Monday, October 29, 2012


Winter arrives. The skies clear but chill. The heating switches itself on automatically. The first time since February the temperatures have dropped below 5 degrees. The Electricite de France workmen arrive early with two more reels of cable. They unload them on the village green and then disappear. Perhaps it's too cold to lay cabling.

Down in the little market town the locals have switched into winter mode. Fur trimmed, quilted  jackets much in evidence.  At the bar all the outside tables empty. The beer and absinthe crowd clustered inside by the radiator enjoying a pre-breakfast libation.

The new plastic chairs bought by the bar owner three months ago have all been broken. They've been replaced by plastic wicker style chairs in day glo pink . These seem to go with the new tables with their out of focus gardenia pattern. There's no other word for them : Execrable.

Off to the airport later today. ' The font ' flying to Delhi to see a saintly lady who looks after stray dogs and then, after a few days, onto a home for blind girls. Angus heading off to Moscow and Beijing to see folk in dark suits and talk about hanging chads and fiscal cliffs.  We'll meet up in India later in the week. Back on the 9th. Until then stay safe .


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The best dog poem ever ?

Robinson Jeffers. An American poet perhaps best remembered for the fact that his poem '' The Beaks of Eagles " was turned into a song by The Beach Boys. I'd read this poem of his '' The House Dog's Grave " before and remembered it as a sentimental little piece bordering on the melancholic. Then, somehowby accident , I stumbled across it again. What a difference a re-reading makes. That understated first line '' I've changed my ways a little " a miracle of optimism and acceptance. Au Revoir not Adieu. Genius. When I first skimmed through the poem I thought the line was said by the dead dogs owner. His dog gone he's changed his daily routine. Now I see that it's the peaceful musing of the dead dog. 

The best dog poem ever ? Perhaps

The House Dog's Grave ( Haig , an English bulldog )

I've changed my ways a little : I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream : and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the night through
I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read -- and I fear often grieving for me --
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You,man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope then when you are lying

Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No, dear, that's too much hope : you are not so well cared for
As I have been.

And never have know the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided....
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely, I am not afraid, I am still yours.

Robinson Jeffers. 1941.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Died of a broken heart ?

The BBC report on this sad tale stated , matter of factly , that Theo the dog had died of a broken heart. Must be some fellow dog lovers in the BBC newsroom.

Whirring merrily.

The rain falls and the wind blows. The sort of Atlantic storm that strips the leaves from the trees and fills the gutters. The gentlemen from Electricite de France decide that the weathers too inclement to continue laying the cabling to the village hall. They show up for a site inspection at eight , have a cigarette and are nowhere to be seen by eight twenty. In the absence of the utility workers we have power all day and night.

Madame Bay arrives . The ' Wild Child ' voiturette scattering gravel as it comes to an abrupt halt in the courtyard.
Radio Nostalgie is having a Billy Joel morning. ' Uptown girl ' evidently an absolute favourite of our  saintly septaguenarian . She can be seen in the upstairs hallway pushing the hoover with her right hand while waving her left hand, minstrel fashion, vigourously backwards and forwards. Every so often she kicks her left leg out and rotates through 360 degrees . A beturbaned image of happiness in a quilted housecoat.

Real crysanthemums make an appearance  in the supermarket car park. Inside, the day-glo plastic variety are flying off the shelves. Above it all the dinky little power generating windmills outside the fast food restaurant are whirring merrily away. Angus wonders if they're supposed to emit a high pitched hum as they generate.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. As a seven year old Angus remembers his delight at  being sent home early from school. Presumably there was no mention of the fact that we were being sent back to  await Armageddon. Did they really make us practise hiding under our desks in case ' the bomb ' fell ?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Let there be light.

Another night of cooking and dining by candelight. ' The font ' , trying to put a positive spin on things, thinks its a bit like having our own reality tv show : ' At home in the 18th century ' . 

The young lady at Electricite de France says that the power has to be off for safety reasons while the new cables are laid. '' Safety for whom ? " asks this disgruntled customer. There is silence on the other end of the line. You can almost hear her thinking ' I've got a right one here '.

Five thirty am. The power is restored. An early and badly dubbed episode of ' How I met your mother ' is playing on the television. A truly horrible sight so early in the morning.

Down to the supermarket. At the McDonalds opposite they've installed new electronic ordering machines. While ' the font ' gets coffee Angus wanders off to play with one of them. He presses a button and the system crashes. We leave.

