Monday, 14 September 2020

Postcards from a new patch of the Earth

New to us anyway.

Yesterday's dog walks revealed baby deer (moved to fast to be photographed) pumpkins in abundance, poplar forests and quiet, leafy bike lanes to be explored - when I have a decent bike...

Bali, our younger greyhound (above and below) has discovered the joy of lying about on warm grass as well as sofas, although the older lady, Gala, still prefers the latter.

Dogs and husband after a long dog walk

Today we explored the small towns immediately opposite our patch; two of which are classed as 'plus beaux villages de France. And they are: very beautiful, full of pretty streets, roses climbing the pale stone buildings and wine caves/boutiques. People we have met here so far have informed us that our side - Rive Droit, is where the peasants live, the the Rive Gauche is the haunt of the bourgeoise, and apparently it's always been like that. I am of firm peasant stock - gardeners and servants for the well-to-do, so the Right Side suits me well, but it was fascinating to nip over the river and suddenly be in Chelsea-by-the-Sea, or similar. We happened upon the excellent 'flea market' that is held in Montsoreau every other Sunday, along with an excellent food market. It was up-market brocante prices but not madly so, and we managed to buy a couple of things for the new abode without feeling guilty.

A bookseller at the brocante.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Plastic ban

In our new (old) house we have been inspired to use even less plastic than before. We need a washing basket as the old one finally died before the move but I can't bring myself to buy another huge chunk of plastic with holes in it which will break within a few months. Yesterday while exploring the magnificent town of Chinon we came across an excellent Emmaüs (recycling emporium par excellence) and there were a whole stack of them, a euro each, but I'd run out of cash - will return. 

The cash was spent in the same place on cushions and a magnificent white tureen which has become the new dog food bowl - the old one went the same way as the washing basket. Why not have a mad china vessel that cost two euros in which to house ones dog repas? After all it does go rather well with this particular race of dog... 

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Familiarity upload

It's happening. Little by little, the maps of our previous part of France being overlaid by new ones. I don't think the maps of before will ever be erased as nearly twenty years of being somewhere lays them deep, just as my knowledge of London is still ever-present if not a little suspended in the 80s and 90s.

Dogs are great for forcing exploration. I now know all the small roads, fields, rivers and paths within a couple of kilometres of the house. Not that I needed forcing but I might have put the walks off knowing there are still about 400 boxes to undo and masses of jobs to undergo. The house is now our home for sure, as I hoped it might become when we saw it on the first viewing. There's lots to do but most of it on the creative side (hopefully!) I've tracked down a couple of local craftspeople who will pass by to give their opinions. There are a few main repairs to do, like completing the little roofs that sit over the dormer windows - wonderfully named, Chien assis (sitting dog), and the dreaded Fosse Septique - septic tank, but I'm hopeful that we will be able to spend the money (scary large amount) on putting in a relatively newly -allowed system called phytoépuration which uses plants to filter the grey, and other, water and to be able to use the result in the garden rather than flushing it away somewhere.

Further afield from our small patch of the Earth there are exciting towns to explore such as Saumur, Angers, Tours and Chinon. I drove through the latter this morning after going to look at and subsequently purchase two sofas from Le Bon Coin - excellent online site for second hand anything and everything. I didn't stop in the town as it was market day and therefore nowhere to park but admired from a distance the very handsome buildings and the chateau crowning the tufa cliffs.

Back home - yes, I can say that now - we ate lentil stew in the garden, wrote lists and waited for the local electrician to turn up to look at moving the boiler. He didn't, not because he was one of those artisans who specialise in not turning up but as he couldn't locate the house - the previous owner did say it can be difficult to find . . . Later in the afternoon lovely new neighbours appeared with a bottle of Saumur fizz and we sat in the garden quaffing wine and eating cake Mark had made using the garden peaches and hedgerow blackberries. Stories were exchanged and very useful information given; how wonderful to come across open and friendly folk. Yep, familiarity upload well on the way to completion with loads more to explore and learn about this, and now, our, region.


Sunday, 30 August 2020

Home is where the heart is

 Hm, dunno. The word, discombobulated seems to hover this morning. However, moving into a new house and new area and all family disappearing immediately might well allow me to feel thus. At least for a few days while I figure out where I am, and one of the family members returns.

