Just been exercising the dogs. Ambled up the lane out the back and down the track past the recently cleared forest. Walked through the old wood down the bottom and then headed back, detouring through a field. Spotted what I thought were some rat holes and noticed a slight movement in one of them. Bent down for a closer look and stared straight into the eyes of a toad with a head about the size of a golf ball. He (or she) didn't seem too bothered and simply reversed down the hole - not a lot, just a bit. Didn't want to disturb him (or her), so I wandered on. Seemed strange for a toad to be living in a hole. How the hell do they dig with those flappy paws? Maybe they don't - maybe they just move into rat holes when the rats move out. This lack of knowledge drives me mad. Made a mental note to look up toads when I returned home.
Just Googled 'toad habitat'. Seems they live in crevices and burrows. Gives rise to the questions 'what is a burrow and what's the difference between a burrow and a hole?' I presume a burrow is just a natural shelter in the ground, whereas a hole is something that's been dug. But maybe they're the same thing. After all, rabbits live in burrows that are very definitely holes. So..., having witnessed a toad living in a hole, the next question is one I raised earlier: how the hell did he (or she) dig the damned thing when all they have at the end of their flappy arms and legs are fingery things with the consistency of soggy spaghetti? With a hand-held small chip of stone, perhaps? If so, these bastards are cleverer than I thought - up there on a par with apes, chimps and other animals such as otters, all of which use rocks and sticks as tools.
Cor, I dunno. So much to learn and so little time. So much in this world still remains a mystery to me even after sixty-odd years. Talking of which, toads apparently live for forty or fifty years. Amazing.
Awoke Sunday morning with an extremely fuzzy head - the legacy of Saturday night's Gioux 'do' (see previous posting). Would have nipped down to Felletin for some fresh bread and croissants but was in no fit state to drive. Made do with a stale bread jam sarnie and about four or five coffees. Then the dogs demanded walkies. Thought about taking them up the back lane but decided against it due to the possibility of meeting other dogwalkers out for a Sunday stroll. Sprocket's lethal in such circumstances so drove instead to the lightning tree circuit where, so far, we've never met another dog. It's only about a mile away up a country lane so the chances of being stopped and breathalysed were about zero. A risk worth taking.
Had an excellent walk with loads of fresh air and then returned home. Phone rang almost immediately. Neighbour Isabelle. Invited me round to Sunday lunch. Come round in ten minutes. Turned up in thirty (late as usual). Sunny day so the table was set outside under a couple of parasols. Seated around the table were (I'll attempt to remember everyone's names)... Isabelle, her mother Janette, son Hadrien, partner Christian, neighbour Denis (pronounced 'Deni'), Christian's brother Jean-Claude (the chap who towed me out off a roadside precipice last winter when the car skidded on ice and snow), his wife (or partner?) Martine, son Jerome and family friend Thingy (forgotten name but he's a great chap and a big lad, very funny - sat next to Hadrien and drove him bonkers by pretending to be homosexual, kept stroking Hadrien's neck and grabbing his 'privates' much to the amusement of everyone there..., except Hadrien).
"Whisky or champagne?" shouted Christian before I'd even sat down. "No thanks, head feels terrible. I'll have a cassis juice and water instead please. Maybe a whisky later. Or maybe not." Luckily, Christian seemed to be suffering from a hangover too, so my asking for a fruit juice didn't result in a barrage of mickey-taking. However, I noticed Christian was still downing Ricards (he has the constitution of an ox), though a bit more slowly than normal.
After a bit of chit-chat, lunch was served. Must have started the first course at about one o'clock. Finished at about five, at which point I made a polite getaway to walk the dogs and recover. Apparently the others left at about eleven, according to Hadrien who came round last night (Monday) to 'borrow' a fag. Normally Isabelle and Christian hit the sack at about nineish but Monday's their day off work, hence late night Sunday.
Georgie always likes to know what's on the menu when I go round for grub. Most of the time I forget but, this time, I made a special effort to concentrate. From memory, we had a sort of pastry cake with a sausagey centre for starters, followed by melon, then delicious chopped carrot with vinaigrette, then veal stew with garlic and mushroom sauce accompanied by tomato halves with garlicky green stuff topping and boiled rice, then fresh lettuce with vinaigrette and a choice of cheese, then home-made black cherry pudding cake, then peaches and, finally, coffee. Yummy. Needless to say, as this was a specialish Sunday lunch, out came Isabelle's best Limoges china for pud and coffee (but not for previous courses - the full set only comes out at Christmas). Accompanying wines were a chilled rose (rosay) for the first couple of courses and an excellent (and probably pricey) bronze medal Bordeaux red with the main course.
