Things are just so prolific here. I took a stroll through the allotments to check out the harvest. Pumpkins and tomatoes swell with joyful fertility. Peach and apple trees ache with fruit like filled breasts needing the suck of hunger and dependency. Nature here is swollen with it’s summer of passion, giving itself up selflessly, proclaiming its spilling lust and asking to be taken – NOW! It’s just so bloody sexy – but of course, that is what the whole show is all about. I’ve never really been a gardener – but is that the key? Did all those Capability Brown types feel the great undercurrent of sex in the shrubbery. All those manicured posh house gardens always kinda remind me of supermodels with waxed hollywood punanis. I must say I do love the word punani. I think it comes from an Indian laguage. I first heard it on the lips of Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen). I kinda love this guy – he is so outrageous. His movie “Bruno” had me laughing to a point of pain. If he’s reading this – please do a gardening movie.

Talking of punani put the great problem of panini into my head. A while ago during my big posho push I got into the operas of Mozart and decided to learn Italian. The French had driven off my husband but luckily I was with a Scotland Yard detective who tolerated my pretensions. At that time I was working in Central London and all manner of Italiano Eateroni were springing up. I used to saunter in and quip my order in over the top “ooh- just listen to my accent” passionato Italiano. Nobody noticed – well they were all city morons.(I could see they were ruining the world) . One day it occurred to me that I could not buy a panini. I could buy a panino because panini must be the plural. I wanted to ask in perfect Italian and even rehearsed the question……..Anyone help?

A mere 32 degrees today so I got my bike out and cycled to St. Jean d’Angely. There were mobs of Team Top Lycra loins in the boating lake by the park. I think a couple of them called out at me as I whizzed past. Ooh – I must walk past a few more building sites. Oh No – the correctoid police will be out gain!

Emma thinx: You yourself are a fruit. Be generous.

A mere trefle

I wonder how many songs we encounter in a lifetime. Some just pass on through but others stick for ever – often to a point of ad nauseam. Some songs just sit there like unexploded time bombs waiting for some trigger years and years ahead. Such a thing happened to me today. The Angel of all Beasts passed by and came over for La Bise (four times remember). She rummaged in her sac and pulled a four leaf clover which she had found. She handed it to me with a sense of great delight. She then showed me one that she had mounted on a card and carried in her purse. Well, today is a bit of an anxious day because Gilles is on a long drive and we have kids wound up like crossbows waiting for various exam results. But now an angel has given me a four leaf clover and I know that all will be well. I just know. Anyway – the unexpected gift plunged me back to the tune “I’m looking over a four leaf clover” performed by Les Perry and his Banjo Maniacs. It was on an old 78 rpm record that my mother had collected from somewhere. I used to play it on my record player when I was a kid. It also had “Bye Bye Blackbird” on the same disc. I never told any of my contemporaries that I played these songs because I guess it was music from the forties or fifties. In any event, this music made me feel immensely cheerful and happy and now the bloody song – banjos and all, keeps playing in my head. The only good thing is that it has driven out “Are we human or are we dancer?” performed by the Baseballs.

A trip to La Dechetterie  had me queueing behind some English folk. Their car registration gave them away of course but I would have known they were not French merely on the basis of the things they were discarding. When French folk throw away junk – it is junk. When English folk throw away junk it is what the French call Brocante. All manner of old metal rods, bits that looked like they would make a plough, trap a ragondin, reinforce some concrete or fix up a combine harvester were crashing into the bin. If Gilles goes to the tip it’s 50/50  he’ll bring home more than he takes.

A while ago the church bells stopped. They have now been repaired and I have been able to take off my watch. Francophiles will already know that in general church bells sound twice at the hour with a 2 minute gap. Explanations are numerous, but it’s probably so that workers get the chance to check twice on the time.It  would never do to miss lunch.

Emma thinx: Someone will need that junk. It may be a long wait for their birth.

