Loire Diary 2009 by Mike Biggs

Thursday April 23:



An uneventful flight to Nantes, met by Marion, and driven to La Milletiere, having collected her 5 months pregnant niece, Sam, en route. Sam will stay over with me to show me the ropes, of which there are many. Swooping along the beautifully smooth, uncrowded roads, and through immaculately clean, tidy and picturesque villages it seems that here is a country almost Scandinavian in its order and quality of environment. Here there is order, pride, purpose, tradition and history, in a setting of natural beauty and civilisation far removed from latter day Britain.


Somehow I do not think that the French will come and free us, as we did them in 1944...


We eventually come to the river Loire, wide, glassy, overlooked from time to time by great, ghostly chateaux which look as though they have been here forever.


A few miles from our destination, we stop in to meet Pat and John, parents of Stewart, and proprietors of an English B&B; They are friendly and welcoming expats who, having left UK will never return, come what may. Stewart is engaged to Sam, a straightforward and charming girl, who apologises in advance for farting, burping, weeing a lot, and being smelly on account of her pregnancy; I assure her that this is of no moment, and hope that she can guide and assist "un chausette qui parle Francais comme un Chinois dans le merde..."She joins us and off we go to Cuon.


On arrival, I am at once struck by the beautiful setting and charming 12th century farmhouse. Marion and Chris are warm, welcoming, overworked, and slightly chaotic people, who have not yet packed or done a thousand other things, and who are set to depart tomorrow morning for the drive to Genoa...


There are fat bees busily worrying at the huge Wisteria, in full bloom against the wall of the house, and birds everywhere, including the insistent and relentless cuckoo somewhere in the otherwise quiet forest nearby. As we chat in the hot sun, over an impromptu lunch of bread, cheese and cold meats, Sam suddenly grabs my sleeve and points towards the forest, where wisps and soft clouds of mist emerge from between the trees, and drift across the landscape. This is no mist; it is tree pollen, which falls on us and all around like a silent dusting of primrose yellow icing-sugar. Silence falls again, broken only at intervals by the fat bees' busy work.


Try as they might, the vast legions of insects cannot keep pace with this outpouring of pollen. The primrose dust is everywhere. I have never seen anything like it.


Inside, the house is a mixture of the ramshackle, the modern, the work in progress, and the bric a brac of a charming and cheerful couple. The household also includes 6 cats, one with only 3 legs, some goldfish, a wobbly epileptic black Labrador (Asher, Hebrew for "happy"), and two rabbits, one of which is dead.



Friday April 24th:



After a deal of rushing around, Marion and Chris depart; Marion in tears at having to leave Asher, the wobbly dog. Sam and I set about the garden, and I had my first go on a sit-on mower. What fun! Whilst I zoomed around on my Formula 1 mower, Sam hacked away at the undergrowth with a large strimmer. Eventually, we won. Sam said that since I had enjoyed the mower so much, I should be pleased to know that I have to do it all again in a week.


Next we spent an hour or so trying to set up the electric pump to raise water from the old well, as we have to water in some onions, and keep all of the other new plantings in good fettle. The cats help out by digging them up periodically to see how they are coming along. This is a taste of what is to come...



Saturday April 25th:



Breakfast of Champions, much appreciated by Sam (tomatoes and garlic fried in olive oil and butter, on sliced baguette). Went shopping in Baugé, driving the ancient Peugeot van- quelle horreur! Spent the afternoon chopping logs, then to dinner with two ladies, friends of Marion, who feasted us on vast squadroons of white asparagus followed by Soya mince spag. bol. A lovely evening. Joyce is a supremely expert masseuse, and offered to have a go at my frozen shoulder, an offer that I intend to take up later.



Sunday April 26th:



Log cutting all morning with the chainsaw. Bottomed out the woodpile, about 2 tonnes of timber, including oak beams a foot square in cross-section, and stacked and sorted logs and kindling. The woodshed is now very neat. We intended to tackle 3 huge rotted fallen oaks, but cancelled the plan when we found that there were frelons in residence. The frelons (hornets) around here are killers, apparently, and if stung by one, it is an emergency ambulance job! Needless to say we adopted the traditional French position, and ran away.



Monday April 27th:


Hot croissants and homemade rhubarb jam, then off to the supermarket for lots of goodies. We also got some herb and flower plants, as we decided to build Marion some surprise gardens. The beds are surrounded by huge limestone blocks from the old barn, weighing 70 lbs each, which Sam and I hauled via the trailer- what a game! Ten barrow loads of soil and some compost later, we got the first one finished. The dog helped very much-NOT. We have two more to do, then a rockery. Lordy Lordy...


