Friday, December 31, 2021

Into the New.

And so the old year drifts to its end. 2021 at The Rickety Old Farmhouse seems to have been a year waiting for vaccine shots. A variety of travel plans have been carefully considered, booked , then cancelled. It wasn't an exciting year in the usual sense of the term. It was however a memorable year wrapped in familiar routines, nearer horizons and an abundance of prudence.

In the village The Anger Management Man and the German Billionaires Builders  dispute seems to have cooled and is now merely simmering  away. Madame Bay is no longer driving - the 'Wild Child' voiturette relegated to the scrap heap - and is spending more time with her great  grandchildren. The electronic system that controls the church bells , installed at great expense, continues to be subject to 'erratic episodes'. This may either be down to the Old Mayor pressing the wrong settings on the control panel or, as he would have us believe, damp effecting the wiring. The new mayor is still settling into his post. The Old Farmer is coming to terms with the unexpected events of Christmas. Loic has had a visit from his sister -this has brought him great joy.

Through it all Sophie has relished having 24/7 human company willing to accompany her on long cross country walks. Today her itinerary includes a visit to the waterfall , some inept minnow fishing and a  brisk walk up the hill .This is followed by a restorative doze. Over the last few months she's started to slow down a little. Not really surprising in a lady approaching her ninth birthday. She has made us laugh all day, every day, throughout the year. 

In the orchard the Narcissi are coming into bloom. A full month ahead of their appearance last year. The Anger Management Man thinks that this early flowering is ' Not Normal'.

The Rickety Old Farmhouse will be a small outlier of Scotland tonight. The long lost sporrans are rediscovered and the kilt brought out. The table will be set and  candles lit to welcome in the New Year. This all seems a lot of work for just the two of us but some traditions have their own pandemic defying resiliency. If the skies are clear we shall set up the telescope and drink champagne and look at the stars. The locals will view this behaviour as 'unusual'.

As the New Year approaches may we wish a happy, prosperous and above all healthy 2022 to one and all.

And, in what has become a blog tradition, a song that magically folds together what has been, what is and what will be . Sung wherever Scots gather tonight :

Thursday, December 30, 2021


Wet but mild. In fact very mild. 10 degrees as dawn breaks and 18 degrees forecast for this afternoon. 

The Old Farmer is up and about early. He's not sleeping and not eating. He's still weepy. Today he's setting off in the venerable and much loved Mercedes to the scattering of his lady friends ashes in the crematoriums garden of memory. It seems he wanted to bring the ashes home but as he's not a relation this request was denied. ' People might have been jealous if I'd been given them so maybe it's for the best '.  Who else might have wanted them is left unexplained.

Despite having the chance to drink fresh water from the stream ( or water from a bowl at home ) Sophie demonstrates a preference for having a long lazy slurp from a muddy puddle. The farmer has just driven through the puddle in his tractor so the sediment has been stirred up. She carefully positions herself so that all her paws are dry and out of the water before starting. 

Sophie is loaded into the back of the car for the morning trip to the bakers for curly croissant ends.  She makes it clear that walks in damp conditions can take it out of a girl. The family diva settles down in the back and catches up on her rest. By the time we get to the bakers for curly croissant ends her batteries are fully recharged.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021


Overnight a large herd of wild boar have gathered down by the stream. They've churned up the mud with their tusks.  This makes climbing back up the muddy slope difficult. Sophie doesn't notice. She is completely immersed in the smells they've left behind. Mud and smells. Life is wonderful ?

Back in the village the hunters are having an end of year gathering. Fifty or so men in day glo orange suits are congregating under the portico at the back of the village hall. None of them are wearing masks. They clearly believe that standing close together while laughing uproariously and drinking a start of day glass of floc is a zero risk activity.

Into the little market town. The Buche de Noel haven't sold. I take pity on the bakers wife and buy a second. The one we had for Christmas proved to be remarkably light. This one is beginning, I think, to show its age.

The wet winter weather has given Sophie the look of a very worldy wise PONette. The muzzle and the paws hint at the close interest she paid to the wild boar smells in the mud by the stream.

You've got to love a song that has the punch line ' Ring Ding Diddly Eye Oh ' ... and sung with what Scots will recognize as an Airdrie accent :

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

A duty.

The Old Farmer shows up at the front gate. He's an hour early and is impatient to get going. 'Are you ready ?' I ask. He nods. For the funeral he's wearing a red fleece jacket , a green  check shirt, blue track suit trousers, a brown cap and sandals. As a nod to the chilly weather he's wearing orange socks with his sandals. Today, for the first time he's using a walking stick.