Took some photos including a superb one of Christian as he nodded off for a couple of seconds after noshing his pud. It's not exactly flattering but bear in mind the vast amounts of alcohol he'd downed the night before and during the meal. Would have killed an ordinary person. And, according to Hadrien, he somehow managed to continue drinking with his brother and nephews throughout Sunday evening. Hero.
So..., another Saturday night. Couple of Saturdays ago, the Felletin beer festival. And last Saturday, the fete at Gioux. Neither event was for those of a nervous disposition. And certainly not for the lily-livered due to the compulsory consumption of considerable quantities of laughing juice.
Having survived the beer festival, I was desperately trying to think of an excuse not to go the Gioux 'do'. Typically though, I still hadn't thought of one when Isabelle rang at about 4pm last Saturday and told me to get my arse round to her place for a 7pm drive to Gioux. With the benefit of hindsight, I could have said that I still hadn't recovered from the previous Saturday and am under doctor's orders to steer clear of future drinking sessions with any of my neighbours. Or that I'd just joined a Hare Krishna sect and my body was now a temple, no longer a bicycle shed, and therefore closed to abuse by alcohol. Or that I couldn't go 'cos I had to get an early night due to competing in a Sunday marathon run as training for my forthcoming Olympic appearance. But, alas, I didn't think of any of these brilliant excuses in time. So that was it, I had to go.
Rendez-voused at 7.30 (I'm always late), freshly shaved and reeking of Chanel pour hommes (circa 2002, purchased on a Santander/Plymouth ferry to cover up the stench of leather and sweat that one inevitably gains after a week or two on a motorcycle) and was somewhat surprised by Christian and Hadrien not being there. Apparently they were already at Gioux, helping get stuff set up.
Drove off in Christian's massive 4x4, six seater, pick-up truck thingy with Isabelle at the wheel. About fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the home of Francois and Jane (pronounced 'Jan'), and kids Margaux and Axel, en route to Gioux. Stopped off for a drink or six (I definitely need one after Isabelle's speedy driving round the back lanes) on their sunlit verandah with its splendid view across the valley. Christian joined us about half an hour later, then Jane's brother Guillaume and his daughter Lola. Cue more drinks. By the time we all piled into two cars and headed off to Gioux, I was already seeing double and muttering incoherently despite my determination to imbibe with moderation.
Arrived at Gioux, I guess around 9.30pm. Don't really remember a lot after that but I do remember taking some photos. These reminded me that I spent some considerable time attempting speech with Christian's nephew Davide and partner Kelly (she's English but I was in no fit state to parlez-vous in Anglais, or any other lingo for that matter) plus a few others who I vaguely recognised. Seem to remember the only person who understood a word I was saying, was Guillaume. And that's because he was equally blotteau. He didn't speak a word of English though, just drunken jibberish. Made sense to me. Come to think of it, as the night wore on, conversation improved as speech deteriorated. Often the way at these sorts of soirees.
Another thing I vaguely remember was nattering to Guillaume's daughter Lola. Tried to tell her that she was named after a Kinks' song. Then had to explain who the Kinks were (an impossible task when one's wrecked, let alone from a pre-disco music age). Then, having discovered that she hopes to study photography, I recommended she look up Henri Cartier-Bresson. Then spent ages with her and Kelly while they tried to work out what I was gurgling about as I tried to spell out Henri CB's name in order for Lola to enter it into her mobile phone thingy for future reference (luckily I refrained from wrongly accusing Lola of rudeness in making a phone call while I was trying to blurt out letters in the correct order - being from the stone age I keep forgetting that these modern mobile phone thingies are also notebooks, cameras, computers, tellys, radios and probably microwave ovens too).
At some point I remember Isabelle trying to usher Guillaume and me into the grub tent for steak and chips. It was only about ten yards away from where we were discussing the meaning of life in fluent Swahili but, somehow, we got lost on the way and ended up at another watering tent where some poor chap had apparently dropped dead in a chair. Did my best to get him out of it 'cos I fancied a sit down but he wouldn't budge. Had a couple of drinks there then suddenly found myself sat at a table confronting a plate of ham and chips (steak had finished). Gulped it down and re-joined the bevvyers. Caused a bit of a panic when I joined Isabelle and co. at one of the bars. Asked if I'd been in a fight. Hadn't a clue what they were on about. Then twigged. I'd sploshed tomato sauce over my moosh and down my front. Not a pretty sight.
