Ah well, that gloriously sunny period finally ended last Sunday when a few clouds rolled in from the west. Lasted about eight or nine days which was amazing considering the time of year. Found a few forgotten snaps in the camera from those sunny days which I hadn't downoaded including, yes, yet another dogwalky sunset or two. Might as well include them here rather than bin 'em, if only to remind myself of that unseasonally sunny break in what has so far been a rather challenging winter.
Shall also include a few snaps I took in the garden yesterday. That warm spell has obviously encouraged a bit of growth. Snowdrops are out, and a few crocuses have started flowering. And it looks like some of the daffs could burst into bloom in the next few days. Hope the cold weather doesn't suddenly return or these hardy little plants could be in for a bit of a shock.
What else? Nah, can't think of anything. Mind's gone blank.
Ah yes..., sold the VW mark2 Golf GTi 16v 'Match' limited edition last week. Chap turned up from St. Etienne, chauffeured by his mate. Said he was an avid mark1 and mark2 Golf GTi fan. Showed me a photo of his pride and joy: a red mark1 1800. Said his collection was missing a 'Match' so he was keen to buy. Knew more about the car than I did. Drove off looking very pleased, despite the malfunctioning Digifiz dashboard. I presume he got back okay. Haven't heard from him since so maybe he didn't.
Much as I loved that car (as I've said many times before, the mk2 Golf GTi 16v is one of my favourite cars of all time), it was a bit of a relief to see the back of the damned thing. Great fun to drive but it was rapidly turning into a money pit. Apart from the duff Digifiz (I've a feeling it's a complex electrical problem), the footwells filled with water when it rained (but the sunroof didn't appear to leak - complete mystery where the water was getting in), the exhaust is about to need replacing, the whole underside could do with sanding down and Waxoyling, the clutch was on its last legs (I reckon), I didn't trust the elderly water hoses, and, basically, the minuses had begun to outweigh the pluses. So, good riddance. Time to move on.
And that's about it. Nothing much else to report. Unless, that is, one considers the following to be worthy of mention...
Being a proper Toady, just as soon as the Golf was out of sight, I was immediately on the internet searching for a replacement. Any normal person would make do with the Citroen dogwagon, but not moi. Fine for local shopping trips and carting muddy dogs around but somewhat lacking when it comes to longer trips like picking up Georgie from Limoges airport or nipping across the channel. Gave myself a simple brief: any car you fancy for the same price you sold the Golf (about 2250 quid - which was what I paid for it). Soon realised that this monetary limit ruled out every car I fancied (namely, a 911 Porsche or a 3-litre Audi V6). Told myself to be sensible - thought I'd give it a try for the first time ever. Narrowed the search down to a Skoda Octavia or another mk2 Golf (not a GTi). Cor blimey, boring or what?! Soon dropped the sensible bit but stuck to my budgetary limit. There must be something out there that fitted the bill. Eventually tracked down a 1991 Mercedes 190e 1.8 manual, just two owners (present owner is a farmer who's owned it for fifteen years and used it as his 'second' car for special occasions) and 60,000 miles (an average of 3000 miles per year), being advertised just south of Limoges and up for grabs for just 2600 euros. Went to see it last Sunday. Collecting it next Monday.
So, there you go, that's about it. Nothing else worth mentioning.
No, almost forgot..., the Honda VFR800i arrived here from the UK yesterday. Van driver turned up with about half a dozen bikes all bound for their new owners in France. As well as the Honda, the van contained a trio of vintage bikes (driver said retired expats are increasingly investing in old bangers - he delivered a 30,000 quid Vincent to an elderly Brit a couple of weeks back) and a brand new Harley being delivered to a French buyer (UK bikes are considerably cheaper than their French equivalents). Said he'd been busy all through winter and was now busier than ever. Anyway, the gorgeous Honda's now parked under cover in the shed where it's standing in the tyretracks of the recently departed BMW. Straight swap. No regrets. Van driver said he'd never seen a more immaculate second-hand bike. Not surprising as it's only done 1200 miles since new in 2001. Next job is to attempt to get it French registered. Fingers crossed.
Well, that's it. Nothing else worth mentioning. Nothing whatsoever.
Ah, almost forgot..., having recently banked a load of dosh (normal people would call it peanuts) by virtue of the maturing of some endowment thingy (see a previous posting somewhere), I've been studying the financial markets for much needed investment advice. Came to the eventual conclusion that it's a load of old bolleaux run by a bunch of slimy crooks and leeches masquerading as squeaky clean financiers and bankers. So, having rejected anything to do with the murky world of investment finance (a.k.a. legalised daylight robbery), I decided to make a small but extremely wise investment completely off my own bat. It arrived yesterday with the Honda and has already rocketed in value during the short time (overnight) it's been added to my investment portfolio. Will be sure to give a much better return than anything the banks can offer. Georgie may not quite see it that way though. Which is why I've hidden it in the indoor shed under a pile of coats and jackets. She'll never know it's there.
