Sunday, 30 December 2012

Another year.....May You Never.....

Another year almost gone. It's been interesting but with some stress and much moving. Against the trends, we managed to sell both our Spanish house and our Swedish place. This enabled us to move back to France, where work has gone on apace on the house and we now have the relative luxury of central heating, and a virtually re-wired home. There's still a bit of upstairs re-wiring to be done, but basically the place is done. The wood-burner is working well and the Hens are giving us a couple of eggs a day. So we should be settling into quiet, French village life. But......

Unfortunately, and sadly, our daughter, LVP, is locked into a protracted and bitter custody/ Access (Residence/Contact in new legal tender) battle with her former partner. He simply snatched the grandsprog, Hamish, about six months ago and has refused access entirely. So she's going through the court system for an order. A lengthy process that frustrates me as a former lawyer!  Hopefully, however, all will be resolved in due course, as they say, with some certainty etc.

As a result, we've taken the decision that we must return to UK just to be closer to her for support and help. J's flying back over to UK on Jan 15th, and I'm planning on moving over a few weeks later, once the new kittens have their Passports, anti-rabies jabs etc in place. They've an appointment with a local vet lined up for January 3rd, then we must wait 21 days before they can enter UK. So, I should be over by the end of the month.

Not at all what we had planned, to say the least.  We'll probably aim for the Welsh Marches region, as it's an area we know well and where we still have many good friends. It's also not too far off from LVP in West Wales. For now, we're searching for a suitable place to rent so we can make the move as effortlessly as possible.

The weather here has been very wet, but not as bad as UK, it seems. Over Xmas it was fairly mild but windy at times.  We're off to a Hogmonay party at some nearby Brits place tomorrow evening. Frankly, given the general position, we're not really looking forward to it. But we have a generous invite so will make the best of it. If nothing else we'll no doubt meet more of the local, expat Brit population.

The two new kittens are growing apace. The little Tom, we call Ginge, is endlessly curious and constantly looking for trouble, it seems. The other, Ali, is not so timid now, comes when called and can be handled with ease. However, she doesn't seem to be putting on much weight - despite eating heartily - and is now being outstripped in size by the other one:

Her markings are coming through now, and she appears to be a silver tabby, albeit with blue eyes - so some Siamese in the mix, I'd think.

Rocky has become lazy and exploded in size to a full-grown, big cat. He's still adorable but is big. Easily the biggest cat we've ever had!

A typical pose by the stove:

Charlie, my old favourite, has not returned. I worry a bit that he might yet show up - after we've returned to UK. We'll have to leave contact details with some of the villagers in case this happens then I can shoot over and hopefully collect him. Fingers crossed. I do miss him immensely:

The village has put on a small, dog-eared Nativity scene. Tattered but a generous gesture for such a small place really:

There's also this strange creature, which we assume is meant to be a Camel, though heaven knows what else it might be:

Even the Mairie/town hall is decorated:

And finally, here's some photos of the village itself; no French village being without its dominating church, of course:

Which comes complete with a recently created, huge always empty car-park:

Otherwise, it's a pretty sleepy hollow:

And the farm where we get our lait cru/raw milk from the cows is the building on the left here. A  family unit, largely organic in nature and run by a friendly family:

Most mornings we have a visit from this cheeky, hungry chappy. A lovely Green Woodpecker:

Well, that's about it. I hope everyone has a great New Year and has survived the festive period so far.  I've enjoyed following many Bloggers; a journey of interest and amusement that varies almost daily. I look forward to continuing my vicarious travels and thank all of those Bloggers out there. Maybe we'll meet some of you sometime, somewhere down the line.

And yesterday, I had a message from a fine US Dobro player - possibly the best in the World - telling me another very fine lap-steel/Dobro man had passed on. It's been one of those years, it seems:

The harbinger:

And the poor one that passed: The harbinged (presumably):

And just for the Hell of it....a fine sentiment, whatever: and another sadly gone a few years ago. One of the greats:

Thursday, 6 December 2012

When ..... Got Stuck Up The Chimney.....

A few days ago I awoke in the wee hours to hear a frantic scrabbling, gurgley sort of noise from behind the integral, inbuilt metal chimney screen in our bedroom. All very eerie, no doubt. I turned over and slept as usual. Next morning I opened up the thing - for the first time - expecting to find, if not one of those ridiculous inflatable Santas the Froggos seem to love, a stray crow or other trapped behind it in the hearth.  As I poked around, clearing out years of twiggy debris, to our joint surprise a delightful Little Owl (Athene noctua) like this little fella hopped down  and froze when it saw me. We both stared at each other for a few surprised seconds before it took off, scrabbling swiftly back up the chimney.

