October/November: Protracted autumn

The cold has arrived at last and our unnaturally mild protracted autumn has succumbed appropriately to winter. The cold means that the flies have stopped clustering in the apex of the mezzanine ceiling and my ears are no longer assaulted by the sound of a squadron of Stukas circling a civilian target. Ofttimes the innocent civilian was I, sitting here at my desk, contemplating a blank screen or tapping out rhythms on the keyboard –to be struck every now and then by a dying fly that would spin crazily like a break-dancer until welcome death intervened.

So now the wood burner is burning, as it should be, after a long period of unseasonal redundancy. The 20 degree plus temperatures we experienced earlier in the month confirmed that all is not well with the world. And so it came to pass.

October came and went in a blur of late-blooming work. After many fallow months, three concurrent e-learning projects converged in a level of activity that blurred my computer screen. A good job, therefore, that I came back from my trip to England with new pairs of glasses from Specsavers. My failing eyes just can't afford to wait for the kind of far-off appointments in which French opthalmos specialise.

Typical of Britain’s modern multi-cultural society, my optician was a Greco-Belgian who spoke perfect English. She told me that she’d met another Sampson on Crete and that my surname suggested Viking origins. I never knew that; I always simply figured that I was a descendant of some son of Sam or Samp, so it’s rather nice to picture my distant ancestor at the prow of a Viking long ship slicing through the North Sea en route for the land of the Angles. Hand on sword, perhaps, and ready to leap onto the shore for some recreational rape and pillage. Our family has come a long way since.

As have opticians. Modern machines have made it all a lot quicker business than it was when I had my first eye test as a boy in London. I recall it as a disquieting scene from a film like Brazil, with a white-coated man shining a light in my eyes and making me read from wall charts through lenses that seemed to make the letters increasingly blurred. The modern eye test is a 15-minute job and my glasses were ready three days later.

I chose a suitably studious frame for reading (because my wife has always loved Arthur Miller) with a second pair for the computer. They are my first-ever vari-focal lenses, which allow me to look at the screen through one zone and look down at my notes or whatever through another. They say it takes about a month to adjust to the sensation. I'm still evidently going through the period of adjustment, because I keep looking through a zone that seems to turn rectangles into parallelograms, thereby inducing slight sensations of nausea.![](upload://kXZjWAN47zjd1hpxz7NOhl74iaL.jpg)

Still, I'm very pleased with the frames themselves, which lend me an air of a rather less youthful, less animated Jurgen Klopp, the new Liverpool manager. I don't now have to take them off in shame when someone catches me on Skype. The disquieting level of magnification, however, underlines just how much my eyesight has deteriorated since I got my first Specsaver specs about seven years ago. The first few applications made my eyeballs bulge as if on cartoon stalks. Entropy, entropy, all is entropy. The body is falling apart.

Fortunately, there's nothing yet too wrong with my distance vision. Not quite what it used to be, but then things aren't generally. But good enough to worry about the well-being of distant New Forest ponies on the golf course near Lyndhurst where I went with my brother on the Saturday of the rugby World Cup final. As if golf weren't a difficult enough game without having to worry about hitting a pony square on its rump. Or putting on a green after an equine troop has trudged all over the playing surface.

My brother, who must have been a horse in a previous incarnation, reassured me that it wouldn’t hurt even if I did manage to hit one. The equivalent maybe of an acorn falling on one’s head (which could be quite painful given the density of an acorn allied to the speed of its descent). In any case, I needn’t have worried. It was one of those occasions when I couldn’t even hit the ball. Half way through the course, I worked out that I was forgetting to keep my eye on the ball and therefore lifting my head before I’d followed through. After that, I made some pleasing connections and felt a little less like topping myself.

My brother dropped me off in the centre of Southampton where I picked up my new glasses and we met up again at our father's flat in Romsey to watch together the last quarter of what was reputedly the best of all rugby finals. The All Blacks duly ran out comfortable winners and the Australians were surprisingly gracious in defeat. England was left to scratch its collective head and wonder how to harness all those resources and all that latent talent. (Get a coach from the Antipodes for a kick-off.)

Having dropped off The Daughter with friends in Sheffield, where she's currently looking for work or 'a position', The Good Wife of La Poujade Basse joined me at my father's to load the miniature Peugeot with all the clobber I'd bought in Romsey's multitude of charity shops and to head for home. The sea was like a mill pond and we ran into thick fog the following morning. All the way to Orléans. But as soon as we'd crossed the Loire, the sun broke through to light up the golden autumnal countryside.

And all was well with the world for a little while. We were reunited with our volatile Terrierdor and Daphne in turn was reunited with her two feline wards, who seemed to have doubled in size during a week away. The sun shone frequently, the temperature soared and the flies clustered noisily. And then Friday the 13th happened to remind us that all is definitely not well with this world of ours.