Amazing. Looks like this is the fifth day on the trot that we've had glorious sunshine with clear blue skies and not a cloud to be seen. Been warm too, so I've been able to conserve precious wood supplies by letting the kitchen stove burn out overnight and not re-lighting 'til the evening cooking session. Do that in the icy grip of winter and it means certain death by frostbite. Been keeping the little upstairs stove going though. It burns slower so it's more economical. Funny how heating becomes a big issue out here in winter, unlike back in the UK where it's almost taken for granted.
With all this recent sunshine, I've taken the opportunity to tidy up the Golf in preparation for tomorrow's visit by a prospective buyer. I'd probably keep the thing if I could replace that damned malfunctioning Digifiz dashboard (see previous posting), but I can't, so it's gotta go..., hopefully tomorrow. Bloke sounds keen and apparently has a Digifiz that works, so he may well buy. Then I might try and sell the VW camper van. And if that sells as well, I'll just be left with the smelly old dogwagon. Might be a good time to look around for a decent car. Maybe something more modern than my usual 'classic' vehicles. Trouble is, these modern cars are just so bland. And pricey. Ah well, just have to see what happens.
Evenings are getting lighter. Back in December I used to set off for the evening dogwalk at around 4ish and get back just before dark. However, the last few days I've been setting off around 4.30 or 5ish. And yesterday, I set off at 5.30. Sun was low but still bright. Went up the back field, through the copse, under the barbed wire fence and into the field over the back of the hill. Up there it's all in shade but across the valley the hills were pink with the evening sun. Meandered along to the recently cleared copse. It's an area about an acre in size that used to be completely overgrown with old trees and brambles. The trees have been felled and cut into logs, all neatly stacked in a couple of long piles ready to be used as heating for next winter. Brambles, undergrowth and tree branches have all been burnt. Next stage is to seed with grass, then, probably next year, it'll provide extra grazing for the farmer's increasing number of Limousin cattle.
Apparently the French government are encouraging (by subsidising?) farmers to increase cattle numbers. Which is why they're clearing woods and expanding their grazing areas. French cattle, especially the Limousin breed, are highly regarded for their excellent meat. I spoke to our local farmer a while back and he said a lot of Limousin meat is exported (hence government subsidies to encourage exports). Apparently there's growing demand throughout Europe but especially from Italy. Somewhat surprisingly, it's meat only, no milk. Our farmer doesn't do milk. Probably no money in it. Which reminds me...
Saw a telly prog a few weeks back. UK supermarkets forcing down milk prices, thus putting a lot of small-time farmers out of business. Terrible shame. Gave a glimpse of the future. Huge cattle sheds. Cattle penned in individual slots where they're treated like milk machines. Never get outdoors to romp in a field. Interviewed an American farmer who has already invested in such a system. Said the cows are quite happy. Lead very contented lives. My bloody arse, mate! If that's the future, it damned well stinks. I've seen our farmer unload a bunch of cows into a field from a trailer and they've literally jumped for joy at being in the great outdoors. Anyone who reckons cattle are happy being chained up indoors is an idiot. It's total bolleaux. Grr...
If people are happy (wrong word but it'll do) to pay 6.50 quid for a gallon of petrol (which is what it now costs!), surely they'll be prepared to pay around 2 quid for a pint of milk from farmers with small herds of outdoor cows. Hey folks, stop buying your milk from supermarkets. Same with eggs. Look around and find a retailer who deals directly with small farmers who don't treat their livestock like..., er... dirt (I was about to say 'animals'!). Might cost a bit more but it's worth it. Try inconvenience shopping for a change. Go the extra mile.
Anyways..., where was I?
With hands in pockets and absent-mindedly kicking the dirt in that newly claimed field as I pondered the terrible future of dairy herds, I was suddenly aware of my dogs looking at me and wondering why we'd stopped. "Sorry lads, I was miles away. Onwards..." Headed back the way we'd come. Hit the sunlight again at the top of the hill. Sun just setting. Orange, in a clear blue sky. Church bells clanged six in the valley below. A few crows headed home overhead. Jock and Sprocket gave chase, barking. Always makes me smile. Put Sprock on his lead and ambled off downhill with Jock following. Into the shadows then home.
So, another winter week slides gently by. Started off chilly and ended up sunny. Quite a change. Even managed to do the washing yesterday and it dried within a couple of hours. Also hung the two duvets (yes two; as I said, it's been chilly) out the boudoir windows for a much needed airing. Amazing the difference a bit of proper sunshine makes, especially after enduring winter's freezing conditions for what seems like months. I didn't realise it before we moved here but the Creuse region is one of France's coldest during winter. When looking at the weather map of France, our area often has a minus figure with a snowflake symbol when all the others have plus figures with orange sun graphics. Still, we have cleaner air, prettier countryside and hardly any traffic, so can't complain.
