Friday, June 25, 2021

The limit does not exist

WELL, WELL, WELL. Guess who had a great time slumming it in the Dordogne? NOT OUR FRIEND, THAT'S FOR SURE. 

LOL JK. We FORCED him to. The key to a good time when you have a small home is to LEAVE IT, and that's exactly what we did: we dragged that poor man to wineries, farmers' markets, flea markets, riverside beaches and through the forest. Anytime it looked like he was about to sit contentedly on the sofa, we'd leap up -- Wait! You haven't seen the bins by the rugby pitch yet!

It was delightful. Pretty sure he went home and slept for ten days.

The water we shoved him into

One of the best takeaways from our time together was having him as a flea market and brocante companion. One of his (many, varied) backgrounds is in antiques (he's even a guest judge on an Antiques-Roadshow-esque program in the UK) so the man not only knows when an item is special, but also its history, whether the price is right, and when to bargain. SHOPPING WITH HIM WAS THE BEST ANTIQUING OF MY LIFE. 

Just LOOK at how he's upped my pedestals- and plinths-game in two short weekends. (Finally! Places for the objets I'm now collecting! What a good influence he is! Alan is one hundred percent on board with all of this!)

18th-century butcher's table! I know how old something is now!

Solid marble! I can't even lift this!

And this apprentice piece, which Aidan pointed out is a great example of traditional French curvature in a modern style! (Alan definitely thought we needed this!)

There was a moment in this massive vide grenier flea market on Sunday, one so big it took up every street in its village, when -- possibly around hour two of cruising -- Aidan and I spotted this amazing 70s-style geometric set of side tables that we were desperate for (Alan had long since slumped against a wall under a tree, leaving us to it), right next to a sombrero the size of a dinner table and a giant set of iron letters spelling, mysteriously, CARP. And we realised -- as we formulated how best to convince Alan to hand over the wallet -- that regardless of what treasures we brought back to show him (not unlike a child showing his dad a nice rock), THE MAN SEES THEM ALL AS SOMBREROS AND CARP. 

Needless to say, when we rushed breathlessly back to him and pointed out the tables we wanted across the field, he ACTUALLY put his head in his hands and groaned. 

Father was unimpressed by our pebbles. 

He still let us get matching salamanders, though

Eventually we took pity on him (once we had finished with every inch of every lane, rewarded at the very last table with a set of gres dinnerware that is coming straight back to London) and returned home. 

Where immediately Alan and I saw Aidan was in danger of relaxing and prodded him into the nearest forest for a hike.

The best part of this picture is the angle that makes Aidan look even more giant than he actually is, and Alan his fierce tiny friend.

Not unlike the affect of every selfie we take together

It was the best sombrero- and carp-collecting weekend I've ever had, and Alan's promised that if those tables are at next summer's vide grenier, WE CAN DEFINITELY GET THEM, so that's RESULTS.

Now we're in the middle of laundry and packing, because we're off on a mini-road trip tomorrow! We've got clear PCR tests firmly in hand, and we're heading south to cross the border into Spain. We have no idea what the border crossing is going to look like, but we've been told they're actually stopping cars to check Covid tests, so things could get exciting! 

Wish us luck, and hopefully see you from Galicia! 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Some dump in Cognac

OMGYOUGUYS, so remember me saying we were going to Cognac to visit a friend last weekend? This is a friend we know from our neighbourhood in London, who lives much like we do there, in a flat superbly tiny but of course terrifically glamorous. When we realised our places in France were so close, we decided to co-host each other over a couple of weekends, a la how they did things in Jane Austin times, except with fewer ballgowns. 

Our friend offered to welcome us first (mostly because his car was out of commission while planning) so we packed a handful of flip-flops for our casual weekend and hit the road. 'It's just a small place,' he assured us, before we headed up. 'Your typical run-down French house.' Ah, excellent! We know it well.

