March

I have spent so much time obsessively following every tortuous turn of the miserable Brexit saga that I have let March come and go without comment. I find it a truly magical month (unlike April, which should be so wonderful but so often disappoints with unseasonal rain or chilly spells).

At the start of March there are no leaves, just a hint of colour in the branches of trees and a few timid buds appearing. Then everything changes. Almost overnight you can see the buds turn into blossom and lovely, light young leaves unfurl. As I drive into le Vigan, there is one weeping willow in particular, whose transformation I have failed to capture (always too late for an appointment or too cold to stop). The sun shone all month and people walked around with a spring in their step and smile on their faces.

I have just put up an odd collection of photos to record this lovely month. The first two were taken on a crisp day at the start of March. Then a couple of pictures of the moon, as this year we have had spectacularly splendid full moons, with not a cloud to be seen. I thought I would pop in a picture of rush-hour traffic on my way home – this herd of sheep has a donkey as well as the usual dog to encourage it up the road to Mars.

The next photo is an old mill, taken with my drone. This is one of a group beside the river below Bréau which several of us want saving before it is too late. The picture afterwards is the old farmhouse near it which is too far gone to rescue.

The rest are the usual mixture of buds and flowers that everybody snaps on walks or in the garden.

Now we are into April. The weather has continued to be unseasonably cold, but a couple of days ago, the non-stop blue sunshine came to an end: we have just had 36 hours of heavy rain. Typically this was on Saturday, more or less washing out the weekly market. But as everybody was saying, since this is only the second time it has rained this year, we desperately need the water. It is good to once again hear the River Souls, in the valley below my house. It was more violent towards the coast, with hailstorms and ‘tornadoes’.

It is raining again now and more is forecast for the coming days. I want it to rain and rain – until next Saturday, when my daughter Jude and family arrive for an all too short week. At present it looks as if it will be cold and dry the first half and then warmer but wet thereafter. Lots of board games will be needed 🙁

Back home

I have just spent my first full day at home.  What a contrast.  The silence – no sounds of cars, of nurses and their trolleys, or conversations with deaf patients or lost souls.

I was busy on the day before my departure helping Eileen, the English patient, make arrangements for her journey back to England.  I have negotiated a good price with my favourite ambulance-taxi firm to take her to the airport, checked that EasyJet does indeed have a wheelchair at the airport, and booked her ticket to Gatwick.  I have also been acting as translator for instructions from the doctor and physiotherapist. Eileen is more confident now about coping with life in Les Chataigniers, and after all, she now has less than a week to go.

Autumn – or rather winter – came suddenly and brutally on Monday: the temperature plummeted and yesterday there was a bitter north wind.  Today we were back to lovely sunny weather.  I did a two kilometre stroll up to the village of Mars and back, wearing just a t-shirt again.

The leaves on most trees have not yet turned colour, but they are looking tired.  A whole month with just one brief shower has left everything looking parched.

Apart from a daily walk I am trying not to overdo it. The district nurses call by in the morning, to put on my compression stockings, and return in the evening to take them off.  Every two days the dressings have to be done, but not for much longer.  The nurses are quite insistent that I should not try to manage the stockings by myself, and that I should heed the surgeon’s instructions not to put any stress on my stomach muscles (those that I still have!), regardless of whether or not I have any pain.

I have the equivalent of meals on wheels delivering an (unappetising) lunch each day, so I only have to fish something simple out of the freezer for supper. I’m trying hard not to lift up anything  that weighs much more than a  kilo or (until I see the surgeon next week) to bend too much. I fear that I have to wear the dreaded corset for several months.

 

Box moth invasion

Our region is completely overwhelmed by the box moth, or the pyrale du buis as it is called in French.

I know they have been around for longer, but I first became aware of them in the summer, when they seemed to make a beeline for the hair of my daughters, sunning beside the pool.

Over the past two weeks I have noticed them everywhere , fluttering  round the garden, whizzing past my car screen, clinging in large numbers to my bedroom walls. I took this photo two nights ago when I had to get up get rid of a hornet buzzing round my bed, and noticed there were about six pyrale on my walls.

