The Elements Intervened

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Jackie made serious inroads into the winter clearance of dead growth yesterday, the first time she has been able to get at it for some weeks. She continued today, and after I had taken bird’s eye views containing dancing sunbeams, I managed a little clearing up. In one of these pictures, the Head Gardener stands on the Brick Path inspecting the West Bed; in another she bewails a weevil infested potted heuchera which she will painstakingly clear of the little; beasties; in another I have managed an unwitting selfie.

My house in France has been on the market ever since I was forced personally to evict squatters in August 2014. The story of the process unfolds in my posts ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night‘, ‘On The Road‘, and ‘The Departure‘.

A little over six months ago a buyer was found. I have not mentioned this before because I couldn’t be sure a sale would really happen, and I didn’t want to bore either myself or my readers with all the negotiations. I won’t go into the delays and repeated errors that held up the process. I wasn’t even confident that the completion date of 31st March would be met. This turns out to have been sensible, because it didn’t happen.

The elements intervened. France has experienced even more rain than we have. Such weather makes the house a little vulnerable to an underground stream. For that reason an electric pump is installed in the cellar.

On 12th March the estate agent and buyer discovered that the cellar was flooded up to the fourth step, and that there was no electricity in the house.

The agent’s husband undertook to pump out the water. He used his own generator. The electricity company couldn’t investigate until after Easter. They established that there was a fault on the line outside the property.

Cellar flood 3

There had been more rain. The fuses kept tripping. The power points in the cellar needed drying out. This was done with a hair dryer. Yesterday evening I received the information that all was well and that completion would take place at 7 p.m. today.

I received a call afterwards to say that  the completion had been carried out.

Roast pork meal

This evening we dined on roast pork with perfect crunchy crackling, sage and onion stuffing, apple sauce, sautéed mushrooms, peppers and onions, boiled potatoes, carrots, and green beans, with tasty gravy. Jacki drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Lirac.

Home Delivery

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This morning I checked with Owen the chimney sweep that the 20″ swan’s nest baskets available at Gordleton Barn would not be too wide for our chimney, and that Streets ironmongers in Brockenhurst could supply smaller ones if necessary. Jackie and I therefore made a further visit to the barn. Unfortunately Richard’s offerings were too deep.

Cartwheel hub

In order not to have a wasted journey I photographed the hub of the cartwheel that decorates the front of the shop.

Pheasants

In the muddy field alongside Hordle Lane on our way out, my driver, who has eyes everywhere, spotted a group of cock pheasants engaged in a stag party.

Electric Fence warning

This particular farmer is not rambler friendly, but at least he has attached a warning notice to a newly erected electric fence. That is the yellow blob in the foreground above.

Streets ironmongers 1

From Gordleton, we proceeded to Brockenhurst and Streets, Jackie’s favourite kind of shop. (Yes, that is our car in need of a wash, but it will only become filthy again on one trip around the wet, salted, roads.)

The windows, alone, are most enticing.

There we bought an iron grate of the correct size, and ordered a house name sign.

The burnt gorse and waterlogged terrain near Sway offered yet another scene that would have inspired Paul Nash’s war paintings.

Snowdrops in river

At Flexford, the Avon tributary that flows through the grounds of Gordleton Mill was overflowing so as to provide snowdrops with more liquid refreshment than they would probably have liked.

The stream rushed over and around the banks, swirling around trees and shrubs, and even threatening to bath the horse on higher ground. Fresh green catkins were suspended safely out of reach of the spate.

Sheep by River Avon

Sheep on a hillside seemed to be out of harm’s way.

Derrick photographing

I was rash enough to leave my Canon SX700 HS in the car. Jackie therefore amused herself by taking photographs of me photographing the scene,

Derrick talking to woman

and speaking to a woman whose job it was to look after the horses. She carried what I took to be a sack of feed. She confirmed that the river was much higher than usual, and that the land was considerably waterlogged.

Wondering what the Isle of Wight might look like in this rainy weather, we diverted to the coast before returning home. The island was invisible, but the horizon on the edge of the fields presented interesting layers of mist.

Our route up Downton Lane was temporarily blocked by the delivery  of two mobile homes to Shorefield Caravan Park. This convoy of very long container trucks was led by a brightly lit escort.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s chicken jalfrezi of which many an Indian chef would be proud; her flavoursome pilau rice with added egg and mushrooms; and vegetable samosas. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I drank Chateau Les Croisille Cahors 2011. This smooth. full bodied, wine was a gift from Shelly and \Ron.

The Uses Of Enchantment

200px-Three_little_pigs_1904_straw_houseThe gales are back in force. As the wind howled and the rain lashed at our window panes, tearing down the wisteria outside the kitchen door, I felt like a little pig. One of three, that is. Fortunately in a house made of brick. Had it been of straw we would have woken up exposed to the elements. I refer, of course, to the fairy tale featuring a big bad wolf who huffed and puffed and blew down two of the houses, built of insubstantial materials, with disastrous consequences for the piglets. The wiser, better prepared, porker survived. Other versions have the third brother rescuing his siblings. Either way, it is an entertaining fable, which has given generations of children scary delight.

