Having returned home …🌏

Tuesday 5 June

Having returned home from Moss Bros it was time to get ready for the funeral. My Auntie Doris, Auntie Da Da, as we used to call her, had been in a nursing home and due to ill health confined to her bed. Doris was Mum’s older sister by a few years. To my shame I hadn’t seen Doris for many, many years and her husband, Uncle Reg, passed away some years ago. I rember Doris as a country girl with a strong country accent, much harsher than my Mums. Its funny as you look back what you remember. For example my birthday is 28 December and I knew that at every Christmas as Doris gave me my present and wished me merry Christmas it would be accompanied with the words “…and it includes your birthday present!” What a cop out.

I remember Uncle Reg fondly, although as a small boy I wasn’t impressed with his humour. I would make tea when they came round to visit and would hold the teapot high. Reg asked “is that a long pour?” and I raise my eyes to heaven. Looking back I realise it was my ignorance and in fact he was a nice man. He was a well known amateur motorbike racer, but unfortunately had a very bad accident at work which put paid to his motorbike days. He always wore mustard coloured socks and brown shoes like a trademark. The most amusing thing we all remember is the Summer Mum started to host foreign students who would come over from Europe to study English. Mum did this for many, many years and students came from all over the world. She was probably one of the finest hosts in Bournemouth. But the very first students were two very young and very pretty Swedish girls. Both blonde of course. For some reason they didn’t go to the beach, but would strip down to their bikinis and sunbathe in the garden. As is common in most households when close family visit we just sat in the kitchen and chatted. Uncle reg would steal this opportunity to place a chair by the kitchen window and just stare at the girls. Strange behaviour my 9 year old mind thought, but as I got older I began to realise what may have been going through his mind!

Sarah and I headed for Poole Crematorium. The previous funeral ceremony was running late. I guess they weren’t running, thats why they were late! So lots of people waiting around. It was a very small affair, Very close family and friends. Some I knew well, some I knew, some I didn’t know. There were also people, in fact family, that I thought I should know better, but didn’t Some that I should have spoken to, but didn’t. It seemed Sarah knew them better than me! My Cousin Kevin, the single inheritant of the Pollard fortune, because he was an only child came over to say hello. Kim and I always called him “Cousin Kevin”. His name is Kevin and he is a cousin, so it only seemed right, but in fact it was odd because we said CousinKevin as if it was one word. Now I think about it I was CousinDavid and my sister CousinKim. I can understand CousinKim in order to distinguish between her and the “Fur Baby” of Doris and Reg, Kim the dog! A wild thing that they locked in a room all day which sent it a bit mad. I don’t know who came first the dog or Kim. Either way it was either insensitive of Doris or absent minded of Mum and Dad.

As numbers were low Kevin asked if I would be a pallbearer and help carry the coffin. I reluctantly nodded. I was stood next to Ged, my sisters husband who also wasn’t keen, but as we gathered near the hearse and the funeral director started organising things I stepped back and stood behind Ged who was then in the spotlight for the job!

The eulogy briefly summarised the life of Aunty Doris, her long standing loyalty to her work, the fun Reg and her had Caravanning and the friends that they made. A picture was built of a woman that I realised I didn’t know. But we were reminded how Doris and my Mum ended up in Bournemouth in the first place. My grandfather who I called Poppy, had a dream of emigrating to Brisbane in Australia. The family had packed up and moved from Braintree in Middlesex with the idea of stopping off in Bournemouth before sailing to the other side of the world. But Poppy loved Bournemouth so much they stayed. Its funny how all those years later I fulfilled a little bit of destiny when Sarah and I ended up living in Brisbane.

The Wake was a sort of village hall “Do” …sandwiches and cake with a few pies. Tea, coffee or some sort of cordial to wash it down. Doris had a favourite drink … Baileys, so we Toasted with that and CousinKevin said a few words. Then it was all over.

Wednesday 6 June

I return to Moss Bros in Bournemouth and park right outside the shop in Westover Road. At one time Westover Road was the premier road in Bournemouth. Where all the top shops were located. It was like little Bond Street. There were 3 cimemas, the Palace Court Hotel Casino, the Ice-rink … as well as the Tufty Club. All gone now. A recent casualty, the Odeon cinema is now boarded up. Other shops have closed and the infamous Russell and Bromley will be closing their doors soon. It feels empty. Souless. Men linger intimately in groups. Smoking. Chatting. Looking. Along the road there is the occasional person sleeping in vacant shop doorways. The entirety of their worldly belongings with them. One with a cup held out to passers-by. It is an oxymoron as a smartly dressed bodyguard stands proudly outside one of the jewellers. It is a testiment to the world we now live in and a showcase to opulence and poverty. Like oil and water they don’t mix. This is not the Bournemouth I knew as a boy. It is not the Bournemouth I want to remember.

I didn’t have enough coins for the parking meter, but on studying the instructions I can pay by phone if I download the “PaybyPhone”App. For fun I do that and it works brilliantly. The app locates where I am. I can even upload a photo to prove where I am and with a click my parking is paid for. Another useful app that allows you to spend money too quickly!

Every morning and evening I do my walk. I picked up the route that I worked out last year. I play a game and when in the shadows I jog. On Thursday evening my ankle felt stiff. I was power walking. By Friday morning it was stiff and painful. Very painful. So much so that on Saturday Nurse Sarah purchased an ankle strap to bandage around the swelling. I had lunch with Mum and Kim at the Boathouse in Christchurch. Me hobbling, Mum in her wheelchair.

It wasn’t looking good.

Until next time🌏

Bright eyed and …🌏

Bright eyed and bushy-tailed I awake to the new day. Clearly Bournemouth hasn’t received the message that it is Summer. We have been told of hot, steamy and balmy days in the sun here recently, but there is no evidence of it. Perhaps the world’s weather is changing. When I was a boy I remember long hot summers. They were almost guaranteed. Now it seems to be a bit of a lotto. During the breaks from my incarceration at school I would help my “honorary” uncle Donald with the boats on Bournemouth beach. He had a site almost level with the East Cliff Zig Zag near the cliff lifts. The lifts are closed now due to land slippage, but they hope to open next year. Don lived next door with his younger brother James and their parents auntie Alice and uncle Max. Salt of the earth people who were Canadians. Everything about them was big. They were big, their fridge was big and Max was loud. In fact Max was very loud. One of the loudest things he did every day as he came through the back gate towards the front gate was to reach into the depths of his respiratory passage making a noise like an elephant and then spit the large piece of phlegm from his mouth as if in an olympic event. A real character who rode a motorbike. Unfortunately he was involved in a very bad accident which gave him a permanent limp, but also with the compensation allowed him to buy a brand new Austin 1100 that he drove as if fueled by kangaroo petrol. I can’t remember much about Max other than his political incorrectness and that fact on one occasion he had to go to hospital to get a cylindrical Hoover delicately removed from his manhood.

The house smelt of staleness and cooked fish. Dear auntie Alice didn’t have cleaning as her top priority. My sister Kim wouldn’t even go into the house. They had an open coal fire and the ceilings were black. As large and unkempt as Alice was, she was also the sweetest person on earth. In her largeness she was delicate as an artist and her speciality was still life. Flowers in vases … that sort of thing. I would go up to the shops for her to earn a few pence commission. Mostly to the fish shop on Wimborne Road in Winton to buy giblets for her cats. Those were the days when the fish monger was part of the social network, before the supermarkets started to take over.

I remember that her fridge was stacked with big colourful bottles of Corona, a fizzy drink that was popular in the UK. So much was consumed at the time that it would be delivered by the crate. The Corona man would drive around in a big flatbed truck going from house to house. Much like the milkman. It was a sense of summer.

So where was I? Don. Well Don had a huge shed at the back of the garden where he built rowing boats. He built them for a funny little man called Mr Bennett who rode around on a moped. Don would spend the winter with his electric saw screeching and then in the summer he would operate a boat hire business down on the beach. This included fibreglass floats which he also built in his shed.