The Terrier of Terroir

Today is the 15th August – a national holiday here in France. It is quiet, so very quiet. The holiday is to denote l’Assomption of the Virgin Mary into heaven and seemingly was not part of the religious system until the sixth century. However, this day and the wider period has many attendant notions and sayings. Most important is the one that says that the cuckoo loses his voice…although I haven’t heard one since June. Other sayings relate to such things as “Lift a stone at this date and you will find the cool beneath.” It is a general belief that Summer is now on the wane and the cold darkness begins to close in. Well – these  guys know nothing. Even in southern England it is dark until 9am and dark again at 3.30 pm in winter. If the Charentais had to live there they would have reason to be pessimists. And on this matter I must say that I believe that French people are more pessimistic and more accepting than Brits. A Frenchman thinks things will get worse for everyone and that they will bear it. An Englishman thinks that things will get worse for everyone else and it is their own fault if they cannot bear it. 

I planted my grape vines. Gilles dug up areas of his terrasse – not without some muttering. Each of his 2,100 stones were placed by hand and carry his blood and DNA. Since he is French he can scorn le Tribunal de Terrasse because only if you are one of a certain group can you mock them. An ex-viticultrice swung by to denounce my vines and the possible positioning. Luckily she was distracted by some Leylandii conifers in a neighbour’s garden. “Oh yes – there are zee regulations and you will be needing zee courts of law…” Actually I needed a drink. I will sit in the darkness of the Leylandii shadow as my withered vines fester with very complicated diseases unknown to Anglos. I will drink to the Virgin Mary as she ascends into heaven and voiceless cuckoos fall dead with frost at my feet. I believe that the hunting of a bird called La Caille opens today. They’re a bit like grouse or quail. Bon courage les oiseaux.

When does some awful event pass into legend and the opening of the whimsy season? Time is a healer they say – but is it? A few days ago I was rabbiting about Boadecia fighting the Romans with toilet rolls. Now, those were bloody times of unimaginable suffering and yet Boadecia jokes do not appear to arouse passions, denouncements or have social workers kicking down doors to take away the children. In France, the ghastliness of the Revolution does not prevent all manner of guillotine references. A few days ago you may recall a lady of the village told me of the death of her dog. Now, apparently the mother and father of the dead dog have combined again to produce an identical litter. The grieving owners agonise over whether or not to try and replace their dead pet. I asked some English folk if they had any views about re-incanination. The shock waves of horror had them staggering. If ever there was any chance of ascending into heaven I’m afraid I blew it. Lift off will have to be from some place without pets.

Emma thinx: Re-incanination – it’s a dog’s afterlife.

Brass Banned

I’m a relatively trusting soul. In the Tourist Information office of St. Savinien, there is a large poster advising you not to eat wild mushrooms. I trust the folks who created this work with all its intricate pictures and warnings of death and agony. I also trust a guy up the road who is a reputed maitre de mushrooms, a chef de champignons. Monday Gilles and I are invited on a funghi fest. You might be well advised to read this blog over the week-end……there may only be a couple of more episodes ever. Gilles is convinced that the guy is a true son of the soil and a bona fide rural wiseacre. If the Archers played in France, this chap would be Jethro Larkin. My American readers may not know that the “Archers” is a radio soap opera broadcast by the BBC. It’s a story of country folk. The poor talk with hick/rural accents and the rich talk with posh yah yah patronising voices. 

Much politics over invitations, counter invitations, cancelled invitations and potential invitations. Since everyone knows everyone and everyone knows who went to whom and who has disputes and therefore did not, and who owes who and who should have been invited first, I sometimes think I will stay at home with all the lights off. Alternatively I could invite everyone for a mushroom spectacular….then I would know who really trusted me. As it stands we are doing lunch tomorrow for old Anglo/Franco/Americano work colleagues travelling South, and dinner for a local couple who are from “The North.” If you are from “The North” you are different. You have a natural affinity with the Brits. It’s all about darkness, rain, chips, beer, coal mines, brass bands and gritty Saturdays at Football matches in the cold sleet. Apparently Northern French find middle and southern French very difficult. In my view it’s probably because the regional accents of France are like fences in the Grand National. There are many fallers.

