July 4th

It’s our wedding anniversary today and the weather is finally starting to settle down. We took a picnic out, all the way to… the plum tree.

house and picnic table

picnic table

and we had our first pan bagnat of the year

pan bagnat

Finbar was tied up just in case he decided to run off, but I think those days are over. He’s getting very sensible in his old age.

Finbar 4 July

Trixie didn’t move from the chair she’s appropriated.

Trixie's chair

Ninnie got as far as the doormat.

Ninnie on doormat

It’s a good thing we don’t crave excitement.

A walk around the house widdershins

We walk through the porch and turn widdershins, north, and into the shade, past the barn door where tomatoes have set themselves in the compost around the hydrangea, frazzled by the morning sun,

 

Tomatoe plants

and the well with its old hand pump, water deep, four, five metres now from lack of rain, festooned in ivy and wild irises.

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Left, along the north-facing wall, the old barn, window below and shutter on the hayloft above,

 

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and what was once the main door, stuck fast now and patched at the bottom with tin and old planks.

 

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Turning south, along the west-facing wall, the passionflower, transplanted from Bordeaux, mown down twice, a stem recovered (twice), rooted and replanted (twice). This stuff is indestructible.

 

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Left again, along the south-facing wall, beneath the study window, like the Gobi Desert. Hollyhocks are hanging on, and the roses planted this year with two cutting of the old vine. Morning glories thrive, but bloom only in the morning.

 

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Hibiscus grows everywhere here, great luxuriant bushes.

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Another vine cutting, happy that the sun has moved around, and nasturtiums that will grow anywhere.

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Even the sun-loving plumbago has bleached in the fierce sun this year. From delicate sky blue, they have turned almost white.

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A sad cutting of honeysuckle brought from Bordeaux shot into life here and rambles everywhere. A small pot of sage bought on the market is a huge bush now.

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Back into the porch where geraniums, basil, bay cuttings and hydrangeas sit in the shade and watch the evening sun bake the meadow grass.

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Time to water it all now.

Three Line Tales: That house

This short story is for Sonya’s Three Line Tales photo prompt.

photo by Thomas Shellberg via Unsplash

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“All the years I’ve driven past that creepy house,” she says, stopping the car and opening the door, “now I have you to protect me,” she throws him a cheesy smile, “I’m going to have a look inside—coming?”

The doors and windows yawn and wind moans in the hollow rooms as he hangs back on the threshold, glancing uneasily at the way the house seems to crouch, waiting for them to…to what?

“Come on—you’re not chicken, are you?” she says, tugging at his hand, as the house gives a great sigh, slips, slides, and swallows them up.

House

First thoughts on returning to town after settling the first of our belongings in the new house.

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For years you were home to others,

Fathers, mothers,

Daughters and sons,

The way life runs.

 

Since time before electric light,

To chase the night,

Heat came from fire,

And from the byre.

 

White plaster walls not smooth and straight,

A rough plank gate,

Clay tiles, warm red,

My feet now tread.

 

Do you feel the change in your stones,

Your old house bones?

Mine feel right here,

Happiness near.

Microfiction: Sunlight after the rain

The Daily Post prompt is: transformation.

 

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We first saw it in the rain, a light drizzle that hung a diamond on each blade of grass in the meadow. The farmhouse of grey stone, colour of the low cloud, glowered, a squat, stubborn expression on its façade. Tall trees stood behind it like a squad of security guards, casting no shadows but obscuring the edge of the sky. From among their branches came the mournful cry of a large bird, repeated and echoed back and forth across the valley.

I remember the glances we exchanged, caught between admiration of the spot and unease at its loneliness. The bird called again and again. Was it anger at the disturbance of their solitude? Or was it simply the language of the avian world that did not even notice ours? We pressed on, around to the door, past shuttered windows that might have been blind and might have been monitoring our passage.

The key turned, a long, slow, grinding turn in the lock, the wards clicking with disuse, age, weariness maybe. We pushed the heavy door open, half-expecting to find the persistent rain falling inside, mice scuttling into hiding, spiders darting back into their lairs among the rafters. Instead the air was mild, still and dry. A fire was laid in the big fireplace, and on a long, age-blackened table, houseplants, freshly watered, waited for someone to place them back in the window. We went from room to room, opening shutters, letting in the cool, damp air, and the light, silvery and steely like a mountain stream.

High in the sky, the sun was poking at the clouds, dragging them apart, and through the ragged holes, the light fell, changing from silver to gold. It fell through the old bubbly glass and kindled a slow fire in the terracotta tiles. It caressed the plaster, white and uneven and glowed in the grain of old polished wood. I caught your eye as you reached out a hand to catch a golden beam, the cupped palm filling with light, and you smiled. We had come home.

Another grand day out

Yesterday we went to start the proceedings for the acquisition of what will one day be our new home. Buying a house takes ages in France and as our place is on agricultural land, it has to be offered to the local farmers’ association first. They won’t make up their minds about whether they want it for many weeks.

