I Must Stay Strong

Lizard candlestickThierry arrived alone today, Geoffrey being ill.  By the afternoon the younger man had recovered sufficiently from a hangover to come and help clear up.  The builder admired the lizard candlestick Elizabeth had given Jessica and me years ago that Mike Kindred had bolted onto the back garden wall for me.  This led to a conversation about lizards. Those in Thierry’s large garden are big, wheras those in the cracks in my small garden are tiny.  Such creatures adapt their size to their environment, like fish in a bowl.

Every child in England grows up with the knowledge of King Henry VIII and his six wives.  I had studied this Tudor period for O level at school, for an exam taken in my sixteenth summer.  I therefore knew all about Anne Boleyn.  ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, the subject of Philippa Gregory’s excellently written and meticulously researched novel about Anne’s younger sister Mary, a previous lover of the king, which I finished reading today, was unknown to me until quite recently.  Woven into this tale was, naturally, the story of Anne, a description of Henry’s tyranny, and an exposure of the scheming treachery of the Howard and Boleyn families.  The descriptive writing demonstrates a skill in depicting human relationships.  It has the ability to hold the attention, despite knowing how this saga panned out.  Women, in sixteenth century England, had neither rights nor power of their own.  Gregory shows how those at court were simply pawns in the marriage game.  Mary was fortunate that her flame did not burn as brightly as that of her sister, whose blaze of glory was all too brief.

Another Ann was constantly in my thoughts as I read the book, because it had been in my late friend Ann Eland’s library, and one of those given to me by Don.

I walked down to Bill’s for a farewell coffee.  He shared a small pizza with me.  On my return, Sofiene, who had joined Thierry, went to collect two of those he had ordered in Sigoules.  Because they were almost half the price a large one would have cost in Bergerac he had assumed they would be small.  They weren’t.  Naturally, I had to help them out.

On my way back I noticed an elderly woman struggling past the entrance steps of number 8, which spread right across the pavement.  As I ascended the hill, bit by bit, she dragged first herself, then her shopping, across them.  Somehow, even with an empty bag, she must have climbed the steep slope.  I offered to help, and to carry her bag.  All she would accept was my hand, with which to pull herself upright.  As she almost fell towards the wall of the building, on which she would support herself for the rest of her journey, she cheerfully explained that she was 84 and riddled with arthritis, and therefore had to do these things for herself in order to stay strong.  She continued the conversation in which I then hardly understood a word.  Eventually, to give my brain a rest, I bade her farewell.  Watching her painful progress, I thought ‘there but for the grace of God…….’.

Today’s poem was a rondeau by Charles D’Orleans (1391 – 1465): short and easy.

New doors

Front windowsBut for some making good, such as tiling, for which materials have been ordered,  the work on the house has been completed to my satisfaction.  The place is also much more secure, and the windows at the front now match.  No longer will we sit in a draft in the winter.

Today’s 25 degrees of strong sunshine was a pleasant sequel to long months of cold rain and snow.

Friends To Bank On

On another scorching day Elizabeth drove me to Southampton airport where I boarded a plane to Bergerac to be met by Lydie, waving her arms and striding across the tarmac to embrace me.  She is, incidentally, about a foot shorter than me with the grip of a bear.  I had to drop my bag.  Before paying I asked her to deliver me to the Credit Agricole cash machine in the market square.  Still dopy from the plane, I entered the wrong pin number.  I had to search in my trouser pocket for the correct one, hidden in an electronic device.  So well hidden, that by the time I had retrieved it I had run out of time.  Lydie patiently waiting in the taxi.  Me scrabbling in my trousers, concerned that I was keeping her waiting.  An Englishman just off the plane.  I had to start again.  The machine gobbled my card.

I had given Lydie a list of trips for my friend Don, joining me next week, and me up to 14th. August, the first being in three days time.  ‘No problem’, she said,  ‘Saturday will do.’  Unfortunately this bank is only open two mornings a week , and tomorrow isn’t one of them.  Any visit there also has to wait until Saturday.  Now, my French account is with Barclays.  I originally opened this in Bergerac.  Sometime last year I discovered that that branch no longer does everyday banking.  Without my knowledge my account had been transferred to Paris  I could walk to Bergerac, but no way am I walking to Paris.  There was, therefore, nothing for it today but to telephone my personal banking manager in Paris.  Despite what it says on his card he wasn’t there.  There followed conversations with two different, very helpful, women interspersed with holding, biligual, messages.  Thank goodness, with their English and my French, we got by.  My card has been cancelled and I will be sent a new one which will cost 16 euros.  So far, so good.  But.  They can only send it to England, not to my house in France.  If I could get to Bordeaux, two and a half hours drive away, I would be able to collect my replacement card there.  Patiently, oh, so patiently, I explained that Bordeaux was a very long way away, I had no car, and NO MONEY.  Ah.  I can, however, use my chequebook, I am assured, without the card, although some people will not accept cheques for small sums like 2 euros.  Throughout this I naturally remained my usual calm, unflappable, self.

I then drew 90 euros on my NatWest account.  This, of course, will cost me a transfer fee.  And I’ve just transferred almost everything in my current account in England to my French one in order to pay for replacement shutters and windows, the work to start in two days time.  I may even go into overdraft, incurring another fee, despite having more than enough in a special interest bearing account which earns peanuts.  Now I know why NatWest have changed their Gold Account to a Black one.  Somewhat stymied.

It was definitely time to visit my friend David in Le Code Bar.  David readily allowed me to run up a tab for the duration of my stay and let me have cash if I needed it.  Given that this is a very recent friendship I would call that a generous display of trust.

Never mind.  The house is as I left it in early June.  The agapanthus is blooming for the first time; the lizards are basking in 38 degrees; and I am growing my own tomatoes on a plant which has forced its way through the boards of my compost bin.  There are potatoes coming up in a bed I composted last year.

I’ve just missed the annual wine festival, the bunting for which will stay in the village for the rest of the summer.  UK, of course, has been similarly festooned since the football world cup and the Queen’s jubilee, and now awaits the London Olympics, for which I will also be absent.  I have exchanged Union flags for floral flourishes.

Once I’d settled in, I paid a visit to my friends Garry and Brigitte who live next door.  Unfortunately for me their magnificent house is up for sale; sadly for them the market is depleted.  We had what, for me, is essential, a pleasant conversation with people who  speak the correct French I learned at school with a Parisian accent, delivered at a pace I can understand.  It is good for my ears which cannot pick up the local accent.  Rather like a French speaker trying to understand a Geordie.

In Carrefour I had a cheque accepted without a card.

This evening I dined alfresco at Le Bar.  I sat under a lime tree sadly devoid of caterpillars (see yesterday).  There were, however, a number of flies seemingly interested in my steak and chips; and the occasional wasp attracted by my Adnams Innovation.  Take note of the latter, Don.  Creme brulee was to follow. I was well satisfied.