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.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A slightly disreputable air.

The Sunday morning market just setting up when we arrive. For some reason we're early. An uncharacteristically  quiet beer and absinthe crowd still clustering inside the cafe waiting for the barman to pour them their first libation of the day. Today the lady in the blue quilted dressing gown and red pom pom slippers is wearing an orange hairnet over her curlers.  They manage a half hearted '' Bonjour M'Ongoose " before turning back towards the beer pump. 

The flower stall , always a good indication of the changing seasons , a mass of anemones and ranunculus. '' How were the daffodils last week ? " asks the flowerman. ' Wonderful ' I reply not altogether truthfully. Having been sold them at half price it would be churlish to point out that they had withered by Wednesday. The ' antique ' dealer with his black leather jacket and slightly disreputable air is unloading a collection of  painted zinc garden planters onto the pavement. I look at the price. From the price tag he's clearly hoping that a busload of rich Parisians will be dropping by.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Life meets theatre.

The two cow girls in the field across the lane look up as we return home. They seem absolutely fine . The old farmers early morning supply of hay has done the trick.

While we've been away it's been windy . Fallen branches littering the lawn . A panel on the driveway gates blown down. Madame Bay clasps her hands to her chest as if praying and  tells us , with only a hint of exaggeration,  the gusts were at least a hundred and fifty kilometres an hour.  '' We feared for our lives  M'Ongoose. We feared for our lives " . Then, to make sure we've understood the full enormity of what has happened, she  makes a whistling noise and waves her arms from side to side. Life meets theatre - France profonde style.  " My goodness. How frightening for you " says '  the font ' . Madame Bay nods silently.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A gravitational pull.

Mid morning in London . Angus orders a coffee. ' The font ' studies the menu and orders a Cucumber, Elderflower and Wasabi Smoothie. This is made by a young man with a shaved head wearing what appears to be a pair of black pyjamas. '' Delicious '' says ' the font '. Angus sticks with coffee.

To the Harrods pet store. Sophie and Bob already beginning to exert a gravitational pull on our shopping patterns. While we're there the breeder phones. She wants to know the names we've given the two pups so that she can start using them . With a French accent Sophie and Bob come out sounding  altogether more exotic - Sofeee and Bubb. 

A late lunch in a county town. No Cucumber, Elderflower and Wasabi Smoothies on the menu here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Back tomorrow.

'' We're nearly in London says ' the font ' . This said when we're in northern France . Angus thinks of stating the obvious but decides against it. 

Central London in a French registered car with the steering wheel on the wrong side. A young man in a drophead BMW shouts out " Bloody Frog " when I fail to make the right turn outside Fortnum and Masons before the traffic lights turn to red. I lower the window and let him know that I am most certainly not French. He says something even less polite before speeding off.

A sign in the washrooms of a British motorway service station . Am I alone in thinking the sign odd ? Should I use the hot taps or the ones that are ' fine to use ? ' How hot can the water in the offending taps be ? If the water is dangerously hot why not turn them off at the mains ? What event caused the sign to be put up in the first place ? Is this bemusement over a washroom sign another indication that I'm getting older ?

The Harvey Nichols food hall. Cans of sun dried Emperor Moth larvae. '' Salted and ready to eat ! ". 

Next week we'll be back at the breeders to pay for the pups. She's sent us through the certificates from the vets examinations - hip and eye scores v.good. ( She'd happily take a cheque but this is a perfect excuse to see Sophie and Bob again ). The breeder will look after the the two of them until April 7th when we get back from California. Next week will be spent puppy proofing the house and buying all those things that need to be bought.