Tuesday, December 30

Insect Shopping

30th December
There are lots of things we need for spring filming, I’m searching the internet for suppliers of various insect species and their eggs or larvae. It's a strange world out there, here’s the Hot List of Top Ten best sellers at Blades Biological;
Acetobacter aceti-
Aspergillus oryzae
Blood Splatter
Analysis Kit
Ants
Black Ants
Flour Beetles Wild Type
Flour Beetles Wild Type
Larder Beetles
Human lleum
Aquarium Heater/ Stats


Do visit Blades: if you get there quick I see they have Diapherodes Gigantea on a special offer of £8.31 for 2.

It also seems strange to keep live things in the fridge, some butterfly cocoons were delivered the other day and I sent an anxious email to the suppliers who responded:

Dear Lulu
It’s fine that they’re just all loose in the bottom and there should be NO holes, so if you have made holes tape them up again. The fridge is fine too, it keeps them at a constant temperature until you need them

Also the black ones are not dead.

Best Wishes etc.


As far as possible we want to film things in the wild and there are some ant species we can’t find so we drove out to visit a chap who is famous for his work on the reproductive strategies of ants.

Our expert is a small elderly man with a sideways tilt to his head and a scuttling walk that is decidedly ant-like. His house is stuffed with ant-related art. I spent a swivel-headed afternoon translating while The Director and Antman got lost in myrmecological debate.


Cat update:
Since it’s been colder I’ve been putting food out regularly for Kevin and Julie - they’re still catching small furry creatures but now they leave the bodies on the back step for us to eat.

Sunday, December 28

More Banquets

29th December
There was an unnerving incident back in October when we first met the Druids. In true British style we’ve all pretended that Mrs Druid's offer to give The Director some 'special' therapy never happened and we've become friendly in a neighbourish sort of way.

We agreed that the Druids would put their sheep on our land in the spring and Mrs Druid is clearly keen to strengthen our friendship further - suggestions to do social things together have been made. I find that her attitude towards me often has acidic undertones and The Director has said that he finds her greetings are a little more passionate than he would consider normal, but we are neighbours and it’s always nicer to be friends n’est ce pas?

The Director is worried about his weight, and I’d assured him that I wouldn’t accept too many social invitations over Christmas. My exact promise was that I wouldn’t get us involved in social eating events on consecutive days.

Earlier in the month Mrs Druid had invited me to the 'Great British Boxing Day Bash', a huge gathering for all the Brits in the area - I’d turned down this offer saying that I had a prior engagement, she'd pressed for details of my 'engagement' and then suggested other opportunities for us to get together. To her advances I offered a combination of truths, half-truths and outright lies but my general ineptitude at this sort of thing combined with her persistence somehow resulted in my acceptance to go to the Druids for supper on Christmas day, although that was the one day that I really had accepted an invitation elsewhere.

Christmas Day lunch at the Bontettes consisted of a series of super-rich dishes - Mme B very keen to impress us with the superiority of French cuisine had outdone herself. M. Bontette keeps an excellent wine cellar and was extremely generous with it. By the time the last caramel-stuffed date had been eaten, the last drop of Montbazillac consumed and it was a polite time to leave we simply tottered directly from their house to the Druids for more turkey - the evening passed in a drugged, overstuffed haze and I still have no idea how we got home.

Wednesday, December 24

Happy Christmas


24th December
Friday
concrete floor laid and paid for
Saturday
fill the car many times with piles of old planks from the woodyard
Sunday
fenced off the area that will become a vegetable plot for filming
Monday
landlord calls to say that he's putting our house on the market and that we should expect visits from estate agents in the new year
Today
I stopped frothing at the mouth

Back Story
Back in October our Landlord paid us a visit, shot at our cameramen, stayed for lunch and assured us that he had no plans to sell his property

Sunday, December 21

Happy Solstice

21st December
Today is our wedding anniversary.
We got married on the winter solstice because:
1. The Director's work life is governed by moon phases - he’ll always remember the solstice.

2. It is the date when everything starts to get lighter and therefore better


We got married in Las Vegas because:
1. The Director works away from the UK a lot and filming dates are constantly changing

2. That year he was definitely working in California until mid-December

3. The Director had promised his children (Betty and Barney) that we'd have a holiday together.

Mid-December 1999 saw Betty, Barney and I flying to San Francisco, where we picked up a Winnebago and embarked on the Grand Marriage Tour.

First night:
Snowy Grand Sequoia National Park. Driving on the winding hill road induced nine-year old Barney to regurgitate an entire packet of Oreos over himself. His father had to strip him entirely and somehow hose him down before getting him into fresh clothing, we left the set of vomitty clothes behind.

Arrival at Las Vegas:
The hotel was old but had promised a pool, parrots and palm trees. When we got there half the pool was closed and children were forbidden in the tiny bit that was left. All the parrots and palm trees had been packed away for the winter - what was left was a sleazy lobby full of people who needed a stool per butt-cheek playing slot machines.

The wedding day:
A stretch limo dropped us at the sheriff's office where we waited in line for the processing window and a lady to bash out our form on a proper old typewriter. Standing with us were flamenco dancers, cave people and a few meringue-type wedding dresses, I was wearing the dress my stepmother had worn to marry my father in the sixties, a navy blue lace shift - very Jackie O. The one good thing about the hotel was the foul-mouthed Hispanic hairdresser who laquered and tethered my hair into a perfect Audrey Hepburn updo.

After the Wedding:
Once back at the hotel the Director, overcome with emotion, collapsed on the purple satin bed, stared at his reflection in the ceiling mirror and declared himself poorly. Barney, Betty and I went out on the town without him, Barney was the world champion air guitar player at the time and managed to persuade hotel bouncers to follow us down the road playing their air guitars too.

Challenge of the evening: the brownie and ice cream mountains at the Harley Davidson café.

Christmas 1999:
Dead Horse Ranch, Arizona camping among geriatric permanent residents who wore pastel leisure suits and carried or dragged poodles around. We parked under a leafless tree and on Christmas eve, while the children were sleeping, we wrapped small items in foil and suspended them from the tree’s branches with dental floss.

New Year 2000:
A campsite high above the Californian town of Escondido. We watched Escondido’s fireworks and the trying-to-get-there-in-time traffic jam. We met some hippies who had been arguing, but then they stopped and everyone made friends and we all had a bonfire and drumming party.

This year:
We are both erratic present givers, The Director tends to panic at the last minute and grab whatever he sees at the motorway services, in the past I have been handed a plastic shopping carrier and map bundled into a paper bag. This morning I was given a very beautiful necklace made from several strings of small grey-green jade beads clasped at intervals with pieces of silver.

I gave The Director a dart board and darts, which were received with a puzzled look.

Friday, December 19

DIY Decorations

19th December
My seasonal decorations have been fashioned out of stuff that I’ve found around the place so there’s a lot of pine cones and ivy going on. I’ve made a terrific garland using a coil of rusty barbed wire. It is heavy and, having attached it to the light over the front door, I now realise that there is something quite menacing about it, and I suppose it could actually be a bit dangerous.

Cat Update:
Cats are now much more confident here, or they were until I picked up The Director from the airport last night. They pay me scant attention but they’re fun to watch. Twice now I’ve seen Julie trying to sneak off with a limp rodent, Kevin always spots her and steals it. I’m identifying their catches by the remains which includes a dormouse tail and quite a bit of a vole.

