Category Archives: France

August Flowers

IMG_2678 IMG_2679 IMG_2680 IMG_2681 IMG_2682When I was little, the house on the corner of our street had a hydrangea bush in the garden. I have distinct memories of the little boy who lived there doing a wee up against it. I can’t have been more than five, but I found it very disgusting. Now I live in France, I am used to men, boys, girls and yes, even ladies, taking a wee in public. I have even seen people get out of their car at the supermarket, take a pee in the carpark and then go into the shop. It always makes me wonder whether they really can’t make it to the very nice toilets in the supermarket, only 50 metres away. 

Anyway, it’s not just the memory of the young boy taking a wee up against said hydrangea, but the fact that I was utterly convinced the bush was made of toilet paper; It was just that shade of pink that made it look like loo roll. That thought stayed with me for forty years and I have never been enamoured of the pink/blue standard hydrangea. 

Now, though, I have changed my mind. Look at these glorious flowers. 

IMG_2678 IMG_2695 IMG_2696 IMG_2697 IMG_2698The hollyhock is probably the flower I associate most with summertime France – they are everywhere. The ones in my garden start small and end up like triffids, towering two metres high or more. It has been so wet, the wisteria has had its second bloom. The roses are still going strong and the roadside flowers are everywhere

 

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The Charente in summer

I’m all out of sync and backed up, but I have been out and about. A week last Sunday I took the dogs down to the river at Lichères for a play. There is a gorgeous church in Lichères, right at the top of the hill. Right now, it is surrounded by sunflowers. It is chocolate-box Charente at its best. Then we went for a bit of a splash around just upriver in Bayers. The river is wide and gentle at both bits, shallow enough for paddling. Amigo had a great time chasing the fish.

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Tomorrow… or sometime in the near future…  I’ll upload the photos I’ve been taking in my garden. Lots of beautiful flowers.

 

Quoi de neuf?

It feels like ages since I have been here, properly. Save the odd 52 Mondays post. (See, I can stick things out!)

It is fair to say I have been busier than ever. What with exam build-up from April, then marking in June and July, it’s a four-month slog to the top of the mountain. I still have some clients here and there, but I actually have one whole week off from now until next Monday. One whole week! And a bank holiday as well! I bet I’m twitching by Monday evening.

Mostly, my life has been work & dogs. Work and dogs. Work and dogs. The weather is unspeakably cool for July (shhhh! I’m kind of enjoying it. 23°C and sunny is just my type of weather for outside work!) but it has been a busy time trying to finish things off.

In between, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the refuge trying to capture photos of the dogs there. One of the boss ladies was even getting a bit specific the other day. “Can you get some dog poses like this, or like that?” she asked. In my head, I was thinking, “They are dogs. You get what you get.” especially since the whole purpose of me taking them was that often the dogs only got photographed on entry from the pound, and then really for ID purposes, not for promotion purposes. Now I’ve done so many of the dogs (a good sixty or so have had a ‘re-looking’ – the French for a makeover!) everyone’s a critic.

I do notice that. I wonder if all people face the same thing? People who have a cheap point-and-shoot and no particular photography know-how whatsoever saying ‘you should do it like this…’

Hello?

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I took this photo.

Last week, a lady with a cheap point-and-shoot said “Don’t try and take a photo of them from above.”

Err…. why not? Little Jo looks wonderful for his ‘from above’ shot.

To be fair, you get what you get. Some dogs are happy to sit and pose for a photo. I found the easiest dogs are ones who will sit for a biscuit and look at you when you are doing it.

Like Victor.

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Do I have any tips for it?

Get down to the dog’s level if the dog won’t sit and look up for a treat.

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Put your camera on a low f-stop like 6.3. Not lower. Then you get the nose in focus, but not the face or eyes. Or you get the eyes in focus but a blurry nose. Then put it on a quick ISO, like 1600 or 3200. Anything less and even in sunlight you aren’t likely to get a clear shot. Zoom in fairly close, and you have to use auto-focus, because manual takes too long and they are gone!

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Clean the dog’s eyes of sleep and yuck. I am always forgetting to do this. See above.

Have a good partner. One lady I walk with really loves walking the dogs. But the only time she is still with them, she has treats straight out. Her hands are in all my shots, or her body, or she says “this dog is bored!” and wanders off. Bless her. She means she is bored, of course! If you have someone with you who understands photography, so much the better. They’ll keep hands and legs clear. If you have a certain assistant, she will elicit the kind of looks of blind adoration from dogs that give you super winning shots.