We arrive just after sunset to his village and, following the satnav, we pull up to a walled property with an arched gate set in the wall. This ... is this his gate? The one with a smaller side gate, presumably for the guards and city watch? 

We stop the car and I text him: 'We're outside a gate -- are we here?'

Yes, my friends. Of course we were. 

We pulled through to find out our friend is a BIG. FAT. LIAR. Because this was his old run-down pile of house: 

I should have packed my ballgowns. 

So, parking next to the bubbling fountain - as one does - we disembark and look around, trying to play cool, like we just stay at places like this all the time. Even though, immediately to the right, there is another archway containing this:

Just another run-of-the-mill open-air dining space.

We didn't actually sit and eat here at any point -- why, when there are eighteen other dining spaces to choose from? -- but MAN, I'm marking this for my 50th.

Then we go in, and the house tour commences. We have to choose which bedroom we want, you see. 

Pick a floor! Any floor!

Our first option was in the old-timey servants' wing (advantage: near the kitchen, always a pro), followed by the second option, which he discouraged because 'it's a little haunted'.  

How, with so many guardians right outside the door?

Then we peek in:

Yeah, okay.

Needless to say, we went with Door Number Three: 


The next morning we woke up and I put on my fanciest pair of shorts (AGAIN, WHY DIDN'T I PACK MY BALLGOWN) to take myself upon a daylight tour of the house, so please: enjoy this interior design porn as much as I did, before immediately deciding I had to cut this guy out of our lives before he came to visit us. 

Oh, he carved that white stone head himself, by the way. Of course.

In his studio, where he just -- and I quote -- 'messes around':
This is just like where I watch Netflix.

Living Room #86

Dining Room #12

See that white bowl? You can't tell from here, but that is full of eggs, FROM HIS CHICKENS. 

After my nose around, I found a steaming carafe of coffee on the table and helped myself to a mug that I then took out to the garden, where our down-to-earth host was already up and about watering his garden:

I have so much to learn.

The rest of the weekend was filled with other delights: 

We went to a trout farm to pick out fresh fish for dinner: 

Went antiquing:

And, of course, when in Cognac: a distillery tour:

Then back to the hovel for oysters and smoked trout, putting Alan to work gathering wood: 

It was a pretty awful weekend, really.

The last photo you'll ever see of us together, because he's dead to us.

Except, of course, we aren't nearly so lucky, because HE'S COMING TOMORROW TO VISIT. Honestly at this point, I think we might be better off just changing our names and heading for the border.

Alas, too late, his ballgown is packed. Now if you'll excuse me; I've got a futon to dust.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The perfect birthday bbq

 OMGYOUGUYS. Who lights a firepit when it's 90 degrees at 7 p.m.? WE DO, APPARENTLY.

As part of my the birthday plan must go on attitude (I'm rarely stubborn, except for the cases in which it serves me), I was determined to light the fire and cook the Boerewors sausage that a dear South African friend in London got me for my birthday. 

One thing I did not plan for, however, was the heat wave that has squatted upon us this week, as heavy and unmoving as a sumo wrestler. 

But no chance I'm giving up the idea. Sitting around the firepit in the evening is one of our favourite things to do down here (in the autumn, like normals, but I refuse to acknowledge this) and it's my birthday (month). Who cares if I'm so sticky I'm attracting fruit flies. Who cares if my Eau de Bug Repellant has given me a fragrant, clammy sheen. THIS IS ROMANTIC. 

Mmmmm, char away, little feast. Blister those peppers, roast that sausage, smoke out those mozzies.

Fortunately, by the time we sat down to eat, the temperature had cooled to the point Alan DARED TO SUGGEST WE EAT INDOORS. You can imagine how that idea went down. Too hot to sit around a fire, too cold to eat outdoors, THIS IS MY DREAM NIGHT, IT'S ALL GOING PERFECTLY. 

Not pictured: beanies, hoodies, long-suffering husband.

In other news, Wolf McQuade has picked the tennis back up again! I don't play with him (I'm too lazy to run and for some reason, he refuses to bounce the ball directly into a convenient four-foot radius around me) but luckily he's got a local friend who also likes to get shirtless and 'rally'. 

As far as spectator sports go, I don't hate it.

We're off this weekend to Cognac to visit a friend, so that's exciting! We're actually neighbours in London, and his place down here is only a two- to three-hour drive away from our own -- which in France is basically next door -- so we're heading up after work today. Looking forward to seeing a new part of the country and spending the weekend eating, laughing, and of course, sipping Cognac. 

I hope he's got a firepit.

Monday, June 7, 2021

40: already mocking me

OMGYOUGUYS. It's been over a year since my last blog post. Maybe even a year and a half. I tried posting a few times during 2020 but it turns out my brand of light-hearted nonsense felt tone-deaf in the face of a global pandemic, and after several futile attempts, I gave it up as lost. 

But now, here we are. It feels like a particularly relevant time to pick it up again, in light of turning 40 this weekend.

I had big plans for the day (one might say too big, but there we are, me in a nutshell). The plan was a run, followed by a garden breakfast, then a farmer's market in which we source ingredients for a picnic, a hike (to said picnic), all wrapped up by twilight back in our garden at the fire pit. 

Ahhhhh, folly. One would think you couldn't follow me into my fifth decade, and yet: here we are.

It started off perfectly. The run: ideally short. The first K was a hill I wasn't keen on, but I survived, and we came home to the coffee percolating, and cooled down on the terrace with a cuppa in hand. 

Breakfast: Alan's famous Indian scramble, also on the terrace, also perfect:


Then we headed off to the farmer's market, which was also delightful. This day was so on track we were just BUOYANT with joy and satisfaction. 

[Disclaimer: older pic because I didn't snap one today, but same lovely market, two years on]

And then. The hike. 

It's not a new hike to us. In fact, we've both walked and/or run this nine-kilometre loop (what we call the Ridge Run) on several occasions. It goes up, up, up, through gorgeous, leafy, shadowy, fern-laden forest, then flattens on top of the world with scorching, sun-drenched fields and swooping valley views, and then plummets back through Jurassic forest and cave and shadow, to end at the foot of the chateau's lake in our village. It's a lovely little jaunt, and we decided to picnic at the top in the Field o' Views. 

We hiked, Alan gamely carrying the world's heaviest backpack stuffed with baguette, tomatoes, nectarines, cheese, charcuterie, and a local pet-nat. And then we find it -- the perfect picnic spot:


We weren't quite hungry yet when we reached this nook, so we decided to relax in the sun, read our books, and just generally enjoy the peaceful setting.

And then we hear a bark. 

There's a farm nearby. The farmer is out, mowing his field. The dog is also out, and keen to play. 

The next we know, he is ON us. Literally, tackles us. Within seconds, our bottles of water have been knocked over, our Kindles stampeded, our arms and faces covered in slobber. Our new friend is going NOWHERE. 

Sure, there's a whole blanket to enjoy, but NO, HE WILL SIT WHERE YOU ARE.

This is clearly no place to be unpacking charcuterie. We have to move. 

So, resigned to losing the perfect picnic spot, but optimistic we will find another (field! o'views! expanses of space!) we gather our things to journey on. We are sure Leon (short for 'Lost Leon', as we christened him) will stay behind in His Field Near His Farm, leaving us alone to find the peace of another grassy knoll. 

So we start walking. And Leon...escorts us:

When we lag, he kindly waits. 

We keep going. There's 5k between his home and the lake. We are confident: he must leave us at some point. He has to have a wander-radius, and will eventually bore of our company and head back.

We keep going. We get to the Top, and with relief, realise Leon is nowhere to be seen. Perfect! Let's find a new place for the blanket and start rolling out the food! And then:


We eventually get all the way back to our lake -- now far past a reasonable late lunch hour and well into a reasonable early dinner hour -- and our companion is still gamely at our side. We are ultimately forced to settle at a picnic table a fifteen-minute walk from our front door.  

Leon: shamelessly birthday crashing since 2021

We all know this guy in Hackney, the one who spots you out and about and wants to talk to you all day when you're trying to have a quiet one. BUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE? ET TU, LEON?!

And so...our picnic, at long last: 

Not even a little sorry.

Needless to say, by the time we were done, the sun was setting and we were stuffed, so our plans to bbq over the fire pit were scuppered, but on the bright side: one more evening in which we get to celebrate is in store! 

40: already taking its sweet time, guess I'm in for it.

Thursday, August 8, 2019


So there I was. Trapped in my own back garden. By a pigeon.

This stand-off was inevitable, I think. Two pigeons have recently roosted in our plum tree and the past week has been a cacophony of thrashing/fighting/feather-flying drama in the branches. Apparently now, though, there has been a winner. And the loser has come to skulk around our garden, seemingly incapable of flying (did the winner nip his wing?), where he now hops/runs/flaps around at ground level, larger than life in our tiny square of astroturf, our two raised beds.

I, however, did not realise we had taken on this garden tenant when I went out this morning to re-pot some succulents, or I might have -- perhaps -- shut the kitchen door behind me. But no. No, I was innocent, naive -- arrogant, even -- when I came out to our little outdoor table, holding my potted plant, ready for some wholesome morning activity. But then (how quickly everything changes) the bush next to me violently juddered and out shot this pigeon, clearly startled (weren't we both) by my sudden appearance so close to him. He immediately flapped - dare I say sprinted? - in the opposite direction of me, a clear and present threat - he obviously knows I ate squab in St Emilion - which unfortunately meant heading straight down our steps and INTO OUR FLAT. I swear he knew exactly where he was going. He went in with PURPOSE, like he LIVED there, had ALWAYS lived there, WOULD always live there.

In the meantime, me, in the garden, turning the air blue.

He ran through the mud room all the way to the kitchen doorway then stopped, presumably checking out the room, measuring it to see if it'd suit his needs.

I didn't move, lest I encourage him further in.

He sat. Right there on the step, pretty as you please.

He listened to the Throwback Thursday playlist -- still playing in the house, harkening back to a more innocent time, aka, an hour ago -- enjoying Hanson, Christina, Mariah, as he settled down, lower, fatter, making himself comfortable. One flap away from so many, many breakable things.

Me, trapped in the garden. No way of entering my own house, now protected, as it was, by this feathery grey security guard.

As I mentally ran through my options - namely, that I had none, and may as well hand over the keys - I heard the clatter of dishes through the open window of the neighbours' flat upstairs. THAT'S IT. MY NEIGHBOURS. (Different neighbours to the Australian ones I called for help so many moons ago, when we caught a baby mouse scrabbling in a sink and neither Al nor I could bring ourselves to touch it, and thought, 'Aussies can handle animals' - and sure enough, Sam had him cupped in his palm and outside in no time, justifying our 911.) (But now we have another animal problem, and a whole new neighbour.)

I shouted - not their names, because I'd forgotten them - but the names of the neighbours next door, hoping they were close enough. And sure enough, two heads popped out above me.


Them: ON IT.

I gave them the keycode to the lock-box on our front door, and within minutes, the guy had let himself in and headed for the kitchen, there to shoo the bird out.

The bird was not interested. NOW he's brave, hey. Got a whole doorway, better than a bush, and all the Backstreet a young paloma could ask for.

It wasn't until the neighbour got within a foot that he was like, 'Alright, alright, I'm going,' and cool as a cucumber, he just sauntered back out -- shatting in our mud room on his way, flipping us the proverbial bird, quite literally -- and hopped back into his bush.


I guess I should name him now.