Tuesday, December 16

Fancy Dress Bar

16th December
I am entranced by the weekly markets in France, after I've bought food I usually go to the hardware stalls where I buy little plastic briefcases for transporting my eggs, novelty plastic fly swats and jugs. I am intrigued by the bundles of small rectangular carpet pieces, hessian-backed and blanket-stitched around the edges - I guess one places them under the feet while watching TV or eating dinner. From what I can see most French people have ceramic tiles or lino on their downstairs floor - perhaps they’d rather have carpet. I imagine one starts off buying just enough to place a piece under each foot, gradually building up a collection that can be placed, like stepping stones, along popular routes around the house.

Women’s clothes on French market stalls are very particular, lots of strange hybrid things; two or three different styles and fabrics are spliced together resulting in the bastard offspring of, for example, a pin-stripe pencil skirt, a gypsy skirt and a lacy curtain. Last week, at the market with Mme Bontette I succumbed to a very cosy coat/dress (droat?) in two-tone green and black; fleecy on the inside, it has a mandarin collar and zips hem to neck on either side. It’s tunic-like and, worn with black tights and boots, makes me feel that I should be on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

Down at the bar it’s all a bit depressing. The big supper last month must’ve used all their battery power because since then Kurt can’t be bothered to cook very often. He usually sits very close to the big screen watching car racing. The French people have been in a few times since the supper event but as Kurt refuses to take his eyes off the screen and his wife can’t speak French they’ve gone away again. Also Kurts friend Ed has problems with alcohol and frequently needs to make use of the bathroom as a vomitorium and keeps missing whichever receptacle he’s aiming for.

I went there for the weekly pétanque game wearing my new outfit this weekend, Kurt watching telly in a 'Satan Rules' t-shirt, Courtney behind the bar in full bondage gear and Mrs Druid sporting a colourful stripey jumper and rainbow harem pants, Mrs D. took a long look at me and said
What a curious garment

Sunday, December 14

A Visit To The Lovely House part two

14th December
I've been working outside a lot these last weeks, it's getting slightly obsessive - as the ground around the quince, cherry, plum or whatever tree is cleared there are new views of the landscape. Also I really like making bonfires.

Visitors coming inside the Lovely House tend to keep their coats on. Sometimes we need to step outside to warm up. Once in the front door there is a terracotta flagstone hallway with stairs directly in front, there are doors to either side. The door on the left leads to a large square room with a mosaic floor, this room is cold damp and empty (in summertime it can be used for computer use), there is a door at the far end of this room to a small, mouldy bedroom.

The door on the right in the hallway leads to another large square room with the same terracotta flags. This is our main room and is dominated by a huge fireplace - I also cook here. I keep a small fire going all day but it needs to really blaze to warm the room properly. A crémaillère is attached in the fireplace -  an iron contraption with hooks and an eye at different heights so cooking pots can be suspended above the fire.

All the furniture in the main room is wooden; the worm-ravaged settles by the fire are pine, but the dining table and the big cupboard are of a more vermifugal sort of wood. Against the wall by the entrance door is a wooden trough that was once used to scrape the bristles off dead pigs, a wide plank is covering this, I use it as a sideboard and stack the crockery on it.

On one side of the chimney one door leads to another  small, mouldy bedroom and another door, that won't close properly, opens onto to a vast bathroom tiled entirely in small dark blue tiles*. The suite is ointment pink, the effect is gothic. Next door to the bathroom is a scullery kitchen with a concrete sink and glass-brick window, mice eat the dishwasher cables so we can't use it. From the scullery is a door to a large rat-ridden 'back kitchen' - a damp, windowless room with thick cobwebs over all the old junk and the old bread oven, there is a door out to the wood shed from here.

Another door in the main room leads to a grand dining room. This has the best mosaic floor, intricately painted ceilings, wood-panelled walls and a built-in walnut sideboard. With it's tiny north-facing windows this is the coldest, darkest room and is impossible to be in, it stores camera kit. A door leads out to the big barn from here.

Upstairs the house has two large and two small bedrooms, all at the front of the house. the whole top back section is one big long attic full of ancient saddlery and farm machinery.

*That bathroom has recently been the cause of acute embarrassment. When on my own in the house I don't bother to wedge the door shut with a piece of heavy furniture anymore. The lavatory is several paces from the door.

The house front door has no knob or latch; entry is achieved by hefting a shoulder to the door until it gives way, getting the door open from the inside is more difficult. English visitors have developed a habit of bellowing out as they shove at the door and let themselves in. This happened last week as I had just got seated. Anxious to spare their eyes I hobbled too hastily across the bathroom to shut the door. Realising that I'd wet my knickers in the process, but safely behind a closed door, I slipped the knickers off, threw them behind the long mirror, pulled my jeans back on and sauntered out to meet my friends. Unfortunately they had brought their dog who wandered off while we were having coffee. Suddenly the mutt reappeared and with a big dribbly grin dropped my sodden underwear at his master's feet.

Saturday, December 13

A Visit To The Lovely House part one


13th December
If it's your first visit to the Lovely House you'll have driven a long way along windy, ill-signed roads, when you suddenly see the house through the gates you have to make a sharp turn. If you get your vehicle through the iron gates without the stone pillars scraping a groove down the side of it you will be feeling relieved. You'll park alongside the big barn doors, look back at the stable block and thank the Jesus, Mary Mother of God person who is living in the niche above the stable doors.

You'll see trees in the yard; there's a big cedar by the gates, then some lime trees, a persimmon and some flowering bushes, including a big pink smelly rose bush that has been flowering since we got here.

Beyond the walls on this drawing is the 'park' (staff would lay out picnic lunches here in Ye Olden Dayes) with grand specimen trees; mature chestnuts, redwoods and cedars. There's a Giant Sequoia which has been struck by lightening - the resulting split houses a large bee community. Wandering further you would come across a couple of large ponds (mare), dug to provide the clay to make the bricks to build the house (which doesn't have foundations). The resulting pond fills with water from the many springs around here and provides irrigation for the farmland. Old Landlord dug the second, much bigger mare (it's pronounced 'mar') in the 'fifties, partly because he wanted more water to irrigate his expanding farm empire but also to fill with fish.

Beyond the biggest mare is a vast bramble-bound walnut grove and a hay meadow, Mrs Druid will be bringing her sheep to graze here in the spring.

Friday, December 12

Of Mice and Puddings

12th December
Mme Bontette took me to a market that I'd not visited before and introduced me to her favourite butcher who had a splendid display of boudins. I had no idea what to do with the Boudin blanc so decided to buy a couple along with a section of boudin noir artisanale*, Mme B has never tried the boudin blanc either. I felt we should try them out and invited the Bontettes for lunch, Mme. B's previous meal experiences at my house have been a bit chaotic, she was looking apprehensive as she accepted this invitation

And she was correct; although I had a nice idea involving caramelising apples to serve with the boudins along with a salad and lemon mayonnaise. It all went horribly wrong, I was too busy chatting and my boudins burnt.

* whereas we Brits usually use 'black pudding' fried up as part of a greasy breakfast, my neighbours serve the boudin noir as it comes from the butcher, sliced up and cold as part of the hors d'oeuvres.


After lunch Zeppelin man turned up with my dishwasher. He's just repaired the mouse-chewed cables. I have now made some paper 'mice' attached to strings and the cats are on an intensive training programme.

Wednesday, December 10

Floor Work

10th December
Three weeks on my own in the Lovely House and see what happens - I witter on about cats. You can probably tell that I'm not getting out much, I've spent most of my time clearing the brambles and thistles that filled the plum orchard - very satisfying but not a great story.

Yesterday though - life got exciting. The Tall Builder and his son started work on the barn floor. TB is a handsome man and his son is very gorgeous. Naturally I wanted them to feel welcome - thinking back though, maybe coffee at 5-minute intervals was a little excessive.

