Monday, December 31, 2012

Hogmanay .

Another year nearly gone. Kilts and sporrans found in time for tonights Hogmanay celebrations. Then its off at a canter into the New Year. A trip to the dog loving lady and the blind school in India followed by a long Easter trip to California. Then time to focus on new PON brothers.

For the New Year an upbeat, optimistic, happy little poem written by a Welsh lady , Sheenagh Pugh, who lives in the Shetlands.  A 2013 New Year hope in verse. 


Sometimes things don't go , after all ,
from bad to worse. Some years , muscadel
faces down frost ; green thrives ; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high , and all goes well.

A people sometimes step back from war ;
elect an honest man ; decide they care
enough , that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss ; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen ; may it happen to you.

Sheenagh Pugh.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Oysters, chocolate and Galette.

The French are big on oysters at this time of the year. A large tent, twelve parking spaces wide and three deep, set up in the supermarket car park to sell them.  Piles and piles of oyster cartons stacked up and down the aisles. Amazing how the things can be farmed on this scale .

In the window of the Belgian confectioners a lifesize chocolate ballgown. A sign underneath saying ''  Please do not touch ". I've seen chocolate Eiffel Towers in Paris,  a chocolate Statue of Liberty in New York and a chocolate Colliseum in Rome but a chocolate evening dress ? One twirl round the dancefloor and it would be chocolate fondant.

New Year almost upon us. Galette des Rois for sale amid the baguettes in the Sunday morning market.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fully qualified.

The night of the village Christmas gathering. Cars, vans and mud spattered 4x4's parked everywhere . The salle des fetes a heaving mass of revellers , their children and their dogs.  DJ Florian in full flow. Fleetwood Macs '' Don't stop thinking about tomorrow " a favourite. At the end of each song DJ Florian makes a whooping noise and then rotates 360 degrees, hands above his head. Quite a skill  for a man his age. Madame mayor tells me Florians a physiotherapist but his real passion is being a disc jockey. '' He's fully qualified " she adds for good measure. ' As a physiotherapist maybe ' thinks Angus but keeps this thought to himself.

Madame Bay, dressed head to toe in red, is there en famille. The good for nothing son-in-law Hugo dispensing punch from a tea urn. Armagnac with just a splash of orange juice. '' Delicious " says ' the font ' untruthfully.  The old farmer and the very old farmer wave. The woman with the beehive hairdo tells me that the head of the Village Fleuri Committtee is there with 'a friend ' who's not his wife. The Jack Russells and the malevolent Maltese are chased out of the kitchen. They scurry, line astern, out of the French windows. After half an hour we follow them

Friday, December 28, 2012

Kool and the Gang.

Much tooing and frooing across the village green. The ladies of the Beautiful Byeways Committee preparing for tomorrow nights Christmas gathering in the village hall. This year , the accordionist being ill with the flu, they have hired a DJ from the neighbouring village. He has an old battered Renault van with a hand painted sign across the back : " DJ Florian . New York Disco Sound . Rave on ". Studio 54 comes to France Profonde .

The afternoon school bus arrives by the war memorial while Florian is trying out the sound system. As far as we can tell the sound system only has one setting - Loud. The waiting mothers, a gaggle of toddlers, Madame Bay, her daughters - Sandrine, Nadine, the other 'ine' ( Delfine ? ) -  and all the baby ' ine's ' can soon be seen punching the air and dancing to the sound of ' Celebration ' as sung by Kool and the Gang. Those famous French lyrics ' weir gonha ave ay sell-a-bray-shunn too-nite ' echoing across the fields.

Late in the evening Madame Mayor and her husband arrive and string a single row of coloured lights across the front of the salle des fetes. It's going to be an evening to remember.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The motorhome.

Ten past two in the morning. The old farmer returns from visiting his sister in Brittany . We know it's  ten past two because our neighbour decides this is a good time to  work on the engine of his ancient motorhome. He sings as he does so. Angus is despatched to find out where the infernal hammering noise is coming from.

France is back to normal after the Christmas festivities. Post being delivered, shops open, the bakers preparing for New Year. Behind the petits fours a large ' Pain Surprise et Toasts '. A snip at  €65. " The filling's foie gras " says the baker trying , unsuccessfully, to sell it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unexpected .

Christmas Day . Late afternoon. The bell at the front gate rings. It's the gutter repairman in his little white Peugeot van. '' Bonjour M'Ongoose. I knew you'd be at home ". He was stopping by to let us know he'd almost certainly be cleaning out the gutters the first week in January. '' First week, maybe the second " . ' What an unexpected Christmas present ' says ' the font ' .

In a neighbouring village the fountain in the square decorated with lights, most of them flashing festively away under the water. The whole thing powered by an electrical cable taped to the pavement. The wire starts in the town hall, then traces its way across the Place de la Revolution before coming to a halt in a junction box by the fountain. Wires disappear into the water. Water and electricity. How unexpected.  Health and safety France profonde style.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A merry Christmas to everybody !

Eight thirty on Christmas morning. The bakers already crammed full of harried fathers and over excited toddlers collecting their buches de noel. To help with the rush two extra staff on duty behind the counter ( mother and mother in law ? ) .