Everyone at the crematorium had to be masked and seated apart. This makes the smattering of neighbours and acquaintances look even sparser. Music comes from a boom box. Ave Maria is played. This must be a popular choice as the tape has stretched with use giving the music an unusual tempo. The day, which had started off bright has turned into rain. There is a chance to say something. I think of the Desmond Tutu line ' We may be surprised at the people we meet in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low' but the sentiment might be lost in translation.  'Repose en paix, monte dans la gloire' has to suffice.  Farewells don't need to be scripted affairs, simple and heartfelt is all that matters.

By five o'clock night is drawing in and the lowering skies signal it's time to head home. 

So passes another day in a little village in deepest, deepest France profonde where nothing ever happens ... until it does.

A Scottish song with American accents. After Advent  a change of gear towards Hogmanay and thoughts of Scotland and the excitement of a New Year :

Monday, December 27, 2021

Efficient ...... and quick.

Sophie is up and out at first light. The sky is blue and the morning sun already warm. A perfect day for chasing C-A-T-S and digging up mole hills. There are half a dozen early rising ( and family avoiding ?) dog owners exercising their companions by the river.

The Old Farmer is badly shaken up. In the absence of family the French health care 'system' has cranked into action. A cremation is planned for the last slot this ( Monday )  afternoon. The lady friends wishes regarding the funeral were on her medical notes at the local health centre.  These have been consulted, confirmed by her doctor and acted on. A certificate has been issued. To say this is 1) a surprise and 2) amazingly efficient would both be major understatements - the more so as it's all happened over a Christmas weekend. The Old Farmer is not happy when the news of the cremation is relayed to him. He is of an age where the dead are buried not cremated . It seems cremation is a relative novelty in the more rural and conservative parts of the country.

We find the crematorium on Google. It is about forty minutes down the motorway. The website shows it to be one of those places that looks like a park in a London suburb. Large flower beds, close cropped lawns, pine trees, stone paths and a red brick chapel that could pass as a cricket pavillion. Sylvan charm , with a slight Moorish touch, squeezed in between the canal and the Nissan dealerships workshop.  The Old Farmer announces that the ceremony needs to be cancelled. ' She should be in a cemetery !'.  Calls are made but it's soon evident that the system has set its course.

So begins a new day in a small French village where nothing ever happens ... until it does.

An infectiously happy Romanian band celebrating the new railway service between Bucharest and Chisinau :

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Boxing Day

One of six 'prawns in choux pastry' mysteriously disappears from a plate on the coffee table.  There is circumstantial evidence that points to Sophie's guilt . 

The electronic system that controls the church bells has had some sort of festive meltdown. The bells have taken to chiming nine times, then four, then seven times in quick succession. They do this on the hour every hour.

Late on Christmas Eve a motor home arrives and parks outside the church. It has '16' registration plates. On our morning walk we meet a lady in an orange dressing gown and pink pom-pom slippers heading over to the wash room in the village hall. Despite her state of dress the woman is extremely talkative .She and her husband have driven from Angouleme.  Their family are all self isolating so they decided to get in their camper wagon and head south. They ended up here. At lunchtime I find them at the village hall  picnic table enjoying their Christmas Capon as if this was the most natural thing in the world to do.

Late afternoon . The Old Farmer shows up at the gate. I ask him if everything's ok. 'No !' comes the reply. He had set off at ten in the morning to spend Christmas with his lady friend. When he got there the house was quiet and the curtains closed. He let himself in and found her in bed. She'd had a massive coronary during the night. He has spent Christmas day at the hospital and then at the mortuary. He buries his head in my shoulder . We stand like this in the middle of the lane and he weeps . This morning , when he surfaces, I shall find out what needs to be done regarding the funeral and all those other 'arrangements' that become doubly complicated during a pandemic. This has been a big shock for him.

This morning Sophie and her companion have a long clear the mind walk across country. 

Then it's down to the bakers for some breakfast croissants. From the Buche de Noel in the display cabinet I'm guessing the baker prepared for a last minute rush which didn't happen.

Low key. Piano and voice and saxophone :

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas morning.

Here's wishing a Merry ( and safe ) Christmas  to you all from everyone at The Rickety Old Farmhouse . Despite current 'uncertainties' may this be your best Christmas ever.

Generations of PONs have marveled at Christmas lunch.  Gravy ( Whoaa!), Roast Potatoes ( Roll me over ! ), Stuffing ( Blimey! I has gone to heaven !). Sophie is intent on continuing this tradition. She will be dividing her time between the kitchen ( in the hope that 'The Font'  drops the turkey ) and the dining room ( where she's hoping the turkey carver leaves the plates unattended ). 

