Dawn over Sigoules

Filigreed leavesThe pastel shades of the marbled paper that was the dawn sky over Sigoules looked promising this morning.  I walked the La Briaude loop.  Filigreed leaves along the Eymet Road confronted the rising sun whose light gradually crept across the fields.

Birds sang, cocks crew, and hens cackled.  The enraged bellowing of a man seeming to occupy a house in the middle distance ceased as an anxious-looking woman drove up the winding road leading to it.

Field at dawnCabbages grown by the gardener I have often seen toiling away coolly glistened.  We exchanged greetings as I stepped into the now otherwise empty maize field to photograph his produce. Cabbages He had, as usual, nicked the edge of this land to sow his seeds.  Slugs were doing their utmost to produce filigreed greens.

Saufiene has said he likes to approach No 6 as if it were his own house.  I have told him to feel free.  The consequence is that I am receiving ‘presents’ over and above the contracted work.  Benoit is in the process of redesigning the garden to accommodate plants that can survive in the prevailing conditions with limited maintenance.  A long wooden table, chairs, and a parasol have appeared there.  CurtainHeaterAn extremely efficient and unobtrusive electric heater now stands in the fireplace of the sitting room which has new curtains.  Light in back passageTable coverMo just happened to bring a cover for the table that matches these and the bergere suite.  She has also donated a couple of attractive bowls.  A light has been fitted in the back passage.

SarlatLunch at Le Code Bar consisted of superb onion soup; avocado with a prawn dressing, coarse pate and cornichon; pork cheeks and rice; and profiteroles.  Mo, John, and I shared a half carafe of red wine.

This afternoon John drove Mo and me to Sarlat and back.  This is a most attractive town full of history and fascinating shops. Its church, although building commenced in the thirteenth century contains artefacts from its first conception in the eleventh.  It was a pleasant trip.

Keats’s Season

Loft insulationWall of back hallApple treesYesterday the loft insulation was carried out.  A damp beam betrays the broken tiles which need replacing on the roof.  The back hall was prepared for specialised papering.

Maggie and Mike collected me in the evening and drove me to their home at Eymet where we enjoyed a meal focussing on a Russian fish pie, followed by cheese and melon; with some red wine and an evening’s convivial conversation.

BerriesGrapesFir conesOnce the morning mist had cleared, a fine autumn day revealed the poet’s ‘mellow fruitfulness’. Sigoules landscape I walked the loop centring on the Thenac road, up along the main route through Sigoules and down the narrow winding track to the Cuneges road.  Although it dulled over before I had returned the day began bright and sunny, and continued to be so after I had returned.

ButterflyHigh on the vine-covered slopes a proliferation of butterflies flitted here and there.  Bright yellow ones in particular chased each other around, reminding me of yesterday night’s courting couple.  Up and down, round and round they yo-yoed, never settling for the camera.

Some grapes seem to be allowed to fester on the stems.  I gather this is a necessary process of viniculture.

SunflowersThe sunflowers also looked rather past their best, until one remembers that it is their oil that is harvested.

Distant bonfire

What must have been a seasonal bonfire sent up spirals of smoke in the far distance.

Max’s lunchtime offerings in Le Code Bar began with noodles and a variety of vegetables soup; then a soft, dressed, avocado at its peak, served with salami, coarse pate, a green salad and a cornichon; next the usual daunting, perfectly cooked succulent steak plentifully garnished with garlic, pepper and onions, accompanied by crisp, glistening, freshly fried chips; and finally a pear tart with chocolate sauce.  And it bears repeating that all this comes at a price of 13 euros.

A Challenging Mood

Granny by FloMore tidying up this morning included righting slipping Granny.  Flo’s portrait of Jackie, made some years ago, when our granddaughter was still quite small, needed a little Blu-tack. Noodle Express placemat This process reminded me that the picture had been created on the back of a noodle bar paper placemat whilst awaiting a meal.  I believe Pablo Picasso became quite popular among other waiters for dashing off some of his priceless doodles in a similar manner……….  Well, you never know.

I went mountaineering this morning in search of a mobile phone signal.  I walked up to Monbos and back, but had almost reached the church before I received a viable connection. Above Sigoules The aptly named Sigoules Heights development appearing in the middle distance wasn’t high enough, it seems.  I even spoke to Jackie for 21 minutes, and only stopped when a shower struck.  ShedSomeone had kindly left open a shed door to provide me with shelter.  I have passed this derelict building in the middle of nowhere several times in the past five years.  Once it contained bedding; another time a motorbike; today just a pile of rubbish.  And briefly, me.