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If you are doing it on the lead, hold the lead fairly tight (not straining or pulling – that makes the dog look like a lead fiend!) about a foot away from the dog’s head. The dog’s movement is restricted but they look free.

Take photos after a walk, if possible, so they are happy and a little less energetic. If you have a ball of energy like I had with Rosalie, my toughest dog yet, you may have to find a bit of space and give them ten minutes to tire themselves out off-lead. Every single shot of Rosalie, she was moving too quickly to capture. Plus, she has zero recall and zero interest in treats. Plus, being on a lead is stressful. She has serious and sad weals that you can feel with your fingers where she has been restrained for long periods of time.

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But it will happen! This shot took 30 minutes to get, including walk!

If you can take a photo without treats and toys, so much the better. Then they won’t strain at the lead and the pose looks more natural. A miaow is the best way to get most dogs’ attention, especially refuge dogs who don’t know their name. The camera click can give you the money shot… head on one side out of curiosity, and great focus.

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Don’t take the shot in full sunlight… it is too contrasty. (see above) Shade is great, though you need a faster ISO and shutter speed.

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And it is best if you know the dogs a little, to try and capture a little of their character. When you can catch a little old guy having a rest, it’s fab

usty2I am a big fan of uniform backgrounds. Doesn’t matter if it’s a grey one, a stone one, a path or a load of greenery. But not too much of everything. This is true of body shots as well as close-up portraits.

julietta3And of course, for every Rosalie that takes a half-hour for one decent shot, there are hundreds who give you smiles and eyes and happy faces.

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There are also some who are out-and-out posers.

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As well as some who are camera shy, who are so upset by the camera that you have to give them a bit of time to do their best

havilaIf you are lucky, you get some great ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots that capture the different aspects of the dog on arrival and after they know they are safe.

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This is Chance. He was saved from euthanasia in another pound. Here he is a couple of days into his stay. (above) And a couple of days after (below)

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And even…

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So this is what I have been doing two or three afternoons a week. Oh, and then the evenings, I spend editing. It’s not just a case of take a photo and bang it up on the website. I haven’t time to do a lot of editing, but a simple crop, colour adjust and balance adjust will usually make the most out of most images.

Though I would like to say, yes, animal photographers make it look incredibly easy. But whoever said you should never work with children or animals was right. Especially animals.

So what else? Not to mention a lot of walks with my own beasties. Amigo, my refuge dog, took some time to settle in – that’s another (not very traumatic) story – but he can now come on walks with my own two as well.

IMG_1626And there has even been a little of this:

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And some of this:

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What a busy few months it has been!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dogs’ Dinner

A Dog’s Dinner

by Emma Lee

If you imagined a happy retirement home for dogs, what would it involve? Comfy sofas, log fires, a few good buddies to cuddle up to? However you could imagine it, Twilight retirement home for old dogs is everything you would think of and more. A large, enclosed garden for ambles with doggie pals, a sunny patio space with room for any animal who wants to enjoy a little sunshine on their old bones, a well-equipped bathroom to keep them tidy and soup for those who can’t handle anything more taxing.

Any old dog would love just one of these things. What makes Twilight such a special place is that the dogs here are not just any old pensioners. They had all been left in refuges across Europe, having lost everything they had ever known. For some, that might be a dear and loved master who had gone into a nursing home, or, worse, passed away. For others, that might have been a life of misery and starvation, a life on the streets, unloved and unwanted.  It is often hard to know the stories of animals’ lives before a refuge. The only thing that gives you any clue at all is sometimes the sadness in their eyes, a flicker that disappears when they realise they are now in a place where they are treasured. I never realised though that I’d be in need of Twilight’s help for a dog I had come to love.

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Having volunteered for dog walks at the refuge de l’Angoumois in Angoulême, I met a dog named Sirius. This black and white setter cross was always happy to see me and always happy to take a walk. He never grumbled or complained, even though he was sometimes in a great deal of pain. His right ear had been lopped off, probably to remove evidence of an identification tattoo. Sirius had probably been somebody’s loved pet – someone who cared enough to identify him, to want him returned. But when circumstances changed, for whatever reason, he found himself lost and abandoned, earless, in his old age. The refuge is a safe and happy place for many dogs. It is warm, dry and they are fed and cared for. It is not a home. Sirius needed a home, especially after his recent stroke which made it very hard for him to control his legs. Even though he came with 600€ towards any eventual vet’s bills, nobody wanted him. He ran the risk of languishing in the refuge for the remainder of his days. His health was deteriorating. A friend insisted I get in touch with Leeanne and Mike, the couple behind Twilight, to see if they could help. So I did.

