Animals, Food and Drink, Places, The French

241 – God, Garlic, Christmas Turkeys and Dried Sausage at the Caussade Monday Market

The best part so far of being in Auty is the Monday morning market in nearby Caussade. A six kilometre drive takes me to this rural working town where they once made straw boaters (canotiers) for Europe’s dandies. Nobody wears them here any more, unless you’re on holiday from Kentucky, but Les Caussadaises do wear their berets with pride in this charming, if seemingly half demolished (in places) market town.

Like all French towns, the weekly market holds great significance for the people and the local economy. Caussade on a Monday morning is packed with people buying and selling live poultry, vegetables, meats, oils, cheese, wine, garlic, herbs, spices, furniture, bread, coffee, books, pots, pans. There’s even a Jehovah’s Witness stand parked rather incongruously next to the saucisson sec stall. No prizes for guessing which is busiest…

While there are ample supermarkets in the town (there are four for a population of only 7000), most people come here on a Monday to buy their groceries. And at around ten o’clock the town is so packed you’ve got to be careful not to get trampled to death by the hordes heading for the discount garlic stand.

This is my favourite stall: an old lady standing in front of a table of garlic stalks and bulbs so tightly tied together that they look like emaciated prisoners-of-war awaiting the firing squad. All labelled up in 5, 3, 2 or 1 Euro bundles depending on the size of the bunch. I normally take the two Euro one (about 12 bulbs) and say something to her about the damp weather and how garlic is good for the bones. She looks at me blankly and says it’s nice in a casserole as well.

Next I head to the cheese van up the road to order whatever is cheapest. This week I walked away with a nice stash of Emmental, Cantal and Brie, all for a fiver. Next I go to the butcher, after that the veg man, then the egg lady, the wine lady, the salad boy, the sausage counter, the fruit guys, the bread stall, the herb kiosk, and finally Bar des Amis, a tiny bar that serves nothing but coffee and pastis.

There me and Elizabeth sit down to eat our pain au chocolat we buy from the bakery and plan what we’re going to cook for the week ahead with our day’s haul. It’s more work shopping at the market than at a supermarket, I understand that now. I have to queue and wait – not my strongest points – but I enjoy the company and the ritual, talking about the weather and the produce. It’s all very real as well and makes all the trendy farmer’s markets that spring up in expensive middle class areas in the UK look rather contrived and fake.

I now look forward to the market, when before I was a dyed in the wool supermarket boy. I still go to Lidl to buy things I can’t get there like washing up liquid and cheap beer, but I don’t enjoy it half as much as the market – if at all. I’m even plucking up enough courage to buy a live Turkey next week ready for Christmas. Put it in the woods in the château, feed it up a bit on all the walnuts that are lying around and then slaughter it in time for our Christmas feast. The whole meal from the stalls and tables of Caussade market. That would be something. I could even get a Jehovah’s Witness in to say a prayer…or not.

bar de amis

Standard
Animals, Places, The French, Writing and Books

238 – Blogley in France Part V

By this time next week I’ll be back in France. Where I’ll remain until I die. A wild slashing overly melodramatic statement I know (and almost certainly false) but a forceful way to sum up how much I am looking forward to returning – I’ve even renamed the blog and done a new logo to mark the occasion, and I’m not even there yet. (Still in rain soaked Wiltshire.)

The best part though is the thought of having a permanent bed to sleep in for longer than a week. Over the past four months I’ve had to share my dreams with residential language schools, mud clogged campsites, greasy canal tow paths, patient parents and the threadbare sofas of friends. So it’ll be nice to be finally static after travelling around like some ragged salesman flogging cheap English lessons for glasses of warm lager and diced cabbage. To finally have a place where I can once again concoct my ass blowing curries, cement my cheese/potato top-heavy fish pies into cracked ceramic dishes, kneed and bake my crusty, hard, doughy, luxurious bread rolls. And most of all cook my breakfasts exactly the way I like them – two pieces of fried black pudding topped with two large fried eggs accompanied by fried bacon, fried sausages, fried bread. No beans or tomatoes, washed down with 5 cups of strong thick coffee. Heart food, ready for another five months of chopping logs in rural France in winter.

Yes, at last, me and Elizabeth are heading off on another house sitting caper, this time to the ‘wilds’ of Tarn and Garonne in South West France near Montauban to look after a Château and a cat until next April. It’s the 4th house sit we’ve done and to be frank we could have gone anywhere in Europe this time, inundated as we were by offers in Spain, Morocco, Switzerland and Paris to name a few.

