Wednesday, June 30, 2021

One more.

Difficult to judge where we stand on the pandemic. Somethings are getting back to normal, somethings aren't. The Delta variant now accounts for 20% of cases in France. Numbers have doubled over the last week. A man with a gravelly voice on the breakfast radio says the variant will account for 90% of cases by the end of the summer. He speaks very slowly and very deliberately as if to make it quite clear to the listeners that his opinion is to be highly valued.

The bakers has a sign on the door saying ' No more than two customers in the  premises at any time'. This is ignored by a group of five village ladies who congregate by the till. I stand and wait while they order their croissants and baguettes. One of them orders a Chocolat Moelleux. All the others tut. 'It's all right for some ' says one. Another calls the cake buyer ' Money bags'. Another says, rather pointedly, ' I suppose one cake won't do you any more harm'. The emphasis is on the word 'more'. They wander away clucking. I note they all have their masks below their noses.

The weather of late has been dire. A bracing 14 degrees this morning. Sophie opts to nap on the front door step while I wander in to get a jacket. The chill weather seems to do wonders for the wisteria which is coming into its second blooming of the year. 

Post coffee and croissant ends it's time to take a walk along the valley floor. Six new arrivals in the cows field by the lake. The little ones are asleep in the grass. Two mothers are out of it , as in completely out of it, after their long and eventful night. Four others stand, seemingly shell shocked, and munch contentedly away on the grass. In fact they munch away exuding more than contentment - double contentment. 

So goes village life in deepest, deepest France profonde.


Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Sure to work out.

Sophie positions herself on the wooden garden table. From here she can observe all corners of the garden and make sure we're free of C-A-T-S. 

She's still there when the post lady drives up and informs me there's a parcel to collect. 'There's duty to be paid on it ' she adds. Turns out it's Sophie's dog bed. She's never had a fancy bed of her own before but we thought it time she had somewhere warm and padded for coming winter nights. Duty of E61 is levied on it together with E15 for 'processing'. The costs of Brexit.

A little later anger management man appears at the door with a large tray of wild mushrooms. He's been up since dawn foraging in the woodland and has picked rather too many. 'Would we like some ?'. I thank him profusely. He informs me that his eldest boy is grounded. 'He should be studying not fooling around'. Grounding a teenage male and telling him he can't see his girlfriend is sure to work out well. I keep this thought to myself.

Amidst this whirl of  activity Sophie opts to do what any sensible PON diva would do - catch up on her sleep. She studiously ignores the new bed.

 Should it be pronounced Missouri or Missoura ? :

Monday, June 28, 2021

Canoodling shock.

Home to find the inbox full of offers from East Coast hotels saying they are now open for business or are about to re-open. Despite the stories about inflation the prices still seem to be reasonable - by US standards. Most of the e-mails suggest that daily sheet and towel changing is optional. This is put down to 'Managements emphasis on Covid hygiene ' but Angus can't help but feel that it's a cost cutting exercise. The removal of check in staff and their replacement by a touch screen option is frequently highlighted as an 'enhanced hygiene option'. 

The little hotel by the sea also had measures in place to deal with Covid . The breakfast room was set up so that no more than 4 guests could be in there at a time. It had also cut back the number of guests who could stay from a maximum of six to .... guess what ? ..... four.

It must be an age thing but French plumbing has become a fall back topic of conversation. In the little sea side hotel the bath was a strange granite and pine affair. No matter what levers you pulled a jet of scorching hot water would emerge from both the shower and the taps. The dimension of the bath also meant that you had to be at least nine feet tall to step comfortably over the extra wide bath surround. Angus wonders if the stove, placed alarmingly close to the bath tub, might be a danger for jet lagged or slightly tipsy bathers.

After the excitement of her trip Sophie has spent all day sleeping. In fact she's been sleeping so deeply that we've been checking up on her breathing. She is exhausted. Despite a thorough grooming there is still sand in her coat.

Here in the village it was the second round of the voting in the regional elections. Turnout was low but the centre right candidate got two thirds of the vote. The Presidents party came second.  The even more interesting development is that the eighteen year old son of the man with anger managements  was found 'canoodling' with the German builders seventeen year old daughter in the barn behind the village hall.  With the court case due in a months time this Romeo and Juliet style amour has not been well received. We await an update from Madame Bay.