As I blew on my French onion soup that was the Le Code Bar lunch starter today, I pondered on the human breath.  French onion soupI was using it to cool my soup.  In colder weather I could have applied it to my hands to warm them.  Apart from its main object of keeping us alive we can blow up balloons with it; rekindle fires or extinguish matches with it; whistle with it; and carry out many other activities that you will be able to think of.

The soup was followed by enough battered squid rings to have provided lifebelts for the Titanic. Gammon and beans As if this weren’t enough, my breath was taken away by the stranded whale on a pebbled beach that filled the platter that followed.  This was in reality thick chunks of superbly cooked gammon smothered in a piquant pepper sauce resting in a sublime bed of succulent beans.  There was a selection of desserts.  Recognising that Max was in a challenging mood, and unwilling to be defeated, I chose profiteroles.  The chef marvelled at the speed of my consumption.  I was, of course, stoking up for the day.  And I didn’t eat all the bread.

Back at the house work continued.  In particular, the piping as well as the joints under the bath has been renewed.  This was omitted by the plumber who attended me after the burst pipes of 2008.  For the last hour I had a fascinating conversation with Saufiene; Benoit who is from the deep South; and Sandra who has quite a bit of English, Basque, Spanish, and Russian to go with her native French.  My greatest contribution to this was managing to explain to Benoit the joke in the marvellous rude card depending on a French waiter’s English pronunciation which Tess had sent me.  The discussion was aided and abetted by Amsterdam, a 7% Dutch beer.  Benoit, a man who uses his hands and body to communicate, waxed lyrical about his favourite game, rugby.  I was in with a chance with this.  Not much.

A Beguiling Smile

I had my first extended conversation with the local roadsweeper this morning.  It was mostly about the weather, but that still counts.  We are to have rain, which had already begun, on and off over the weekend.  But it is needed for the fields.  This was more successful than my attempted contribution to the discussion in the Post Office about a young lad who had just skidded off his scooter outside.  Like the boy, my words fell on stony ground.  He got up unscathed.  I departed in disarray.

The delivery of loft insulation materials did not happen yesterday ‘because the driver is on holiday’.  It is now arranged for next Wednesday, the day before I leave.  Preparatory work will continue on Monday.

In the rain, I walked along the Pomport Road and up the route around the field I still call the donkey’s. Floral display At most corner junctions in Sigoules there are bright floral displays which brightened up the grey atmosphere. Crocuses Yellow crocuses burst forth in clumps in the gardens and along the grassy banks by the side of the road.  Some months ago I watched roofers working on what I take to be a barn conversion. Barn conversion roof Their work now forms an attractive patchwork quilt.

My assinine friend has not been in residence for some time now, and at first I thought the field empty.  Two goats, however, still occupied the top corner. Goat One hung its head, but the other clambered from beneath the tree that had sheltered the donkey back in April, stuck its nose through the wire fence, and gave me a beguiling bearded smile.

Le Code Bar, post-summer, is now closed on Sundays, and not serving food on Saturdays.  Today being Saturday I was saved disappointment by Fred, who, although in sole charge of the bar, vanished into the kitchen and produced roast duck, chips, and salad.  He needn’t have worried that the duck might be too dry.


CricketCricket facingSeeking shade yesterday afternoon, a cleverly camouflaged cricket clung to the sitting room curtain draped over a table.  Becoming curious, it turned to face the camera.

Based on Victor Hugo’s great novel, Bille August’s film of Les Miserables is a  splendid 1998 version of the tale probably best known for the long-running musical production.  But then no screened story starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and Claire Danes could be a flop.  Neeson is his usual brooding, colossal self; Rush a suitably sinister, cynical, Javert; Thurman a convincing Fantine; and Danes a delectable Cosette.  It was good to see Peter Vaughan in a cameo role when I enjoyed watching it yesterday evening.

This morning I walked to within sight of the Dutchman’s house in Ste Innocence, turned, and retraced my steps in order not to be late for the usual excellent Le Code Bar lunch.  I sought a mobile phone signal since I haven’t received one for more than a day.  High on a hill not far from Pertus, I found one and was able to call Jackie to let her know I was still alive.  It was far in the distance on the road that runs through this hamlet that I was drawn by a rich golden glow lit up by the sunshine.Rudbeckia  As I neared it I realised it was a hedge of blooming rudbeckia. Canna lilyA garden on the outskirts of Sigoules sported some fine Canna lilies.

