It's always amusing the confusion and curiosity Jock causes when he ambles past the white cows up at the top field. Seems they can't quite understand how a calf can be that tiny. Very comical. You can almost see the question marks above the cows' heads.
Visual proof that I've been not only watering the window plant thingies but also getting up at the crack of dawn (thanks entirely to Jock's barking at the 7am church bells - mercifully they're silent from 10pm to 7am) and still being sober enough to handle a camera at sundown (otherwise known as 'aperitif time').
Neighbour Alain's old hunting dog died over the week-end. Sad, but in many ways a blessed relief. He was old, blind, thin, under-exercised and half crippled. Lived on his own in fenced-in shack of a kennel made of breezeblocks with a leaky corrugated iron roof. He'd been on his own for the last three years, ever since his kennel mate died. If a vet had seen him, he'd have immediately put him down. But vets cost money which is something old Alain just doesn't have.
The dog's kennel area is out front, in a corner of Alain's vegetable patch which adjoins our garden. I used to pop out there quite often, especially in winter, to give the poor old hound a few leftovers like rice and chicken. Couldn't see me coming of course, but soon got to know my whistle and "wotcha mate". Used to wag his tail like mad as I cleared the snow from his trough before chucking the goodies in. Alain said he'd eat anything, including chicken bones. Always understood these bones to be dangerous for dogs, but the massive (about the size of a small horse!) old hunter used to gobble 'em down, no trouble. Another thing he used to like was being nattered to while I gazed into his milky-white eyes. Hadn't a clue what I was on about but he didn't seem to care. Probably just glad of a bit of company.
Whenever I visited him, I used to think it was diabolically cruel for a dog to be housed in such appalling conditions. But, slowly, I came to terms with the fact that out here in hill country there's a big difference between ordinary dogs and hunters. Ordinary dogs live indoors and are treated as pets in much the same way as most British dogs. Hunters though, are treated like cattle and live outdoors. Which isn't to say they're not loved and cared for. Most of them are but the passing of time dictates that old hunters are generally owned by old people, many of whom are living on the breadline. Sad, but that's the way it is. Having said that, most hunters out here live the life of Riley in five-star, purpose-built kennels. They get regular exercise, are fed properly and get medical treatment at the slightest sign of a problem. This includes being stitched-up by a vet when gored by an angry sanglier (wild boar) while out hunting. You may think it a tough life but it's the only life they know and they seem perfectly happy; far more so than some of the over-fed, under-exercised and generally taken-for-granted canines back in the UK.
Anyway, on Saturday afternoon I heard the old hunter howling. Thought something wasn't quite right. Went down to check. Saw he was lying in his pen and obviously not feeling well. Went back to the house to get him some dog biccies. Then Alain turned up to give him his evening grub. Somehow we both knew the dog was dying. That evening, I went to bed with the window open as usual. Heard his howls getting softer and softer as I tried to get to sleep. Next morning, all was quiet. The poor old dog was dead.
Bit later, Alain turned up with Didier and his tractor. They dug a grave and quickly carried out the burial with me watching from an upstairs window. As the dog was placed in the grave, Alain caught my eye, smiled, then signalled to me with clasped hands as a sign of prayer. We both knew that the fine old hunter was going off to a better place. As I said, a sad but blessed relief.
It's great up the 'Lightning Tree' walk at the moment. Especially on sunny evenings. Couple of the fields have been recently been mowed so we can get in there for longer walks. The hay from one field has been baled and stacked in a barn somewhere, while the hay from the other one has been baled, wrapped in black plastic sheeting and left in rows by the field gate. There's another cluster of black bales down the bottom field, lined up under some trees. Don't know why some bales are stored unwrapped in barns while others are left outdoors wrapped in plastic. Georgie reckons the 'plastic' bales undergo some kind of fermentation process. Made me think that maybe something in the bales turns to alcohol. Gives the cattle a bit of a 'lift' in winter, especially when it's cold and snowy. Anyway, yes, had a good old walk up there yesterday evening. Had a circuit of the bottom field. Sprocket kept digging for fieldmice. Bites great chunks of earth out as he follows the scent. Gets in a right old frenzy. Jock can't understand what all the fuss is about. Much prefers to just keep trotting at a leisurely pace, occasionally marking a post or tree. Seems to be slowing down a bit nowadays. Must be getting old. Still enjoys his walks though. And so he should. Can't be many places better than this for a dog to go walking. Especially on a sunny September evening.
When Georgie was here a couple of weeks ago, she said neighbour Guy's old blue wagon and novel form of woodshed would make a good photo. Strange, I've seen this sight often enough but never thought of photographing it. Always thought of it as a bit of an eyesore. Looked rather good though in this morning's early sun. So I took a snap. And while I was out there I rattled off a few others, all taken within spitting distance of Chateau Tommo. Binned most of them but kept a few, mainly because of the lighting. Thought I'd load them up while I'm sat here listening to the footy on Radio Five.
September already. But still warm enough for evening dogwalks in teeshirt and shorts. Strolled up the cemetery run last night. Took the camera. Don't know why. Shot photos up there a million times already. Maybe it's that old feeling of the calm before the storm. Autumn and winter approaches. Days are shortening. Soon be dark by four. Grab the evening sun while you can. Take some snaps to get you through winter. Something to look back on. And forward to.
Strange, in winter, I often look back through my old blog postings, sometimes to read, but usually to look at summery photos. Lifts the clouds when it's cold and grey outdoors with howling wind and pouring rain. Reminds me of sunnier times. And the smell of hay on warm, gentle breezes.
