start vaccinating at more than 5,000 new locations. These American and UK successes  are not reported on  French breakfast radio .

A morning free of calls to men in dark suits. This means Sophie has my undivided attention. Down by the waterside she sees Mozart the amorous, if ageing, Spaniel. Her tail tells me this is an encounter she could do without.  Some dogs she's happy to see. Others she disdains. Poor Mozart falls into this second category. Go figure.

At home there's time to clean out 'The Fonts' yogurt pot before it's time for a deep and uninterrupted nap.

 So starts a windy Monday morning in deepest, deepest France profonde.

You may have to be a Brit to find this combination of video and voice over funny :

Sunday, February 21, 2021


The wind rarely, if ever, blows from the South East. For the last five days there's been a gale blowing from that direction. Winds of 60 km/h. The old mayor says he's never known anything like it.  He's up and about early watering in the shrubs he planted in the flower border . By tomorrow morning the wind will once again have dried out the soil and he'll repeat the process.

Visitors returning to the village. Although it's windy, it's dry.  Perfect weather for ramblers and city dwellers wanting some mid-lockdown fresh air. A group of six of them pass us on our Sunday morning walk in the valley. Sophie sits and watches them go by. They greet her but fail to dispense biscuits. Sophie is unimpressed. None of them is wearing a mask.

Miniature irises springing up in strange, rarely visited , parts of the garden. We certainly didn't plant them. A dozen under the fig trees at the side of the barn. Four more under the bird feeder. How in heavens name did they get there ? Could it be we've missed them in prior years ?

 3D map of rvery building in the Netherlands coloured by age :

Guess, based on this review, we won't go to see Nomadland     - but when lockdown is over we'll aim to see The Dig -

Saturday, February 20, 2021

An arrangement that wouldn't work.

Another action packed start to the day. Angus and Sophie discuss Senator Cruz and his trip to Cancun. The thing that Angus can't get his head round is that the Senator was wait listed in First Class and his wife wasn't. She was presumably always relegated to coach. Angus isn't sure that's an arrangement that would work around here. It certainly wouldn't make for a calm holiday atmosphere. Sophie, for once, agrees.

Back home after our walk Sophie takes up her position at the front door. Nothing will pass her by unchallenged. This position is also designed to allow warm air out and cold air in. When you have a three inch thick double coat cold air is not an issue. It is however a problem for the other inhabitants of The Rickety Old Farmhouse.

A chat with men in dark suits about yesterdays G7 speech by Joe Biden calling for  an alliance of democracies to call out  China and Russia on human rights abuses. Merkel was in her usual wait-and-see mode and said nothing. Boris Johnson  embraced the new agenda -  the Anglo Saxon world tends to have the same view of the world as the Americans. Macron by contrast was Delphic : "I listened very carefully to president Biden and the common challenges. We do have common challenges: In Africa, in the Middle East." Problem - these are areas the American President  didn't talk about- he talked about China, Russia, and cooperation "rooted in democratic values". Seems the Europeans aren't singing from the same hymn sheet as the US. Sophie snores lightly through all of this. She's still coming to terms with the Cruz families travel arrangements.

Eco dog toys. Desmond the Duck is a favourite :

A Norwegian furniture maker selling on Instagram. Tables with space for a plant :

Fleurs de Cerisiers vases. How do they make them ?  :

Friday, February 19, 2021

Transmission complete.

A few weeks ago the fields were fallow and brown. Now they're springing into life and changing colour to emerald green. Our morning reveries interrupted by a black, Munich registered, Mercedes that comes hurtling down the hill.  One of those large ,ugly, bulbous models that can't decide whether it wants to be a coupe or an SUV. It must be going at 150 kilometres an hour. Angus mutters under his breath. My irritated reaction to speeding drivers another sign I'm turning into my father.

On the storm drain Sophie leans into me as we discuss progress on Iran, Nikki Hayley and the impact the cold snap in Texas will have on wheat prices and inflation. Sophie, it must be said, is not really taken with any of todays conversational topics. 

Sophie's pre-breakfast tour of the village takes us along the lane and then round to the old zinc bath for a lengthy drink.

The gardeners are finishing off cutting down the last of the trees by the village pond. All the water edge shrubbery has gone and with it any hope of seeing the moor hens again this year. One of the gardeners tells me there are plans to build a wall along the bank that's just been cleared. If true that would make the village a moor hen free zone.

In the garden the warm weather is brining into bloom all sorts of unexpected things deposited by birds and squirrels.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Billionaires : 1, Moor Hens : 0.

