As I unpacked my suitcase the sunny sky was replaced by menacing clouds and we had a thunderstorm. Out of the four jobs I had asked to be done in my absence, one had been done.
Switching location of dishwasher and cutlery/dish cupboard: done!
Identify problem and possibly repair the jacuzzi: not done.
I got an email from the friend who had said he would look at it after 25th May saying sorry, the excessive rain meant that they had had to work full out on their own garden.
Fill the bassin ready for Daphne’s visit (tomorrow): not done.
Jacky said there was no point because of the continuing dodgy weather.
Cut the grass – again: not done.
Poor Philippe has shoulder problems again plus his machine has broken down. So I have seven or eight terraces of jungle. Not so good for Poppy either, as the sticky grasses get stuck into her skin.
When morning after morning I watch the sun fight its way through thick, rising mists and the sky reveal itself once again as a clear blue carpet, I can’t resist reaching for my camera.
I can’t capture the magic of the mornings but I keep hoping that somehow by clicking, I will one day manage to. The first picture was taken two days ago; the rest were all taken this morning, starting with the sun rising at about 8 and continuing after breakfast as I took Poppy for a walk.
The weather, with morning temperatures of 8 degrees rising to afternoons of up to 25 degrees, and no clouds and no wind, is expected to last at least another week. Confusing for nature but lovely for us.
There is something very special about eclipses, even for someone as perversely resistant to scientific knowledge as I am.
I still remember with pleasure when Chris and I shared a bottle of champagne with our friends Christine and Arnard, sitting on a terrace above our house to watch the total eclipse of the sun. This was perhaps more dramatic than moon eclipses, as in a matter of minutes the sky darkened, it became night and the birds were silent.
But this moon eclipse was also spectacular, particularly as it coincided with a supermoon (last month’s moon was also a spectacular size, particularly as it rose over the horizon at sunset).
I watched most of its stages, though I was – amazingly – asleep at the time of total eclipse. Unfortunately I had not thought to set up my camera on a tripod, so the images are crude and lacking in detail. All the same, a good memory.
Super moon eclipse
5:18 Last view to the west
6:16 Sunrise to the east
I could watch the eclipse because I often sleep very poorly. My sleep was particularly interrupted last night by an event nothing to do with suns and moons: a visit by the giant sanglier who has been uprooting my terraces all this summer. This time it was munching something on my driveway, about 20 metres below the house. I decided that prudence was advisable and so sadly missed another photo opportunity. Poppy, however, had no such qualms and rushed down to bark at this giant intruder, who eventually ambled off.
I’ve just cleaned up my camera card and found these remaining photos.
The first shows the day that Gideon (son of my old friend Sally), his wife and four children paid a visit on their way back to England. I think the bassin had ten people in it at one stage.
The little plant bassin continues to delight, even though the plants are not as numerous as hoped. Jacky is going to do a massive replanting over the winter. I hope the water lilies will continue to play a central part.
And one day we were watching the moon rise and thought maybe it was the result of alcohol consumed that it seemed so huge and we could virtually see it moving up the sky. Later we discovered that this was the day before the ‘supermoon’, one of the full moons when it is closest to earth.
How many people live in a region whose name has become an adjective to describe the weather?
The Cévennes are known for sudden periods of violent storms and torrential rain, often in September or October, caused by humid winds coming up from the Mediterranean and meeting the mountains of the Cévennes. In a matter of hours the rivers can overflow, causing chaos in their passage right down to the sea, and rocks and trees can tumble and block roads. There is even an entry for ‘épisode cévenol’ in Wiki.
Well, we had an épisode cévenol in the past week, with dramatic lightning, a day of non-stop torrential rain, followed by several days of unstable weather with threatening clouds and occasional rainfall. Le Vigan got off relatively lightly, though nearby Valleraugue was badly affected. There was far more damage to the south west, with the A75 motorway collapsing near Lodève, and further to the east, round Anduze, Alès and St Jean du Gard.
‘Cloudscapes’ this month, and our local river:
At Serres. the little stream le Coudoulous, has become a torrent overnight.
What a contrast to the long dry summer. The few days of rain we have had since the start of September have had an extraordinary effect on the landscape. My land, which was brown in August, was suddenly covered by vegetation – mostly ‘mauvaises herbes’ – often a metre high. The oleanders, which wilted, flowerless, over the hot summer, are growing new buds, as are the rose bushes. The yellow daisy (don’t know its name) planted in front of my terrace is one of the few flowers which flourished all summer.
Weeds shoot up a metre in weeks
Oleanders recover from heat and drought
Flowers on terrace only ones to flourish all summer
Thanks to my friend Dessa, I’ve just found someone new to cut back the jungle. It has taken Philippe two days of ‘débroussaillage’ to restore the terraces to their former state.