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It was perfect timing. Luckily for Sirius, there was a place for him at Twilight. Leeanne asked if I could bring him over as soon as I could.

On the morning my friends and I picked up Sirius from the refuge, he knew something was changing. He sat at my feet for the two-hour trip, his head on my lap, looking up at me with a mixture of trepidation and trust. When we got to Twilight, Leanne and Mike took Sirius in like a long-lost friend, and within minutes, he had formed friendships, wagged his tail and went for a sniff around the garden.

I didn’t see him much the rest of the morning; he found a friend in an arthritic labrador called Harold and the pair spent the morning getting to know each other. Later on, I went to take some photos for the refuge and called to Sirius. He looked across the room at me with sheer delight. It was a look that said he couldn’t believe his luck. I’m not sure if he saw in my eyes the look that said “you deserve this, old fella!” but I hope he did. Leeanne tells me he sleeps back to back with Harold now and although he has other friends, he is best doggie friends with the labrador. He deserves nothing less.

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It’s not just a story about Sirius. There are around thirty other dogs at Twilight at any one time. Of course, they come here for their final days. For some, this could be a year. For others, less. However long it is, it is a home for them that makes up in more ways than one for any of the heart-break the dogs have suffered in their sometimes, sadly, too-short lives.

Providing such a home is an enormous task. When I was here, I got to thinking about the huge food and cleaning bill that Mike and Leeanne face each month. I thought about how much it might cost to feed the dogs for a day. I figured around 20€. Then I thought about how much we could support Twilight if we could find people who would help to pay for a day’s food and cleaning by direct debit each month. It would only take 30 other people to help cover their food and cleaning costs each month. That didn’t seem like an insurmountable task to me. Thirty people would surely want to help? If not 20€, then 10€ a month would buy breakfast or dinner for all the lovely puddings like Sirius. It would mean that Leeanne and Mike can continue their amazing work knowing that their basic doggie bills are covered.

I know that certain days and certain numbers are very special to many people. For me, I will always choose the number 29 in memory of my Gramps. He would be very happy to see all the old dogs in such contented retirement. That’s my number. To know that on the 29th of each month, I’m feeding the Twilight “puddings” and doing a little something to honour his memory will make the day even more special. For this reason, I want to ask if you would like to contribute a dog’s dinner, and if you would like to pick a calendar date for your donation. To this end, if you could let me know that you have committed to a monthly direct debit or virement and if you have a special day of the month that you would like the dogs to know is your day. I’d like to add these to a calendar so that I can share it with Leeanne and Mike because I am sure they will let the dogs know whose day it is.

In order to set up your direct debit or virement monthly, you can either do this via the Twilight website http://www.twilightchiens.com/apps/donations/ by contacting Twilight directly to ask for bank details, or in contacting me at emma_janelee@hotmail.com If you would like to get in touch to let me know whether you intend to buy breakfast, dinner or a day’s food, as well as letting me know any days of the month that you would like to be your personal dogs’ dinner day.  This is my way of saying thank you on Sirius’s behalf to Leeanne and Mike, who do what so many of us would find so hard. Sometimes, donations make little difference to the efforts of a charity or campaign; in this case, donations will make a real and immediate impact.

Thank you for reading, and please, if you can, share!

Emma (and Sirius) x

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Oh how green you are!

The rain and warmth has made my adopted home a veritable feast of emerald shades – and the hedgerows and woods are filled with wildflowers right now. I love this time of year. I took Amigo for a stroll down a woodland path that is one of my favourites yesterday. The river Bandiat runs alongside the path for half a mile or so, but it is a favoured watering hole for the local wildlife, including wild boar, and it is far too overstimulating for my crazy dog Heston, so I’ve not been in a while.

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Earlier in spring, the path is lined with wild anemone, cowslips and lesser celandine and but now the bluebells and wild garlic have taken over. It’s part of a planned walk in the local forest, and there are panels explaining about biodiversity and the various trees that line the route. To the right is a steep hill and cave system – it’s limestone karst here and the Bandiat has long since carved out a valley. To the left, the Bandiat wanders along – the river bed is often dry, but the last two years have been so wet, it has been constantly in flow.