Not everyone today would agree that this, like many other such tales, is a suitable story for young children. I cannot now remember whether this one featured in Bruno Bettelheim’s 1976 book, ‘The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales’. ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, also featuring a frightening wolf certainly did. All children have fearful fantasies that they need to come to terms with in a safe atmosphere and environment. Bettelheim’s thesis is that folk tales featuring death, destruction, witches and injury, help children to do so. I have more than once referred to the Brothers Grimm’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’, which some people, as with much of this duo’s work, consider too dark. I am, however, in agreement with Bettelheim.

Heinrich Hoffman, for me, is another matter. His ‘Struwwelpeter’, of 1845, at one time the most prolifically published children’s book in the world, is aimed at scaring infants into behaving themselves. StruwwelpeterThe cover of my 1909 copy of Routledge’s English translation illustrates what happens to Little Suck-a-Thumb. There is no possibility of redemption in these cautionary tales – just horrific punishment. Contrast this with what must be Wild Thing illustrationuniversally the most popular children’s book of today, Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ from 1963. Max, punished for ill-treating the family dog is banished to his room, indulges his fantasies, and is finally forgiven by his mother. It is one thing, although not good, for a child to wave a fork to frighten a dog, quite another for an adult to snip off thumbs.

Nasturtium leavesBy mid-afternoon everything had calmed down and I could cease my internal rambling and walk the Hordle Cliff top route in reverse. Water bubbles balanced on nasturtium leaves sparkled in the sunlight.

When we arrived at Downton at the beginning of April a flood around a manhole cover on a bend a short distance from our back drive was being pumped out. Today the lake is back. FloodThe flood warning sign has lain in the hedgerow all summer. I fished it out and leant it against a tree. Without this warning the car in the picture would have rushed through the water the driver would not have seen on the blind bend, and given me a cold shower. Pool reflecting skiesOther pools reflected the skies at regular intervals.

Broken umbrellaThe skeleton of an umbrella no longer fit for purpose lay abandoned in a bus shelter that has also seen better days.Skyscape with dog walkers

Even the dogs on the cliff path showed no interest in descending to the shingle below.

This evening’s dinner consisted of rack of pork ribs marinaded in chilli sauce, served with pilau rice and green beans, followed by ginger pudding and custard. Unless you are of a certain age you will not remember the runner beans that, by the time they reached the greengrocer’s, had tough skins with strong cords running down the sides. If you do remember, you may have helped your mother top and tail them, deftly stripping off the stringy bits. Now, the young vegetables reach the supermarkets in tender condition and you just toss them into the boiling water or the steamer. With our meal Jackie finished the Pedro Jimenez, and I began the Rawnsley Estate shiraz grenach mourvedre 2012. Incidentally, it was competition from the Australians that forced the French to name the grapes on their wine labels.

The Tempest

13.6.12

My legs this morning took me to Cuneges and back, a feat my hip would not have allowed eighteen months ago.  This was a long, hilly, walk, and although the weather was cool and overcast I soon raised a sweat.  A couple of years ago I did part of this trip with Chris and Frances and Chris took a stunning landscape photograph of which I would have been proud.

On the approach to Lestignac I passed a bunch of bullocks which quickly lined up alongside their wire fence to watch me go by.  I still have a photograph, taken in Cumbria many years ago by my friend Ali, in which I am sitting with a book in the garden, completely oblivious of the string of similarly stationed cattle reading over my shoulders.

Cuneges, a village larger than some, does, I knew, have a bar, but it was closed, so for refreshment I had to make do with the occasional light rain.  It is home to a number of artisans, one of whom is a plumber whose services I was unfortunate enough to require at the very beginning of 2009.  In December 2008, just a week after completion of my purchase of No. 6 rue Saint Jacques, S.W.France was hit by the greatest storm in living memory.  The gales were even worse than those that buffeted the U.K. in October 1987.  The consequence was that Maggie had had to telephone me to tell me that my recently acquired house had been flooded.  The cellar was full of water and there were several inches of it in the ground floor.  Multiple disaster had struck.  The gales had thrust water under the French doors at the back, and the local underground stream had strayed into the cellar, completely filling it.  Because of a three day power cut across the entire region the auxiliary generator installed for just this eventuality failed to function.  The trapdoor into the cellar was swollen and had to be forced, breaking some of the tiles laid over it.  To make matters worse the inferior plastic piping distributing water throughout the house had sprung a leak and burst.  Now I have a copper system which cost a pretty penny.  Maggie and Mike had managed to get emergency help to pump the place out, and obviously I had to come over to organise repair work.  The house was freezing, damp, and full of soggy mats and plumbers.  I stayed with Maggie and Mike.

Le Code Bar lunch today was kuskus with a delicious ‘three meats’ stew followed by profiteroles accompanied by a glass of red wine.  After yesterday’s word play Frederick wanted to know if I was ‘satisfied this summer’.

The sun having slunk away for the day I consoled myself with Flaubert’s sublime prose and began Somerset Maugham’s ‘Catalina’.  As usual the skies cleared in the evening.

I watched ‘Frost/Nixon’, an electrifying film about the series of interviews of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) by David Frost (Michael Sheen) directed by Ron Howard and based on the stage play by Peter Morgan.  Taking place in 1977 these led up to the final confrontation, perhaps the most devastating public political admission of my time.  This episode finally put paid to Nixon’s hopes of a return to any sort of office, and revived the career that Frost had apparently thrown away by risking all on the project.