Monthly Archives: December 2013

Can’t stop now

The last Much Love Monday of 2013, and the imminent future, is brought to you once again by the belting voice of Miss Alison Moyet with Don’t Go. 

I’m obviously on an 80s electronic vibe at the moment, since I was all about Alison two weeks ago with All Cried Out and then The Communards last week with Never Can Say Goodbye. Synthesisers have a lot to be blamed for in my life. It was all the Depeche Mode vibe I grew up with, I think. To be fair, I think it’s a Vince Clark thing as much as it is an Alison Moyet thing. I loved him right from Depeche Mode through to Erasure. The boy can do no wrong. I might love a bit of synthesiser, but Tilly doesn’t. It drives her mental and she barks like mad at it.

If you’re lucky, I’ll have got over my 80s electronic thing by next Wednesday, as Much Love Monday moves to Wednesday for the Wednesday Whoo! Mondays are being given over to a 52 Mondays photography project, which I shall also be keeping in a photo folder on Flickr.

It was tough to pick. I have favourite bits of most of my walks. And I love foresty photographs, but I don’t always go to the forest every week and often there are things that make me pick one walk or another, like if the river is flooded or if there are hunters out, or other dog walkers. That means it needed to be one of my go-to walks, my regular walks. Often, since Monday is technically my day off, I go for a longer walk, but I don’t always pick the same one. There is, however, a point I usually pass. It’s a farm path with less traffic on than the road, so I often choose this one because I can let the dogs run off lead. Plus, it’s nothing but fields and small thickets, so the potential for losing one or the other of my beasts is more limited than in the forest.

I should add at this point that Heston made off into the great wild forest last week, despite all the training we’ve been doing, at practically the same spot he chose to disappear last time. Over-exciting. Therefore, I’m afraid, boring though it is, the paths through the fields are our walks until his recall is better. I suspect it may only get worse as he now realises he can make his own way home. He doesn’t run off across the fields and although there are several smaller thickets, it’s much safer. No traffic. No cows. No deer. No wild boar. Occasional swallows. The odd hare. Another added bonus is that with less wildlife, there are fewer hunters. And because it’s through cleared land, I reckon we are less likely to get shot at. Always a bonus.

So this is the reason for my regular choice. And it is a place I have photographed before…

IMG_0026This is the place in October.

The idea of 52 Mondays is that you document the place each week throughout the year. It’s kind of in the spirit of Much Love Monday anyway, since it is supposed to be a place you love very much. And this is definitely that. I love the wide-open space. I love the curving path. I love the solitary tree. I love the tree line. The Charente department is generally a very rolling department – neither flat nor really hilly – it’s doux as the French say – mild, gentle or soft. It means sweet as well though which is kind of nice.

It was not doux today. It was brisk. That’s how we English say cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Four layers: two thermals, two jumpers, a scarf, a hat and gloves and it was still a little nippy.

And the view was also a little dull. Reminded me to bracket next time as well.

52Mondays1Part of the aim is also to document the changes the year brings – and although not much is growing at this time of year, you can see the grain crop Monsieur Le Fermier has planted has grown a little too.

Anyway, I hope you are going to enjoy this project as much as I know I am going to. My Mondays will be all the lovelier for it. Plus, I get to have Much Love on Wednesdays, which is never a bad thing. I guess by September, my Wednesdays will be a little less busy, as all schoolchildren in France will be in school on Wednesdays. At the moment, some are still off (more so down here among the grumbling socialists, where the population take a little longer to get used to change) although many of my students are now in school on Wednesday mornings. It was part of François Hollande’s aim to stop the long days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Many schoolchildren do spend a long time in school in France – longer than in England – but this is mostly to do with the two hour lunch break most schools have. My last school in England had a 50 minute break for lunch, but I worked in others where students had 35 minutes, mainly because some headteachers were concerned that there were discipline issues once children stop eating. I’m well accustomed to the two-hour lunch break now, though, despite the fact I don’t often have one myself.