Even though I've strolled the cemetery run a thousand times before, every time it's different. Take last night for example. Cloudless, blue sky. Blackberries. No rain for ages so the track's dusty. Sun low but bright. Shining through lime green leaves. Shafts of sunlight lighting up the forest floor. Swallows flying low over emerald grass, searching for insects. A distant rabbit sits motionless in the field on the right, its ears poking up against the sun. If Sprocket sees it, it's dead. I clap my hands. It scampers off. Towards the copse. Sprocket misses it. Too busy sniffing out fieldmice.
Further on, the track leads beyond the trees towards the bright, western sun. To the right, across the valley, the church bell clangs seven. The belfry visible above the churchyard trees. Our house just to the left. And Isabelle's to the right. She'll be preparing supper. Then a distant dog barks. No, two or three. That'll be Christian feeding Balou, Sarah and Duchka. I stroll on down the track. Jock behind me and Sprocket prancing through the field. Still searching for mice. Or maybe just chasing the wind.
We reach the bend where the the track darkens with forest shadows. That's far enough. We turn and head back. Following our lengthening shadows. They're bluey-purple on dusty earth. Then, just before we enter the tunnel of trees, I turn around and face the sun. A blaze of white. I shield my eyes and squint. Looking for Sprocket. I whistle. No response. Halfway through the tunnel, he bounds past. Panting. I put him on his lead. Jocks stays off. We get to the campervan. Sprock has a last roll in the warm grass, his brown eyes sparkling with orange sun. Jock wags his tail and growls for attention. He gats a pat as I grab him and sling him in. Sprock leaps in and I slide the door shut. Time to go home.
Well, that's it. Georgie's ten day break's over. Flew back to London Tuesday. Not much of a summer holiday. No beaches, swimming pools or pina coladas. Just housework, gardening and stacking logs (and a trip to Lake Marie for an evening swim, but it rained with thunder and lightning as soon as we got there - typical!). But at least we had a few peaceful days to ourselves. Er, almost...
Trouble was, halfway through her break, a chum and his gang were due to drop in for an overnight stay on their way back to England (chum had extremely kindly made a big detour to drop off my Greeves mudguards that had been festering in his loft for years). This, of course, threw Georgie into a panic so we spent three stressful days tidying up and preparing beds etc. In the civilised world, tidying up means a bit of hoovering and a quick spray of polish. But out here, in the humble abode of a bohemian hermit recluse, it means shovelling up dirt, painting walls (yes, really), rearranging furniture (moved hefty settee from kitchen to indoor shed/lounge, assisted by two big, strong neighbours), digging out a rug for the kitchen floor, a few trips to the tip, unblocking a wheezy Dyson about half a dozen times, setting mousetraps and demolishing the dusty living quarters of some very big spiders. Kept telling Georgie there's no way we'll get this place looking spick and span and they'd just have to take us as they find us, and besides, I'd emailed photos of the interior so they'd know what to expect. Far from reducing stress levels, this merely threw her into greater despair.
Anyway..., then our guests arrived. All a bit embarrassing but after the initial shock of stepping into an unmodernised tip, the weary travellers slowly regained their composure and a good time was had by all (I think, but I could be wrong - the two girls, Polly and Lucy, seemed a bit wary of visiting the spider-infested loo - I was like that myself when I first arrived here). Had an evening trip to the new local creperie (damn, should have offered to pay the full bill instead of just our bit), followed by a good kip (guests miraculously survived a night in the loft), then boiled eggs and croissants for breakfast. An hour later, they were back on the road heading for Amboise and a few days in a rented chalet.
Having rearranged the kitchen prior to our chums' arrival, we rearranged it further by moving an old cupboardy-wardrobey thingy from the back of the utility area into the kitchen. Then moved the fridge. Gave us more storage in the kitchen and more space 'out back'. Amazing transformation. Well worth the effort.
Lucky it didn't pour with rain when our visitors were here. Kitchen floor would have flooded. Haven't had time to fix that leak in the loo. Been that way since May when the water board lads drilled a hole in the wall for the new water supply. Bit of a gap between pipe and wall. Fine when it's sunny but not when it's raining. Local mayor suggested cementing the hole. But it's behind some pipes. All very fiddly. Can't get at it properly. So Georgie had a go with her tiny hands. Reported a hole above and below the pipe. Visited the local hardware shop and asked advice. Ended up buying some expanding filler aerosol stuff. And that's as far as we got before being diverted by gardening and log stacking.
Then, amazingly, our time was up. Ten days (and a birthday) had flashed by in the wink of an eye. On our last evening we were quite looking forward to a quiet night in, recovering from all our exertions. But the phone rang. Isabelle. Kindly asked us round for a special supper on Georgie's last night. Fresh chicken in the oven, roasting. Ready in half an hour. Come round now. So we did. Had a great meal and a good old natter. Returned home slightly wobbly. Georgie rarely drinks. Goes straight to her head. But, as I've remarked so many times before, when Christian waves an opened bottle of plonk at you, it's impossible to say 'no'. Well, it is possible, but pointless.
Woke up Tuesday morning a wee bit fuzzy. Walked the dogs up the granite cross and back, checked the oil in the camper while Georgie finished packing and weighing her case and saying goodbye to the dogs, then loaded up and headed for Limoges airport.
Returned home, threw an old towel on the loo floor and attacked the leaky hole with that expanding filler aerosol stuff (forgot to wet the wall first). Then walked the dogs again (they'd been locked up indoors for six hours). Came back and checked the filler. It certainly had expanded. Looked like a yellow football. Hopefully it expanded inwards down the hole as well as outwards. Shall no doubt find out when it rains next.
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.