Thursday, February 28, 2013

Squeeeee ...

A day spent on the phone to breeders. It seems there are a lot of  PON's out there who are taking a long time to get round to doing ' what comes naturally '. 

A brother and sister born on January 9th and two brothers born on February 2nd. The first pair ready for a home now. The two brothers looking for a  home in early April. The only problem is that both pairs are being offered by the same breeder. Could this mean it's a puppy farm ? The woman is happy for us to come and see them at the end of next week. She's showing in Paris this weekend. That's got to be a good sign. Right ?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


A grey February morning. The  early rising beer and absinthe brigade sensibly huddled together in  the warmth of the cafes back parlour  . The lady in the blue quilted dressing gown and red pop pom slippers greets me with an amiable , if ever so slightly slurred ,  ' Salut ! M'Ongoose ' . 

Out on the market square the last of the Christmas decorations , a ceramic polar bear and white plastic seal ,  peer out of the bakers window. Will they ever be taken down ? Next door , the newsagent informs me that he has taken delivery of the ' new season ' postcards. A surprisingly extensive medley of kitten photos . '' They're charming " said with what might appear to be enthusiasm . 

The old farmer continues to deliver hay to the cows. '' Where do you think he's getting it from ? " asks ' the font ' . The cows munch away unconcernedly.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Up !

The little Skoda acting up again. This time I grab a photo of the dashboard display. Now the mechanics can't claim this is all a figment of my imagination. '' We're busy mate. Can you come back tomorrow ? ". The answer to this question is a forceful '  No ! '

A morning spent in the dealerships waiting room. Why are waiting rooms always draughty ? Why do they always have dog eared copies of magazines that no one in their right mind would want to read ? Six month old  editions of the Steel Framed Structures Gazette and the Milk Distributors Weekly . A coffee machine that only takes 1€ coins. Not much help if you don't have any change.

" You were right mate. We've had it up on the ramp. There is a problem " says a man in grey overalls who sniffs continually. A description of something technical and incomprehensible in rapid fire French. Tip #1 for dealing with French mechanics - If in doubt nod your head and frown.This way you might not look like a total imbecile.You can also say ' ooh la la ' every thirty seconds or so to show your total command of the technical details .

The mechanics wave as they leave for the inviolable two hour French lunch break. The receptionist , unsmilingly, hands over the keys to a courtesy car. A tiny Volkswagen ' Up ! '.  Completely black on the inside. The only decoration a strip of shiney plastic running across the dashboard. This looks just like black lacquer .  The world of automotive plastics must be an invigorating place.

After lunch another stint in the waiting room.The receptionist asks me if I've damaged the courtesy car. Disbelieving, she goes off to check.  Is this what purgatory is like ? Home at five thirty. '' I hope you didn't scare them with your grizzly bear routine " says ' the font ' opening the oven to let a cloud of steam escape.

Monday, February 25, 2013

In all of this.

First light. The old farmer pushes a wobbly wheelbarrow across the lane . For some reason all transactions with the old farmer are conducted at first light.  He's brought with him another 20 kilos of sunflower seeds . Food for the birds that throng the garden . At the rate we're going through it this will last less than a week .  '' Ca va M'Ongoose ? Anything else you need ? Just let me know ". He disappears, whistling, with his ten Euros.  Later this morning he'll drop off a bale of hay at the bottom of the cows field. Out of sight of the road and prying eyes.

Despite, or perhaps because of , the snow the garden is alive with squabbling blackcaps, twites, chiffchaffs and bullfinches. The proprietorial robin , chest puffed out, on the wellhead ; the inquisitive sparrow family foraging in the rose border.  A huge Green Woodpecker dangles uncertainly from the bird feeder by the kitchen window. This is the first of these I've seen. It's size takes me by surprise. More like an exotic pigeon than the dainty black, white and red woodpeckers we usually see. The smaller birds line the branches waiting more or less patiently for this oversized visitor to go. There is something unspeakably joyous in all of this.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

90 days before.

So much for the weather forecast. A few half hearted snow flakes in mid morning and then the skies clear and the sun returns. We clamber into the 4x4 and head off to an organ recital in the local cathedral. The streets brilliant in the early spring sunshine. An unexpected chance to get out and about before the snow does decide to roll down from the mountains.

The cathedral organ set high up in the walls of the transept. How does the organist get there ? Not a job for someone suffering from vertigo. The acoustics wonderful.

A late lunch at a brasserie. We wander in from the street and are immediately seated. The three course 'formule ' €18 a head including a glass of wine and bottle of water. Stick to what the locals do and France can be affordable.

