Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Lost My Driving Wheel.....

Well,  here we are, still in La Belle France!  A quick post-script to the last posting on Sunday. The van J hired and drove over from Kent packed in about an hour from here. It's now been in a garage for two days undergoing repair/parts replacements. So we won't now be off to Spain until tomorrow morning, Wednesday. In the meantime it's been very hot here, we have boxes everywhere and are basically camping indoors. The van is, however, partly loaded, so we're ready for the roll across France and most of Spain tomorrow. Not exactly looking forward to it though!

We had a bit of a storm last night, great lightening pyrotechnics, thunder and then rain. Charlie had been around earlier in the evening, as we drank some wine out in the garden. He wandered off before the worst of the storm but came in a couple of times - noisily announcing his arrival - during the hot, sweaty hours of darkness! He's not been seen yet today, which is worrying cos I must get him into his big Varikennel travel cage with a litter tray, blanket etc., for the journey with Jack and I in the car.

I've put the camera in the car within reach but will probably forget to use it en-route.  We shall see in due course.

And that's it for now, till we get the bleeding van back from the garage:

Though I should add that the company who provided the van, which is admittedly an almost new Mercedes Luton thingy, have been absolutely useless, unhelpful and seem to believe they don't have to do anything. Fortunately our French has been adequate to cope and my background in law will, no doubt, prove helpful in dealing with them at the end. They've already been told they must come to collect the van, when empty, from us, rather than our delivering it back to their Alicante - 2.5 hour off drive - Spanish depot.  We shall see how it pans out, but so far there's been no suggestion of a fee reduction or compensation for the hassle it's caused us!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

I'm On The Road Again.....

Just a very short post here today, our last - for the foreseeable future, et any rate  - in France.  We will leave for Spain tomorrow morning fairly early. J is on her way from Kent, via the Chunnel, with a decent sized van which will be loaded before the sun gets too hot in the morning.

 After a few weeks of somewhat iffy weather, summer has returned with a vengeance here in Poiteu Charentes. Since I returned from England a few days ago we've had wall-to-wall sunshine, blue skies and ever higher temps:  today it must be about 35 plus degrees.

Sadly, the Gazebo thinggy is dismantled ready to roll, so not comfortable to sit out in the fiercely broiling sun.  When I got back from England I found it in this rather undignified position:

Neighbour, Frank, told me there had been some surprising gusts of wind and, although we had fortunately removed the sidescreens etc., it had blown across the garden where it buckled in on itself, legs akimbo like a drunken Duchess.  The damage is not too bad and another Brit who lives nearby, Brian, came over yesterday and put most of it right. There are a few minor spots where the stitching on the cover has come adrift but I don't think they'll be too much trouble to repair. Hopefully. Cos we will be in need of the damn thing in Spain, that's for sure!

Things are mostly packed, with a few odds and sods still to be stuffed into bags or boxes. But overall I think it is done, with the packing  of the van tomorrow to finish the job. It's about 1300Kms to the house in the village of Mecina Bombaron in the Alpujarra, a long drive. And no doubt a long, dry and hot one, to boot. Jack & Charlie will travel with me in the car. Charlie will hate every minute of it, and I am anxious about him, but I'll keep an eye of the little booger and make sure hes drinking etc., talk to him all the way down etc. They'll both need lots of water and for Jack, at least, doggy rest breaks, too. As indeed will both J and I.  I'm amazed at the number of tracks there are around called:

Still, tomorrow is another day. Maybe this will be/is more apposite in the circumstances:

Oddly enough, this last one/thing always makes me think of the Spitting Image 'Chicken Song', a masterpiece of drunken ne'er do well brilliance. One of the performers/puppeteers was an old friend  of ours at university back in the mid 1970s. 'Tis satisfying to know he made good use of that Philosophy degree.......:

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Right Key, Wrong Keyhole.....