In fact, as today, I spent my lunch time walking. I figure if everyone else is eating lunch, I can have the fields to myself. I’m usually right about that.

The rest of my Monday Love goes to the coming new year. It’s always nice to think you can reset and start again a little. It renews my focus. Plus, the days are getting gradually longer, it will be planting time soon, and the winter grows ever shorter – though I know the long tail lies in front of us.

New Year’s Eve tomorrow – and 2014. That sounds like an especially space-aged number. I am getting old.

 

 

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2013: from the top

Last year, I made this crazy resolutions tree and hung my resolutions on it. Then I put it on a windowsill near the bathroom and left it. Thus, it has been a year without any kind of focus or purpose and I am quite prepared for the fact that I will not have done half the things I wanted to have done in the last 365 days.

So, what went on the tree? I couldn’t even remember!

I have decided that I am going to continue with the tree this year, but that I am going to keep it on the mantelpiece and refer to it often. Obviously.

And I’ve also decided that I am going to have 12 mini-projects and have one to do each month. That way, I don’t have to focus as long. I am a terrible enthusiast and have all the gusto required to get a zeppelin off the ground by sheer willpower alone, but all the commitment and staying power of, well, a person with zero staying power or commitment. Fact: I just finished a scarf for a Christmas present that took a little longer than expected, and though I have another scarf I am knitting for myself on the go, I immediately was overwhelmed by my mini-projects.

My twelve mini-projects are these:

1. Knit a ball from Arne and Carlos’s book. This involves several things I haven’t done before, like knitting in French and knitting in different colours, as well as knitting to a pattern – so it’s going to take my knitting up a notch I reckon. I must be frank. I’m a little terrified by Carlos. I don’t know why. He looks so severe, I think. Still, can you go wrong with knitted Christmas decorations?

2. Knit some socks. I’ve been dying to do this. My friend bought me some patterns last year and I have been too inept to follow them (and a bit busy!) but now I have access to expert tutelage as long as I get in there quick. But I reckon if I can knit a bra, I can knit anything now.

3. Plant 6 seeds a day through February and March. That’s 61 days so by my reckoning, that’s 366 baby plants. Of course, this doesn’t cover my big plantings for April and May. But it’s one vegetable a day for a year.

4. Shift Much Love Monday to Wednesday Whoos! I must be honest. I love writing Much Love Monday posts. They fill me with loveliness. But as Wednesdays are my most full day, I’m sure I could do with a little bump to get me over the hump. In place, I am going to do a 52 Mondays project. One place. 52 photographs. I’m not kind of decided on the place yet, but I have a few in mind. So I’m stealing someone else’s ideas? I thought it a lovely way to celebrate both this place I live in and the great new camera I got last October. Monday is the day I’m most likely to have off. It’s also the day the shops are shut here in France (and Sundays. And possibly Saturday afternoons…)

5. Sewing project: make a patchwork knitting needle organiser. I have my eye on some lovely beauties on Pinterest. It will not only be a useful thing for my favourite of hobbies but also my first proper patchwork thing. Lord knows, it’s time. I have a box full of patchwork fabric and I need to do something with it!

6. Sewing project mk II: make a patchwork tote bag to carry my knitting in. A matching one, even. I saw some great sets but I am far too mean to buy a pattern, so I am going to wing it. It’s what I do best.

7. Felt hearts embroidery chains. I’ve started these – I also have got a huge piece of felt to work with. They are quite lovely and really easy to do. I’ve done a different embroidery stitch on each one so far.

8. Japanese embroidery project. I have a piece in mind that I want to do. It starts with a botanical zentangle and then becomes a jungle of colours. You can pick it out on my Craft page on Pinterest…

9. Photography project. I plan on following the divine inspiration of wordpress photography themes for this one. Probably, this is a good one for August on account of work and responsibilities. Having my super-duper new camera makes it a lot easier to be giddy about photography.