We began with a noodle and cheese soup so well flavoured with garlic that, had it been pictured in the Dandy and Beano comics of my childhood, would have had wavy lines radiating above it.  Although not quite cow pie, the enormous steak and chips that was the main course would probably have satisfied Desperate Dan.  I was honour bound to finish the chips, otherwise it would have been such a disappointment to Max, but it was touch and go.

As I walked down rue St Jacques from the bar, a strong caustic smell beset my nostrils.  Cellar street entryApproaching No 6 I saw that the cellar street door was open.  The Renov Conseil 24 team had, wearing masks, entered the cellar and applied liberal quatities of Javel, a powerful cleanser, to the contents.  I was masked up and Saufiene, once we had both bent double to get in, gave me a tour.  Apart from these nether regions not having been opened for about eighteen months, the pump renewed after the flood does not appear to be working.

Trapdoor reinforcementBecause the street entry has to remain at least half open for airing, in order to prevent unauthorised ingress Benoit applied enough heavy bags to the trapdoor to ensure that no-one, except perhaps Liam Neeson in yesterday’s role as Jean Valjean, or maybe Ron Crabbe, to raise it from beneath.  Ron Crabbe was Dad’s young removal colleague and friend of fifty years ago, of phenomenal strength, whose renowned feat was to crawl under a piano and lift it unaided.  Dad and I could shift one between us, not always, as reported on 29th August last year, with total success, but Ron’s prize turn was off the scale.

Fingers Of The Hero

Yesterday evening I watched a DVD of The Interpreter, Sydney Pollack’s gripping, tender, sensitive, and spell-binding thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.  The two principal characters are played magnificently by two of the best modern thespians.  I use ‘thespians’ because the word has no gender.  (I don’t know what Ms Kidman would prefer to be termed, but Sheila Hancock has asserted that she is an actress and proud of it.) The protagonists are depicted in much greater depth than often in the genre, and these two have the range to do it justice.

I won’t reveal the story for anyone who may wish to watch the film.  Suffice it to say that it hinges on Kidman, as a UN interpreter, overhearing an assassination plot and Penn’s efforts to prevent it.  For my money the male lead is one of the greats.

The credits tell us the production was made ‘with the help of ‘The Interpreter’ by Suzanne Glass.

Fingers of the heroWhen the team arrived this morning, Benoit had two fingers heavily bandaged.  In response to my question, he uncomplainingly showed me small blisters on others and explained that he had earned them grappling with the bathroom piping.   This man had removed the side panel and worked at arms’ length underneath the plug hole.  I said I just had to photograph ‘the fingers of the hero’.

After the arrival of Renov Conseil 24 (the name of the company), I walked the La Briaude loop.Landscape near La Briaude  A panting, but otherwise silent, black labrador expended its energy attempting to clear its fence for a cuddle.  It has always tracked me along the fence, but has seldom displayed such eager amorousness.

A field was being ploughed.  Along many of the verges, escapee cornflowers from this and others cropped up everywhere.  Except ouLeaping labradortside the house of the gardener I had seen on 17th May.  He has beautified the roadside with a fine array of flowers.  On his own land he has stacked up logs for the winter.PloughingFlowers on vergeLogs

BeetleAn unseen goat bleated in the distance.  Closer to foot an African masked beetle evaded my steps.

Lunch at Le Code Bar consisted of a splendid soup containing vegetables, beans, and noodles; a crisp cheese and bacon quiche; a luscious layered lasagna; and a tempting pear tart with chocolate sauce.  As I finished Benoit and Sandra came in for a drink and told me that all the joints under the bath had needed replacing.  Fortunately there were no more blisters.  Benoit bought me a coffee.

Propelled Back To England

HallI had one last laugh with Thierry and Geoffrey yesterday evening.  As I prepared to leave Le Code Bar, having finished posting that day’s blog entry and amending the English version of his bilingual summer restaurant menu, David told me my builders were seated under the outside canopy having a drink.  I bade them a further farewell and went back to the house to find it cleaned spotlessly.  Returning to the bar I told them that the place was so clean I was scared to go in.  They were so amused by this that Geoffrey interrupted his mobile phone conversation to laugh uproariously.

Back at the house I took my shoes off and entered in my socks.  A short while later Geoffrey returned for his jacket which he’d forgotten.  He took his shoes off.  As he left I raised my right, still unshod, leg so my foot could be seen by Thierry in the car.  More guffaws.

PropellerJohn Blair’s contribution to the Oxford History provided my late night and early morning reading, and I continued on the plane with John Gillingham’s ‘The Early Middle Ages’.