Just back from the UK, where I had some medical appointments for blood tests etc., new medication and allied assortments.  Managed to meet up with some old Scottish friends who both now live in London, so drank way too much (a day or so after my GP suggesting I should cut down the booze intake), ate too much and generally felt awful on the return leg home. Also spent some time down in Kent with an old mate from university, who dragged me (willingly) round charity shops - numerous - which were a treasure trove of good, used books. Must have bought about twenty or so, which added to the twenty-plus I bought a month ago on my last visit, should keep me well stocked for a bit down in Spain.

I'm now caught up in packing boxes (again!); preparing generally for the move South, where, at least, it seems to remain blue-skied, sunny and (uncomfortably, perhaps!) warm.  We reckon about 15 - 17 hours should do it but will break the journey down with an overnight, hotel break somewhere North of Barcelona.

Charlie is keeping a wary (worried?)  eye on progress. I collected Jack and his feline buddy and inquisitor from the kennel/cattery this morning. Charlie was hiding, wide-eyed, in a small playboxy thing in the darkest, farthest recesses of his substantial cage and outdoor run, whinnying pitifully when he heard my voice. I eventually had to get down and drag him out into the light - and into his dreaded basket. But he's been fine since getting back home. Jack just takes it all in his stride; he's widely experienced in both the travel and kennel stakes.

While in London, (and one reason for going over) I managed to catch a young US band from Saint Loius, Missouri.  A few months ago, a fine professional US bluesman and guitar picker friend had tipped me the wink about them and insisted I see them before they become BIG, as he says. He has played with them at music festivals in Denmark and the States, so sent me along to introduce myself and pass on his best wishes, for which they were genuinely pleased. All in all, it was a good gig and I, too, expect this outfit to 'crack it' and do very well in the States, where they are already making inroads, including the heartland of cynicism and overfed musicians, Nashville, TN:

Pokey LaFarge & The South City 3

They had just arrived following a few gigs in Wales - Cardigan and Abergavenny - and will be in both Scotland (including Stornoway, Isle of Lewis: http://www.lanntair.com/) and Ireland next before flying back home to USA. Great fun band and nice lads, to boot. Catch them, if you can, and don't forget to say 'Hello'. They'll appreciate it!

En route from the airport yesterday afternoon, I stopped for coffee in a small, provincial town.  An unprepossessing sort of place with the usual overblown but quintessential pomp of French architectural excess evident in its local authority buildings. God knows what Cleggy, Cameron and the dreadful coalition mafia would think of these - sell 'em off, no doubt, executive apartments or som'at!:

La Marie, what else!?!

There is a pleasing symetry to these typically Froggo constructions, seats of countless beret-wearing, fag smoking, pastis slugging local politicians.  The spirit of community in rural France is gradually eroding/changing but still remains strong, deeply rooted and genuinely felt by many French people, of all ages, it seems to me.  Very different from the UK - or certainly - the London and SE English way of life, these days. It's hard not to notice the difference and resent the changes in the UK.  Although I've little doubt that this largely lost spirit remains intact in some outposts: The Hebrides, Orkney, parts of Wales, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Northumberland etc., - the more remote,  the greater its chance of survival, I suppose! And hope!

It also prospered in Sweden, albeit to a lesser extent, due to the 'reserve' of the Swedes and the distances between houses/homes. However, for example, on one memorable occassion we bought a huge amount of metre-lengths of chopped timber for fuel from a farmer's widow about thirty Kms from our place. To haul it home took about eight return journeys with a neighbour's huge John Deere tractor and this enormous trailer hitched to its back:

Håkan - for it was he - and his wife Monica helped with the first few loads, as did our Kraut friend and neighbour, Ina. Thereafter,  Håkan simply gave us the use of the rig - which we'd never before driven, save for a quick lesson from Monica, consisting of a drive down the road, a turn by the lake and back home  - to collect the remainder of the stock!  It was a bit hairy at times, but we made it without mishap - and possibly without insurance cover,  for all we knew!!

