Monday, April 8, 2013

This site has moved

With the arrival of two new puppies its time to bring The Rickety Old Farmhouse blog to a happy and graceful close

The ongoing chronicle of village life, the never ending saga of keeping The Rickety Old Farmhouse standing and of course the madcap antics of Bob and Sophie can now be found at a new blog - Bob and Sophie's French Adventure ( click link below )

Thank you for travelling with us. We look forward to seeing you at the new site.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What to do with this old blog ?

 What should we do with this old blog ? Keep it or drop it ? Some blogs run their natural course. Perhaps we should use this one as a place for posting about the village , Madame Bay and the beer and absinthe crowd at the cafe ? Maybe a place for esoterica like this photo of a baby stroller complete with trays full of snacklets for its young occupant.
 Or this sand loving dog ?

Then of course there's the Rickety Old Farmhouse itself. We've come back to find that a water main has burst, flooded the basement and caused all the newly decorated walls to crack. Bob and Sophie will be meeting a stream of builders and structural engineers next week.

Perhaps we'll keep the blog going in parallel as a venue for lifes esoterica.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A high security prison and a flight to London.

Our last morning in San Francisco. Time for a quick ferry ride before heading off to the airport. Two choices. A boat to Sausalito and one to Larkspur. We choose Larkspur. This is a mistake. Larkspur is the home of the California Department of Corrections San Quentin Prison . The ferry sails right past the prison exercise yard. The isolated terminal a mile or so from an industrial park. No sooner have we got there than we quickly reboard the ferry under the watchful eye of orange suited inmates and head back to town.

The ten hour British Airways flight to Heathrow punctual and as smooth as a millpond. Not even a hint of turbulence. A chance to watch Lincoln , Argo , a totally incomprehensible film called Cloud Atlas and a feel good movie with Bette Midler and Billy Crystal as inept grandparents. Bette Midler used to be a decidedly risque figure but now she's as wholesome as apple pie. The reverse of a disgraceful old age ?

At the airport a sign for Thai Curry stuffed French Crepes. Probably not a good idea before a long flight.
Another sign forbidding ' shoes with wheels '. Whatever happened to the term roller skates ?

Now there's an hour before our connecting flight to Toulouse. An e-mail from the breeder saying she's looking forward to seeing us.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dog toys and a forgotten airline.

PSA. Pacific Southwest Airlines. Or was it Pacific Southern Airways ? They must have stopped flying twenty five years ago. Some dimly remembered story about a disgruntled employee, a gun, and a BAe 146 jetliner. In a San Diego museum a collection of the airlines stewardess uniforms. The 70's fashions as alien as ancient history.

To a dog store. The woman behind the counter talkative but uninformed. All the toys apparently wonderful. '' That one's unbreakable " she says pointing towards what appears to be a squeaky Osama bin Laden. I ask her what sort of dog she has. She doesn't. This puts her sales patter in context.

We debate whether to buy an inflatable injury collar. '' Wouldn't they bite through it ? " asks 'the font'. ' Not a problem that I've heard about ' says the talkative woman before adding  ' but there again they might '.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Calm and intelligent

Out of the hotel and up the hill to the cathedral for an Easter baptism. En route the deep blue ceanothus in full bloom. The size and colour of the trees eliciting exclamations of amazement from these two middle aged gardeners. 

We get to the summit early. Not just  a few minutes early but the better part of an hour early. The church just stirring into life but for now quiet and peaceful in the morning sun. They've hung twenty miles - twenty miles ! - of green and blue ribbon from the ceiling. The ribbons  sway and jig and dance in the breeze, changing colour with the light.

Half an hour before the service and the nave is suddenly beyond packed ; thronged. Ushers trying, unsuccessfully, to keep the aisles and doorways clear. Grandmothers in salmon pink suits and black broad brimmed hats, teenage sons in sensible two sizes too big '' he's rocketing up '' blazers, a Nobel prize winner from Stanford, a seven foot tall NBA player, hundreds of young , twenty something , couples of every hue and unorthodoxy - this after all is San Francisco. When the organ starts up the ribbons shimmy into life.

Twenty two babies to be baptized this morning by the dean - a woman of gentle demeanour but ferocious intellect . Sanaz and Ayana and Cuiya joining more established Episcopalian names like Nicholas and Charlie on the order of service . Then the closing words '' But looking up , at dawn, they saw the great stone rolled away, and a light more dazzling than the day " ( strange how some baptismal sentences have a natural scan and beauty ) , the organ thunders, the babies gurrgle, people laugh, the doors are flung open and the crowds spill out. 

Angus can't help but wonder what change fearing cathedrals in England would do to have a calm and intelligent congregation like this filling the building , the youthful overflow eddying down the steps and into the park beyond.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A pause .