Talking of traffic, I spent most of last week waiting for a phone call from the VW garage at Ussel to tell me that my Golf was ready for collection. Call never came so I rang them up. Turned out they were waiting for me to arrive and pick it up. Bit of a communication breakdown. Anyway, Saturday afternoon I drove down to Felletin in the dogwagon, parked up and jumped on the coach to Ussel. Extremely enjoyable trip through thirty miles of beautiful countryside on a bright, sunny day. Made a few detours to remote villages on the way to pick up passengers. There weren't any. So the coach arrived at Ussel having carried just two passengers: myself and another person from Felletin. Struck me that had this been the UK, the government would immediately discontinue this particular bus service. At least at week-ends (it's busier during the week with shoppers and schoolkids). So, well done France.
Arrived at the VW garage. Very apologetic mechanic explained that the replacement digital dashboard I'd sourced from eBay didn't work. So I now had two non-functioning 'Digifiz' thingies (Google it for details). Asked me which one I wanted him to fit. Told him he may as well fit the original as I had a potential buyer turning up next week who apparently had a functioning 'Digifiz' unit. Hung around for an hour reading car mags and scoffing a petit quiche. Then paid the bill - just 24 euros (about 21 quid) - expected it to be around 100 but I think they felt they couldn't charge the proper hourly rate because the problem hadn't been fixed through no fault of their own (unlikely to happen comme ca back in the UK!). Then drove home via the petrol station (with non-functioning Digifiz dashboard, I hadn't a clue how much petrol was in the tank, if any - turned out it was nearly full). Had to guess my speeds through the speed restricted areas. Guessing 50, 70 and 90 kilometres per hour can be rather fun..., until you get caught going over the limit or bashed up the rear for going too slowly.
Arrived home about sixish, walked and fed the dogs, got some more wood in and lit the fires. By now it was about sevenish and the match (France v. Scotland wugger) had already started. Christian and Isabelle had invited me round to watch the game and have some supper. As usual, I was late. Caught the second half though. Despite losing, Scotland played some good stuff and it was a fine game. Certainly far better than the drivel served up by England and Wales the previous evening (watched it round at C and I's - indeed, the match was so dreary that Christian fell asleep towards the end). During supper, Christian said he'd drive me down to Felletin on to pick up the dogwagon the following day (Sunday) on his way to the boulangerie (baker's) and chasse (hunt). Just turn up at 7.30 Sunday morning.
Wobbled off home and watched Match of the Day. Set the alarm for 6.45 (5.45 in Blighty). Gave the dogs a quick run up the old granite cross. Had been a clear night so there was a heavy frost. Reported at Christian's on the dot of 7.30 (I'm rarely on time). Chauffeured down to Felletin and began scraping the ice off the dogwagon. Christian told me to start the engine to get her warmed up (I think he thought it may not start due to the freezing cold). Once it started, he waved a cheery farewell and headed off to the boulangerie and chasse. Took me a good ten minutes to clear the ice off the windows. Then thought that while I'm in town I may as well go to the boulangerie and get some fresh bread. Or maybe Christian had been kidding - would the boulangerie be open at such an early hour on a Sunday morning? Most unlikely.
Arrived at the town square and the place was packed. Took ages to find a parking spot. Chasseurs and 4x4 vehicles everywhere. Queued for bread and croissants then nipped next door to the 'Huit a Huit' (8 'til 8) shop for a few provisions. Took a bit of mickey taking from a couple of the lads about Scotland losing to France. And all this at around 8am on a Sunday morn (7am back in Blighty). Everything in France happens earlier than in the UK. People go to bed earlier (generally around 9.30pm) and get up earlier (around 6.30am). I keep forgetting this. Trouble is, because I watch UK telly in the evenings, I sort of get fooled into UK time. So, after the news and Match of the Day, I think it's about midnight. But it's really an hour later. So, by the time I get to bed, the rest of France has already been asleep for three or four hours. No wonder I looked like a zombie as I wandered around the town square, surrounded by all these mickey-taking, bushy-tailed chasseurs, all ready for a full day's hunting and shooting out in the hills.
Drove back home just as the sun was hitting the hilltops. An hour later, all signs of frost had completely disappeared. Bright sunshine and a clear blue sky. Resisted the temptation to go back to bed and get some kip. Did afforementioned washing and a few other chores. Strung up an extra little washing line 'twixt apple tree and granite objet d'art poking out of the lawn. Noticed a few daffs appearing. And the first sign of a crocus bud. Woohoo! Maybe winter's over. Nah..., I remember it snowing last year in May. Yes, May. Apple blossom covered with snow. Quite extraordinaire.
Anyway, yesterday was definitely summery. Not springy, but summery (should seasons have caps?). So took the camera on the evening's dogwalk. Took a few snaps up at the Lightning Tree circuit (oh no! - not again!? - yes, again). They may bore everyone senseless but they keep me amused. Then went home, listened to the second half of Chelsea v. Liverpool, lit the kitchen stove, read a bit more of Keith Richards' brilliant book 'Life', knocked up egg and chips, nodded off in front of the telly, woke up at 6am with a scrunched-up moosh and went to bed, fattygayed. Up again now. Another sunny day.
Haven't included a ditty for quite a bitty so here's one from Keef and the Winos...
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; smokes like a fish (now given up) and drinks like a chimney (now only occasionally); fervent 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.