Plans are afoot to go fishing next weekend, just Sam, Stewart and me-with the wobbly dog, of course. We will see how the weather turns out.


Tonight is celebration of the first garden, so it will be Tournedos Rossini with Carrots Vichy and Pommes Dauphinoise. Choice!



Tuesday April 28th:



A quiet day today, as we were knackered from our hard labour. Morning and early afternoon spent with chainsaw, club hammer and wedges, cutting and splitting oak logs. We were glad when we had had enough. It is quite cold, about 48 degrees, and the forecast is more rain. Quel dommage! This afternoon I will take Sam home, and get some stuff at the supermarket on the way back. This evening will be a movie, a hot bath, and an early night, for tomorrow I'm off to visit the great chateau and DaVinci museum at Amboise.


By the way, Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown were found lying on our new flowerbed this morning, courtesy of the cats...we buried them in the faint hope that by fertilising this small and blessed plot we might make some use of the otherwise worthless.



Wednesday April 29th:



Up with the lark, and a bad case of the old Montezuma's Revenge. This, together with a strained back from heavy lifting puts something of a frost on my frolic, and puts my mossy hopes and desires of chateau visiting back to another day. Fortunately, there is still plenty of time.


The usual carry-on with the horde of cats, all wanting to jump-start the day, and falling over each other and a somewhat enfeebled M.Hulot in their anxiety to eat each others' food instead of their own. Asher the wobbly dog helps by sniffing the cats’ bums, and leering at them. What is it about Labradors? I have been given explicit instructions about which cats to feed, and when, and what food of the four different types available. Asher has to have his medicine am and pm, 2 tablets, in butter, with yummy cod liver oil capsules, biscuits and rice, after he has written his letter home, and put his coat on the lower peg, unless he has a brother in the 3rd Form, and so on.


Montezuma and me are not really up for this, as we have our own battle raging. Is this what is meant by a Mexican Stand-off?


At last, all are fed something or other, and I am left alone to my endless trotting up and down the stairs. Deep joy.


Around midday, when the morning mist has cleared to a cool but sunny day, Asher helps me to take some pictures of the house and garden. The insistent cuckoo is still going at it like crazy; maybe he's gorging himself on this famous local aphrodisiac Red Millet? His vigour reminds me with a guilty start that I have not fed the goldfish.


A day or two ago, in another time, far away, Sam bought an aerator for the fish tank. It sends up a stream of bubbles, lit from below with an eerie green glow (sounds just like I feel at the moment). This dramatic increase in the oxygen supply turned the rather moribund fish into turbocharged piranha. Fortunately, the tank walls are strong. They have been tearing around such that they require feeding NOW! I got there in time, and they turned the water surface to churning foam. A little OTT, I thought, on account of a few dry flakes of God-knows-what fish food. I might throw them a live rabbit next time.... from a safe distance of course.


I wonder if the Royal Navy would like to adopt them, given their current absence of warships and shortage of things that go BANG. They could certainly do a number on those Somali pirates!


(Talking of things that go BANG, pause for further grapple with Montezuma.)


Outside the birds are doing bird-things, comme d'habitude, but we are visited by a Hoopoe (Upupa ipops ipops, damn fool Latin name). A very charming, pretty bird, as birds go, and one I have never seen before. The dog helps it to run the daily "Emergency Evacuation Drill".



Clever dog.



Bye bye, Hoopoe!






Sam is coming over later, and has kindly offered to make her famous Shepherds Pie for tea, in return for my efforts at French cuisine. Nice one, Sam! She can take the burden of doggeridge from me for a while. Did I mention his snoring? Oh boy. No wonder he has fits. If people snored like that they would be glassy-eyed, wobbly-legged and have fits.



I bet Gordon Brown snores...



It seems from the morning news headlines that most of Britain is doomed to go down with Pig Flu (The Full Monty Zoomer?). Pray that it attacks selectively; starting with the Usual Suspects (Yes, of course The Labour Party. Who else had you in mind?), followed by Bankers, global warming zealots, radical Muslims (who will of course be EXTRA pissed off on account of the porcine connection! Hah!!), Lefties of all flavours, Anti-Globalists and Anti-Capitalists, druggies, muggers, aggressive cyclists, skinny birds who twitter on about diets, scare mongering cheap medicinos, inhabitants of the "Big Brother" house, caravan owners, and so on. It might give the rest of us a little breathing space, and would certainly sweeten the mix in our Septic Isle.