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When it is a showery, cool April afternoon, what better way is there to pass the time? And I am a lucky girl to be able to spend my days between open fields and hedgerows where Heston can run and run, and cool forests where Amigo can wander by my side as I get all excited about how lush everything is.

Love in small doses

This week, somebody suggested I was an unfeeling soul for being able to volunteer at the refuge without coming home with a dog a trip. It actually made me quite sad that they thought that way. But I do understand it. I think it’s most people’s biggest fear if they volunteer at an animal refuge – that they will come home with an animal they don’t really want, just because some beagle turned on the puppy dog eyes, or some lab cross rolled on its back to have its tummy tickled.

When I thought about it, it reminded me that once, long ago, a guy I knew in another life said I would never have my own animals – they’d always be found ones. I don’t know why he thought that, or how he knew. He was right though. I wonder if I have always been this way?

And then I thought about the fact that many people end up choosing careers where they take on something for a short period of time, care as best they can, then have to let go – be they teachers or nurses, psychologists or child minders. And I think people who choose careers like this are actually well prepared for working in a refuge.

It’s a bit like a GCSE class. You get thrown this motley assortment of hormonal teenagers. There are odd-bods, nervy ones, weird ones, angry ones, aggressive ones, sweet ones and sad ones. You see them two or three hours a week. And you build up this bizarre but incredible relationship over two years. You see them succeed. You see them fail. You see them implode from time to time, and you see them explode rather more frequently. At first, you don’t know their names, especially if they are new to you, but the ones with personality soon make their presence felt. Over the first few weeks, you work out which ones are easy to connect to, and then you work out which ones are ten kinds of trouble and need very firm boundaries. But, by and large, you come to love them all.

The sad ones are the toughest, as they are often quiet and subdued. There are children with all kinds of backgrounds that you can’t comprehend. But when you make a connection to them, if you manage to, it’s amazing. These are the troubled ones you remember the most. The ones that you end up wishing you could give a better life to, or at least a glance into the future to know that things will be okay.

The thing is, though, you have to let go. You have to take a breath as they come to the end of their time with you, and you let them go. You know that in all likelihood, you’ll not see most of them again. You know that even though they are all very special to you, they aren’t your children. And you get good at letting them go. Well, you get used to it. I don’t think there are many times I’ve not seen my fifth year leavers and had a little cry because they’re not mine any more. If you’re lucky, they give you presents. If you’re good at what you do, they leave with results that will take them into the future. And you are happy they are successful.

Walking refuge dogs is a bit like that. You know they aren’t yours. You build up this bond in a short period of time, but you know (or you hope) that it is a finite bond and that they will soon leave you. You don’t know them by name at first – just the unusual ones – but soon you know them. Their success is a joy for you. And soon, you get to know them. You know which ones are headstrong and which ones are jokers. You know which ones are depressed and which ones need a bit of support. You want to spend all your time with the lovelies, but know you need to spend your time with the tough ones. You know which ones will be successful and which ones are going to struggle beyond the institution.

But this reminds me of my first week on teaching practice. We spent a week in a primary school – just to see what was going on there. I was in a primary right behind the mostly derelict Park Hill estate in Sheffield. This expansive Brutalist block of flats towered over everything and to say it was depressing was an understatement. Deprivation and poverty everywhere. I was in with the seven-year-old students all week. I knew then that I could never be a primary school teacher because I’d end up wanting to take every single child home with me. 25 hours of time with 30 students all year, and those bonds would be impossible to break. I’d be smuggling them out in my pockets.

That and primary school children are like a herd of cats. Perhaps not so cunning. A herd of guinea pigs.

At secondary level, you only see students for three to four hours in core subjects. That’s enough time to get to know them, but not enough time to either want to commit an act of murder, or want to take them home. Even so, you still get the odd one who you form this heart-wrenching bond with, and it can be very difficult to let go. Sometimes, you go above and beyond your usual role just to help them out or give them a hand. In my first GCSE class, there was a boy called Matt. He was in with all these crazy lunatics – old habits of giving ‘sink’ classes to new teachers, I’m afraid. I loved all those crazy lunatics by the end of the course (and I can still remember who sat where, and the funny little stories they used to tell me) but Matt was different. He was quiet, respectful, hard-working. He was every teacher’s dream student. And because it took all my time to get all the other Anthonys and Phils and Dawns to pull in the same direction, I never got any time with Matt. I ended up giving him and a couple of other willing volunteers extra classes after school (years before league tables – now everyone is expected to teach after-hours crammer revision classes in English!!) Matt got a C, went to Preston College and now he is a computer engineer. God love him.