An evening spent making reservations for our trip to see the Cost Centres in California.  A restaurant in Yountville informs me that they're fully booked. " You should have phoned up 90 days before time to make a reservation " the somewhat imperious response . 90 days ahead of time ! American diners must be extremely well organized. 

The cows are well.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Snow on the way.

Minus nine this morning. The sky glistening with a heavy , reflective light that says snow, and lots of it , is on the way. The morning paper leads with the story that the mountain passes have been closed by snowdrifts. In the church the three young lady restorers have sensibly propped the altar painting up against a wall , well out of reach of any snow that may make it through the holes in the roof.

The two cows across the lane look at me as I set off for the morning crossants. I'd like to think they don't feel the cold. Their faces tell me otherwise. The ' bad farmer ' lost seven of them in last years blizzards. Let's hope these two don't join them.

One of the old tree peonies is now shrouded in a tent of white gauze. This will hopefully protect the young buds from the worst of the snow. The others will have to survive as best they can. A day for lighting the fire early.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Enjoy it while you can.

Another day of cloudless skies and bright sunshine. The street dog outside the pizza parlor is asleep against a wall.  Lost in a world of his own. From time to time his muzzle twitches in sun warmed contentment.  

I feel like telling him to enjoy it while he can.  Tonight a storm is due to rush down from the high mountains bringing with it heavy snow and freezing temperatures. Winters last fling ? The old tree peonies in the garden are just starting to bud. This morning I'll cover them with gauze in the hope that some of them survive.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mid-course correction.

To the regional government offices in Toulouse. A chance to find out about the latest rules and regulations for importing puppies into France . Seems that a chip and a rabies vaccination are mandatory for any dog entering the country.  No exceptions.

This means :
a) Getting puppies in the UK after they've had the vaccination and been chipped - ie at 16+ weeks
b) Picking them up at 8 weeks and renting somewhere in the UK for two months until they're old enough to bring home ( a lot of hassle )
c) Finding PON puppies outside the UK at a breeder in France or a country where there are no border inspections
d) Opt for a different breed or older dogs that need to be rehomed. 

Our plan may require some mild mid-course correction . Option c) might be the best solution. The new rules can be seen  here :,2780

Next to the government offices an Indian restaurant serving sweetened chicken. What can it be ? Further down the road   'the font' finds a Norwegian restaurant. '' How wonderful !! ". Wonderful is not a word this blogger would use to describe  pickled herring.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Puppies paperwork , tyres and chopping boards.

A morning spent on the phone to the Department of Agriculture in London about the requirements for importing puppies to France. ''All we require is a chip and a rabies injection. What they require I couldn't say ". The ' they ' referred to in this brief conversation are the French. A trip to the vets later today for his opinion on what's needed.

First light. The Old Farmer drops off more gravel. This morning he's brought with him four used car tyres . He sets them down, one on top of the other, at the side of the drive.  '' M'Ongoose , they're almost new. I was thinking they might fit the Land Rover. I'll give you a very good price ". Angus declines the kind offer pointing out that the SUV has only recently had its tyres replaced . '' Your loss "  says the Old Farmer somewhat miffedly. He reloads them on the back of the flatbed, honks the horn, waves and is off.

The font receives a late Christmas present. Oak , Wilf and Digby , chopping boards.' Love and Laughter '. Angus it seems isn't the only sentimental Celt in the family.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Liberated gravel ?

Another day of blue skies . After the long winter this arrival of sunshine and warmth still novel enough to be commented on. The rock crystal chandelier in the church alive and gleaming in the early morning light. 

Across the lane the two cows wander over to see if I've brought them anything to eat. The bad farmer is back into his  neglectful phase. They've not been fed in a week. Some solace in the fact that fresh grass is springing up through the mud.

In the library yesterdays purchase of red roses already looking droopy and forlorn. Not such a great deal after all.

Seven am . The old farmer arrives with another truck load of gravel . '' An early bird catches the worm " he says cheerfully while reversing down the drive. With a sudden ' whoosh ' he deposits two and a half tons in front of the barn. A mini Matterhorn of pebbles and grit.  '' I'll be back at the same time tomorrow ". A wave of the hand, a beep of the horn and he's off.  ' The font ' notices that the large pile of gravel at the municipal road maintenance depot in the neighbouring commune is rapidly shrinking. Coincidence ?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunshine and mimosa.

Another cloudless day . At the cafe under the arcades the beer and absinthe crowd have migrated  from their winter quarters in the back parlor to the outside tables . The driver of the motability scooter screeches to a sudden halt as the chain smoking lady in the blue quilted dressing gown and pom-pom slippers wanders out onto the pavement with the first of her pre-breakfast lagers. A moment of high drama France profonde style.