Throughout the summer I would get up bright and early. Don would load up his old Bedford van which didn’t have a front passenger seat, so I sat on a plank that kept sliding every time he braked or turned a corner. Once at the beach the first job was to untie the boats and floats that had been neatly arranged and covered the evening before. We would line them up ready for customers. The highlight of the day was then breakfast. Out came the little Campus stove. Eggs, bacon and a mug of tea. Combined with the fresh sea air and the morning sand they were the best breakfasts ever. Looking back it is a reminder that these small things are the treasures of life and pale into insignificance the distorted amount of money I have spent on vogue restaurant meals since those days. God bless you Don!

Anyway, I spent the day pushing boats out and pulling them back onto the sandy shore once the tourists had their fun. Don had another little helper who I think was a relative of Mr Bennet. He wasn’t much older than me, maybe 1 year older or something. He could handle a boat though despite the fact he looked like an overgrown ant. We often got young couples hiring the boats. The girls all dramatic and squealing as they attempted to step into the rocking boat. The boys would be all bravado as they muscled into the oars like Lord Nelson on a campaign. But the current along the Bournemouth shore is quite strong. One time it took hold and clearly one of the guys was struggling. The current was taking him further and further away. Eventually Don sent his little helper to rescue Mr Muscles and his fair lady. It was funny to see them at the back of the boat being rowed be this tiny little boy.

Today is a day of conflicting activity. I have to go to Moss Bros to hire a suit for a wedding and then attend my aunts funeral. This could be an idea for a movie! My nephew Richard is getting married at the end of June and it is a top hat and tails affair … without the top hat on good advice from Guy, my brother-in-law. The basis for this decision is that it is rarely worn and will save having to carry the thing around with us. I suspect though, I will be thinking there is something missing. After a few drinks I will probably be searching for the top hat I never had, wondering where I left it.

I thought that I may need an appointment for a fitting so when in Spain I emailed Head office to ask if I needed to. They sent back a reply with the opening hours so I just turned up. But the young lady was flustered because I did have to make an appointment and I was irritated because I now had to return tomorrow. I wasn’t happy about that. Not good enough and made a bit of a fuss. But later, just out of curiosity I looked back on my emails to reinforce my argument only to discover that in fact they did recommend I phone to make an appointment. Bugger! I clearly had a junior moment!

Until next time 🌏

Rainy days and …🌏

Rainy days and Mondays. I reverse the car as close to the front gate as I can and in the pouring rain begin to pack the AWD motorised suitcase with our remaining belongings. Neatly stacked and balanced we set off for Cherbourg.

The drive is good and uneventful. For the most. When I took over the driving the weather also changed. We drove into black clouds and a storm. Without any exaggeration it was the worst downfall of rain I have ever experienced. It was like being under a waterfall. The wipers wizzing left to right at top speed couldn’t cope and I had to slow down to a crawl. Then it eased, I sped up and it came at us again, unrelenting. There was no mercy. I was almost near to driving blind. The only consolation I have is that I was driving and not Sarah as I know she just hates driving in that sort of weather. We push through to brighter sky’s. A couple of quick stops for coffee and petrol. Heading for Bordeaux, Nantes, Rennes along the A83 and then A84 into the Port. We make good time. Not too early. Not too late. Cars, caravans and bikes are already in the queue.

We scramble for passports and the printed ticket which is in the back of the car and gracefully move towards passport control. We are given documents and something to dangle over the rear view mirror that indicates our location on the ferry. We are pointed to a lane and find we are at the front. It has no advantage as there are about 12 other lanes, but at least we have a view.

Eventually we are ready to drive aboard. We go up a raised road that delivers us to deck 6 of the ferry and the ceiling height is so low it makes you want to duck instinctively. From the belly of the floating car carrier we walk the narrow corridors and stairs to the main passenger area and head for the Club Lounge. I wonder if it was worth paying the extra? In fact it was. Opened last year it is nicely fitted with great seats and we are luckily to be by the window. The seats are bright yellow and leather. They look like something out of an upmarket mens barbers, not that with my hairstyle I would visit one. Tea and biscuits are available. The wifi is free, but is crap so we have to pay for an upgrade to the hi-speed version. I always think thats a cheat!

After settling I go next door to the cafe we passed on our way to the Club Lounge for a couple of glasses of wine. On my way out I stop by the information desk to ask if it is okay to take food into the Club Lounge. The nice young girl then launched into a speech on how she isn’t too keen because of various food smells, bothering other passengers, …. on and on. Crisps would be okay. But, the food smells….. I shut down and say walking away a simple yes or no would have done!

Feeling unsettled I continue to the cafe. The food selection is limited. I purchase 2 small bottles of nicely packaged red wine and I am handed 2 plastic cups. In the supermarket I could buy 2 full bottles for what I paid for a glass and half.

I return to the Club Lounge and ramp up my iPad … slowly kicking into life. Later the guy opposite goes off and returns with wine and 2 wine glasses. What? How come you got those and not plastic cups? Seems if I went in the other direction I would have found the restaurant with the appropriate vessels for drinking French wine.

Sarah has muscles to feed and so its not long before we venture along for something to eat. The restaurant is self service. The first thing that comes to mind is school dinners. Mash with lumps, dinner ladies with hair on their lips and big sweaty arms. It wasn’t like that of course, but I can’t shake the image. Self service seems so, I don’t know … short in customer attention. Its not as though its less expensive. Its cheap in its concept. I don’t like waiting for my food to be slopped on a plate and handed to me. I don’t like having to slide it along a counter and then have it itemised and poked at the cash register. Guess what … I don’t like it! We sit at a vacant table. It looks like an early IKEA design that never caught on. Wood, solid, robust ugly. There is a view looking out over the wake that the ferry leaves behind. Nothing but cloud and gray coloured water with a white line dividing the churn that settles into a million bubbles. There is a TV high on the wall so that you have to make an effort to look up. The chances of hearing it in a canteen ..that’s what it is, not a restaurant... are slim. I decide that I never want to drive so far again and I never want to be on a ferry again, never. But I am foolish, because that’s the only way we can return to Spain if we take the car. Something to look forward to!

The crossing is actually very smooth so I’m quite impressed. The Club Lounge seems very well sound proofed. As other Club Lounge passengers come and go you can hear the cacophony of noise from the rest of the ship. A clash of activity, children screaming  and crockery fighting eating implements. The door slides closed and a calm descends. Yes, despite being a toffee-nosed old git of a snob about the restaurant I am pleased with the sound proofing. After working on the iPad and shuffling in my seat in an attempt to sleep the ferry slows as we approach Poole harbour. Passing along the coast we can see Sandbanks and maneuver through the entrance to Poole Harbour and the Studland Ferry crossing. This is a small water way from Sandbanks to Studland that almost cuts the journey to Swanage by half. The current here is very strong hence a chain-ferry is used.

Looking out of the window it is grey. Lights are on, but some of the sights are just familiar. Sarah and I used to live in Poole. We had a small apartment in Constitutional Hill and during the winter months when the leaves had flown and the trees lay bare we could see the ferry coming and going. I would break into song “There’s a ferry coming in … la, la, la … etc”. It was my version of “A Coach Coming In” from the musical Paint Your Wagon. Mmm, well, it made me happy.

So then, we are here. Yes, but not arrived. It seems to take an age to dock the ferry. Meanwhile, a small football crowd smother the tiny gap that is the exit to the tiny corridor. At some point we reach the car. Sit in it and wait. And wait. Cars, one after the other roll on past us. Then as the lanes clear the cars behind us start to reverse out. Whats going on? We are guessing a car in front of us can’t start and we are trapped in a lane that has the metal pilon to our right. Its our turn to reverse. Its not that straightforward. As we pass the guilty car its obvious that it hasn’t broken down at all. The lane we were in comes to a dead-end. This means the only way out is to reverse. What the F…! Are you serious? Who the hell designed this truckload of old whatsits? Struth Ruth! I don’t believe it!

Mystified by the intelligence of the design we head to Passport Control and after a bit of a queue are on our way to Iford, just east of Bournemouth, almost on the Christchurch border. Sarah adjusts to driving a left-hand-drive car on the left side of the road. Brilliantly of course … of course!