I don’t quite understand why I have so many on my land – I don’t think I have any box bushes.  Have they started to diversify their menu? I bumped into a friend on Saturday whose partner has a magnificent old box garden, a couple of centuries old.  They are struggling to suppress these moths; and my friend said that Anne, says if the boxes go, she goes – after about 50 years there.  And I wonder if the box bush, so much a feature of the wild, desolate Causses landscape, will survive.

This is perhaps an even greater catastrophe than the invasion of the processional caterpillars every spring.  At the same time I see fewer and fewer of our regular visitors, like the lizards.  Though the scorpions are still here, particularly in my bathroom.  And crickets still try to bang their way through my windows.

 

Sambucs

On one of the hottest days of July, Sara and I visited Le Jardin des Sambucs, not far from la Corconne, where our family spent 14 summer holidays

It turned out to be a wonderful escape from the blazing sun: most of the walk is through lush greenery – bamboo, tropical like plants, often surrounding green ponds and waterfalls

Amazingly I had never been before  somebody had advised me the walk would be too tricky, but in fact there were handrails at tricky moments.

There is a certain amount of kitsch and whimsy, but much to love and appreciate about this garden, created 25 years ago by its owners, Nicholas, who works with stones, and Agnès, a landscape gardener.

I took home two of their messages, repeated with much passion: the value of wandering slowly through a garden, and the fact that a garden is constantly evolving, with the gardener gently adjusting what nature has determined .

There were frequent places to sit, to drink in the green, smile at the stone columns and structures, listen the sound of water, or catch the odd glimpse of the magnificent Hérault valley, outside this enchanted world .

Was you ever bit by a dead bee?

No, Eddie.  But yesterday I was stung by a live one, hiding on a leaf I plucked out of the pool. And it hurts! So much so that I found it difficult to get out of the pool.

As my thumb swells, itches and throbs, I think of our mum, who became allergic to bee stings and once had to have her wedding ring sawn off by the hospital electrician as her finger swelled alarmingly.

The insect population round the pool has suddenly multiplied. There are bees, wasps, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles … … and all sorts of things I can’t identify.

Last week Sara and I spent hours watching what we think was a relative of the more usual wasps land on the metal table beside the pool, then crawl into a small hole under the table, dragging in its booty – usually a sprig of  grass, presumably making a nest inside my table.

Grass disappearing into hole under table

 

Poppy is 9

Poppy greeted me with wild enthusiastic licking (why always the ears?).  She has clearly had a lovely holiday – as usual – with Hans and Margaret.  What’s more they have brought her back to normal behaviour after her somewhat stressed post-vaccine combined with new biscuits-only diet.

Yesterday was her birthday, and she punished me by refusing to eat anything.  A battle of wills is going on: the food bowl remains firmly untouched.  But I am not going to give in and return to her unhealthy diet of Pedigree Chum.

It is nearly nine years since I collected that little black bundle from Véronique at the trout farm and she frightened Margaret and me by nearly jumping into the deep hole under the house or hiding in an unstable woodpile.

She has become the ideal companion: happy, friendly (especially to humans)  and obedient (relatively).  Just a little blip while I try and get her back on course eating a healthier diet.

Vet – and Poppy

Friday morning

I’m sitting in the sunshine waiting for the vet to arrive – a change to be considering the health of my dog rather than me.

The vet, Heide Coissieux, is a remarkable woman. About my age, she still works full time, is as supple and energetic as a woman 20 years younger, and is gentle, compassionate and skilful with animals. 

She cared for our earlier dogs, Boucheka and Sean, at the end of their lives, so my time as a client goes back 17 years. 

Heide lives with her family up in the hills, on a remote farm near Campestre. She has lived here for so long that she might as well be French. But she is actually German, and as she once told me, the daughter of a senior Nazi officer. Now she is very much a Cévenol, passionate about the environment and all issues Green.

I just wish she would turn up on time. She takes so long with each animal that I wanted to be first in the queue, arrive 15 minutes early and have been sitting here for 45 minutes. 

Friday afternoon

Well, when Heide did arrive, she spent a leisurely and caring hour with Poppy, who for some reason decided to get herself into a more than usual frenzy about being at the vets.

As usual we had to put a muzzle on while Heide examined her and did the usual rather unpleasant things (emptying anal glands!), though seemed impervious to the usual vaccination and other injections for her dog passport.