Later, much later, Sam wheels out her Shepherds Pie. Mmmmmm! Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen! The French do not have a word for 'pie'. Silly people. Neither do they have a word for 'entrepreneur'. Hmmmph! Their loss.


Tomorrow we are hoeing, apparently. Whoop de do! Announce a holiday. Thank God we are not lifting.


(Followed by a walk in the woods to the village, where we shall have a 'formidable' or twain. "Un Formidable" is a pale, small, etiolated Euro-version of what we Brits would term an under volume pint, my son! Cue aggravation and loss of consumer confidence, resulting possibly in World War. Either that, or top up me pint, Madame. Know what I mean?)



Thursday April 30th:



Awoke unable to get out of bed thanks to serious back strain, following the incident the other day when I tripped over a hidden length of 4x2 whilst carrying a heavy block of tuffeau (local limestone). Deep misery. Also, it is cold, grey and pissing with rain. After a morning of agony, found some Ibuprofen, and promptly took half a pound or so, avec un reduction de bouillon et les herbes de Provence.... Result? Happiness.


Spent most of the day on the sofa watching movies, and at 5.30 pm was able to arise and make fabulous leek and cauliflower soup, followed by Salade Nicoise and fresh strawberries-hats off to Ibuprofen, I think!


Tomorrow Sam might go home, as she is climbing the walls unless she can get into the garden-reminds me of Pixy Potter! I shall continue to fester until I am certain that my back is better. No more tuffeau-tossing for me!



Friday May 1st:


Up sticks and off to Beaugé, as Sam has run out of baccy. Still grey horrible weather, but we bobbied off and sat about outside her favourite cafe supping coffee that goes "PING!"...(cafe defibrillateur?). Eyeballs a-twitch, fingers and toes drumming, we wobbled round to the Spar shop, then to the ultimate patisserie from Heaven. Sacred Blue! I had to be dragged, mewling piteously, back to Planet Earth, which had suddenly become very dull in comparison.


Everywhere there are hordes of gypsies and their kids, all selling small sprays of Lily-of-the-Valley (muguets du bois), in celebration of May Day. The shops also sell them, and everyone you see is carrying a sprig or two. They are also called "the bringers of happiness", and are often given to a loved one as a romantic token. With their sweet perfume, they are indeed a very welcome gift of love. Quite a charming custom. As mentioned before, the gypsies here are clean, tidy, polite and not criminal, so far as one can tell. The price for a spray is, like a charity collection, whatever you choose to give. They certainly make the most of the May Day custom, as one cannot sell anything in the street at any other time without paying for a permit. Even the Spar shop sells them.


The town began to bustle, and barriers of various degrees of resilience began to appear; the bounciest being attached to serious obstacles such as stone bollards, etc. It became apparent that the local "Santé et Sécurité" apparatchiks were amongst us, and, also, that cycling was to be inflicted all around. We were correct in our assumptions; the Tour de Beagué was imminent, avec un Grand Prix de £2000. Being devotees of the infernal combustion engine, Sam and I followed the great French tradition, as usual, and fled.


After a lunch comprising bread beyond all imagining, and the other half of yesterdays Salade Nicoise, and fresh strawberries, the wobbly dog and I (Wobbly Dog 2) were content to snooze, and dream of big women and patisserie, closely co-mingled.....Aaahh! Unfortunately I got the ugly one....but was saved (?) by the advent of Sam in full gardening-mode.


"Ne restez-pas MONSIEUR!"


Sam thrust us back into peasant-mode, and thus began another orgy of tuffeau-tossing. Ohhhhh Merde. Merde. Merde. Merde. Merde. Merde......................Next up was a 12 foot by 18 inch flower bed filled with pansies and other inedible items. Followed by a session planting out herbs into pots (now you're talking! - food at last...).


After this we slept, sans patisserie, sans madames, sans everything.


Ce soir nous mangerai Pasta de Hulot, avec saucissons, et le jolly bon session avec le TV, et encore les Grande Madames Volupueuse du Patisserie...Oooh la la! (Il dit, comme un tète du fabrique...). Pouf! Et nom d'un chien! (Rover?).



Saturday May 2nd:



This morning was clear and sunny, so we went to the market at Seaumur. It is a lovely town on the banks of the Loire, which glides past deep and glossy, and very wide.