So many in fact that I suddenly realised as I scrolled down the emails, that I’ll never have to pay rent again. I haven’t paid a cent for the last three years, I thought, so why start now. In fact the whole idea of paying rent seems totally ludicrous. Especially when I can live in large country houses and castles for free. Or log cabins in Arcachon. Or sleepy French cottages in Aude. My only regret is that I never thought of it earlier. Like when I was twenty! Instead of handing over my hard earned cash (or my dad’s cash) to greasy, B&H puffing landlords. Since I left home in 1992, I’ve worked out that I’ve forked out about £30,000 in rent. When all the time I could have been living for fuck all. Agghhh! Of course, there wasn’t internet 20 years ago, but I bet there were adverts for house sitters in newspapers and magazines. Probably my fault for buying electric guitar magazines throughout my twenties instead of HouseSits4U…

A naysayer of a friend pointed out to me a few weeks ago that house sitting is in actual fact just glorified serfdom, looking after the homes of the rich. There is a grain of truth in that for sure. But no more, I told him, than being a slave to the banks in the form of monthly mortgage payments or credit card bills. And seeing as our job at the château entails looking after a sleepy cat, turning a few lights on and off, sweeping up leaves, and generally keeping an eye on the place, it’s hardly penal servitude. Far from it as I plan to write four books, a stage play and produce a full length feature film based on Blogley.

Joking aside ( I wasn’t joking about the film though – it’s happening!), house sitting is just another way of living. And one that I happen to enjoy. As I’ve mentioned countless time before, I support the theory that humans are naturally nomadic creatures and not house dwellers. Even if on this occasion, a 17th century French château is going to have to act as my cave for the winter. Naturally after this assignment is over, I’ll be going back to my roots and moving to the Sahara to live with the camels. In the meantime though, I’m going to have to make do with a five star château, from where I’ll be regularly updating my progress in Blogley in France Part V*.

*Click on the ladder styled sidebar icon at the top right hand corner of the page for further posts. There’s lots! Loads in fact! Too many most likely. Unless you’re reading this from prison or hospital, in which case you should have loads of time to wade through four years of Blogley! Or check out the short films in the film section!

bloglery in france

Standard
Animals, Places

236 – A Four Day Walk Along The Avon Kennet Canal For Absolutely No Reason Whatsoever

There is a gap in my summer posts. In July I went for a walk along the Avon Kennet canal. I was going to write about it after I got back but forgot. Only to be reminded of it a few days ago when I found the shaky film footage of the trip on my camera. Prising the half rusted memory card out of it, I ruthlessly edited it down in a vain attempt to make it look exciting. Which was hard, as nothing happened during the entire four days. Except for a brief run in with a canal boat owner over a dog, sheltering under a bridge from the rain for two hours, and visiting a Long Barrow. The rest of the time I walked, ate, drank a few beers, and slept. Below is a short film of this epic trip.

Standard
Animals, Places

226 – Why I Can’t Have Dogs

As my ten days as a dogsitter draws to a shaky close, I can categorically say that I will not be having a dog.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

For want of a better phrase. The wisdom they use in advertising campaigns. Free slices of salami or cheese or coffee rationed out in supermarkets by overly eager sales reps dressed in bright aprons. Giving you a taste of Brand X before you become a lifelong follower.

I tried DOG X and said no. Which was a good move because if I had succumbed at some point in my life to buying one, I would have instantly regretted it.

I would have got used to it, but I wouldn’t have particularly enjoyed it. Too much like being a teacher. Making do, but always looking for a way out. Most likely with a loaded rifle, a bottle of whiskey and a long walk. (I’m talking about me, not the dog.)

The worst part of having a dog for me is the forced wake up call EVERY SINGLE morning. Getting woken up by some rat faced mutt breathing offal into my face. I want my weekends back. Which is the shocking truth of having a dog, isn’t it? You don’t get one.

There I was going to bed on my first Friday night here, looking forward to a full twelve hours sleep with a proper lie in. When I suddenly realised that I would have to get up in about seven hours time to walk the stupid dog.

It was at that point that I knew there would never be a dog called Oggers in my house. Not that I would call it Oggers, that would be ridiculous. But if there was an animal called Oggers, it would have to be a cat. Or a fish. Or better still, a wooden horse. Or a duck. Something that doesn’t bark, breathe, shit, smell, wake me up, or steal my sandwiches.

So that’s the dogsit accomplished. Next up is a short trip to Barcelona to visit some friends, then a drive back across the Pyrenees to Bordeaux to pick up some cash, sign on at the job centre, and then hot foot it back to the UK for reasons I can’t even remember now.

no dog

 

Standard
Animals, Places

225 – Three dogs, a Nervous Breakdown and Two Very Good Cups of Coffee

After driving 480km from Taussat on the Arcachon Basin to Alaigne in the department of Aude, 25 km south west of Carcassonne, which included two rain washed nights camping out in the Ariege-Pyrenees, me and Elizabeth finally met up with the three dogs we were going to be looking after for the next ten days.

Two crazed Parson Russell Terriers (like a Jack Russell but with longer legs) and a Golden Labrador with big dark lonely eyes that made me want to give it a biscuit and say everything is alright.