The barn is huge, there is a door to it from the back dining room, we are just concreting a third of the area. The floor is a bit lumpy so the men have knocked down the higher areas to level it out, made a wooden frame to contain the concrete and laid some plastic down as a membrane. The preparations are finished by lunchtime and they'll come back to pour concrete next week. See, things do happen here. (however if you're getting bored send me a meme or something 'cause I don't think I can stretch this kind of thing out all winter)

Cat update: Kevin, cock-a-hoop with his recent adventuring, will now eat from my hand, Julie stays well away from me.

Tuesday, December 9

Naming

9th December
Since the cats arrived, I started having my morning coffee on the back step which is in the wood shed. I usually ignore the cats and read. After intially just watching me from their hiding places they started playing together nearby, finally coming close enough for me to realise that the one I've been calling Janet has nuts and is dead cocky - obviously that was a ridiculous name for him - he became Kevin.

I couldn't think what to call the other, much shyer, dark grey cat until yesterday when Kevin disappeared. I'd gone out for my morning coffee and saw her on her own, trembling and looking hard at me, I sat down and she came close letting me stroke her. Her funny half tail was straight up and quivering and she did a lot of meowing - I chatted back in what I hoped was a reassuring manner and she became 'Julie'. She spent the day following me around (as long as I stayed outside). At intervals during the day I went and looked around the place, including the road for a flat, or otherwise distressed, Kevin without luck. Then in the evening suddenly he was back and they were twining around each other. Julie seems embarrassed by her earlier behaviour and is now staying further away from me than ever - women eh, who can understand them?

Saturday, December 6

Repas de Chasse

6th December
The Association of Hunters held their annual meal for the commune last week. Herisson hunts boar, he is short and stocky, ruddy-faced, very shy and keen on Vera. He asked her to accompany him to the meal but Vera is a minx and can’t decide whether to deter or encourage him, she felt that it would be best to say that she has already arranged to attend with me.

Vera came to my house first so we could arrive together at the Salle des Fetes then she found her French lover and sat with him and his family, their affair is a (not very secret) secret. I’m not sure how I ended up sitting next to the semi-comatose guy who spoke not one word all evening. Close by are some inebriated men and the adolescent daughter of one of them. The meal was relentless and lasted until 2.am, eaten under the full blaze of fluorescent lights so we could properly see the feast laid before us. The food came in mountainous quantities with interminable waits between courses; two fish courses followed by roast deer and bowlfuls of wild boar stew, the meal does not include vegetatables and ends with cheese, dessert (and a heart attack). At half time the old lady opposite has pulled up a couple of extra chairs, lain across them and is snoring, the drunk men are throwing food in each others drinks. The daughter is embarrassed by her father’s behaviour and I'm getting splattered in the crossfire, the two of us headed to another table - which just happened to be laden with frozen vodka sorbets.

Cat Update
I am being stalked from ground level now - still from a safe distance, they have realised that I am the source of multi-coloured fish-shaped biscuits.

Thursday, December 4

Fame

4th December
Mme Bontette filed her first stories for the local newspaper a week ago, This is the newspaper most commonly found in the bars around here, there is also a regional daily paper, these two papers are the only ones I've seen in the local people's houses.

Having just missed  one deadline Mme B has put in a bumper amount of village news this week; the film show, the weekly yoga class and a rivetting piece about the day last week when it rained and Vera and I went out and played pétanque with a couple of other people (that's me in my new yeti jacket).












Tha has pretty much used up all available local stories. Mme B doesn't approve of the new people running the bar, so she won't write about them, and since the elections she's at loggerheads with quite a lot of the rest of the village. Next week could see an exclusive 'Woman Re-homes Two Cats' story.

Yes the cats are still here, they flee the moment they catch sight of me and find places to spy on me, so I still haven’t seen them properly yet, there is a grey stripey one and a dark grey one, they share the distinguishing feature of only having half a tail each. I feel they should have names - I’m trying out Brian and Janet

Friday, November 28

Catnapping


28th November
I went back to the Gardeners yesterday. The whole cat thing has got me a bit anxious. As a child I went on and on about wanting animals and my parents drummed it in to me that pets are a Big Responsibility, and have a habit of either living for unfeasibly long amounts of time or, conversely, dying just when you’ve got very fond of them.

As an adult I’ve been far too unsettled for pets although years ago I did keep animals that I planned to eat. I loved scratching the pig’s bellies and spent hours watching them make straw nests. My first pig was a very sociable gingery Tamworth called Urquhart. When the time came, I got him in the back of my Morris Minor (my first car) for a trip to the butcher, he scoffed the nuts that I'd put in the car for him then worked out how to push the front seat down and get into the passenger seat next to me so he could look out of the window for the rest of the journey.

I’d asked the butcher to simply halve the dead Urquhart longways, but when I went to collect him his legs were sticking out all stiff, I had to manoeuvre the pig halves into the car diagonally, poking the extremities out of the front window and drive home with my head cocked to one side and Urquhart’s head rolling around in a plastic bag on the back seat.

Now, temporarily here in a French farmhouse, I'm still not settled enough for actual pets but wood pile cats seem an ideal arrangement for all concerned. Being old enough to fend for themselves I’m simply offering them an alternative place to live that won’t involve too much emotional investment on either side (will it?). My neighbours advised me to keep the cats shut in a shed for 3 days when I get them here. There is a pigeonnier and some odd little outhouses next to the Lovely House which seemed a good place to keep the cats initially. The pigeonnier is linked to the house with a tiled roof and a back wall making an open-faced barn where we keep our piles of firewood. There are various openings through the walls and lots of perches and hiding places. I think it must be cat paradise.

This time the Gardeners had managed to stuff a pair of yowling cats into two baskets, which I quickly put on the back seat of my car and drove carefully home, they growled like that girl with the revolving head in The Exorcist all the way. My heart was pounding as I placed the baskets on the new straw in the pigeonnier and left them to calm down for a while.

To release the cats into the shed without having to open the door and risk them escaping, I’d devised a cunning plan of attaching strings to the basket lids which I pulled from the outside through a little hole in the wall, this worked great, the lids flapped open, the cats shot out of the baskets like bullets, there was a very high up window - they bounded up the walls, through the window and escaped like rockets.

I thought that was the end of it and figured the cats would be well on their way home but a few hours later I went to clear away the food and water that I'd put out for them and caught a glimpse of a tail disappearing, I saw some eyes watching me from a high perch this morning - I think they are considering staying - I put out a dish of chopped ducks hearts.

My internets are being taken away tomorrow - who knows when I'll be back online…

Thursday, November 27

Wading Through Cement

27th November
Life has gone all turgid. I’ve been trying to get some quotes to lay a concrete floor so we can set up a studio in the barn adjoining the house. The landlord has agreed to pay half the costs and I want the job done before Christmas. I’ve completely failed to get a French builder to turn up. A very tall English man came, measured and sent me a quote but I need at least one more. The only other person vaguely interested in the job used to be a hairdresser in the UK before he moved here. He made and cancelled several arrangements but finally turned up this morning. Unfortunately he didn’t bring any measuring instruments with him. He seems to have learned the building trade by watching car mechanics - a sharp intake of breath, then gravely shaking his head and telling me what a difficult job it’ll be.

Monday, November 24

The Film Show

24th November
I’m still reeling from going through a year's worth of dramas these last two days. The Director spent Saturday morning setting everything up at the Salle des Fetes – and nothing worked. The speakers were duff, the screen turned out to be puny and the projector wouldn’t work until we figured out how to screw the bulb in properly. Sometime during the afternoon we ditched the tiny screen and wiggled stuff in the right way to make sound happen.