The market is scattered on the river bank and up into the surrounding streets and small squares, and offers everything from Samurai swords and other heinous weaponry, to clothes, jewellery, herbal medicines, bread, charcuterie, oysters, cheeses, fruit, vegetables and so on. With the exception of fresh herbs, you can get any kind of fresh food, although the prices are very high. Still, it was teeming with people, all enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend, and some welcome sunshine after a cool, damp week.


Afterwards we stopped off at St Clement de Leveé, to collect some fishing gear for tomorrow, and also to "Super-U" for Toulouse sausages, to go with our dinner tonight of sausage & mash d'Angleterre, aux sauvages (or à l'anciens, whatever). Avec sauce d'oignons brun.


Spent a couple of hours fishing in the Authion, a tributary of the Loire, notable for a) absence de poissons, )b Hulot getting line in a mass of French lace. Nnnh! Capped by the vital part of the fishing reel flying off as I casted my bait, and dropping into the river at my feet. It sank out of sight with alarming suddenness, and I had then quietly to haul it back, inch by inch, hoping to God that the end of the line was firmly attached. It was, and I furtively put the whole thing back together before anyone noticed. Quel horreur!


Ce soir,deep festering, and plenty of it, apres les saucisson et mash. Bon.


Marion and Chris are having a fine time in Gozo, although it is very windy, and she is overjoyed at the news that we have erected a new clothes-line. If only all middle-aged women were this easy to please!


Sunday May 3rd:



A good nights sleep, despite some riotous noise in the roof and walls of my bedroom last night, which sounded like someone digging a tunnel into the room. Apparently it's Pine Martens nesting in the loft. For heavens sake! Here we are surrounded by thousands of acres of forest-including vast numbers of pine trees, so where do the Pine Martens live? In the roof. Zut alors? Too blooming right, mes amis. Best news about Les Martres is that they make for a much enhanced red squirrel population, as they prey on Grey squirrels, which spend more time on the ground than in the trees.


Grey day, again. Nothing to do but fester; I kept a low profile today, as I felt that Sam & Stewart could use some time together, since Sam has been here all week. Another Britfest for lunch, with bacon, eggs, sausages etc. It was all we had to hand.


Alas, one of the cats has been poorly - a resurgence of the cat flu, which has laid him low recently. He will not eat or drink, and we cannot therefore get any of his prednisolone or antibiotics down him. Sam spoke to Marion, who is distraught, but has given permission for the poor cat to be put down if necessary, and cremated. In that order. Looks like we may be going to the vet if things don't improve over the next day or so. These Burman cats are 15 years old, brother and sister, so we are braced for tricky times.


Asher, the wobbly dog, continues to try to shag every cat in the house. Sam wonders if he has become a pervert because he's missing his mummy (Marion); I said we'd heard that one a million times from social workers, softy Liberals and desperate defence lawyers, and I was having none of it.


Everywhere is closed tomorrow, it being Monday...So it looks like another grass-cutting day, unless it rains.


My e-book is earning its keep, and is just so handy; an excellent item altogether.



Monday May 3rd:



At last, a sunny day, blue sky, bees going doolally, whereupon wobbly dog steps on an bee and is stung in the foot. Yarooh! Now we have a sniffly cat who is teetering at death's door, Bob the cat who is now safe from being shagged by lame wobblydog, a 3-legged cat called Blanche who sees the opportunity pour un tantrum...I depart at speed to Jumelles, ostensibly to shop. In the afternoon, I took myself off to the market in Baugé, and had a look at the chateau, stopping in Cuon on the way back to take pictures of the local church, with its unique spire constructed like a giant "pommes de pine", or pine-cone. Odd, very odd.


Later, Sam and I get the mower and monster strimmer out and there is an hour or two of cutting the grass (why does it feel more like "coupe de grace"?). Yet again I slip into "potage mode", and we feast on asparagus soup, then retire to watch "Sweeney Todd", with Johnny Depp and lots of blood and screaming, and Helena Bonham-Carter being set on fire yet again in her incendiary film career! It is a gentle introduction into what follows.


The new shower room and toilet installed the day I arrived has been strictly out of bounds. Sam, thank God, decided to peep in there for some reason, and discovered that the toilet bowl had sneakily filled to the brim with mucky water of dubious origins. Oh Merde! Frantic rushing to and fro to bail out the offending "effluvage", and much stumping around in the dark checking the smelly poo-pump outside, ably assisted by wobblydog the celebrated "plombier". Deep joy.