The countryside bursting into life. Daffodils flowering in the orchard. The grass verges along the lane covered in wild violets, gentians and buttercups. Spring may not be here but it's on the way.

Sophie is loving lockdown. Her flock on call all day, every day. Long morning walks with Angus, afternoon walks and trips to the Click and Collect with 'The Font' . Quite the social calendar for the family diva.

Down by the river the warm weather is releasing scents long hidden in the ground. 

The house by the pond has been through a number of owners. When we first arrived  the house was owned by a  Parisian couple. Long term readers may remember that one week the husband claimed he was at a business conference in Lyon. The wife followed him and discovered he wasn't in Lyon but at the village house with a 'lady friend' . A moment of high drama followed. The mans car headlights were smashed and all his clothes thrown out of an upstairs window.  The gendarmes were called when the spurned wife got hold a power hedge trimmer. Since then the house has been sold and the gardens have developed a less Parisian , more 'rustic' air.

The German billionaires have now bought it. 'Rustic' is not a style they adhere to. The shrubs that lined the village pond and have provided shelter and safety for the moor hens have been cut right back to the ground . This morning there's no sign of the shrubs, the moor hens or the moor hens nests. Angus feels sorry for these feathered villagers. They've been a small, but consequential, part of this blog. Billionaires 1 : Moor Hens ( and nature ) : 0

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The grey haired spaniel.

The weather improving by leaps and bounds. Everything warming up nicely after the burst of cold we've just been through. Sophie is booked into the Vets for her annual checkup on March 5th. By then she will 1) have had a trim and 2) a thorough bath. Neither of these will be 'relaxing' family activities.

Goodness only knows what's been pottering around the stream overnight but whatever it is gets Sophie's  undivided attention. She considers walking through the stream in pursuit of these intriguing scents but thinks better of it.

After breakfast we head of to the river for our second walk of the day. The council workmen are up early digging out the field banks . The heavy rain earlier in the month has caused them to collapse. The truck driver and the man who's operating the mechanical digger , parallel park and have a long chat. They block the road while doing so. Should I beep the horn ? A bit passive aggressive for deepest,deepest France profonde. The truck driver finally moves and waves.

Sophie makes the acquaintance of Mozart the floppy eared Spaniel. If the grey tinge to his coat is anything to go by Mozart is advancing in years. This does nothing to prevent him trying to make conversation with Sophie. Sophie is having none of it. She emits a gentle but unmistakable 'rumble' from somewhere deep inside. Mozart gets the message. He saunters off but gives Sophie a look that says ' You can't blame a boy for trying'.

I have to admire Mozarts determination. He is clearly the sort of boy that sees the beauty within. It certainly can't be Sophie's post walk 'look' that's attracted him.

Late bloomers :

A philosophical thought :

Something for a Wednesday morning :

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Mutually agreed.

Angus has used the time freed up by lockdown to set up a little AI Company. Presidents Day in the US catches him by surprise. Everyone, including the bearded statisticians in Charlottesville, are taking the day off. When did Presidents Day become a thing ?  However, the bright young folks who write algorithms and collate data trees in a London warehouse are working. The young woman who runs the show is no longer breast feeding. Angus wonders if  Miss Manners would consider breast feeding while video conferencing is an intimacy too far ? The algorithm folk  take it in turns to visit their office. Never more than three of them in at a time. The rest, the vast majority, work from home. Home working is proving to be such a success that they're thinking of scaling back their office space. If they reduce the floorspace they rent by 50% they can afford to increase everyones salary by $20k a year, boost their profits and set aside money for post lockdown quarterly morale building trips to exotic places. The cost of providing the state of the art systems and software to maximize home working has cost them $4,500 a head. Seems somethings will never quite be the same. It also seems that productivity has increased and that most folks haven't 'abused' the system. 

Sophie is hoisted onto the grooming table for a thorough once over. After thirty minutes we reach that mutually agreed  cross over point where squirming and wailing make further progress impossible. We agree to call it quits until another day. Sophie makes it quite plain what she thinks about this interruption to her routine.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Cared for.

A bitter wind blows in from the East. Branches down, watering cans scattered across the courtyard. All through the night the electricity has been on, then off. The security alarm beeping away each time there's a  power cut - that background noise of modern living . Sophie is oblivious to it. 

When there's a lull in the wind Sophie's fur exhibits a 'cared for' look.

When the wind blows the fly away ' I've never been groomed in my life' look takes over.