Monthly Archives: September 2014

52 Mondays #39


How can it be that the year is so full with photos? How quickly things change!

Last week was another epic busy one (when are they not??!) and I hurried from work to errands to dog walks. I got to spend a good Friday afternoon at the refuge and had forgotten the memory stick from my camera, so spent the afternoon walking dogs I know and love. Just waiting for someone to help me walk the big dogs. Much as I love the littlies, it is the bigguns who have my heart. Lots more dogs went off to Germany to be adopted from German refuges. The hounds which are so hard to find homes for here (even Breton spaniels, believe it or not!) quickly find homes in Germany. The oldies go too, and the ones who need medical treatments. I have to say, I know how they feel. I’d adopt a hound (beagle please) and an oldie or one who needs a bit of TLC. Those are my favourites too.

Sunday, I spent most of the day in the garden trying to prepare the garden for winter – mostly clearing suckers it has to be said. The fruit trees in my garden are not in great shape and they really could do with a big clear out and some better stock putting in. A job for half term I think.

Then we went for a long walk in the forest – it has to be said it is not easy walking four dogs in the forest when you are a single girl – usually at least two on a lead if not three. Amigo is generally trustworthy, but he has been known to trot off from time to time. Ralf knows many things, but his recall is z-e-r-o and although it would be no effort to catch him if he ran off, he’s better by my side. I love Ralf, but he isn’t blessed with brains. He is like a funny super-sized puppy. Heston doesn’t go off lead in the forest. He does come back when he runs off, but that walk is entirely on his own terms and it’s happy coincidence that he stays fairly near. Just far too many exciting things for a teenager to smell! He’s always on the 10m training lead so he can smell stuff, but he enjoys the stimulation of new stuff to see. After endless socialisation in La Rochefoucauld, he is now less barky when we are out in public. I don’t care that he’s barky if people park outside my house. My Heston is a super dog and he is so smart. I wish I could spend all day training him. I know he’d never get bored.

After a long summer of no forest (it’s too full of people who don’t have their dogs on a lead and don’t have good control of their dogs, sadly) it is nice to get back there. It’s definitely my home from home. On the days where the hunters are out in the fields and woods around me, it’s usually quiet and gun-free. There is a lot of deer and boar damage to the paths and woodland, so it seems it hasn’t just been a bumper kitty year. That mild winter has meant bumper litters for the foxes as well and there is so much fox spore around on our usual walks – rabbits too. Rabbits are Amigo’s thing. He spends his walks with his nose down holes and comes home with muddy chops.

Today, I’ve got a planning meeting for Les Dames de FER, the association I am part of, for local business owners of the female persuasion. Days like this make me miss the conviviality of office work and make me miss my Anne Pilling and remind me how much fun it is to work together. It must be said, I am surrounded by talented, vivacious, dedicated and enthusiastic souls and I very much enjoy their company. I have a feeling 2015 will be a wonderful year for Les Dames.

From 4pm, it is heads-down through to Sunday morning – and I’m hoping for sun and warmth to get outside once again.

52 Mondays #38


Definitely feeling the autumnal winds this week, warm as it has been. It was so warm last Monday that I practically overheated. But it’s 21°C these days, and cooler at night, and the long nights are settling in.

Things are settling down into a bit of a more regular pattern at the moment. I’m still trying to fit new clients in here and there – and it is not easy. French schools finish so late that it doesn’t leave much room for changes and alterations. Plus, the autumn takes adjustment as well. The hunt season has started and now it is not just a question of finding a place to walk that keeps the dogs from boredom, but also finding a space that isn’t filled with men with guns. Luckily, when the hunters are hanging around the places we usually go, we can head off over to the forest, which tends to have organised hunts on particular days – days which usually balance with the other hunt days. I am not much one for early morning walks – too many lone guys out with their dogs and a shotgun – so it’s midday walks right now.

Still, it is a very busy time. I’ve got a couple of meetings planned with Les Dames de FER, the group of local ladies in business. We have a couple of training sessions planned that I’m leading, and it is also gearing up to the Hope Association book sale on the middle weekend of October. They all feel like very far away events but I know they are getting ever closer.