J is looking forward to getting Hamish over to Spain on holiday in early August. There is a very good, newly built village commune swimming pool on a hillside with great views South, on the village outskirts.  So she plans to continue his swimming lessons, to build his confidence, and as a needed escape from the heat. The Med is only a forty minute drive away, too. There is a nice little coastal village there, not touristy and frequented mostly, if not solely, by local Spanish families. 

 The'll both be glad of the shade in the tracks of the countryside behind the house, which is natural parkland fortunately, so untouched and prettily green - for southern Spain! The above piccy is here in France, with the pair of them trundling behind an expectant Jack, berry picking by the look of things!
 Our daughter, LVP, won't be coming out to see us there until October, when the weather is generally about perfect. She unfortunately suffers severely with SLE: http://www.uklupus.co.uk/  As a result sunlight is not a favourite of hers, though she does like warmth! Something that's often missing in West Wales where she currently resides by the Teifi river estuary at Poppit Sands:http://www.cardiganshirecoastandcountry.com/poppit-sands-beach-cardigan-bay.php

I'll be off now - Charlie has just returned, calling to me loudly. He wants and needs affection after his recent, short period of incarceration!  God knows when I'll be back, mind, manana will no doubt play a part in getting an internet connection in the Sierra Nevada hills: http://www.andalucia.com/villages/alpujarras.htm

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn.....

It's all change...again....almost. We've been busy preparing for a move, packing odds and ends into boxes, digging up and potting some of our veg plants: Courgettes, Toms and Aubergines have all taken to this unexpected transplantation well, so hopefully they'll be fine and survive the move and the change of climate:

A Courgette recovering well

And whereas I'd expected to move North, to the Hebrides, or Lewis, to be more exact, instead we're heading a fair way South, to our house in the Alpujarra region, in the the Sierra Nevadas of Andalucia.  J had second thoughts on moving to Scotland at this time. She was always unsure about it, but seemed to have been in favour; now, however, the die is cast. We've arranged a one-way van hire from Kent to Alicante - a good three-hour drive away from our place - leaving France on or about June 28th.  For now, we're trying to ensure we have electricity as soon as possible after our arrival, and also internet/phone services.

The plants will all go on one of the roof terraces where it will be hot and exposed.  However, we've nothing to lose in taking them with us and trying our best with them over summer.  Not sure that Charlie will approve of the move, and that worries me.  There are lots of  feral cats in the vicinity and he's not the most sociable of creatures, to say the least. But I remain hopeful that he'll adapt fairly fast - he was a feral himself when a kitten - and the house is plenty big enough for him to find refuge from other marauding beasts and the sun, if needed. He has sort of settled in here, though he seldom comes into the house these days!:

 Jack will have no problems, save for the interior stairs with his dodgy arthritic hip/haunch. He has lived down there for a while in  the past, and knows his way around.

Ironically, perhaps, the Peas are almost ready for cropping. Another week should give us some:

And the Beans are not far behind, but far enough for us to miss out:

We'll leave those and the Celery, a few Aubergines and others for Frank:

Including the Hens, which I'll miss.  One of them seems to be a mutant WereHen, with furry/feathery feet.  It would have gone down well, and probably felt quite at home on Lewis - if we'd been able to take it over, which given MAFF's daft rules seems unlikely!

We have decided to go to SPain cos we really must try to get rid of the house, and as the agents down there are manana-bound, it will mean we can chase and chivvy etc. Hopefully we'll sell it before too long then we must make a major decision on where to head for. I still favour the Hebrides/Lewis overall. But only time will tell. J can retire in October, so we're also taking this into account in our planning.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ain't No Use To Sit And Wonder Why.....

Since leaving the UK, we have been caught up on a regular (seemingly never-ending) round of exchange rate transactions, always keeping an eye of fluctuating pounds, dollars, euros, Swedish kronor etc:

With Charlie the entire process is so much simpler, though not without its unwelcome surprises at times:  I give him this each mroning (among other bits):

And he, in turn, gives me....well.....let's say, somthing like this little morsel in return, left overnight on the cool floor:

A Belly-Up Mole

Thanks Charlie. Just what I wanted this morning. I suppose it's a sign of affection and an acknowledgment of thanks for feeding the little booger but it's hard to be grateful for a dead mole. They are such appealing little things - as long as you have no lawn to speak of, that is!