10. Zentangle pots. I’ve got a series of pots now that I’ve painted with geraniums in them. I think it’s time I take it up a notch and do something a little more intricate. Zentangle designs are usually black on white paper, but include variations. They take doodling to the next step!

11. Another knitting one to take me back into winter… cable knitting! Having mastered patterns and double pointed needles, I reckon this one should be a cinch! I’m thinking I’ll start with something simple and then once I’ve got the hang of it, something more complex!

12. As it will be back to Christmas, I have set myself the challenge of finding something from my Christmas Crafts board on Pinterest to do. Though really, I have a gazillion Christmas things I’ve started and never finished. Might be nice to finish some of those off! So I am allowed for my twelfth project to start one thing from my Christmas board.

Given that I have twelve projects, you would think it would be one a month, and it’s almost that. Some are longer projects and hopefully some will be a little shorter. I have scheduled the last post of each month to be about the project I have undertaken that month and to have a look at the things I’ve been up to. Nothing like being productive!

And if you think I am alone, I am not. One unnamed friend was painting her already attractive house this afternoon, saying she was tired of everything looking grubby. She needs to spend a week in my house and then she will realise what muck really is.

The year that was…

Busy. Busy. Busy.

Green and wet and cold and miserable in January.

DSCF3148Then it got wetter and greener in February

DSCF3163By March it was frosty and cold

dscf3236.jpgSpring started late and April was cooler than usual though it ended with a little flourish

DSCF3269May… late, late frosts and the sun came out a little

hestonaprilJune was mainly cold and miserable. I still had my electric blanket on on the 25th June. But there were lovely days between.

junewheatfieldLJJuly got hot and blue and sunny. One day it was 18°C and the next, 27°C. And the temperatures stayed that way til August.

IMG_0691August was a little more relaxing – though we had storms at the tail end of July and the beginning of August that knocked out the electricity, brought down trees and ruined crops.

IMG_0725

 

By September, it seemed the year had reset itself, and it was back to long days and the beginning of a warm autumn.

IMG_0746October did what October should: usher in the cod without frightening you.

3November was moist. The river returned and the forest was damp.

LadyJustineAutumn3

December crisped up perfectly

IMG_0102Tomorrow, I will be looking back over all the things I’ve done (and not done!) this year. I love this period of taking stock, of reflecting. There’s something infinitely satisfying about seeing how things worked out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Days

Today’s Much Love Monday is brought to you by the great sounds of 80s disco with The Communards and Never Can Say Goodbye

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to let go of 2013 because it’s been such a very, very good year. I’ve done lots of amazing things and had one of those years where it seems most things have been good. That is a good thing because it seemed like the year began in the most rubbish of ways, with the death of a friend and then this permanent, long, dreary winter that seemed to stretch on for ages and ages and ages.

Mostly, it has been a year where my life in France has put down roots. If before, I was some little year old sapling that could have blown over in a storm, now I feel well and truly rooted. I can safely say I know where I am now. Three years in any place (well, jobs wise!) has been enough to send me running for the door and I seem to have been on this endless three year loop. Three years in my first teaching job. Three in my second. Three in my third. One in my fourth. Three on my own in England. And now three here. And now, I’m pretty sure I have found the place and time I want to be in, surrounded by the people (or some of them!) that I want to be surrounded by (though I would do anything to uproot my friends and family from back home and drop them in just up the road!)

I’ve been out for a good few Christmas lunches over the last couple of weeks and each one has felt like those Christmas lunches you have with a group of people you feel very comfortable with, where you are so relaxed and in sync with each other that you do nothing but cry laughing. If I missed anything about working on my own, that was it. That sense of fun you get from spending a lot of time with a group of people who come to know you very well indeed. Of course, when they are friends rather than work colleagues, you don’t have to put up with the whiney ones or the lazy ones. That’s even better.

