Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The traffic jam .

Up early . Angus stands at the open front door, large cup of coffee in hand, watching a family of magpies walk counter clockwise around the swimming pool . Round and round they go. Two adults and three young. They do this at six in the morning and again at six in the evening , every day. Natures  routines. How many of these little rituals do I miss ?

No sign of the builder, electrician or gutter repairman. There is however progress of sorts. The bamboo cover for the pergola is delivered. It was supposed to be here on Friday but the shipping company took it to a village with the same name but in a different departement. " Perhaps you could come and collect it " they suggest. Angus chuckles .

To the bakers for the breakfast croissants. On the way back a traffic jam. Fifty or sixty ancient motorcycles out for a Tuesday morning spin. Some of them heading towards us on the wrong side of the road. At the back the figure of Monsieur Bay , stalled  , trying to kick start his vintage machine into life. Swearing contentedly away he's quite oblivious to the line of cars building up behind him . The Retired Gendarmes Association on summer manoeuvres.

And so with life in France Profonde drifting gently along we head off on vacation. One final reminder to water the garden and we're off on our way to Boston.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Walker Texas Ranger

A day spent shuttling backwards and forwards between the house and Toulouse airport. Angus has ample time to rediscover the wonders of the airport McDonalds. They now bring your coffee and macaroons to the table. No need to queue. Very French.

The heat is building up.The sage in the herb garden in full flower.Track suit wearing Dutch and Belgian tourists beginning to arrive.The bakers selling out of croissants by seven thirty. A sign has appeared on the town hall notice board.  '' For the first time in Europe " the Walker Texas Ranger band. Country music hits deepest France Profonde. Angus wonders how big a  following the band have in Texas .

Late Afternoon. ' The font ' seeing Prometheus at the local cinema. Angus sits at the cafe enjoying a glass of wine. A brief interlude of peace. The cafe has invested in new purple plastic chairs. As ugly as they are flimsy. I'll bet they're all broken within a month .

Across the way four American ladies in broad brimmed sun hats have set up easels and are happily painting the shops in the market place . Angus can't help but think that it's unusual to come all the way to France from Illinois and choose the tobacconists as a subject . The American ladies look up when five old Citroens park , line abreast , by the police station. A group of vintage car enthusiasts spill out onto the pavement and stand laughing before driving off again. The American ladies think the Citroen drivers arrival, and departure , is ' sooo French ' . Life in France Profonde. Not long now before the sunflowers are in full bloom .

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A bright outlook.

A delivery van from London shows up at six thirty in the morning . They were supposed to be here three days ago but their ETA kept on being put further and further back . In the end Angus had one of those ' what is it about the word service that you don't understand ? ' type conversations with the owner of the company . Their revenge was had by showing up at the crack of dawn. '' You don't know how difficult it is to juggle a schedule " the driver tells me with a completely straight face.

' The font ' returns from the market . The tired old Volkswagen has been hit by a piece of grit that's chipped the windscreen. An hour later Angus heads off in the big 4x4 . At the edge of the village the windscreen gets hit by a stone. '' What's the chance of that happening to both of us on the same day ? " asks ' the font '. Angus responds with a neanderthal grunt.  To the surprise of all involved the windscreen repair company are on the scene within an hour. All charged painlessly and effortlessly to the insurance.

The Italian garden furniture needs to be assembled . The house about to fill up for the summer. Unable to prevaricate any longer Angus gets to work. How difficult can it be ? Answer : Extremely difficult if the manufacturer hasn't supplied the correct number of bolts and screws. Why is it the packaging never contains the right components? One of those strange never changing rules of the universe. The old farmer rummages around in the back of his Ford Transit  , " Bought her in 1968. Never had a days trouble ", and appears with two three inch bolts . Problem solved.

A trip to the bakers for macaroons. All is once again well with the world. The builder will be back on Monday to finish the pergola, the electricians have promised to return to repair the security light which has stopped working , and the gutter repair man has undertaken to show up and sort out the leaky downpipe. Even the pool man has promised to make an appearance . The rickety old farmhouse is slowly getting less rickety .

Friday, June 22, 2012

The return of the morose 'lads'.

The electricians return . Naturally, they don't call to tell us they are coming .This time they're accompanied by two morose ' lads '. The light in the downstairs library finally fitted. A mere eighteen months from the idea first being mooted. Angus thinks of saying something reflective about the passage of time , but doesn't . The two morose 'lads' spend their morning standing in a flower bed smoking .

Nearly lunchtime. Another white van arrives . It's the builder come to install a metal pergola on the upstairs terrace. He'd taken measurements in October and we'd heard nothing since.  '' Have it up in an hour or so M'Ongoose " he intones with what might be taken for professional certainty .

Late afternoon. The builder is still at work. '' More difficult than I thought M'Ongoose. These old walls are crooked. Having to use the laser " . He points to an orange contraption on a tripod .  Angus ponders a number of possible responses but opts for a nod and a smile .

