Monday, May 15, 2017

The Thyme Walk, Again ...

March and the beginning of April were very wet down in this little corner of these Furrin Parts, so much so that the little streams are still flowing and the countryside is lush and verdant, greener than I think I've ever seen it. So the rosemary has put on a growth spurt, and the thyme is extremely happy, so I guess that if I want to make a dessert (lemon goat's cheese souffle, anyone?) with thyme flowers mingled with caramelised icing sugar on top then now would be the moment.

(Health & Safety announcement: wild thyme grows, as is its wont, low to the ground. By all means feel free to pluck the stuff, but if you're planning to stick it into a meal which I am expected to eat, I'd appreciate it if you could see your way fit to washing it first. I know what my dogs do on their walk, and I'm willing to bet that the foxes, tiggywinkles, badgers and sundry other wildlife in the district don't stint themselves either.)

On the other hand, although we did not ourselves notice it we apparently had a vicious frost about a week ago, which ravaged some of the vines. Weird just how localised it was: I can walk down a track with vines to the left and to the right, and on one side the leaves are browned and the baby bunches of grapes are committing suicide: on the other side, all is well. Maybe some varieties are more resistant, I don't know: Julian reckons he'll lose 30% of his production this year. Same in Bordeaux, which worries me rather less - don't buy the stuff as a general rule, have moral objections about paying a minimum of 50€ for a bottle just to be sure there's a good chance it'll be at least drinkable.

March of the Steel Pussycats!
Gardener's Question Time again, and the one that pops out of the hat this time around is "Just what exactly do you do on a bright Sunday afternoon down in the south of France? Is it true that the men spend the morning playing pétanque and getting royally trashed on pastis while their wives slave in the kitchen getting cassoulet ready for lunch, followed by an afternoon snoring on the couch until 19h when it's time for another hot meal? Yours, Curious."

Happily, kindly old uncle T. is here to reply to your foolish importunings, and the answer is "Yes, and no, dear Curious. If that is indeed your real name, which I doubt. This particular Sunday morning, most will have taken five minutes off from boules to go vote (for them and on behalf of the wife) for either Macron or Murine, the effort of which will give them even more of a thirst. And an appetite. But in the afternoon, as the barbecue season is now upon us, many will do as I, and go slop another couple of layers of teak oil onto the wooden garden furniture. After which a snooze is not only pardonable, but medically indicated." So now you know.

More accurately and in our admittedly limited experience, in a lot of families madame will in fact spend Sunday moaning preparing a variety of nibbles (amongst which a cake au lardons/olives will, for some unknown reason, feature prominently and of course there'll always be quiche and slices of baguette with decent Spanish jamón iberico and maybe some poivron) whilst mossieu does the rounds of his preferred domaines and chateaux picking up some red (the white and rosé will have been procured on Saturday, and stuck in the fridge along with the beer).

Then some time around mid-day people will start to turn up and mill about the groaning tables and small children will run around like mad things on the lawn, maybe someone will fall in the swimming pool and about 16h it will, in fact, be time for a game of boules.

Knowing that Monday is another public holiday, so that's alright then. All the more reason to keep on drinking rosé - with ice in it. (Still can't get used to that one, but as they say down here - "Rosé's not wine: it's just a drink". So I suppose I should get over it, but it still seems a sort of furtive, dirty thing to do. Really need to wash your hands afterwards.)

Surprising though it may seem, there's a bit of wheat grown down here - putting the fields where the vines have been grubbed up to good use, I guess (because otherwise they'd lie fallow for seven years, which is a long time to be not making any money from it) - and I went past one such the other day with the hairy retards. Some doubtless-defrocked pointillist graffiti artist had gone to town with the poppy seeds at some point, and all without a licence. Or so I guess.

Whatever, I shall not be complaining to the gendarmerie because it is a) but brief-lived - transitoire, as we'd say; b) rather pretty; and c) not really my problem. Still, just saying, you don't seem to be able to escape poppies down here at this time of year.

As Margo is still tottering about a bit I suggested that she take Widdling Emma out for a walk whilst I took the other two retards off and let them off the leash in the vines, so that they could get rid of some of the beans of which they were full. It sounded like a good idea, so I stuck a pouch of doggy treats into my hip pocket (do remember to take them out before putting your jeans in the wash, just saying) and we headed off east along the sports ground, along past the weir and the toad-wallow, then up into the vineyards on the left and they sat down, got their tasty bribes, and ran about like the ADHD dogs that they are.

And I thought, after ten minutes of this, "what the hell, let's just walk along a bit more towards Fontcouverte, where's the harm?" and we got back to the track (for I would hesitate to call it an actual road, although expectations are lower here) and the pair of them bolted like mad things ahead of me.

After a couple of minutes I caught up with them, at Martin's not-so-secret sloe bush, where they were standing about, obviously puzzled and with good reason; for a recently-deceased (if I'm any judge) Bambi had chosen that as a good spot to curl up and die. I suppose I'm lucky that they didn't try to practice their amateur butchery skills but they seemed more concerned than anything else - and of course the beast carcass was covered in ticks which opportunistically and very enthusiastically sought another, slightly-less dead host, so I spent five minutes plucking them out of doggy muzzles ... Nature is a wonderful thing.

Whatevers, we are now the temporary keepers of the Sacred Scarf Of Annunciation and the Holy Jeroboam of José's Rosé: these being, respectively, a bright red woolly scarf that should be tied to the front door-handle to indicate that Chez Réné is in fact chez nous, and a three-litre bottle of what looks to be rather excellent rosé that José brought along to our first reunion, and has become a sort of unofficial mascot.

Yes, it's difficult to imagine, I know, but we have not - yet - drunk it. And now, as it gets ceremoniously handed on each week to the next host, the idea of actually doing so gets more and more difficult to entertain. Maybe, when the bar eventually reopens, we'll down it on our last night as some sort of commemorative ceremony ...

But that's likely to be some way off in the future (not too far, I hope, because rosé doesn't really keep) and we have more immediate, day-to-day problems to occupy us - like getting something done about the two rotting beams that notionally support the verandah roof, because at the moment (thanks in some degree to Widdling Emma's excavations while she was teething) the sliding glass doors are nearly all that's keeping it up.

Also, getting the handrail up around the terrace, also I have to finish getting the cement off the floor in bedroom #1, and just saying but it's 29° today which makes it difficult to get a lot done. Anyway, mind how you go.