At the cafe under the arcades the beer and absinthe crowd  on their third beer of the day.  The waitress in her apron with the flashing lights .  The motability scooter has tinsel on its handlebars.

The fountain by the war memorial covered in a mountain of  foam. Evidence of the rugby clubs midnight swim. 

Home to find twenty red headed chaffinches squabbling over yesterdays stale croissants. 

A merry Christmas to everybody !

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve miracles.

The supermarket opens at 6.30 am. Unheard of for France. ' The font ' suggests we go early to avoid the crowds. Seems we aren't the only people who think like that .  Despite the endless line of cars looking for a space a  parking spot suddenly appears right by the front door. Christmas miracle #1.

Miracle #2 . All the checkouts are staffed and operational.  Ahead of us a large family paying for oysters. They don't pay by cheque. They don't want to discuss philosophy with the check-out lady. Their credit card works. They don't have to run back and buy a pint of milk. We've paid and are in the car all within twenty minutes .

Miracle #3. Neither British Airways nor the French air traffic controllers on strike over the holidays. Toulouse airport running to schedule.

Miracle #4. It's going to be a sunny 75 degrees today.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Exotic luxury and a dog poem.

Little Becky Marshmallows set out under a sign saying ' exotic luxuries ' . Spotted yesterday in the food section of the upmarket Galeries Lafayette department store in Toulouse .

Here's a seasonal dog poem . The final line makes me laugh . Dogs , like young humans , have that special form of  ' hardly able to stop ' energy.

The Storm

Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the snow
with wild feet.
Running here running there, excited,
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.
Oh, I could not have said it better.

Mary Oliver

Saturday, December 22, 2012

One armed.

The blue truck with the crane returns. A huge pile of scaffolding unloaded onto the gravel area in front of the church. Having been unsuccessful in prising the clock face away from the wall using the crane the aim is now to build up scaffolding and ' chip ' it out. The truck and accompanying white van disappear at lunchtime. The scaffolding remains. I'm betting we won't see the clock 'chipping' workmen again until mid-January.

The house slowly beginning to look like Norkopping. The last of the roses pruned and recycled into flower displays. A sure sign that the festivities are upon us. Candles everywhere. ' The font ' thinks of Sweden and seasonal cheer, Angus thinks of fire hazard.

Up and out bright and early to get the turkey. Thick fog. On the other side of the lane the old farmers Christmas star beams merrily out through the gloom. The light bulbs on one arm of the star ' have gone ' . It is unlikely that he has noticed or that the lights will be replaced. At this rate we should be down to a one armed star by New Year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

One of those days.

Down to the greengrocers to collect the large Christmas tree for the upstairs hallway. Selected , paid for and set aside last Saturday. '' It'll be here for you Monsieur Ongoose whenever you want to collect it ". When I get there the greengrocer isn't there but his wife is.  ' We don't have any trees left. I sold the last one yesterday ' . She calls her husband . ' Oops ! It was your tree I sold '. That omnipresent French phrase '' Je suis desolee " .

Outside the supermarket a spindly six foot affair. The last unsold Christmas tree in France. Somewhere, somehow it seems to have lost most of the branches on one side.  ' The font ' looks at it for a moment. " Guess you won't be needing the step ladders ".

On the village green high drama. The clock in the church tower hasn't worked since a dead pigeon fell off the belfry into the mechanism and became wedged in the cogs. Two years of glorious silence without its dunk dunk dunk every hour ; twice.  Lunchtime . A large truck arrives with a crane on it. This is soon followed by a white van with three men in grey overalls. They spend the afternoon trying to prise the clock from the wall. They fail. The mayor waves his hands. Madame mayor shouts encouragement. At five on the dot the men, the blue truck with the crane and the white van all go.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A particular nativity.

Time to dig out the Christmas crib . Mary, three wisemen , two shepherds, a little boy holding a bird, half a dozen towering angels and what appears to be a little old lady in a blue dress. Another smaller angel sitting side saddle on the roof of the stable. Joseph plays no part in this very particular nativity scene. 

Madame Bay , who is here to ' do the bedrooms '  makes clucking noises as each piece is unwrapped . Half ' oh la la ' and half ' ha ha ha ' . Sometimes she is so overcome with joy she claps.  Our saintly septaguenarian is delighted, as she is every year, by everything to do with Christmas. 

By the end of the morning she has rearranged all the pieces so that angels, wisemen and shepherd are all mixed up together. Rather like a chaotic village gathering.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Less is more.

The mayors wife has been at it again. This time the telephone box at the crossroads has received her very special seasonal decorating skills . Four small boxes wrapped in red paper suddenly dangling from branches around it . In our three years here we've never seen anyone use this phone box . It is literally the phone box in the middle of nowhere.  The end result quite eerie.

'' Perhaps she has a decorating budget " I observe as we drive by. ' Must be a very small one ' comes the reply.

Christmas glamour France profonde style.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eleven out of twelve.

Off to Toulouse to look at bathroom cabinets. This task apparently can't be left until after Christmas. While ' the font ' exhaustively  discusses handles and taps Angus goes off in search of wine. 