He was gone, of course, long before I could lay hands on a camera. But soon after, one of the new kittens, Ali, decided to follow him up the chimney and fortunately stopped on a ledge within touching range so could easily be retrieved before getting herself into difficulty or danger. I've long been particularly interested in Owls, so this was a most pleasant surprise visit. J had thought she'd seen a Little Owl perched on a nearby building and it was probably this little 'un.  There are huge numbers of BArn Owls around here too. I've never come across so many. Sadly, there is also a string of them dead by the roadside leading into one of our nearest towns, Thouars. These have presumably been hit by traffic on the road at night while hunting.

Today we have a gloriously bright, sunny day albeit with lowish temps following an overnight frost. Still nothing like Sweden where our old neighbour, Monica, confirmed a day or two ago that it had been minus 23 overnight!  Oddly enough, we are sure we'll both miss the beauty - including temps and snowfalls - of the place, though the wine, food, weather and general lifestyle is better down here.

The two kittens are slowly adapting to life with us; the male, called, imaginatively, 'Ginge' is into everything, constantly curious. He cracked the catflap immediately and comes and goes happily. His sister, Ali, is much more timid and cautious, though she does come to me when I call her and jumps onto my lap most evenings. Today is thr first day of catflap usage. She was initially very wary of Jack but has come to realise he's not a threat. The same cannot be said for Rocky who, to our surprise, has suddenly grown enormously and will chase the pair of them at the drop a hat.  Sadly, there's been no news of Charlie - my all time favourite Swedish  cat - who has now been gone for the better part of two months. I still miss him terribly and hope he returns though the odds must now be stacked against it!

J has bought and planted three trees for the longer term in the garden: a Catalpa, Liquid Amber and 'Silk Tree' ( Paraserianthes lophantha.)  We also have our thirty-plus years old Pomello in a pot. Somehow or other It has survived all the moves and a few years in Sweden:

We've bought loads of wood to keep the fires and stove running and have oil and a new heating system in situ with only two pipes and electrics now to be connected. Then we'll have central heating. We could do with it now and hope to have it before Xmas.

We've had a bit of rain too, so the garden - or weed-patch - is a bit muddy for now. Hopefully we'll get over that soon. Maybe we'll even have snow!

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Today is of course Armistice Day, a public holiday here in France and yet, curiously, not fully recognised in the UK.  In the village here, at 11:00 the church bells clanged wildly and noisily. Something that couldn't be ignored.

Later, as we drove off to visit a Brit friend nearby, we passed a church which was surrounded by recently decanted parishioners: elderly Frogs with berets, best clothes, ruddy complexions, wine-red noses, wives in finery, and medals.

Certainly makes one think.....

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Rolling, rolling.....

The weather here has improved a bit. Well, at least the rain has stopped for now and we have blue skies and sunshine once again, albeit with lowish night temps. STill, nothing like Sweden, so I'm sure we'll survive.

There's still no news of Charlie though I remain hopeful. I expect he's holed up here somewehre, living off the wildlife. He was always an adept hunter.  I just hope he returns when the winter chill settles in properly and the wildlife stocks become scarcer and harder to catch.

In the meantime, Rocky has been lording it a bit, snuggling up on chairs by the wood-burner or fire, hunting successfully and generally seeming more settled and contented than ever.

His peace is however about to be shattered with the arrival of this pair:

Both are rescue kittens that desperately needed rehoming. They are a bundle of action and very playful.
Said to be about twelve weeks old, they are very appealing - as kittens tend to be - and the Ginger one (now so called ) is a tiny scrap of a thing, probably a litter runt. The greyish one, a female called Aly, is a bit nervous but slowly improving. Hopefully they'll settle in nicely  over winter.

Ginge already has his spot worked out, it seems:

A friend and former work colleague of J's is over for a week's holiday. This morning the pair of them have gone off 'mushrooming' in the neighbouring fields and woodland. It looks promising countryside and a local barman has confirmed that there are Cepes and Chanterlles around, so here's hoping. We got used to huge quantities of Cepes in Sweden, where they grew everywhere for a few weeks  each Autumn. Indeed, when we ventured up to collect our gear from the house a few short weeks agao, I found a truly enormous specimen on one of the lakeside tracks: easily the biggest I've seen, it weighed a fair bit too. Of course, I couldn't actually weigh it cos the scales etc., were all packed up. However, a few hours later, as we literally driving off from the village, we met one of our old neighbours, Rolf. He was mushrooming and had a substantial quanitity of Chanterelles in a large placcy bag.

