Tag Archives: France

Twilight Old Dogs’ Home

I’m just going to issue a warning. This is an unashamedly doggie post. I promise not to do one for a while. Feel free to grab a hankie if you are of a sensitive disposition as far as animals are concerned. I’m sure it can’t just be me sitting at the computer having a few tears every time a video pops up of some rottie being rescued in Detroit, or a pack of dogs who have been rescued in Mexico City. This one, at least, is a little closer to home.

A couple of years ago, I read about an old dogs’ home here in France, and I’ve been following their website and Facebook page ever since. The premise of this old dogs’ home – Twilight – is that they would take in abandoned, orphaned, handicapped or otherwise needy dogs from the refuges around the region, and they would give them homes. And boy, is there a need. Last Monday, for example, Nadine, the refuge directrice brought over a shitszu that had been given up. Her owner had gone into an old people’s home herself and there was nowhere for the little poppet to go. She was 14 years old, has a tumour on her stomach, has claws like Fu Manchu, teeth like a row of broken gravestones. Imagine spending your 14 years sitting on the lap of an old lady, and then in your own twilight years, you are torn apart under the cruellest of circumstances. And this is just one example. There are far too many old dogs who come in to the refuge and who just can’t cope.

Angoulême also has a no-euthanasia policy. Other refuges are not so keen on keeping old dogs alive. You might think that is kinder, and I guess, if there were nothing ahead but months and months of waiting and months and months of distress, it might be. Luckily, there are plenty of people who love old dogs. However, that doesn’t stop some refuges having what can only be described as a trigger-happy euthanasia policy.

Nanny Mac is one recent example of a dog snatched from imminent euthanasia and then, following a short foster placement, finding a very loving home.

DSCF0003

This is Nanny Mac after her long trip to her new home.

So Twilight was devised by Mike and Leeanne as a way to take the dogs from those refuges having trouble rehoming old dogs, or with a trigger-happy euthanasia policy. And I have been wanting to visit for as long as I can remember. So when I finally got the chance on Thursday, well, neither hell nor high water could have kept me from it.

My friend Jane has the tears of joy record. She cried before she got in through the door. I lasted until I saw Stevie, an Australian collie. Then I was in the kitchen with blind old Stevie, weeping into his coat and giving him the most massive of petting sessions. Stevie is like a celebrity to me – have followed his story and to actually meet him was like meeting a celebrity.

IMG_0630But you don’t get far before you find another dog who melts your heart. They have twenty six at the moment, all living in the downstairs bit of their home, complete with dog beds, dog settees, dog cushions, dog spaces and bags and bags of love. 

Some dogs are filled with energy. In fact, there are two younger dogs here, Fleur and Jacob, who had been abused and then adopted by Mike and Leeanne. There are old dogs with plenty of life left in them like lovely Rex…

IMG_0574And there are dogs like Nana, who is deaf and blind. She gets up once in a while, has a pee, gets into another bed and goes back to sleep again. 

IMG_0632There are, of course, plenty of spaniels to break my heart. Like William, who is ten. 

IMG_0585He is only one year older than Tilly, but he spent five years in a refuge and he is definitely lots less energetic than Tilly. He is so similar though. He just sat in his spot when we came in, ignoring all the other dogs. He moves just like she does and when you give him a rub, his back legs go just like Tilly’s do. Sad to think of what those five years in the refuge have done to him. My little menace is full of energy and she is herself a bit of a pensioner. 

IMG_0646She has Heston though, to keep her young.

There are blind dogs and deaf dogs, and dogs with three legs, like poor Emmy the hound. 

IMG_0589Emmy is lots younger than most of the other old dogs, but she was being badly bullied by the other dogs in the refuge after the operation to remove her leg. She is still a little lost and forlorn, not wanting to go outside except to do her business. There is a plan in place to see if we can release the inner Emmy, though, fear not. 

And there are dogs who have come from a long way away, like Hope. 

IMG_0572She has come all the way from Bulgaria. A month ago, it seemed like Hope had taken a turn for the worse – she has all sorts of tumours and arthritis – but this time, she sought out company in ways that almost couldn’t have been believed a month ago. She has the saddest eyes, so full of two thousand stories of hardship, which is what really makes Twilight such a place of joy – it is a warm, comfortable, happy, safe, loving place for dogs to spend their final days or months. 