I discussed with Heide that Poppy seems a bit more anxious in the months since I came out of hospital and she has prescribed a medication called zylkene for situations when Poppy might be stressed (like now!).

We then talked about the fact that Poppy is putting on weight, despite my cutting down on her diet, and trying to throw her ball to compensate for reduced walks, and the fact that she has been sick three times in the past month. Heide was quite firm that I should take her off the Pedigree Chum (disgusting tins of dog food that Poppy loves) and give her dry food, some of it in a rolling cylinder with holes to encourage her to play/work for her food, and that she should be given four or five small meals through the day, to make the food easier to digest.

That afternoon Poppy was in such a state, panting and trembling, that I went back to Heide, who gave her an injection to calm her.  That has happened before, but only when given Frontline to which she was allergic (and now gets a monthly pill, Bravecto, against fleas and tics.

Sunday evening

I have just delivered Poppy to Hans and Margaret, so she does not see me pack to go to England.  It has not been an easy two days. Yesterday she more or less refused to eat all day, but then wolfed down a large portion while I was away listening to a (very good) concert.  Today she did not eat until four and has since refused to touch the dry food.  Heide has said it is a question of holding out till she is truly hungry.  Hope Hans and Margaret hold out well!

Of course the real torture will be if Margaret cooks anything with cheese, Poppy’s great passion in life.

April

I love April. The weather may be feckless and let you down.  But it is Spring, the rebirth of everything.

This year we have had it all: snow, wind, cold, relentless rain (one person told me we had more in two days than all last year) and – since the family left – glorious sunshine and temperatures nudging up to 30.  Now it is May which is looking a little unreliable.

Yesterday in market, Jacky told me that everything is two weeks late because of the weather (but then that was maybe to reassure me it was not too late for him to finish pruning the olive trees in May…).  It is true that my oleanders are looking very sad indeed. Jacky said they did not like all the prolonged cold. And maybe the chestnut trees on the surrounding hillsides are taking a long time to turn green.

Otherwise everything seems wonderfully normal. The sound of the cuckoos is giving way to the nightingales. I have one which sings behind the house and another which replies from the trees towards my gite. I have seen herons and buzzards (I can never tell when these might be eagles).  Yesterday I watched a woodpecker in a tree beside the house, the closest I have ever been to one. I did not realise what a magnificent splash of red they have under their tail.

Almost daily I watch the trees unfurl their leaves. The hazelnut copse round the children’s ‘shack’ is now green. And the leaves on the  lime tree and ash below the pool have become green almost overnight.

The annual challenge of keeping the grass under control on the terraces has started.  This is tough work, requiring à débroussailler (strimmer). Philippe who usually does this has a bad back.  Dan, a very nice Englishman, has come to the rescue and is also weeding and next month will be planting more flowers. Jacky will also be replanting round the pool , as well as pruning back some overenthuastic olive trees

I am lucky to be able – for now – to pay these guys. Otherwise I would be out there, frantically weeding, cutting and digging, like so many people round here, catching up on the late start to Spring.

As it is, I think I will go down now and do some genteel removing of ivy from the walls.

Chenilles processionaires – again

Suddenly, in the space of one week, the number of nests in the pine tree in front of the house has risen from two to over ten.

I thought we had been spared the annual invasion, given the cold and wet weather we have had this March. But it is as many as we had in the photo I took in March 2016.

I need to shell out to get rid of them as quickly as possible, as they are so dangerous for the four grandchildren, arriving next week, and Poppy.

I have just rung the pest man, Serge (rapidly becoming a friend because of all my bestial invasions) and he is going to see how much and when.

Birds

Edith, my newly acquired and very nice femme de ménage is up and about at five each morning (her main job is cleaning in the last remaining factory in le Vigan) and told me today how much she loves the sound of birdsong at this hour, confirming that spring is here.

I disturbed a couple of ducks sitting on my bassin this morning, but they flew off before I could photo the scene (I hope they are here for the mating season). Instead I contented myself with a photo of the tits descending voraciously on the grease balls I have put out.  I suppose that I should soon stop this, as I have read that feeding the birds from now on – or at least not feeding them the right stuff – is not a good idea.  Pity, the birds provide a non-stop theatre outside my kitchen.