We've just about started painting the interior of the house - half a room now done, but all on hold till J's friend returns to London next week. I was hoping to persuade our old buddy, Jaxon, to come out from Kent to paint the place, for a fee of course, but his passport has expired. He has suggested he might be able to do it later this year, though. And as he's a pro painter and decorator he's likely to do a far better job than us, quicker and effortlessly.

We could do with our central heating boiler being delivered sometime soon. For now, we're using the wood-burning stove in the dining room in conjunction with an open, wood, fire in the sitting room and it's not too bad. But if temps drop significantly we will need a bit more to heat the old house. The new radiators have arrived from Germany and are out back but the boiler won't be here for another few weeks, it seems. We're just hoping that the temps remain fair in the interim.

I've been tempted to get myself one of those Kindley thingies. I've always  held out against this technology cos I like the smell and feel of a book in me hands, but having seen one recently and knowing I can download books straight to the device here at home in France 24/7 - as they say - I've taken the plunge and decided to give it a go.  It should be easier than paying for shipping, and the inevitable delays in delivery out here.

The Frogs are already gearing up for the Xmas fling, with decorations beginning to appear in supermarket shelves and aisles and out on the streets. This morning when I went into the boulanger for croissants and pain aux chocolats, the commune were out in force changing the street decor and replanting municipal beds in readiness for the event. It used to be the case that they seldom showed any real interest. Often it was a fine respite from the madness of the UK. But now, they've gone overboard on it all, challenging Britain in ways I'd have never imagined. I must get some piccies of it all.

There are loads of Owls around us, mostly Tawnies with the occasional Barn. J flushed out three roosting Tawnies yesterday in trees just by the house and she thinks she also saw a Little Owl a few days ago. They are certainly noisy enough in the evenings!  In addition, the general area seems to be well populated by Raptors of various breeds and I'm sure there will be Kingfishers around, though I've yet to see one. Herons are around in the fields, fishing in the small streams/rigoles that criss-cross the land, in large numbers, and until recently we could hear a Nightjar nearby most evenings.

All in all, it's odd to be here in France at this time of year as for so long - too long ???? - we've been oop North in Sweden at this time, where the snow is already falling. And although we miss the place and its great natural beauty, 'tis great to be able to buy decent food and cheapish wine without hassle. The weather is simply a bonus.

And apropos of little at all:

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Me and My Friend the Cat.....

It's been a while since I plonked away on here: over a month during which we've moved into the new/old house, had loads of work done to the place, sold the Swedish house, made a run to Sweden to collect our stuff from the house there and, sadly - devastatingly, for me - lost my all-time favourite cat. 

It's been years since we had any renovation works done on a house - and God 'tis a pain! Luckily, we had our Swedish neighbour, the Kraut Roger, available as he was at a loose end waiting a work contract in Norway. He came down and stayed with us for about five weeks, doing loads of work that we would have botched - if attempted - and driving us bonkers with his ever-so-correct Teutonic approach to it all! In truth, although grateful to him for his input (for which we paid a fair rate), it was a great relief to see him go. Peace again reigned!

 He arrived while we were still in our rental place about 30 Kms away. On the day of his arrival, Charlie took off and was not seen for five days, when I found him skulking in a nearby field and brought him home. I then took him to a cattery where he spent ten days or so alone while we actually moved house. Once established here, I collected him and kept him indoors in our bedroom - with Rocky - for a day or so before giving him the run of the place overnight. On the following day he was allowed his freedom and went off for a day or so before returning after a night out on the razzle. He seemed fine, very affectionate and friendly. But he then went off out again that day and hasn't been seen since. I miss him immensely 'cos I absolutely adore him! Luckily, I'd taken a piccy of him just in case:

We've put up all the usual posters etc all around on posts, the local Mairie, Vets etc but so far to no avail. However, having 'googled' the lost cat topic, I remain hopeful that he's nearby in hiding. We were having loads of work done and had Roger, the Kraut, and a Plumber/Electrician on site - all hammering, drilling etc., so lots of noise and activity that he hates! I hope that when winter kicks in fully, with lowered temps and tougher wild food supplies, he'll return.