And that is the last thing to say about Twilight. It is a place where dogs go to spend their days in peace – otherwise healthy dogs who are not in pain, who are not sick. They are old, they are creaky. They are sometimes suffering from diseases of old age, but they are not ready to cross the rainbow bridge just yet. But eventually, they do. And with thirty dogs of an age, that is a fairly regular event. Last year, a friend gave me a fridge magnet with Loulou the pug on it. But by the time I opened it at Christmas, she had gone. However, she spent her final days surrounded by humans and warmth and love and companionship. And that is all any of us creatures could ask for. 

I just realised as well, as I was reading this through, that I had said nothing of the two people who are responsible for all of this – Leeanne and Mike. You know those people who make you feel instantly welcome, instantly cared about, who are gentle and kind and unassuming and modest, who remind you of the best of people, not the worst? That would be them. When you know the stories of dogs who’ve been used as a football on a gypsy camp, who have been thrown from moving cars, who have been abandoned by unscrupulous puppy farm owners, who have been left in their hour of need, it is easy to become cynical about humanity. Leeanne and Mike need only to say hello and you remember there is much more good out there than bad. I’m sure it’s been said a gazillion times before, but it is very humbling to be with people like this. All your tiny grievances and petty grumbles seem so pathetic when you realise what some people do on a daily basis. They have a way of making you want to do more, of making you realise that you probably have just a little bit more you could do to help make the world a nicer place. Everyone should know people like that. 

Anyway, if you would like to support Twilight Old Dogs Home, you can donate via their website. If you live close, you can always donate cleaning fluid or things for the frequent jumble sales the association hold to raise money. 

IMG_0602Happy dogs, and Happy Emma. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Still waiting…

… seriously, it seems like summer is never going to arrive. I keep having a couple of days of mad activity in the garden and then it rains. The grass is epic. We can’t strim. We can’t mow. I keep hoeing back the weeds. I know we need the rain, but the cold is getting to my bones. I’m still in two jumpers and I’ve not had my shorts on for more than two days so far this year. It’s tiresome.

In actual fact, the temperatures aren’t that much different than last year, but it just seems so cold because we’ve had such little sunshine. It’s almost June and it feels like we’re way behind. Plus, our cherry tree has very few cherries – will be surprised if we get a kilo from all of them. Steve’s just informed me that the tree up the road is heavy with them – but I can only assume ours were having a bad year because of the weather when it blossomed. On the other hand, we’ve got hundreds of peaches this year – and we did last year too. Apples also seem thin on the ground. Bloody weather!

Beans… we have.

Broad beans

Peas, we have as well.

You’ll also remember a little planter I made?

Welcome to March

which was based on this:

From Diggerslist

But ended up being my own ‘Welcome’ twist… now I realise I need huge pots – or bigger ones at least! and that I need very low growing plants – because these calendula are far too big and it now looks like this:

So next year, I will separate these pots up and maybe do them in another way. The beauty of recyclable products! However, I am going to do one near the entrance gate because I think it’s cute.

I’ve also done my planters, too. I love verbena, so there’s lots of that:

Verbena

I’ve also painted some 50c pots with gloss paint and put in succulent cuttings from our overgrown succulent can:

Sempervivum in an old rusty tin can

The sempervivum is very easy to propagate – you just separate the hen from the chicks! I’ve potted these up in white painted terracotta pots:

Sempervivum

There are two final touches. One is a vamped up decoupage pot (Verity – I promise I’ll do yours! I do!)

Decoupage on plant pots

And the other touch is the painted tins. I sprayed these with primer then sprayed them green. Some have holes punched in the back so they can hang, like this:

Cheap and easy

And the best thing about these? They cost buttons. I can spray about 30 cans with a can of 4€ spray paint and a 3€ can of primer. A bit of wire and I’ve got a hanging garden. It’s not exactly Babylon, but then who wants that? We all know what happened to Babylon!

My little garden, still with its knickers, grows on apace:

Steve hammered up a ‘Noireau-proof’ fence, since Noireau seemed to think it was his own personal toilet. Poor boy – but I don’t want him digging up my babies! And, for the meanwhile, the knickers are staying.

Meanwhile, the red onions have gone to seed. Nothing to be done about that. That damned warm spell then the cold weather has fair tricked my onions – so I shall now enjoy their flowers and then save the seed. Only one problem in saving the seed of things that bolt – you get other stuff that bolts too.

