One swallow ………..

…. does not a summer make.

Neither do fourteen, it seems, as Midsummer day is almost upon us and the weather continues to be cool, damp and grey with frequent heavy downpours and occasional violent storms. This afternoon we are threatened with a hail storm. Given the choice of excessive heat, or excessive rain, I would choose the latter, but it really has been a dismal start to summer, and from the forecast it doesn’t look as if we can expect any improvement for another few days at least.

The garden is luxuriant both in terms of plants and weeds. The rose bushes are bent beneath their own weight, but the blooms are ragged and soggy. The lawn never dries out sufficiently for mowing.

IF

But on the bright side, the swallows are flourishing. The four who arrived in mid-March are now fourteen as far as I can count, all feathered and flying. Hopefully there will be more to come, as they often raise two broods before they migrate in the autumn.

A consequence of all the renovations that have taken place in rural areas is that swallows and owls have lost their ancestral family homes. All the barns and previously deserted houses in our hamlet have been converted into either permanent or holiday homes. It is really heart-breaking to see the swallows, when they arrive, flutter around windows that were once empty gaps, as they try in vain to reach the beams where they had nested for generations.

Although we renovated one tiny old house as a holiday home, several years ago we stopped using it for that purpose and instead use it for storage. I leave the upstairs windows open throughout the year for ventilation, and as soon as the swallows discovered that, they were in like Flynn and building their nests. They also established themselves in the little wooden chalet in the garden. We are able to watch at close quarters as they work through the daylight hours to fill the gaping mouths of their young. The birds are quite used to us being in close proximity.

Hungry swallows

Last year we met a couple who were temporarily without accommodation, and offered them the opportunity to ‘camp out’ in the small house, on the understanding that there would be birds swooping in and out and around the bedroom. They reported that as the young fledged and began practising flying, lying in bed was like being on the platform at Waterloo during rush hour.😀

There is an obvious consequence of having birds living indoors, but clearing up their mess is a small price to pay for the pleasure of knowing we have given them space to raise their young in safety. Once they were a common sight here, but over the years their numbers have dropped alarmingly. We must help them in every way we can.

As I am writing this I can see a dozen or so swallows swooping around the garden, plus the goldfinches, blackbirds, wagtails and woodpeckers. None of them seem discouraged by the weather, although the swallows look rather soggy.

Soggy swallow-2

While discussing swallows, I thought I would mention for those who don’t know, that my book ‘Swallows and Robins – the Laughs and Tears of a Holiday Home Owner’ is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2016. The winner is chosen by public vote, and the award ceremony will be broadcast by Sky News on 12th July at 8.00 pm. If you would like to vote for me, here is the link to click. If you voted for me in the first round, thank you, please do continue to support me by voting again. Finalists are listed in alphabetical order, so you need to scroll down.

PBP Finalist
Click image to go to voting page.

I know that we are not alone in having unseasonable weather, and that while some are suffering floods others are suffering heatwaves. Here’s hoping that for all of us we soon have some relief and can get out of the house without being either drenched or baked.:)

 

 

 

Thank you

I haven’t been active on social media for the last three weeks, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been active. There’s a load of stuff going on that is taking up my time and which has to take priority, so I’ll keep this short and sweet.

To all those people who have already voted for me in The People’s Book Prize –

Thank you.jpg

For anybody who would like to, there is just one week remaining before voting closes, so if you can spare a moment I’d be very grateful.:)

Click the link below to go to the voting page.

Vote

 

Hieroglyphics

As autumn begins to settle in, here in rural France the Kenyan sunshine seems a long way away, and a long time ago.

We’ve been back just over a fortnight, since when our feet have barely touched the ground. Heaps of paperwork, laundry, photographs and notes to sort, and don’t even mention the garden, a confection of rampant weeds and falling leaves. Oh, and falling walnuts that the dogs are digging out of the ivy and crunching up, which isn’t very good for their digestive systems, causing consequential unpleasantness.

I’ve an exercise book full of scribbled, cryptic notes, often written while bouncing on corrugated roads or lurching through rock-strewn rivers.

²@B

At the time they were written they must have meant something, but I am puzzling over hieroglyphics that say “Limea Brownie”. Or possible “Himea Brownie”. Answers on a postcard, please.

Here is the mighty elephant’s little cousin, the rock hyrax. Cute or what?

ð@B

Cords and chains

Next Sunday will be the first anniversary of the day we drove to Dunkirk to collect Tommy from the SPA.

He’s changed so much over the last year. He is unrecognisable from the scrawny, scabby and staring-coated dog that he was then, and is far more relaxed and confident than when he arrived. He still stands at the gate looking wistful if we go out without him, but he’s no longer frantic that he’s going to be abandoned again.

The one area that we hadn’t made much progress is walking on a lead. He’s a puller, crouching low, digging in his claws and putting all his weight on his broad chest, and at 30 kilos he’s just too strong. We tried several different designs of no–pull halters, and a harness, all without success. He just pulls too much. Consequently we have been unable to enjoy taking him out, which means that we haven’t been able to enjoy going out ourselves for any length of time and leaving the dogs at home.

But I recently bought a new ‘no-pull’ halter that actually works! It’s just a few feet of soft woven cord that fits the dog’s head in a figure of eight – you loop it over the head, twist it up under the chin and loop it back over the nose. There are no straps, clips or buckles to adjust. It doesn’t ride up over the eyes, there’s no pressure on the neck, and it works like a dream.