The breeder sends through some photos of Bob and Sophie. They've discovered snow ,  which they like ; and rain which they don't.  They've been been examined by the vet and chipped. Both Bob and Sophie are well and thriving. They're at that inquisitive  ' Tell me , what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life ? " stage.

Now we'll say 'au revoir' until we're back from our Easter trip to California. Then there will be a new blog -

Happy Easter to one and all.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

" Aux armes ! "

The first of the years local grown white asparagus and gariguette strawberries brought to our door by the young farmer who lives in the modern house by the windmill. As unexpected as it is kind . The asparagus wonderful. The strawberries acid. Not surprising considering the snow and rain of recent weeks.

Nine o'clock on Saturday night. Scotland playing France in the Six Nations Rugby tournament. The salle de fetes alive with farmers, little farmers, famers wives and dogs. Jeans, blue rugby shirts and red / white/ or blue acrylic wigs the evenings dress code. The French teachers Golden Retrievers joining the Jack Russells and shaggy sheepdogs on their never ending circuit around the village green. When we arrive the mayor and a group of 'technicians' are setting up the widescreen television on the stage. The mayor has forgotten the extension lead so has to go back home to get it.  

To one side a tressle table. The old farmer dispensing something potent from a stainless steel tea urn into plastic tumblers. The very old farmer bad temperedly ignoring the mayor. The battle over the misplaced bottled water rumbling on. Madame Bay in red checkered headscarve, white frilly blouse and voluminous  long blue skirt dispensing vol au vents. '' Blue cheese and anchovy " says our republican Gypsy Rose Lee lookalike. 

National anthem time. The Marseillaise not so much sung as hammered out. Four year olds as passionate in the rendering of 'aux armes citoyens' as their parents. Scotland lose. In fact they lose badly. '' There's always next year " says the mayors wife consolingly.

As we walk back to the house the sound of Kool and the Gang singing that old French country classic  "We gonna have a party tonite " echoes through the trees. The villagers are having a celebration.

Today the chicken wire goes up on the bannisters.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mats, Lars , Bo ?

A morning spent in the fancy builders office . ' The font ' has decided that the bathrooms in the Rickety Old Farmhouse need to be modernized. No more formica counters or 1960's avocado green  fittings.

The fancy builders office is not just an office it's an ' atelier '. We know this because there is a big sign above the front door saying '' Welcome to our atelier. Furniture, kitchens, windows made to your specifications  ". Atelier is clearly an upmarket French version of workshop and justifies adding 25% to the price. Angus can't help but notice the fancy builders very shiny, very large, very new Mercedes parked outside.

Surprisingly, the 'atelier' is full of bean bags. In the centre of the workshop a very large orange teddy bear bean bag lying on its back on a hammock. This is unusual, even for France. It seems the builder is a distributor of these bizarre products. For the next hour Angus daydreams while ' the font ' and the fancy builder discuss taps and tiles. Questions about colours or textures are replied to with what Angus hopes are suitably enthusiastic noises. 

The builder asks for a deposit. The 'team' will start on May 15th. Angus asks if this is a firm or an indicative date . '' It is absolutely fixed Monsieur " says the builder without even a hint of a smile.

To the engravers for dog tags for Sophie and Bob. 'The font' asks if Bob is a suitable name for a dog. '' Wouldn't a  good Swedish name be better ? ". Mats, Lars, Bo, Folke, Sven ? No way. This boy is undoubtedly Bob the Dog.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The joys of shopping.

All the snow gone. A bright start to the day. Back from the bakers to find the heating fuel delivery man  on his hands and knees on the lawn filling up the tank under the rose garden. '' Bonjour M'Ongoose. I reckon you'll only need 2,000 litres . Should see you through the summer ". He then climbs into the cab, taps something into the computer, hands me a printout and then , with a wave and a whistle , heads off down the drive. The heating fuel man is one of those people who seems to be permanently happy.

Happy is not a word you would use to describe the staff at 'Mr. Do It Yourself ', the large nationwide hardware chain. 'Mr. Do It Yourselfs ' employees clearly believe in letting the customer do it all themselves.  I ask a shaven headed young man in a maroon boiler suit where the fencing section might . He looks up briefly , then points ;  '' It's the third aisle down there on the left  if you'd bother to look ". 

Seventeen people in the check out queue. Angus naively suggests to the three young ladies behind the welcome desk that it might be a good idea to open a second till. Amid much pouting he is very firmly told that it's none of his business. He then has to stand in line all the while receiving angry glances from the three irrate young women. The occasional snippet of '' Who does he think he is ? " or  '' Some people are just so rude ". Could have been worse. They might have said ' What else can you expect from a foreigner ? '. Being on the welcome desk must be several pay grades above being on the check out till. 