Oh well.

You have to make the most of what you have, even if that means bolting onions…

To Butlins or not to Butlins?

I’m foregoing Top Ten Tuesday til later in the week because I’ve got more pressing things to show you.

A few weeks ago, on a cold, wet, miserable day, I started to imagine what I could do with a little bit of land I have in the courtyard.

It’s a bare bit of land with conifers on one side, the peach tree at the back and a lovely flowering currant Ribes King Edward VII and a viburnum ‘Snowball‘. There are sometimes some nettles and some hollyhocks and in the winter, there were quite a few mushrooms. The outpipe for the bath runs underneath this plot, and at some point there was a tree here too – now just a stump. I’ve said before that the garden is a very functional thing here – we have a few no-maintenance or low-maintenance shrubs left by Madame A, but essentially, if it doesn’t produce something or need very little maintenance, it’s not got a place in the garden.

The space looked like this when we moved in:

Two years ago!
What there was once…

And this is what it looked like a month ago – before Steve got giddy with the rotavator

I had a bit of a plan about what I wanted – a kind of spiral/keyhole shape that goes up higher in the middle.

A bit of a sketch

I’d started planting out what I wanted in the plot – a mixture of herbacious perennials and annuals – and I’d bought a couple that it was harder to find seeds for here in France, or that were part of our local pepinière’s 5 for 10€ deal. Not much has changed, except I’ve added a space for delphiniums and lupins.

So… what’s in it?

Pinterest board
  • campanula
  • calendula
  • zinnia
  • french marigolds
  • limonium
  • immortelles
  • marguerites
  • monarda
  • rudbeckia
  • coleopsis
  • dicentra bleeding heart
  • dahlia
  • aquilegia

And this is what it looks like now… of course, there’s a lot of growing still to do!

What it looks like now…

Now, I had a great idea. I like plant markers very much, on account of I often forget where things are and what they are. I decided I was going to make little rustic bunting-style flags with the name of the plant on it in permanent marker, tied with gardening twine.

Flags…

However, this is the source of consternation. Steve liked the bed idea and followed my instructions to the letter as to how to make it. He shifted all the grass and put down the weed suppressing carpet of newspaper, then the top soil. He liked the plant arrangement.

He doesn’t like the flags. Apparently, hate is too strong a word and he feels the same about these flags as he does about kidney beans. He laughed at the flags, though, and gave them a 2 out of 10. He said it made the garden look like Butlins.

I obviously DON’T think they make it look like Butlins. I think they are cool.

He also is taking far more of the credit than he should. He compared himself to Michelangelo and said that just because I came up with the idea doesn’t mean that I could execute it (I hasten to add, I did the actual picking, growing and planting and he moved some soil and put in the border) and he has laughed at my attempts.

This aside, I would like to thank him for his realisation of the foundation of my border.

Now all I have to do is get Noireau to realise it’s not a nice, plush outdoor toilet and convince a few people that the flags are a great, inspired idea!

A certain friend may find herself abandoned at the airport with her children when she turns up here for her summer trip unless she admits that they DON’T look like washing on a line and that people just don’t have knickers that look like this.

What’s new pussycat?

In this amazing and glorious weather we’ve had in the last couple of weeks, we’ve got a lot done outside. I even mowed the grass for the first time since last year. I know I did it a lot earlier last year, and my grass REALLY REALLY needed it, but the rotavator has been hogging all the petrol, I was busy last week and Steve was painting the house. I’m leaving off posting a picture of his painting until it’s all done, mainly because it looks kind of worse, being half done, than it did before. It’s looking wonderful, though. It looks like a brand new house. Amazing what a lick of paint can do. At 8.99€ a tub for a giant-sized tub of paint, it’s a bargain as well. Hopefully, it won’t all wash off or something.

We’ve even got trees growing paintbrushes!

I have repotted a lot of our plants on, and I’ve even done something a little cute with some cheap terracotta pots. I’ve painted them with black gloss paint, then added ‘Yokoso!’, ‘Welkom’ and ‘Bienvenido’ – though Jake asked a) if I didn’t know any words in English and then b) asked if I’d forgotten how to spell welcome. Bah.

