18-19th October: Fleeting weekend meetings

(Back by lack of demand after my sabbatical to write a children's book... I have turned my blog into an adjunct of the journal I've kept semi-religiously since moving to France around 20 years ago. I use it to record the daily impressions of a bemused stranger in an alien culture. This time, I'm hoping to keep up a punishing schedule of two posts per week. Well, things may happen and things may not, but the art school dance goes on forever.)

A 'fuller' weekend than normal here in Sleepy Hollow. It started inauspiciously. In the dim light of early Saturday morning, I stepped in something wet when retrieving the kettle. Closer inspection revealed a small lake of dog pee on the kitchen floor. Bill Sykes would have beaten his mongrel, but Alf's shame and embarrassment was punishment enough. It's hard enough at his time of life: he can't hear, he's purblind and his back legs are shot. Reassuring him that he wouldn't be sent outside without any breakfast, I set to with newspaper, mop and disposable glove. It took an entire back copy of The Connexion, the English-language newspaper for British expatriates in France. They say that we ageing men have bladders the size of a pea. Alf must have one the size of a water melon, though I can't quite see how it fits inside his now frail frame. ![](upload://2vQHMFf53LEuZPsXdxp8yxLKEnH.jpg)

The trouble was, the night before we were so engrossed in Don Siegel's classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers – still as fresh as the day your dentist fitted them – that we quite forgot to send our dog out last thing before bed for his 'pee-pee'. Clearly I hadn't been quick enough off the mark that morning. Unacceptable bed-lingering. It was another unwelcome sign that soon enough we must start thinking the unthinkable.

Saturday morning in Martel I had a liaison at the weekly market. I knew nothing about the woman apart from her name; I like to live dangerously. I met Agnès some time ago at Sabine's bio stall, but Sabine gave up the market in favour of a delivery system and me, I like to choose the vegetables I buy. We bumped into each other again a couple of weeks ago at Giselle's stall and suggested that we meet for a cup of coffee together, because she had a little something for me. All very mysterious, but I was happy to go along with it, because she is a remarkably friendly woman with a patently open mind. Besides, I was at no great risk; she's always accompanied by her little 92-year old father, who wears funny rounded black boots that look like they once belonged to Noddy (or Oui Oui, as he's known in French).

So after filling my bag with enough vegetables for the week ahead, we went to the new tea house in Martel. It's just big enough to accommodate a couple of small parties comfortably. My market-pal revealed herself to be none other than Dr. Agnès Flour. She gave up her allopathic practice over a decade ago to carry out research into a very obscure line of homeopathy. Sponsored by her father and her husband, she has spent her time identifying national remedies based on the characteristics of a representative national figure. So far she has done this for six countries, including France, Germany, India and England, and is currently working on Spain. Her little something for me proved to be a short thesis on England and our emblematic personnage, Elizabeth 1st. Hemlock appears to be the remedy in question.

It was fascinating, if slightly off-the-wall, stuff. I took my gift home and left it on the dining table. After a hard day at the coal face, my wife picked it up on her return, lay down on the sofa and devoured it at a single sitting. She had oft heard of Dr. Agnès Flour and had long wanted to read this particular thesis. Interestingly, the last homeopathic remedy prescribed for our daughter by our local doctor was... hemlock. Come to think of it, didn't it kill Socrates?

We had a late lunch on Sunday. Nothing particularly noteworthy in that, but half way through our roast potatoes and home-made vegetarian sausages with Tilley's elaborate onion sauce, a couple of friends turned up. Lured by the worryingly warm weather, they've popped over from the UK to winter their building site. It's always good to see them, but The Daughter was at first a trifle miffed, as it was her last Sunday lunch before her return to Paris and three, to her, is a magic number. She's a sentimental sausage. Like her parents I guess. But she got over it quickly.

It was a balmy afternoon and we sat outside on our back balcony after lunch, drinking roobois tea to a soundtrack of model airplanes looping the loop in the valley below and rifle shots echoing around the hills. Which reminded me that I still haven't mounted my Lewis gun on the hand rail. Although the whine of the model planes is irritating, the hunters will be my prime target.

On the balcony, our friends told us about an environmental action they'd recently participated in on behalf of our beleaguered planet. They described in vivid detail all the conflicting emotions they'd experienced: the excitement, the camaraderie, the fear and the adrenaline. It made me think of the local maquis here and all that they must have gone through when planning and carrying out their nocturnal operations against the Nazi occupiers. Such courage, such bravery. I made enough fuss this weekend about mowing the grass with a pulled inter-costal muscle.

Talking of military operations, I also joined the world of online auctions this weekend. I signed up for eBay and PayPal, because I'd spotted a Britain's Limited American Civil War gun carriage for sale. I try to banish regret from my life, as it's a redundant and harmful emotion. Nevertheless, I've always regretted losing my Union and Confederate gun carriages after my first marriage broke up. I got to keep the two cats, but I sacrificed my toys. I think it was one of the Geordie boys who lodged in our house. He must have taken a shine to them, boxed as they were with barely a scratch on the paintwork.

I spoke to my Amerikanische Freund, Steve, for his tips about eBay auctions. While following it to the letter, needless to say I missed a crucial detail. I hadn't realised that eBay notify you by e-mail when a higher bid has been placed. So I missed out on it by a quid. Will I live to regret such carelessness? Is my wife secretly rather glad that a model gun carriage won't be joining the Corgi Chipperfield's Circus set on display in our reading area? Am I a sadder specimen of humanity than I had previously credited?

With all this going on, I missed some of Iggy Pop's excellent and entertaining John Peel lecture on BBC Four. The sense of loss and regret also divided my attention from the second episode of the current season of Homeland on Channel 4. Consequently, I barely registered a single turn of an already complicated plot. My patience with the CIA's machinations is wearing thin.

At least we all remembered to encourage the dog to go out for his 'pee-pee'. Our returning 'good boy' was rewarded with a biscuit before bed. Look dad! No puddle this time...

Thanks, Brian. Nice to hear from you again. Good luck with the 'negotiations'. My God, they're tedious.

Welcome back Mark. I have just finished a book about children (their rights anyway) so know what you mean. Anyway, you doing the publisher battle game yet, I am 'negotiating'....