Until next time🌏

A new dawn …🌏

A new dawn, a new day. How different it is here compared to the last 2 weeks. We slept well despite the brown furry lump at the end of the bed. Meg is only a pup so she has a bed … beside our bed. Like a child, going to bed is a game designed to frustrate, but eventually she settled last night as we switched the lights off. Within 30 seconds she was out of her bed and up onto our bed and positioned there for the rest of the night. Not so bad for Sarah who puts here head on the pillow, closes her eyes and stays like that until morning. But I toss and turn … and turn … and then some. Its like my body can only take being in one position for a certain amount of time. I’m like the hands on a clock, never settling for too long on each number. So as I maneuver around the bed I try and navigate my legs over the furry obstacle each time. Meg gets her own back at one point. She begins a scratching session that gets louder and more intensive. It seems to go on for an age. A serious problem there no doubt. Eventually she scratches away the itch and a calm descends. The only disturbing period is a small dream of Sarah as a nurse. She is wearing small round spectacles and an old nurses cap with a swastika on it. She is looking at my foot, then me, smiles wickedly and says “Its got to come off” and takes out a rusty saw to start the process! …only joking… don’t know why I do it because I’m in such deep shit now…..

And so I put on my new green wellies, shout for Meg and walk down to the farmhouse to let out the strutting egoistic cockerel and his 3 adoring hens. The air is fresh, the birds are singing. There is a hum of silence only broken by a distant cousin of our cockerel. A mist hangs in the fields with a promise of a sunny day. And it delivers. Hugh asked if I wouldn’t mind watering some of the pot plants. A few of them are under glass so may dry out. No problem. He has a small patch … in farming terms… of things he is growing. It looks like artichokes and a miscellany of other edibles. The protruding greenery all looks the same to me. There are hosepipes everywhere. Crisscrossing the farmyard like ley lines marking out sacred territory. Some are clearly of industrial strength. They appear from somewhere and don’t seem to connect or lead anywhere. Hugh obviously doesn’t move them as they are embedded in the grass, weeds growing around and over them. I lift one and it sucks from the ground as if it had been trying to hold on. So I won’t move them either. I had this idea that I would find a hosepipe and stand majestically in the middle of everything and just grandly water all from where I stood like the hosepipe King. But no. The big white plastic tubs, about the size of a Mini Cooper … and placed strategically around, are full of water. Near the small market garden one of these was positioned and attached to it a hose. Significantly 2 watering cans were next to it. I turned the tap and the water flowed out like a snail on strike. As the water struggled to drip lazily over the edge of the hose I placed it into the first can and realised that this would be a long job. It filled and I placed the hose in the second can and went off to water. And so it went on for a while as I went back and forth thinking there must be a better way. I am sure there was, but I didn’t discover it.

And that was it. There was much more to do around the farmhouse but I just couldn’t find the end of a hosepipe. I started to wonder if it was just one big hosepipe of varying sizes and colours that had no beginning or end. Like a hula hoop. Eventually I traced one to the side of the house. It was just short of a tap with no connector. I hunted down some connectors from a box in the porch of the farmhouse, fixed it up and turned on the tap. Nothing. I looked in the little hut next to the tap and found a pump. At least I thought it was a pump. I turned the tap to on. Closed my eyes and switched the power on. It made lots of noise, but not a drop of water appeared. I turned everything off before it exploded and decided to end my campaign for the day.

Instead I wander around the farmhouse and venture into the barns. I remember seeing a glimpse of a car when Hugh was showing me around yesterday. Perhaps I’ll take a closer look. I open a small barn door and there it is and I don’t know what to think. In the middle of the french countryside, hidden away in an old barn, covered in mud and dust is a bright yellow Lotus Exige! Its typical of what is here. Always finding diamonds in the rough. Why it is here I have no idea. Hugh didn’t make a big thing about it. It looks in almost perfect condition, just covered in mud. Crazy!I venture further in and to my left is a workroom where the radio constantly blares out the french music. Further along the barn opens out to a symphony of discarded items and oddments. There are sections of collections. Screws sorted and neatly placed in small containers depending on their size, a box of taps, a box of … well it just goes on and on. Trays, containers, jars, tins cupboards, benches full of the typical stuff you throw into an old abandoned shed to deal with later … but never do. A trailer with a boat and canoe. An old moth eaten leather chair… all by itself. Why should that be a mystery? Well, because up the ladders in the loft is another section of the barn full of chairs of every type. Its like Hugh collected them or just purchased a joblot and did nothing with them.

There is a display of old paint tins artistically positioned. As you look down on them it is like looking at a 3D model of a city. Stubbled, matted paint brushes that have hardened to concrete. Its only the tip of the iceberg. I am fascinated. Why do people keep so much crap? My Dad spent his whole life keeping stuff like this. And what happens in the end? When he passed it just got put in a tip. Gone. The funny thing is that this imperfection has a beauty about it that is almost a form of art. The Japanese call it wabi sabi … the acceptance of transience and imperfection. As I write I’m glancing at a photo I took of a basket full of old brushes. In it a jar and an old paint tin full of brushes of all sorts. Wall paint brushes with broad shoulders, thin pencil brushes for artwork, several toothbrushes and almost every conceivable type of brush imaginable. Its a puzzle that would make a great puzzle! Baffled I make my way back to the tidy world of the house.

Throughout the morning Meg is barking at anything that moves and rushes off in all directions. The neighbours are out and she is barking at them. Seems for no reason. They obviously know her and so just ignore it. I am for ever calling her back in. On one occasion the neighbour is transporting something in a wheelbarrow from across the road to his house. Meg goes crazy. Barking like there is no tomorrow. And she is off. Bloody hell what is she doing now? So I take chase, but she has only gone as far as next door, barking at the poor man. Then his wife appears calling to Meg in french. She looks at me and smiles. Calls Meg again and pointing to the kitchen she walks towards it, Meg follows and she beckons me in. What now? Is she going to slit Megs throat? In the kitchen she rambles in more french. I look like a deer in the headlights so she asks if I speak french. Not really. I’m Australian. She smiles and goes to the fridge. The french lady turns around and in her hand is the finest piece of cooked steak. Megs mouth is watering. With scissors she cuts some of it up into pieces for Meg and wraps the remainder passing it to me and says “for later”. What? You know this dog and feed it? This sweet lady then points to the top of the fridge and there are numerous packets of cat food and a bowl. Now I get it. She feeds Meg and the cats. I wonder if Hugh and Janie know or is it now some big secret between us. I scoop the mad barky thing up, put my hand on my heart, bow and leave. It was all a ruse by this clever little dog who probably goes through the same routine every day. Smart!

Sunday

Today we have an outing. Don’t get too excited. We just walked up the road to the bins. Meg fortunately was on the leash as it transpires there is a little market today by the church and so lots of people and cars about. It is also an open day for the locals to showcase their gardens. Most of the stalls were selling off bits and pieces. Stuff that they found in their garage. Perhaps we were early, but in a blink of an eye we had seen it all. In the village there is a restaurant, but no shops so we make our way back and at a safe point release Meg from the neck-strap!

In return for that, when we get home Meg decided to play. All of a sudden spread across the veranda is a gardening glove, strands of wire, an old flower pot … its earthly remains scattered across the tiles and bits of sandpaper which she decided is good for flossing her teeth. The thought of those teeth wearing away on the sandpaper sends my own teeth on edge so it is quickly removed from her reach … for now.

It is our last day at the house. Although Hugh and Janie have a second bedroom it is full of stuff. They are arriving home late so have arranged for us to stay across the road at their neighbours Gite, Granges du Quercy. So I pack the car up with the main luggage and drive 50 meters to park the car beside the gite and go and fetch the key from our hosts, Marie-France and Jean. I then spend the next hour toing and froing with bits and pieces to fill the fridge and our overnight bags et al. The house is lovely, spotlessly clean and everything that you need. Only has french TV stations, but this is the sort of place that you only stay a night and the television not a priority. Marie shows me the basics around the small home and through her limited english I discover she has many relatives in Australia. Meg is following me around a bit confused. Why are you moving? We have to stay with her until Hugh and Janie return. We were meant to have supper with them, but they will be much later as the weather is bad for their drive home so we decided to eat at the Gite by ourselves. I moved Megs food bowl so that she felt at home, but she still seemed confused, not certain if she should be with us or back home across the road. We sit on the veranda in the sun and now have a view to the property we just left.

The weather turns and there is thunder and rain in the distance. Hugh and Janie return before the dark sky reaches us … they collect Meg…we say our farewell and then settle for our dinner. There is thunder and lightning all night and it is still raining heavily when we awake in the morning for our long drive to Cherbourg.