And you get refuge dogs like that – the ones that you could easily walk two hours without a pull or a problem. Happy dogs, happy to be with you.

But then you get the ones that are a little tougher. In my first class, alongside my lovely Matt, there was another Matt. He was absent a lot, tall, looked like he was about 27, not 14. He’d been arrested a couple of times on drugs charges and was threatened with young offenders centres. In spite of all this, he was smart and fragile and he reminded me a lot of guys I knew. Sure, he was hard to handle. Many people would just have written him off as a lost cause.

But teachers of teenagers are often (not always!) believers in St Jude, patron saint of lost causes. And whether league tables forbid you from writing difficult teenagers off, or whether you are driven by some inner instinct to do your very best by them in that short time you have, secondary school teachers are often very good at doing that – giving as much as you can (and then a bit) and then letting go when it’s time. It’s your job.

It’s probably why I enjoy walking the dogs – and it’s fair to say I have been doing as much as I can recently. It’s been a welcome distraction, and as a big-hearted lady said yesterday, dogs can’t say anything offensive to you or upset you. It’s true. In that, they differ from teenagers. But you can only do your best. You can give what you can. And yes, there are those who break your heart for a million different reasons, but at the same time, you know you’re just sharing in these creatures’ lives for a little, be they teenagers or other animals.

Will there be dogs that I want to bring home?

Always.

Will there be dogs who make me sad they are here?

Of course.

You just have to have faith that they find a future, that their future makes up in some small way for having had a period without a family of their own in their lives, that you can make a difference, even if it is only a little one.

This is my current love. He is called Milord (really!) and he is just gorgeous. Nervous, too distressed to walk. Just wants loves and cuddles.

p1200416The good thing is that dogs are often quickly rehomed. The bad thing is that often they are the cute, clean, little ones. Big black dog syndrome is a massive problem. Sad to think that nervous, neurotic, barky Heston would probably be at the SPA for years rather than weeks.

If you’d like a big pony, can I recommend Iko?

1899911_10203139665229803_2143283914_nLovely big fella. Did an all four feet off the ground jump for joy when I got him out of his crate on Monday. You’d think that would be scary, but it isn’t.

There are plenty of rehomings as well.

Yesterday, I saw that Haribo, a gorgeous collie, Cooky, Vicky and Galaxie have been rehomed. Haribo came in on the 30th January. That makes it a grand total of 41 days at the refuge.

img_4911A friend and I walked Galaxie when she was in the fourrières (the pound for strays) which is also based on the same site as the refuge. Dogs must stay here for a period of time whilst chips and tattoos are investigated, and owners are sought. If they aren’t claimed in the requisite time, they pass into the refuge to be rehomed. Galaxie came in on the 21st of February, making her stay one of 21 days.

But then there are dogs like Gecko and Darex, beautiful, beautiful dogs, cursed with the big black dog label. Gecko has been in the refuge for most of his life.

gecko10Still, that’s not to say they don’t find homes. Recently, Flavio, a dog who’d been in the refuge for most of his four years, found a home. I confess I wept with joy when I read that he’d been rehomed. That’s how it often goes – they leave without fanfare and without fuss. One day you’re walking them (I walked Haribo last Friday for the fourth time) and the next, there’s a new dog in their place. No leavers do for dogs in the refuge, I’m afraid.

Anyway, if you have got a spare couple of hours and you can get past your thoughts that you’d just want to bring all the dogs home, pop down to your local refuge. I can only speak for the refuge in Mornac when I say the dogs are happy to see you, and there might be a lot of barking, but hey, that’s what dogs do. You’ve got to take a deep breath and look past the circumstances that hold them back, only see what they can become and how you can help them do that. And then when you have days like today, you look on the website and you see familiar faces who have been rehomed, as I have today, it really does make the world feel like a whole lot brighter place.

If you are interested in any of the dogs at the Refuge de l’Angoumois in Angoulême, feel free to contact the refuge directly. I won’t be sad if a few dogs are missing next week because they’ve got new homes. I promise.

 

Are you local? What Rural France has in common with Royston Vasey

In 2000ish, I caught the tail end of an episode of a ‘comedy’ on BBC2. In it, a black-faced circus ringmaster and his gibberish-talking “wife” had kidnapped another woman with the immortal line “You’re MY wife now!” uttered by his strange, whispery, creaky voice. It was perhaps the most disturbing thing I had seen for years and after the first episode I saw, I was not keen to return to it.