By the car park one of those old fashioned family chocolate shops. All the chocolate Elks , bar one, in the window have been sold.  By contrast eleven out of an original twelve Pandas still waiting patiently for a buyer. Maybe Pandas don't press the right Christmas buttons ? There again it might be the alarming look on their little faces .

Overnight no less than nine of those weird  SPAM messages of the  '' Wonderful paintings ! That's the sort of message that should be shared across the web " variety . Has anyone found a way of stopping them ?

Monday, December 17, 2012

A womans Christmas.

In the lobby of the supermarket a trestle table has been set out. On it a plastic bottle of supermarket brand Coke, an unopened carton of orange juice, a dozen slices of plain cake , a pile of paper napkins and a stack of plastic cups. A sign saying " Father Christmas offers you a taste . Help yourself ". There seem to be few takers.

By the frozen chicken counter another table. This one has a sign saying  ' A womans Christmas '. Underneath it the must have item of 2012 ? A glass mosaic 'Elvis' mirror.  €19.90. Only goes to show. You can find all your shopping needs in a French supermarket if you look hard enough.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Changing times.

The knife sharpener is in  town for his annual visit . A huge man in his mid-30's with a walrus moustache. ' The font ' drives down to the garlic hall with the Japanese kitchen knives and the garden shears. The knife sharpener used to be busy all day with a stream of customers but now he's lucky if he gets a dozen jobs. '' People just aren't interested in having their knives sharpened " . When asked why he just shrugs his shoulders. The advent of ceramic knives ? Do we live in a place where people use blunt blades ? Or perhaps the townsfolk are self sharpeners ?

The bakers wife has taken a course in chocolate making and has been awarded the title ' artisinale chocolatiere '.  Even though it's not yet light she insists I try one of her Orangettes. Her husband looks on proudly from behind the cake counter. Both of them are, surprisingly,  as slim as rakes . She hopes to be unveiling a new line of orange and lemon creams in time for Christmas. '' I'm working on the recipe but it's a bit tricky ".

The excitement of life in deepest, deepest France profonde.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chutzpah ?

The little Skoda has developed an irritating rattle. Something to do with the metal dog guard. A strange harmonic - hacksaw and tuning fork combined. Over the last three weeks Angus has had a number of increasingly 'direct' conversations with the salesman and the garage owner over the scratches on the inside of the windscreen . He must now decide if he has the chutzpah to take the squeaking vehicle in to the local dealership to be fixed. The alternative ? A fifty mile drive to the anonymity of the showroom in Toulouse. From the garage owners tone of voice during our last ' conversation ' this may be the wiser course. That old adage - ' it pays to complain ' . Not always true.

In the little market town the municipal workmen have mummified the trees outside the church in a shroud of Christmas lights. Every branch covered from tip to trunk. That must require patience if not skill.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Here in all their grandeur.

Lunchtime. The mayors wife parks, engine still running, by the war memorial. She gets out, arranges her hair net , extracts a plastic carrier bag from the back seat and sets to work. Six minutes later it's all over. The 2012 village Christmas decorations are in place. The battered blue Renault without hubcaps drives off.

Mid-afternoon. We wander over to look at her handiwork . Even 'the font ' is hard put to find something positive to say. That old standby " at least she made an effort " .

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pomegranate and artichokes.

' The font ' busy trying out new Christmas recipes before 'they' arrive.The kitchen a hyperactive no-go zone.  At the moment we're big on pomegranate. Last night carpaccio de Saint-Jacques, orange et avocat, vinaigrette mangue-grenade then chicken with pomegranate and artichokes. This, I am told, is a Moroccan Jewish recipe. 'They' will undoubtedly like it. No sign yet of the Christmas cakes which are supposedly en route from England.

Over breakfast ' the font ' informs me that 
  • The maiden name of James Joyce's wife was Nora Barnacle
  • Queen Victoria's governess had a wind problem that she dealt with by constantly chewing Caraway seeds. This made her very unpopular with Prince Albert .
  • Europe has 7% of the worlds population ,  24% of  global economic output and 51% of worldwide social expenditures.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Freezing fog this morning. A slow,careful, drive down into the market town. The Square eerily quiet. The beer and absinthe crowd huddled together for warmth around a radiator at the back of the cafe. The lady in the dressing gown and pink pom-pom slippers stubs out her cigarette and offers me a beer. A shrug of the shoulders and a polite  '' If only I wasn't driving " in reply.

The local pharmacist is arranging his window display. A Christmas reindeer and a collection of hot water bottles. Next door the proprietress of the childrens clothing store is installing a Christmas tree. Well, not so much a Christmas tree as a silver twig with a grand total of eight baubles on it . The demonic mannequins look on.  Less than two weeks to go and festive cheer is running rampant.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Two ladies standing in the supermarket aisle looking inquiringly at a seasonal pile of Cadbury's chocolate Finger biscuits. One picks up a can, examines it closely , then turns to the other and says " How exotic ! ".

Further down the aisle a box of ' Toulouse ' Monopoly.  Does that quailfy as exotic ?