This house certainly has heart, and I think mine will become very attached to it as I hope Mark's and our son's does too. After living in a relatively new house (40 years old or so) this abode has much history. Most recently owned by an incredible lady who has now moved on to another enormous gardening project at the sort of age many people might be planning their day around naps and a possible trip out to look at new slippers, the place was probably a farm house although built for someone with certain ideas of grandeur. I would like to find out more as much must have happened here since its construction in 1860. She bought it as a ruin back in the 80s and turned a treeless field into a veritable paradise of plants - certain responsibility to keep in all going!

We have a wood!

Is this the place?

Seems all right...

The house interior is still a massive mess of boxes, misplaced shoes, musical equipment, books, and furniture, some of which fits and some that will have to be replaced. But that's to be expected after only four days of being here. I'm still acclimatising to the certain creaks, dripping tap, trains passing, the neighbours dogs but it's already becoming familiar.

Things I miss . . . familiar faces, of course. Our pool. I never expected to own a house with a pool and we certainly made very good use of it over the years, but here we have a small river and one of my objectives is to make a large pond, possibly to slide into along with the frogs and fish on very hot summer days - of which there increasingly more of in the Loire as well as everywhere else . . . The hills. Oh yes. It's very flat here, but I'm trading enormous skies and distant forest views for the vine covered slopes, although the familiar stripes of vines are here too for which I feel a certain affection. Here I will be able to cycle - something I never did much of in the Aude, despite the fact that serious cyclists come from all over the world to work their thigh and calve muscles out on the hill roads. There are cycle routes everywhere and its a few minutes leg work to the Loire itself. I don't miss the heat or the mosquitos, or the lack of customer appreciation in shops - here, so far, people seem genuinely more friendly, pleased to see you; we had become rather accustomed to 'bof' the peculiar indifference displayed by shop/restaurant owners/workers back in our area of the South.

This morning I took the dogs - or they took me, pacing around waiting to explore by eight o'clock - on a walk around the small roads that surround us. It's very odd not to encounter an incline, and before one realises, the kilometres pass. We must have done about six, taking in the distant views, rustling poplar trees, picking blackberries. Well, I was. Dogs do what dogs do, their interests being lower to the ground... No one was about, not surprisingly as it was early Sunday morning but I would have liked to ask what we do about bins. Our 'Tax Fonciere' is extremely low (hurrah) but I assume there must be a rubbish collection at some point during each week. I returned, surveyed the chaos in the house and went to plant an olive tree.

                                                                    Very different soil - sandy and very fine

In some sort of last minute panic at leaving the South I had visited our local garden center and bought several cypress/olive trees and assorted other mediterranean plants only to find on closer inspection this vegetation exists here. On my walk I saw the afore-mentioned trees growing happily as well as Oleander, flowering sages and all the other stuff I had purchased. We already have two peach trees in the garden here, trees I hadn't imagined seeing in this region. Sadly, many of the indigenous trees that our house seller had put in over the later years such as silver birch are suffering from lack of water and I envisage the dryer part of the garden developing into a try-out Southern landscape with much of the vegetation I had included in our old garden. 

After a tricky start after the dog walk: severely burning toast, melting the plastic dog food bowl on the very ancient electric stove and falling up the stairs over a pile of stuff waiting to be re-housed I feel energised for more sorting, more garden investigation and possibly a knock of someone's door to ask about the rubbish bin business. 

                                                                    Peaches from one of the trees

                                                          If the sofa is there, any dwelling is good.

More from the Loire soon. 

Friday, 28 August 2020

On the move...

 Fourteen years in this house, nearly twenty in this small Southern french town . . .we've seen our boy turn into a young man here, welcomed numerous dogs into our lives, met wonderful people, walked wonderful walks, learned a language, made a whole garden, bought and sold lots of interesting old junk and cooked a million meals from the abundant regional foodstuffs . . . and it's time to try somewhere else.