Early evening. The pergola nearly up. A third artisinal visitor appears. It's the gutter repairman in his Peugeot van. A beep of the horn and a hearty '' Salut M'Ongoose ". He opens the rear doors, pulls out a ladder and glances at his watch. It's ten to five . He then re-loads the ladder in the back of the van before announcing that he'll be back when the weathers more settled. Angus looks at the cloudless sky and wonders how settled he needs it to be.

' The font ' returns from the little market town with a walnut and marzipan cake .Angus has two slices and regrets it .

Life in deepest France Profonde .

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Alliterative acanthus.

Acanthus. They barely survived in the Scottish garden . North sea gales and May frosts not to their liking . We planted three of the things in a distant wilderness corner , behind the barn , in our first year here . Two years later and they're taking over . Purple and white shoots sprouting everywhere.  ' Self seeding ' the understatement of the decade  . Ineradicable . No sooner do you dig up the roots than new shoots appear . What was an exotic feature in Scotland is an invasive weed in South West France . The rickety old farmhouse and its ever expanding acanthus garden .

Time for a glass of champagne . Angus picks up a recently delivered book on the lives of the Roman caesars . Reviewed in the Saturday FT. First page , first chapter , the following line .  " ... with impassioned gestures he importuned his contemporaries for acquiesence, assistance , acknowledgements , awe , acclaim , an approximation of ardour and , above all , admiration and action " . Alliteration run wild . The book , unread,  put back on the library shelves . Saved for a winters night.

Still no sign of the electricians .

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

That was stupid !

Hot , cloudy and humid . Chattahoochee weather . The sort of day to head off to the air conditoned supermarket . Angus loads the shopping in the back of the car. Everything safely stowed, he slams the tail gate shut. The car then locks itself . Angus outside. The shopping inside . The keys hanging temptingly from the ignition . " Did you mean to do that ? " asks 'the font'.

Forty five minutes on the phone to various breakdown garages . '' I've locked myself out of the car ". Finally , one of them calls back to say they'll send someone over  . ' He'll be with you straight away ' . An hour later he arrives . An overly hirsute young man . He looks at the car, looks at Angus and then says ' That was a stupid thing to do ' .

An hour spent prising doors and windows open. The old Volkswagen proving to be the Fort Knox of the automotive world. The young man forces a small gap between the window and the door frame and  manages to pull the keys out of the ignition using a long piece of coated wire. He then drops the keys under the drivers seat. ' I can't reach them now '. Angus bites his lip . At this very minute the gendarmes arrive in a little Peugeot with flashing blue lights. '' Allo. Allo. What's going on here ? " .

Ten minutes of increasingly terse conversation while Angus explains that his identity documents are in the car. The gendarmes seem to view this answer with ' I've heard that line before ' suspicion. Finally, the mechanic and 'the font' convince them that yours truly is not trying to steal a battered old Volkswagen with white dog hairs embedded in the upholstery and a tell tale circular mark on the rear seat where a family pooch once had an ' accident '. Angus helpfully points out that if he was going to steal a car he'd choose the silver BMW parked in the next aisle over. ' The font ' gives him that ' stop talking while you're ahead ' look.  The police finally leave . The older of the two laughs and says " that was a really daft thing to do ". Angus bites his lip. 

After another thirty minutes,  the hairy mechanic manages to pick the lock. We pay him an extortionate  $200 and he goes . " You won't make that mistake again " he says using the tone of voice normally reserved for talking to a four year old who's just fallen off a bike. 

Home . Madame Bay says " you've been away for hours . Did you have a good time ? " . ' The font ' replies that Angus has made it a most interesting morning. No sign of the electricians .

Sunday, June 17, 2012

This will be worth a fortune .

Saturday afternoon . A week before the house fills up for the summer. The electricians arrive unannounced at four o'clock . " Bonjour M'Ongoose. We haven't forgotten you " says the more senior of the two with unbridled cheerfulness . For a brief moment Angus thinks of pointing out that they'd promised faithfully to be here in March . They repair a security light, adjust a chandelier and hang two lamps in the snug . At five, on the dot, they quietly disappear . They leave a box of tools and a ladder in the upstairs hallway . Angus takes this as a sign that they will reappear on Monday morning to finish off all the other jobs. ' The font ' is less sure.