The fun started yesterday on our first walk with the dogs’ owner, when I was towed up a hill by the male terrier called Idéfix like I was attached to a ski lift. He’s only a foot tall, but has the power of a bull. His little hind legs pumping furiously ten feet in front of me ignoring my cries to slow down as my shoulder slowly came out of its socket.

I asked the owner if I could let him off the lead for a minute, but he advised me not to.

‘Not this one. If you do that, you’ll never see him again,’ he said gazing into the distance.

I believed him as well, looking at the lead stretch out in front of me like a fully extended bungi cord, and imagining the dog being catapulted off towards the horizon the moment I let it go.

The other two dogs, Carla (the other terrier) and Holly (the sad Labrador) seemed to be having a nice gentle walk, and it made me wonder if I’d been specifically hired for the task of walking Idéfix because of my abilities as an athlete. I’m good at running up hills and don’t easily tire. Just like a dog. Perhaps in another life, I was a Parson Russell Terrier.

So that’s the deal for the next ten days, plus seven chickens and a cat to look after. And in truth I’m relishing the idea of being up here in the Aude. Dogs, chickens, loads of eggs, hooded priests, dark shadows, hidden skeletons, holy grail and all that Cathar legend stuff.

It’ll probably be more relaxing than the trip here that resulted in a partial meltdown. Not a physical one like blowing a head gasket, or setting ourselves on fire. But a mental one, caused by the realisation that after this housesit, we actually have nowhere to live and have no jobs.

But in truth that wasn’t the real reason. The meltdown was caused by the fact that we arrived at a campsite with no gas. And no gas means no coffee.

I can handle not having a place to live. Or not having a job. But not having a decent coffee first thing in the morning, especially camping, especially in the rain, especially when you’re wondering why on earth you’ve just driven 500 km with a car full of junk, really takes the biscuit. And we didn’t even have any of those either. Just half a packet of damp peanuts. Nightmare!

There’s no need to go into the precise details, but we had the meltdown on a road somewhere in the Ariege. I can’t remember where. It doesn’t matter. Our lives flashed in front of us in great detail and we both wondered how everything could have gone so wrong. But then we were saved. Not by God, or the Cathars, or hooded monks or priests. But by a nondescript roadside café on the main road to Spain near the town of Foix.

It proved once again that it’s only when you’re feeling really down that the simplest things in life are the best. Just when I was considering jacking the whole thing in and going back home, I was saved by the best coffee I’ve had in France in the four years I’ve been here. I’m not religious. But I now understood why people are.

You might think I’m exaggerating the moment for literary effect. I’m not. When I came out after those two mugs of coffee and four croissants, I was truly re-energised. I was ready for anything. I climbed back into the car, fired up the Honda Civic Extra Turbo Power Mark IV and headed to Aude to meet my destiny. My destiny being a two year old Parson Russell Terrier called Idéfix. The story continues.

ide

 

Standard
Animals, Places, Seasons

223 – Mosquitoes and Lemons

I’ve been fighting a war here recently. Each morning waking up a puckered corpse. Ravaged in the night by an elite squadron of mosquitoes whose only objective is to bleed me dry. So much so that I’ve been thinking of sleeping in a bath of bleach with a snorkel to breathe through simply to get a good night’s sleep.

The towns and villages on the Arcachon Basin are built on tidal swamps. A giant game reserve in which pink faced Homo sapiens are the prey and the red-necked harpoon toting mosquitoes, the hunters.

Luckily, help is at hand.

The old Algerian cleaning lady who I work with – and who I incidentally found four crates of out-of-date Heineken in the cellar with yesterday (coincidence? I think not) – told me to cut a lemon in half and rub it on my body as a repellent.

I did and it worked. Not a bite all day. Until I dived in the pool for my evening swim and got ravaged the minute I stepped out. In agony, screaming and stinging like a freshly pickled cat, I ran into my apartment, downed a can of the out of date Heineken and then pelted it to the shop to buy a crate’s worth of lemons. Plus a bottle of gin to make my blood too toxic for the mosquitoes to drink. A trick my father taught me on a camping trip to South Africa in the 1980s. Gin being cheaper than insect repellent. Or so he said.

I’m normally quite resistant to bites – even in the proper tropical countries I’ve visited. This year though in boring temperate France, I’ve been slaughtered by them. Their persistence astonishing. As is their powers of stealth. Appearing from behind cupboards, curtains and cabinets the minute I step in the shower. A blood bath!

I’m a hot and humid weather kind of guy. A result of someone in my ancestral line picking up some tropical blood from somewhere at some point in the dark distant past. I can sit in humid 35 degree heat all day. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But of course with hot humid weather in swamp land, you get mosquitoes. Millions of them.

