Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Spring has sprung

Well here I am at the end of my 1st French winter. How have I found it ? Marvellous, bloody marvellous, and confusing too, as , for some reason it appears to me that I arrived what seems like yesterday…..so why am I heading off so soon?.

It’s only when I look around and see, the freezer we bought to stock up in, the fence “Stitch proofing” the garden, the new kitchen unit to take the extra vittles, and the “touched up” appearance of the ruined faux chimney, that I realize I have been here over two months at all. To say it has flown by would be an understatement.  So much so, that it almost feels “unreal” Très bizarre as the locals like to say.

So what were the highlights of my last couple of weeks ?

Coming in as a firm favourite is the annual “flight of the Cranes” that tells folk in the Poitou Charante that spring is indeed on the way. These huge, noisy flocks pass through this area twice a year, flying south in the autumn and north to their breeding grounds at Springtime. They chose four consecutive days at approximately the same time each day, to cross our back garden, forming huge “V”’s of literally hundreds of birds,over periods of up to an hour and a half. A true spectacle of nature.  I looked up on their grus grus(French for crane) site and on the 19th & 20th February between 15,000 and 20,000 flew through my region EACH day on their way to Hesse in Germany. No picture can ever capture that moment,well not unless you are Sir David Attenborough, but here are a couple of shots taken with a pathetically poor camera.

Next, thanks to the gradual shutting down of hunting my rambles with the dogs can cover new ground, without risk of being “mistaken” for game !! Something I did not know is how well organised and exact hunting IS here. Hunting is a community event and to break a rule is social suicide. There are firm restrictions as to what you can shoot, and when. The deer, bless their little Bambi hearts, aren’t safe until the 28th February but pigeons  pheasants and partridges have been popping their heads up without risk of having them shot off, since the end of January. Farmers either agree to "La Chasse" over their lands, or they have Chasse Garde signs up…NO hunting. As I went to Montignac for agility the other day, I was surprised to see in a Chasse Garde field, two gorgeous sleek,shiny Chasse dogs, both Hamilton Stovares, which are highly popular as pack dogs locally. The Chasse meets about two miles down the road in the woods, these had obviously gone off on their own, I just had visions of the local huntsman having to round up the strays in the evening. I hope they were happily reunited with their packmates, who hopefully didn't, “find” anything that day either.

Anyway it was on one of these “new” walks I came upon another huge surprise. I mean, imagine you are just following your nose,on what seems like a nice jaunt, round the edge of a mature wood and out across the unfenced fields of rural France, and suddenly you see in the distance rocks…..big rocks, on an otherwise flat horizon. Colour me curious but off I trundled to, a mini version of Stonehenge, not a worshipping stone ring but a burial site. Two Dolmen. But no fencing, no roads, no anything, just a plaque and a polite notice to say they were religious sites and could you please not clamber about on them.    Neolithic 5000-4000 BC !! not the sort of thing you expect to stumble on,but I expect many more of these discoveries in years to come.

One of my real regrets is to be abandoning my birds. I will be begging my sister in law to be coming in to feed them for me in the coming weeks. Their antics have been more entertaining than TV, and I have got to know many of them individually by sight, and learnt their characters, despite many of them being technically identical. All the usual suspects. Great tits, blue tits, sparrows and robins, that have of late, begun to remind me a lot of the birds in “Rhubarb and Custard”, mainly as they have gained enough weight to look like tennis balls. They line up in the mornings, waiting for a new supply of sunflower seeds, and get quite stroppy if I feed the woofs first. This morning there was a light dusting of snow, and I only ventured out at 7.30 am…. I half expected to be pelted with bird poop. They were not amused, and had formed like leaves in the walnut tree branches, tweeting their avian fury at me for keeping them waiting. Also it’s taken 10 weeks since the 1st sighting of our Hawfinch pair to get them to actually FEED, rather than just to stop off for a drink in the bird bath, and what are we doing ?? Buggering off.  Mrs Hawfinch is on her umpteenth visit as I write this,her husband,who comes over as a Bob Hoskins Cockney wide boy, is huge and really should not be messed with, as the other birds have found out, and the Woodpecker(Greater Spotted) has just left our peanut feeder. What now ?? Back to the bloody seagulls I guess.

Then there are the dogs, Phee high on life, yet also clinging onto it, Kif who lives for the countryside and his walks, the pace and volume of life is kinder to him here it seems, and The Bug, well he has a new love in his life…..whose name is Pimpernel. Pimpernel is Stitch’s pet mouse, who lives outside our back door in the flower border. He is called Pimpernel as “he seeks him here,he seeks him there,that Stitchy seeks him everywhere, is he in heaven ?,is he in hell?,that damned elusive Pimpernel”  No Bug,he’s under the calor gas cylinder dude !!!!!!

And don't even get me started on "the spoiler" Richard.....regard if you will his "lunch-plate,......and he says they are MY dogs !!!! Those mini sarnies are lined up for you know who.

Luka - Stitch's French Bulldog Buddy
I guess in the last few weeks, I too, have just become a creature of habit , and the habits I have formed, and have got myself involved with, suit me. I will miss my new friends at Vallee du Salles, they tolerate my poor French, and my loco terrier, I will miss shopping at odd times, and suiting myself when I do almost anything you care to mention. I will even miss the looks of exasperation, as my poor command of verbs and tenses make something that sounded in my head like it made sense, perplex the heck out of my French neighbours. I will miss the sheer quirkiness of french life, sights sounds and tastes... yes I WILL miss it all .  
Odd items in Phamacy windows !!