And I have a few days without work over the Christmas period, where I get not only to spend it with friends whom I love dearly, a pair of maracas and my doglets, but to have a bit of time to do something I wish I had more time to do… dog walks!

Today, I took the Heston biest and the Tilly out for a wander early doors. Tilly impressed a solitary hunter out with his beagle as she flushed out yet another bird – a partridge this time. Four birds in two weeks. She’s getting good at this. Not only that, but she always remembers where they were last and gives a good hunt around some well-known pheasanty dwellings. I think he wanted to swap his beagle for Tilly.

Then I met up with Madame V. And Much Love to Madame V who has taken a puppy home for Christmas, as well as an old lady dog with arthritis. She is a one-woman rehoming MACHINE. I reckon she has rehomed a puppy every two weeks this year. I’m surprised there is anyone without a puppy in this area. Obviously, she started with me, since I am a soft target, and convinced me to take Heston. But if you want a dog, she is the woman to know.

We went down to the dog refuge in Mornac again this afternoon to walk a few doggies and for her to pick up Priska, the old lady lab, and a puppy. I think she should call the puppy Pedro. She said that was a silly name for a dog. I did find two huge versions of Heston – one who looked like he had been severely mistreated and was in a pen on his own. I guess he is bullied by other dogs on top of his other problems. I palmed old Vito off on a lady who met up with us there and hopefully she had a good walk with them. For every dog we took out, I got the bouncy puller and Verity got the calm and gentle one. Either that or I just have a way of making dogs over excited. It wouldn’t surprise me. The two big Hestons are called Iron and Geronimo. I might swap one for Tilly, give her to the hunter man to find pheasants, as she currently has her head in a bag of dog food, even though she has just been fed.

Anyway, I shall be down the refuge all week except for Christmas Day. One thing is for sure – I need gloves! I have big blisters on my hands and my body is in need of a bit of TLC!

It is hard to leave though – I can’t lie. Every time I go, I fall in love and wonder at how dogs can end up in pounds and refuges, abandoned or alone. Still, there were plenty of people there today picking up cats and dogs, walking various animals and helping out in every way they could. I guess that’s another thing that has helped me find my roots – lovely dogs!

And, from here on in, the days get longer, the nights get shorter. What is there not to love?

Loving the words you were born with

I am a wordy nerd. I am very proud of being a wordy nerd and I love everything about words. You have probably realised this already.

From their etymology to their pronunciation, from the feel of words on the tongue (try flibbertigibbet for size) to their idiosyncrasies, the English language fascinates me endlessly. It’s like an infinitely weird puzzle. There are words I love and there are words I hate. I hate the word ‘myriad’ for instance, because there’s no definite answer any more about whether it’s used like ‘many’ – e.g. ‘myriad Christmas presents’ or whether it’s used like ‘lot’, like ‘a myriad of’. Is it noun or adjective? It’s a lovely word – check out that lovely myr for instance, which gives us only a handful of words in English, from myrmidon to myriad and myrmecology (the study of ants) and myrmecophilia (the love of ants) as well as the festive myrrh (a great Scrabble word) and myrtle. But it was a noun, like ‘lot’, for a lot of years. And then it was an adjective, like many, for many years. It was at first, literally the number 10,000 from Greek. But I still don’t like it.

Anyway, the Oxford English Dictionary site has now started giving you words from your birth year (or any other year, for that matter) and I like to think that the words birthed in 1972 capture a little something of the era into which I was born. It was the year of Watergate, so I feel I share a little something with the whole -gate suffix that is now added hither and thither to scandals across the globe. 1972 also gave us guilt trips and blaxploitation, gut-wrenching, high-tech, pre-loved, Pythonesque and retro. Dorothy entered the OED as a euphemism, as did the delightfully camp ‘friends of Dorothy’. If you find it all a little cringe-inducing, or it gives you a guilt trip, then those words are from 1972 too.

