Monday, August 23, 2010


T'other half's here for a week's holiday. Well, I use the term 'holiday' loosely. Poor lassie spends most of her time cleaning, hoovering and washing whenever she comes out here. Rushes around like a mad thing. Something I never do. Disturbs the dust and dog hairs.

State of the dogs' beds appalls her. Always full of dirt and hairs. Although I shake 'em out about once a week, it never seems to make much difference. Still, that's what you get with country dogs. And I'm not much good at grooming either. Pick and pull the odd twig or ten out of Jock the Westie's coat now and again, and occasionally scissor out a few bits of matted fur. But (guilt) I rarely brush and comb. However, I do occasionally shampoo the brute but it's a tricky exercise doing it on your own. Luckily Sprocket's coat is a lot more wiry so it never gets matted.

The other problem with Jocky's fur (not with Sprock's though) is that it grows at an alarming rate. Tried trimming it with one of those electric dog shavers a few years back but without much success. Damned dog kept running away. So attacked him with scissors. Bit more successful but I ain't no barber so he ended up looking a right mess. I now take him to the pricey poodle parlour at Aubusson whenever he needs a haircut. Needs one at the moment but he's filthy. Ever seen a grey Westie? Or a green one when he's been rolling? Not a pretty sight.

Georgie and I decided to give him a pre-poodle parlour visit shampoo down the stream. Thought it would lessen the hairdresser madame's shock at seeing a non-typical Westie. She's a sensitive soul. Totally unused to proper blokes' dogs. Nearly had a fit last year when she discovered a tick on his tum.

Drove down to the stream 'run', parked up, had a bit of a walk along the forest path with angled shafts of sunlight stabbing through the trees, then headed to the stream clutching a couple of old dog shampoo bottles. Managed to grab Jock as he paddled in the stream and squirted some shampoo on his back. Smelling it, he immediately ran off and started rolling in the grass. Ordered him back. No chance. Least disciplined Westie on the planet. Eventually got hold of the blighter again and dragged him back to the stream.

I/we normally shampoo the miserable little wretch at home with buckets of warm water. But, despite it being a warm summer's late afternoon, the stream water was freezing cold. And he was getting drenched in the stuff. Didn't like it one bit. Started shivering towards the end. But soon the ordeal was over and he ran out of the stream's shadows back into the sunshine of the field. Started rolling in the grass to dry off. Amazing transformation. White again. Thought of doing Sprock but decided against it. My shorts, shoes and feet were soaking. We'll do him later, back at home.

Would have taken some snaps of the exercise but neither of us had hands free to operate the camera. Took a couple of the forest and stream though. Lovely bit of lighting. All very pretty. And besides, Jock hates having his photo taken almost as much as he hates being shampooed. (Have added an old photo of Jock just to show how dirty he gets.)

Ah well, next thing to do is to book him into the poodle parlour. Another thing he hates.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Village stroll

Brilliant bit of sunshine last week. Had a feeling it could be the last really hot day of high summer. So I went for a stroll round the hamlet. Took a few snaps including one of Alain's vine. Somewhat surprising to see grapes growing up here, considering it's so cold in winter.

Seeing me snapping his vine, Alain leant out of his window and demanded I come in for a cooling drink. Thought he meant something like an orange juice with ice. Would have been just the job. But by the time I'd entered, Alain had poured a large scotch and ice. Too late to complain. So slugged it down (needed a stiff drink to recover from the shock of seeing that damned animal's head hanging on Alain's lounge wall - keep forgetting it's there) while Alain downed a massive Ricard. Then the chap from up the road joined us (can never remember his name). Had a bit of a natter about how quickly all the 'summer kids' are growing. They're the kids of hamlet family relatives who visit during the holiday month of August. Known them all for five years now. Hardly recognisable from when I first met them. Some of the girls have developed rather impressive chests and young Christopher's now almost as tall as me (which ain't saying much). Also, his sight's obviously improved and he's ditched his specs, so I can no longer call him 'Speccy'. Still as noisy as ever though.

Staggered out of Alain's about half an hour later. Sozzled before 4pm. Tough living up here in the hills. Went for a dogwalk up the lightning tree to recover. Took some more photos (see two earlier posts). Good job these modern cameras have automatic focus.




My wart. A big lumpy thing that's grown on my left forefinger. After a couple of years of ownership I've sort of become quite attached to it. Bit unsightly but no real problem. However, it gives other people the heebie-jeebies. Sister seemed quite shocked when she saw it a few months back. And neighbour Isabelle regularly remarks about the damned thing. Even whipped my teeshirt up the other day to see if I had any more on my back. Spotted a couple of moley things and said I should get them looked at. Next thing I know, she's telling me I have to come round at 8pm on Thursday. Something about some bloke visiting. Maybe a doctor?