And it’s time to wind the garden down – so I’m still hacking back trees that have sent out spontaneous re-generations. I think the flooding had a lot to do with it. Three flooded seasons in five years is not good for these trees and the plums and the cherries are sending out their distress signals. I have managed to completely clear the bottom of the garden of plum offspring, but it does feel like a never-ending task. Thursday, I’ll start the cherry offspring and get a little closer to the house. It’s another of those things that you seem once in a while to get on top of, and then you head straight into the next year and realise it is all beginning over again. I feel very tired at the moment, in between huge bursts of energy, and often find myself wanting a willing clone who could help out a little. At the rate I work, I think four or five clones might be enough to make a really good job of all the things I’m trying so unsuccessfully to do.


Making a difference

A while back, a lady with whom I have become good ‘virtual’ friends posted a story. It made such a difference to me on those days when I feel really sad or depressed that I can do so very little. This story spoke right to the heart of me, and I suspect it will with you too, if you have ever been the champion of the underdog, the fighter of lost causes, the one voice against the masses. And if you have been a champion, a fighter, a lone voice, it can be very easy to give up and to give in.

The story is called The Star Thrower, and it is the perfect antidote to feeling like you are little but a drop in the ocean. Written originally by an American anthropologist called Loren Eiseley, it has been adapted many times. I think every new teacher should have this story above their desk, and every doctor, every nurse, every volunteer, every police officer, every fire-fighter. If you are in the ‘helping’ industry, this story should be your mantra. It will uplift you when you need it, reaffirm your purpose every day, and remind you of why you have chosen the often difficult and depressing path that you have.

The Star Thrower

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

As it met the water, he said,

“It made a difference for that one.” “

*  *  *  *

I think it is very easy to lose sight of what you have achieved when there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish that need throwing back in the sea, but something crazy happens when you start doing it. The Star Thrower story isn’t finished if you ask me. If you ask me, the story is just the beginning. Because I bet the wise man understood that he could make a difference, even just a little one, and he probably spent the day helping the young man throw as many starfish to the sea.

I wish everyone would hold that in their heart and know that if we all made a difference – just a little one – every day, then soon, we’d be an army. And an army can make a very big difference indeed.

52 Mondays #37

Okay… two days late. Better than last time!


It’s been a busy week already. One of those weeks where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. On Saturday, some fool decided to open my gates and let the dogs out. I caught up with that fool, who lied, and then confessed. Yes, she saw the dogs, yes she heard them. Yes she slid the latch back. Yes she opened the gate. Yes, she closed it behind the three dogs that got out. Really, I should have a sign on the gate. I guess the right thing to say would be ‘Attention aux chiens’ or ‘chiens en liberté’ but if you can’t see there are four dogs loose, then a sign like that isn’t going to make the blindest bit of difference. Maybe I need a no entry sign. In four years, only a handful of people have ever come through those gates on the sly – and it does seem a bit over the top to have a ‘Dogs on the Loose’ and a ‘No Entry’ sign, when really I should have a sign that says ‘Idiots: None today, thanks.’

Luckily, I caught up with Ralf five minutes down the road. The cows that got loose a few weeks ago moved more quickly. Just as I’d rallied the search parties, cancelled my appointments, managed to find paperwork for one dog but not the other, then found the other, Amigo came sneaking back in. Then I saw Mr Heston’s fine feathery tail rooting around Mr Richon’s bins. He managed to avoid being run over, by my manic gesturing to the speedy drivers.

On Sunday, the manager at the refuge sent out an alert about a cocker spaniel that was due to be put down. This little six-year-old female, Daphie, had done nothing wrong, just had been attacked by the owner’s other dog, and the owner had taken her to the vet to have her put down. The vet called Nanou, the directrice, and Nanou put out the alarm. The owner had, quite perversely in my opinion, decreed that the dog couldn’t go to the refuge, and if no home was found in 48 hours, she would have to be put down.

I spent Sunday morning sharing her story and then fielding calls from all over France saying they would take her in… it does restore your faith in humanity. I needed a bit of faith-in-humanity restoration after the arson attack at Manchester Dogs’ Home in which 60 dogs perished on Thursday. I felt quite empty on Thursday night, and only five hours’ hard labour at the refuge on Friday made up for it in any way. Dog kisses have a way of making things a bit better. Finding a home for that little cocker was the least I could do to set the balance right in the universe. On Monday, I went to pick her up and drop her with her new foster home (and hopefully an adoption will follow) – she is just delightful. She is a tiny little girl and the sweetest little thing – a real happy little dog.