Hopefully, give it a couple of weeks and this will start to have some plants in. I’ve planted a whole load of yellow and white plants in it – think it will look mighty fine! I’ve gone for short, bright, colourful things – a mixture of various different marigolds in yellows – to be honest, I might make a bigger series – this was a 28″, 22″ and 14″ series. Given that the pots themselves are less than 2€ each, it’s not an expensive way to decorate. I’d totally stolen the idea from Diggerslist

which of course looks a lot smarter than mine on account of the fact that their plants have grown already. I confess I looked at the picture and then did it my way. The next one I do, I’m going to run a piece of pipe down through the holes so that it’s a bit more stable. They’ve also got a lovely red door and I’ve got cement bricks. Oh well. Steve’s painting will no doubt get round to rendering these bricks, or, at the very least, painting them. And then it will look pretty too. I’d not done ‘Home Sweet Home’ because I like to be a bit more original and not COMPLETELY steal someone’s idea. I love the gloss paint, though. I did all my lettering by hand. I really, really, really want a Cameo stencil cutting machine. I guess I could make my own stencils with OHT sheets and a stanley knife, but I’m too impatient and too lazy to do things properly.

I’d done Yokoso! first and then thought about German and Italian, but then that accidentally looks like I’m welcoming people to some kind of Axis powers summit, so I’d gone for Dutch and Spanish. Steve thinks it’s amusing I’ve tucked them away behind the gates but I don’t want anyone to steal my treasures and also, if it’s only me that sees them, so be it. I might do some for outside the house though, since he’s done such a good job of tidying it up. I thought about doing Kanji lettering, but my Japanese handwriting is not good and it’d look rubbish, so romanji it is. You wouldn’t believe how many languages I went through to get to these. If I do another, I might do an ‘England/Gaelic/Welsh version’ with Welcome-Failte-Croese on it, though that might make people think I know Welsh and Gaelic, though I do not. An Irishman once taught me to ask how to go to the toilet in Gaelic, and I can say Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-gogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch after a summer holiday in Anglesey with the Ellisons. Japanese is easy after you’ve mastered Llanfair.

In the garden, the beans and peas are almost ready to be staked. Potatoes should be in by now, but Steve’s been too busy to rotavate another time, so I’ll be either digging the plots over (not much of a chore anyway) or planting them anyway. I still hold by the Good Friday planting – it’s a reason not to plant until Friday, anyway!

The propagator is still in full-time use – I guess it will be until the weather heats up properly. It’s a marvel. Whatever goes in pops into life. It takes away all those will they?/won’t they? moments when I wonder what will come up. At the moment, it’s gloriosa in there, as well as some passionfruit – not been too successful – and some Super Marmande. Given that temperatures are due to dip, I’m glad I’ve not planted any tomatoes outside yet.

Since I’ve finally given up Madame Verity’s tresor, I feel I can share with you my joyous vide-grenier find:

If the truth be told, I’d sprayed it with degreasant and it has come up like new, which is a shame. I liked it tatty and unloved. I love the whole cheesy ‘Bromance’ picture, those nasty, nasty suits, the cheesy faces, the lilac suit, the hairy-hands-guy, the tie-pin, the fact it says La Vérité (I think I’m going to rename Verity ‘La Vérité’) – she needs a La in front of her name for when she’s being flamboyant, like I do when I am La Lee. For 1€, it was a worthwhile find. It was in return for this little grannified tea-pot she bought me:

I think this ‘tit-for-tat’ (or ‘tatt-for-tatt’) vide-grenier game needs to stop before we end up with a house full of ‘treasures’ and have to do our own sale, hoping that there might be some ladies out there doing a similar thing as us who will take the whole lot off our hands.

I’m not safe at vide-greniers. I’m still regretting not having bought those Nana Mouskouri LPs. Who’s to say when I’ll see them again?

Probably the next vide-grenier I go to, in all honesty…

Have a lovely Wednesday, all!

Sugoi, desu ne?*

* I go all Japanese around blossom and beautiful stuff. It’s my default language of admiration and awe.

Yesterday, I finished delivering all my papers across the region – such a hard job, driving through the beautiful countryside stopping at gorgeous towns. Yesterday, it was the turn of Chasseneuil, Roumazieres-Loubert, Chabanais, St Junien and Rochechouart.