Music for Christmas Morning from Rome  :

and something pandemic defying from an empty cathedral that's determined to carry on regardless :

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve. For Sophie a perfect morning for getting out in the garden and digging up molehills. Afterwards, there's nothing like walking through the house with wet, muddy paws to being out the seasonal good cheer in your humans.

Returning from our morning walk we are invited to evening drinks by the German billionaires wife. ' We have family and friends here from Berlin' she says. Angus makes effusive apologies but mingling indoors with a house full of 'maybe vaccinated, maybe not' folks is an unenticing thought at the moment. Does that make us Christmas Grinches ?

'A thrill of hope'. Advent song #26 :

Dog owners Christmas gifts. Angus keeps them scrunched up in a pocket :

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Just as happily.

Loic , the heavily bifocaled gardener, shows up to blow leaves. There has been some problem with a stand in doctor and he's not had his third booster shot yet. You'd think this would have been a priority. I call the matron. It seems the locum has raised some issues about side effects. Loic and the other residents of the home will all be having a six monthly check up at the local health centre next week so hopefully the issue will be resolved then. In the meantime he happily blows leaves into piles which Sophie, just as happily, scatters to all corners of the garden. Loic has a sister who will be coming to visit him this weekend. He is looking forward to the visit with an enthusiasm that words cannot fully describe.

The village is calm and quiet. During the afternoon a number of large expensive cars with Parisian registration plates glide through on their way to the supermarket Click and Collect. ( What would we have done without Click and Collect, Amazon and Netflix during this pandemic ?) .The Very Old Farmers son and family arrive  at lunchtime and open up the house. They have brought a Bassett with them. The Bassett is greatly taken with Sophie but sadly for him this interest is not returned. She makes a barely imperceptible throat growl when he approaches for a second time. The amorous Bassett gets the message. As we head towards the crossroads a fleet of vehicles disgorges cleaners, handymen and caterers at the chateau. The German billionaires are back or, more probably, are on their way. Wooden crates of wine are unloaded. The Anger Management Man meets us by the pond with the news that chickens can suffer from cardiovascular failure if they're exposed to loud and unexpected noises. This information is , presumably, related to his recent loss of a rooster.

So passes another day in a village in deepest,deepest France profonde where nothing ever happens.

A fully masked Advent song #265  from Nebraska ( which I'm guessing is kinda cold at this time of the year). Why something this enthusiastic should only have 861 views is a surprise. Some singers, it is observed, are better at mask discipline than others :

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Pre-Christmas Wednesday morning.

This morning Angus is up and about before the family diva and is the first one down the stairs. It's my turn to tell Sophie it's time to head off for our tour of the village. She stands of the half landing and gives me a ' What's got into you ?' look.

We set off along the lane, turn right down the hill , pick up speed as we pass the horses and then amble back up to The Rickety Old Farmhouse. En route we take in the stream and the waterfall. Ten minutes are spent, ineptly, fishing for minnows. On her return my shaggy companion opts for a restorative napette , in the still rising sun, by the front door. When Sophie opts for a napette she throws her heart and soul into it.

Tomorrow we shall collect the small turkey we've ordered from the farmer at the crossroads and then on Friday the Buche de Noel from the fancy bakers. To avoid any confusion after last years cultural misunderstanding 'The Font' has told the turkey farmer we'd like the bird plucked and ready for the oven rather than alive. That will be the sum of our Covid era Christmas preparations.

Back to Manhattan for Advent song # 24 . I'm surprised the church is this full even though everyone appears to be masked :

Maybe when things are back to normal(ish) we might pop down here for a few days. It's only an hour from Toulouse by air :

Can hospitals combine function and beauty ? :

Tuesday, December 21, 2021


The Old Farmers routine becomes ever more uninhibited. At three thirty two this morning ( I stared at the bedside clock in disbelief so the timing is exact to the minute ) the Ford Transit motor home is coaxed, noisily, into life. There is a problem with its crankshaft which produces a shutter rattling roar. Sleep becomes academic. The motor home heads off down the lane. An hour and forty three minutes later ( the bedside clock again looked at in disbelief ) he returns. So many questions. Why did he decide to go off in the middle of the night ? Where did he go ?  At what stage does a ninety two year olds behaviour transition from the charmingly eccentric to 'travel by moonlight' bizarre ?  Perhaps there's a rational explanation ?