Until next time 🌏

We are up …🌏

We are up early to get sorted. Not only is it the first day of Summer, but with relief it is the day we leave Le Peyrail! The animals are fed early, things put back in place and the house cleaned to a point that it was better than how we found it. The bed stripped. Sheets and towels in the wash. The dishwasher put on. The log burner has been cleaned and the grate cleared of ash. Fresh kindling is set ready for the fire. Sarah leaves Jo a note.

We dust our feet and leave behind a trail of madness. People need to be warned before coming here. It is officially summer and travellers will be looking on airbnb and Booking.com plus other tourist organisations online. The property is totally and utterly over represented by the photographs on the accomodation sites. It is almost a crime and I feel for those people with high expectation when they arrive. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a beautiful part of the world and the property could be, perhaps in a day gone by was, stunning. But we left behind us a tired house full of cobwebs and dust. Weeds that have grown to about 3 feet high and hiding the paths. A swimming pool that is empty, dirty and ugly. Nowhere was comfortable outside. Animals that although loved, I sensed were not living in the best of conditions. I have to be careful because I have been a city boy for a long time and I know that life can be different in the country … but not so different that a standard cannot be applied and people treated with the intelligence and hospitality that they deserve.

Foot down, dual exhaust smoking, rubber screeching on the road we fly away from Le Peyrail like we are racing from the devil. We are deliberately early to minimise the pain and hoping the devil will be slow and bleary eyed, we head for Leclerc supermarket for a coffee and free Wifi. But before that we brake to a stop just at the end of the lane where there is a small junction. Almost hidden in the greenery is a very large crucifix that I want to photograph. Christ has been here all along to protect us. Shame he didn’t jump out of the bush to warn us when we first arrived!

The trip to Auriac-sur-Dropt seems quicker. Perhaps because we went the right way this time! As promised we arrive at 11:30am, but Janie and Hugh are far from being ready so we hang around like spare parts, entertaining Meg the little brown something-cross dog. Its difficult to settle down in someone else’s home when they are there. Eventually they depart in their Mini Cooper, via the old farmhouse for a bathing costume and then hit the road. We can unpack. This is a big unpack as Sarah wants to repack the suitcases to make more room in the car. This does give them extra weight though as I discover a few days later.

At the front of the house, on the lawn, are two stacks of  what looks like tiles. Still in their wrapping. What are those for I wonder? Over the next few days I realise that this is a property where many things are started and many things remain incomplete. In my bare feet I wander out of the back door into the blazing Sun. Around the house is a tiled area which is kind on the feet. I don’t know why, it seems a blur now, but I stepped off the tiles towards the pool. As I placed my right foot down I screamed with pain as something sharp dug into the sole of my foot. The path leading down to the pool had been scraped, ready for the tiles neatly stacked on the front lawn. Now I know what they are for. Although scraped, there were still some sharp stones remaining and I just happened to tread on one sticking proudly upright like a knife. It literally sliced my foot and blood was everywhere.

Despite Sarah’s many, perhaps endless talents and knowledge of all things, nursing is not high on the list. Patience is close behind! Or is that patients? As a sort of Nazi Nurse I think she would be fine. Just as most of the modern world lags behind her due to her wonder woman attributes in speed, healing then is also a monotonously slow process for her in the average human being which is why she bounced back from her hip replacement like a dingo on a bungee rope. Funny thing is her caring nature is of legend so I suspect that it must be my pathetic screams and groaning when I am in pain that triggers the restlessness in her nursing. However, the plasters were surgically applied with precision after several barked orders to keep my foot up and still. Once applied I lost count of the number of times the words “I keep telling you to put something on your feet” were repeated!

Anyway, once this drama was over and the cases unpacked, we set off for a slow walk with Meg. A trip around the fields along the river. First of all though we have to go via the old farmhouse to switch the electric fence off. Apparently Meg can get a bit too close to it at times. This was important as I didn’t want to have to explain to Hugh and Janie how we managed to fry their small dog.

Hugh and Janie have an interesting set up here. Janie has been in France 28 years. Hugh not quite as long. Janie’s mother returned to the UK a while ago after also spending many years here. They purchased what appears to be some small parcels of land that include the farmhouse and barns … large barns. As you approach their property on the right they have built a fairly new bungalow, where we are staying and “frenched” it up a bit with shutters. It is the perfect size for a couple and would be great as an airbnb Gite. You then continue down the lane and the remaining land is basically all theirs. An enormous old barn on the left full of building wood, door frames, a tractor and other assorted agricultural plant. A gap of 10 metres and then another huge barn that is simply an Aladdin’s cave of stuff from old paint tins to ride-on-mowers. It reminds me of Dad’s old shed, but this one is on steroids! On the other side of the lane are more small buildings where I think Janie’s Mum may have once intended to live. It is derelict and full of things. There looks to be a toilet basin on the outside wall that actually looks plumbed in.

Back across the lane and beyond the barn is the old farmhouse. When it is finished it will look stunning, but for now it stands as an old elegant lady that needs a bath. Hugh keeps a french radio station blaring 24 hours a day to make believe there is someone around to keep away unwelcome visitors. It varies from classical french, opera and jazz. As you approach it creates a haunting feeling. Like you see in those movies where there is no one around. Things are left as if they just got up and walked out. Abducted by Aliens. The radio breaks the silence … a french woman with a sultry voice, full of emotion. I have no idea what she is singing. It is especially quiet because the lane ends at the farmhouse and they get many people driving down there thinking there is a way through. Over the weekend of our stay we realised how true this was with many people doing a u-turn at the military-like red and white chain that Hugh has positioned across the lane. Its like a checkpoint during the german occupation and you expect a nazi weilding a machine gun to appear from behind the trees. It makes it more spookier.

Hugh and Janie are restoring the old farmhouse, but seem to be using it for … well I don’t know really … its odd. Janie asked us to take the key out of the front door when we go down there. It is one of those large cast iron types that people buy as souvenirs and hang on hooks with a jailers authority. If you put it in your pocket you would probably tip over. We needed some washing powder as there is none in the Gite so we went inside. This is the weird thing. They have a lovely little house just up the lane, but also seem to be living in the farmhouse as well. But it is far from complete, untidy with stuff everywhere. Papers, tools and bottles and bottles of what looks like homemade lemonade. Some floors have been dug up to the point of just being soil. Its an oxymoron world. Amongst it all is a computer, a modern, yet incomplete kitchen and a magnificent designer fridge freezer. Its a mystery. Its bizarre. Its curious. I think that Hugh spends a lot of time down here working and may use the shower, but Janie also has some clothes here. Its just a funny thing.

Around the farmhouse there is equipment and plant everywhere. Wood chopped and stored. Bricks and stones of all shapes and sizes sorted. Behind the farmhouse is an above ground swimming pool. It seems to be from another age, a previous dynasty. I can hear the silent laughter of children on sunny days splashing and screaming. Now it is lifeless, black, eery. Long forgotten. A few steps away the small wooden chicken house sits. The cockerel and the 2 hens are not in residence so we lift the top lid and then the smaller hatch. There are 3 eggs there. One of them doesn’t look quite right, but Sarah gently and lovingly lifts all 3 and places them into the egg carton that we brought with us.

On returning to the house I take the eggs from the carton and write the dates on them so that they are consumed in the correct order. I go to enter the date on the odd looking egg, but something isn’t right. It is a bit oblong, slightly larger than the others and has a grain on it. That’s because it is made of wood! Idiot. Its the fake egg to encourage the hens to lay!

Hugh said that we needed to shut the hens away at 9:00pm so that they are safe from the night wildlife. They will be in the chicken house so just put the food tray in there and shut the hatch. Easy. Oh yeah? They are running around as if possessed. Like they know I haven’t done this before so are going to make it fun …for them.  I run around for 20 minutes trying to herd them in. No chance. Not even on the threat of being Sunday Roast do they cooperate. Bloody hens! The cockerel is running around in his flashy long coloured feathers, strutting away like some big shot and squawking like there is no tomorrow. Bugger. I’ll come back later. I did. And they were quietly in place. I think Hugh got his timing wrong. More like 10:00pm for bedtime.