So yesterday we went out for an afternoon on France’s ‘green Venice’ – the Marais Poitevin. As it was a sunny Sunday afternoon we wanted to avoid the busiest areas, and so headed for Magné where we followed a narrow shady lane down to the river bank. We wanted to cross the river. There was no bridge. But there was this:

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Tommy needed no encouragement to  jump aboard, but Tally was most reluctant and had to be pulled from the front and pushed from the back.:) Terry then hauled us across to the far side of the very green river.

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We followed the bank along to the lock.

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The lock keeper’s cottage and two lock-winders

Tommy was interested in the lock, and the dog in the boat in the lock.

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Our walk continued over the weir.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks to their halters, both dogs walked beautifully, without pulling

We didn’t meet any other walkers.

We had to wait for the return ferry.

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And then it was our turn to chain back to the other side.

All made possible by this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s called The Perfect Pace no-pull halter leash. And it’s a “Yes” from me, a 5* product.  For the first time since Tommy arrived, we were all able to go out together, hassle-free. Who would have thought something so simple could make such a change.

An interview

The English Informer in France magazine kindly invited me to do an interview with them.

And here it is.:)  The magazine is crammed with interesting articles on every topic you could name. Well worth having a look.

Starting this Friday, over the next few weeks they will be publishing extracts from my travel books and memoir, on their

Café Pause page.

Don’t forget to have a look.:)

Junk junkies and a naughty little bit

When my step-mother said that we would replace my outgrown jodhpurs with a pair from The Thrift Shop in Nairobi, I was aghast. I’d never been to The Thrift Shop, but I knew it was about second-hand clothes! Other people’s cast-offs. Tatty old rags with tears and stains. We were very comfortably-off, but my step-mother was ever one to count every cent. How humiliating! What if somebody we knew saw us in there?

The first person we knew who saw us was my school English teacher, and the next person one of my school friends with her mother. The teacher was buying a flowery and floaty chiffon dress, and my school friend’s mother was buying her a school uniform to replace the one she’d outgrown. None of them seemed to be the least embarrassed at being seen there. They had no need to be. The clothes were all immaculate, hanging neatly on rails, and finding a pristine pair of jodhpurs that cost a few shillings and were a perfect fit was a pivotal moment in my life. I was hooked.

When we lived in England virtually all my clothes came from charity shops. That’s how I could afford to wear designer suits and evening dresses, bought at a fraction of their original price and still in new condition.

We don’t have that many charity or second-hand clothing shops here, but what we do have is what the French call “Chez Dior”, and the more down-to-earth English call “The Rag and Louse”. It’s a gigantic hangar behind a cement works, and it’s my favourite haunt when my wardrobe needs restocking.

If you can try to visualise the world’s biggest jumble sale after an earthquake, it will give some idea of the chaos that is the Rag and Louse. There are no hangers, no tables. The clothes lie in mountainous heaps on the floor, vaguely sectioned apart. There are men’s shirts, jeans, sports clothing, frocks, ladies coats, bedding, children’s clothing, lingerie, men’s jumpers, ladies’ jumpers, ski wear, scuba wear, swimwear, hats, shoes, blouses, wedding dresses, fabrics, handbags, work clothes, leather and fur coats. There is an unpleasant smell from the fumigation process which causes people to sneeze and cough. Vast trolleys of new stock are constantly arriving.

Photography is not allowed, but this might give some idea of the scene.

There is no easy way to find what you want. You just have to do what everybody else does, and dive into or onto a pile and start rummaging. See a flash of a colour you like, and pull. Pull! Eventually it will emerge from the pile so you can see if it’s what you hoped for. Hardened shoppers sit on top of piles and methodically work their way through them, often in pairs. There’s a primitive changing room behind a curtain. Don’t think that everything is worn out, stained or torn. Some of it is, but there are also plenty of new clothes still with their price tags on them. Like panning for gold, you just have to sift through a lot of mud to find a nugget.

Are you horrified? It’s no place for the precious or the snob. But for bargain hunters it can be a gold mine. One of my French friends, a senior fonctionnaire and the chicest lady you’ll ever see, buys most of her clothes there and always looks as if she’s stepped out of the pages of Vogue.

It’s a popular haunt for traders who snap up leather and denim by the van load for resale.

When a trolley load has been treated with whatever it is they treat it with, the trolley is wheeled to the centre of the hangar, where one of the staff sorts the contents rapidly, tossing them into wooden bins surrounded by shoppers keen to have first dibs. This is the hub of the place, and the ladies (it’s not really a man thing, here) chatter and laugh while grabbing at flying garments.

I don’t know how the conversation started yesterday, as I had only just managed to squeeze between two ladies guarding the bins, but the lady sorting the stuff from the trolley said loud and clear, in English: “A little bit.”

There was uproar, the ladies laughing as tears ran down their cheeks, clutching at each other, and temporarily forgetting the clothes flying past them.

If you don’t speak French, this will mean nothing to you, but if you do, you’ll know why a little bit (pronounced with a French accent) caused such mirth amongst the ladies.😀

I came home with a gorgeous skirt, beautiful two-piece outfit, blinding white fancy top, chic black top and soft cashmere sweater.

Oh, did I mention the price? You pay by weight. My purchases cost €6.90.:)

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Lou Messugo