Rocky, on the other hand, seems to have settled in nicely, hunting - with surprising success - and generally lazing around in the sun or by the stove/fire, snoozing on the sofa, outdoor pew etc. Very content, it seems:

He's even taken to checking out the time on the sundial:

We went up to Sweden by ferry from Tilbury docks to Gothenburg. It was a great journey. We were the only passengers with a hire van on the trip. The ferry was enormous and carried mostly container stuff. We were shown round the engine room and then up onto the Bridge. A great, interesting experience. The engines were huge. The Bridge comfortable and the vessel, when not on automatic pilot, controlled by a tiny joystick-thingy. Needless to say, and annoyingly, I'd forgotten to take our camera! Despite the high degree of computerisation onboard, the navigation charts were also still maintained by hand. The vessel was the Sealandia Seaways:

Although it was a 36 hour crossing, the sea was relatively calm, the food passable, the cabin comfy and the experience enjoyable. We sat out on deck by the funnels in a warm, sheltered spot for a while on the recommendation of the crew, who were very friendly and helpful. I can now understand why some people elect to holiday on freighters etc., as it must be a different and pleasant thing to do. We got our grub from the crew mess and the boat simply sliced through the sea, when it was at its heaviest, like butter.

The house here is now looking more lived in:

More like a rural slum, really!!!!

The interior has changed, too:

The kitchen:

Dining Room, last week:

Dining Room now, with added London friend:

Still loads of work to go, but getting there steadily.

Sitting Room last week:

And now:

Still a lot of painting etc., to go.....but we do have the paint, collected from a painter & decorator friend in Kent, en-route to the Swedish Ferry:

We had an old/new wood-burner - originally bought in Spain but never installed - fitted today in the so-called dining-room. A welcome addition, as the temps have been low at night, with a full moon but pleasantly sunny, warmish days for the most part. Makes a welcome change from the rain, which was heavy and which we fortunately managed to largely miss while in Scandawegia:

And the same thing yesterday:

We had a load of radiators delivered today from Germany, where Roger had sourced them at a fraction of the French price. They look excellent and will be fitted in a few weeks time. The plumber has already installed the pipework etc., so hopefully it will be a relatively painless transition.

In the meantime, we managed to do a straight car swap with a Brit pair who had sold up and were returning to Blighty. They had a Froggo registered car and needed a UK registered thing, which we had. So a deal was done and we now have a locally registered, Froggo voiture:

I've also indulged meself a tad, buying a few guitars to keep me spirits up:

A Fender Telecaster, with twin Humbuckers:

A wonderful, Martin 0028, Eric Clapton signature thingy:

And a lovely thing, based on a Martin 00028, made by a fine British guitar maker, Dave King (

I'm hoping to get our Kentish friend out to do the painting, as he's a pro and will be much better and quicker than us. But he has no passport right now and seems unsure about when he might get out. So, for now, it's fingers crossed.

Jack has been feeling a bit down lately, with eye troubles and a general elderly spaniel look about him. I know how he feels......

We had an old friend, a retired Uni lecturer from London - originally from Glasgow - over for a week holiday. Needless to say, he was as daft as a brush, being an academic - of sorts - and so we took him to nearby village which had a certain je ne sais quois and resonated with him:

The original Ali G:

A good friend of J's, from her midwifery days in London, is coming out for a break next week. Here's hoping the weather is half decent - she could do with it, I'm sure.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Panama Red Is Back In Town.....

It's been very hot here for the past week or two, though today we woke to a fresher atmosphere and a touch of rain, now dwindling and soon to be gone with temps again rising. It's been hovering in the high twenties/low thirties most days.  Never quite as enervating as Spain but on the way there, at times.

We're busy with the arrangements for completion of the house purchase, which is now scheduled for Sept 4th. Having been through this process previously in France, we anticipate a lengthy, session of unecessary pomp at the Notairial office in our nearby small town of Airvault.  They sit with all the parties assembled before them and read through the entire conveyancing document - who said watching paint dry was boring - and we have to sign and approve each individual page! It's part of the mechanism for maintaining their status in the country, and really irritating and nonsensical. We certainly didn't go this far - ever - when I was working as a solicitor in UK:

However, we've also been up to our necks in getting estimates/Devis from local artisans for works to the place, some of which we must have completed in a basic way before we can move in: this includes new electrics and plumbing. We'll have to move the current kitchen area into one of the big front rooms just for ease of access to drainage runs etc. This is no big deal and will give us a sort of large living -kitchen/dining sort of place. A set-up we tend to prefer anyway.

We've also reached a satisfactory conclusion to our search for a LHD Froggo registered car:  I stuck an ad in a wanted section of a UK expat forum thingy, suggesting a straight swap with someone returning to UK. And it paid off. We have a Renault Clio to collect/exchange with a youngish couple from the same Dept (79), who are returning to the UK in early September. They faced the same dilemma, with an LHD car that would be useless to them in the longer run in England. So, after quick test runs, we agreed a deal. The changeover is on Sept 1st. So we must sort out insurance before then for the big day.