Eclairs as they should be - filled to the MAX

I am however ALSO looking forward to catching up with our children, and seeing old friends and new puppies(especially THAT),back in England. I’m beyond excited to see Voodoo’s progress and dear long suffering Hex’s ginger head in my hands again. 

Is life back in the fast lane really for me these days ?? Well that remains to be seen. See you all soon x 


Saturday, 16 February 2013

Shit happens (even in France)

One of the things that I have had said to me repeatedly since we bought the cottage in France, (although interestingly enough NOT by my children)and more so since we have decided to try moving here permanently is, : You have to be careful with your judgement….,"it’s not like living there is it ?? it’s a holiday !!!”  Well take it from me the last two visits have proved to me beyond doubt that the honeymoon is over, and “living here” is exactly what we are doing. How do I know this ? because shit happens, and it’s no less soul destroying despite the climate,the wildlife,the relaxation and the hopes and dreams of a happy retirement.

Does leading a dream life stop your pain, or allow you to reduce your medication for it?,…no, do new challenges and experiences fall at your feet and cause you no stress…,no, do the endless walks in spectacular countryside spare you from the tears you cry, knowing the dogs you swore you would share it with, never made that final trip, or does discovering you love gardening, and want to tell that to the “green fingered” parent you lost long before this experience in France started, who YOU called bonkers for spending hours and hours on her hands and knees weeding, make you happy, …No…..because life isn’t a holiday, and no matter where you lay your hat, trouble and strife will eventually follow. But that’s life isn’t it,imperfect and unpredictable, but you have to make the most of it. And making “the most of it” will be my focus from now on whatever is thrown my way.

For example:

Take my beautiful woodburner, installed at fair expense and complimented by a faux chimney that my other half and I had a gas laugh riot “creating” behind it. What happens this visit ??? Well I will give you the before and after photo so you can see for yourself.  Thick tar gunk running down our walls after the first full week of usage. Was it the chimney ??? Replaced/rejigged…No…..rainwater? no, condensation ??maybe….would an airbrick fix it….no… would adding Vermiculite do the trick ??…. Finally Yes after a month of staining my masterpiece beyond belief !!! It’s  bleached now and doesn't look that bad. But for me it’s ruined…. And always will be.

A near miss: Finding out that due to a cock up with a direct debit I have been driving an uninsured car since December and was blissfully(although you can’t use that expression in this case) unaware of doing so, on the slippery single track roads I have been sharing with the lorries modifying the TGV(railway)locally,and the slightly loopy impatient French motorists who aren't used to sharing their space with other motorists, when two cars on the same road at the same time represents total gridlock !!!

Wildlife: Watching during the course of a day(My birthday,) a goldfinch who had become so tame and who fed daily on our kitchen window sill, puff out his or her feathers and spend a last day not leaving our garden,only to finally perch on our window sill for once last moment at dusk before flying off, to never reappear. Illness,old age,victim of a close encounter with cat or bird of prey ?. I will never know but it broke my heart.

Agility: A lovely bunch of people, welcoming and jovial. Do they use modern methods? No. Are their relationships with their dogs a partnership or a dictatorship ?? Well I think you know the answer. They aren't mean to their dogs but they don’t lure,shape and reward exactly like we do.There is an element of positive reinforcement in that they will let them work to a toy, or throw a toy,but on the whole although not overtly harsh,they think the dogs should do X,Y or Z because they say so, and they are pretty immovable on that subject. In the long term will I be able to turn up week after week and watch them struggle(which they think they aren't), persuading a dog to jump a jump by insisting that it does so, rather than dropping the pole to the floor and praise and rewarding it’s efforts, before progressing gradually ?? well that remains to be seen, save to say I am already looking at properties with larger terrain to offer people the opportunity to train on a 1-2-1 basis should they wish to so. There is no better incentive to achieve better fluency than to have a goal such as taking the exam to train French agility (You have to have a  French certificate to have permission to train at ALL) to improve their relationships with their dogs.

So to summarize am I under any illusion that this is all “very real” ??  Yet strangely does it dampen my enthuasism.?  My other half is always going on about this challenge to him being, “Lifes last big adventure”  and in itself are adventures always smooth,trouble free, and without risk? Of course not.  Being outside your comfort zone after the best part of thirty years of happy family life is scary, especially when in your opinion you would do it all over again in a heartbeat.  A very wise woman(My Mum) once told me “life is about change” and I never really understood that one as a child !! Does a change mean you were unhappy or discontent with your life as it was.? In my case certainly not, I love my life just as it is. I am proud of my children ?, immeasurably.  I totally applaud the changes they have made to their lives in way of career and love their choices of personal relationships. But I guess I now am facing the fact that their adventures are now “theirs” and only shared with me secondhand whether or not I was 10 minutes down the road.

So here I am…..having an adventure of my own. Will it all be endless, sunshine, lollipops and rainbows ? Will there be days when I want to be “beamed up Scotty” and for it to be back as it all was ?  Hell yes. But then I have those days in UK. We all do.

Like I said “That’s life”   and I am not sticking my head in the sand folks. Merde happens

P.S. Normal service to be resumed on the next post, I promise xx I just felt it had to be said.