First stop is a little café in Chasseneuil where the wonderful proprietress told me her customers were ‘greedy’ for the magazine and she has to ration them. Chasseneuil is a sleepy little town that hasn’t really moved on much from the 70s. A lot of the shops have tired old displays and it’s definitely like a step back in time. Ever since the by-pass went in, the town hasn’t exactly died so much as stagnated. Having said that, I like it. I like the feeling of being in a completely different era, one with few cars and old shops with tired displays. The Madame in the café is like a breath of fresh air in a town where an Intermarché and a Lidl in need of a ‘relooking’ rule the street.

Next up is Roumazieres. Truthfully, I don’t like this town. It’s got little by way of anything interesting. The buildings are dirty, the people seem less polite – the whole place is out of step with the rest of the Charente stops. It just seems scruffy and uncared for. There aren’t any flower displays, there are no beautiful buildings. Even though Chasseneuil is a little tired, it still has THE most beautiful Art Nouveau town hall with beautiful tile work and lovely details. Romazieres can’t even offer that.

From here, it’s a little windy way from Romazieres to do a couple of drop-offs in more remote locations before getting back to Chabanais, which is an utterly charming little town. It sits astride the Vienne river and although it’s desperately in need of a bypass (in the process of being built) since all the traffic from Angouleme to Limoges has to pass along it, including hundreds of articulated lorries, it’s quite lovely.

St Junien is the biggest town on the route, and I like it a lot. There are ample shops, bars and restaurants. It always feels busy, too, which is rare for France. Plus, I get to do drop-offs at the wonderful Moulin de Tin Tin, a treasure trove of lovely household stuff as well as jewellery, handbags and clothes. A true delight!

I parked near the church and walked over to drop off magazines at Giac’s bar – only to see the most beautiful trees in blossom.

It’s at times like this that I’d love my film camera to hand. Truth be told, it doesn’t get so much of an outing any more. It’s becoming impossible to get good quality film (I only use Fuji for colour work because of the greens and the blues – amazing colours) and it costs a ridiculous amount to process. Black and white I can process myself, even though the film is still pushing on for 5€ a pop. So I use my cute little digital my mum, sister and brother bought for me, but it doesn’t have manual focus and the aperture range is limited, which is a shame. Oh the things I could do with a digital SLR! I think I need to start saving for a second-hand one because I miss what I can do with an SLR. Still, the shots don’t come out too bad at all!

If you’re a photographer, you’ll know what I mean when I say I’d like a better depth of field. I could make those blossoms pop out like you wouldn’t believe! Still, I always try to get the balance between remembering that a photograph is just a way of capturing a moment – and it should never be better than the moment was, or detract from the moment. And the warm wind, the petals blowing across the square like snow, the smell of the magnolias – a photograph could never do it justice!

This magnolia stellata was a couple of days past its prime – and another Japanese moment – mono no aware – simultaneous sadness and joy. The joy of the beauty of a thing and the sadness that it is fleeting and transitory. It was utterly magnificent. I had a magnolia (a tiny little one!) back in Manchester, and I’d love one here. I made do with a couple of 1€ purchases of some rather tired-looking perennials. I’ve still got to decide where to put this flowerbed of mine. I’m stacking up pots of perennials and need a suitably appropriate place to put them.

I love magnolias. They’re a kind of gift you get from the previous house-owner who perhaps had the kindness to plant one – as they’re not the kind of thing you can buy and see in all its magnificence by the next few years. I love the huge trees with tulip blossoms – but they’re years and years worth of growth – the kind you acquire rather than buy.

It is, however, days like these when I realise how lucky I am to have such achingly blue skies that almost make my heart hurt because they’re so, so beautiful. I think this time of year is a perfect time of year. Everything is still new, so alive and vibrant. It’s not too hot – the nights are beginning to get warmer – the breezes are delightful. The garden is manageable and beautiful and green. The chickens are laying. The animals are enjoying sunbathing and dirt baths. I wake up with the pear and quince tree in blossom outside my bedroom window. It’s light. The evenings are long and cool. All those dark little seeds are beginning to put out leaves and stalks. Everything is gentle and new.

Steve’s in the process of painting the outside of the house – it seems to have taken years off the house and given it a new lease of life. Amazing what two big tubs of cheap paint can do! Mind you, I’m a little worried it will a) put the rest of the house to shame b) put the rest of the village to shame c) blind people who come round the corner, used to seeing a grubby little vision, not a glowing edifice. I hope they aren’t so distracted that they drive into the house.