I now have a solution though. Lemons. Now I can sit outside all day long and not worry. And there’s even the added bonus that I’ll never run out of lemons again for my gin and tonics. Which is proof – if ever I needed it – that there’s always a satisfactory solution to everything if you put your mind to it.

lemons3

Standard
Animals, Places, Seasons

202 – The Gallo-Roman Villa at Andernos And Other Attractions

It was Sunday and with nothing better to do other than look out of the window wondering whether it was going to rain, I decided to risk it and go for a walk.

I had planned to do it during the week, but with so many unpredictable downpours, as though the entire climatic system of the area had been plumbed into a faulty shower, I kept postponing it.

Until today. When it looked fine (ish). Continue reading

Standard
Animals, People, Sport

193 – Dogs and Pushchairs on Rue Malbec

After months of trying, I finally broke through the 20.30 minute mark for 5kms at the Jardin Public in Bordeaux. And that was after being ‘assaulted’ by a dog at 1.34kms.

I know this because my heart rate data shows a sudden dip at the point where I had to slow down to avoid crashing into the stray mutt.

heart rate2 Continue reading

Standard
Animals, Seasons

146 – Marsh Frogs and Dragonflies

It’s half past ten on a Monday morning and I’m sitting by the pond in my deckchair minding my own business. Reading a novel set in Vienna during the war. Sipping treacly black coffee from my ceramic beaker. Lazing on the banks in thirty degree heat. My skin already the colour of bark after a burning week of sun. Continue reading

Standard
Animals, Writing and Books

143 – The Coypu and the Synopsis

I was taking a walk yesterday evening when I saw a whiskered animal plodding up the driveway. The human mind is fairly quick I think. Under normal circumstances, it can normally distinguish reality from make believe within a few minutes at most. Continue reading

Standard
Animals

136 – Attack of the Processionary Pine Moths and the Continuing Mole Problem

Nothing I’ve seen here over the past six months has been as curious as what I saw yesterday. Having finished the first mow of the season, I was inspecting the mole situation when I saw a hundred orange and black caterpillars joined end-to-end like a giant boot lace. Continue reading

Standard
Animals, Seasons

132 – The Great Heron Migration

Flying towards me yesterday evening as I ran down Preau Hill was an army of darkness, the likes of which I’d never seen before.

‘Aliens,’ I cried out as I looked up at the blackening sky.

But it wasn’t a spaceship I saw. It was a blanket of feathers carpeting the sky from horizon to horizon. An impenetrable duvet of death heading straight for me in the form of a massive flock of herons. Continue reading

Standard
Animals, Seasons, Writing and Books

125 – Return to Queaux

Since my return here on Sunday, it’s been unusually warm. Confusingly warm in fact. A tropical breeze blowing against my wintered face as I sit by the pond on the jetty writing this blurb. If I half shut my eyes and let go, I can see myself dangling my legs into warm seawater holding a fishing rod full of clipper and bream on a beach in Curacao. Continue reading

Standard
Animals, People, The French

123 – The Deer and The Hunt

A cold morning in Queaux. I rise early and listen to the dogs yelping from over the hill at Le Crochet. It’s the big hunt before Christmas and I tell you this. I wouldn’t want to be a member of the pheasant, deer or boar family today. Continue reading

Standard
Animals, People

119 – The Mouse Run

We have mice. No surprises there. But we didn’t think it would lead to this. Driving out every evening to a hamlet a few miles down the road with a bagful of them. Thing is, we have no choice. It’s either kill them, let them loose here and watch them troop back in the minute we turn our backs, or drive them to somebody else’s house. Continue reading

Standard
Animals, Places, The French

109 – La Ferme

La Ferme is located fifty kilometres to the south of Montpellier and twenty to the east of the town of Sete. You’ll know it if you ever go there by the huge grin the white haired man with the half eaten ear gives you as you hand him your camping fee for the night. Continue reading

Standard
Animals

41 – Mosquito

Last night was spent chasing a mosquito around my flat.

After arriving back from my rain soaked camping trip I went to bed looking forward to ten hours of uninterrupted sleep. But at around 2.30 I woke up to the malevolent, evil buzz that had plagued me six months ago. After the debacle with the fruit flies in March – who incidentally still insist on gathering in the corner of my window for reasons unknown – this intrusion was one flying insect too many. Continue reading

Standard
Animals

34 – Flies

Yesterday morning, I noticed a cloud of tiny flies on the ceiling near the window blind that I leave half open at night to let the light in. It gives me an idea of what time it is without having to look at my clock: If there’s only a faint glow, I’ve got half the night left in bed. If there’s just enough light to make out my wardrobe, I’ve got about two hours. If I can make out my hand, my alarm will go off in about five seconds. If I can see sunlight streaming onto the door of the bathroom, I’m late for work. The system works quite well. Like a sundial with a built-in alarm. Continue reading

Standard