My sister, a 1977 baby, came into being with cringeworthy, looky-loo and nip and tuck, as well at the at sign and text messages. My brother, in 1979, with codependency, deal breaking, freebasing and fluffers.

I must say that I could spend hours looking through all these words and those on wordorigins.org – obviously born to be an English teacher. This year’s entries to the Online Dictionaries (which are a little less demanding than the big boy hardback versions in print) have been well-documented, since they involved twerking and selfie. I do think it’s a great way to get a fix on a year, on the zeitgeist, by looking at the words that made it into print.

I wonder what 2014 will bring?

Chasing Pheasants

Almost three years today, I got a little American cocker spaniel, by way of the Hope Association. Same sad story. Owners going back to the UK and leaving two dogs behind. I took both of them and although Saffy died only two months after arriving here, I like to think she had a happy time. She certainly seemed like she did.

Tilly took ages to settle, though mostly she seemed fairly content. That first walk she went on, she collapsed after a couple of kilometres and just lay down in protest. Two months later and she was happily managing the occasional 10km walk without a whimper. I can’t even remember the last time she lay down on a walk.

DSCF0665when the girls first arrived

Tilly is perhaps not a typical American cocker, but given that my only other experience of American cockers has been my Nana and Gramps’ dog Sunny, I’d say she is so like him it is untrue. She is a massive bin-dipper and will faire les poubelles or ‘do the bins’ at any opportunity. Her favourite way to spend a half hour if I’m out is in shredding the recycling bag to get at anything I might have forgotten about. She will happily climb on the table the moment I leave the room. We got so used to this with Sunny that we became habitual chair-pusher-inners. She is incredibly loyal and it took her a while to get used to me but now her favourite place to sit is right next to me and her favourite place to sleep is right next to me. I’m not allowed to touch her though, and she grumbles if I do and moves away, but she likes to be right up next to me.

Anyway, Tilly has never been a playing dog. She is not interested in sticks, balls, chasing, running or catching. She had a stone she quite liked to skid across the floor, which was a little sad, but she has never been a player. Apart from rolling in unpleasant smells like manure and fox droppings, she doesn’t have much by way of doggie behaviours at all.

Or, she didn’t.

She will chase after a deer or a wild boar if one crosses her path. And the other week, she joined in a chase with Heston after a hare.

Bless her.

DSCF1731But a couple of weeks ago, she started to get really cocker-y. She even ran into a field to have a look at a bird.

IMG_0074You can just see her in the middle of this field – typical cocker stance – back legs wide, staring up at the bird she’s just scared off. And this was the first time she’s ever taken the initiative to seek out game. It’s the first sign I ever really had of the cocker within.

But last Saturday, we were pootling along down by the hedges and Tilly got all excited. She even ran into a bush. She is a very obsessive little dog and she wasn’t for coming out, even when I called her – and she usually has excellent recall. She was just in and out of the bush trying to find different ways to get at whatever was in there. Personally, I thought it was a rabbit, since there are often rabbits down on that part of the walk. But no. Two minutes later, she found a way in and out flew a huge male pheasant, taking a little while to get into flight. They are such ungainly birds. And then out popped my Tilly. She chased him over two fields until he came to rest in a tree, and she worried around that tree for about twenty minutes, trying desperately to get at Mr Pheasant. In fact, I had to grab her and carry her off in the end. She wasn’t for giving up.

On Sunday, we went on a new walk and every time we went past a hedge, she was ferreting about near it. Then she got all cocker again, racing round and round one hedge, trying to get at what was inside. I couldn’t see anything and there was no movement. I put her on the lead to get her to move off and just as I was doing so, out popped two pheasants – a male and a female – and flapped off after a bit of a run up.