 I'd never heard of this place :

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Homeward bound.

Time to go home. A start of day walk over the dunes and down to the waters edge. A Bay of Biscay morning beckons.  Sophie leads the way but from time to time peers back to make sure she's not alone. Even the bravest diva needs some backup when facing an enormous ocean.

Back to greet 'The Font'. Sophie waits with what might pass for  patience while we have breakfast. Four curly croissant ends are brought back to the room for her to savour. Some routines are inviolable. The chef has prepared some boiled carrots  for her breakfast which are wolfed down.

Then there's time for a quick canine napette while cases are packed. 'The Font' observes that dogs and toddlers require three times as much baggage as their entourage. 

Sophie seems to sense that her days of dinner time sauteed courgettes are over. She is reluctant to leave the bedroom and has to be 'encouraged' out to the car. Nothing as vulgar as check out here. Everything has been paid for in advance so there is no paperwork. The chef, the housekeeper and the cleaning lady all come to bid farewell to Sophie. LuLu biscuits are offered .... and enthusiastically received. How very French.  As we head along the pot holed road that leads to civilisation a group of four, then a group of  three jet black boar piglets run in and out of the fields of sea holly ahead of us. ' We'll be back' says 'The Font' with a chuckle.  France is a place of hidden magic.

This looks  like yet another fun new hotel opening but if you're travelling with a four pawed friend it would be hard to beat where we were :

German online food shopping. The coffee from here is wonderful :

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Biscuit carriers.

The hotel is remote. The last mile of our journey spent driving along a pot hole scarred dirt track. Places like this in the US would have long ago been bought by a corporation wanting it turned into an oceanside 'complex' with a pool and a variety of 'theme' bars.

The place is set in a national forest at the edge of a beach . You pay for the privilege of not having any neighbours. Think of the less commercial parts of Nantucket.  The sand dunes that form a barrier with the sea are populated by wild boar piglets and leverets. How amazing to find a spot like this in densely populated Europe.

The owners sensibly provide a bed, blankets, towels and water bowl for their four legged guests.  Canine vegetables are cooked at lunchtime. We ask for them to be steamed but they come sauteed in duck fat. Sophie is now a great proponent of vegetables sauteed in duck fat. At dinner time a blanket is laid on the dining room floor so that the four legged member of the family can doze under the table while her humans eat. This is a very French 'dogs as family' approach to running a hotel.

Perhaps the best news is that the staff carry packs of LuLu biscuits with them. It goes without saying that Sophie adores the staff ... and the LuLu biscuits. She would be putting on weight were it not for long walks along the beach and the occasional piglet that wanders on to the sand and must be chased. Sophie has not yet discovered the trick of running through soft sand so the piglets are unperturbed.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Wonderful !

It's taken eight and a half years  .....

...but Sophie is finally introduced to the sea.

She takes to it .....

....without a moments hesitation.

Isn't life wonderful ?


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Not quite two.

To the bakers for a raspberry tart for lunch. It is an unusual size - not quite enough for two portions but definitely more than one. This works out well. The Font will take one, possibly two mouthfuls, mutter ' Delicious !' and then push the rest across the table for Angus to finish. Sophie may get a tiny sliver of the pastry.

Having consumed our coffee, croissant ends and ( in Sophie's case ) a bowl of water we head down to the river. At this time of the morning the place is deserted and we have the entire waterside to ourselves. Tonight we shall be heading off for a three hour trip across country to the seaside hotel. The reservation team ( I think it's not so much a team as one technology indifferent lady )  finally confirmed the reservation last night.

The storms have brought down a lot of branches. These bob around in the water and bang against the wooden jetty. Sophie finds the sound to be intriguing.  Every four or five yards she stops to see where the noise might be coming from. At one point I pick up my pace as she sticks her head through the fence and considers leaping into the water . Thankfully, something distracts her and she thinks better of it.