On the other side of the road the flower stall is selling large bundles of mimosa. A sure sign that winter is behind us. Angus buys two bunches of slightly past their best red roses. They've been reduced from €25 a dozen to just €5. Surplus stock from Valentines Day. '' People just aren't as romantic as they used to be " says the flower seller . Angus wonders if the price might have something to do with it. He keeps this thought to himself.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

' Very Pamp '

Sunday morning . The staff are restocking the supermarket shelves. Bottles of a rose and grapefruit juice mix appear in  the wine section . €5.30 a bottle. Must be designed for foreigners. Can't see much call for it here in deepest France profonde. What's the betting  all the bottles will still be there at Christmas ?

'The font ' has signed up to take an online degree in astronomy. This involves video streaming with a group of frighteningly youthful looking Californian academics. It also involves sitting on the terrace in the small hours looking at planets. ' The font ' is at that '' Oh Angus ! Come and look a this. Isn't it wonderful ? " stage. After four nights of cloudless skies and unbridled enthusiasm Angus is praying for the return of cloud and rain. And uninterrupted sleep.

Madame Bay finds an old telescope in the basement. Angus is called upon to drag it up to the terrace.  Madame Bay is delighted with the astronomy course and listens carefully as ' the font ' explains the workings of a planisphere  . '' My goodness. That will be very useful ". The ' very ' in ' very useful ' is stressed. Before she goes Madame Bay tells ' the font ' she's a Gemini.  It seems our saintly septaguenarian has got astronomy and astrology somewhat muddled up.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The firemans knife.

At last. Spring is finally on the way. Our third day of blue skies and bright sunshine. The rivers flush with mountain melt waters . The solitary heron in the corner of the village pond joined by a mate. The sparrows ( where have they been ? ) back squabbling on the lawn . 

An advert in the local paper for a replica American firemans knife. It has a logo on the side  " Fire Department ". Very realistic .  Available in two colours - Salmon Pink or Red . Angus wonders how many American firemen carry Salmon Pink knives to work.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The award ceremony.

After the lady from the Ministry finishes her speech it's time for the handing out of the awards for the village ' happy garden ' competition. Every year the villagers are invited to submit photographs of  their gardens to the mayor for judging. There was a time when there were 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes but the competition for the top slots caused such bitter inter-communal feuding that now all gardens are considered equal.  Everyone who enters receives a medal and a small paper bag containing a bottle of wine and one of Madame Mayors dried vegetable arrangements. This year 15 medals and paper bags are to be handed out.  Liberte, egalite and just a hint of fraternite.

Being rural France theatricality is in the air. The Oscars have nothing on the ' happy gardens ' award ceremony. A beturbaned Madame Bay receives hers with a tearful '' thank you, thank you, thank you ". She takes the medal from the lady in the white suit and makes a strange up and down movement that could have been  a curtsy.   The Marge Simpson lookalike with the beehive hairdo tells us she is '' honoured. Deeply honoured ". The very old farmer, who has submitted a photo of six nicotina plants in a pot ,  turns to kiss the lady from the ministry but the mayor skillfully interposes himself between them. A look of unadulterated terror can briefly be seen on the dignitaries face .

Then it's all over. All the medals handed out. The bigwigs quickly depart. Perhaps just a tad too quickly. The extremely tall, thin young man in the suit with drainpipe trousers positively sprinting out of the Salle des Fetes and into the back of one of the large Peugeot limousines. The mayor turns to ' the font ' and and says ' I think that went well '. The very old farmer knowingly informs us that the Parisienne in the white suit was ' his sort of woman'.

As we walk back across the village green we both agree. It may not be perfect but it's home .

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When worlds collide.

Three large black Peugeot limousines parked outside the Salle des Fetes. An incongruous sight amid the tractors , muddy SUV's and ancient Citroen vans . The plastic carnations in the window box in the porch replaced by fresh flowers .

Inside everything is looking splendid. Or as splendid as the Salle des Fetes can look. In the centre of the room a tressle table piled high with vol au vents, sandwiches and a variety of alluringly coloured soft drinks. The tressle tables have been covered in a bright yellow plastic table cloth. A special touch. To one side a long plywood bench. On it a stainless steel drum from which the old farmer is dispensing liberal helpings of home made wine to an increasingly enthusiastic audience. Two little old ladies from the house by the crossroads have settled at one end of the table and are slowly but surely working their way through the vol au vents . Occasionally one asks the other, very loudly ' what do you think this is ? ' .  The school teachers fourteen year old Golden Retriever asleep by the door .