I think what made it worse was there was no canned laughter, which made it incredibly creepy. However, return I did, and it became one of the seminal comedies that forms the backbone of what I find amusing. Disturbingly amusing, in this case.

Apart from the loop-the-loop circus ringmaster, Papa Lazarou, butchered transsexual Barbara,  weird urine-drinking Harvey Dent, Paedophile German Choir Master Herr Lipp, Job Centre re-start trainer Pauline and her permanent enrolee Mickey Love, the pinnacle of the show for me was Tubbs and Edward, a pair of inbred brother-sister, husband-wife shop owners. Tubbs, an elderly dreamer of an old lady, intent on counting the ‘precious things’ of the shop, and Edward, her angry war veteran husband-brother, were so far removed from what you might have seen on a comedy before that it was little wonder the word ‘comedy’ seemed like a misnomer. Tubbs and Edward were like Deliverance meets The Wicker Man. 

The League of Gentlemen became such a part of my life that I even went on a kind of pilgrimage to Hadfield with Pete. We stopped at the roundabout zoo and bought a tin of spam in the shop on the high street. It was quite surreal. But it’s not like those Pennine towns need any excuse to be surreal. From Glossop to Sheffield, it’s all a bit Twilight Zone. If you come in by plane over from Europe, there’s just this great, hulking, dark mass that is the Peak District that stops Manchester and Leeds and Sheffield becoming one town. It’s quite primeval.

In this clip, Tubbs and Edward have killed a young hiker who visited the shop. It has my two favourite lines in: “Hello, hello… what’s all this shouting? We’ll have no trouble here.” and “We didn’t burn him!”

(and is it only me, or is it a little weird that so many British comedians like to dress up as frumpy middle aged women?)

Anyway, as you see from the final lines of the clip, Tubbs is terrified that more “strangers” might come to their shop. This is what reminds me a little of France. And it’s because of one word. Stranger.

In England, strange means weird, odd, bizarre, unnatural, different. And strangers are those who embody those quality – outsiders. If you look in the dictionary, these words are less pejorative and more diplomatic. Let’s face it though, “You’re strange” is not a compliment. It’s not called Stranger Danger for nothing. We have a less bizarre word for unfamiliar people. Foreigners. Everybody who is not from the British Isles.

But I never really thought about it until today. The French word for foreigner or foreign is étranger. Stranger. Thus everyone who comes from abroad is a stranger. You drive stranger cars and wear stranger brands and eat stranger food and speak a stranger language. Of course, here, it’s like foreigner. A kind of neutral word depending on who is using it and for what purpose. But it made me laugh. It mostly made me laugh because from now on, in my mind when I am thinking about it, I will intepret it as stranger and not foreigner. And the residents of France will become like an outpost of Royston Vasey, where if you aren’t local and your parents aren’t known, you are just a stranger.

Anyway, given my recent exploits, I am bien connu so that is alright. I might still be strange, but at least I am known.

Où sont les arrosoirs?

I’m making the most of this time between papers and students to get out and try to whip the garden under control. Not so easy in 32°C. Weird considering it was 17°C maximum last Wednesday and it rained most of the day. Less than a week’s worth of summer weather and it feels like it’s been summer forever.

I try to do as much as I can before 11am – walk the dogs, weed… it gets too hot afterwards. I’ve mostly weeded back the brassica patch, but it’s been heavily eaten by creatures of the crawling variety. Plus, I’ve been heavy handed with the weeding, so I pulled up a lot of spring onions by mistake. Some of the seeds I sowed directly haven’t taken, so I’m planting some late veg – swedes and bok choi. Today, I’m going to be pulling out the broad beans and putting in a row of parsnips. It’s a little late but we’ll see.

The big patch will be next. There’s a lot of stuff coming up…

IMG_0527This is a square of corn with pumpkins at their feet… there’s two rows of tomatoes behind them, then some peppers and chilis behind those.  But it is in need of hoeing and weeding. There’s a little space left alongside the dragonesque cardoons

IMG_0478These are a totally statuesque plant and are forming a great border between patches. Not sure why more people don’t grow them as ornamentals because they’re magnificent. On the roundabout in La Rochefoucauld (I know, illustrious!) there’s a few planted in a gorgeous, gorgeous flowerbed. I always mean to take some photographs but I’m sure everyone will look at me like I’m completely craaaaaazy. Like it’s acceptable to take photos of my adopted home town’s flowers, as long as they are doing pretty things and not adorning a roundabout near a supermarket.