The only other bits I remember were the fireworks (very pretty) and sitting on the stage behind the deejay in the disco room where I must have spent hours staring at the swirling disco lights and muttering to myself about the terrible taste in music that modern kids have. When I could stand this musical dirge no more, I made a dash for freedom, fresh air and the nearest booze tent, scattering teeny-bopper kids in all directions (luckily, out here in redneck country, the youngsters are used to standing aside when an elder staggers around pished as a rat). Joined Guillaume and Davide and Christian and Francois and all the gang for a final bevvy or ten before Isabelle and Jane rounded us up and drove us away. Apparently arrived home at around fourish and then walked the dogs under a moonlit sky. Not that I remember.
Had a little amble along the Creuse river the other day, just beyond the junction where our nearby stream joins it. Normally can't get into the field because it always seems to be full of cattle. But on this particular day the field was empty and the gate was open. So in I went. Crossed the river by way of an old cement telegraph pole with a wobbly wire hand rail. Didn't spot any fish but saw loads of electric blue dragonflies. Then noticed a few bright blue beetles in the grass. They seemed to be glowing so I presume they were glow worms. Daft name for a beetle. See a lot of them up our way at night but never seen one in the daytime. 'Til now.
'Mal de tete' they call it. Roughly translates as 'bad of head'. It's a phrase associated with the morning after the night before. Or, in other words, a rotten hangover. Which is exactly what I'm suffering from right now. And it wasn't my fault. I was an innocent victim. Honest.
Couple of days ago neighbours Isabelle and Christian invited me to join them for Saturday night's Felletin beer festival. And when they invite you, you just have to go. So the three of us went there last night with their chums Francois and Jan. Arrived just before eight. Didn't really know what to expect but soon got the hang of it. Seemed you simply poured beer down your neck 'til you lost the powers of speech. And the ability to walk. Even standing up became a bit of a challenge after a couple of hours. And by the time I was escorted to the dining tent (Isabelle and Jan were drinking non-alcoholic beverages so were able to assist us chaps in achieving forward motion) clutching a plateful of sausage, frankfurter, spuds and some wierd sort of chopped turnip stuff, I was seeing double. Or maybe treble. But luckily I wasn't alone in this respect. How I managed to get the grub on the fork and shove it in the orifice below my nose, I'll never know. Maybe I didn't. Maybe I flung the lot over my shoulder.
Anyway, noshing done, Christian and Francois crawled back to the beer tent to join their comatosed chums while I wobbled over to the caff for a coffee or ten. Clearly, my beer-drinking days are over. Used to be a beer-bevvying champion of Soho and Covent Garden. But that was many moons ago. Nowadays I stick to shorts. So I had a couple of cognacs with my coffees. Sat there perched in my chair outside the caff watching the youngsters and a few oldsters dancing the night away to the sound of a Germanic oompah band and some local pop group. Tried to stand up at one point but failed miserably. I appeared to be stuck in the damned chair. Either that or my legs weren't receiving messages from my addled brain. Luckily the cafe manageress noticed my predicament and asked if I was okay. Told her I could murder another coffee and cognac. Downed them and suddenly felt right as rain. Miracle.
Marched over to the beer tent and joined the gang. Everyone (except Isabelle and Jan) appeared to be swaying around as though on board ship in a gale force wind. Really quite amusing. Isabelle asked where I'd been. Told her I'd had a few coffees and cognacs over at the caff. "Cognacs!" she exclaimed. "Oui," said I, "worked a treat, feel perfectly sober now."
About half an hour later it was time to leave so we ambled back to the car and Isabelle drove us all back to our little hamlet. Thanked them for a wonderful evening and went home to walk the dogs up the granite cross beneath a starry sky. Hit the sack at around twoish.
Am now mentally preparing for next Saturday's annual hunt festival at Gioux. Serious stuff. Kicks off at around seven in the evening and makes last night's session seem like a vicar's tea party. Once again, Isabelle and Christian have invited me along. And once again, one can't say "no". Hopefully this mal de tete will have cleared by then.
Bohemian hermit recluse hiding in the mist-shrouded hills and backwoods of central France; went to art school in the mid-Sixties and never really left; masochistic supporter of Aldershotnil FC; fascinated by the mystery of disappearing odd socks; follically, cosmetically and vertically challenged but horizontally unchallenged, otherwise perfect (it says here); probably one of the luckiest geezers in the whole wide world.