Monday, November 6, 2017

High on a Hill ...

NOT The Shamblings™
As you may or may not have noticed - and if you had actually noticed, you could probably not give a rat's arse - there is a butter famine in these parts of the world. The more excited of the commentariat would have it that this is due to the evil machinations of the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu who has bought up the entire world butter supply; doubtless with the aim of using it to grease Chinese gymnasts so that they can excel come the next Olympics. More reasonable people have a slightly more plausible hypothesis but hey!, that's probably fake news.

Personally I too would not give a rat's arse, were it not for the fact that when I pootled around Carrefour today in search of another 10 kg of cholesterol to last us through the week the shelves were bare, apart from the margarine department which was plentifully stocked.

I know that some people do actually prefer margarine to butter, and I'm very grateful that they're safely locked away somewhere they can do no harm to themselves or others (and above all, not allowed access to any cooking utensils), but I will have problems with this. Olive oil is all very well but you can't spread it on a proper sandwich (for the sake of amicable relations, we'll agree not to talk about the pan bagnat here, because despite its undisputed merits it is not really a sandwich) and anyway I really, really, like butter for frying. Also, it's probably good for your complexion.

Be that as it may, we went away again last weekend, leaving Mad Karen's eldest son, Rafaelo, once again in charge of the dogs. For Rick and Mary were house/dog-sitting for a friend of theirs, who just happens to own a) a converted bergerie up in the mountains, just a shade north of Queribus, and b) a young and very enthusiastic sheepdog.

You tend not to think of the Corbières as being a mountainous region, but as you go south you get closer to the Pyrenées and you start to climb and go round twisty-turny hairpin bends to get up to the little cols (OK, at all of 600m altitude, but that's nothing to laugh at if you happen to be walking up it) and finally, when you get to the top of one such - assuming you take the time to pull over and admire the view - you have to admit that you were mistaken.

So Saturday moaning we headed down in Margo's little MiTo and hardly got lost at all, apart from right at the end when we started down the wrong dirt track (also, backing up the wrong track, smoke started coming out from under the bonnet and there was a strong smell of burnt rubber, which we decided was probably just a brake pad and as nothing nasty has happened since we shall continue to ignore it), and wound up in this valley, surrounded by mountains, at about 300m altitude, with this old house sitting there in a sort of prairie with a small river running through it, and a lake, and lots of trees: cue a full-throated rendition of "The Sound of Music", specifically the song about the lonely goatherd.

And then we unpacked, and waited for Angela and Martin who were also turning up along with their two dogs, and drank a bit - as one will - to while away the time; and when they'd emptied their car of enough gear for an assault on Everest, by common consent we went off and had lunch, and more wine just because.

All this to fortify ourselves, because the main object of the afternoon was in fact going for a walk in the mountains. "Only three hours", said Mary cheerfully, "and about 200m of denivelé".

I would not have thought it of her, and had someone suggested it to me I would have been shocked, but she lied - both by commission, and by omission. But whatever, we set off along this little track that led us through woods and meadows and sundry other of Nature's delights (personally I always have this nagging doubt that I am actively profaning Nature with my presence, which is one reason I usually try to avoid such activities) until we came up to a bit of scrubby pasture which was mostly thyme - about in the middle of that photo below.

Walked on top of this one
Where we found the GR 36, which we were not allowed to take at that time for Mary insisted we go "just a little further up" so we pushed on through the shrubbery and found ourselves at the edge of a precipice (you see that outcropping of rock to the right?), which was, it seems, the ideal spot for a little snack. It is true that the view was spectacular.

 Then we were allowed back to the GR 36 and followed it sort of easterly, for it traverses the rock face and heads - mostly - downwards, on mossy paths through bosky whatevers, with a suitable screening of trees to the right as you go down, hiding the grim reality of your imminent lapidary death should you slip.

Which is all very well until you get to the part where a large section of cliff face has actually - doubtless out of sheer boredom or possibly plain old malice aforethought - fallen off, leaving something that I can only describe as an inverted pimple on the rock wall: but bits of the mountain decided to stay where they were, so the path brings you to a natural rock bridge over the goufre, with a pit to your left and a sheer drop to your right. OK, it was at least two metres wide, and the odds of death by being impaled on a larch whilst plummeting from 50m up are, statistically, pretty close to zero, but still ...

After that, clambering over this treacherous sort of ball joint sticking out of the rock (where the view down was merely vertiginous) to get back to the path was pretty much a doddle, and from thence it was but a stroll through an idyllic river valley to get back to the car. The next time Mary invites us on a walk, I shall make sure to ask for more details.

But we all survived, and ate boeuf bourguignon and fruitcake snug inside as the tramontane decided to blow, and Martin had - as is his wont - brought some excellent bottles, and as icing on the cake I had no need to get up the next morning to take the hairy retards out. Of course, it would have been the weekend that Europe changed back to winter time so I didn't really feel as though I'd taken advantage of that, but you can't have everything.

TL;DR version: it was a lovely weekend with good friends in an old house that had, to all appearances, been outfitted with the contents of all the antiquaires and braderies within a 50km radius: lovely for a holiday away from it all (I think even internet was over satellite, and gravity was optional) but no way we could ever have lived there. Not for any length of time.

We got back to find that, as per instructions, Rafaelo had not only occupied himself with the dogs during our absence, he had painted the ceiling and the rafters in the living room. I rather suspect that it was the first time he'd ever wielded a paintbrush in anger, for there are certain lacunae, but hey! it saved a lot of bother. Also, the ceiling is actually and certifiably white, possibly for the first time in I don't know, maybe fifty years?

Rather stupidly I decided to plaster up some of the more egregious holes and dings in the wall, which means that there is a fine dusting of plaster all through the place (for I am not competent enough to do a job that requires little to no sanding) - also, you can't stop yourself. You say to yourself "Right, that's the very last bit done and dried, just sand it off and we're good to go" and it's at that very moment, when your nose is up against the wall, that you spot another bit that really needs doing, and wonder how in hell you missed it the first time round. It is very annoying.

But never mind, it's done (actually, I gave up in despair) and we've chosen a colour with which we can both live, so now it's just a question of doing the actual painting. After which I can put up all the light fittings, we can shift all the furniture (and then some) back in, and we will have the luxury of five minute's quiet contemplation of the work that remains to be done in the future dinning room. Where there's half a wall that sorely needs replastering (rising damp): I think I shall call in a professional for that.

Mind how you go, now.

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