Sunday 23 June 2013


As I look outside on this drizzly April day; oh hang on, it's June - nearly July: not possible, the longest day came and went . . .where? Anyway. As I look outside etc . . . the most apparent thing is the song of the Donkey bird. Yes, a bird that sounds like a donkey, or sometimes a squeaky gate. I don't mind the AARRHHHH part of the song it's the EEE bit that's getting to us.
No one else in this road seems to have them. We've obviously attracted a commune; perhaps they like free jazz, or the abundant weed/insect supply? I can't find one to interrogate as they are almost impossible to see.

I did catch a glimpse yesterday - sort of small, and burnt biscuit in colour. Armed with this useful visual info I looked on THE NET: nothing. All birds that looked vaguely like it had pretty warbling songs, not repetitive anxious squeakings.
All other bird song seems to have stopped, even the nightingales. It's as if they are all peering at the 'meteo' too, wondering whether the nest will withstand the next heavy downpour. Sadly, there are a lot of swift and swallow deaths this year due to the lack of insects riding the usually hot air; I've found several little black corpses in the undergrowth.
So . . . at the present time we have the Donkey Birds shouting at each other from one end of the garden to the other, presumably from their waterproof habitations. The sun is supposed to be in the right place from about Tuesday onwards, perhaps the other birds will come back.

Picture borrowed from an excellent blogsite —'Are we Lumberjacks?' Hope you don't mind.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

graveyard wanderings

I've always been fascinated by graveyards: the rasping crows, immense yew trees, yellow/orange lichen on ancient stone.
As a child, I remember Mum often suggesting a walk round the graveyard in Friary Park (North London). Starved of access to areas of real wilderness, I loved visiting the place with its straggling overgrown hedges and wild flowers, rather than the manicured municipality of the park.
In our region of France the elements are a little different: huge, ancient cypress trees, the graves often small tombs with decaying metal railings and weathered ceramic plaques showing  photos of the person. But the atmosphere is the same - quiet, of course, an invitation to meander, read the dates and think about the people buried there.
This cemetery is in a small village in 'the Corbieres' where we went to play for a wedding at the weekend.

I escaped the bustle of over-excited guests, our swearing guitarist who had the thankless task of wiring everything up, and the robotic-but very efficient-caterers, and went to sit on a bench under some dusty cypress trees to rehearse song words. It was one of those moments in time which was without doubt etched on my mind along with all the other miscellaneous badly labeled boxes up there in my head: the light, the temperature of the day, the peace before the unknown quantity ahead which would probably . . . and did, end in a drunken and very late fashion.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Oh . . . hello, summer

It arrived as usual here: wham. About a month behind schedule, and all the more welcome for that.
Suddenly, the town is full of people clutching maps and estate agent's brochures; hanging baskets have been hung, and it's just fine to be sitting indoors with a thin t.shirt on, rather than some vile matted old jumper.
In the autumn, I will have a cull of all fetid winter wear - really, this year they will go . . . maybe. It has to be done while the weather is still warm otherwise at the first hint of cold, I'll be seeking shelter in something indescribably awful, but, oh so comforting. This winter my 'second skin' was a purple jumper from 'Emmaüs'; actually, I think it was last year's too. I don't even like purple, not on me anyway; some people look great in it - hi Pen. There's just something about the wool mixture, the length of the sleeves, the perfect draught prevention shape. I've put it in the gardening cupboard and only time and weather will tell if it re-emerges or not.
Anyway . . . I'm sitting here in a vest top before tackling various gardening jobs, including dead-heading the roses. It's been a good year for them (an Elvis Costello song?) huge, bursting with colour and fragrance.
Here's a couple of photos, but it's difficult to capture the pure sumptuance of them. I know that's not a word, but I rather like it.

The cat has turned into a mighty hunter and is polishing off the rabbit population. I did resist the temptation of running over and trying to rescue the poor dangling baby one, here shown, then reality kicked in: feeble, half dead thing, possible trip to the vet . . .

The cherry stoner is out of the cupboard for its once-a-year appearance and Mark has made much jam. The most exciting batch is from the 'bird cherries', small, perfectly round, British post box-red specimens. I think they may be the Acerola variety, in which case I have stocked myself up with about a years worth of Vitamin C when picking them yesterday. These are the cherries from our young tree, I think the 'breast of pigeon' variety. Next jam: apricot.

Monday 10 June 2013

Building No 23

I saw this wonderment in Marseille when my feet were hurting so much that I wanted to lie down on the pavement. We had taken a stupidly long walk on a madly hot day and there were no buses due to a bike rally along the coast path.
If I had had more stamina I might have cheekily asked the owner of the house a bit about it, but it was just a quick snap and then dragging our feet up the hill, hoping we might find a bar at the top.
I especially liked the bricked up window and shutter fashioned out of whatever the concrete/sandy substance is. I think they even moulded a little house martin's nest in one corner of the window.

