Friday, 21 April 2017

I Garden in a Sun Hat and Thermals

For days now we have woken to brilliant blue unclouded skies and a vicious north-east wind straight out of Siberia.

The shaded edge of Monsieur F's field down by the stream is frosty where Tod walks the dogs first thing.

We've had no rain since early April and I'm already watering newly-planted pots and the shrubs that I have been busy moving before summer sets in. I worry that I have already left it too late.

We had virtually no rain last year from April through to October.  The winter rains have been sparse and the stream is already low for this time of year.  If we have another dry summer, the plants I've just moved - roses, cornus, potentillas - will struggle.

Our lawns have never been cut so early or looked so good.  They are already so dry that Tod can whisk over them with the mulching mower. Even the field is being tamed.

The tulips and lilac are finished and the wisteria, looking magnificent for too brief a period, has already gone over in the strong sun. All our troughs along the terrace are filled with young geraniums, begonias, lobelias and trailing variegated greenery whose name I don't know.

We've moved back to the house - and wish we were still in the cottage. The cold north-east wind finds its way into every room and we create small puddles of warmth - in front of the log fire in the lounge, next to radiators in our studies - and we scuttle across the cold tiled floors of the dining room and the kitchen.  The dogs come in from outside, bringing an icy draught.  They've learnt to open doors but sadly not to close them.

Bedtime requires a hot water bottle and two duvets.

No doubt we will be grateful for this draughty old house come sweltering July and August.

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Even when they are dying tulips still look beautiful.



The wisteria, almost over, through my study window.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

We went to Ikea

We had it all planned. Just after the kids have gone back to school, just before the January sales start. Not on a bridge day for Tod, nor a day when we're doing Alexander Technique lessons.

It takes us half a day by the time we've driven along the motorway to Bordeaux, walked round, queued to pay and had something to eat. We always set off late to arrive at twelve, just as the French are going for lunch, so we have the store more or less to ourselves, except for the Germans and the other English.

The first Tuesday in January was just perfect.  So Monday was preparation day - sat nav primed, merc petrol tank full, details of what we wanted to buy printed off.  It was then, at the top of the chemin rural, having checked our post box for late Christmas cards,  that I found I couldn't put the merc into gear.  Best laid plans and all that. Tuesday morning we watched the merc disappear into town perched precariously, swaying from side to side, on the back of the really too small Rodrigues' pickup truck.

He promised to let us know the diagnosis.  Wednesday morning, Alexander lesson having been cancelled for the afternoon, the call came to say the car was fine and we rushed into town, resolved to head off to Ikea after all.  And the reason for the gears jamming?  A hazelnut wedged in among the cogs.  He tactfully suggested it was a mouse who had done it, rather than the merc's untidy owner taking a snack.

So no more than twenty-five hours later than planned, we took our trusty old spacious merc to collect a two-seater sofa for the house and a comfy armchair for the cottage.  Fortunately the furniture comes flat packed.  And unfortunately I never got round to checking the packing case measurements, otherwise I would have realised that, large though the merc is, the two enormous boxes wheeled out from Ikea's warehouse wouldn't both fit inside the car (and we had no roof rack).

Not sure how we did it. After heaving, pushing, shoving, moving the front seats forward as far as possible, changing the angle of the seat backs, there came a moment when it looked as if we could close the tailgate by leaning on it heavily and praying that nothing inside was crushed.  Tod drove home with his knees round his ears.

An hour earlier we'd stood in Ikea's furniture department wondering if we should buy the smaller armchair.  But it wouldn't have matched the big three-seater sofa in the cottage lounge.  And we have always done spacious, roomy and comfortable for our guests.

As we tried to force the boxes into the car, I said: "we should have bought the smaller one".

As I assembled the armchair in the cottage lounge and stood back to look at this enormous lump that completely swamps the rest of the room (even overwhelming the sofa) I said: "we should have bought the smaller one".

Vita and Bertie, on the other hand, think our new armchair is just perfect.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

Bertie sleeps in ...

... recovering from an exhausting few days.

He's curled in a corner of the small slightly lurid green dralon sofa that I bought from John Lewis some time in the early eighties.  It was the smallest sofa I could find for getting up the narrow winding stairs to the top floor flat I'd just bought in Battersea and after more than thirty years it's still going strong - shame about the fabric.

Like a feral cat, uncertain whether the next meal will be provided, Bertie periodically hunts opportunistically, no table or worktop surface too remote for him to reach.  I forget, as sometimes months pass between episodes.

The pyrex bowl of home-made mincemeat covered in foil, ready for another batch of mince pies, had been sitting on the worktop for a couple of days, untouched, seemingly undetected.  Christmas Day we left, to visit friends for lunch, reassuring the dogs we would be back in time for their supper.  But Bertie didn't believe us. Some time during the afternoon he found and demolished half the mincemeat, much to my disgust.  It was only later, when he asked to go out at one in the morning, I jerked awake, remembering: raisins - grapes - poisonous to dogs - kidney failure.  And he hadn't eaten one or two, but half a bowl full!  I didn't sleep much that night, not indeed the next two nights, while we waited to see.

Bertie, oblivious to all of this, blissfully continued to eat, poo, sleep in ruddy good health,

Vita, in the meantime, feeling that she was getting less than her due share of our attention decided to have night-time anxiety attacks - pacing, pawing and whining at doors to be let out, climbing onto the sofa and onto our laps (difficult for a 25 kilo Airedale), nose pointed skywards, tail between her legs. The start of her behaviour seemed to coincide with our Christmas treat to ourselves, the arrival of a new Smart TV and I googled LED screens and dog anxiety, bought pheromone plug-in sprays and tried Rescue Remedy.