Spring has sprung…

A lyric from one of my favourite songs ever.

I had such a crush on Ian McCulloch and his debut solo album Candleland is just amazing. As is the album this is taken from. I love a man with back-combed hair, it is true.

Anyway… Spring has sprung. It’s maybe a little later than last year, since this time last year, my ornamental plum had flowers  on March 1st and yesterday it had its first flowers of 2012 and that’s one of the beauties of having a diary or a blog is seeing what you were up to this time last year. I notice my flower garden did not do so well – combination of repeated trips to the UK in May and then again in July – and because it was so dry. Also, I tried a few packets of seeds, but they were very old and came to nothing.

Evening plum blossom

One of the things I love very much about this life is the renewed life that spring gives you. I just didn’t feel it the same in the UK – mainly because there are still arctic breezes that cut through and stick a knife right in your ribs. Yesterday, I got in the car and it said this:

It sank to 22 degrees, but it was still a bit of a shock to see!

I thought as I drove to my afternoon appointments that all the winter cold is forgiven just for one day like this. I can live with it knowing that the landscape goes from one under snow to one bursting with life in a month. And it is true, winter did give me a time of rest, hibernation and a time to earn a little money indoors.

Yesterday's drive to work...

This is what I came here looking for… proper spring, wide-open countryside, empty roads, greens and blues. You can see why I don’t miss the traffic and the M60 and the M61 and the traffic lights through Bolton and the sitting and the waiting for four turns of the lights to actually move up far enough to get through to the next bit. I miss many, many things about the UK, not least that Bolton feels like home and when I need to retreat, this place still feels like somewhere I’m visiting rather than somewhere I know like the back of my hand.

I think that’s partly to do with the fact that in England, by and large, most of my routes involved six or seven main ways to get there. Even when I worked in Clitheroe and had to drive 30 miles from my house to work across some beautiful landscapes, mostly it was fairly bleak – though I always loved the drive across from Preston to Clitheroe – which is a straight, fast road  (not unlike the ones we have here) that slipped through Pendle Vale in the shadow of Longridge Fell and then Pendle Hill. On a good day, you can see all the way up to the Lake District – and yes, I would have loved to have lived in the Lake District and maybe one day I will be able to buy a house in the Lake District – one day when I am a millionaire. One of my great aunts and her husband had a house in the Lake District – I still remember that house. It was amazing. They live outside Penrith now, and I love it up there too, but it’s not the same as having a house in the shadow of a huge hill.

Beautiful photograph from Geoff Rollinson. Click to visit his gallery

So yes, I miss this. I miss those days when we had training up in Cumbria and I had an overnight stay in Grange-over-Sands or Ullswater. I miss our training days in Ambleside. When I was an English teaching consultant, we often had our meetings up around the lakes. My very first one, fresh out of teaching in Clitheroe, was in Grange. It was May – our meeting started at 10:00 and having been used to setting off at 6:50 to make it to school for 7:30, then teaching all day before rolling in back at my house around 6:30, after all the traffic had gone – it was a complete shock to the system. My predecessor, Mary, who had moved to be an English consultant in another county and was thus at the meeting, had been for a run before the meeting. Two ladies sat drinking tea and reading the paper. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Whilst I think it’s true that you are probably only appreciated in paid employment for about six months (the time it takes for your bosses to grow accustomed to your efficiency and talent and then just to expect it, before, finally, getting frustrated if you do anything remotely human and non-robotic) I think maybe the same is true of jobs. I did work too hard at that job and invested far too much in it. Maybe I should have been a little lazier and enjoyed it a little more? That morning, I’d set off at 7:00 from Bolton to drive up – most people stayed over the night before. I ate in a Little Chef and they had breakfast in the restaurant. I was far too decent to take £15 for a breakfast from the tax payer. More fool me. I still am like that. There are some people in life from whom the tax man makes money just to support those others. I guess that was me.

Our hotel, that first meeting

So there were times I enjoyed my drive to work. There were times my offices were conducive to creativity. For the rest of those times, I had an office at the end of a dark corridor, or in a musty old building, or an office in an under-stairs cupboard formerly used for cleaning materials. Now I always stop to make sure I appreciate what’s around me – and even in the winter, I have the privilege of always finding beauty around me. I could have stopped in fifty places yesterday just for a little look about and to snap a photograph. Perhaps I should.