It’s the flowers that are the stars at the moment though. The hollyhocks are starting and the roses are in full bloom. I mean to plant some darker hollyhocks, as I have every shade from Deep Purple (just like saying that because of the band…) to a Whiter Shade of Pale (I started, so…)

rosetremiere

Today will be an early start to see if I can get the brassicas weed-free and then to get on with the mowing. There’s a lot of stuff that needs weeding, so it’s just weed, weed, weed right now. You wouldn’t believe how fast those things grow. If human beings could eat weeds, we’d have no need for GM crops and we’d not be considering how we can introduce insects into our diet more regularly, just so we could sustain a gargantuan population. If only crab grass were edible…

I suspect I am three or four weeks off a first crop of tomatoes. It’s late, but you know what they say. The mini-pop corn are in flower and the big boy corn doesn’t look far behind. Beetroot are fattening up nicely, carrots are looking good. None of the onions have gone to seed and I might be able to harvest a few in a couple of weeks. Roll on harvest!

And unless something terrible occurs, the plums are definitely going to make up for the spoilt cherries. I’ve already had to prop a few branches up – they’re that heavy with babies. I’ll also get all the vines tied in over the next couple of days – bit of a slog to do 150. Luckily, I have more helpxrs arriving in the next couple of weeks. Not sure they will be as fun or as lovely as Shannon and Marcus though! It’s one of the benefits of opening up your house to passers-by – you get to meet lovely people and see their bit of the world as they tell you their stories.

Better get out there and get on with it. I’ve a huge jobs list. If it’s as hot as it was yesterday, I might have drowned in a pool of sweat by evening. I sense a long, cold bath at the end of it all. Bliss!

Reader…

My garden is full.

Seriously.

I have 200 metres squared of vegetable garden and there is no room left for anything else. Although it’s not full yet, it will be in a couple of weeks, and I need more space.

So…

I’m torn between adding another vegetable plot or adding raised beds.

I quite like the idea of raised beds. Less bending. Also, less digging, less turning, less weeding. I can put down a layer of weed suppressant, some newspaper and some soil, and it is done.

If I dig, I have to clear turf first, then improve the soil, then weed.

And weed.

And weed.

Of course, there are some disadvantages. Raised beds can dry out more in the summer. I’d need to mulch like crazy. It’s been nine whole days of dry weather and the soil is already too dry to dig.

Normally, too, I leave quite a bit of space between rows and crops – rather than cramming them in. I suspect a raised bed might make me put more in and be more intensive. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Plus, I won’t be able to easily fork it over in the same way. It will be harder to clear and to do with big tools. I’ll not be able to rotavate, for example.

Not that I do a lot but I like the option.

I won’t have the usual problem that some of my plants will need a deep bed, because they will always be able to go in a deep bed, but that means I’m still going to have three or four raised beds, just so that I can rotate my crops.

The logistics are a little frightening. I need more helpXrs with power tools.

I think the garden last year was further on. By the end of April, virtually all my root crops were not only in but shooting. Here it will take a little time. Luckily, rain is forecast for the weekend, and lots of it, with fairly warm temperatures. This means I don’t have to worry about watering, and everything will grow like mental.

Yesterday was a busy day. Marcus put in a row of red onions, a row of leeks, and a couple of rows of kale that have been sitting about for a while. Shannon and I planted in a load of lettuces and I got busy with the mower again. I think I need a little tractor. I’m coveting a little tractor. The things I could do with a little tractor.

I introduced them to the delights of Pan’s Labyrinth and whilst they were watching that last night, I tidied up the pots outside. I bought a couple of penstemons a couple of weeks ago and put those into my perennial bed, as well as the gladioli and a pink cactus dahlia. I noticed the monarda is going crazy and the Grande Marguerites are huge as well.

Red & Frilly

 

I think this year there will be fewer annuals in my flowerbed. I’ve planted up some of last year’s scabiosa heads which are now seeding, as well as a couple of packets of zinnia and annual poppies. Most of the flowers go as companion plants for the vegetables… marigolds, zinnia, cosmos, sunflowers. I’ve not been so successful with delphiniums and tomorrow, I am going to stop off at the nursery in Montbron and see if I can find any.

Anyway, Mme V’s daughter is taking my guests to Angoulême today to see if they can find somewhere without a goat. Having heard that there are not one but two people who walk goats through Angoulême I think their chances of leaving Charente with a vision of a rustic citidel filled with eccentric animal-walking residents imprinted on their memories is pretty high.