We removed the TV, struggled down from the house with the old big one we'd bought when we first came here that needs two people to carry it.  To no avail.  She still asked to go out, came back in immediately, wanted to go out again and climbed as high as she could on the sofa.

Then finally light dawned.  We were watching Christmas University Challenge every evening!  Jeremy Paxman: "Fingers on buzzers, your starter for 10".  Not buzzers in fact, but the noise of  "front door bells" on the TV every few minutes. And we were taking no notice! No wonder she was going frantic, she was trying to tell us there was someone at the door and then someone else at the door and then yet another person at the door.  We watched St Hilda's win and then breathed a sigh of relief as peace was restored the following evening. The large, heavy TV was returned to the house and the Smart TV reinstated to no ill-effect.

Yesterday, Bertie, feeling life was too tranquil, decided to liven things up and went on a foraging trip.  Tod heard the crunch as he went through a tiny wrapped parcel that sat on the bookcase in the hall, one of several grouped around a small seated Father Christmas.  I'd wrapped whatever it was probably twelve years ago and each year put it back in the Christmas decorations box, ready for next year.  I'd no idea what was inside (a wafer coated cheese ball maybe?) but Bertie - briefly - thought it was edible. Until he threw up on the hall floor.  And then did the same about half an hour later outside the kitchen French windows.  After that, of course, he was hungry and demanded a full supper, though I feared the worse and gave him short rations.

It was about this stage that I announced to Tod in the kitchen I was never, ever going to have another dog.

We settled down to late night New Year's Eve rubbish on our new Smart TV.  The rubbish looks so much better!  And all was quiet until the fireworks started at midnight.  So two dogs were let out to go hurtling off into the dark, yelling at the tops of their voices.

Vita quickly returned, content to go to bed.  Bertie finally re-appeared just before three am. By this time I would have happily given him away to the first passing stranger.

He is sleeping in.  I, on the other hand, am very short of sleep and very short of temper. Let's hope 2017 improves.

Indeed, whatever is in store, may this be a year of tranquillity and happiness for all of us.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Autumn Colours

This time of the year is beautiful.  When the morning mist burns off and the sun breaks through our autumn colours are glorious.






Monday, 10 October 2016

Autumn Tasks

We saw the first of the cranes heading south last week and sure enough, almost immediately, the nip in the air turned to a real chill and it was time (at least for me) to find the thermals.

There was frost on the grass in the corner of Monsieur F's field this morning when I walked Vita and Bertie. It's the corner where the sun never penetrates, by the ditch where we turn right towards the small bridge and where Bertie lingers to sniff every inviting smell from the hunt dogs who passed by at the weekend.

Suddenly the jobs that seemed like elephant tasks all throughout the hot summer have become eminently do-able, like digging over the compost heap and barrowing what's rotted down to the vegetable beds.

Tod is off sightseeing for a couple of days - Bilbao, Pamplona and Saragossa - so Vita and Bertie know their task is to keep an eye on me. They supervise from the top of the bank behind the sour cherry tree.  They lounge in the sun, on the edge of the long grass, facing in opposite directions like two book ends.

I might even get round to tidying the wood store before this winter's supply is delivered.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Gardening Needs a Sweater and Long Trousers.

There's definitely a nip in the air.  Tod lit the fire in the lounge last night (this hot summer has made us soft).

Was it really only last Monday I lingered in Lacanau, reluctant to leave the beach in the late afternoon sun?  And drove home through the dark with the car thermometer reading thirty-four degrees.

I zigzag across the lawn extracting long bleached maize leaves that are huddling in small groups between the bushes.

My prayers for rain were granted as storms during the week drove through the Bay of Biscay, travelling on the coat-tails of a small tornado that flung Monsieur F's field across our garden, lifted the morning glory-draped trellises from the poolside off their posts and hurled the swimming pool cover into the pool.

The mess is worth it.  The water butts are full for the first time in two months.  I cheerfully pull up barrow-loads of dead weeds that have succumbed to the heat - their roots slipping easily from the damp earth.

The last of our paying guests have departed, so I trot backwards and forwards to the cottage, linen and towels in my arms and breath in the sweet damp smells of autumn.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The French Summer Holidays are Over!

Lacanau-Océan 23rd August 2016



Le Grand Crohot 5th September 2016


Friday, 2 September 2016

I'm bored ...

... with this endless hot, dry summer.

I email our next gîte guests and sign off, saying I hope the good weather will continue for them.

It's not true.  I long for lower temperatures, a cool breeze and rain. Days of rain, not the occasional ten minutes-worth of droplets every two weeks or so.

I husband water. The pots round the cottage are done daily.  New bushes, foolishly planted early summer, just as the rain ceased, are fussed over and I fret when I see their new leaves droop. The veg patch is done every night and still the stems of the cucumbers and tomatoes turn brittle and crack. Everything else - trees, bushes, roses, perennials - have to manage as best they can.

A large viburnum by the gate to the swimming pool, tough as old boots, suddenly starts shedding yellowing leaves.  The canna lilies stubbornly refuse to bloom, curling their leaves into long thin pointed tubes.

Plants that are supposed to thrive in heat - lavender, majoram, grey furry-leaved sage - are dull and dusty.  The occasional rose struggles to flower, petals pale and brown edged almost as soon as they open.

I try weeding, but the ground is baked rock hard and stems snap as I pull them.

I itch to get out there and dig, mulch, move plants that are struggling, redesign the cottage border so it's easier to care for. Instead, I lurk indoors, glad of the shade and the draught through the pulled-to shutters.

I look at the meteo long-range forecast and it shows nothing but sunshine. Our next guests will be delighted as they lie by our pool, which has been at a pleasant twenty-eight degrees centigrade for weeks now.

I, on the other hand, will be silently praying for rain.