Now Heston is not bothered by birds. He likes to chase crows and swallows, admittedly, but I’m not sure what that is about. He has even brought me back a bemused duck. That Sunday, he was totally uninterested in the pheasants. Give him a deer and he’ll chase it for miles. Likewise a hare. But a big pheasant doesn’t flap enough for his liking and just isn’t his cup of tea. Maybe he thinks it’s just a big chicken and he is very fond of my chickens, who put up no protest and squat down as if he is about to mount them. He sniffs them and runs off.

So the only place that little pheasant chasing instinct has come from in Tilly is right inside her.

I think we have Heston to thank for discovering her inner dog. She is very much his sidekick and on virtually every picture I have of the fields round these parts, he’s off in front and she is chasing along behind him.

IMG_0025

See? Big black smudge, smaller blonde smudge.

Who knows – maybe one day she’ll learn to be a real little dog after all! Not bad for nine years old though. I’m pretty impressed. And had I been of the hunting persuasion, had I got a loaded gun, had I listened to Tilly’s flushing instincts, I could have bagged myself a handful of pheasant this weekend!

What has been funny though is walking past bushes and hedges after this – she’s been desperate to have a look for any bird life.

Funny little dog.

 

Don’t look surprised

Today’s Much Love Monday is brought to you by the powerful vocal chords of Miss Alison Moyet with All Cried Out because we could all do with a bit of a power blast this last working week before Christmas, I am sure.

I must admit – I’m kind of flagging and I’m hanging on to the weekend. A case of burning the candle from both ends and getting a lighter out just to help it burn faster, I think. This birthday and Christmas malarky can be hard going and I’m no spring chicken any more. A couple more Christmas lunches and apéros to go and I think that’ll be me done for the year.

It was my 41st birthday yesterday and it was just lovely. From the dogs letting me have a lie-in to the chocolate cake at dinner, it was the best kind of birthday. I even turned up at Madame V’s for a birthday breakfast, alarmed to find there was actually a breakfast to be eaten because I’d managed to eat a Turkish Delight before 9am. Turkish Delight is something only ever seen in occasional English shops over here in France. It is, of course, Turkish Delight jelly covered with chocolate. I don’t even know if you can buy it elsewhere in the world, but I am partial to a bit of a pink sugar rush from time to time.

My first unwrapping was a present from Miss Rachel – and given her taste, I was a little worried about what it might be. In fact, even when I opened it, I thought there might be body parts rather than Christmas baubles.

IMG_0266I don’t know about you, but I find these men slightly alarming. One of them looks rather sheepish, like he’s just been caught googling inappropriate things by his mother, and the other looks like he’s watching his friend google inappropriate things and is finding it rather amusing that his friend has been caught out by his mother.

I am massively looking forward to spending a little time knitting some of the baubles though. Hand-knitted baubles. Nearly as good as the hand-knitted bra that Miss Rachel received in the Secret Santa (the secret is out now although as soon as she opened it, everybody said ‘That’s from Emma!’)

My second opening needs me to take a very good photo of them – they’re glass icicles made by a very talented artist out this way and they are just stunning.

From there, it was a rummage through a box of stuff my mum sent over a couple of weeks ago. I had left it unopened as I am very well behaved and would not dream of opening things before I’m allowed. I have been having issues with static which I am sure will not be remedied by the amount of woollen goods in the box. So many socks and jumpers that I nearly did not find the Toffee Crisps and Turkish Delights secreted away. Then skype calls and phone calls to my Mum and my Nana before a feeding at Madame V’s. Even the water for the tea was ready when I arrived. I’m a lucky lady.

I picked up an early Christmas present too, chez Sylvie, this wonderful gnomey tea towel.

1476581_550027431741378_1662186994_nI’m obviously of the quirky gift type.

Even my birthday walk was different from the usual type. Miss Tilly, who has never been of the chase variety of spaniel, has definitely woken up her inner cocker urges. On Saturday, she flushed out her first pheasant and was so excited she would possibly have taken off after it when it flew away. She chased around the bushes searching for it for a good ten minutes after it had gone. It’s the first time in three years that she has done such a thing. And even though Heston likes to chase crows and swallows, and brought me a bemused but intact duck once, he has never once been bothered by grouse or woodcock or pheasant. Deer or wild boar… that’s different.