The new house in the Loire Valley, about seven hours north of the old one.

dog readjusting to sofa in new house

piano moving angst

New garden to explore

Moving day was, as most peoples', chaotic, exhausting and emotional, but the removal people were incredible and we had extra help from an energetic and positive-minded friend so all was good - more than - great, in fact. A strange time for us as a family as Ezra (son) having just experienced the moving in is off again to start a new course in woodwork (mainly traditional roof construction) half way back down the country. Sitting at our ancient kitchen table which used to occupy the terrace in the Southern house, I feel a mixture of emotions: excitement at this whole new area of France to explore, sadness at the departure of our son - but happiness that he is doing something so useful for his future - angst at the amount of stuff to be sorted out, and that sight trepidation of having thrown ourselves again into a new region without knowing anyone. I will now sort a few more boxes and step out into the lanes of around here to investigate the very beautiful architecture, the much flatter landscape, the birds and beasts of the area and possibly a cake shop if I get that far.

More soon.  

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Sifting the past

 Well, down to the last couple of rooms in this moving house process. In our case a very large process after nearly fourteen years in the same abode, and we have taken on much of Mark's parents' and my mothers stuff. I say stuff, most of it consists of wonderful books and cherished bits of furniture - un-throwable. I've gone through my manuscripts (last post), Mark is attempting to discard old compostions, vinyl, harboured but unused instruments, etc, and slowly we are getting there. I think...

Amongst my material 'purgings' have been many paintings; some sold, some given to friends; pictures I made during a phase of painting on huge panels of wood about a decade ago (mostly). I wish at the time I'd made them on panels about two thirds smaller - I might have sold a few more... however there's only a few left, one or two reserved by potential buyers, and a few I'll take with us as a reminder of that era.

Made for an exhibition on the theme, The French Revolution

Today Is Disorganised 

Carcassonne airport principle runway

Slice of the Earth

Yesterday, I recalled a series of photos from a few years back as I was wrapping my stuffed crocodile, a top hat and  ship in a bottle; an extraordinary record of the planets inhabitants and their worldly possessions, or rather some of them - a record of everyone would presumably take about a thousand years and fill 40 billion books, or thereabouts...

The images are from a book titled Material World: Family Portraits by Peter Menzel. Below are two good comparisons - sadly I couldn't load up better quality - and one of our dog Gala narrowly missing packing up a greyhound-size box. (Not really...)

Thursday, 6 August 2020

To throw or not to throw...

Think I must have blogged this before, possibly twice, but here I am again at the same point . . . massive clear out and assessment of what to keep, work-wise.
I don't need to keep old manuscripts; everything is now in a self-published or traditionally published book, and if I had kept every first, second, third, fourth, etc draft I would now have a large room completely full of spiral bound white paper books. 
There's something comforting about them sitting there; some visual reminder of all the millions of words and phrases sweated and grimaced over. But there is nothing like a good purge, so a revisit to the dump was decided upon this morning. Nothing like moving house to highlight the importance of not hanging on to stuff...

unsuspecting manuscripts

Friday, 31 July 2020

old dog, new tricks

A very apt phrase concerning our older greyhound. She must be about twelve now and although agile still spends most of her time (as greyhounds do) looking beautiful on the sofa.
However... within the last few months Gala has discovered the joy of WATER.
At first it was tentative paw in a stream, quick drink and out again; now it's increased to a joyful springy run towards any stretch of water, preferably with a good patch of mud or sand to play about in too.
I think she must be reliving or rather living her puppyhood of which she was cheated being a beaten rescue dog from Spain.
Adopt a 'Galgo/Galga''. The most loving, funny, affectionate, wonderful to look at and sadly maltreated dogs . . .


                    default greyhound position - nodding off on sofa after 'walkies'


                                                                 Joy of mud


                                                                Joy of water

Saturday, 25 July 2020

The unbearable heaviness of moving

Moving as in, house.
We've been in the same abode for about fourteen years and have accumulated a billion things, some of which are worthwhile, wonderful, spirit-lifting, practical, inspiring, heart-warming, educational, etc, and then all the other stuff; a slit-like layer of boot sale, spur-of-the-moment minor acquisitions; things that were relevant at whatever particular moment in time the item represents and now not remotely relevant but oh so hard to shed...
We've all reached the same slightly blank state of mind which envelopes one after too much sorting and packing up; a state which involves just staring helplessly at the mountain of books, CDs, socks, bed linen, photograph albums, paintings, pans, et al and wondering what it all means. What it will all mean in the next house? What will it all mean to our son? mind, quite a bit of it is his anyway.
But we have had many good purges along the way, and more will follow. What great satisfaction there is to be had in dropping off a boot load of stuff to our local, marvellous recycling emporium - (probably 50% of it all came from there . . .)