But… on my way back from dropping off Daphie, my engine management light came on. Cue generalised panic and worry. Luckily, the very fab Honda Angouleme man fixed it in an afternoon – and I know business in France often takes a hit for being slow and difficult (hands up whoever has stood for an hour waiting for service in an otherwise empty shop?) but I have always found the mechanics to be really proud of what they do and to take real care in providing a reliable and economical service. Still, it wasn’t cheap, but at least no little orange light of engine doom.

The rest of the week has been gardening central. The weather has been just glorious – though storms tonight – and I’ve been adding to my compost heap. Pruning mad. The last of the fruit is ready to be brought in and I think it’ll be back to grape jelly for this year’s meagre harvest. August was too cool to be of much use, but dry as well. No idea what the big boys of Cognac will say about this year’s harvest, but if you ask me, it’ll be a poor one. Hazelnuts are finished. Walnuts are coming in. The seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago are going great guns and hopefully I’ll be able to overwinter them safely enough.

2014 is definitely on the turn. The dahlias are the only flowers still going strong. My aspens have decided the year is over and even the final apples are ready to go.

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As for the rest of the week, I’m hoping for good weather to make sure I can crack on with gardening before it’s too late to do anything useful. The dogs, as ever, are pretty useless at gardening.

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Yes, that’s a leaf on Tilly’s head. She doesn’t even care.

Anyway, I best get on with lesson planning for the morning!

52 Mondays #36

Channelling the White Rabbit. Yes, I’m running behind again. Took the photo. Didn’t upload it.


Next year’s rapeseed has been planted already and the fields are busy, busy, busy. I’ve been busy, busy, busy too – trying to stay on top of the garden. We have had the most delightful weather: 26°C all week and lovely temperatures. Perfect for a bit of hardcore pruning. I’m gradually working my way around the garden. Most of my clients have started back now, and Les Dames de FER, the federation of women in rural enterprise, is kicking up a notch after the summer vacation. Seems like I have been doing nothing but playing catch-up, but a few days of grind and I am more on top than I was. If you’re lucky, you might even get tomorrow’s 52 Mondays on time.

Tomorrow I’m switching back to early morning walks – it is getting dark too early to walk the dogs after I finish my lessons. At least two or three lessons last week finished in darkness. Still, it is warm and the weather looks to continue this week – up to 29°C and just delightful for me. Nothing needs water and it’s giving me time to catch up in the garden too. I even planted some of next year’s perennials a couple of weeks ago – most of which are popping up their first shoots. Foxgloves, rudbeckia, echinacea, nigella. It will certainly take the pressure off next March and April!

52 Mondays #34

52 Mondays 34


The first week of la rentrée, the return to school. I’ve had lessons every morning through August, so I am not feeling the sudden jolt of back-to-schoolness that I am sure many other people are feeling. The evenings are shorter now – it’s dark by 9 and I’m suddenly scrabbling about trying to get the dogs out and walked by 7.30. Soon, it’ll be back to early morning walks and snatched midday breaks. Not such a hardship when it is a little cooler! 

Bit of an Indian summer at the moment – mid 20s – but it is cooler at night. Time to get the chimney swept and the wood in for winter. 

It has been one of those years where you wait and wait for summer to arrive properly, and it never does. That’s okay with me – it has not been wet, just cool. No weeks on end of temperatures fit for lizard kings. We had a few days reach into the 30s but not as many as the last few years. I’ve started to sow some of next year’s perennials. This year has been a garden washout and I hope next year will be a better one. Been a good year for grass and not a lot else. Everything seems a month in advance of where it has been – I think it will be an early and long winter. What joy! 

I’m currently in prune mode, rampaging round the garden with secateurs and hedge-trimmers. There’s a huge beech thicket that needs taking right back down waist height, which will be a lot of fun (and sweat) to do, and there are suckers galore from one of the cherry trees. One day, I might be able to see my garden again. 

My usual Wednesday classes start again tomorrow, back to busy Wednesdays. Feels a long time since the last ones in June. Then it’s the long haul through to Saturday evening. I’m trying my best to keep Sundays work-free, but it is not easy. Sometimes, I think ‘oh, it’s only one lesson’ but it’s often bang slap in the middle of the things I usually do, and I waste the time before in messing about and setting up. Hopefully, I can actually have a day off from time to time!

Now we’re back in the school saddle, feels like time to revive the Wednesday Whoo, or even a feel-good Friday. We will see!