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
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