Friday night is Jazz night at the resto St.Savinien. These guys work so hard to make their business work. I’ll try and get a vid and put it up tomorrow. If any French person knows you are about to eat, are going out to eat, queueing for a kebab, sitting on a railway station bench with a sandwich, have food that is for a meal later they have to say “Bon appetit.” It’s a sacred mantra. If you’re about to eat – “Bon appetit.”

Emma thinx: Reincarnation – an everlasting buttonhole.

Painting the Town White

I guess I was having a bit of a Buddhist moment. I thought I’d do a bit of painting. No – not ART. (I think ART is too much about this world and the ego and the me me me.) Nothing wrong with that but the Dalai Lama hasn’t been a Turnover prize winner has he? So – I was blanching the walls. Here in Charente the walls are Blanc, maybe une rose claire or maybe a risque beige. The sun bounces off the pastels while cherubs sleep on my wall. Look – I’m a Tacky Romantic OK. The front face of the house had become a bit tatty and flaky. I started to clean and brush the stone. First I saw a panicking earwig disturbed from somewhere on the flagstones. Generations of them had lived in a certain universe. I mean A UNIVERSE OF CERTAINTY. Suddenly a Mr Brico broom entered their cosmos. As I worked I caught a cob web in my paint roller. A spider reeled out a life saving silk of utter magical strength and mystery…..and landed in my tray of paint. Certainty destroyed again- scales of Time and Dimension overturned and brutalised. We are no less fragile but our scale of Time and power is different. World markets, the circus of greed, the preaching hedonists ( had to put myself in somewhere) will be swept away. All is relative and will change. I work on ideas of acceptance, wondering if I can have a glass of wine before 5 O’ clock.

While I was painting several folk stopped for a chat. As I was drinking a cup of tea, a neighbour remarked that I always had a cup of tea in my hand. “This is how we won the Empire, the World War and the CUP in 1966.” I replied, “What do you do in France?” The neighbour thought for a moment – “We have longer lunches and then it is time for aperitif.” He replied. I thought he was joking – until he came back with a glass of Pineau. Well, it was after 5.

Outside as I write a pigeon is giving it some real wellie. Wherever you are in the world pigeons and cockerels sound the same….yes a cockerel has just started up, probably to out-shout the bloody pigeon.  BUT today I saw three butterflies. There has been a shortage and there still is no doubt. In the drought of butterflies a single one is a joy. The fragile motion of its paper thin defiant wings scribbled a poem against the blue sky that left me in tears.

Years ago I did a poem about power and change. It’s silly and banal but somehow I kept it. Check out “I threw a stone”

Emma thinx: To most living things, we are the Tsunami.

The Perfumed Garden

I often wonder about punctuation – well should that have been a full stop just then? I think George Orwell decided to no longer use the semi colon, and the BBC have decided to split the infinitive – so there! I did both. But actually, that was not the kind of punctuation I was thinking about because punctuation is what happens in our lives. Just as I was going to bed last night a neighbour arrived with a huge bag of plums! Now this was a full stop. He is a lovely guy with quick cynical blue eyes and a drôle tristesse. “Zay are of course too soon.(big shrug) Zees is ow zee things are now(bigger shrug) – zee summair is in zee Spring and now we ave zee Automne.” In reality he speaks only French – but forgive my attempts to flavour up my blog for readers in Zee Engleesh. During the Royal wedding frenzy he was a marvel – “Oh yes – you must be so proud and so ‘appy…your prince is marrying a woman for queen and babies – oh yes – she is ow’ you say – common but she ‘as zee tough breeding fighting beer drinking football genes of zee anglo peeples- yes?” Yes indeed.