Sophie does not suffer from disturbed sleep patterns. She is as fresh as a daisy and ready to begin the days excitement. This morning Angus tries to install Amazon Prime on the 'smart' tv. This should take seconds but doesn't. An app has to be found and programmed in. Both finding and programming aren't as simple as the handbook claims. The family diva can only do so much to hide her impatience with this ineptitude. Another morning where priorities seem to have been misplaced. Surely, this could have waited until after our trip to the bakers for curly croissant ends ? The guilt inducing PONette gaze is much in evidence.

Advent song #23 from an unusually empty St.Pauls in London :

Monday, December 20, 2021

Fraying patience.

Shoes have to be put on. Then the car keys found.  Just when it seems that the day can finally get started someone remembers that they've left their i-Phone in the kitchen. All a girl can do is sit and sigh and wonder why she's the only organized one in the house. Does no one recognize the importance of getting to the bakers for curly croissant ends ?

And so into the final run up to Christmas. Advent song #22 from England :

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Small talk 2021 style.

The sun burning away the frost as we head off on our morning tour of the village. Sophie gives chase to a village C-A-T that's chosen this particular moment to cross the lane in front of her. It goes without saying that the C-A-T is in no danger of being caught.

From the top of the ridge we can see the neighbouring hill top villages peaking through the mist. The old mayor tootles by in the ancient Renault without hub caps. He stops , winds down the windows and asks ' Are you going to the Christmas cassoulet festival ? It should be quite a day '. 

We head along the old Roman road to the stream. At this hour on a Sunday morning not a sound to be heard. Sophie, having dealt with the C-A-T, is feeling mighty proud of herself and strides ahead.

The Dutch and the Danes have gone back into full lockdown again. The UK is in some half way limbo. Cases of the new variant are skyrocketing in the Ile de France around Paris. This morning we shall double mask and hit the greengrocers for our Christmas fruit and vegetables. The greengrocers opens at nine and we're hoping to be in and out by ten past. Experience tells us that despite the current official denials , travel restrictions will be in place some time next week.  Sophie will get some curly croissant ends from the drive thru bakers. As far as she's concerned life is simply wonderful.

The Old Farmer is up and about early. He's slowly sweeping up the leaves in his forecourt into a pile. Later today he's planning to take the venerable Ford Transit motor home for a spin. ' It's lovely weather ' he adds cheerfully.

 Advent song #21 from Dresden :

Saturday, December 18, 2021



On our start of day walk we meet the girlfriend of the young man who  reads the water meter. She manages a dozen or so holiday homes owned by Brits . Her clients usually load up their cars with mince pies and Christmas puddings and drive down to the Gers for the holidays. Yesterday, the French government imposed blanket restrictions on travellers from the UK coming to France. The bulk of her clients had to cancel their travel plans at the last minute. One lucky couple made it onto the daily flight from Heathrow to Toulouse but are now forced to quarantine. She is heading off to turn down heating systems and make sure windows and shutters are all securely locked. 'It's a shame for them but if it stops it getting to France it'll be worthwhile' she says. Angus sees little point in being a Grinch and pointing out that Omicron is almost certainly here.

Sophie sports an unusual and somewhat comical post walk hairdo.  I tell her that two horns is a  suitably diabolic look for her. She ignores this with family diva  aloofness. Eagle eyed readers will note from her paws that she has already  been fishing for minnows, ineptly,  in the stream.

The Old Farmer spends much of the afternoon rummaging around in his basement. There are long periods of silence followed by brief interludes of swearing.  He finds another strand of Christmas lights. Our ninety two year old neighbour clambers, slowly,  up a step ladder and attaches them to the front and side of the garage . I wander over and ask if I can help but get a one word answer 'No!'. The Old Farmer has reached that age where fierce independence blends into the unrestrainedly  cantakerous. When darkness falls we observe that two thirds of the lights no longer work. We shall keep this observation to ourselves.

Advent music #20 from Brazil :

A fun product ideal for pouring . Interestingly , it's made in the US  :

Friday, December 17, 2021


Bright and sunny this morning. Sophie rushes off to the storm drain. We sit side by side, put the world to rights, and wave at the young garagiste and two old farmers driving by in their white vans. One of the old farmers stops to let me admire his new Peugeot. It looks identical to the old Peugeot van but I don't tell him this. Aesthetically there is only so much a designer can do with a small white van. 'Very fancy' I tell him in a tone of voice that, hopefully, sounds sincere. 

Sophie could walk on the grass. She could walk on the road. Instead she returns to The Rickety Old Farmhouse by carefully ploughing her way through the leaves on the verge. Why walk when you can walk and make a satisfying crinkling noise ? 

