Friday, March 22, 2013

Plant thing

There's a plant that lives in the kitchen. I think we've had it for nearly thirty years. Georgie occasionally repots it and I occasionally water it, but, other than that, it largely gets forgotten about. How it's survived for so long is a complete mystery to me. There are times when it sheds its leaves, looks dead, and I sometimes think "well, that's it, it's a gonner, may as well chuck it in the bin", but, lo and behold, it miraculously recovers and starts budding again. Went into 'rest' mode last autumn, but has been gradually growing again over winter. Maybe it likes the cool of the kitchen (I keep it away from the stove and direct sunlight - not that there's been much sun over the last few months), or maybe it likes being largely ignored (I occasionally mop its leaves and give it a quick natter - yes, being a bonkers hermit recluse, I chat to the thing in order to encourage it to grow), but for whatever reason it's now looking more splendid than ever. Maybe it's just happy that winter appears to be over at last. Been a warm and sunny day today so I gave it a quick breath of fresh air on the front doorstep. It's now back indoors on its perch, probably preparing to shut down again over spring and summer. Must be exhausted after all that growing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Good day yesterday. As well as selling my Honda car (see previous posting), the skies were clear, the weather warm and the sun was shining. Such a pleasant change after all that snow.

Having finally waved the car goodbye, I thought I'd give the Merc a bit of a spin and maybe give Jock a walk somewhere that we hadn't been to recently. Maybe up the hikers' cottage, or down the stream valley, or out to the isolated chapel by a little forest, way over the back valley.

Drove to Felletin sort of on auto-pilot, not really knowing where to head for. Stopped off at the supermarch√© and bought a few bits'n'bobs. Then thought about popping next door to pick up Sprock's ashes from the vet's. Been meaning to do it all through winter, but kept putting it off. The thought of spreading his ashes on his favourite hill on a cold, grey day in winter just didn't seem right. But now it was sunny and warm, maybe the time had come.

Every time I go to the supermarch√© I'm reminded of Sprock's sad demise. Right by the car park, behind the vet's, is a small patch of grass in the shadow of a tree which is where I gave Sprock his final little walk. Actually it wasn't really a walk because all he did was stand still before lying down on his front. I didn't realise that he'd be dead within the hour, I just thought he was a bit ill and that the vet would give him some stuff to make him better. Didn't happen.

Despite the time being right, I chickened out. Couldn't do it. Couldn't face going back into the vet's. Drove up to the forest by the little chapel for a walk instead. Last time we'd walked there Sprock was with us. Strange, I suddenly felt he was with us again. It was almost as if he was willing me to finally get him out of the vet's and back into the countryside that he loved.

Drove back to Felletin and parked up. Entered the vet's with my head full of memories of that fateful day. Sat down in the waiting room where Sprock had flopped down on the floor before being carried into the operating room. Then the receptionist beckoned me in. When I explained why I was there she said they'd been expecting me to turn up for months. Walked out carrying Sprock's ashes in what looked like a sort of Easter egg box. Felt a bit strange being reunited with me ol' mate. Felt good though that I'd rescued him from that nightmare scenario.

With the sun heading for the horizon, we headed for what would become Sprock's final resting place high in the hills up past our village. Parked in the field and opened the box containing Sprock's ashes. Took out the tin, about the size of a jam jar, and noticed they'd mis-spelt his name. Felt a bit miffed but then saw the funny side. Stuffed Sprocket in my pocket and then Jock and I legged it up Sprock's favourite hill. Arrived at the top just as the sun was beginning to set. It all felt right. Took the lid off the tin and looked inside. For some reason I imagined that ashes would be grey or black, but these were creamy white. Didn't know whether to chuck them in the air or just plonk them on the grass in a pile. Eventually decided to just sprinkle them slowly around. There you go mate, I name this Sprocket Hill, rest in peace.

Drove back home after sunset. Felt a wee bit emotional. Been six months since Sprock's passing and I'm still not really over it. However, I'm glad he's finally been put to rest.