Courtesy of Lydie, Flybe, and Jackie, I took my usual route home to Minstead, which was rather more overcast than the Aquitaine I had left an hour or so earlier.  As we had soared aloft into the bright sunshine above the scattered clouds,Bergerac from plane I was unable to distinguish the individual speedily spinning propeller blades, but the camera could.

Coast of western FranceThe spaces between the clouds afforded interesting views of the French coast.


Jackie's gardenBack in Minstead all the trees were now fully in leaf; the rhododendrons in Castle Malwood Lodge garden were looking stunning; and Jackie’s pots had somehow multiplied themselves, their plants having flourished.Violas  It is amazing what Baby Bio can do for violas.

We drove to Eastern Nights in Thornhill for our evening meal after which we dropped in on Elizabeth for a brief visit and scared ourselves with the amount of weeding there is to be done in this well-fed, now profusely blooming, garden.

‘Er Indoors

Judith photographing landscape 8.12

Last night and this morning I read ‘Roman Britain’, Peter Salway’s contribution to the 1984 Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, another of Ann’s books.

Thierry and Geoffrey arrived early to continue the work.  It won’t be finished before I leave, but, no matter, much was done.  They had been awaiting instruction from Saufiene who was in Tunisia.

When, in August last year, I had walked with Judith (posted 10th August), a broad circular route on the perimeter of which lies Mescoules, the conditions had been so different.  Then it had been a blazing hot day.  Today was cold, damp, and overcast.  Cattle in fieldCattle seemingly lying in a field amidst tall grass stirred themselves into an ungainly gallop as I approached, and stood expectantly by a water-trough in a far corner they knew I must pass.Calves  The adults soon lost interest in empty-handed me and, whilst they were there, visited the trough, now surrounded by a quagmire.  I retained the calves’ interest a bit longer.

Tractor tracksTractor tracks through a barleyfield left an interesting pattern, such as might be considered a crop circle message.

At least the snails were enjoying the weather.Snail

This seemed a longer stretch than I remember it.  Perhaps it does on a dull day without company.  Had I held my nerve for a few yards longer, I would have passed a smallholding I recognised and not felt the need to reassure myself by asking for directions of the only person I met en route.

A gentleman was standing, legs astride, with his back to me, beside his van parked alongside a house.  He emitted a stream, shook his right elbow, hoisted his shoulders in a shrug, and lifted the arm about a zip’s length.  The French are more relaxed about these things.  Perhaps it was his own house and he had forgotten to take a leak before he left it.  Having politely waited for him to finish I asked him the way to Sigoules.  To my relief, he confirmed my intentions and told me I had an hour to go.  Fortunately it only took 45 minutes, as the rain soon came down again.

Lunch at Le Code Bar consisted of noodle soup; chitterling salad; tender beef served with penne pasta; and apple tart.  I could have had salmon salad, but chose the chitterling because the only other time I had attempted to eat one it had been raw.  I swear the butcher had told me this was an option.  It hadn’t been palatable.  When I told David this he curled his lip in distaste.

Back at the house the trapdoor remained a problem.  Thierry is to make another, much lighter model, in his own workshop.  Even with a new system this very heavy, subject to moisture, and knackered current door will be cumbersome and just as difficult to dislodge.  I told him to stop struggling with it.

I shared great fun with the builders as I tried to explain the epithets ‘er indoors’ and ‘she who must be obeyed’ from the long-running television series ‘Minder’ and ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’.  They had asked me for the English version of femme, as in wife or Mrs.  I felt obliged to give them options.

Able Assignments To The Rescue

18th May 2013

Country Rock at Le Code Bar

A heavy deluge and a distant thunderstorm beset us yesterday afternoon and throughout the night.  Intermittent rain and strong, cold, winds persisted today, so it is just as well that I continued cleaning, tidying, and hanging pictures.

After this I amused myself writing out a bilingual snagging list.  I suppose the need for one was inevitable.  Thierry is yet to return to finish off and the unlit back corridor, completed after 9 p.m., is less than brilliant.

What needs to be done here is nothing compared to that required by Beauchamp Lodge Settlement in the early 1990s.  As Chairman I had a real problem on my hands.  The charity had been forced to sell the beautiful early nineteenth century building in Little Venice it had occupied until then because we did not have, and could not raise the £500,000 required to bring it back to a safe standard.Distracted from the music

The Greater London Council had owned the building and let it to us for a peppercorn rent.  Through the intervention of Councillor Anne Mallinson, later to become mayor, we had been able to buy the building at less than market rate; sell it for a greater sum; and buy a far less salubrious terraced building on the north  side of Regents Canal further west along Harrow Road.