Maybe it was an unexpected birthday gift, as today I reach yet another mile(mill??)stone. Today I should have been looking forward to grasping my buss-pass - at last - but that - I'll refrain from the too obvious alliterative four letter expression here -  wasn't to be: No, (....) Cleggy and his coalition cronies have whipped it out from under me world-weary, aching old feet. Bastards. In my native Scotland, we all know what to expect from bloody Cleggs!

The weather here has been not very good for about a week now. Cloudy, a keen wind, and even rain yesterday - which did save us having to water the garden, if nothing else. The change seems to have come together with our decision to buy one of those Gazeboey thingies for the garden. In theory to give us welcome shade - at this rate, in practice, to give us shelter from the threatening and actual rain!:

It took Charlie a few days before he'd venture inside the thing, with its netting rustling and rattling, constantly billowing and moving around. But he's got over his initial horror/surprise and now dozes on the chairs quite contentedly, at times.

Now, at my great age, I think it's time for me to doze on one of those chairs, cos the sun's come out to play - at last - and the vin rouge is beginning to take its toll. A bientot.

Friday, 10 June 2011

What Are We Fighting For.....

We visited a French National Monument a while back. Oradour Sur Glane is a state maintained ruin with a macabre difference. It is a village where a Second World War atrocity occurred on this day, 1944. It is a remarkable reminder of the futility and inhumanity  of  war. All wars. Worth considering given current world problems.

Oradour was a small, typically French rural village in the Limousin where German Waffen SS  savages attacked and looted the place for absolutely no reason.  Some have suggested the attack was in reprisal for resistance activities in the area. But there is no evidence in support of this theory/reason  I find it hard to imagine any 'reason' for such barbarism, myself.  The outcome resulted in the village and its people being well....destroyed. The French, to their credit, have maintained the place in the condition it was left in when the Germans scuttled off. The photographs are self explanatory:

Hopefully Hamish will never be exposed personally to the horrors of warfare

This is a useful general info site about this appalling atrocity, where the  women and children who had sought refuge  by crushing into the village church  were, blasted by hand-grenages, smoke-bombed, gunned down and finally  bruleed - an old French tradition:  http://www.oradour.info/

A memorable clip from an amusing show with a deadly finality.

It is a sobering place to visit and although there are no demads for silence or quietude, it is there in the visitors who cannot help but be effected by the sombre nature of the place.

Finally, on a different note,  also on this day, 1977, J and I were married in Brighton Registry Office. Another sobering thought. 34 bloody years.......trench-warfare, trials and tribulations! Bloody Hell! How unfashionable! Who'dathunkit?!


And on this day, 1932, George Formby was did his first recording for record company Decca:

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Me And My Friend The Cat.....

Coldest day so far since we came down here from Sweden. Temp about 15 degrees, cloudy, overcast, breezy. Temps probably on a par with the Hebrides today. Ironically Fun City is basking in warm sunshine:


Tue Jun 07Wed Jun 08Thu Jun 09Fri Jun 10
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p.m.mostly sunny  various clouds  mostly sunny  mostly sunny
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Last updated: Tue, 07 Jun, 10:34 BST

It does get hot up there in summer. But, of course, the blood-crazed (usually mine)  Mozzies and  hungry Horseflies will be out in huge numbers, too. So mustn't grumble really.

Summer in Langvattnet:

Charlie is behaving a bit oddly, even for him, right now. Since he returned from the Froggo Cattery about a week ago, he has been a bit more skittish than usual and seldom comes into the house, save at night when he pops in briefly, eats, wails for attention from me, bugs Jack and departs to hunt again, I presume. He's not even coming in for his traditional morning cream (I'm a sucker, I know!) - and the prospect of him using his bleeding, expensive Cat-Bed thingy is about.....well,....zip, I'd say. I'm not sure what the problem is, though if I'm out in the garden or thereabouts he does come to me for a cuddle. If jack's out there, he rambles over to him to bug him, as normal, so maybe he's just being a bit temperamental. All will be revealed eventually, I trust.