As the evening had cooled considerably, Sam had lit the Aga and cranked up les radiateurs. So far so good. I watched the carnage of the end of the movie and went to bed, accompanied by the crashing sounds of cats pushing furniture down the stairs, comme d'habitude.


Fast asleep, I missed the Really Big Bang at 1 am, when the central heating blew up.


Despite having heard the ominous cracking sounds of cavitation in the overdone hot water system, Sam, instead of running a bath, went to bed.


BOOM! If it had been the birth of a new Universe, fair enough, but no such luck.


The hot water hose in the chimney above the AGA split, and all was a mass of steam, hot water, shrieking cats, and Asher the Plombier, who then had an epileptic fit on account of the excitement. I begin to understand why the French don't bother much with TV.



Tuesday May 4th:



Another grey day. Very. Thank God I bought croissants for breakfast. Morning spent up the chimney grappling with bust hoses and crumbling plasterboard, which split and fell about me in shards. I was beginning to feel that I was wasting away, my strength ebbing by the minute, as I could not budge the pipe fittings at all, when Sam eventually let me into the secret that over here the threads are left-handed, at least in plumbing fittings.



Giving her my very, very best Jack Benny look, I gave up and we called Christian the plumber, whose standard opening phrase is "merde alors!" and who has to have a large tot of whiskey before laying hands on the job.


A position with which I have much sympathy. I await his arrival with interest. He can sort out the sneaky bog whilst he is here, as it has begun to fill again overnight. Sam has taken to pissing behind the barn, as she does not want to overload the system, but there is a certain amount of cursing, as there are many large nettles, not to mention the helpful menagerie that trails us everywhere. More anon, when the steam clears...


Christian, the plumber arrived when he said he would! Zut alors!


I said to him, by way of introduction into the scenario to follow; "Bonjour Christian! Mon aeroglisseur et plein d'ailles! Aidez-moi, j'implore!!!!" Fortunately, Sam prevented his sudden egress. He and his son, and the petit tosser avec le visage plein de zits qui put the damned pipework en place will return on Friday, we hope.


Et maintenant, le cuisine encore; ce soir, Poulet Basquaise (wobbly dog thinks this is a fit bird in a naughty black waspy-waisted corsetiere-thingy) SIGH!


Christian le Plombier returned ce soir, avec le petit tosser avec le visage plein de zits-il s'appelle Jeremy. Jeremiah, je pense...Il sont eleveé aux chimney, and sont frappé avec les several metres de copper pipe. This got his attention, and brought tears to his eyes. Stupid boy!


D'accord! nous chantez sur le meme hymn-sheet, et tres vite, ils affixe le pipe et tout es bon. Apart from le bog qui est plein d'effluver. Ils pong comme le merde du diable. Christian attaquer le Scotch comme le Fin du Monde, et ils promise q'il retournerai apres Mercredi. Oui monsieur...peutetre, Je pense. Et alors en couché. Hiens!



Wednesday May 6th:



Quel surprise! Ici Christian, avec un dongleur pour le poo-pump et le bassin qui pong. Il est tout bon dans dix minutes, et voilà!


Rest of day hot and sunny, no catastrophes, deep festering.................it is a TRICK! Watched "Dirty Harry", ate chocolate cookies, went to bed filled with deep suspicion of impending doom.



Thursday May 7th:



Independence Day! Sam the Relentless departed the parish until Monday, having handed out instructions enough to fill a volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica.


Free at last! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



ONE THOUSAND YEARS IN THIS BOTTLE, and the yoke is, briefly, lifted. Woooohhh!


Think I'll go mad, break out and, wait for it------ignore the cats for a few hours! What a blooming relief.


Later I will ignore them some more. Ha! Then meat, potatoes, gravy, noodle-time. Silky blanket, dream of Madame de la Grande Patissiere and her fine items.



Deep joy.





Friday May 8th:



Awoke at 9 am after solid night's sleep, and having swept the patio, fed the menagerie and sorted the washing, the day is all mine. It's a tad grey and wet, but if it brightens up later I will head for Beaufort en Valleé to see the chateau. No such luck. Il pleut. Went off to Jumelles and Longué for bread and stuff, but France is closed, again, it being the second of FOUR Friday Bank Holidays in May! Apparently it is not unknown for the French to have a Bank Holiday on a Thursday. Not worth going to work on a Friday, as weekend looms, so stay home and creep into work the following Monday, at gunpoint...This is the fabled Yooro-Working-Directive of which we hear so much. Golly!