Despite the best efforts of the wonderful people at ' Mr. Do It Yourself ' we now have enough chicken wire to stop Bob from throwing himself off the terrrace and Sophie from spiraling over the bannisters. Sophie also has a new bed in a rather startling pink.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dickensian splendour.

Up early to find that it's snowing . From the bedroom window a view of Dickensian splendour. Church, well, war memorial all shrouded in white. That strange silence only heavy snowfall brings. Nature muffled.

Nine o'clock. The elusive builders arrive to remove an old septic tank that they'd stored in the barn. It's  been there for fourteen months. What has spurred them into action on this cold snowy morning a mystery. Angus expresses both delight and surprise at their arrival . They look back at him blankly . That international '' what's he going on about ? " look that tradesmen reserve for welcoming clients. 

The gate repair man shows up in his white van at ten. He's brought his wife and six year old son with him. They sit in the cab,  engine running,  while he examines the broken panel. '' Too cold to fix it this morning mate. I'll come back when it's warmer ". A cynic might wonder why he bothered coming out in the first place. A morning in the countryside with the family ?

Today is the day for a trip into Toulouse to buy a puppy pen and netting to block off the gaps between the bannisters.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Clouds,snow and gratuitous puppy pictures.

Out for an early morning saunter along the ridge. The fields a rich emerald green after all the recent rain . In the far distance a wall of clouds building up over the Pyrenees. A sign that cold air coming from the north is running headlong into the warm air from Africa. The weather forecast says we'll get an inch of snow later today.

For good measure some entirely gratuitous photos ( and 2 videos ) of Bob and Sophie. Why not ? In the second video eagle eyed viewers will see that Sophie is quite brave when she thinks there is no one else around.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A microwaved sandwich and a muddy nose.

Everything in the French countryside is closed on a Monday. Shops, hotels, restaurants. Stomachs empty we stop and  have  a microwaved sandwich and a cup of instant coffee at a service station in a tiny village. In addition to the service station the village has a perfectly preserved 14th century row of houses ( more like a film set than any film set could ever be ) , a church housing a particularly sternfaced statue of Jean of Arc , the remaining tower of a long demolished castle and a bandstand. Mysteriously there is not a soul to be seen .

Bob has spent his morning trying to dig his way out from the pen. His nose and muzzle are coated in mud. Nothing shy about this boy. He lollops across to see us tail wagging. That ungainly gait of a puppy who's coming to terms with the difficult task of getting four paws to move in unison. His sister Sophie  is curled up against the fence hoping that if she keeps her eyes closed she'll be invisible. Bob walks back and puts a proprietorial paw on her shoulders. When I pick Sophie up he lets out a '' what do you think you're doing " yelp. Who could believe that there could be two such different characters from the same litter ? Sophie is going to be a charmer.

While Angus chats to Sophie ' the font ' deals with the paperwork. The breeder has invited over the owner of the pups father. The father is five and the mother is eight. The father works on a farm where he shares the herding with a Catalan sheepdog called Jose. The mother was a showgirl and didn't have her first litter until she was six. This is her third and last. No need for us to worry that she's tired out.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bob and Sophie.

Bob and Sophie are well. Eight weeks old today. Bob is quite a lad, inquisitve and playful. Sophie by contrast is rather retiring. In fact that's an understatement. She's so shy she  burrows under her brother when we walk into the courtyard

The breeder picks Sophie up and points out that she's becoming black, white and taupe like her father. Bob however is quite simply black and white. As we drive away Bob turns his head and follows the car with his eyes. A look that says ' I is your boy ' . Sophie , oblivious to our departure and glad to be left alone, is watching a farmyard chicken strut by.

Will post more tomorrow but snows coming and it's a long journey back.

Monday morning.

Happy cows in the field across the lane. Half a dozen wagtails busily picking nits and fleas from their backs. Outside the chateau a fleet of five black Mercedes vans with darkened windows. The advance party getting things ready for the Easter arrival of the German billionaires .

The local restaurant has set out tables in the town square. The fact that they haven't put the umbrellas out yet a sign that no one is quite sure whether or not another bout of bad weather is on the way. The old kitchenware store has got a new lease of life as a shop selling dressing gowns. The window display says the new owners haven't quite got their marketing skills down pat.

In the evening a demonstration outside the Prefecture in the local market town against breeding Beagles for vivisection. The silent demonstrators ? A dozen Brits, eight Dutch and four Americans.

Later today the long drive up to the breeders to make the final arrangements to pick up Bob and Sophie when we get back from California.