Here we are, already at the beginning of a new year. Can you believe it? 2018 seemed to fly by. Part of me wonders why, but when I think of all the stuff that happened, there’s no wonder I blinked and nearly missed it. Here’s a highlight from each month.
Our short recital ends, we pile into cars, and singers plus congregation travel in convoy to the next church. The process is repeated with double the numbers. And so it goes on until we reach the final church. Inevitably, some of the congregation (and one or two carollers) have been lost along the way. They still have last year’s order of play and are sitting in a freezing cold church wondering where everyone is.
The event was enticingly titled: Carnaval de Venise. We arrived and walked into a secretive world of the masked ball. A large troupe of performers strolled about the room wearing extraordinarily lavish costumes. There were china whites, gold leaf, rich velvets, satins and feathers. Pantaloons, cage crinoline dresses, taffeta and organza, it was impossible not to be impressed.
We surveyed the result. What used to be a collection of knotty vines with multiple arms wound around wire supports, was now a line of knobbly-kneed stumps. It may have looked like a plant war zone, but he’ddone it again. Those vines produced oodles of grapes.
After a horrifically long salon session, we walked through a passage into a tiny quadrangle. Ahead was a deliciously inviting eatery called Crumble Tea. The intimate dining area was filled with a hotchpotch of tables, cushioned chairs and cosy bench seats. It was just like home.
The proprietor directed us to a table lit with a cute chintz lamp. Everything was homemade here, she said, describing each menu choice. In the end, I plumped for onion soup, side salad and ham-filled croissant.
Madame reappeared to tickle our taste buds with her list of puds. Again, agonisingly difficult though it was, the complicated sounding sponge cake with several different fruits inside was the clincher. We munched our ways through, washing each delectablemouthful down with a sip of exotic tea. What a treat!
“I want to buy my neighbour a pair of peacocks,” announced Di.
“Yep. All you have to do is find a breeder, and we’ll nip over and buy a couple.”
Still in denial about the whole process, I found one. We drove to the department, Gers, to meet monsieur. He was dead keen.
“You have come at exactly the right time,” he said, with a parrot on his shoulder, and pointing at a peacock fanning its tail feathers. “The Javanese males are beginning their courting displays.”
We were entranced by the billowing tail feathers covered in blue-green eyes. Soon other males began to sense spring was in the air. Many copied, outshining the finesse of their competitors next door.
The next pen contained Sri Lankan blues. The males’ iridescent cobalt heads and necks dazzled, outdone only by their fabulous tails as they were gradually unfurled and fanned alluringly at their mates.
“These birds are rustic,” monsieur explained, “they can withstand hard winters. You can buy this pair if you want, they are five years old.”
I duly translated to Di, whose eyebrows shot to her hairline.
“Have you seen the length of its tail?” she hissed. “We’ll never get it in the car! Ask him if he has any six-monthers that’ll fit into a normal bird carrier.”
Sadly there was no prospect of buying youngsters from monsieur.
Happily, there were one or two respite days. As the sun peeped through soggy clouds, we decided to spend the evening nature watching. With Jack driving our ageing4×4 Range Rover, we shimmied and skidded into the forest to my favourite observation hide.
We approached a level surface. Mud spats flew, the tyres spun, forward movement ceased. Sticky stuff, clay-based soil. The car glued itself to the mud. It was stuck.
Jack decided to use the Jobber’s (4×4 utility vehicle) winch to pull it out. The Jobber was fetched, winch hook wrapped around a tree and tow rope attached to the car. Point of information here: Range Rovers are hefty vehicles.
As the tow rope and winch cable took up the strain, it was clear something had to give. It wasn’t the Range Rover, or the tree. A rifle crack twang signified the end of the cable as the hawser snapped. This was awkward.
“H’m thought that might happen,” Jack mused, sounding remarkably balanced under the circumstances.
With nothing else to try, we abandoned the car to the forces of nature overnight.
The following day brought Nathan, our French forester. We explained the situation.
“Pas de problème,” he quietly murmured. Nathan, practically born on his tractor, has spent years wielding it around the forest pathways. It would drag the car out in no time at all, he said.
We returned to find the Range Rover settled further in the mud. To avoid dragging it deeper into the sludge, the tractor had to pull the vehicle upwards. Easy-peasy, Nathan had a lovely big chain that would yank it out in moments.
Luckily a farmer friend came to our rescue. Gilles arrived in his tractor. It was positively enormous. Pulling into the carpark of stranded vehicles and muddy dogs, he threw open the cab door and zoomed down the ladder.