Then there are other punctuations. Beauty is a full stop. In my role as inspector of works at Chateau Calin I went out in the warm sun with a café cognac to view the progress on project patio (I know it’s hell but if I didn’t sacrifice myself someone else would have to stand in). Poor Gilles went off to Bordeaux today on a mission of world control – or grasping a crust if you prefer. I sat on a little bench which we inherited here and I call it Stonehenge. I’ll give you a picture tomorrow and gabble on about henges. So there they were – un-asked for and un-requited. I know – Roses are just breeding machines – sex objects – bee raped – defenceless – aged – humiliated and soiled like the rest of us – but a sudden full stop of rose perfume hit me plain in my gabbling gob. A FULL STOP of utter transcendent joy. While I was there a neighbour came by. She pulled the rose delicately to her face and closed her eyes. I watched her – she is not young, but she breathed in the youth of all time. “It is a kiss.” I said. “You are a poet.” She replied. My life is here – my final punctuated paragraphs will be here.
Emma x

Emma thinx: Put in a full stop of joy. It will shorten your sentence.

I Believe in Mirabelles

They don’t like it you know – this whole patio thing. It’s not as if I’m setting up a fish and chip shop selling battered oysters and snail fritters. Mind you – if there are any entrepreneurs out there please feel free to have a go. “I suppose you will be leaving…uh…..places for zee plants?” commented a shrugging well wisher. No – it is the avoidance of plants AND WEEDS that je cherche.  I do hope to have a vine up the South face of Chateau Calin – but I’m kinda in dread of the well wishing grape harvesters who doubtless will know that the soil is better on the south western slope. When I was in England for my tooth re-build I saw a virgin fertile field on the outskirts of Romsey which was being raped/ bulldozed for several thousand houses. Such an event here would lead to kidnapping of developers  and the construction of guillotines. Here people respire, live and die. But the soil BREATHES and is immortal.

A wonderful neighbour has just arrived with a huge bucket full of mirabelles. I tasted some a few days ago for the first time. They are a variety of greengage/plum and are a kinda large cherry size. Gifts of fruit are a currency of affection and acceptance. I feel humbled and doubly ashamed of my Anglo patio. I’ll do a barbecue to make up for things. I mean, what can a romantic novelist do for people?

There’s problems at the beaches of La Palmyre. The naturists (nudists) are shivering. Finally they have given up and are wearing clothes. Now – whatever your religious beliefs, you must accept this as evidence of evolution.

OK – I’m sorry about this cycling stuff. BUT, Thomas Voeckler is still in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France. Today was an historic day in the history of La Grande Boucle. Andy Schleck attacked on a do or die mission. Tommy held on and gave everything he could and still leads by a fragile 15 seconds. He is a hero and a gentleman. I’m proud to be a kinda half Francaise. More candles burning for you tonight Tommy! On vous aime.

Emma thinx: Is a guide dog an aware wolf?

The Whole Truth

Sometimes you have no choice. I stood for several minutes at the meat display at Carrefour.There they were- whole rabbits, gourmet rabbits and chopped up rabbits. The whole ones are – well – whole. They look at you with their soft eyes from naked earless heads. I know Gilles will love me if I do this for him. It will be an act of cultural respect, loyalty and prostration. I went for the chopped up (could be anything on legs) budget pack. It’s only a casserole isn’t it.

And now it rains. The forecast promises more rain but it has come too late for the sunflowers. They look to be about half their normal size. What joy they are, turning their ever hoping faces to the sun. They are the flowers that a child would design – like those suns that blaze in the right hand corners of all those fridge door paintings of “my house”. They are impossible gaudy badges of ecstasy even in their impoverished state. Vincent Van Gogh painted them in a transcendent frenzy, often squeezing yellow pigment straight from the tube in an attempt to capture their unequivocal moment of blazing passion. I think he got them for us don’t you. 

Many folks will be planning to holiday in France. My little town of St Savinien is part of a big push to attract tourism. Enthusiasm for foreign travel has not reached President Sarkozy. He has advised members of his government to holiday in France. He has also advised them that they may relax but remain on duty. OK – you can be a tourist – as long as you stay at home.

Emma thinx: One seed is enough.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen – Lend me a Boudin.