All Saints Day approaching. The supermarket full of row upon row of plastic crysanthemums. On a neighbouring aisle Angus is overjoyed to find lights that we can strap around our heads - modern day versions of a miners lamp. The answer to our prayers. No more stubbing of toes in the dark. They're also selling off the last of the seasons rose wine cheaply. Winter must be here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A new day beckons.

The workmen continue to rewire the salle des fetes. The red tubes in the middle of the village green now joined by a large drum of electrical cable. Four in the afternoon. The power goes off . The second day in a row that this has happened. After an hour someone at Electricite de France answers the phone. '' There's no one here at the moment Monsieur. Call back in the morning ". Angus is about to observe that clearly someone is there but the voice at the other end has hung up.

'The font' , complete with freshly installed crown, arrives home at midnight. Eight hours late. The French air traffic controllers have gone on strike again. Over a glass of champagne by candlelight we wonder if there is any group of workers anywhere in the world that strike as frequently as the French air traffic controllers. Something must be annoying them.

Six am. The power comes back on and with it all the lights and appliances that were running yesterday. A day of calls to the wonderful people at Electricite de France beckons . The romance of life in deepest France profonde.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Audience participation.

Our last night in Paris. ''This looks like fun " says ' the font ' pointing to a theatre poster , a queue, and an open door. Before he can come up with a suitable response ( ' it looks like an opium den ' would have been a good choice )  Angus finds himself on the front row of a darkened theatre. The audience are both younger and more casually dressed than Angus. In fact before the lights dim it's clear that they're much younger and much, much more casually dressed . They also seem to be in a mood to enjoy themselves.

'' Is there anyone here tonight who's English ? " asks the comedian . One hundred and fifty heads turn as one to look at Angus . What follows next is a nightmare. Suffice it to say it involves a middle aged Celt  trying to catch tennis balls in a waste paper basket while simultaneously answering questions about life in England.  '' You were wonderful " says 'the font' using exactly the same faux-reassuring tone of voice that you'd use to an eight year old cost centre who's just atonaly scratched through his first violin solo at a school concert.

' The font ' heads back to London to have the temporary crown replaced. Yours truly turns left for the low cost, unassigned  seat flight to Toulouse. No rugby scrum is as frightening as the melee involved with getting an unassigned seat on a French domestic flight.  Back in the village the workmen have started to lay the new power line to the salle des fetes. At four the power goes off and stays off overnight. Life in the Rickety Old Farmhouse is conducted by candlelight. ' The font ' phones to find out how Angus is getting on . '' Better than in Paris " he replies huffily. ' The font ' chuckles.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How time flies.

Street art Paris style. The statue of the large grumpy looking red dog is wearing sneakers on its two font paws and carrying what appears to be a large bottle of Evian water strapped to its back. The sign on the statue says that the artists  style " reflects an ironic reaction to the omnipresence of the middle class ". ' Obviously ' says ' the font '.

Faures Requiem in the Madeleine . The original , little played,  unorchestrated version written soon after the death of his parents. The Day of Wrath both the shortest and the most poignant in any requiem. One of the great gentle love songs.  Sometimes music and venue are made for each other.

A violin concert in the Lutheran church. We're late and take our seats in the second tier of balconies. Not often you see balconies running all the way round a church.  Being Swedish there's an exhibition of nude statues in the cloisters outside.  " Sensuality and love" says the poster. The Church of Scotland would be apoplectic. Certainly not an exhibition you'd find in Aberfeldy.

Midnight. The streets humming with activity. To a wine bar for a glass of champagne. The owner is reading aloud the latest Philip Roth novel to her customers. Very French.  

And so we celebrate the third anniversary of our arrival in France. How time flies.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Angus trots along happily to a number of exhibitions. The Raphael exhibition in the Louvre, Hair and Trinkets in the Branly ( did you know that until a hundred years ago it used to be common to weave the hair of a dead family member into a ring or a bracelet ?), a new art gallery at the Porte de Pantin.  However, an exhibition on Impressionism and Fashion is one cultural step too far. Long ago this ageing Calvinist worked out that anything that has the words creative dance, improvisational theatre or fashion in the title should be avoided. 'The font' makes a half hearted effort to chivvy me on - "You'll enjoy it " - before muttering something about travelling with a grizzly bear and giving up. Some visits are best undertaken alone.  After an expensive cup of tea in Mariage Freres and an unscheduled trip into a butchers to ask about the melon de poulet Orloff in the shop window it's time to head off to the Scottish Pub.