On Sunday while The Director was doing last-minute adjustments I put out some chairs, I wasn’t sure who’d turn up so I put out about 50 and started fiddling around with bowls of pretzels. Our friends set up the drinks table and we realised that Mme Bontette, who is a bit distracted by her new job, had made us a tooth-achingly sweet rum punch so we collected up all the supplies of lemons and limes we could lay our hands on and squeezed them into the mix. Then people started coming - and they kept coming and we were all pulling out stacks more chairs because the hall was filling. The advertised start time was 6.15 but by 6pm there was a room full of people looking expectantly at the bit of wall where the projector was pointing, they weren’t interested in rum punch or Ricard they were just waiting. So we rolled the film which was a shortened version of the pilot with subtitles (thanks Florence!), followed by a series of sequences that we’d filmed over the last few months. At the end everyone cheered and asked to see it again immediately.

Mme Bontette is loving her new job as a reporter for the local paper and has bought a new set of reporter’s outfits which are very glamorous and seem to be mostly furry-edged, she was taking a lot of photos.

Then we cleared up and went down to the bar which was heaving. The Goths had gone to town with candles and drapes and stuff, the tables were put together to make a big U shape and set with pitchers of wine and baskets of bread. Trays loaded with glasses of Cava were passed round. The meal was great: bowls of salad and the famous cassoulet – and they’d even done the crispy crumb thing on top. The really fantastic thing though was that there were people there who’d told me they’d never be in the same room together and there were French women there who told me that they’d never go to a bar because it wasn’t ladylike. Anyway the whole thing went on late and it was a great party. And now The Director and our friends have returned to the UK and I feel completely discombobulated.

Friday, November 21

Cat Fail

21st November
I went to collect some cats from a market gardening couple who moved in to their property recently and discovered an extremely fecund feral cat living in their woodshed. They doped some food and managed to get a batch of sleepy kittens to the vet to be sterilised but the wiley mother slipped away and hid (and then got pregnant again). The cats are now eating all the dog's food and I have agreed to take a pair to see if they'd like to live in my wood pile. When I got there the Gardeners had failed to catch any. We've hatched a plan and I'll come back next week.

Meanwhile I'm waiting for The Director, some friends and a projector to get back from the airport. Then we're all set to do the film show in the village hall on Sunday. I'm having a lesson in making rum punch from Mme Bontette tomorrow, she called this morning in high excitement - she has just secured a job as a reporter for the local newspaper. Our film show will be her first assignment.

Tuesday, November 18

Heffalump Trap Part II


18th November
Early this morning I was washing my hair when I heard loud rapping on the front door. Thinking it might be a delivery I ran to get it and found Old Dad there.
Come early - before midday, I don’t want the postman to know you’re there. We’ll shut your bike in the garage and then I can close the shutters and lock the door and it’ll look as though there’s no one in.
That’s ridiculous
No really if the postman sees you he’ll tell every one
Why would we be worried about that?
Well I don’t want the postman to know
(What are we talking about here?) Well I won’t come then

My hair was dripping and I was caught off-balance. Old Dad just repeated that he’d see me before midday. Then he walked off.

I spent the morning slashing at swathes of thistles and thorns but by noon I was still feeling thoroughly disgruntled. On the way to Old Dad’s house I passed the bar which was open - that stopped me in my tracks. Being a nosey parker I wandered in. A strange young man was sitting at the bar, his hairline has receeded right over the back of his head the remaining strands have been grown long and combed-over. I also think he might have gained weight recently because his clothes don’t meet in the middle. Kurt (up already!) introduced him as 'Ed from Toulouse who has recently moved near the village’.

Last week I put flyers around advertising our upcoming film show at the village hall and the cassoulet supper in the bar afterwards. I learn that the supper is already booked up. The event is this Sunday, I got Kurt talking about cassoulet and it became apparent that he had neither eaten nor made a cassoulet in hs life, I started panicking, then Ed said
I’m from Toulouse I’ll show him how to make a cassoulet

My brain didn’t know what to think then, so I left, and went for lunch, I was late, the postman had been and gone and I insisted we left the shutters open and the door ajar as usual.

I sat down and it was all a bit tense, Old Dad handed me a large tumbler of neat Ricard
Thanks but no, water will be fine – I need to get back to work soon
Glasses of various sorts of alcohol were poured for me over the following long hour, they lined up untouched across my side of the table.

Conversation didn’t flow easily. I resorted to asking him about his upcoming heart operation - he can usually go on about that at length, but today he didn’t seem in the mood to talk about that or his bad leg, or the way he’s a martyr to heartburn.

Finally, as I pushed back my chair and made leaving noises, he said in exasperation
what do women like - how can someone like me give a girl a good time?
I suggested that he pop up the road and ask our lovely neighbour Hélene
Old Dad roared at me
Hélene – she’s nearly 80, what would I be wanting with her?

Sunday, November 16

A Heffalump Trap

16th November
I’m flipping livid - I can’t believe that my spinelessness has led to me getting involved in another weird fib-telling scenario

This village is mostly populated with elderly people - I’m getting to know and love some of them. Funny, saucy women like Scary Eena and her best friend Hélene, the Berts and I’m even getting a bit fond of Bruno the Knob Destroyer.
And then there is Old Dad, I usually see him at the Saturday pétanque games with his long-suffering family who come every weekend to chop his wood, put food in his freezer and listen to his complaints. I was shocked to discover that Old Dad’s chronological age is only the same as my dad (78), I’d put him at least 10 years ahead.

I nearly ran Old Dad over during the week but I braked instead and then he’d seen me, so I had to stop and chat. When he'd finished describing his various ailments he suddenly invited me to lunch with him on Monday (tomorrow). Failing to think quickly enough I accepted. I’d just got philosophical about this, telling myself that it would be an interesting lunch - probably (in a tedious sort of way) and certainly wouldn’t do me any harm, but he turned up a bit later at the Lovely House with a request
If you see my son you mustn’t tell him that you’re coming to lunch on Monday
I protested, but the man wouldn’t go until I’d accepted not to tell.*

The idea of lunch turning into a conspiracy bothered me. At the pétanque game yesterday I chose a moment when Old Dad was standing alone to go and tell him I wasn't coming, then saw that his lip was actually trembling
But you’ve got to come
Sure – another time
What are you doing on Tuesday?
I paused a beat too long - he jumped on it
You’ll come Tuesday then?
I have no idea what’s wrong with me but I heard my mouth saying OK
Aaaargh

*In my weedy defense I’ll say that OD uses a lot of dialect, he is very difficult to understand properly - and I started losing the will to live after the discussion had gone on for more than a couple of minutes.

Friday, November 14

Choosing Colours

14th November
The Director has gone back to the UK where our house has become a production office. Over there the bedrooms are now editing suites and the living room is full of people writing scripts and arguing about contracts. I am going to (hide in France) stay here and prepare for next year’s filming. We need a studio to film things that have to be contained (like cockroaches) and slow things like butterflies emerging from cocoons. I’m currently trying to persuade builders to give me a quote to lay a concrete floor for the studio. The outside project is the 'film set garden’, I’ve started clearing a large overgrown piece of land where we will put a shed, fencing, plant flowers and make a vegetable patch. I’m a bit hampered by the all the rubbish the Landlord has dumped here, hacking back brambles I keep dinging into bedsprings and bits of rotten furniture.

For light relief I go and visit my new friend Florence. On Tuesday I took the fabulous chicory tart over to her place. Florence is expecting her second child in the spring. She has recently moved into a small village house that needs some work. We picnicked amid the rubble from a big hole that has just been knocked through the end wall. Turning our backs on the view of a suppurating septic tank in the middle of her garden we perused paint colour charts for the baby’s bedroom.