It’s hot! Only the English would be that interested. I mean it’s hot – shrug. Gilles and I cycled down to Saintes which about 12kilometres. Essentially you follow the valley of the river Charente. Now Saintes is a very historique and beautiful city which is twinned with the Wiltshire town of Salisbury in the UK. Both have magnificent cathedrals, a river running through and buskers who can’t sing. The Euro to pound exchange rate means that the French performers are far more expensive. Whilst Salisbury is quite near to Stonhenge (Oh why oh why can’t someone reveal that it is fake?), Saintes has the most fantastic Roman amphitheatre. Being France, it’s kinda in the middle of a housing estate with a shed at the entrance. Cars can pull up half on the kerb or on a gravel pavement.  Visitors to Stonehenge may walk around the hallowed stones via the heritage centre, through a roped off path and see the stones from some untouchable distance. At the Saintes amphitheatre you can stand in the middle, practice your “Friends, Francais, Countrymen” or simply run out from the dark sinister cavern where the “performers” waited into the blinding light and roar of 28,000 baying, blood lusting Simon Cowells…..if your imagination can stretch to that. Look- just believe that you are Wayne Rooney trotting out to meet a few thousand tabloid readers. Bref – come to Saintes and help me earn my commission from the ministry of tourism! Are you reading this Sarko?

Yesterday I said I was gonna say a few words about travelling on a bike in France. Now, there are many places you can stay called “chambres d’hôte” Really this means Bed and Breakfast in someone’s house. A curious aspect of this can be the hovering host. On one occasion travelling with the kids we were served a meal of mashed potato and boudin blanc sausage. Now, this is a dish of some character made from bloodless pork meat and often milk. I think the gourmet term would be “sloshy”. The kids, weaned on Jamie Oliver’s cheeky chiploatas, slithered dripping pale slosh into their gobs. The host ,in full chefs hat and apron, paced up and down the room beaming and nodding “Oh – delicieux n’est-ce pas?” he repeated. The kids swallowed and nodded. “Tomorrow Big Mac.” I promised, smiling and swallowing. No one died. It’s called character building. I think the Duke of Edinburgh may be adopting it as a challenge.
Emma x

Emma thinx: If I had a sausage dog I’d call it solo.

Cream Tease

Well, this is England. Yesterday June was busting out all over my bust and today I’m simply busted. A crow and I stare mournfully at each other as I look out onto Rosina’s soggy  lawn. He cocks a watchful bluish eye at me. He knows my mortality. He’s sizing up my sinews – if not for him then for a future re-mix of his inescapable black feathered genes. I tell him we are Buddhists in the same cycle. He says that given the chance he will eat me. Well, that’s what I meant actually.
So, it rains and drizzles that gorgeous self indulgent mournfulness that is the secret sunny side to sadness. C’mon, don’t say you’ve never been there. For some scenes I have to try and get that feeling…a bit of Beethoven No 7 helps, but a sunny day just wipes it out. A sunny day is for kisses – God yes, kisses kisses kisses. I read so many Romances without sexy kisses. That is because too many of us live without sexy kissy LOVE. Plain hardcore is for crows and they are planning to eat you.

So, having done some more audio and helped to script a video trailer, we deserved a treat. We drove to the old picturesque town of Stockbridge. To be frank it’s a bit crushed by traffic and people so posh that even their jodhpurs and Lyahndrovahs have accents. My accent is a bit Pekham/Pigalle n’est-ce pas? Innit. All the same the town is cut glass Anglais and Rosina decided to take tea at one of the genteel tea rooms. Apparently it used to be a filling station.

A sweet child begged if I would indulge her with my order. I ordered a pot of tea and some fruit cake.
“I will have to pose the question as to whether  we may serve the fruit cake – I believe it to be reserved for another client.”
“I only want a small tranche.” I replied in mid Channel posh – (aren’t you impressed with my slickesse) voice.
The child returned. The fruit cake was not allowed. It was RESERVED.
I took tea and an almond slice. In gay abandoned nonchalance I sugared my tea from the bowl of posh white crystals on the table. Well, we all need salt in our diet don’t we?