I’m off to check my seedlings and see that they survived their first night in the wild outdoors.

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Piégut

I took my guests to Piégut market on Wednesday. I was hoping to take them to Rouillac, but it’s on Saturday this month and that’s a long day of work for me. Plus, I’d never been to Piégut market before as I usually work on Wednesdays, so it’s not somewhere I normally get to go.

I wanted them to experience the full-on French market. I don’t know why. Bury market is pretty similar. It seems to me that markets all over the world are kind of the same. French markets, though, give you a real view of French life. None of this Amélie and Chocolat business. You can get seduced by all the Chanel adverts and classy people and think that that is what French life is like, when really, it’s about aprons and bleus de travail.

Anyway, I was hoping it would not disappoint. I do drop-offs for the magazines at the Intermarché and Sausageland and I have to say it’s not exactly the highlight of my route (well, Sausageland is great – an English butcher’s) and I get the impression it’s for people who want to say they live in the Dordogne but don’t have the money to.

But… it did me proud.

Indeed, it even showed itself in fabulous colours.

I could kind of see why people might want to live there.

Sometimes, it must be said that ‘market’ in France can comprise five wagons. One will sell meat. One will sell vegetables and fruit. One will sell fish. One will sell flowers. The other will probably sell cheese. Some ‘markets’ are smaller than that.

However, I knew the lady from Chat Noir aprons does this market, so I expected it would be bigger and brighter than I anticipated.

And it was. By a long shot.

The remnants of last year’s festival still hang over some of the square. They look less weird now that winter has gone.

DSCF3312Luckily, right underneath, there was a guy selling French-style tabard aprons. Just like Mrs Overall.

piegut

You can see them on the right.

There were also lots of very French-style stalls that I was glad not to have missed. There were the good things – the fruit stalls, the bakers’ stalls with their huge meringues, the butchers’ vans, the rotisserie, the plant stalls – the bad things – the huge knickers, the underpants stalls, the weird tartan slipper stalls, the old lady shoe stalls, the oilcloth stalls – and the ugly things.

I love French markets.

I’d spend all day, every day marvelling at their treasures.

DSCF3315As you can see, it was quite quiet. I like this. It was busy, but not too much so. Plenty of people were buying, and plenty were waiting, but there wasn’t that feeling of being cramped and unable to enjoy what there is to see.

We sat at a café and had a coffee with the rest of the English and Dutch tourists and I tried to explain how to spot English people. It was quite easy. Mostly, we talk loud, wear bad shoes and have terrible haircuts and bad teeth. Dutch people are often the tallest in the crowd. I was surprised that two elegant ladies next to us asked me to take a picture and told me they were Dutch – they had the French look down well. The non-granny look.

DSCF3314The rotisserie man does well – he usually had a queue of at least six people. The man with the tools got to demonstrate his arsenal at one point, complete with an oh-so-French cigarette dangling from his lips.

If I could ask for anything for American tourists to understand, it would be the French market. The towns can seem so quiet and deserted until market day. I’m not sure it was the best example, because there must have been at least two dozen Dutch and English stalls and I’m pretty sure you could get away with zero French.

Still, if anything makes France all French, it’s the fresh vegetables – all in season of course. One lady had a huge display of mandarin oranges. It’s these kind of displays that make France so very French, especially with the uber-French attachée handwriting.

orange

Pollarded trees are a source of intrigue to my guests. I confess, it was only in 2006 that I came across pollarded trees, in Japan. I thought they were suffering from some kind of disease. However, I did see, which I had never seen before, a pollarded magnolia.

pollarded magnolia

A lovely friend of mine shares my love of magnolias. In fact, she loves them more than I do, maybe. She has one in her garden that has flowered for the first time. I need a magnolia. I covet them. Mostly, I covet the old ones, but you plant magnolia for other people to enjoy. It’s kind of an altruistic plant. By the time it is magnificent, you are long dead.

It’s funny, too, because the houses seem very different than the houses around me. They are much narrower and higher, and many have the brick and stone combination. It’s very reminiscent of the houses in Royan, so I guess it’s a fashion thing.

Anyway, we stopped for a baguette and frites at a roadside truck – I was sad the market didn’t have one, and someone is obviously missing a trick – and then continued to Oradour. Honestly, it was unexpectedly hot and we were a little unprepared. Still, we lived. Though I drank a litre and a half of water in the car.

Photos of Oradour tomorrow, then.