Tuesday, November 11

The Typing Fury

12th November
I needed help with letter writing a couple of days ago, so I paid a visit to my smart neighbours who live nearby. Mme B. is extremely bossy and when channelled into a project she’s a wonder to behold. If I've got past the phoning stage with French utilities companies, she whips out her typing fingers and fires off tart letters for me.

I have talked about the Bontettes here before (see labels) but since we have become good friends I’m in a mood to recap. Mr. B is ex-military and slightly obsessive about his workouts. Mme B, not wanting to risk being caught sans maquillage has had her eyebrows and lips tattooed on, the eyebrows are a little too high, so she looks permanently surprised. Her nails are frankly terrifying. She also has a major shoe fetish - there is a room in their house full of shiny high heels.

Last month I invited the Bontettes to come and help themselves to the walnuts that were falling off our trees, warning them that the land around the trees was very rough and brambley. Mme B arrived with a lovely big basket, I looked at her bare hands and offered my gardening gloves but she waved them away, she would not be actually attempting to handle the walnuts herself, she explained, merely directing her husband where to find them.

Then I noticed her footwear; not possessing any flat shoes Mme B was wearing slippers, the same lumpen plaid style that the old men wear. A very popular item, worn by many French adults. I’ve eyed up these devil slippers on the market stalls afraid to actually touch them in case I fall under their evil spell.

Last Monday at their place, once my letter was written I was invited to stay for lunch – we ate a tart so divine that I ran straight home and recreated it. Despite my resolution that this would not become a foodie site I will tell you how to do it, just in case you’re moved to have a go.

Chicory and Goats Cheese Tart Tatin:
The whole thing is constructed upside down and turned over to serve.
Coat the base of a quiche dish with caramel, cut some blanched chicory heads in half and place flat side down in a vaguely star-like arrangement on the caramel. Slice up a log of goats cheese into discs and place them evenly over the chicory. Drape a rolled-out circle of pastry over all this, tucking any overhang into the dish (brush a little egg wash around the pastry edges if you want to). Bake until the pastry is cooked. Leave to cool a little and then invert the tart onto a big plate. Add walnuts, herbs or nothing to garnish

Sunday, November 9

Kurt's First Supper

9th November
I went down to the bar for a game of pétanque yesterday. My fellow pétanquers are stunned by the sudden, unannounced disappearance of the senior Stranges. Their replacement by Goth Rockers feels like we’re suddenly extras in a remake of Village of the Damned as directed by John Waters .

Courtney opens up the bar at some point in the afternoon. Wearing a black satin mini-kimono (= instant forgiveness by lingering male population for missing lunchtime) she clears up the remains of the previous night’s party looking a little hungover.

Kurt gets up a bit later, he has announced himself as the new chef and we’re all curious to see what his food’s like. The Director put down his computer to join us for the after-pétanque supper at the bar. The man had made a big effort and it really wasn’t bad at all. After supper we all said it was great, he unscowled and became really rather friendly.

Saturday, November 8

French Markets Are So Marvellous

8th November
Despite the fact that filming is over and we are on a break. I can’t actually prise The Director away from his directing tools - he is still compiling 'selects reels’ (putting key sequences on dvd) to send to the writers. He never remembers that he always works through holiday periods and is perpetually amazed by the work he still has to do. Our parents have got the hang of this phenomenon by now and just as they deal with the fact that they have to visit us in cold, uncomfortable houses, they understand that their son (in-law) will only be sporadically visible.

Overcompensating a bit, I took my in-laws up into the mountains to a market I’d not visited before. It was a long drive, the town was bigger than I realised and the market very popular, finding parking was difficult. Fighting our way through the crowds we were soon exhausted and felt the need to return home, but I couldn’t remember where I’d left the car. When we did find the car, it was blocked in by a bigger vehicle which had been obscuring it from view.

We did finally get home, lit a fire and started preparing the cépes that we’d bought at the market - they were full of worms.

Thursday, November 6

Territory Marking

6th November
My parents went back home to recover and The Director’s parents arrived yesterday so I took them out for lunch. A café in the neighbouring village offers a 4-course lunch with as much wine as you dare drink for 11 euros, it is run by Jeanne, whose elderly father potters around the dining room pouring the leftover wine into fewer bottles, (I didn’t pay too much attention to this until the last time I came and poured a large, purple hornet into my glass). The clientele are mainly blue-overalled men who work for the utilities companies. A lop-sided man is always there, he eats with his friends, clears all the tables and stays to help with the washing up, I think he's sweet on Jeanne despite her alcoholic husband who sometimes turns up to stand behind the bar and steal money from her till.

Jeanne finds the animosity the British residents show towards each other very funny, and tells stories about her English customers getting on each other's nerves. I have now had the good fortune to witness this comedy first hand.

Yesterday lunchtime my in-laws and I sat near another table of English people, they were getting up to leave as we were served coffee. A lady from their group detoured to us and placed a single small cup in the middle of our table, saying,
We didn’t want this so I thought you might appreciate a real coffee

There was something wonderfully ridiculous about the idea of us taking turns to sip at the tepid coffee. I pulled my face straight and asked why her coffee is more ‘real’ than ours.
We come here every day – the owner here spoils us with coffee from the espresso machine, yours will just be from the cafetiere.

The encounter has made my in-law’s visit, with any luck it will obliterate the experience of finding themselves trapped in their room after having unsuccessfully tried to repair their door handle.

Tuesday, November 4

Is There Life On Mars?

4th November
I feel peculiarly isolated out here in my feverish anticipation of the US election results. My French neighbours are not interested in events happening beyond their borders, in some cases this means their garden gate, for the more cosmopolitan the border can be as far as the departmental edge.  The newspapers here have blurry photos on the front page: a car stuck in a car park or some schoolchildren in fancy dress. For most of the population Europe is a fuzzy blur and the US is a sort of gaudy magazine someone's told them about.

I think this might be the case all over France, I was working in Provence on 9/11 when the Twin Towers were hit, I heard the news on my car radio and stopped to ask a few passersby if the news I was hearing was correct, no-one had any idea what I was talking about. I finally managed to find a bar with a telly tuned into a news channel, I was the only person watching the images of planes hitting buildings. That evening I spoke to the man who ran the local taxi company, he hadn’t heard about the events yet. I looked in the national papers the following day, significant coverage only appeared in Le Monde a couple of days later.

I’d got used to all this woolly introspection - then a couple of weeks ago I went to work for some Americans with access to digital tv, commentary on the US election was constant. It jolted me into a world I used to inhabit - it’s very strange coming back to this bunker.

Sunday, November 2

New Blood At The Bar

2nd November
The filming really is done for this year, the Camera Boys have returned to the UK - we are now in visiting season. Since Bruno's August visit we have been without doorhandles - he replaced the original knobs with a set that can’t be made to stay fixed on. My parents arrived here a few days ago. They have known me long enough not to expect much in the way of comfort but I bet they had hoped for door handles. No matter - once given a pair of pliers and a monkey wrench they soon got the hang of getting in and out of their bedroom. My mother hasn’t really got the upper body strength to haul the front door open on her own yet though.

We were also suffering from a smelly drain problem. Our squalid kitchen has a concrete sink with a hole through the back wall. The water, and whatever else you put in the sink, washes through to a concrete gutter running the length of the back of the house. Over the years it has silted up and grown over with weeds, the autumn rains have made the area behind the kitchen swampy and putrid. My repeated calls to Landlord and plumber have been ignored. Mum put her foot down, The Director and my father got out the shovels and a wheelbarrow, dislodging unspeakable hideousness to make a drainage channel.

As a further treat for my parents I took them to the bar for some of Mrs Strange’s gin. The Senior Strange’s have already slipped away. But Kurt the tattooed son has returned from Copenhagen with his wife and turns out to be perfectly good at serving gin with flat tonic in a dirty glass from the iceless bar.