Here is a random collection of stuff under consideration - found in a drawer this morning.
Tiny glass animals Ezra purchased on some holiday trip somewhere. Nostalgia kicks in - have to keep them.  The various body casts of 'Reggie Kray' a pet crayfish which grew to an enormous size and ate most of Ezra's fish in one of his aquarium phases. Think these will have to go - a tad gruesome and I feel the ghost of him still lurks.
A minute statue of Mary from a junk market in Toulouse, various fossils from an early collection mine or Ezra, or both. We'll keep all of these. I think.

Monday, 20 July 2020

Making do

Now more than ever this seems relevant.
I've always been a jumble sale/boot sale/charity shop addict - coached well by my mother and she by her mother. Nothing was ever wasted, things that our society would now hurl bin-wards would be picked undone, glued back together and re-purposed.
My book, LONDONIA, is largely concerned with such practices, the populace left to fend for themselves outside the copper walls of the inner sanctum, getting by and making do.
I've just rounded up all black leather articles in the house and used up the leather dye I bought last year to do Mark's All Saints jacket which was beginning to look more than a bit faded . . .
The messenger bag was bought in Spain about twelve years ago and was expensive but it shows how well-crafted things last; a quick sponge down with the dye and it's ready to go again, possible Bag-for life? The shoes are Churches brogues which he bought about thirty-five years ago and were a rather unpleasant tan colour; the dyeing from two years ago is still good but I topped it up a little.
The jacket is looking better again and a bag I bought years ago, used countless times but again a good brand has been dye-rescued.
A friend recounted an interesting statistic yesterday . . . there is enough clothing on the planet to last for six generations. As mentioned by Patrick Grant on 'The Great British Sewing Bee.'
Makes one think...



Thursday, 16 July 2020


Rather a delay in reviewing due to Covid confusion but worth waiting for.

British author Hardy debuts with a dystopian yet enchanting novel set in the early 2070s, a period some three decades after the Final Curtain, a cataclysmic occurrence whose exact nature is never revealed.

The elite live in the Cincture, an area that corresponds to central London, which is now contained within walls of 'shining coppery metal'. The citizens of the sprawling area outside the walls called Londonia muddle along by sharing what little they possess and bartering.

Hoxton, a beautiful woman in her 30s, wakes up one morning in Londonia with no memory of what went before. She is soon befriended by Jarvis a wily old soul, who immediately reckons that she would make an excellent Finder: someone who barters for goods and seeks out items that clients want, such as spectacles or an 'Ikea cabinet, circa 2025.'

During a visit to the Cincture on business, Hoxton discovers she has a son, and her search to find him and understand her past begins. The author does a fine job portraying her Dickensian characters. Hardy's almost hopeful view of the world's inevitably chaotic future lifts this entertaining and well-told tale.

Agent: Sandra Sawicka, Marjacq Scripts (U.K). (July)

Londonia is available from Tartarus Press/Amazon/Bookshops as a magnificent hardback or in Kindle format.

Click link on right to buy book from Tartarus. Pdf of first chapter also available.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Walk cataloguing. Walk No 2

The Ajac walk.

In previous walk-catalogue post, I explained that we are moving North-Westwards, therefore all walks that we hold dear from this region must be recorded, and possibly put into a book called, walks in the Aude or something more interesting but for now, I'll include them on this blog.

So, the Ajac walk.
This is a varying length walk, can be a longish circuit of three or four hours depending on heat, or whether Mark is on the walk - very, very long legs - or it can be just a pleasant amble along a winding stream with all associated insect, flora and bird life. This morning, as it is plum season here (far too early - used to be end of August...) it was a dog amble with bags ready to scrump free fruit.
The tree I thought I had remembered must have been on another walk, or perhaps I dreamt it - an enormous umbrella of a tree covered with almost black plums - but we found clutch of other trees at the edge of a vine field, each branch weighed down with pounds of fruit, and just ripe enough to make perfect jam.
The dogs romped in the stream, chased each other up and down the grassy pathways and generally built up memories for later snoozing on the sofa - the twitching feet and the occasional muffled bark as they dozily reenact the walk.


Walk's start in Ajac village


               The walk down towards the stream


                  happy dog (Gala has recently discovered the joys of stream bathing)

The sort of shed I would build


                           Plum scrumping in RayBans


           Not such a good apricot year, but we found a few