We talked to the grand-nephew of the owner about aspects of the property that he would know about, like who has been responsible for cutting and baling the hay, who is responsible for keeping the vegetation along the stream under control, and something that has been worrying me, how will the neighbours take to Finbar.

There is a section in the country code referring to sight hounds that forbids their use as hunting dogs, and insists that they must be kept on a lead at all times. Hunters hate them because they chase anything that moves, and particularly rabbits and hares. Chase, but not necessarily catch, the reason for the Spanish Galgos being abandoned in their thousands after every hunting season. In the countryside, the hunter has a lot of privileges, and can chase game that have been started across anybody’s land. There have been cases where a deer has taken refuge in somebody’s front room, only to have the hunters barging in claiming that the poor creature be handed over. Hunters are trigger happy. They take pot shots as animals and people that annoy them.

The good news is that not only are the neighbours not hunters, but there aren’t many rabbits to send Finbar crazy. Even better, deer come onto the property to drink at the stream. As long as Finbar leaves the deer, the sheep and the owls alone we should be okay.

I did try to take some photos of the house, but after a single shot the camera gave up the ghost. My phone only does outdoor pics with any great success, so for the moment, until I get the pics other people took, I’ll just post a few photos of the nearest small town.

Tonneins in on the banks of the Garonne, built on river cliffs with a promenade all the way along the foot of the embankment. In the main square there’s a bandstand with a splendid view of the river. The guy in the pic is nothing to do with us.

Hundreds of cranes flew over while we were there. You can just about see them, tiny specks against the white cloud.

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Looking downriver towards Bordeaux

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Along the walls there are old stone water chutes that send rainwater cascading down to the river, after a brief and picturesque stop over in a stone basin.

 

 

Beneath the bandstand are the public toilets. Not a place I would visit in the normal course of events, but somebody had a pressing need, so down we went. They were medieval but clean. The picture is from the toilet window. There were cormorants flying past, out of the shot too quickly though.

Toilet

And finally, the kind of strange shot my telephone does best—the ghost in the machine type shot.

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I’ll post the pics of the house anon.

Celebration

Apart from having a nasty flu bug, and mail still not connected which is a right royal pain, I have two reasons to celebrate. First, today I was offered a contract for the sequel to Abomination. I’ve been writing blurbs and tag lines, a real chore. Does anybody actually enjoy writing blurbs? It means there won’t be an unreasonable hiatus between volumes one and two, nor with volume three if I send the manuscript in soon.

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I’m also pressing ahead with the follow on series to The Green Woman. 60k words on the clock of volume two so far. I’m hoping to give the whole thing a makeover. That might take us into 2017 though.

As if that isn’t enough to celebrate, our house-buying plans are going smoothly. The obligatory once-over has revealed nothing more terrifying than dodgy electricity (we knew that from the porcelain plugs and switches), and a bit of lead piping that ‘needs watching’. There are no drains worthy of the name, and heating seemed to come mainly from the adjoining cowshed. But it’s the south, the winters are mild, we’ll dig a drain and change some of the porcelain light switches. Our youngest is trying to convince us to get a herd of llamas for the grass/meadow since the stabling won’t be a problem, and I don’t think you have to milk llamas. Not like goats that don’t eat the right kind of grass either.

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As an aside, I have been asked why I don’t write about my ‘experiences’ living in France, and I suppose the answer has to be, would you write about your experiences living in a semi in Stoke? If that’s what you know, there’s nothing extraordinary in it. I’ve never bought a house anywhere but France, never dealt with workmen anywhere but France, never had children or sent them to school, anywhere but France. There’s a lucrative market in writing ‘humorous’ books about life with the baguette and beret brigade, which generally involves poking fun at the ‘French way’. Sod that. I live here—if they do it, chances are I do it too. Seems to me, the people who write these slapstick comedies don’t really live here. They’re voyeurs, ex-pats, people who feel their real lives are somewhere else.

So, I won’t be writing posts about how hilarious French plumbers can be, but I hope I’ll be writing pieces based on our new found country peace and quiet. I hope. Just so long as the neighbour doesn’t decide to swap his sheep for quad bikes…

Microfiction: Georgette

A less than 200 word story for Sacha Black’s weekly writing prompt.

She is everywhere in the house, Georgette. Not surprising since she lived here for ninety-seven years. There’s a photo of her on the wall, as well as her parents and husband. No children though. She lived here alone with the two cows until her nephew persuaded her to move to a flat where he could keep an eye on her. There’s a smell of sprightly old lady and cats. Her chair by the stove has a ball of knitting wool shoved down the side. The messages about groceries and visits stuck on the wall by the phone still shout out that life goes on.

In the garden, her bulbs are coming up. In the cowshed, the hay bales smell fresh and spring-like. There is no feeling of emptiness or sadness, but expectancy. What is the house waiting for?

Us.

She has left a trail, determined and defiant, as if she has just gone down to the shop to buy a packet of coffee.

We’ll take good care of your house, Georgette.