Anyway, hot off her Saturday flushing triumph, she got exactly the same yesterday – running in and out of a hedge, trying to get into a better position. Whatever it was had obviously got itself into a spot she couldn’t and it was driving her mental. She tried to get at it for a good five minutes. I put her back on the lead to drag her off, and only seconds after I did so, a huge male and a tiny female pheasant came running out of the bush, right into Heston’s path. He ignored them as they flew off but Tilly would not stop pulling in the direction they’d gone and I firmly believe she’d have run through fields to get to them.

If only I’d had a gun…

Joking, of course.

Heston did manage to flush a hunter out of a bush though. So, a triumph all round. That’s three pheasants in two days for Tilly. Definitely a cocker girl!

After this, it was tea at my dad’s house and he’s bought me a kindle fire for my birthday. It took me about twenty minutes to switch it on as I have become a techno-imbecile in France. I did manage to connect it to my wifi after about four attempts, so I am pretty pleased with myself.

Looking back on it, my 40th year has been a great year – entirely due to friends and family, my animals and this wonderful place I live. I am a lucky girl. How many people have a job they love doing, a place they love living in and are surrounded by love? Not as many as there should be, I suspect.

 

 

Wish for an end to this plague of strangers*

*for our futures to remain local and for new road to be totally destroyed.

Edward – The League of Gentlemen

Usually, our walk along the road up through the ‘high’ bit of the hamlet (and also in another commune…) is without incident – hence why we have been doing this route a lot. It’s car-accessible, but in all my walks, about four men have passed in cars, and the only people I’ve ever seen were a rather odd looking non-local couple who I suspect were on holiday, and a man entirely in camouflage who said he was out shooting foxes.

old_route1

It’s a very frequent trot up from my hamlet to the high bit and then along deserted roads. If I’m feeling lazy, I can cut the route from just before D and end up just before G, but it’s my basic, go-to dog walk. It cuts along a little ridge and it’s either spectacular or bleak, depending.

Sometimes, I walk another route through the high bit of the hamlet, past my friend Lise’s house and down the hill. It’s not a bad route, but it’s a little short, at only 2.5 km. A few times, I’ve done a wider loop, that takes you through the village of the barking dogs, a small village where every single house has a barky dog, from the first old Bassett hound who bays at you, to the big mastiff who bays at you, to the tiny Papillons who yip at you. A few times, I’d done this walk with Steve and it takes you eventually to a dead-end path where I had an unfortunate falling incident and sprained my ankle. Unless you were prepared to hack through brambles and trees, it was quite impassible.

old_routeFrom time to time, I’d tried to navigate the bit from G up to the top road but it wasn’t happening and as the years have gone by, it’s got less and less accessible. You could walk from the crossroads just after F, take a right and walk down here, but you end up with a 5km walk home and it’s already a good 5km walk as it is.

Anyway, last week, I noticed a stile kind of thing in a field that used to home cows. I wondered at the marvel of this new path and where it had come from, where it went to and who had put it there. As far as I could tell, it just went into a load of bushes. But no! It leads to the G spot (sorry – but that’s the way it fell) and you can continue to walk down and round. The best thing is that it is a quick route over to the Quatre Vaux forest and that has always been a bit too far (unless you are Heston, as this is where I lost him and he ran home from – a good 7km) and now it’s made it a lot easier to get to. Hoorah!

So to celebrate the arrival of new road, I took the beasts out for a walk along it. It is indeed a marvel of a path, just where you’d want a path to be.

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Now I just need a path from the G spot on this map (you probably think I planned it and I didn’t at all!) to the E spot to cut out the big dog leg up into the village and it’ll be a perfectly acceptable alternative walk. The new path, incidentally, goes from just before the D, where the other tractor trail comes in to make a T with the road, to the K spot.