According to the front page of the local paper the Pentagon is about to release a report on UFO's. This can't come a moment too soon for some of the village residents who remain convinced that our little corner of paradise is a tourism hotspot for visiting aliens. In the departmental capital there is a bookstore that sells cheaply bound paperbacks describing inexplicable lights and shapes hovering over the provincial French countryside. Cynics might attribute these sightings to the locals penchant for excessive wine drinking. Madame Bay, who long time followers will remember as a frequent visitor to the The Rickety Old Farmhouse before her arthritis became too severe, is convinced that aliens make a bee line for her orchard. Quite why this should be the case when they could, for example, go to Paris is treated with a shrug of the shoulders. ' I've seen the lights M'Ongoose! I've seen the lights ! ' Madame Bay has been instructed to stop driving by the young doctor in the medical centre. She is now driven round by her long suffering hairdresser daughter Sandrine. They bicker constantly. You can hear them before you see them.

There may, or may not, be a break in blogging for a few days. The hotel says it has 'weefee' but adds that the signal varies. ' Sometimes it's strong, sometimes it's not. It is the countryside Monsieur '. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Low turnout.

A stormy Monday morning. The heat from the Sahara battling it out with cold air from the Bay of Biscay. We manage to get our morning walk done before the rain starts. By the village hall door we meet the old mayor. The turnout in yesterdays election was low. Less than half the villagers bothered to vote. Usually they all, nonagenarians included, turn out. Out of those that did their duty the government candidate got 3 votes, the candidate for the ecologists 15. The National Front got 7.

Angus wonders if the low turnout might have had something to do with the 2020 football tournament. It's called Euro 2020 even though , thanks to the pandemic, it's being played a year late. The popularity of the tournament is enough for the baker to have made some ' Football Donut's ' for keen soccer fans  ie eight year old boys heading off to school.

This morning we're in time to get a croissant although they seem to be flying off the shelf at a remarkable rate. Folks are heading back to work now that the pandemic curfew has been lifted and stopping en route to pick up breakfast. A sure sign that life is, for the moment, reverting to normal. Talk of the Indian variant is widespread on the UK radio but notable for its absence here in France. Why spoil a good summer ? A 'specialist' on the seven am bulletin informs his listeners that the Indian variant is 'only a problem for the English with their links to the sub-continent'.  The hotel and restaurant owners across the country will be hoping he's right.

We consider picking up a couple of oversized macaroons but opt instead for two rather pedestrian looking apple tarts. Sophie is of the opinion that there is no such thing as a pedestrian apple tart ... only delicious ones.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sunday morning.

The regional elections take place today. The new mayor has moved voting from the confines of his room in the town hall to the village hall. This is a sensible idea amid a pandemic  but one not approved of by the village elders who are surprised  that the venue has changed. The polling booth will be open until six this evening but most of the voters, being good country folk, will have cast their ballots by nine this morning. At six thirty the new mayor and three councillors are already in position. This is slightly unnerving as its a good hour and a half before the doors open. They all greet Sophie.

The old i-Phone manages to catch a youthful moorhen hurrying to the safety of the shrubs that edge the pond.

Yesterday we went to collect the new i-Phone. Getting logged on proves to be  a 'challenge'. Somewhere along the line Angus set up an Apple account and has subsequently forgotten all the security questions and passwords. This is not a straight forward issue to rectify.  The security code has gone from 4 digits to 6 and the set up process requires a PhD in cyber technology.  'The Font' somewhat unhelpfully observes that this is a story line that Angus trots out whenever new technology such as a new toaster enters the house . Further proof that I've turned into my father. 

Off with Sophie for some carrots. Nothing like a chilled carrot to cool a girl down in this heat. By the carrots in the greengrocers a pile of some sort of enormous root vegetable.

We venture down to the river for a coffee . The little cafe on the embankment has no croissants. Indeed it has nothing to eat. I promise to return at a later date.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Triumph or disaster ?

The Rickety Old Farmhouse is butterfly ( and bee ) heaven. Today, there must be sixty of them flitting backwards and forwards on the lavender that edges the pool. Every so often they all circle upwards and dance in a great, uncoordinated whirl.  It is such a wonderful sight that Angus decides to order an 1-Phone 12 which should have a better camera than this three year old model.