The sun will come out tomorrow…

Well, actually, it came out today.

It’s been gale-force winds here. The little wind ornaments have been driven mental, turning one way and another, not knowing where to go in the wind. A winter storm had passed over France, leaving some people’s houses flooded – others without electricity. We’re lucky. We had electric and I sorted out candles, matches, dynamo torches and the paraffin lamp last time we had a power cut so I think we would have survived.

But yesterday it was so bleak – the sky a tungsten and charcoal grey – and it didn’t really get light. Jake went to school in the pouring rain, we stayed in and I wrote. Steve had had a crap night’s sleep – so had I – something about worrying the shutters are about to come off their hinges at any point makes you worry too much to sleep. Sheets of rain came driving down off the roof, totally overwhelming the gutter and then slamming down onto the glass roof of the lean-to. I’ve never seen so much rain. It was like we got a month’s worth in five minutes. Tilly went out for a wazz and was soaked to the bone by the time when she got back in. Frankly, I’m surprised she even bothered going outside. Usually, the hint of rain makes her want to wee in the living room or the dining room or Jake’s room or the bathroom or the lean-to.

And I won’t deny it. I was feeling utterly miserable. Some days, you’re entitled to a poor-me moment.

Today, I woke up a bit later than usual. The sun was out – first time in three weeks – and an hour later, my dad finally arrived. I think he’s forgotten it was my birthday on Thursday, though I’m well-used to this. He forgets Abi’s birthday and it’s the day after his. Mostly, he just wanted to get my junk out of his car and go to the supermarket, so he didn’t stop, just dropped off parcels and packages.

And oh what a joy.

My mum has made me a fabulous – and I mean TOTALLY fabulous card that is so beautiful I’m going to frame it afterwards. I opened my birthday present from her and it was a beautiful jumper – at first I thought she’d knitted it – she’s a seriously wonderful knitter – but was only a little disappointed that it was from a shop instead, because it’s beautiful. I also got some very timely hand-warmers, a very lovely pair of stretchy jodhpurs and an undershirt.

The second present was off my Nana. Her card had arrived yesterday a little damp and worse for wear, but another beautiful, sparkly jumper. My mum and Nana have such good taste. I absolutely love them.

Then it was on to my sister’s. A gorgeous cardigan and THE COOLEST (well, warmest!) slippers. Love. ♥

New slipper boots. So warm.... soooo comfy

However, since some of my last boxes have made their way out here, opening them was like opening birthday presents too. I found my ‘hug me’ hot water bottle, a body warmer I had for horse riding, a couple of jumpers I forgot I had, my photographic enlarger (which was the only bit of kit missing and once it warms up, I’m totally out there making my dark room. Watch this space!) my other Moroccan pouffe, more Christmas decorations and the likes. Oh, it was wonderful. I’m strongly of the opinion that you should – once a year or so – let someone run loose in your house, take a few boxes of things, keep them from you for a year and then give you them back. It’s amazing how much more you appreciate them.

And with the passing of the torrential rain, we are left with a flood, but it feels like these sunny moments are so much more precious. A lot like life. It does feel like the sun has lifted on what has been a very crappy week. Thanks for all your love yesterday, too. xx

Some photos for you…

The bridge is a good two metres above the river bed...

The river bed was dry on Thursday so this has come up by about 2 metres over 36 hours. The Tardoire disappears down a limestone sink hole just between Rivieres and La Rochefoucauld, and I guess it goes to some underground lake or cavern or river. Then, when that’s full, the river starts flowing again down our way. But to go from being the foot-deep stream it usually is for four or five months (from November to April) to the bottom of the bridge, and flood the road entirely, well that’s a lot of rain to fall in one day!

A good two metres more than usual...

But, and if you’ll forgive the dirty lens, the village is looking lovely in blue.

The back lane to La Rochette

Molly nearly met her maker here – the ditch alongside must be a good two foot drop, if not more, and she went in over her head without realising there was no land underneath. For a dog who doesn’t like water on her belly, she did well. Steve was prepared to dive in after her. I had Tilly on the lead. She’s far too stupid to be round anything that might cause problems!