Kurt’s wife, Courtney has translucently pale skin, she has only recently started her tattoo collection, they both dress exclusively in black. They tell me that their band had split anyway and that they are going to liven up the bar with 'live bands, gourmet food and that kind of stuff'. Courtney is animated, she says that Kurt’s great in the kitchen - I’m not sure if she means he can cook. Buoyed up with enthusiasm for their plans (and feeling guilty that I’ve now booked to show our film at the village hall) I suggest that they put on a supper for after the film show - I’ll publicise it on the flyer I’m going to put around the surrounding villages next week. Kurt is a sullen kind of chap, he asks what sort of thing I have in mind,
I suggest casserole-type dishes; a daube, coq au vin … a cassoulet?
I’ll do a cassoulet
Something about his response is not putting me at ease.

Friday, October 31

Seven Things

31st October
A 'seven-things' meme landed  in my in-box, here are seven memorable kitchen moments:

1. I am 18, in Athens, I have a job in a restaurant kitchen. I arrive in the morning to wash up piles of plates stacked on the floor. There is a toy sink in a room the size of a shower cubicle. I have tepid water and the last gasp in the bottle of washing-up liquid at my disposal. As I pile up the plates on the draining board the cats start using them as stepping stones to come in from the roof through the ceiling window.

2. A few months later I’m in Amsterdam, an employment agency has sent me to a family home where they have told me that I will be required to babysit for a couple of hours. I am met by a woman in a hurry to leave. She says that I should have dinner on the table by 7pm and I’ll find what I need in the fridge. At 7pm there is an old man shouting at me to get the table laid. While I’m doing that, the chops catch fire. The food I set before these people has many faults but the man decides to focus on the fact that there is no gravy, he gets really noisy. I hear his plate hitting the wall as I run out of the door.

3. Aged 19 I am supposed to waitressing in a restaurant but I am in the kitchen watching the chef at work.

4. I am being interviewed in a pub kitchen, I have applied for a job as a barmaid, the bar manager hasn’t actually read my cv,  just the name of the restaurant I last worked at (as a waitress) he assumes that I am applying for the cook’s job. I went along with it - and got the job.

5. Three months later I bump into the chef from kitchen 3, now working at a posher restaurant she asks me to be her sous chef. In this restaurant kitchen the proprietor tells me that the waitresses will classify the customers by putting an alphabetical code on their order, AA being the best, these customers will get favourable treatment. I ask what happens if I see a 'C' on the order
It’ll be a couple of lesbians drinking tap water - give them the bum end of the paté or anything else you want to get rid of

6. Aged 22 and working as a freelance cook, I have a contract to provide lunches for a Sexy Beast architect and his clients in a country mansion. Sexy Beast’s wives wear fishnet tights, shorts and thigh boots. Lining the corridors are explicit photographs taken by the Beast. The house is built around a central courtyard which has been roofed over and turned into a tropical-themed swimming pool with a wave machine, there are trees clad in orchids and parrots. I have to carry food across a suspended rope bridge from the kitchen to serve lunch by the pool.

7. Two years later I’m attending agricultural college during the day and cooking vegetarian suppers at a recording studio every evening. Although I change my clothes at the end of the day there is nowhere to shower. Halfway through a week when I am working in an intensive pig unit I arrive at the studio kitchen and see that we have an extra guest for supper. It is Kate Bush, wearing the most pristine white top I have ever seen, she looks utterly sparklingly clean. All I can think about is the intense piggy odour emanating from me.

Thursday, October 30

Cocktail Hour

30th October
After the yoga class this week we had our picnic supper in the Salle des Fetes. Pulling together six small plastic picnic tables we were completely dwarfed by the cavernous hall. Bic Biro brought out his apperitif drinks; bottles of Muscat (sweet wine), Ricard and a French brand of Whisky. Mme Bontette had got her fish soup simmering away on the bar counter and was in exuberant mood. She wanted everybody to try a Manhattan - which in her head means equal parts Muscat and Whisky. We don’t have ice and the bottles have not been near a fridge. It takes very special circumstances before I can look at cheap, warm whisky with anything approaching desire. French people think it’s very odd that English people often opt for red wine as an aperitif.

Despite the echoey, swimming-pool quality of the hall I asked Bic if I can use it as a venue for our film show, he’s thrilled with the idea - we have a date.

Wednesday, October 29

Star Wars Soup

29th October
Hercule is a robust six-year old, I met him over the weekend at a communal picnic event. I was so impressed by his gourmandising that I invited him for lunch. He bowled into the Lovely House, sat at the table, spotted a bowl of beetroot and made a grab for it. His mother restrained him while I served the soup. I commented that it was made from the remains of a Coq au Vin and had some wine in it. Hercule took a spoonful and became Yoda
Unusual wine in soup to have - it is strong - but rather good

After lunch Hercule had a go at mending one of the cameras with The Director and the Camera Boys. This somehow resulted in a Star Wars fight with torches.

Hercule's mother, Florence is lovely and looks a bit like Amélie. I've been wearing my yeti shrug constantly since I bought it last week, the picnic was no exception - Florence thought it a wonderful thing, then we discovered that we find the same sort of things funny and that we have eerily similar music collections. Florence went to the supermarket before meeting me yesterday, they were selling rubber wellies shaped like cowboy boots - she bought us a pair each, we wore them on our pre-lunch mushrooming expedition.

We went looking for something that I had sloppily translated as 'Love Trumpets’. When the name Trompette de la Mort is explained to me (they should be gathered by All Soul’s Day – 2 November) I suddenly realise that we are actually picking Death Trumpets. We collected lots and I must now lay them out on newspaper for a few days to dry.

Monday, October 27

Timelapse Filming

27th October
The boys are finishing the autumnal establishing shots. A technique we like a lot is timelapse photography - ideal for recording events that take place over a long period like flowers blooming and dying, insects making cocoons or spiders spinning their webs. One simply pops a stills camera on a tripod in front of the subject, set the timer to take a snap every few seconds or minutes. Then, when it's done, run the frames at 25 frames per second and Hey Presto! you see the process fast forwarded. Here’s an example and I really like this one

Timelapse is a good way to show time transitions i.e day to night, sunrises, sunny day turning to bad weather, and so on. In this case it gets a lot more complicated partly because the light changes more, which will have implications on shutter speed and aperture settings. The other complicating factor is that The Director and the Camera Boys have been experimenting with mechanisms that move the camera during the period of the timelapse so that the camera can follow the arc of the moon rising, or sweep the horizon as rain clouds gather. To make these mechanisms one needs a lot of big Meccano-type bits and some clockworky stuff, then you set up your moving tripod and hope the weather does what you’ve predicted. It’s all trial and error but somehow very beautiful and satisfying when it works.

I've just been searching Youtube for a good example of a tracking timelapse - and failed which might make us world pioneers or it might just mean that I'm a bad researcher

Sunday, October 26

Supper and A Lap Dancing Exhibition

26th October
The Director and two Camera Boys flew in from the UK last night. On the way back from the airport we decided to stop at the bar to see if we could enveigle a bit of supper out of Mrs Strange. It was getting late and most of the After-Pétanque diners had gone home except for Vera and the pétanque club captain who were snogging on the barstools. This surprised me a bit because it did look quite uncomfortable and also because he is French and Vera has recently been very scathing about the erotic talents of French men.*

Mrs Strange asked me to help her with the supper so that she could make sure that I’m keeping quiet about her departure in a few days. She tells me that she’s trying to persuade one of her sons to come back and take over.