Wee Sprockie on Sprocket Hill


As mentioned in a previous post (September last year?) I bought a low mileage 1985 Honda Civic Shuttle to replace my previous Citroen dogwagon. Car worked fine and was entirely fit for purpose, apart from one thing: the rear silencer. This item was showing its age and, although it had passed the French MOT test, it ideally needed replacing. No problem, thought I. About six hours later, after searching the worldwide web and contacting various parts suppliers, it became apparent that the rear silencer for this particular model was no longer available anywhere on the planet.

Took the car to the local garage and asked if it was possible to repair the damaged item - it hadn't rotted through but the outer 'skin' was beginning to separate from the innards. Luckily, they managed to repair it by welding. Looked good as new. Been running it all through winter and was dreading the imminent MOT test in case the repaired item failed the examiner's critical inspection. Turned up for the test a couple of weeks ago. Amazingly it passed with no criticism of the exhaust whatsoever.

Immediately put it up for sale.

The first enquiry was from a chap up in Paris. Seemed very keen and I arranged to meet him with the car at Gueret railway station, about thirty miles away (he was travelling by train to La Souterraine and bus to Gueret because he didn't have a car). Day before our rendez-vous he emailed to say he couldn't make it because of kids, or something. Arranged another rendez-vous for the following Sunday. Naturally, I asked if he was serious about buying, or just a dreamer. Assured me he was deadly serious and he'd be there, cash in hand, same time, same place.

Being 99% certain of achieving a sale, I now had another problem. If the car sold, how would I get back from Gueret on a Sunday? (I understood that the Gueret to Felletin bus didn't run on Sundays, but, I now know, it runs three times.) An obvious answer was to book a cab. Rang the local cab company and was given an estimate of €140 - extra charge for Sundays. Bugger that. Decided there was only one solution: Drive the Merc to the station on the Saturday, park it, catch the bus back, then drive the Honda there on the Sunday, sell it and then drive the Merc back. Simples.

Buyer's bus duly arrived at Gueret station on the dot of 12.10pm. Standing by the Honda, parked in a prominent position, I watched the passengers get off the coach. Buyer didn't appear. Drove the Honda back home. Rang Isabelle the next day (Monday - her day off) and asked if she could drive me down to Felletin to catch the bus to Gueret in order to pick up the Merc. Typically, she insisted on driving me all the way to Gueret despite my protestations, then insisted I come round for supper. I turned up with a bottle of champagne as a gift for helping me out. Emailed the timewasting buyer with a suitably worded missive. No reply. Git.

There were two other serious-sounding buyers. Contacted the first one and told him the car was still for sale. We arranged for him to visit on the following Friday (yesterday), but, if he purchased, he said he would do so paying by banker's cheque. Told him I preferred the entire amount in cash - no cheques. He then said he'd pay €500 cash and the rest by banker's cheque. I reluctantly agreed to this and promised I'd reserve the car 'til Friday. Told the third buyer (an American living near the Swiss border) that the car was reserved, but I wasn't entirely happy about the cheque situation. He then offered an entirely cash transaction, but couldn't do it 'til the Wednesday. Bit of a dilemma - two serious buyers, one offering the full amount in cash and one with cheque who sounded like he'd offer less than the asking price.

Having been mucked around once already, I was in no mood to be mucked around again. The 'cheque' buyer sounded the more 'iffy' of the two so I emailed him to say I'd found a cash buyer and apologised for breaking my word about reserving the car 'til Friday. Informed the American that he was now front runner. Asked if he was still on for Wednesday. He then told me that he would have come earlier but he had a job interview on the Wednesday. He was sure he'd get the job and then he'd buy the car. Aha, sounded 'iffy', alarm bells rang. Wednesday lunchtime, he rang to say he didn't get the job and won't be buying the car. Thanks pal. Git.

