September 23, 2013

ANOTHER MONDAY

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It is now more than three months since I retired and I already feel much, much better.  The pain in my back and hip has gone since not having to spend hours leaning awkwardly to do my job and I no longer get upset by the weather.

When I was working summers used to pass me by because so often there would be good weather during the week while I was at work and then it would rain at the weekends.  Whole years would go by when it was almost impossible to do anything in the garden or to get out and about on the motorcycles because the weekends were so awful.

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I think it was Billy Connolly who said “there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes”.  I do see his point but simply can’t agree.  I would much rather spend summer drifting around in light cotton clothes than muffled up in boots and waterproofs.  And apart from the fact that there are some things you just can’t do when it’s chucking it down, it’s so miserable.  Human beings are programmed to need sunshine I think.

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Nowadays if the weather isn’t good it no longer bothers me.  If it’s cool and rainy I can get on with indoor jobs.  If it’s nice and sunny I can take Lulu for an extra long walk or do some gardening.  This is exactly how I knew it would be and I love it – knowing that when the sun comes out I am free to make the most of it.

However, I did feel sorry for Nick when the weather changed just as his holiday started. 

Our first week in Le Grand-Pressigny was hot and sunny.  Nick was stuck in front of his computer all the time and in the middle of the week had to go to Paris for the day.  This was a very long day for both of us, getting up at 5.45am to drive him to Tours to get the TGV, then collecting him at 7.20pm to fetch him back home.  It was 38°C when I picked him up.

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During that first week, when the weather was gorgeous, we didn’t do “holiday” things, life just went on as if we simply lived there.  Then the weather changed at the weekend and on the Monday morning we woke up to dull grey skies and showers of rain. 

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Poor Nick.  He felt like I used to feel, all the time. 

But, now that we have internet chez nous we can check the weather forecasts more easily and we could see that the poor weather was not going to last and that by the middle of the week the sunshine would be back.  So that cheered us up no end.

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As well as the lousy start to his first week of holiday, he was a bit put out by the state of the river.  The river authorities have reduced it to little more than a shallow stream, resulting in there being hardly any fish worth fishing for.  He had spent so long looking forward to sitting on the river bank, watching the kingfishers while he fished and even catching the occasional big fish.  Now there are only tiddlers and the kingfishers have moved on too.

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He did give it a try though.  But he didn’t catch anything. There was nothing there to catch.

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But every cloud has a silver lining and there is always something to do when we are chez nous.  The cooler days meant we could get on with a few jobs around the place that we needed to do but wouldn’t contemplate in the heat.

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And although the weather was gloomy for a while it’s impossible to be out of sorts for long when there are flowers everywhere and you get home to find this on your doorstep.

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September 17, 2013

THE FIRST MONDAY

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday today but I have been looking back at our holiday photos and thinking about our first Monday in Le Grand-Pressigny.

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Now that I am no longer working and don’t therefore have firm holiday commitments you would think that would make life easier but in fact it’s the opposite.  Because Nick’s work pattern is so unpredictable we were unable to book a definite date for travelling until the last minute.  This meant that the usual train we take on Saturday morning was fully booked so we ended up driving down to Folkestone for a late train on Friday evening – which is the worst time to be heading south and I was dreading it.

It was the usual story, huge hold-ups and aggravation on the UK motorways and although we left the house at 4.30pm we only just caught our train at 11.50pm, arriving at Calais well after 1am.  But then had a very comfortable night in the Ibis Hotel just by the tunnel - a step up for us as we usually stay in the Ibis Budget where the rooms are like a garden shed with a shower cabin.  The Ibis was well worth the extra cost in terms of space and comfort.  In fact we even took breakfast there instead of hitting the road as soon as possible.

As always, the roads on the French side were a dream, and we arrived chez nous on Saturday afternoon in beautiful warm sunshine.

Mondays2Anyway, let’s return to our first Monday morning. 

I no longer think of our stays in Le Grand-Pressigny as holidays.  Certainly for Nick it wasn’t all holiday.  We were there for almost four whole weeks and for more than two of those he was working, so rather than “being on holiday” we were just “living there”.  While he was sitting at his computer I was just doing what I normally do at home in England, walking the dog, shopping, cooking, clearing up and generally keeping house. 

Mondays3On that first Monday morning the weather was glorious. Lulu was skipping about, doing everything she could to nudge me out of the door and take her up to the château for her morning constitutional.

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As we headed up to the château an old gentleman stepped out of one of the little cottages and waved a measuring cup in front of me.  He asked me how much flour there was in it.  Obviously he couldn’t locate his glasses that morning but he need 250g flour and 150g sugar.  I was able to reassure him that he had exactly 250g in there and pointed out where the 150g line was.  He disappeared back into the house before I could ask him what he was making !!