For a moment Angus wonders what the French make of the sign on the front door that says '' Crivens awa ... and bile yer heed ye big mealie puddin ". The barman speaks French with a near impenetrable Kirkintilloch brogue. ' Bonjour Pal . Whi canna ger ya ? " He's happy to meet a fellow countryman.Soon the widescreen television is on,  the Rugby channel tuned in and  a pint of Bellhaven freshly poured. Angus is in heaven. Outside it rains. Barman and customer agree that it's as wet as Dunoon in February

Dinner in a restaurant with the unlikely name of Pamela PoPo. We're 'walk ins' but they quickly find us a table. Our French must be improving. The waiters treat us as equals , or if not as equals at least with limited disdain. Afterwards to La Perla to watch serious American students on a semester at the Sorbonne try to convince their visiting girlfriends that this is where the worlds best martinis are served. The cosmopolitan American girls , by and large, look unimpressed.

Scots smoked salmon in a fishmongers window. $65 a pound at todays exchange rate.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The last room in Paris revealed.

The last room left in Paris is on the ground floor at the back of the hotel . The young lady receptionist , dressed in  those black silk pyjamas much loved by boutique hotels the world over , hands 'the font' the key and  informs us the room is  ' absolutely charming. It has a view of the garden. You are lucky to get it '. In this case 'absolutely charming'  turns out to mean astoundingly small. It also means dark. Really dark.  Angus thinks it would be ideal for developing photos. As for the garden this is a tiled patio four feet wide and eight feet long, its walls painted white. A Chinese gentleman, also dressed in black pyjamas, stands outside the window tending a large vase of orchids with a watering can . He waves. I wave back. 

Angus finds that in order to get to the wardrobe he has to turn and walk sideways. '' Not a room to tarry in " says 'the font' quickly deciding that sharing this confined space is going to prove to be a trial. A contraflow system is introduced. It is suggested that Angus sit on the bed and watch television while 'the font' unpacks. This doesn't work. Angus's feet stick out over the bottom of the bed barring movement from one side of the room to the other. Soon Angus hears those magic words : '' why don't you go to the bar and get a glass of wine ? I'll join you in a minute ".

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Great fun.

Eight at night. It's pitch dark . The wind from the mountains rattling the shutters. This is the moment the landscape gardener chooses to ring the doorbell and ask if now would be a good time to talk about what needs to be done in the garden. 

The newly repaired dishwasher gives up the ghost. An agitated Madame Bay can be seen in the kitchen turning the dials and pressing the buttons. The thing remains resolutely unresponsive. . Madame Bay finally gives up trying to coax it back to life . '' You need a new dishwasher . This ones broken " she says helpfully before leaving .

The large rolls of red tubing are still littering the village green.

Off to Paris. 'The font' has booked us on an airline that doesn't assign seats. This means a highly stressful twenty minutes at the departure gate with a group of Parisians who are willing to kick you in the shins, elbow you in the ribs or gouge out your eyes in order to board first.

Back on Saturday. 'The font' tells me it will be great fun.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Virginians. Bad auguries. The last room in Paris.

Out for an early morning walk down by the river. Not a soul in sight. We stumble across three recently restored cottages which are far too pristine to be owned by locals. The shutters match.  A sign in the window says they are owned by the Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts.  Quite how an American organization comes to own and run property in this deepest, deepest corner of France profonde is a mystery. The artists, writers and composers could find it all alarmingly quiet.

The sound of a thrumming, overworked, engine fills the air. A telltale crash of gears. Madame Bay arrives, unannounced. Today she is sporting a tangerine quilted house coat and white broad brimmed hat highlighted by four large red velvet bows. A sort of summer meets winter look. She pecks 'the font' on each cheek before enveloping Angus in a bear hug. '' M'Ongoose. M'Ongoose I'm glad you're well " she says twice  through a cloud of Lily of the Valley. Greetings over, she opens all the windows, turns the dial to Radio Nostalgie and then settles down at the end of the kitchen table with a steaming mug of coffee and the morning papers. Clearly not a day for being too active.

'The font' announces that we need to go to Paris. Tomorrow. There is a huge exhibition on and all the hotels are full. Completely full. Angus informs 'the font' that it's impossible.  Ten minutes later there's a '' look what I've been able to find ! They had one room left ". The font reads the reviews that say it's a jewel box. Angus reads the ones that says the rooms are so small that guests have to walk sideways round the bed. These are the reviews 'the font' reads.

The last hotel room in Paris. Angus has a feeling that this is going to be an 'adventure'. 'The font' reassures him by asking " how bad can it be ? "