Here he is, giving me the 'eyes'.

J thinks it's because she's around and he notoriously avoids her for the most part - despite the ironic fact that he is 'her' cat, she having selected him from his (all now dead) siblings. He was basically an indoor feral in Sweden. His mother was owned by a neighbour of ours, Ulf, who worked in Norway during weekdays erecting log cabins. His parents called past his house,  collected mail, fed and watered his cat etc indoors, a few times a week while he was out of the country.

His cat - an untreated queen kept getting pregnant from a another neighbour's (Rolf)  untreated male - neither of them would stump up for the vet bills, so it was a recurring cycle.  Normally in Sweden cats are difficult to find and always expensive. Ulf, however, was happy to get rid of his. Hardly surprising given the circumstances!  He invited us over to choose one from the latest litter, all of whom were running wild throughout the house with litter trays in strategic spots. All hid under a bed when we appeared and when I finally managed to catch one after a lengthy chase up and downstairs etc., J decided it wasn't the one she'd originally wanted. So it was back to square one again, the chase on till Charlie was captured with loads of hissing, spitting, scratching and biting.

Back home, he was untouchable for weeks on end, only gradually coming round to occassional sightings and carresses with a long wooden chopstick with a feather on its end. I spent hours lying on the floor of the study where he lived stretching out, ignoring his threatening hisses, and stroking and talking to him, often till 02:00 in the morning. He eventually seemed to bond with Jack - to everyone's surprise, especially poor Jack!  When he was about six months old, he was savaged by three farm terrier/hunting dogs and virtually killed. I luckily heard a noise outside, ran out and kicked the dogs from him - one had him by the head, another  by the behind, while the third barked and ineffectually snapped at his middle.  I had initially thought him to be dead - his pupils were fully dilated and he made no movement when I picked him up to carry him indoors. Luckily, however, he showed life when he simply bit though a finger. I had to prise his mouth open to release it. After three days at the vets, he was lucky to survive but has been a tricky booger ever since!

Ulf, we later discovered to our horror, had simply killed all of the litter, including the adult queen, a pretty tabby, soon afterwards. Rolf lost his cat over winter. We felt guilty for not taking the cat I fist managed to catch hold of, and Charlie. But we think it would have been too tricky to domesticate two semi-feral kittens simultaneously. It still rankles, though.

When we took him to the local vet for his rabies shots, de-nutting etc., he clawed his way through the side of the heavy, reinforced cardboard box he was in and we had to borrow our neighbour, Hakan's gunsafe to transport him. This was a heavy, metal affair with a lock and vents. When I turned up at the vet with it, they opened it and out came this:

Apart from the big ears - which I've only really spotted now - he didn't appear to warrant such a secure strongbox!  The vet just sniggered.  If only she knew........

The sun is trying to break through right now, so perhaps it'll improve later this afternoon. Hope so, anyway.

And another fine song from the guy who gave us, 'Me and my friend the cat' (couldn't find on Chube) and the unforgettable masterpiece:

Not many lyrics to challenge these, I'd say.

We went for a wander yesterday along an old, disused railtrack nearby. It has been levelled and resurfaced by the local commune, and work is still going on apace. It was very tranquil and leafy. We found some Blackthorn, though not many had fruit, even now. A few had small,, hard green berries developing, so should be okay for Sloe Gin later in the year. J enjoys berrying:

Jack and Charlie had a fine rootle in the garden yesterday evening. Obviously, they both found something to interest them. Damned if I know what, though...........:

A few days ago, I mentioned these odd waspy hooped caterpillars that had appeared in the garden. Well, yesterday evening I found  one of the Moths on a tomato plant. Very pretty, though the piccy is - as my usual - not too useful. In flight it looked great - but I failed miserably when I tried to capture that image!:

Cinnebar Moth:

Damn....seem to have missed those colours...