*if anyone is interested in Vera’s preferences vis a vis Nationality of Lover, I haven’t had time to compile a comprehensive league table yet, but her Top Lover is a motorbike-riding German, his being a mendacious psychopath and married are considered negative factors however they are outweighed by two large positive factors.

Saturday, October 25

Showgirls and Boys

25th October
Mme Bontette and her friends are all in their late fifties and older. The women have hair and nails done weekly and are slightly competitive about grandchildren. I have so far completely failed to correctly judge the dress code/formal tone of events I’ve attended with these people.

Mme B had suggested that I dress up - and said that she would be wearing leather trousers. Keen to match her Marianne Faithful, I went all out on my version of Girlfriend-of-a-Rolling-Stone look. The car was late to pick me up, so I continued to add decorations to my person while I waited.

When the car did arrive I saw a lot of denim being worn. At the venue we piled out of the cars, I towered above my companions in my shiny, spiky shoes. Mme B was not leather-clad and I guess was just hoping I’d wear clothes without mud or food on. But I have learned that older French people do wear strange and flamboyant outfits, often with vivid hair colourings, my outfit was not out of place at our venue and my friends were delighted with my efforts.

We were celebrating the end of Michelle's messy divorce, her son Yves had choreographed the night’s entertainment, a burlesque event – with lots of boys. Yves, wearing a very flouncy white shirt, joined our table. As he greeted us Mme B, worried that I wasn’t keeping up, whispered in a voice that would carry above the other noise,
He’s a homosexual you know

The show was hilarious, Near nude girls pirouetted with feathers while male dancers in a series of hastily velcroed-on outfits (they were bell boys, they were sailors…) danced and flirted with each other. We applauded like mad things during the finale as the boys descended to the stage on ropes, gyrating slowly and dressed as flames while the sound system pumped out Crazy Arthur Brown’s Fire.

I'm off to pick up The Director from the airport when I've finished putting the antiseptic dressings on my feet.

Friday, October 24

Shopping With Vera

24th october
Vera and I have decided to try and become friends. We're a similar age, childless, both foreigners in France. Never mind the slightly bumpy start, we're bound to get on - aren't we? As a bonding exercise we arranged to go shopping together yesterday afternoon. My chic neighbour Mme Bontette has invited me to join a group outing to a dinner spectacle tonight, I have never been to such a thing. Mme B has said that I should ‘dress up’. I only have one ‘good dress’ and need some sort of jacket to wear with it.

Vera’s style icon is Doris Day and she loves malls. I agree to start our expedition in one of the shopping centres on the edge of town. I say that I’m looking for something fluffy. After she's held up some preppie cardies I suggest we go into town. I head us to les fripes (vintage clothes shops) and find a fake fur jacket. The jacket illustrated above is a bit tame. Imagine that I’d waylaid a yeti and decapitated it, then snipped the body off below the armpits to make myself a yeti bolero with sleeves - it’s more like that, very ‘rock chick’- great! I can see from Vera’s face that she's neither keen on it nor the fact I've dragged her into this kind of place. Undaunted I bagged it and we went for a drink where she told me some stories and I discovered that she is astonishingly promiscuous - the day then became a whole lot more entertaining.

Thursday, October 23

Food - and Yoga

23rd October
My reasons for not mentioning my background as a cook to French people are different from my UK reasons;
a) They will laugh heartily at the idea of an English person cooking. French people from all regions and in all age groups absolutely love recounting stories about their friend's old auntie, who once went to England and how terrible she found the food.

b) French people like the idea of 'stability', people who chop and change careers, are instable - and if you do use that word in a sentence when you're discussing someone, say it with a shocked upturned note.
I let my neighbours assume that I have the correct insectologist and fluffing qualifications and have been doing this job constantly since graduating.


I’ve joined the weekly yoga class that takes place at our Salle des Fetes. Half the class are couples; The Bontettes the Bic Biros and the Sheep Farmers, then there is a pregnant postlady, the lady that cleans the church and Jeanne who runs the lunch café in the next village. My bank manager takes part and Scary Eena does the session in her slippers. The instructor is lovely and helps Eena and the Postlady into reclining postures while the rest of us find new ways to stand on one leg.

The evening always starts with lots of kissing and lengthy greetings. After this week's session Mme Bontette declared that next week we should have a group picnic supper after the class and that she will provide fish soup, Scary Eena immediately volunteered her rilletes, Mme Biro offered a salad and Mme B then told the rest of the class what they must bring – having failed my tomato-chopping task at last month’s sports day I am appointed bread monitor.

Tuesday, October 21

Translation needed

21st October
I've just got back from my cooking episode - one of my American clients uttered a phrase that has been buzzing around in my head puzzling me.

She was teling me about her church (episcopal) and said
We're having pastor trouble

In what way?
Well the congregation feel he is too European

Is anyone reading this who can translate, What would a priest do that is specifically European and considered bad form - buy unpasteurised cheese?

Sunday, October 19

The Great Escape

19th October
In Real Life I’m a cook, but I try not to let on, once people know what I do, I find that I don’t get invited to supper.

With what turns out to be uncanny timing, I’ve accepted a job cooking in a chateau for a few days. I don’t know this area, nor had I previously met the owner. I arrived just before the guests, meeting the Chateau Owner briefly before he dashed off back to the UK. He spent the little time we had together explaining the peculiarities of the tv remote control unit.

I ask what he does, he says that he works ‘in the City’ advising people how to invest.
Are you busy?

Well no there’s nothing to do because my clients only invest borrowed money and no-one is lending - I still go to the office but I’m getting all my photo albums sorted out.

This is the first time the property has been let out. The kitchen is a classic TYPE I MAN KITCHEN; fashionable wide drawers, lots of stainless steel and granite. Eight industrial-sized gas burners and not a single pan big enough to sit on one. The big drawers contain electric drills and the small ones have a collection of corks, corkscrews and orange neoprene Champagne wrappers. The cooking equipment is not dissimilar to what I had in my first bedsit; mismatched, slightly broken things. Clearing cupboard space I collected up eight part-used super-large ketchup bottles, several opened boxes of Chocolate Nesqik and many bags of marshmallow-based sweets.


The Chateau has a very grand website, one would expect to arrive at a high class private hotel. The guests are American, half the party are elderly and they are horrified that there’s not a proper grown-up in charge. None of the bedrooms has a bedside table or reading light. They spend their first day moving tables and lights upstairs, I spent mine trying to find a town that isn’t an extended gift arcade so I can buy cooking pots.

There is a plague of flies in the Chateau, originating from a circular room, sort of done out as a bar, in that it has a bar and bar stools but no liquor or glassware, the flies are coming from somewhere in here that no one wants to investigate. We shut the door tight and listen to the buzzing in horrid fascination when we walk past. Downstairs the lamps have all disappeared. In the gloomy candlelight we now appear to be part of a Murder Mystery event where someone has cut off the power - no-one can work the telly either.

The Chateau Owner has written lists of instructions but couldn’t print them, he has asked me to get everyone to read the file on his computer. They are mostly things you have to do to take care of his chateau. It has become a parlour game; the guests take turns to go and have a look, when they come back into the room they recite their favourite part while the rest of us roll around laughing
Please ensure the chateau is secure when you leave
To close the kitchen shutters you need to climb first onto the worktops and then on to the window sills, then you will be able to lean out, and, using the hooked stick, pull the shutters in and fasten them.


The guests are here to celebrate the birthday of Mother, her children and siblings are here with their partners.