Absolute gent that he is, Gilles condoled about the general merde-ness of the conditions. He assured us he’d have our vehicles on terra firma in no time at all. And he did.
We drove to a ramshackle farm near Lauzerte. Ready to do business, madame took us into the first barn. We followed the sounds of cheeps through the splintered doorframe into the gloomy interior.
“Voici le premier groupe,” said madame, pointing towards a cluster of small creatures.
Masses of goslings waddled around on a thick bed of sweet-smelling straw. Fluffy, tubby, with strange little knobbly heads and teeny-tiny wings, they were beyond adorable. After several ahhs, I left Di to have a bash at conversing in French with madame and wandered into the adjoining barn.
This housed two even larger groups of goslings. It was impossible to count the closely-packed mini-honkers, but there must have been hundreds of them. I admired these wonderfully healthy animals. It was clear where madame spent her money.
I re-joined madame, and Di, who was now looking anxious.
“We’ve got ours. Erm, shegrabbed them by their necks and stuck them in this box. Hope they’re okay.”
“You’ll have to ask about how to look after them, I haven’t got a clue what she said.”
I peered into the box at four indignant, knobbly-headed shriekers and discussed husbandry requirements with madame. She had selected 10-day-old chicks, and they were already whoppers, nicely chubby and covered in yellow and buff-coloured down. They were going to be perfect. And they were.
Every piece was removed, reminding us that old shutters weigh a ton. Each was washed. Rotten parts were replaced by carpenter Jack. Each was hand sanded, machine sanded, mended where necessary and washed again.
Our mutts didn’t know what had hit them. Leaping around, making trial holes, testing shells for crunch value, they dashed randomly across the beach towards the surf. At this point, I started getting nervous thoughts. Should I have packed canine lifebelts? What if Aby decides to say hello to that surfer – waaay out at sea? And Max, once he starts swimming…will he stop? How far away is America anyway? Luckily help was at hand.
A small breaker doused them as they were in mid snuffle. And that was it for mademoiselle Aby. If a dog could pout, she would. For her, it was strictly toe-depth only after that. Max was equally shocked but braver. He trotted in and out, tried to eat the milky surf – bad idea – and then settled for paddling.
Soon it was time to go, one last Frisbee session, and the discovery of a sandcastle. Aby eyed it suspiciously, wondering how the moles in Capbreton managed to make such tidy hills. Max blundered up soon after, forgot to stop, and that was that. No more sandcastle.
We said goodbye to those sea views, that sea air and took our mutts back home. Were they confirmed seadogs now? Perhaps not surfers, but they did love those beaches!
The month of my birthday and the present I’d wanted for ages. A Lensball. It is an ultra-clear sphere made out of K9 crystal. It is an incredibly hard, scratch resistant material most commonly used in lenses and optics. The idea is for the wannabe arty photographer to capture breath-taking images.
On my first photo session,I enthusiastically grabbed my Lensball with its dinky crystal base. I immediately dropped the base, chipped it, disproving the ‘near invincible’ claim, but luckily not the ball itself. I haven’t played as much as I would like, and my first forays have been dead amateur rather than spectacular. I shall be practising much more this year.
Jack climbed up to rescue the howling moggy, who decided it wasn’t so keen on being rescued after all. A short tussle ensued followed by success. Any thanks from the stuck one? Noooo. After unstapling itself from his chest, the skinny survivor fled into the forest. And that was that. Or so we thought.
Today is a different story for this fragile young animal. Still often scared stiff, she is gradually learning how to play, how to interact with humans and has gained lots of weight. Our latest newcomer to the family is also helping, and it is she who was our final highlight of the year.
Christmas started off as planned, tamely. Even the turkey obliged, giving us reason to celebrate a happy family feast. Later on, Di and I took the dogs for a walk and returned to find a family at our door. Strange, since we live in the middle of nowhere.
The lady was with her children. They’d found a little one abandoned while walking in our woods, she said. A little what? I wondered, alarmed.
Christmas night saw Aby and Max in a tiz, Cleo having a hissy fit and Brutus, our adult cat, giving us a ‘you lot are lost causes’ look before retiring under the bed. And the kitten? It settled right in.
In spite of being a female, we named our newcomer Claus. She’s already running us ragged, and we adore her.
So there you have it. 2018 was another unforgettable year, one that reminded me how lucky we are to live here in this magical corner of France. And it was one brilliantly supported by you. Thank you so much for that. I sincerely hope 2019 brings health, happiness and lots of fun for all of us.