It's 'The Fonts' birthday tomorrow. We had planned to head off for a few days but the hotel by the sea claims the credit card deposit has been refused. The credit card company says it was cleared a week ago. We reschedule the trip for the 22nd so that the situation can be resolved. The hotel is proving to be one of those 'idiosyncratic' places - delightfully inept. We think of putting Sophie in the kennels for a few days but she's the first PON we've ever had who has never seen the sea. It is decided , if ever there was any doubt, that the diva will accompany us. Her reaction to new surroundings, the sea and lots of fresh faces will either be a triumph .... or a disaster. 

Down to the local market town. Busy on a Saturday morning. Barely seven and it's already twenty eight degrees.  There are local elections tomorrow. They will provide an interesting insight into how people are responding to the governments Covid legislation.

On our way home Sophie is taken for a walk along the old Roman road that follows the line of the stream along the valley floor. She stops to sniff every blade of grass. When I get too far ahead she stops and glares. This is the admonitory ' What don't you understand about going for a walk WITH your dog ?' look.

This seems like common sense :

Texas once again proves to be truly exotic - but we'll stick with croissants for breakfast :

Friday, June 18, 2021

Taste the difference

There has been a thunderstorm over night. One of those storms that decides to park itself directly above The Rickety Old Farmhouse and rumble and grumble until it gets light. Its as if we've had the tympanum section of an orchestra practising in the attic. Sophie is quite unperturbed by thunder which is remarkable as the sound of  pigeons cooing can drive her into paroxysms of fury. 

The ground soft under foot after the rain. Down in the valley the farmer used the pre-storm calm to cut the wild flower meadow. The long grass has been baled and will be fed to his cows to produce a cheese that he claims tastes of buttercups and orchids. This sounds very romantic but in truth the cheese tastes just like any cheese from any field. He does a brisk trade with Parisian bistros whose customers swear blind they can taste the difference .... and pay handsomely for it. The urban dwellers search for rustic simplicity. The farmer in the valley has just taken delivery of an Audi SUV so I assume the cheese produces a good margin.

The big Volvo is ready to be collected from the dealers. They've taken out the engine and transmission and replaced a seal. I explain to Sophie that there won't be a visit to the bakers for a curly croissant end this morning. This news is met with incredulity of the ' But we always go for a croissant together !!!' variety . The small 'matching' porridge coloured Volvo can't be returned a moment too soon.

City of subdued excitement :

Thursday, June 17, 2021

No speakee


Hot and heavy and humid. Not quite Louisiana weather but not far off. Sophie deals with the clamminess by enjoying a pre-walk nap on the stoop. The German billionaires builder stops his van for a chat. Surprise, surprise he  complains, at length, about the man with anger management issues. ' He's psychotic. Of course the cocaine doesn't help' I'm told.  At moments like this Angus reverts to his ' Me a little bit simple and no speakee the French so good' routine. This politically impartial stance requires making guttural noises in the back of the throat while carefully avoiding any opinion that could be misconstrued ... or indeed understood. 'The Font' thinks Angus is a natural for this role. I take this as a compliment.

Down with the big Volvo to Toulouse to have the oil leak checked. The dealer supposedly dealt with the problem  last year and it cost E2,000 to put right. It is annoying to be doing the same thing again, so soon. The courtesy car is a small porridge coloured Volvo which is identical to the dog car. This means we have, for now, two  matching vehicles. This somehow seems strangely embarrassing in an OCD sort of way.

To the bakers. Sophie sits under the table, out of the sun, and waits for curly croissant ends. I have to go in and ask for a bowl of water. Even 'The Font' , who always looks on the bright side, admits that todays offerings are underwhelming. Sophie disagrees and scores them 12/10. There again Sophie scores everything edible, badger poo included, with a 12/10.

The communal tractor seems to have given up the ghost. Understandable in this heat, considering its age.

A super quick tour of the village walls with Sophie. Then she settles down for a lengthy nap by a fan in the hallway.

It's the European soccer championships. This is the tournaments theme song. It is being played everywhere after France beat Germany 1-0 in an opening match. I mean everywhere. This morning it's our radio accompaniment to a windows down, hair blowing drive home in the courtesy Volvo :

I'd have to say the answer to this question, based on the evidence provided, is no :