Dined on meatballs and strawberries-not mixed. Watched excellent old movies. Kept cats at arms length. Result, happiness.


I never want to see another cat, ever. They are a serious race of cheap, unbiddable, selfish spongers. I begin to think that they are all either Albanian or Somali. Or drug addicts. Or all of these things.


Give me an affable dog anytime. No contest.


To bed, only to be treated to the very loud sounds of animals (I hope it's only Pine Martens) with serious claws charging about in the loft, and attacking the walls and ceiling between my bedroom and their beastly lair. Sam said last week that they once broke through into the bedroom-my room-and instead of chucking the buggers out, Chris simply repaired the hole in the wall. Personally, I intend to take a 5-iron to the little bastards if they are stupid enough to pop their heads through the wall. Body language? You bet your pert little bumsicle!



Saturday May 9th:



Rain again, so zoomed off for fresh bread-utterly, utterly orgasmic, still warm...Nnnnhhh! Very hilarious lady in the bakers who rattled away in a very high pitched voice, like a cartoon character. I looked in vain for the large key sticking out of her back and slowly unwinding. Lovely, but very odd. Thence to supermarket for sausages, chocolate, and other essential macro-nutrients.


Every French person I see looks thin, pale and careworn. I am neither thin (God forbid) nor pale, having developed a fine tan with all of this outdoor work, and am not careworn. In fact, as I wander round the supermarket gently crooning La Marseillaise, oohing and aahing at the fine vittles on offer, and beaming benevolently at the locals whilst I trash their language (not deliberately), I get a lot of funny looks. Every time I approach the checkout ladies, all very svelte and yummy in their stylish pink uniforms, they immediately accuse me of being 'Anglais' even before I speak. HOW DO THEY DO THAT? Perhaps if I was thin, pale and careworn...? Hmm. Perhaps I will try a disguise; a striped jersey, trousers a tad too tight, and a beret should do the trick. I draw the line at doing an impression of Marcel Marceaux, a) because he is dead and b) because he was a bit of a tosser.


There was a nice, small shoulder of lamb on offer at £35 (over 6 times the UK price). Fresh cod at £11 a lb. Do not ask about Molluscs.


Perhaps this explains the thinness, paleness and careworn look?


Home again to fester deeply, and to sink out of sight with chocolate and Winston Churchill on the old e-book. Goodnight world. Good night, John-Boy, Good night Mary-Ellen, etc etc.



Sunday May 10th:



Rain again, so put on the old mob-cap and pinny, and attempted to clean up. I never saw so many dead flies, and as for the dog's breakfast, scattered all to Hell and back, he must be the only black Labrador in existence who can photosynthesise his nutrients, because he sure as hell isn't eating much!


The good news is that the hyper oxygenated, supercharged piranha love being fed dead flies (nice and crunchy, soft centres, mmm! like Eccles cakes, without the pastry.)


The cats, of course, lie in wait, as usual, with devilment in mind, comme d'habitude. As soon as I've cleaned out and disinfected their litter trays, they sneak in and deposit, sometimes taking care to JUST miss the litter tray. Grrr!


About midday I had a visit from a local English lady, who lives just the other side of the forest in a house called La Coudriere. The name refers to the fact that once upon a time this was a hazelnut farm, in the same way that my place, La Milleterie, was once a millet farm (gotta hand it to these Frenchies, nowt if not down to earth). Being English, of course, she calls it The Nuthouse, and so do all her English chums. The French do not 'get it' at all. Excellent! She called in to collect her long-overdue birthday present from Marion, and to invite me over for coffee tomorrow.


After lunch, the dog and I watched The Lord of the Rings, in the special extended version. This plus some well-earned chocolate was very fine. Alas, the dog continues to pine in a lovelorn way for Bob the scabby ginger & white cat, which quite took his eye off the film. Of course, as it was grey and wet, he wasn't able to photosynthesise very much, let alone pay any attention to his tubers. I have taken to calling Bob “Sideshow Bob” (after the character in The Simpsons), as his tatty lumpen coat reminds me of Sideshow Bob’s dreadlocks.



Monday May 11th:



Grey and damp again. Merde. After dealing with the menagerie, a quick breakfast then off to pick up a few vittles from Longué. This done, went over to see Sheila and François for coffee; very charming couple with a lovely house and rambling garden. They adopted a neat idea to get rid of a lot of junk from their lofts, barns, etc. They buried it in the garden, and heaped earth over the whole thing, then put up a notice saying "Archaeological site", KEEP OFF. What the archaeologists of the 22nd century may make of it is anyone's guess, but Sheila doesn't care, obviously.