The garden furniture from Italy is due to be delivered at lunchtime. The phone goes at two. '' Excuse me Signor but our truck has broken down. A million apologies but can we come next week ? " . Angus , recognizing that ' can we come next week ' is  Italian shorthand  for  ' we'll be with you sometime after the summer ' , says no. He needs the furniture now . The phone doesn't ring again . Angus resigns himself to a summer without the garden furniture .  Ten thirty at night the doorbell rings . A very battered white van in the courtyard. The furniture unloaded by the glow of the newly repaired security light. The driver announces he has another delivery tonight . " Where ? " I ask . ' In Bordeaux ' comes the reply. '' That's two hours away ". The driver shrugs his shoulders and hurtles through the gates. Angus wonders how happy the next client will be at getting a delivery of furniture after midnight .
Sunday morning .On the other side of the lane a very large and very battered and very orange truck has made an appearance in the old farmers driveway . It is parked at right angles to the ancient motorhome with its non-matching chintz curtains . Impossible to miss. The old farmer , resplendent in string vest, baseball cap , voluminous ex-army shorts and tartan slippers , is stroking the leviathans  rear mud guard . '' This will be worth a fortune when it's restored " he shouts out by way of greeting and explanation . Angus smiles .

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Logic ignored.

A forty five minute drive into the county town. Time to renew the car insurance. Summer has well and truly arrived. The temperatures nudging into the 90's and , if the local newspaper weather forecast is to believed , set to stay there for the next three months.

In the central square, the Place de la Revolution, a small army of restaurant and cafe owners busy setting up tables and chairs. Umbrellas sprouting wherever you look. On a side street Angus finds an Indian restaurant. A culinary rarity here in deepest France Profonde. Exotic beyond belief for provincial Tarn-et-Garonne .  Brief dreams of a chicken biryani, poppadoms and a bottle or two of cold Kingfisher beer.  

' The font ' has other ideas . ' Surely you didn't come all the way to France to eat in an Indian restaurant ? Anyway it's a beautiful day ' . Angus points out , unsuccessfully, that the restaurant owners have come from much further away than we have in order to cook for us. This logic is ignored. We eat outside, under an umbrella. At least the restaurants under the umbrellas do steak. One rather ancient white poodle wanders out of the door of the nearest kitchen , tours the tables, and finally drapes itself proprietorially across ' the fonts '  left foot. It then falls asleep. It stays this way , secure in the knowledge it's found a dog person . Residual eau de Wilf on the shoes ?

The hectic pace of French summer life .

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Passionate undivided fidelities .

It's stopped raining. In the afternoon a posse of hardy cyclists venture through the village . No sooner here than they're gone . A meli-melange of red and blue lycra disappearing , laughing ,  into the distance .

The greengrocers wife sees me park the car. She raps her knuckles on the shops plate glass window to grab my attention  . '' M'Ongoose. We have potatoes from the Ile de Re ". All the other shoppers neglected as she explains that these potatoes are the best in the world. '' The soil is full of iodine " . The neglected shoppers nod and murmur in agreement. Another step towards educating this visitor from the north .

Oliver, the faithful old Labrador, is no more. For the last two years he's waited patiently by the doorstep for the return of his master. Last night a delivery van from Toulouse sped through the village. Driven too fast. Eighty, at least, in a thirty kilometre an hour zone. A young man in a hurry. A shortcut to the motorway. Oliver was sound asleep on the tarmac and didn't hear it coming. ' Just an old dog ' says the young man. The old  widow distraught. Angus helps dig a grave. A shaven headed, bib overalled group from the womens cooperative lower Oliver, wrapped in a sheet, into the ground. We're watched from over the fence by the cooperatives herd of bemused, leaf munching, alpacas. The undivided fidelities of a village dog. The peaceful , unchanging , routines of life in deepest France Profonde.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

" You old scoundrel ! "

It's been raining solidly for four days. The little market town deserted. The election posters peeling off the billboards. Angus goes to the post office with a parcel of books from Amazon. The carton has burst and three of the books are soaked through . Why the post lady would have left them outside in the downpour is a mystery . The post master can't understand why they've been left outside either . He agrees to return them but blames Amazon for putting too many books in the box. '' Books are heavy you know " he says by way of explanation. Angus unsure of how to respond , nods .

Home to find that Madame Bay is at the breakfast table relaying the latest village goings on to ' the font ' . Today she is in a chintz cotton dress , yellow woollen cardigan and paisley headscarve. A pair of blue wellington boots a gesture to the constant rain . It seems the 1500 bottles of Evian we saw being  delivered to the town hall on Saturday morning have been sent by the regional government . They are to be given to the old folk of the village if a '  heat emergency ' is declared . 

The very old farmer showed up at the town hall yesterday morning to demand his share of the water . The mayor patiently explained that he could only hand out the bottles if the temperature exceeds 100 degrees for more than four days in a row.  This is not what the very old farmer wanted to hear .  Madame Bay , coffee cup in one hand, feather duster in the other, then does a more than passable imitation of the old fellow shouting " I fought in the war for the likes of you. I know what your game is , you scoundrel* . You're going to sell them and make yourself a tidy little profit ''. Mayor and the very old farmer are no longer talking to each other .

This does not auger well for the next village committee meeting .Such is the excitement of life in deepest France Profonde .

* Not the exact word used but close enough .