The lady from the Ministry of Culture is there with a tall, extremely thin young man in a black suit. The pursed look on the young mans face tells you his experience of life outside Paris is limited.  He studies Madame Mayors fur trimmed anorak with horror. The lady fom the Ministry is a living tricolore. White two piece, red blouse and blue clutch bag. The costume rounded off by a pair of huge diamante earrings that wouldn't look out of place on a Palm Desert cocktail waitress .

The lady fom the Ministry starts her speech at ten past four. This is a mistake. The school bus arrives as she's just started thanking the mayor for his hospitality. She starts again once the stream of toddlers and mothers have settled down. '' Citizens ! With what tenderness of spirit , what outpourings of the heart, what sense of irrepressible community were these frescoes made ". The villagers stand, arms folded, and look at her.

When  worlds collide.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The biggest day in village history.

What strange weather. In this part of France the rainfall in January and early February has been three times the annual average. The ground sodden, the little stream at the foot of the hill a swirling torrent.  However, this morning the clouds have lifted and a glorious red and orange sky greets the early riser. Angus is an early riser because the old farmer is coming to deliver ten tons of gravel.
The old farmer has an unusual technique for delivering gravel. He reverses slowly down the drive, stops, turns his head, looks out of the window,  raises the body of the dump truck and then , as the gravel starts to cascade out of the back, accelerates maniacally down the drive. Where the drive dog legs to the left there is a small mountain of gravel where he raised the truck bed but forgot to accelerate. Raking this flat will be the job for the day.
Feverish excitement. The village is to have visitors from Paris. Bigwigs from the Ministry of Culture. The Sous-Prefet will be joining them. They're coming to see the restoration of the frescoes in the church. Not since Richelieu blew up the chateau has the village received this much attention. In the letter box we find a formal letter from the townhall inviting us to a reception in the Salle des Fetes at four o'clock. Madame Bay arrives to borrow baking trays for her chicken and salmon vol-au-vents. '' They'll be hungry after coming all that way " she says.
In the church the three young ladies from Toulouse with their proprietorial dog  have been joined by three young men in a white van. A last burst of restoration before the big day. Angus can't help but notice a large damp patch on the floor of the nave. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to restore the holes in the roof before starting on the paintings on the plaster walls .
A fleet of four Electricite de France vans hurtle down the lane to complete this picture of happy activity. They've come to connect two new street lights.The biggest day in village history beckons.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pendulum candles.

Mid-afternoon. The post lady arrives at the door. '' You've got a parcel. It's from England " she says holding it to her ear and shaking it . '' Sounds interesting ". Angus thanks her. A disappointed post lady , clearly hoping to find out what is in the parcel , lingers briefly on the doorstep then leaves.

Pendulum candles. Swedish Christmas tree decorations. Slip a candle in one end then hook it over a branch. Nothing the Swedes like more at Christmas than lots and lots of naked flames burning on highly combustible surfaces. Our old candle holders have been stored somewhere 'safe' in the Rickety Old Farmhouse . Despite ' the fonts ' best efforts they refuse to reveal themselves. These are the replacements that were ordered in November

Angus picks up the phone to the retailer to ask why it's taken two and a half months for them to get here when he's paid $45 for Express Delivery. The bored young man on the other end of the phone is unimpressed. '' Sir, I suggest you read the conditions of carriage . We can't be held responsible for delays. Anyway , you certainly didn't specify you wanted them for Christmas ".  Angus is about to challenge the illogicality of this statement  but the young man has already put the phone down.

Is life becoming more difficult  or is this just another sign of my advancing age ? 

 '' Cheer up " says ' the font ' pointing out that we've got our new candles in plenty of time for this Christmas .

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tainted food.

A scandal. Someone has been substituting horsemeat for beef in frozen burgers, lasagnes and moussakas.

At the end of last week , when it looked as if it was only a British problem, the announcer on French breakfast radio cheerfully informed us that the issue was a minor one . ''It is due to the English  veneration for horses.  It could not happen here "  .

By Monday morning  the contamination has been traced to a French producer . Over the weekend all the local supermarkets have followed their British counterparts and pulled frozen beef items from the shelves. The same radio commentator now announces that it is a  ' Catastrophe '. The government minister responsible for consumer affairs is interviewed. '' No cause for alarm. Horse meat is not poisonous. There  will be an emergency meeting of the meat industry this morning to get to the bottom of things ". This is supposed to be reassuring.

It seems that horses have been bannned from pulling carts in Romania. As a result there has been a glut of horses being slaughtered. The price of horsemeat has collapsed.  Someone has been buying cheap horsemeat in Romania, trucking it across Europe and substituting it for beef in France and Luxembourg. It then turns up in frozen beef products across the continent. We have fish for lunch.