Tried a little hoeing in the vegetable patch, with mixed results. I dug up a lot of ferns that had produced shoots up to a foot long in 3 days, and then hacked away at what seemed to be small weeds. At one point I turned and looked back, only to discover that I had carefully hoed a straight line between two suspiciously placed sticks, one at either end of the veg. plot. Oh merde! Quickly brushing over my size 11 spoor, I did the French Thing, and ran away. There's more to this gardening lark than meets the eye, so I went for an easier target and got the Formula 1 mower out.


Spent the rest of the afternoon aboard the ride-on mower; what fun! I am still smarting from Sam's casual aside that I evidently don't "do" stripes. Pouf! Zut Alors!! And so on. Try doing "stripes" on a load of tussocks, molehills, dog-do's, weeds, holes in the ground, thistles, and all God's green chilluns with just a smidgeon, un petits-peu of grass hither & yon! If it wasn't such simple fun on the mower, I'd be tempted to call in an airstrike from a passing combat aircraft. The French take tidying-up VERY seriously, you know. According to Sheila they spend, wait for it...60 times more on public tidiness than does the UK. Sacred Blue! Encroyable!


Enough of this; back inside for chocolate and a good read.


Sam was supposed to come by today, but has not appeared so far. "notre dame de stripes" has not spoken. So far, so good.


I knew it was a mistake letting the Burman cats watch Lord of the Rings. The yowling female one spent the early evening pretending to be Gollum. Oh my Gawd! Culminating in a series of "Gollum" noises followed by copious cat puke everywhere, including the throw that covers the sofa. Nnnhhh! Cue trip to washing machine, and serious drumming of fingers. I bet this was the same cat that neatly parked its spent fuel on the floor just inside the door, an anti-personnel device if ever I saw one. So it's bed without supper for these two.


Dear God, I am so looking forward to my massage tomorrow. Moving my shoulder feels like trying to stir a bucket of nuts and bolts with a chopstick. Funnily enough, my brain is going the same way, thanks to the Malevolent Menagerie (un 'menagerie a trois'-TWICE! without the sexy snuggy bits).


Early night ce soir, je pense, un oeuf est un oeuf...



Tuesday May 12th:



Thunder and lightning and heavy rain, a poor start to the day. After chores and a light lunch, off to see Joyce for an expert massage and treatment of my frozen shoulder. She has 30 years' experience, and it shows! She did more for the old crunchy joint in 1 hour than I expected, topped of with a heavy dressing of Tiger Balm, which she swears by. Excellent result altogether.


Home for a large dollop of cassoulet, to which I have been looking forward with great anticipation. Followed by chocolate-therapeutically, and deep festering. No sign of Sam, but no problem, as we can do nothing in the garden, and I'm not about to undo the good work on my shoulder by splitting logs. Forecast is the same crap weather from now until I go home next Tuesday. Hey ho (translated into Franglais-"Hé Heau"-perhaps not).


By the way I was accosted by some local, who deduced from my Mexico T-shirts (bought 2 years ago, in Alaska) that I was a walking biological terror-weapon, spreading "le Flu de Cochons" hither and yon. This could explain lots of gimlet-eyed suspicious glances in the supermarket, but maybe not.


I cleared the air (?) with some dense phrases of Franglomathematical inexactitude, and left the local man more puzzled than before.






Wednesday May 13th:



Another grey day, with the mist so thick I can't see across the field. No gardening or sightseeing today, I think. Cats seem to content themselves with catching very ugly green, allegedly poisonous, lizards and huge flying cockroaches which clatter about on the patio. The supply of "Eccles cakes sans paté" seems never-ending, which pleases the piranha in the fish tank.


They all cluster eagerly at the tank wall whenever I walk into the room now, with their glassy eyes staring with intent. Having been pestered with insects of all persuasions, it seems to me that most of them are rather poor in the navigation and precision flying department. All the time they bumble and barge around, flying into your ears, or hair, or the wall, in a very uncoordinated manner. If they could speak, the air would be filled with cries of "whoops!", "OUCH!", "pardon Monsieur", "oo-er Bunter", "yarooh...", "aaaarghh!", and so on. How they manage to feed, let alone discover mates and reproduce is beyond me. It must be sheer dumb luck and weight of numbers, with some exceptions like bees, wasps and the dreaded hornets.