Mother is the neatest, trimmest cattle rancher you ever did meet, someone who knows how to take care of antiques and 'doesn’t like a fuss’. On our second day she sought me out to reassure me that she wasn’t wearing the same clothes every day
It’s just that I have five identical sets of black slacks and peach blouses in my luggage.
Then she admires my jewellery and says,
I have some turquoise earrings but they’re too pretty to wear

The elder daughter tries to control proceedings, I am not sure whether style-wise she is channelling Groucho Marx or Deputy Dawg but I’m finding it hard to resist the urge to offer her a cigar.

The brother is as misshapen as his sister but he has inherited her share of charm, he recounts a childish escapade and his mother laughs heartily, the daughter whines
Hey, whenever I did that I’d get into trouble
Mother snaps at her
I know you all did the same stuff - it’s just that you were so irritating when you did it I couldn’t help but bawl you out

I am just beginning to build a head of sympathy for the daughter, when they get the television going and Barak Obama comes on, her attention is riveted, she yells at the screen.
Tow-well Heead

Tuesday, October 14

Too Much Information

14th October
The boys have gone back to the UK to prepare studios for the pre-edits which start later in the month (editors will make rough cuts of the footage, The Director and the writers will start writing scripts). There is also a film festival going on next week - The Director will be showing our work there.

We have decided that in November we’ll put on a film show for the villagers to show what we’ve been doing here. I wanted to use the local bar and their big screen telly, I fixed a date with with Mr Strange at the bar and have started telling people about it - before Mrs Strange told me about their secret plan to disappear. Mr Strange does not know I know, nor must he.
I wish I did not know.

A New Sort of Back Therapy


In the bar at the weekend we met the people Mrs Strange suspects of druidism. My druid knowledge comes from the Asterix books so might not be accurate. Mrs Druid is grey-haired and earnest. She does a lot of peering over her glasses at us. The Director mentions that he has done something to his back, she says that she'll heal it for him. He tells her that he is leaving in a couple of days and won't have time to visit her,
Oh you don't have to be there, I just need your age
The Director, slightly flummoxed gave that information and soon after that we went home.

Sunday was mayhem here, The landlord stuff, the shooting ... plus The Director and the boys were preparing to go back to the UK. In the midst of all this Mrs Druid arrived with two sheets of paper closely handwritten on both sides. It was unintelligible, Mrs Druid launched into an explanation of all The Director's psychic problems. We were gape-mouthed in fascination. I have never seen The Director so unable to deal with a situation. I think he has forgotten about his back problem though.

Monday, October 13

Damn!

13th October
I was out scrumping figs this morning, on my way home I saw Mme Bert walking back from her mailbox. We exchanged the usual pleasanteries and I asked how her husband was doing.
His hip is giving him a lot of pain, he was at the hospital on Friday
I thought maybe he had rheumatic problems and asked what treatment he is getting,
Well the cancer is quite advanced, so there's nothing much they can do now.

Sunday, October 12

Getting Shot At By The Landlord

12th October
It was very misty this morning and the Camera Boys were out around the house getting atmospheric shots of dewy spider webs at sunrise. Suddenly I heard them running in and shouting that someone was shooting at them. We all went out to see who was there and the figure of our foxy-faced landlord in his brand new hunting clothes loomed towards us, proudly carrying a very small dead bird in his pocket.
I'll be back later for lunch
He strode off and we put camerawork on hold for the morning.
I was disgruntled

He came back for lunch having done no more damage apparently, he seemed impressed by all the work we'd done clearing up the outbuildings. The Director wanted me to establish if we could be there another year at least, so I asked the landlord if he was planning to put the property on the market, he said no, we could be there as long as we liked. I then asked about laying a concrete floor in the barn adjoining the house so we can set up a filming studio there, the landlord has agreed to pay half the cost of doing this.
I'm still disgruntled

Saturday, October 11

Secrets and Lies

11th October
I've worked out that I probably can find other places for us to film if the landlord decides to reclaim his property, so I'm back to holding tripods and making fun of the neighbours. Landlord's said that he'd turn up end of the morning tomorrow so I've suggested he has lunch with us.

We went to the bar last night and Mrs Strange was going on about her (druid?) neighbours again - when they walked in. Which was interesting because
a) I don't think I know any druids
and
b) they came in to book a Christmas party and Mrs S said yes lovely but I know that Mrs S is planning to do a flit next month. But I can't tell anyone or she might have to kill me.

I think that's a bit naughty.

Thursday, October 9

Pacing

October 9th
I’m impossible to have around now that I’ve got worked up about what the landlord’s impending visit might mean. Apart from the fact that I don’t want to leave - ever, the more pressing need is to be able to finish the filming next year. What we’ve done so far is just research; getting to know the area, find good habitats and set up systems for filing and storing the footage. We’ve also spent a lot of time clearing out the outbuildings in preparation for studio filming.

We didn’t actually have a contract for the series when I came location hunting so I hedged my bets and made a 3-month notice agreement with the landlord. Only idiots or mad people would consider buying the damp, crumbling pile that is the Lovely House. We have those qualities in spades but we also have plenty of debt - that idea must be put firmly aside.

I am in danger of getting stabbed if I don’t get out of the house so I accept Mrs Strange from the bar’s suggestion to take a walk together. Mrs Strange spends most of the walk being very agitated. When I tune in, it seems to be about her neighbours - I don’t know them but I have noticed that they tend to wear matching stripey jumpers which must be annoying her, but Mrs Strange also thinks that they’re into 'weird stuff’ - druids or something - and Mrs Druid parks on her driveway sometimes too.

As we got back to my place Mrs Strange tells me that she and her husband are going 'abroad’, they will both be leaving next month - but I mustn’t tell anyone. I think she wanted to talk about it, but I excused myself as I’ve formulated a plan, actually it’s not a plan - but it might become one if I can go somewhere and pace in peace.

Tuesday, October 7

Discombobulation

7th October
Today, instead of snoozing though interminable alarm calls, something possessed me to leap out of bed, and go straight off for an early morning walk (OK I dressed first). Mist rising off the rolling hills – very poetic. I stopped in with M and Mme Bert for coffee on my way back. M. Bert is the twinkly man who first showed me the Lovely House he has an impeccable potager, and is an archetypal French Paysan, bright blue trousers, dark wrinkly skin, always in a hat. Mme Bert is tiny and has bright blue eyes that she uses to gaze in admiration at her husband the expert shot, collector of mushrooms and gardener extraordinaire. She follows conversations mouthing along with the talker, which is disconcerting. She tells me to check my walnuts.

There are great numbers of crayfish in the lake, of various sorts but dominated by a very invasive species; the Signal Crayfish which they are keen to eradicate in France. I’m doing my bit for the cause – these days the crayfish are busy having sex at the edges of the lake. I put on a rubber glove, creep up behind them and put them in a bucket.

I accumulated masses of live crayfish, so I delivered a bowlful to Mme Bontette, the French lady tells me at length about the court bouillon she will make to cook them in and all the rest of her planned evening menu. I then took a bowlful to Mrs Strange from the bar, she has just been round to return the empty bowl. She told me that she couldn’t be bothered with them and just dumped them out (still live) in the stream at the bottom of her garden.

I went to check the walnuts, their skins are splitting, I picked a few and took them round to the Berts to see if they are ready enough. M. Bert tells me to take off the skins and leave them in the open for three days. My fingers are like prunes from wearing rubber gloves to catch crayfish so I do the walnut job bare-fingered. I now look as though I have a very heavy smoking habit.

For our supper I made a bowl of aioli, salad and steamed potatoes to eat with our crayfish.

The landlord phoned this evening to say that he’s coming by next weekend (he lives a four-hour drive away) and would like to see us. Having fallen in love with this place and anyway dreading the day when we will have to go, I am now convinced that he has decided to sell the property soon and is coming to ask us to leave. An hour after the call The Director is already tired of the sound of my gnashing teeth.
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