Thursday 6 June 2013

A dog's life

Well we didn't know about the first ten years or so . . . but the remaining nine or possibly ten were good ones: of that I am sure.
Ezra and I rescued Una from the S.P.A (dog's home) in Narbonne, on a miserable grey day in Feburuary a couple of years after we moved to France. Mark was away in the UK and we were in the middle of an interminable school holiday: sleet, friends away, cabin fever: Well we could just go and look at dogs . . . not get one, just look. Mark had never been keen on the idea, but he was in a warm office of the conservatoire in Birmingham, not trying to occupy a bored six year old in a freezing house.
So we went - just to have a look, but came back with an Italian greyhound with a withered leg. I didn't spot the leg problem as she moved so fast when let out of the cage. Anyway, so what? She had a sweet temperament and wonderful ears with complex movement mechanisms.
We took her to the dog-washing shop on our return. She was so trusting, desperate I suppose, having already been taken home by someone and then returned under the 'weeks tryout' policy, presumably because of the leg. She just stood, trembling, eyes fixed on me while the woman soaped and rinsed her.
Then we took her home, watched the cat inflate with surprise and wondered how Mark would react on his return.
He was fine, being the lovely, unruffled person he is. we met him at the airport with dog in tow.
"I thought this might have happened," he said, obviously remembering the various dog-flavoured conversations of late.

Quickly she became a central part of our lives as I suppose most loved dogs do. She was the distraction needed if there was a brewing Ezra sulk, the reason for a healthy walk – whatever the weather, the snuggling partner on a cold winter eve.

I think she must have been a very special dog. The local vet I took her to on the second day for an MOT obviously thought so: Madame, you know this dog is quite old and has a wonky leg? However she is charming and I think you are so good to give her a home that I will never charge you anything when I see her. And he never did. Just talked lovingly to her and told me that he also had a wonky leg, and his parents had not decided to bin him unlike Una's previous owners, voila madame . . . a la prochain: yes, see you next time.
Unfortunately he took his retirement and the new husband and wife team took over. Mais . . . luckily they are super lovely too.

Yesterday, the wife vet saw me coming through the door and after the recent 'near miss with death' for Una a few weeks ago, she knew why I was there. Madame, venez . . . come, is it about the old dog? I nodded, the room blurring as I spoke cracked words. Would they contemplate a home 'putting to sleep situation'?
She looked at the diary, obviously aware of someone standing on the precipice of emotional overload, and liable to break down in the busy waiting room. Yes, ce soir . . . 6.00 pm. It is not something we do really - but I like your dog.
It was a very odd afternoon. Mark and I dug a large hole, possible this year after the continual rain - yes, one can be thankful for small mercies. I weeded a lot, an abstract activity that requires no real thought. Images came and went of Una: pinecone-chasing down the hill in 40 degrees heat, valiantly swimming after me in the sea, as she thought I was about to disappear for ever, the flat ears at our discovery of the bin all over the floor in the kitchen. She was a royal scavenger: queen of the road, eater of unspeakable things. Who knows what happened in those missing ten years, but her continual search for food suggested certainly some time as a stray.
It was half past five: death row. Urte our friend and frequent dog sitter came to say goodbye and we sat drinking mint tea and trying not to watch the clock. The vet rang to say she was held up, it would be more like seven.
Seven-thirty: Urte had gone back; the family were united in mute fear of the vet's approach, Supposing she didn't come? we would have to undergo all this again tomorrow.
The dog pottered, occasionally falling over and trying to wag her tail but the rising temperature of the day made her breath like a traction engine. It was time. all those guilt feelings were going, I knew it the right thing to do. She was nineteen, possibly twenty, unable to walk more than a few doddery steps, legs splaying with the pain, the wheezing breath.
Eight o'clock: the vet came, apologising: Madame, désolé . . . so sorry, so many people. Where shall we do it? Here on the terrace - she likes it here, yes? Yes.
So that was it, with the swallows diving and rasping in a clear sky, and the roses in full bloom, the old dog lay in my arms, breath gradually slowing to nothing. It was strangely beautiful and peaceful. Thank God it wasn't at the vets: the smell of that room would always make her shrink back against me; they know of course, the smell of pain, jabs, other dog's distress.
The vet left: Bon courage . . .  and we sat for a while looking at her body. The vet had said the small dog would know what had happened, and it seemed to be the case. He had a quick sniff, a sort of goodbye and went to sit quietly under the table.
What do you put in a dog's grave? a bowl of steak, her lead, a favourite blanket?
I opted for a family photo, an ancient garment of mine and a scattering of garden roses. Then we did the thing with the earth. Done. Finished - apart from the thousand memories that will greet me as I go down the garden to the veg plot and pass the grave. And that's a good thing.
Tomorrow we'll choose an apricot tree or perhaps an Indian lilac to dress the plot.
May there be chicken liver and unlimited cat crunchies in the next life:
Una . . . walkies.

Monday 3 June 2013


Oh yes . . .
I remember why we seriously thought about moving here.
That was about six years ago now and it was a last minute bout of cold feet that put us off: chucking it all in, start again, noise, crowds, aggression, price of somewhere to live etc etc . . .
But standing on the top of the 'Cité Radieuse' the iconic 'Le Corbusier' building, all the feelings were seeping back again.

It's something about the hills/mountains that surround the city, viewed from just about anywhere, the glimpses of the sea, the port - a continual reminder that there are huge natural things surrounding you, water, wind, towering white crags: it's possible to escape at any point into semi-wilderness or into blue nothingness on a boat.

Yeah . . . the grass is always greener . . . I love where we live and we don't have to exist in a fifty meter square box, and Mark can play the piano when ever he wants. I know all these things but it doesn't completely shut out that daft sneaking a look at estate agent sites, and thinking about how our son might benefit from in a more cultural environment. Or maybe it's just that five year or so itchy foot thing that we both get sometimes.