Mondays6 Mondays7 Mondays8The fields at the back of the château were full of sunflowers and the walnut trees were full of fruit.  It looks like it will be a good year for walnuts this year.  As Lulu and I completed our customary tour the château was already open for visitors and the day was warming up.

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Nick was able to tear himself away from his computer and take a break around midday, so we were able to enjoy lunch on the terrace in the sunshine.  So although he was working, at least it was more pleasant than eating a sandwich in our conservatory in Derbyshire with the rain hammering on the roof !!

We had taken the remaining contents of our fridge and veg drawer with us to eat up so for lunch we had bacon, mushroom and leek tart followed by an imaginative concoction that was something like a knickerbocker glory for dessert.  (I wrote about that here.)

Mondays9aLater in the afternoon Lulu was ready for another long walk so we headed back up to the château and then round the other side of it and down to the river.

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You can’t really describe Le Grand-Pressigny as a beautiful village in the touristy, chocolate-boxy sense of the word, compared to say Angles-sur-Anglin or Chédigny.  It’s an ordinary working village, with shops, businesses, derelict houses and disused factories, surrounded by agriculture.  It happens to have a château too.  A lot of villages in Sud Touraine do.

Mondays9b Yet it is beautiful.  There are flowers everywhere and as I walked around in the sunshine on that Monday afternoon I felt very happy and very lucky indeed to be able to think “I live here”.

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Lulu was in charge that afternoon, pulling on her lead to indicate where she would like to go.  She does that sometimes – pulling in one direction and putting on her anchors if you try to take her the other way!  So we checked out the little square behind the church and the war memorial before climbing back up the hill for a cup of tea in the shade.  It was becoming a very hot afternoon.

 Mondays9fNick announced that he would like to barbecue that evening so I popped into the butcher’s and picked up some lamb steaks and chipolatas.  We finished off with another dessert made of leftovers from home – apple and gooseberry crumble.

Mondays9g After dinner on the terrace we sat out and watched the swallows swirling around the château and the ancient houses.  Then as darkness fell the bat formation team came out to entertain us for a while.  We lit some candles and stayed there for an hour or so, enjoying the warmth of the evening and the little noises of the village.  Some laughter drifting up from the bar, a moped scooting along Grande Rue, the hoot of an owl.

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You would think that with four whole weeks (almost) in France I would have had time to post while I was there but no, the days hurtled by and I was too busy being immersed in the place to write about it.

That’s why I’m doing it now !!

September 6, 2013

THE TALE OF HARRY THE HEDGEHOG

The weather here in France has been glorious almost every day of the three weeks we have been here.  This means that virtually every night we have eaten dinner on the terrace and sat out under the stars.

At dusk the swallows have been swirling above the rooftops of the village.  When they have gone to bed the Grand-Pressigny bat formation team has come out to entertain us.

Each evening we have been lighting candles and enjoying being able to sit outdoors until bedtime.  After the first couple of nights here we became aware that we had a visitor.

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Lulu spotted him first of course.  She was fascinated by something in the corner of the garden and then we became aware of a rustling of leaves every night after dark.  It was a hedgehog.  So we called him Harry.

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Each night he would make his way from the furthest corner of our little garden, walk under the bench, around the bottom of the hedge, then dash across the path, under the gate, along the passage and into the courtyard. 

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From there we assumed he went up to the château to do whatever hedgehogs do at night.  Presumably at some time before dawn he made the return journey because the next night the rustling of leaves would announce his appearance and he would do it all over again.

Then one day the inevitable happened.

As I walked Lulu up to the château one morning there was a evidence of some vehicular encounter with a hedgehog on the road and a very dead hedgehog was upside down on the wall.  Presumably someone had placed him there because he was still alive after the mishap, or maybe to avoid him being squashed by other traffic, which was thoughtful.  Although his remains are still there a week later, which in all this heat is not a pretty sight.  I will spare you the details.

The question is – was it our Harry?  He was a long way from home if it was.

Well, without a doubt, it was.  Although Lulu has been standing guard over the garden every evening there have been no further rustlings or appearances of Harry. 

Until yesterday morning.

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At about 11am Lulu got excited about something in the garden and Nick investigated to find not one, not two, but three little hedgehogs shuffling around.

So maybe our Harry was actually a Harriet and the babies were no doubt wondering where their mum was.

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So with a little help from Google, Nick put down a dish of water and some crushed dog biscuits.  Within moments they were tucking in.

We were due out for lunch so we erected a temporary barrier to keep them safe from the curiosity of one large and very excited poodle, comprising garden benches and tables.  Plus an old tile wedged to give them privacy when eating and drinking.

In the evening we put out a little dish of tinned dog food and this morning I am pleased to say most of it has gone. 

We are thrilled to have the responsibility of raising three little orphaned hedgehogs although how they will get on when we go back home is a worry.  If anyone has any advice on how to help our little babies into the big wide world, it would be gratefully received !!