I have made a quick trip back to France this week, for a few reasons. A combo of Ryan and EJ got me here, screaming as ever. It seems they have moved the usual flight gate in Stanstead from 40 to 39. They are at least a mile apart. In different counties. I just make my flight and get seated next to the mad woman who endows me with her life story whilst I frantically try to read the Metro for comfort. I make it to our home, flick on the electric heater and kettle. Then fumble for the trip switch, which throws a tantrum, on my way to a welcome but cold bed.
Next morning, a meeting with a man who needs to provide us with a survey of our soil so I can install a new Fosse Septique (septic tank). He needs to provide some extra thickness to the already massive pile of paperwork that has evolved since our original application 2 years ago. Well soil is a loose term for the ground our house sits on. In fact it is not just built on it but OF it, as is possibly some of our crockery. This is the same stuff on that potters wheel scene in Ghost. Only stickier.
A smiley young man arrives in a statutory white van, spends 2 hours digging holes. I suggest that he may want to dig the vegetable patch and plant my earlies while he is at it. But low and behold, he has a sense of humour and a good understanding of English. I speak to him only in French. I have come all this way to see him, the least he can do is honour me by using the native language! As it happens, he turns out to be the Messiah; our ‘terre’ has a reasonable level of permeability and it will be possible for me to use a lateral draining system without the need to build a pit full of a thousand tons of sand. All this discussed in French. Impressed? Well I was as it has probably just saved us a couple of grand.
The second reason for the visit was to check over the place. It was cold, damp and full of wildlife. And that’s just inside the house. I lit the fire and kept it in for two days. As luck would have it, the ceilings have caved in due to excessive damp. Waste not want not, the pile of wood and mouse droppings lying on and around the bed in the back bedroom helped with the heating. A good policy. If your house falls down in winter, put it on the fire.
Reason three was to check out our new arrivals in the shape of four lambs. All seem OK, but I’m not sure that one of the ewes will manage to milk enough to rear her two offspring. I let them out into the garden and my golf course! Plenty of grass there. An electric fence will contain them in that section. I erect it in beautiful sunshine that fries the early frost from the ground. Winter is short here and the already lengthening days remind me of a Scottish May day.
I also popped into to see my neighbouring farmer to ask him for another bale of hay for the hungry beasts. He made me a coffee, using instant coco and tap water! Then that was washed down with something from a bottle on which the only thing I could decipher was 45% proof. From Spain. It tasted like cough medicine. Except it worked on the legs not the chest. Mine felt as light as air when I left!
Now a seat by the fire is my evening position. The house is as draught-free as an international draughts convention, but there is something satisfying about burning parts of your house to warm your knees. The insurance company may not agree. The wood spits and crackles like a winter Bastille day display. The fire proof rug no longer has any pile left to burn. The same can be said for my slippers.
But a trip down to the cave provides me with a rather nice Bordenave Madiran, 2005. It is gorgeous and a refreshing change after 6 weeks of enduring Aussie end-of-bin or Chilean mountain-goats-piss in UK. Some Toulouse sausages in the pan, cooked in Dijonaise sauce add to the bliss. That and no TV.
Yes I am enjoying the two month time in our Scottish centrally heated cottage by the sea, but there is still only one Chez Nous and its is 2000 miles south of there.
I leave tomorrow. Just as well, I am running out of firewood. The Ikea chairs would be next and I am not sure they are insured.