Although the sky is menacing and cloudy it is astonishingly warm. This afternoon I was wearing just a tee shirt when discussing with Jacky (planter of olive trees and builder of bassin) the work to be done this winter.
The 30 young olive trees, planted at the start of the year, have flourished. They of course coped with the heat, although this first year needed some watering. Some have already got olives on them!
When I got of hospital in June I discovered that there was something nasty lurking in the chestnut beams of my bedroom. The evidence was sawdust on the furniture and ominous crunching noises, mainly at night.
I feared the worst, and I was right. After much hassling, Lionel, the builder responsible for the major extension to the house in 2008 took on responsibility for remedying the problem, called in an expert, who confirmed this was the beetle, capricorn.
Yesterday all the beams put up in 2008 (except in the bathroom, as covered by a ceiling) were treated by the specialist firm. To avoid the fumes, I spent the night in the gite and Poppy spent the day and night at Hans and Margaret’s. This was an extra precaution because the specialists insisted though the product was not toxic, it contained a product related to Frontline, the anti-flea treatment for dogs. Poppy is allergic to Frontline and has to have an extremely expensive pill instead!
Fingers crossed the problem is sorted. The damage so far is minimal as chestut is so much harder than pine.
It may have been hotter on some days in 2003 but I don’t think I have ever known such a prolonged heatwave. Four short bursts of rain since April, temperatures above 30 in the shade most days for the last ten weeks and now it is not cooling down at night.
The result is of course that the land has lost its lovely green cover (mid-June) and is now a scorched brown (mid-July). Goodness knows what the next six weeks will bring.
I know I’m a gadget freak, but this one is really something. After much research I found a robot suitable for an irregular natural pool like mine and it was installed when the bassin was filled a couple of weeks ago. It proved a huge success. Even Jackie, creator of the bassin and not a great technology enthusiast, was very impressed.
The only problem is it has to be lifted into and out of the water at the start and end of its three hour cycles and it is too heavy for me this year, so I have been relying on friends.
As I recounted earlier, an anonymous friend managed to put not only the robot but its ‘diable’ (trolley) containing the computer into the water. Jackie’s supplier sold me a replaceent diable for 200 euros – an amazing deal.
The replacement arrived two days ago and the robot has been working hard to remove the algae which, with the scorching temperatures we are having, inevitably accumulated in the intervening week.
My friends Fran, Rose and Kath arrive this evening. They don’t know yet that they will be in charge of the robot for the coming six days, giving my Belgian friend, Philippe a break.
Here it is in action: it crosses the bassin back and forth in random movements, miraculously climing the uneven sides and knowing when it can go no further. Click on the image to see the movie.
Summer weather, of course, has been pretty well non-stop for over two months, getting warmer and drier by the day. My old friends, Ray and Fay Perman (Ray and I worked on the Oxford Mail in the sixties) chose perhaps the hottest days (and breathless nights) so far to visit me.
Too hot to do anything much more than sit around, eat and drink, chat, and float around the bassin (water temperature 30 degrees!). But it was lovely to see them again, and I hope this will become a routine visit.
I failed to photo Fay, but here is Ray – and the bassin
I hope the next visit will be longer – and cooler.
This time I’m home ‘définitivement’. Unlike the interim two nights between hospital and convalescence, I feel ridiculously well. Of course I’m doing nothing round the house or garden and not taking Poppy for walks, but apart from being tired in the evening, no complaints of significant aches and pains. The first weeks at Beau Soleil seem like a distant bad nightmare.
Poppy was gratifying pleased to see me but then, being a fickle animal, was confused when Margaret left, abandoning her to me. But she soon settled down, and did some proprietorial barks to chase off intruding marauders.
This morning friends took me to the lovely local producers’ Tuesday market. It was great being greeted by so many old friends and acquaintances, confirming the feeling that I was really back in the real world.
Only downside was meeting two other people with cancer. One was the woman who owns a veg and deli shop where the Tuesday market meets. I had heard from my friend, Marie, that she had breast cancer and was wearing a wig. She evidently had been told about me and we are now comrades in arm, as it were. I might even bump into her at the Institut de Cancer in Montpellier. The other was a delightful man from the nearby village of Mars who has nly recently discovered he has a rather nasty cancer affecting bones and lymphs. Really upsetting – I had supper with him and his wife a few days before going into hospital.
The general talk here is about how many people in the le Vigan region seem to have cancer. Even my doctor is overwhelmed by the apparent epidemic. Is it statistically true? Is it national? And of course, I think often of Sylvia, whom I have left behind in les Chataigniers. As soon as I’m back behind the wheel I will go down to see her.
Lunch today was bliss: after all those weeks of disgusting hospital food (yes, here in France), I enjoyed smoked trout from Vero’s trout farm up the road, organic salad from Andy and Yvette, and apricots from another local grower.
Now I’m about to dine next door, as my neighbours, Neville and Janet, have just arrived for their holiday.