The Old Farmers star isn't switched on this year. He can't be bothered to replace some of the bulbs that have burnt out. It sits atop a long bamboo pole looking dark and forlorn. Instead, to celebrate the festive season, he has set up a small line of lights on his balcony. These should not be confused with the Christmas lights that run all the way round his gutters and which are attached to a motion sensor. These are now left up all year. 

A village council meeting. No one wears masks. 'The Font' is less than happy with this arrangement and quickly makes excuses and leaves . A dozen people crammed into a small airless room. Go figure .  A suggestion to move into the large communal area with windows that open is met with the retort ' But it would be so cold in there'.

The sign above the church door has still not been illuminated despite an extension lead being dropped off at the Mairie. The new mayor is a great prevaricator of the ' I'll get round to it when I'm not so busy' variety. A cynic might wonder what, in a village of 67 souls, is keeping him so busy.

 Advent song #19. Classical formality. Three Kings as it was originally written and performed :

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Pre-dinner tour.

On our pre-dinner tour of the village we stop and marvel at the village Christmas decorations in their full sparkling glory. There is a sign on the church door saying Joyeuses Fetes but it remains unilluminated as there is no spare power socket to plug it into. I shall go into the town hall later today with an extension cable.

Heading  home we see Saturn, Jupiter and Venus in a straight 45 degree line in the sky above The Rickety Old Farmhouse. Sadly, the supposedly improved camera on the i-Phone struggles with night time shots  but you can just make them out. We open a bottle of champagne and stand in the garden in the cold marveling at this strange planetary alignment . Our night time wanderings add fuel to the fire for those villagers who think their friends from the North are a sandwich short of a picnic. There's something rather comforting about standing and watching the night sky at Christmas.  

France did 850k 3rd jabs yesterday but there seems to be no understanding, among the villagers, of what is heading towards us in January. The older residents had their third jab early on but the younger ones have adopted that ' I'm too busy ' attitude to the sixth wave. For our part we are slowly retreating to the routines of last December. Sophie still gets her curly croissant ends but they now come from the drive thru bakers. The good baker is too much of a risk with forty or so , largely mask less, patrons crammed in around the bar.

This morning a frost on the grass that leads to the waterfall. Sophie gives me her patented ' Do keep up!' look.

Back on top of the ridge the sun is already out and there's warmth in the air. I note that the wisteria leaves have started to fall. 

This morning Sophie's nose has the lustre of one of the canine worlds greatest wonders. It is perhaps a candidate for THE canine worlds greatest wonder. 

To Mali for Advent Song # 18 :

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

PONette wisdom.

PONette wisdom. Sometimes it's difficult for a girl to get comfortable when she's sharing a bed with her favourite 'sausage dog' toy. When this happens the best thing to do is get your head out of the bed and continue your nap. To the uninitiated this 'head down', approach may look uncomfortable but beats going out into the dark. Do not under any circumstances acknowledge the command ' It's time to get up '. If needs be feign clinical deafness.

A fun shop in Argentina. The masks on the walls are carved by villagers to keep alive  the memory of animals they find on the side of the road. There seem to be pumas among them - which is doubly sad. What a rather a kind and elemental thing to do :

And no Christmas would be complete without a song from the parallel universe of German television. Dry ice, 70's era pop star, ladies playing violins, naked flames ,dinner jackets, dubious lighting and garish backdrops a speciality. Stay for the fireworks at the end :

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Discussion points.

Tuesday morning. Same old discussion points with the Manhattanites - Iran, Taiwan ,Ukraine and Joe Manchin. Sophie sits almost patiently while I chat away. The Manhattanites are keen for a face to face. Angus is equally keen not to have one. The infection rate in Bordeaux is above 1100 per hundred thousand. That's getting towards last years peak and most certainly  doesn't tempt me to go to an airport .

The water level in the stream has fallen a good eighteen inches . Sophie approaches it with caution but is soon slurping, happily, away. The PONette knows there's nothing quite like water fresh from the stream.

The Christmas tree is carried upstairs and slowly decorated. Why we do this when we're the only folks likely to see it is a mystery. A sign of deeply ingrained routines.

A kind PON owner sent us a bauble with Bobs face on it. This takes pride of place in the middle of the tree. One box of baubles seems to be missing. Angus put it somewhere super safe so that it wouldn't get lost. This afternoon will be spent tracking it down so the tree can be finished.

Angus also gets to work on the antique Shaker candle sticks that were bought for a small fortune  in San Francisco forty years ago.  They are large and impractical.  The top candles end up being close to the chandelier. A design flaw in any house that doesn't sport twenty foot ceilings. 

 Advent song #16 with an ever so slightly nervous soloist in Birmingham, Alabama :