Much work was required to make this address fit for our purposes and ready for occupation.  A firm was engaged to carry out the work, and a deadline set.  Nothing was done for weeks.  Promises were made and excuses given.  Progress was minimal.  Six weeks before we were due to move in I sacked the building company.

What to do next?  No-one wants to complete major works which have been fiddled about with by a predecessor.  Least of all Michael, whose policy is never to touch another builder’s snagging, and who didn’t relish the two hour drive to North London, before and after each day’s work.  Nevertheless he, Matthew, and the rest of the Able Assignments team came to the rescue and did me proud.  We were able to move in on time and they continued the refurbishment with little inconvenience to the activities of the charity.

We must have had a removal firm to transport our furniture, files, and other equipment, but for some reason I only remember the moving of one desk.  The Settlement’s original and subsequent homes were about a mile apart.  In drizzling rain, Roderick Graham, a debt counsellor, and I carried this piece from one to the other.  The next day I had a cataract operation in Nottingham.Solo slot

This afternoon I began reading Susan Hill’s ‘The Service of Clouds’ before Maggie and Mike collected me and drove me to their home in Eymet where we tried a new Indian takeaway restaurant.  Poppy’s produced quite the best curry I have tasted in France.  The proprietors are an English couple, the woman of which cooks the food before your very eyes.  A limited menu is rapidly and superbly produced.  The phal was very much to my liking.  With it I drank an excellent Chateau Laville Bertou reserve minervois 2010.  I chose it because it bore the tag Reflets de France, and I have found that whatever the product this is always a very reliable label.  Not only that.  I couldn’t find any Kingfisher.

Dana, Sandrine’s husband who has joined the family concern drove me back to Sigoules where I was entertained for an hour or so by Jamie and the Crazy Hearts; the drummer barely discernible in a corner behind three guitarists, one being the energetic lead singer who announced the numbers in French and sang in his native English; performing a Country Rock concert in Le Code Bar. Country Rock at Le Code Bar (2) Having eaten with the Kindreds, I declined the barbecue that was on offer.

Tending Livestock And Crops

Purple flowersPoppiesWriting three-quarters of a millennium ago, Geoffrey Chaucer, our earliest great poet, in his classic ‘Canterbury Tales’ displayed a talent for capturing characterisation with simple descriptions of clothing and habits.  Whether or not she was inspired by this writer, the modern P.D. James has this facility in abundance, as demonstrated by ‘A Certain Justice’ which I finished reading this morning.  Her descriptions of place are equally poetic and add enormously to our understanding of the natures of her subjects.  Within this elegant writing she weaves an intriguing and credible murder mystery.

Landscape from Eymet road

In a not wholly successful attempt to dislodge yesterday’s stubborn mud, I grated my shoes along the gravel footpaths leading out of Sigoules as I set off on this much brighter but still chilly morning to walk the La Briaude loop.  Apart from the rather raucus distant cawing of rooks, the birdsong was glorious, and the day fresh.

CattleUnlike the New Forest ponies, who refuse to be distracted from their grazing, the more inquisitive Dordogne cattle would often lift their heads and stare.

Stony track

BarleyTempted by a stony uphill track, I took a diversion, and was rewarded by a sight of burgeoning barley.  Through trees, this led to a road on which I turned left.  Miraculously enough, this led me to La Briaude.  I had discovered a wider loop that I will use in future.

Gardener (1)Walking on towards Sigoules, I heard a tender male voice.  Peering through the trees I saw the gentleman was addressing sweet nothings to his obviously well groomed donkey.  We exchanged greetings.  The man and I, not the ass.  Further on, another man was tending his garden.  Beyond a crop of bright yellow tulips, stretched rows of vegetables, at the end of which he tilled the stony soil.Gardener

The sometimes low and relaxed, sometimes more shrill and desperate cries of the as yet unmated woodpigeons drowned the cheerful chirruping of smaller birds as I set about sorting the sitting room.

Jackie will be pleased to learn that today’s Code Bar soup was yesterday’s veg one amplified by noodles.  There followed shredded pot-au-feu beef with a tangy tomato based sauce including little tomatoes and accompanied by half a hard-boiled egg on lettuce.  Not necessarily my favourite food, the main course of lasagne could have me converted.  Profiteroles completed the Italian theme.  Fred paid me the compliment of asking me the English word (strawberries) for the French fraises.  A group of English diners were having them, but I had them yesterday.