Talking of finding mates, in the dark and featureless deserts of the very deepest oceans, there are fish which are so thinly spread that if they are fortunate enough to bumble into a member of the opposite sex-a very rare circumstance-they plant a great big "kiss" on their opposite number, clamp on and remain physically attached thereto for life, even eventually sharing a common blood circulation. We have all seen the human equivalent...(The Lesser Spotted Dweeb?).


Enough of this, time for a hot buttery croissant festooned with "Bon Maman" cherry conserve, made entirely from cherries, with extra cherries added. Pas de calories, bien sur...


Long read in the sun, which grudgingly appeared for a few hours, after a funster's 15 minutes of whoopee ("whoopsie", more like) sterilising the noisome hellholes that are the moggies litter-capsules, cabins,”crapoyards”, salles-de-mog-merde, or whatever they are called. Ugh! This is the ONLY donation from these cats. At least the dog puts out with some affable friendliness, and helps with the plumbing. Hmmph!


More thunderstorms now, as the evening draws on, so an early night and hope for some sun tomorrow. Chris & Marion will be setting off in the morning for their 3 day trip home, so will no doubt have a fine send-off from the chums in Gozo.


Although it was only 9pm I grabbed a cuppa and headed for bed, but then, a few moments later, the telephone rang. I answered with my usual “allo, allo?” and was subject to an affable cascade of rapid French from a charming lady. I could not fathom what she was on about, so I stopped her in mid-babble to point out that my command of French is miniscule, and that “Je ne comprends pas” She paused, and then started up again, rattling away like a 2 stroke motorcycle engine on full throttle. I interrupted her again, and said, “Madame, ecoutez-la!” and held out the phone to the window, so that she could hear the thunder and lightning crashing round the house. She waited in silence. “Madame, mon postillion a ete foudroye par l’éclair!”. Long pause, then she said “Monsieur? Et tout bon?” That was it, back in the driving seat, quick as a flash, I went on to say “Madame, mon aeroglisseur et plein d’ailles!”. Sigh from the lady..then…


”Aurevoir Monsieur”.



“Au revoir Madame”.



End of conversation. What fun.



And so to bed.



Thursday May 14th:






An alarming and pulse pounding start to the day; I was awoken at 7am by a very loud buzzing from an evidently large and irritated insect-possibly a huge black Carpenter Bee (Apine equivalent of "Shaft", not to be trifled with), or God forbid-the dreaded "frelon", or killer hornet. The sound seemed to come from the landing on the other side of the bedroom door.



Problems in order of urgency:



1) Strong urge for a wee, considerably enhanced by large insect lurking between me and the bathroom



2) Nakedness and lack of weaponry-forming a positive feedback loop for 1) above...



3) Sudden realisation that offending insect was inside my room, see feedback loop above!



4) Sight of insect, 3 feet from my bed, and horrible realisation that it was, indeed, a "frelon", inside my room, buzzing furiously at the window.



About an inch and a half long, with a yellow abdomen -'death from above' personified. Forget your F22 Raptors and Predator Drones matey, this was up close and personal in a very willy-shrinking way.



As softly and silently as I could, I crept out of bed trying to look as small and inoffensive as possible-not an easy task for a 6 foot 3, 20 stone nudist with eyes bulging larger than his overstrained bladder. I snuck across to the door and crept outside to the bathroom in the nick of time. After the steam had died down, came the question; What to do now?


Downstairs in the kitchen I found a large aerosol can of insecticide, which I took back upstairs with me. Easing the bedroom door open just a tad, I let go a long burst of insecticide into the room, directly at the furious frelon, then did the French Thing, and fled. Half an hour later, I returned to find the frelon gone, dead, departed, silent, whatever, and my heartbeat sank down from 300/minute to normal. A close shave indeed. I just hope it's not merely stunned and lying in wait under the bedclothes for revenge this evening.


As is usually the British Way, I took refuge in humour, and recalled a song from Gilbert & Sullivan's 'HMS Pinafore';



"When a frelon's not engaged in his employment, his employment


"Or maturing his frelonious little plans, little plans


"His capacity for innocent enjoyment, 'cent enjoyment


"Is just as great as any honest man's"



"Our feelings we with difficulty smother,'culty smother


"When insecticidal duty's to be done


"Ah, take one consideration with another, with another


"La vie en Loire is not a quiet one, quiet one!"



And so on.



Outside the rain is sploshing down, so it looks like we are on shopping duty to gather goodies for the homecoming travellers.



A bas Les Frelons!



Mike Biggs, (aka M.Hulot, or Bubba LeGros)