Duly arrived at her place as the church bells clanged eight, freshly showered and shaved and reeking of some foul-smelling stuff that's supposed to make women go weak at the knees. No sign of a doctor chap. Bit confused as Isabelle ushered me into her car and whizzed off towards Felletin. Bless her, she doesn't speak English and rarely understands my garbled French so I hadn't a clue what was going on.

Parked up outside a Felletin town centre house and followed Isabelle inside. Immediately confronted by a magnificent old hallway with a huge granite staircase. Didn't look much like a doctor's surgery though. Then recognised the lady of the house (Ann) as being Isabelle's co-server at the fruit'n'veg market stall. Gave Ann (a charming lady) a good old handshake and followed them both down the hallway into the kitchen. Warmly greeted by the chap sitting at the table (Cocou) who runs the fruit'n'veg business. Suddenly twigged that he and Ann must be hubby and wife. I'm very slow about these things. Also at the table were a young girl, a teenage boy and another bloke. I presumed the kids belonged to Cocou and Ann and the bloke was the doctor. Could be right about the kids (still not sure) but I was definitely wrong about the bloke. Turned out he was just a visiting neighbour.

Cocou poured me a large scotch (and I mean laaaarge - these French chappies are extremely generous with their hospitality) as the other bloke said hello goodbye and headed for the door. Still hadn't the foggiest what was going on. Presumed the doctor would arrive quite soon. But why I should see him in this house rather than at Isabelle's, or even at his surgery, remained a confusing mystery. Mind you, I've been totally confused for nearly 64 years, so situation normal. Besides, after a couple of swigs of scotch everything made sense - i.e. no sense. Decided to just sit back and go with the flow. Bit worried about seeing a doctor while reeking of alcohol but I'm sure he'd understand it's purely medicinal.

Was just about to request permission to smoke (recently departed bloke was smoking so I presumed it wouldn't offend) when Isabelle told me to drink up and get in the car. Even more confusing. Downed the scotch (must have been at least a quadruple), said goodbyes and wobbled off down the corridor to the car with my chauffeur and the two kids. The two kids? Why were they coming with us?

Headed off in the direction of Crocq. Was rather hoping the kids spoke a smattering of English so I could work out what the hell was going on. But they didn't. Still confused as ever. Then realised that the boy had a wart on his finger and the girl had a veruka (spelling?) on her foot. Aha! Now we're getting somewhere. Seemed a bit late in the evening for visiting a doctor's surgery but no matter. Then noticed the boy was carrying a box of tissues. Noticed too that his wart had a bit of dried blood. Looked nastier than mine, poor lad. Suddenly thought that this doctor fella would be operating on the three of us tonight. Hence the tissues to mop up the blood after the lad's wart and his sister's(?) veruka had been chopped off. Agh! I ain't ready for this! No way! If some damned doctor comes at me with a scapel, I'll deck the bastard. And that's final.

Arrived at the village halfway to Crocq that Isabelle had previously mentioned. Then turned left up some lane, back into the countryside. Stopped at a little stone cottage in the middle of nowhere with ducks and geese. No way is this a doctor's surgery. Realised it must be the home of some local quack. Probably one of these witch doctors I've heard about who can get rid of warts and stuff by using black magic. Oh brilliant! Another fine mess I've landed in! Before I'd even got out of the car I'd decided to forcibly curtail proceedings the moment this witch doctor came within spitting distance of me or the kids with knives, scalpels, bottles of bubbling lotions, powdered snakes and frogs, or whatever. At which point he or she might turn me into a bat or cockroach but I ain't havin' it. No question.

Isabelle knocked at the door. Little old man with a walking stick invited us in. Isabelle gave him a bottle of wine. Seemed harmless enough. Sat around his kitchen table as Isabelle nattered away, pointing out our three ailments. Had a quick look round and didn't spot any surgical instruments or signs of witchcraft so felt quite relieved. Spent most of my time fussing the old boy's friendly terrier that was chained to the bannister. Had a bell on his collar and kept jumping up and down as though on springs. Television was on in the corner. Everything seemed perfectly normal apart from the fact that nothing was happening.

Ten minutes later, we were back in the car and heading back to Felletin. Still hadn't a clue what was going on. Dropped the kids off, had a quick supper with Isabelle and Christian, then went home. Totally confused. The whole exercise had been about nothing. Absolutely nothing. Complete waste of time.

Couple of days later, Isabelle asked how my wart was. Told her that some of the crusty bits had dropped off and it was looking a bit smaller than before.