I make a promise to visit her in her new flat, show her how life has forged another link, and take her the first narcissi.

Flash fiction: Dreams of gardens

This was written using Ronovan’s Friday Fiction prompt. Too late for me to enter ( I’ve had my hands full this week) but take a look at the other stories. They are always worth reading. The theme is a celebration of life.

Photo ©Vera Buhl

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I had always dreamt of having a wild garden. Neat, tame gardens with neat lawns and rainbow-coloured borders had never held much appeal for me. Trees, was what I wanted, but not massive trees that threw so much shade nothing grew beneath them except shadows. I wanted light, graceful trees that fluttered in the wind and set dappled patterns dancing through long grasses dotted with wildflowers. Apple trees and plum, birch and rowan, that’s what I wished for, and sunny glades where rabbits watched and squirrels darted. I’d have a little valley with a stream running over mossy stones, and a hill yellow with gorse. More than a dream house I had had a dream garden. The house would grow out of the garden, full of wooden beams and mossy stone walls, house leeks on the roof tiles and geraniums at every window.

I thought this would be the house before we even got there, just a feeling I had from the photos, the quiet, thoughtful way it sat on the hillside among the trees and the cow pasture. The feeling stayed with me, walking from the village with the clouds hanging low and damp, following the ups and downs of the sinuous country lane, as it wound past new iron gates and barking dogs. Up again it led, beneath overhanging trees, leaving the new houses and the barking dogs behind. Then down, winding, through greenery and damp almost rain.

To the right, beneath the low branches of a clump of hazels, sprouted the rusted iron railings of a tiny cemetery. There was nothing to say why, or who, just an enclosure the size of a large car within a copse of hazel trees. Pots of porcelain flowers lay among long grass, knocked over by the wind or some passing animal. No headstones; two small mossy slabs. The gate hung on one hinge, the earth and the grass holding it fast. Running everywhere through the grass were blue bell clusters of grape hyacinths, trickling through the railings, in and out of ropes of brambles, over the bank and into the lane.

We passed in reverent silence, the calm seeping through the soles of our shoes with the raindrops that trickled down every grass stem. Peace followed, the twitter of finches, a couple of jays shouting among distant trees, the rustle of last year’s oak leaves brown and dry but still clinging to the branches. Beyond the hazels, beyond the next bend, the house appeared, sleeping grey stone, resting on the side of the hill, facing a line of poplars and a rippling stream. At our backs, lay the people of the place, unwilling to leave even in death. We strode onward, off the lane, through the meadow where cows had grazed, past the fruits trees, plum and apple, the rose bushes full of buds, and we knew that we were coming home.

 

Spring clean

On Saturday the new owner of the building next door phoned to ask if he could come round the following Thursday to do an official inspection of the party wall. No big deal for most people, but we are not most people, and our house is a squirrel house. Nothing is ever thrown away, just in case it comes in useful. We have two entire rooms (it’s a big house) full of nothing but boxes filled with plastic bags, boxes full of clothes and shoes that don’t fit anybody but have years of life left in them, lampshades that don’t fit any of the lamps, notes, files, schoolbooks, prehistoric computers, toys, baby books. You name it, we have a box full of it.

We reckoned that we only had to clean half the house, the half with the party wall in it. The children dealt with the top floor, tidying up two of the bedrooms and the cats’ playroom, and piling all their lumber into the unfinished bathroom and locking the door.
I got the kitchen and the pantry ship shape. My room was already tidy (nobody had been allowed in it for a week), and everybody pitched in to make the main room downstairs look normal. It isn’t dirt, I hasten to add, it’s the rather eclectic assortment of objects that decorate it that most people find off-putting. We put the decorative bicycle outside, took down the painting of the Sacred Heart, hid the dog’s toy box, removed the dried holly from the sofa (the only way to stop Trixie peeing on it), put the pinecone collection in the fireplace, and some of the stacks of books back in the bookcase.

That left the first floor. Our bedroom was full of boxes, pictures, books and piles of clothes that we couldn’t decide if they were on their way to or from a charity shop. The landing looked like a junk shop in the process of moving premises. On Thursday morning husband said he’d deal with it. He finished mending the guttering on the shed, and filling in Finbar’s potholes in the path, and I locked myself in my room and left him to it. He had three hours left.

What sounded like removal men heaving things about on the first floor went on for a couple of hours, then the sound of the shower. I went up to see. Not a box in sight. It was fantastic! I just wanted to lie down on the bed and gaze at the emptiness. First though, we had the visit, which was very perfunctory in the end and a bit of an anticlimax after all the work it had involved.

When the owner and the legal person left, I brought in the washing (there’s always washing to be brought in) and took an armful of sheets upstairs. I was about to open the door to the ‘box’ room, which also houses the linen cupboard, and husband put his hand on my arm.

H: Don’t open the door.
Me: Why not?
H: It could be…dangerous.

He opened the door a crack and I peered inside.

We are going to have to spend some time today putting our rubbish back, otherwise we will never see the linen cupboard again.
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