Until next time 🌏

Last night, while …🌏

Last night, while in bed, the window flashed and a crack of thunder was so loud I thought our time had come. A few hours later Sarah was up and for some reason she was hovering over me in her dressing gown. There was no power to some of the lights and the TV. Much worse there was no landline or wifi and Sarah needed to do some work. Bugger! In fact the whole system tripped, but Sarah remembered the switch I used to reset it from earlier in the week.

Bleary eyed I go downstairs to check the fuse box and it all seems okay. No switch tripped there. I can’t find another circuit board, switch or any sort of fuse box anywhere else. But I keep looking. Meanwhile, Puppy pukes all over the front door steps. I venture upstairs to sacred ground … Jo’s quarters …  as the Livebox is there. Its a series of wires, small connecting boxes and more wires. I look at it all intelligently willing it to magically come together. But the Livebox seems to be a Deadbox.

The phone signal is weaker than usual. I have to go outside to the carport before I get 2 bars. I Google Livebox resets and it really isn’t much help. I try another tactic. I smile, feel jolly inside, positive. I sit and take deep breaths. Meditate on the Livebox springing back to life. I go upstairs smile at the black box and lay my hands on it in Reiki fashion. Healing. Praying. A sort of mental artificial respiration. But the piece of shit just sits there dead, lifeless and useless!

I call the fountain of all knowledge, Gervais, but he can’t help. I think that Jo thinks he knows more than he does. The network could be down, but I think the Livebox has fried. It has to be something caused by that huge crack of thunder last night. This is supported by the App WifiMap which doesn’t register Jo’s box, but there are others around that are live. Gervais tells me that there is a fuse box in the back bedroom, another up in a hatch between the kitchen and breakfast room and yet another in the studio down on the terrace! What? Yes, the electrics are crap and he has told Jo. Crap? They are lethal and we should get out now. It’s a deathtrap!

I hunt them down, but there is nothing in the kitchen or bedroom. Gervais is just talking a load of bollocks although Sarah did find the one in the studio and no switches have tripped.

I keep looking. Upstairs, downstairs, like Wee Willie Winkie in my nightgown. Nothing. Not a brass razoo! I still keep looking. At the same thing over and over, like I missed it the first or second or third time. I go back upstairs to the attic room. I peruse stuff just looking for inspiration. I read the spines of books on the shelves, shuffle things for the faint hope an answer will appear. I move objects. Take a handbag off an old leather captains chair and sit down muttering. I look at the desk in front of me. I open the top drawer. Fuck what’s that? The dried remains of a snake stare back at me. Bloody hell that will teach me. About sums this place up!

Sarah is outside trying to get a signal so that she can work from her iphone, but there is periodic rain. Having recovered from my discovery in the dawer I wander to the back of Jo’s room looking at the solid oak beams, up to the roof and almost everywhere I can. I get as far as the window that the cats use to come and go. Its high up, but is close enough to the roof line below for them to jump up. I turn around and almost hidden on a cross beam is a fusebox. It has tripped and I switch it on. That fixes the TV and the lounge light. I still need to find the box for the kitchen.

I remain focused on the Livebox to get the wifi going, but hope is fading fast. I attempt to trace every wire from its start to end. Not with great success. Its difficult to find the start and the wires often just disappear into walls or a tangled mess. Its like spaghetti in some places. Sarah texts Jo in the slim hope that she may have some idea. I doubt it. Sure enough minutes later we get a response “Try calling Gervais…” Really, is that all you’ve got!

Not giving up I fiddle with switches and poke wires just incase they spring into life. That’s about as far as my electrical experience goes. I still have to locate the switch board that connects the kitchen appliances that have no power. Gervais said there was a hatch in the kitchen. But there isn’t. He’s probably been drinking again. Bugger!

Huffing and puffing I go into the kitchen and stare mindfully at things. Hidden behind a post between the kitchen and the breakfast room is a switch. I flick it to what I presume is On wondering what it is for. Nothing. No light comes on. Nothing flashes into action. I look around. I look up. I look down. I look all around the room. Nothing. I look up. What? I can see a light through the ceiling which is just beams and planks of wood. I focus. Now I can see things. It’s an attic room. But where is the hatch? I go outside to workout the roof line and sure enough it must be a small attic. I return to the scene of my discovery. There is a very faint cut line. I grab a chair and stand on it. Blindly I push up and the ceiling moves. It’s the hatch. Bloody hell Gervais why didn’t you say it was in disguise. Very discreetly positioned. It wasn’t a hatch as such, it was just a square piece of the ceiling cut out, but in such a confined space you would never know it was there.

I go down to the shed and find the step ladders. Laced with cobwebs of course. I set them up in the kitchen and carefully push the small piece of ceiling away which also doubles as the flooring for the attic. I am careful. My experience of this place is that you never know what is lurking behind things. Is it full of bats? A dead body? Rats? Surprisingly it is okay. So okay in fact that I feel confident enough to pop my head up and hey presto on the top beam is a fuse box. Sarah steadies the ladders and I climb up and flick the switch. Full power restored. Just the wifi to sort out.

Needing a break and also access to wifi we take a trip to the supermarket, Leclerc in Pineuilh to use their free wifi. It’s not great. A bit slow, but does the job.

We receive another text from Jo. She has a solution. As her neighbours are not in residence she suggests that we stand outside their front door to use their wifi as they don’t have a password. What? … What? Are you F*cking serious? What? I look at Sarah. She looks at me. We mentally slap ourselves in the face to wake up from this insanity. This total insanity!

Having said all that, in desperation we did try it out on our return to Le Peyrail. Like most, if not all of Jo’s suggestions it didn’t work. I suspect that her neighbour has cottoned on to the fact that people are illegally tapping into the wifi and switched it off when they are not there.

Another text from Jo. She is on a roll. She is definitely on something. If she isn’t, perhaps she should be. Apparently our delightful host has contacted Orange about the Livebox. It seems that due to the storm last night many of the boxes just “popped”. We can go into Pineuilh ... where we have just returned from... and exchange it or she will do it tomorrow when she gets back. We leave it for Jo. It’s all too late now.

As a  sort of calm descends I get on with the daily routine. Supplies are low for Oliver as we haven’t got any scraps left. So I make a concoction of cat food, dog food, bread chicken stock and milk. He loved it, although his grunt is a bit like a bark and he now climbs trees.

Despite the extraordinary experience at Le Peyrail, there are those natural wonders that momentarily take your breath away. Like the glorious poppies, the symbol of Remembrance and Hope!

Until next time 🌏

This morning we …🌏

This morning we meet up with Janie and Hugh for tea and cakes. Except it was only tea as Janie forgot we were visiting! Not a good start. Slight prick in my ego, but there you go. We are housesitting for them briefly in Auriac-sur-Dropt for a few days at the end of May just before we pop over to the UK. They are only 25 minutes from Les Lèves-et-Thoumeyragues so we suggested driving down to see them rather than Skype. Very nice people and all good so will let you know how it goes. Just a tiny little dog, 2 cats and a cockerel with 3 hens!

This afternoon there was an impromptu Senija Group partners meeting to evaluate progress so far and confirm the strategy for the remainder of 2018. The meeting was prompted by our experiences to date. Whilst good blog material it has helped us revisit our priorities and what it is that we want. It takes a short time to decide and we now put the new approach into action. What is it? That would be telling!

Jo didn’t leave enough dog meat so we purchase some as they do need it. Not being a dog or an expert on these matters I still have a view on what a dog likes. So I ask Sarah to get a brand that has lots of gravy. I don’t like that hard meatloaf stuff that is all dry. We end up with something much better although I think it makes puppy fart, so not such a good idea. Especially when it is so foul.

Its 10:00 pm. Sarah has gone to bed … late. Puppy and Big Dog are with me in the lounge. I alternate between stoking the fire and updating my blog. Outside is a strange noise. I look out of the glass door leading to the veranda. It is Buzz, the black cat. Again he has a gift and is meowing between his gritted teeth and the mouse that his jaw is clasping. He will not release. It goes on and on … and well … on and on. This time the mouse still has its head. The noise gets louder and so I have to switch off. I don’t know if Buzz will be offended. All I do know is that he has a way in if need be, through the window at the top of the house that Jo leaves open for the cats to come and go. It has a grill so secure in any other regard. But I don’t want to wake up to a Godfather movie scene with a mouse’s head on the bed.

I suspect that he will think me ungrateful, but I am not. Down at the tack room where the horse and bird feed is kept I have noticed that the large sack of maize has been nibbled in the corner the last few days. The following morning I discover that the mouse has been abandoned on the doormat. Later when I go down to the tack room I find another one floating in a bucket of water. Perhaps Buzz is moistening this one for later. But I guess Buzz catches a mouse … and another one turns up … and then another…

Tuesday

This was the most bizarre day of our stay here. If you have been following this adventure you may have read the earlier blog from our first few days at Le Peyrail and the irritating fact that we would not be alone for the first week due to the incumbent lodger and the German guests that were sprung upon us. Well … listen on. It was about 2:50 pm and the landline rang. We tend to leave it as the calls are for Jo and usually someone rambles on in French or they just hang up when they hear our Australian version of Bonjour. It seems in fact that it was Jo herself calling from her parents house in the UK as moments later I received a text message from Jo saying she also tried my mobile. As the signal can be quite weak the phone does not always ring and goes straight to voicemail. Another feature of being here. Without word of a lie and word for word, letter for letter this is the transcription of the text message that I received. My additions in italics.

“Hi Sarah and David … I’ve left a message on David’s phone begging you to get me out of a scrape with a client who I thought had cancelled their booking but have not and are arriving in about an hour!!! …. Yes, you did read that right .. in a bloody hour! Could you do the booking and I will pay you for it??? They want a double and two single rooms … that might be tricky too!!! You could put them in Wantans room and the upstairs attic room or the end one?? Oh my I’m so sorry I am such a crap business person?!!! Please let me know what you think … I’m holding back … and if you are ok to help. The guests are lovely German people called Thanner she is Renate and they speak English. Oh my …”

And it finished, just like that! Yep .. oh my!

Sarah and I looked at each other in total, utter, disbelief! This can’t be true. It just can’t be bloody true! What the f*ck! Then I thought it was a wind up. That perhaps darling Eileen was up to her tricks again. Having suffered a minor heart attack after her last text I thought she was trying to finish me off. If she doesn’t want us to housesit just say … why submit us to this torture. But no, the text was from Jo. In seconds we went from shock, disbelief, denial to a blank white world where we all floated and nothing mattered anymore. … could have been the wine though

To start with the house was not in a welcoming guest state. Hey, funnily enough that was because we were not expecting any guests because we are housesitting not running a business for our host. And to add, it has been raining like fuck here and everything is damp, the floor in the bathroom and kitchen are leaking, we have a towel down on the bathroom floor to mop everything up and there is no dryer to get the sheets and towels in a usable state.

Without the pleasantries Sarah uses my phone to summarise the situation with Jo and that we cannot do this. Although invited, Sarah actually didn’t tell Jo what she thought and I think that it was just as well that Jo was in the UK. A series of texts went backwards and forwards as Jo went into a state of shear panic. She was now looking for alternative accommodation for her guests, a B&B in Le Chollet. About 40 minutes later 2 of the 4 guests turned up. Jo had text them, but they still headed here to Le Peyrail as they were meeting their other 2 friends. Sarah was apologetic while I tried to help her Mum Deidre who had called us from the UK because she had received a scam phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, saying that her computer was corrupted and they needed to guide her through a reboot. This is a well known scam that has been going on for some time. What they actually do is take control of your computer through a series of tasks that gives them access to your data. So if you get one of these calls just ignore it.

And so back to the German guests, who are not guests. It seems that they had booked, would you believe it, I don’t believe it, I just don’t believe it … for 4 nights. Yes, 4 bloody nights and Jo thought we would just bend over and let her ram that one up our arses. What?! What?! What?! Sarah invites them in from the far front door so they navigate the first hanging sticky tape of flies, over the first dog bowl into the kitchen where there is the first dog snarling, another dog bowl of water slopped all over the floor, cats on the kitchen top and Big Dog playing roundabouts. Having navigated the kitchen and the last sticky tape of dead flies they step up into the lounge and walk over to the veranda door. They step outside and comment how lovely it is. What?! Are you fu*king blind or what? Or stupid or what, what, what?

More texting and phone calls. Sarah calls Janie who we met in Auriac yesterday to see if the Gite is available and she gives us a phone number that we pass on. Sarah offers them to come back and have tea if they get stuck or need to wait for their friends, but the germans return to their car and go down to the farm house that they visited prior to arriving at Le Peyrail because they couldn’t find the address. Oh really! Apparently the farmer was going to help. Not that we wouldn’t, but he spoke french and that does help in these sorts of circumstances. Jo texts that she is in touch with her boyfriend Ian to see if his airbnb is available. Incidentally … He returned to France on Sunday and didn’t have the courtesy all week to phone, visit or make any sort of contact.Eventually Jo finds somewhere for them in Les Leves next to the poney club … oh my god they are sleeping in a stable. It must be Jesus of Munich! Anyway, probably better than here actually. The germans return with their friends and the lady wants to use the toilet. Go for your life sweetheart. Make your way through all our stuff, past the clothes horse with our clothes because it’s not dry enough to put anything outside and squash through the dripping wet towel on the bathroom floor and thank your lucky stars you are not sleeping here tonight! Why don’t you just pull your knickers down and piss on the floor!

And then they depart like they were never here.

Sarah and I look at each other. All we can do is laugh, but a crazy sort of creepy laugh. Then I become curious. Why do I get a text now when Jo wants something and she never replied to my other texts or WhatsApp link. I check the number that she text me on and it is different to the one she gave to me. Jeepers I have been using the wrong number all along. Did she actually give me the number? Did I look it up wrongly? Did I write it down incorrectly? I just can’t remember, but I need to know. I go back over the TrustedHousitter emails from her … and there it is in black and white … the last 3 digits of her number are 491 … but she gave me 494!!!

The fury “Pop-Up” roundabout!

Until next time 🌏

Wednesday passed with …🌏

Wednesday passed with rain. Thursday wasn’t much better, but that’s okay because rain is a miracle!

Having bitched and whined about having an unexpected lodger at our housesit in Le Peyrail, Sarah received a very disturbing WhatsApp message from Eileen today. We are housesitting for Keith and Eileen (K&E) for the whole of July in Javea. We are really looking forward to being there as they are lovely people and have a lovely home. Rosie their “Fur Child” is adorable. While we were in Javea a few weeks ago they hosted friends and cousins from Australia so it isn’t uncommon for them to have people staying. But for us it all came crashing down when the text arrived.

To the word the message went like this.

“All is well here. Just thought I had better let you know that my cousins son, wife and 3 kids have asked if they can come over for a couple of weeks while you are here. I didn’t like to say no so hope it’s okay with you. They have promised to use the kitchen at times that fit in with your schedule. The kids are 4, 2 and 1. they are a bit wild but hopefully they will tire themselves out in the pool. Anyway enjoy France and stay in touch.”

Sarah said OMG. I said whats the matter? And so she read it to me. I then repeated things that went against the love I have for K&E. My heart started to tremble and I picked up the coffee table and threw it against the wall. I went outside and screamed “Thanks a bloody lot God!” Of course this was all in my mind. Seconds later Sarah received a follow up text to say “Only Joking!” It was just in time as Sarah was giving me life to life resuscitation and blood was starting to seep from my eyes.

I just love it! I love the sense of humour, the fact Eileen got us. It was perfectly delivered and I am humbled. God … did she get us … get me. I just love it. And of course it is all forgotten and there will be no retribution. (Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha……👹🤡👹!!!!).

Shattered and still trembling I wander down to the tack room to feed Oliver and the doves … then the paddock to feed the horses. During a previous storm a tree fell to the ground just missing the stable by inches. There are branches and twigs everywhere. Someone, probably Gervais, has sawn the tree trunk into neat sections. I decide to build a wall of logs so that they are off the muddy ground and have a chance to dry. In this weather its not easy, but over time they will dry out. Some of the logs have already sprouted new growth and I feel guilty not leaving them for nature to take its course. Beneath the logs I move they have muddy bellies and a new world of juicy worms wriggle and slither.

Wantan leaves for Hong Kong on a business trip for the week so Sarah drops her off at the railway station.

We have been here at Le Peyrail for 10 nights and this is the first by ourselves.