She smiled.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blown up and jailed

Storm about eleven days ago. Lightning strike knocked out computer. Started a process of elimination to work out which component had blown. No green light on big white plug storm protection thingie so took it to local computer shop boffin to see if he had a replacement. Sold me a tougher unit. Went back home and plugged it in. Livebox still wouldn't connect to internet. Took Livebox to boffin to see if it was working. No problem there. Told me to bring in the laptop. Took it in. Boffin discovered that the input connector at the back had been rendered useless. To replace it would take a couple of days and I'd lose all photos and documents and stuff currently in the computer. Told me I could save all these 'files' by downloading onto a little storage thingie that plugs in at the back. Bought one at the supermarket 'cos it was cheaper (still damned pricey though - 45 quid). Also told me I could get back online by using a six inch wire with a pluggy thing at either end which plugged in at the side of the laptop and by-passed the duff rear connection. Went back home and got set up. Discovered the 45 quid storage thingie didn't work. Had a closer look at the small print on the pack. 'Suitable for Windows 95 and 98.' Then realised the elderly laptop is 'Windows XT' and therefore, presumably, incompatible. Rats. Had a go with the new by-pass wire thingie. Didn't work either. Worked in the shop though. So the problem must therefore be outside the house. Went back to boffin and explained that nothing worked. Gave me the phone number of the Orange/French Telecom engineers. Went back home and rang. Recorded message in machine-gun speed French. Didn't understand a word. Went back to boffin. He very kindly rang and made an appointment for the engineers to visit. Stopped off at the supermarket to get some CDs for downloading files as suggested by Georgie back in the UK (both Georgie and Don had been brilliant in giving advice over the phone throughout this whole infuriating exercise - they're both computer literate while I'm a total Luddite, and a bad tempered one too). Eventually figured out how to copy onto CDs (at one stage, which lasted about a day until I figured out what the hell was going on, the idiot laptop had the audacity to announce 'there is no disc in the disc player' when there damned well was) and spent the next couple of days downloading. Then the engineer arrived. Tested the outside supply line and said it was fine. Then checked everything between the laptop and the telephone point on the wall. Reversed a couple of connectors at the end of the multi plug socket storm protection thingie and... success! Hence now back online, albeit with a temporary connector by-pass wotsit.

The process of getting back online had taken nine days. Nine days! And if that wasn't bad enough, every time I visited the boffin's shop I had to drive about ten miles, then park (usually took ages due to getting stuck in a long line of traffic crawling along behind a horse-drawn carriage that circulates Aubusson's narrow streets showing tourists the sights), then queue in his shop (waiting time about twenty minutes), then wait again after he'd plugged in whatever item I'd taken along for inspection and then moved on to serve somebody else (he works alone) - shop time frequently took about two or three hours, or four or five if you included driving. So five visits amounted to roughly 30 hours if you include associated visits to caff for strong coffees and fags to recover from shop visit ordeals. Nightmare. What's more, just before going offline I'd started briefing one of my old work colleagues about knocking up some logo designs on his Apple Mac for a client back in London. So when I went offline I had to continue briefing and modifying by phone without seeing imagery. Which, of course, is impossible. Double nightmare.

Then..., as if all that wasn't bad enough, on one of these trips to Aubusson I decided to check out my elderly VW camper which had spent winter slumbering in a rented garage. Bought a new battery, started her up, moved her out of the garage, parked the smelly Citroen dogwagon in its place and drove home. Drove her to Aubusson the following day with one of the afforementioned malfunctioning computery bits. Got as far as the outskirts of Felletin where I was waved down by a couple of gendarmes. Had to produce documents. Insurance papers unfortunately back at home. Insurance sticker on VW front window out of date (I'd forgotten to swap it for the new one which was with the insurance papers). CT sticker out of date also (French MoT certificate) but hadn't noticed. Told 'em it can't be out of date 'cos it passed its CT with flying colours just over a year ago (CTs, or MoTs, last two years in France, not one as in the UK). Gendarme checked the Carte Gris (logbook). Said something about the camper being a 'fourgon'. So, while a full CT test was required every two years, it required an annual CT test for 'pollution' (exhaust emission test). So I was driving illegally. Result: a 90 euro fine. Luckily I didn't get done for not showing my insurance papers - I guess they checked by phone (and maybe computer) that I was listed as being insured. Gave me a week to get the camper tested. Booked a test and, luckily, it passed. Phew. Visited copshop to show them the CT 'pass' papers and reclaim my arrested Carte Gris which had spent a few days in jail. "Ah, l'anglais!" "Non, ecossais!" Am now well known to the local constabulary.

Ah well, been an interesting week. Or two.