Emailed the 'cheque' buyer and said the car hadn't sold. Emailed him again somewhat sheepishly while munching a gobful of humble pie and asked if he was still willing to visit on the Friday as previously arranged. Expected him to respond with a blast of colourful language. Instead, he gave me a mild bollocking and agreed to go ahead as planned. Turned up yesterday as the passenger in his son's car. Drove all the way from Lyon. They were both extremely pleasant. Bought the car and paid the asking price. Emailed me last night to say they'd arrived home safely and that he was very pleased with the car. (I hasten to add that he, being a Honda classic car enthusiast, is entirely aware of the fact that the exhaust parts are no longer available. He also said my garage had done a good job of repairing the old one and that he knew a mechanic who could manufacture a new one if and when one was required.)

Phew, such a relief that's over.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Phew, looks like the snow's been and gone. However, a couple of years ago it snowed in May so maybe it'll be back sooner rather than later. Hope not. It's rubbish. Couple of weeks ago when we had about a foot of the damned stuff, the woodpile had almost gone. This meant I had to cut back and only light the kitchen stove in the evenings. Spent the daytime either in bed (3 or 4 degrees in the bedroom according to the hi-tech bedside clock) or huddled over the electric oil-filled radiator while shivering away surfing the net. Dread to think what the 'leccy bill's going to be. Anyways, last week-end Christian delivered a tractor trailerful of logs so I'm ready for the next big freeze. Couldn't deliver during the 'big snow' 'cos he was working, the snow was too deep, it was far too cold and I'd told him that I'd be okay for another week.

One of the big problems about snowtime up here in the hills is that cars get snowed in and the road down to the town gets a bit treacherous with ice. Sometimes it even gets blocked with snow and we all have to wait until the snowplough drives up. Which, of course, means you run the risk of running out of grub unless you dig the car out and clear a track to the lane (takes about an hour and you end up with frostbitten fingers) then take it really slowly downhill out of the village down to the town to stock up. Did just that about ten days ago and met the snowplough head-on on the blind corner going out of the village. Had no option but to lightly brake and steer to the right (I was doing about 6mph at the time). Wheels locked up on the ice and I ended up at a jaunty angle in the little roadside ditch. Jock was somewhat miffed at being thrown off his seat and ending up on the floor. Luckily the snowplough lads stopped and pulled me out. Took it very gingerly down to town, stocked up and headed back with a bootful of bread loaves. At snowtime I get through a couple of loaves a day feeding the birds. They queue up in the little apple tree outside the kitchen window waiting for me to shove another load of chopped up crumbs on the window sill. Even had a robin appear in the kitchen looking for bread. Must have crept in under the front door when I'd taken Jock for a snowy trek out back (when we go out, the kitchen carpet roll doesn't block the draught under the door unless I put it in position outside the door). Another thing: the snow limits our options for dogwalks. The only walk we can do is up to the granite cross and back, which gets a bit boring after a time. Still, it's better than nothing, even though it gets a bit slippy when the farmer's tyre tracks ice up.

The only good thing about snowtime is the joy of slobbing out in front of the roaring kitchen stove when it's been lit at suppertime. It's then that I take a medicinal scotch or three while whatever's on the menu is being burnt to a cinder on top of the stove while Jock slumbers and snores on the floor in front. I sometimes switch off the light and just stare at the orange glow and flickering flames while wondering how we survived that first winter without a stove. That was the time when the wind, rain and snow lashed in through broken windows and holed roof. The thing that kept me going was a hatred of Gordon Brown and his inept government and my flat refusal to give in and return to Blighty. Looking back, it really was not only a test of endurance, but also a measure of just how much I despised New Labour for leading the country into decline (some people disagree with my opinion but they're wrong).

Snowtime seems to last forever, but it eventually passes. After what seemed like weeks of greyness, the sun peeped out about a week ago and the snow began melting. Can't begin do describe the joy I felt as I gave Jock his first walk for ages in the evening sunshine. And the evenings are getting longer too. Doesn't get dark 'til about 7.30ish. And it's lighter in the mornings. Up here in the hills, the flowers come out later than down below. I've spotted a single crocus and a couple of snowdrops, but that's all. However, the tulip thingies that Georgie planted in the pot by the front door seem to be growing. Haven't yet budded but give 'em a couple of weeks and they might flower. I hesitate to say that spring is in the air, but it could be just around the corner. I can hardly wait.