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And the mystery was solved down through the stile. There’s a massive great big electricity box been put in and ERDF have been so kind as to put a path in. Doesn’t really make up for the mushroom-like wind turbines that are now everywhere round these parts, but hey ho.

Anyway, Edward had cause to be concerned. The first thing I saw when I walked down this new path was a plague of strangers (two) and they were definitely not local…

Santa’s on his way

I don’t give in to Christmas until quite late in the season, but I’m getting in the spirit and why not enjoy a little Christmassy loveliness this Monday? Here’s Nat King Cole with The Christmas Song. 

If you’re all bah-humbuggy, avert your eyes. It’s going to get red and festive here.

I love a bit of Christmas, me. Not only is it my birthday in less than a week, but when you’re in the country, you feel the shortening of days more than in the city, where the neon keeps you artificially bright and you can stay indoors if you like. I’m down to nine good daylight hours right now – less if it’s cloudy or yuck – and I figure the Romans did a good job of remembering just why we need a festival right bang slap in the middle of it – not least to keep you going to the really hard bits of winter. January and February can be so foul but at least you have the promise of spring. There’s no springtime promise in December when you aren’t even over the long hump night.

Yesterday, I went to a fair up at Nanteuil-en-Vallée. It’s only 30km or so from me, but I’ve never been, even though I regularly pass signs on my way elsewhere – signs that say village pittoresque and promise to reward you with one of those special little villages that make life here so lovely… the type that you can just enjoy driving through.

I imagine on a wet Wednesday, it’s not unlike every other village in the Charente, but the blue skies and persistent frost, the vin chaud and the smell of cinnamon gave it the edge yesterday. I mean, what do you expect from a village which has a river running through it called the Silver-Gold? The Argentor might only be little but she certainly makes it beautiful. The chief focus of the town is the abbey, which is where the Christmas market was being held, and the church. The abbey is a former Benedictine monastery, dating from 780 AD and from the looks on my friends’ faces, it is pretty cold. Some of them had stalls there today.

IMG_0169There are several colombage houses (half-timbered) which make it look even more delicious.

IMG_0156And although the river itself is not so photogenic, there is a lovely little canal which cuts through the houses and a particularly nice botanical garden.

IMG_0175The tiny canal reminded me a little of one cutting through the geisha district in Kyoto, criss-crossed by bridges. What’s not to be in love with? Water, lovely bridges, autumn leaves… my kind of heaven.

IMG_0180And to be honest, it was also nice to have a wander about with neither friends nor animals. It makes it a bit easier to take it all in, in all its loveliness.

I did most of my Christmas shopping there too – there were probably about a hundred stalls selling all sorts of things from handmade soap to lovely watercolours, knitting, cross-stitch patterns, photographs, pineau, auroch sausages (! There is an auroch breeder in Nanteuil, though I can’t say as it’s a typical thing) and of course my lovely friends selling lovely precious things.

IMG_0164I feel it quite impossible not to feel all lovely when the air is crisp, when I have a warm fire, when I have mulled wine and hot chocolate and hand-made treasures. I confess, the highlight of my trip was the giant man in camouflage and snow boots selling buttons. Sylvie tells me he doubles as the bug guy. Who’s to say you shouldn’t exterminate termites during the week and sell wool at the weekend? I guess that’s why I love places like this. It’s the whimsy of it all.

I bet, for instance, nobody else has a snail among their municipal Christmas lights?

IMG_0154The snail – or cagouille as it is known in these here parts – is the sign for the Charentais people. I don’t know if this is because they eat a lot of them (they do) or because they are slow and countrified (except on the roads) or because they retreat easily back into their shells and Charentais people call themselves cagouillards though it’s that old thing of you can’t say it to them if you aren’t one.

And just finally, here’s a basket of felty Christmassy redness to make you feel festive this Monday…

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