After feeding the dogs, later the cats, I settle for 10 minutes to work on my iPad. I hear a rustle and think it’s one of the cats and ignore it. A few moments later Sarah comes into the lounge from the kitchen and navigates to the dining table. She looks at me and asks what the noise is? Probably one of the cats jumped on a dining chair. I get up to have a look and there is a noise from the HP printer box. Des has made himself a little bed in it!

Saturday

The phone rings. Caller hangs up. Normal.

We visit St Foy market once again just to prove that it isn’t really that good and end up at the supermarket. We decide to go to Lidl as it is on the way. Lidl have a minimalistic strategy to cashiers. It seems they open one till and wait until there are 10 people in the queue before they open another till.

There is water on the floor in the kitchen. Everytime we mop it up it appears again. An investigation in the cupboards under the sink doesn’t reveal anything. Water also appears in the bathroom. Again there are no obvious leaks. As a result there is permanently a towel down on the bathroom floor. In the kitchen it comes and goes. With all the rain I suspect that it may be caused by poor drainage.

The weather isn’t improving much, but I have to feed Oliver and the horses. There is something in the air and the horses seem a little unsettled. As they finish their feed a wind breezes through the meadow. I look up and the sky is black and I can feel the occasional drop of rain. The horses brace and I collect the buckets and return up the garden through the daisies to the tack room. And then it happens. The sky opens up and the rain is torrential. The thunder loud and the lightning hypnotic. I decide to wait it out as the rain fall is so fierce. I stand at the open tack room feeling the light spray of the rain after it has crashed to the ground. Then lightning. Then thunder. It makes me take a step back. I stand looking at the rain. Hypnotised. A curtain of water descends. My mind starts to wander and I think of the shed next door that I entered a few days ago. It was the one place Jo didn’t explain or take us on that first day tour. But as I was passing on my way to the tack room I glanced through an open window and made a mental note to investigate. I did and another Aladins cave was revealed. Most of the good gardening equipment games, tools, dumbells, a barbell, military pictures, drills and on it went. This was clearly Brian’s old place. Jo’s ex-husband. It is as if he just woke up one day and walked out. Perhaps he did just that. As I glance at the rain I fantasise. He is meant to be in Malta. What if he isn’t. What if he never left?! The sky gets darker. The rain louder and my fantasy deeper! I snap out of it otherwise I won’t sleep tonight, but can’t help myself looking for mounds of earth as I dash out of the tack room through the rain and up the garden to the main house. If I waited for the rain to stop I may be there for hours.

At the top of the stairs I catch my breath and find the wellington boot jack to relieve myself of the the muddy boots. The door to the lounge is shut and as I open it I realise that the house is in darkness and Sarah is standing there looking at me. There is no power. Sarah had been cleaning the inside of the car when it started to rain and so she dashed to the back yard to bring the washing in from the clothes horse.

As she entered the house the violent wind scorched through the house finding every nook and cranny. It took hold of the far door separating the kitchen from the 2 bedrooms and it slammed to a shut. The whole pain of glass shot out shattering to the floor. Sarah had only just finished clearing it up and removing the few jagged pieces left in the frame. Bugger!

The power had tripped the main switch box and fortunately it was a simply task of just switching it back on. All power and light returned.

Sunday

The week finishes with Des smashing a wine glass. I pick him up from the kitchen chair and his legs dangle knocking a glass over and to floor. Clearly all his fault. The torrential rain the previous night has brought out the toads. Two of them are sprawled flat in the road. Victims of hit and run. They are the size of 2 fists. Brutal looking things. In Queensland, Australia, cane toads can be the size of a rugby ball. They have no natural enemies. Their toxin can kill most native animals that normally eat frogs. They therefore pose a risk to both native fauna and pets such as cats and dogs.

Until next time 🌏

With the guests …🌏

With the guests gone we have the option to sleep in the main Chambre. The advantage is the ensuite and the King size bed. The downside is the fact it is a water bed. It doesn’t appeal to me. A strange concept. But I did test it. I ventured on to the bed, not without first testing the pressure with my hand. I’m not heavy, but I just wanted to be sure it didn’t burst. As I lay there floating I couldn’t imagine how I would ever get to sleep. I seemed to be swaying gently and after a little while started to feel sea sick so swam to the edge and climbed out. Its a shame because the bed in our current room is like a french renaissance bed that is closed in at the bottom. It means I can’t dangle my feet over the edge and stretch my legs. The french pillows are square so I sort of lay my head about a foot from the headboard and scrunch up my legs. The other issue is the fact we have to pass through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. This means navigating the furry roundabout. First world problems of course. Doesn’t mean you have to accept them though does it? So in the end the Chambre is now a huge wardrobe/dressing room, meaning our bedroom is uncluttered from suitcases and other belongings draped everywhere.

Today I learned that Puppy can sing. The landline rings quite a few times. Doesn’t always seem to be the same tune so perhaps it is programmed for certain callers. One tune rings and Puppy howls like a wolf. Quite cute.

I also earned that Oliver doesn’t like broccoli. His bowl … well his tin tub … is licked clean leaving just the green stuff. Later in the week I discover he is fussier than I thought. He doesn’t eat oranges or asparagus either. So particular is he that he even licks the things he doesn’t like to get all the other stuff off.

Thomas the smaller horse escapes from the paddock and is roaming around amongst the daisies in the garden chomping away. I ponder on accidentally on purpose letting them all out to eat the grass and then claiming it was all my own work using the sit-on-mower, but decide against it for moral reasons. By the time I go down to feed Oliver all 3 of the horses have escaped and are waiting at the top gate near the tack room for me. I then reconsider my previous plan as they are already out. No. Lets stay honest … ha, ha, ha! The reason they managed this escapade into the garden is that the paddock gate is a bit flimsy despite that fact that it does have a bolt that fixes to the ground … just… and a wire loop that holds the 2 gates together. If they knew they could just trample it down. As it is Gervais said that they have occasionally just “nosed” off the loop and managed to get out if the bolt hasn’t been secured. The issue is that they can be a bit aggressive which is something I look out for when I take them their feed. Nougat is a bit of a boy. So I know once they see me with the feeding buckets all bets are off. If I’m not careful they would charge and easily knock me over. Trample me to death. Its hard, but someones got to do it. So I creep around the back of the pool. The paddock gate is in sight. They hear me with the buckets and start to trot. So I start to run. Its a bit of a game, but I run fast in my wellies and the boys pick up speed. I get there just in time and put the buckets down before they take my arms off.

Oh what fun it is!

Tuesday

We have had a few nights of very heavy rain and loud thunder. It makes the going tough down by the stables as the ground sucks at your feet so I try and feed the horses and Oliver later in the day in the hope that the ground has had a bit of a chance to dry out. It hasn’t.

Last night was no exception and the rain fell heavily. However, the upside is that the following morning the country air is fresh with vitality and calm … after the storm. You can feel it penetrating the atmosphere and tantalising your mind. I look out of the lounge window towards the back of Le Peyrail as the mist hangs lightly in the meadow and the first signs of the sun cast their light on the awakening sky.

I decide to to wander out into the sharp, fresh air and head south along Le Peyrail. I actually don’t go very far. I walk beyond the tiny hamlet up to a rise in the road to the vineyards. Away from the buildings the sun is beginning its journey. It is a funny concept that we call it sunrise, when in fact it is the earth rotating down … perhaps to honour the sun?

The vines are still, the grass remains moist from the kiss of the dew as the sun hasn’t quite risen enough to warm the green skin. There is a silence. A country silence. It is not always perfectly silent, but when it is you can hear that silence. It is the hum of nothing accept the earth breathing beneath your feet. In the distance I hear a cock crow. And then at 7:00 am the church bells ring out. Moments later I hear another 7 chimes. Is it another church a little late? Were the first chimes too early? They seemed to come from the same place, the same church. I realise that this happens every day and so I research the mystery. It still is a mystery. Even Google can’t explain. French church bells have no standard practice beyond the local village. Some say the bells ring for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The most reasonable explanation I came across was that the first set of chimes are for the time and the second that its time to get up.

Once the last chime has travelled beyond the capability of my ears the birds sing louder and the bees begin their hum. The neighbour, who is not in residence has a beautiful patch of poppies in the garden. They stand tall, bright red, glistening through the dew as the sun begins to embrace them. Everything is a miracle and we are all Miracle Millionaires!