A few weeks ago we went along to the World Cup of Balloon Racing, or so it was overblownly named by the French. Held in a field a few miles from us, it was well-attended with about 30 or so Montgolfiers/balloonists from all over Europe. Sadly, on the day we attended the wind struck up and they were unable to take to the skies safely. Still, it gave us an excuse to get out, have a baguette and beer and watch the Froggos at play for a few hours. The event itself was moderately attended but badly managed! The competitors were reduced to blowing hot air because of the weather:

Lots of Raptors around these parts. The usual range of Red and Black Kites, some Goshawk and an impressive range of Harriers - Montagu, Hen and Marsh. I'm not so sure about the latter, though, some do look very like those we used to have on Skye many years ago.

Also a fine range of Butterflies, which does suggest that the ecology here is fairly sound and environmentally friendly. I haven't seen any snakes this year, which is a surprise but no doubt they're around, skulking in the security of the lush, rampant undergrowth.  Don't know quite what this one is, though. Any ideas out there? Very pretty and striking creature:

I also had a bit of an incident when I was rushing to catch the Boulanger outside in her van one morning. Jumping from bed, quickly throwing on some clothes, I slipped and fell downstairs, about 15 feet or so, crashed onto the tiled floor heavily and bounced up to smash into a plate glass door, which was wrecked but fortunately for me had safety glass:

Like the glazing, I too was badly smashed and bruised; still difficulty with left hand and elbow. But recovering steadily.

I sold one of my few remaining older guitars a few days ago. I just don't play it often, so was happy to see it go for a fair price to a Geordie who lives not too far off:

A 1956 Gibson LG1 Acoustic:

  Not a particularly prized model but definitely a true 'Vintage' Gibson, I suppose. The guy who bought it, Matt, was pleased with the deal and unsurprisingly/surprisingly, we knew a lot of people in common from the music world, particularly in the USA Americana field,  but also in the traditional/blues fields in UK. Indeed, next week he has one, an old hippy if ever there was one, Peter Rowan,  - whom I met once, a few years ago out in North Carolina - staying with him for a few days next week prior to starting a small gigging tour in UK/Ireland.  One of Bill Monroe's original Bluegrass boys, he's a great player with a truly remarkable vocal range. He's also good fun. Maybe I'll meet him again, seems a possibility!  and something to look forward to:

Still can't get Blogger to upload from Chube, I'm afraid. God knows why. It just gives me a limited range of, presumably, sponsored carp instead!

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Call of the Wild.....

Well, summer has finally arrived out here: way to hot for comfort most days. And nights. Well, that's something else entirely. Bleeding Mozzies whining and nibbling all night, driving us bonkers. Luckily, having lived in Sweden for so long, we have no shortage of Mozzie nets, so have now installed one here. Hopefully it will mean we can sleep with windows open and no fear of attack!

Friends from a neighbouring Alpujarran village, Yegen - the Gerald Brennan village South from Granada (Penguin Travel Library) - have pitched up about 60 Kms from us. They're running a small Gitey complex thingy, with a couple of pools and an acre or so of landscaped gardens. All very pleasant. So we visited them for a short stopover having just been to La Rochelle airport to drop off another elderly friend from our days in Brittany. John, a retired Cornish farmer, and his sadly now deceased wife, Dinah, lived in Brittany for about 12 years or so, before returning the UK. Now he's been at a loose end since Dinah's death. We managed to persuade him to come over for a break and , thankfully, all went well and he enjoyed himself. He even enjoyed the flight over,  accompanied by J who had again been over visiting our daughter, LVP near Carmarthen.

Now, we have acre upon acre of that old Froggo standard, Sunflowers. They seem to thrive and keep their peckers up even when sun is at a premium:

And while snapping the above, that most Froggo of Froggo cars came past: The old Deux CV:

Each day we are deafened by the sound of a high pitched, shrieking sound. It rends the air and peace of the village throughout the day. It is of course a couple of pairs of these beauties, residents of the village and useful guardians, no doubt:

And no matter what I did to attract its attention, it simply ignored me and refused to turn round until then, after its display had been viewed by its feathery fellows in the scrubby bit of wasteland that they call home:

Lovely though they are, they don't  half make a racket!

I'll close with a vid - if Chube let's me upload it, still having probs with it, I'm afraid - of an old buddy from Pittsburgh, PA. The best Gary Davis player, I know!:  Can't get to it, so here's the link. Good luck!: