Saturday, 6 July 2013
France: John Ward on DIY, "Deliverance" and dog days
We’ve reached that time down here where the very ground beneath you pulsates with heat. Being alone here this year, I’ve taken now and then to dropping into the local Bar Portuguese for a beer. It’s full of swarthy latins – as always cheerful – discussing what they now see as an unavoidable disaster for their homeland. I can walk in and – with my hair and eyes – easily be mistaken for a German. There is an awkwardness, until they realise I’m British – and then everything changes: I am bought obscure Portuguese liquor, and given the sort of welcome usually reserved for Eusebio forty years ago, or Ronaldo today. I mention my passion for Manchester United, and more rounds are bought.
The main problem this consumption could pose is how I get home again. But luckily, there is a short-cut back to the house: I can use it to weave unsteadily back there legally on foot…unless under French law you can be found drunk in charge of yourself. I’d imagine you can’t be.
When it gets this hot and water is in short supply, more make do and mend comes into play. I collect all my bottled water packs and chop off the top and bottom. The main residue is then wrapped around new tree stems, and thus protects them from the attentions of deer…who are buggers for rubbing up against the bark and nibbling at it. If they nibble all the way round, then the young sapling dies in short order.
The top bit of the plastic bottle can be inverted to create a simple channel by the side of herbs and vegetables, and so massively reduce wastage of the water being applied to keep them going. The chopped-off bottom I fill with any stale beer knocking about. Snails are born beerheads and can’t resist it. They get legless, and then drown. Not that they have legs anyway. It’s a figure of speech.
At the top eastern end of the property is the real (as opposed to metaphorical) Slogger’s Roost. There I recycled a couple of pallets from the roof renovation two years ago, using them to create raised beds of flat-leaf parsley the rabbits can’t reach. I’ve also been gradually planting lavender, a rose, and a few shrubs up there. These represent a hopeful attempt to give some fragrance to an area whose main advantage is that first, it’s a long way from the house and offers me peace in which to write; and second, it is sheltered from the wind that can bite in mid-Spring and late Autumn here.
The main point of my little respite is that I achieved an aim in making it: to do so without spending one centime. Everything that went into its creation was recycled and reformed in a new role. But just before midday today, I noticed my least likeable farming neighbours using a crane-grab and chainsaw to slash back the high hedge behind the Roost. To one side of the site I’ve constructed a permanent windbreak out of old tongue and groove we ripped out when renovating the upper floor. In their enthusiasm, the chain saw artists looked about to massacre one of my better creations.
This farming family is, to say the least of it, a bit odd. None of the locals here like them. They have that beaky-nosed, eyes close together appearance of the sinister hillbillies in Deliverance, and there’s a very good reason for this: they’re the product of incest. Try not to be shocked: it’s more common in remote rural areas than you’d imagine. Their mum killed herself five years ago; I remember being horrified when I asked the Mayor why, and he replied with a shrug meant to be self-explanatory, “She drank”.
It’s amazing how often our species thinks that an observation of a symptom is somehow a diagnosis. It didn’t seem to occur to the Mayor that maybe she drank because of depression, or guilt about the incestual sex, or both. But either way, it was with some trepidation that I legged it up to Slogger’s Roost to see if her sons knew of my tongue and groove genius. Yes, they did was the answer…and then five minutes later they demolished the right-hand end of it.
It didn’t take long to fix, so I shouldn’t make a drama out of it. But deepest darkest France consists of far more than the starry-eyed bollocks you see on A Place in the Sun.
Tonight, the Andy Murray syndrome was at work again. The Wimbledon authorities closed the Centre Court roof – after to a lot of Polish whine. It was a fearsome struggle afterwards, but Murray came through in the end. Here by contrast, it is now cooling a little. The fire of late afternoon has dimmed to a mid-evening kissing the skin rather than burning it. The sun makes love to you here in a hundred different ways throughout the day. I’m always grateful for its variety…as every appreciative lover should be.
I may well have to pay in a future life for the good fortune of having a place like this. But as I have grave doubts about reincarnation, I’m not about to get upset about that. I did work very hard to get the house; but then, I know lots of equally talented folks who worked even harder, and didn’t. Humility in such matters is never a bad thing.
By John Ward. Republished by kind permission of the author.
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