Another miracle happened today. One of Sarahs clients needed to get a computer dongle to her to enable access to their system. The dongle is about the size of a thumb and is being dispatched from Sydney, Australia to the middle of nowhere in France. Mmm. We are sat out front having a midday snack at the small round table on the edge of the lane. Almost the curb. If a car goes by we have to swing our legs in. An unmarked white van appears. The driver is clearly wearing a bright polo shirt. he stops, and as he gets out to remove something from the back of the van we can clearly see “DHL”. We shouldn’t be amazed in this day and age, but we both are. The package has arrived from the other side of the world on the day they said it would. Amazing … a miracle!

Until next time 🌏

Off we go … 🌏

Off we go to the the weekly market in Sainte Foy La Grande. Wantan has come with us and she knows the way so no need for a map or GPS. Apples freshly plucked from the orchard, potatoes unearthed that morning, jams potted the night before, this is truly a wonderful local market that attracts not only the best local producers but the most excited buyers for miles around. Well … that’s what the website will tell you! Not sure about the jams potted the night before and as for the excited buyers … come on! Apparently St Foy market is included in the top 100 in France. It is a good size with some interesting produce, but I doubt it is in the top 50. We still prefer the Thursday market in Javea, Spain. However, the chickens baking on the spits with that dark brown skin crisping did look appetising and beneath the rotating spits potatoes were basking in the chicken fat that dropped onto them.

We bump into Bruno. I forgot to mention that on the first night at Le Peyrail Jo’s friend Bruno turned up and joined the party. Like Ian, he also plays in a band. His english, we were told was not good, but as the evening went along he seemed to manage quite well so probably more of a confidence thing.

Further along we try to track down the stall that Sarah is looking for. Apparently the goats cheese looked good there. We find it and I hover around while Sarah and Wantan investigate the cheese. I just glance at the next stall. Homemade handbags, pursey type things and arty things. Mmm. Then all of a sudden Anneke pops up like a Jack-in-a-box. She grins like a Cheshire cat and her hair looks like she has just been in a box with Jack. She tilts her head grinning at me. Then bursts into the story (in english too) of her new business and that she is opening a new shop in Louise-Bernac on 2 June. I feign an in-depth interest as I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She is so passionate about her new venture. I am so uninterested. So convincing is my act that she suddenly disappears and reappears with one of her last leaflets. She offers it to me like it is golddust and I accept gratefully giving it my utmost attention. My forehead creases in interest. I smile at her. Its almost as though I am the only person taking interest today. Now I’m thinking that could be true. I wish her luck which I truly do, but walk away feeling like an imposter … because I was. Shit!One thing at the market that caught my eye wasn’t really part of the market at all. I was hovering again while Sarah and Wantan … SarWa… were investigating vegetables and a lady passed with one of my favourite quotes on her bright orange bag … “Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life”.

It is also the Saturday that has been building up for many months so on arriving home we put the television on for the Royal Wedding. There is a time difference of an hour meaning we miss the main event. Then the FA Cup Final is on and disappointingly Chelsea beat Manchester United by a measly 1 – 0.

This evening the German airbnb guests, Robert and Barbara are arriving. They advised that they would be with us between 4 and 5 pm. I wander down to the end of the lane on a few occasions incase I can see or even hear a car, remembering the slight difficulty we had in locating the exact address. By 5:50 pm they still hadn’t arrived. We joked that they may be walking from Germany. Just before 6 pm they text to say they will be about an hour late. Still okay for a 7:30 pm meal as planned. At 6:40 pm I see 2 people go by the window. Curious I wonder if it is Jo’s guests. I open the door and they turn around. Robert and Barbara are wearing hiking gear, backpacks and holding those long handled walking sticks. Indeed they are walking and in fact walking a section of The Camino de Santiago. I welcome them in and after pleasantries show them their room. It is the main guest room with the ensuite … La Chambre as described by the painted tile hanging by a chain on the door, which announces itself with an irritating rattle every time it is swung open and closed. La Chambre has a waterbed so I ask Robert if he can swim? They both laugh .. great, they have a sense of humor. Better still they understand my personal weird humour which must be even stranger to a foreigner. The only drink they want is water. I say I’ll leave them alone to shower, freshen up and rest after their long day. I casually head towards the kitchen to grab their water and have an OMG flash in my mind. The shower! I imagine screams from hell and 2 scolded guests sat at the dinner table swathed in surgical bandages looking like the invisible man with slits for the eyes and straws coming out of their nose. I run back to La Chambre and violently knock on the door. Barbara opens it and I can hear the shower running. I give them a warning that must have sounded something like an over dramatic scene from a B Movie. She smiles and nods. Thank you again God.

They soon reappear and I take them for a quick tour and down to see Oliver who I have to wake from his sleep. You can imagine how irritated he was by that! Wantan joined us for dinner and it was a good evening. Sarah has been mulling over a menu for the past few days as Barbara is vegetarian. In the end she opted for an eggplant parmigiana which was delicious. We learned that Robert and Barbara were late due to the fact they started out in Germany that morning via train, but there was a French train strike which caused the delay. They have walked sections of the Camino in sequence over the last 8 years, but this trip may be their last as it takes longer to reach their starting point each time. The Camino is known in English as the Way of St James.  All Camino pilgrimage routes lead to Santiago de Compostela as this is where the remains of St James, (Santiago), were discovered in the ninth century. There are a number of official routes, but the spirit of the pilgrimage is that it can start from your front door step. The official routes are tailored to service the pilgrim with rest stops and accommodation . The diehards who walk the last 100 kms …this is all many people do… will receive an official passport from the pilgrim’s office where they start their pilgrimage. You get your first stamp and after that, you will produce it every time you arrive at an albergue or hostel. On payment of your accommodation, the passport is stamped to prove that you stayed the night in a specific hamlet, village, town or city. Your pilgrim’s passport is a document that identifies you as a pilgrim, and provides proof that you have walked, cycled or ridden on horseback, the required distance to gain your “Compostela”… the certificate of accomplishment. This is not taken lightly and there are many rules and regulations introduced by the Camino officials.

I have read a few books on personal pilgrimages along the Camino and they mostly feature stories of meetings with strangers, ill fitting walking shoes and smelly feet with blisters.

I asked Robert and Barbara if they had a Camino passport … just to make conversation. It was met with huge enthusiasm. Barbara rushed to the bedroom to get theirs and said that they wanted a stamp for their stay tonight. Bugger. The chances of Jo having an official stamp were zero. I felt a bit embarrassed for them and mumbled something about asking Jo. So I did text Jo and as expected didn’t receive a reply. In the morning I explained, but they were fine about it and just asked Sarah to sign and date a section of the Passport. Of course what they didn’t realise is the absolutel importance of that signature and the power it carries. I’m certain it will gain them access to wherever they want to go.

So we had a good conversation over dinner. Both Barbara and Robert are chemical scientists working for the same large german company, BASF, near their home town in Ellerstadt. Both their sons work there too. In a nutshell Robert finds ways to produce paint cheaper and Barbara works in pigmentation. ..yawn… After dinner we cleared the table and while doing so Barbara picked up one of the 3 or 4 guitars lying around. She started tuning it and played ‘The Sound of Silence”. I can’t remember the conversation, but “Stairway to Heaven “was mentioned so she started playing that. Talented lady!

Sunday

Breakfast for Robert and Barbara and then they set off early for the next leg … ha…of their walk.

Sarah is at the gym. I am working at the laptop and hear a roar. Gervaise calls in on his Triumph Bandit wearing his leather armour and a Meatloaf T-Shirt. He knows his way around and so makes us coffee and we sit out on the veranda for a chat.

The day trickles by. One of the things with living out of a suitcase is always having to settle, unsettle and then resettle. Sometimes it can take longer to settle than at other times. Occasionally we don’t quite settle at all. In Le Peyrail we are still in the settling phase, but we do get more sorted as Sarah cleans as she goes. Well, guess that settles that!

Sarah plans dinner, but Wantan says she is cooking something with potatoes because we said we liked them. Did I mention to her I like champagne? So we are delightfully served with some sort of shredded potato dish in a hot spice accompanied by rice with peas, corn and ham with a hint of ginger.

The end of another day … where do they go?!

Until next time 🌏