As with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it all happened in and around the onzième arrondissement, where our daughter was stationed for two years of scholarly endeavour. Le Petit Cambodge is the same little restaurant just off the Canal St. Martin where we went one balmy evening in September 2001 with Marion, the girlfriend of our late friend, Olivier, who would visit his rural retreat in the Corrèze periodically for a spot of fly-fishing and other such bucolic pastimes. Marion put us up for the night in her tiny apartment under the roof of a typical turn-of-the-20th-century town house. The next day, we were due to fly to Phoenix Arizona to visit Debs' older sister, Lou.![](upload://qKAXtpdQax5YyjYYyPPPbSESFgY.jpg)

It was soon after 9/11 and we were all feeling a little uneasy about flying in a machine that could be commandeered by fanatics. But we had a lovely time that evening, commemorated by a drawing our daughter made on her paper place-mat. Le poisson qui suit toujours, she called it. She gave it to Marion to give to Olivier and, being an artist, Olivier scanned it into his computer, added colour and turned it into a work of art. The fish that always follows you is now framed and hanging on the wall of my wife's treatment room. Olivier, alas, died a decade or so ago of a rare heart condition and we lost touch with Marion, but the fish will ever follow us and remind us of a happier moment in Le Petit Cambodge.

By rights, the awful events should have plunged us directly into darkest, deepest winter. But the unnaturally mild weather endured for a little longer: long enough to enable Bret and me to clad our side wall – the wall that takes all the weather that the elements can throw at it, the wall that resisted my last two ill-fated lime-washes – with vertical planks of Douglas fir.

It will take some getting used to, but at least we can rest easy in our blissfully comfortable bed at night. Which wasn't the case a week or so ago. My wife, who sleeps with one ear constantly on the qui vivre, woke me to ask whether I could hear something. Someone, she thought, who was trying to get into our house. Bravely (and probably semi-conscious) I volunteered to get up and take a look. Daphne was still in her basket and seemingly unperturbed. I heard nothing untoward, so I climbed back into bed and went straight back to sleep.

Still convinced that she could hear something, Debs got up and watched the last episode of Homeland we'd recorded the night before. Surely not the best choice of viewing when you're feeling a little paranoid. Eventually, she got back to sleep. The following morning, I got up (as I do), but heard a cat mewling hoarsely. I checked the spare room and our daughter's curiously tidy bedroom, but nothing. Then together we worked out where it was coming from. Otis, who is fascinated by the rise and fall of mechanical shutters, had got himself wedged between the shutter and the French window of our reading area. Poor creature had spent the night trying desperately to get into the house.

He is still fascinated by the rise and fall of shutters, but we – not he – have learnt to be more careful now when they come down at 5:30 sharp to lock in the residual warmth of the day. They don't go back up till gone eight the next morning, so Otis had better think on't. Winter's here now and will be with us till at least February of next year. This war of attrition and intermittent atrocities, though, is liable to last a lot longer than that.

Ah, language... I recently put in a dehumidifier in the room where I have just painted the floor with a chalk, pigment and oil mix. I said to my OH, unwittingly, that the 'dehumiliater' is on! We have adopted the word.

What a wonderful picture of bucolic life, Brian. Thank you. It sounds like you've got as many projects as we have on the go. I keep believing - touchingly - that one day there will be nothing to do and I can spend my days reading, writing and listening to music. Oh and walking the dog and a spot of yoga and... and... Hey ho! Good luck with it all, particularly the rendering of stone. Never my strong point. I might go so far as to employ the adjective that our Sheffield builder, Ted, used to use to describe bad workmanship: 'abortionate'.

Being in a heavily forested area, we can go into one of the higher fields with a view and look down over quite a wide sweep of stunning countryside. Trees have either shed every leaf or are still holding on to the majority of them, late for any year. The buds for next spring's leaves and blossom and fat and green already, Winter Blooming Cherry Tree flowered early but perhaps the last flush of blossom early in March will be on time if hard weather intervenes, otherwise having been a heavy autumnal flowering this year it may herald early spring. Strikingly, despite some impressive sub-zeros already, this morning was -2°, scabious and ox-eye daisies are still doing well, plus the Welsh poppies from the seed we brought with us. It is the season of wood burning, the Rayburn has had one day off since early October when the solar ceased to give us enough hot water. Wood means carting it in from the sizeable reserve of stove ready logs left over from last spring. But, there is always a but, the reserve will last another week perhaps so cutting begins this weekend to replenish it. One way of keeping warm is to be out in the wood barn with a chainsaw and stacking the next supply and reserve.

We have artisans coming and going as our attic conversion moves. The electrician has laid the tubes with cabling in to complete when insulation, partitioning and new floor are in, the plumber has rerouted pipes but still has a bit to do, the carpenter is gradually beginning and now, in days, the builder will be here to remove a blue brick chimney stack that serves no purpose (other than being in the way) making openings for Veluxes and a window and internally lining the roof. As part of our preparation we removed the 'temporary' insulation (six years twas there...) and next week the stair well for the stairs that come early in the new year will be opened. It will be cold this winter, no matter how mild. Meanwhile, we are taking the rendering out of internal stone walls to re-render will nicely made render that matches the stone. We are using a compressor to blast out what we can't chisel clean, then cleaning the stones by sandblasting and have the same task, different quality sand, to start on beams that will still remain apparent, several of which are sooty from the old fireplace that used to ooze smoke.

We adopted a new kitten a month ago, he is to replace 'my' cat who met a car last year, also to help us recover from the loss of our beloved big dog. I named him Jet because he is black, then we found he is actually the fastest moving cat any of us has ever known, between the two older of us that is no small number, so his name suits. He is fascinated by all the goings on, dashing about like crazy trying to get to see them all. He appears to have been born with invisible hobnailed boots, sounding more like a shod Shetland pony than a four month old kitten.

It will be a cold, messy, dusty winter, and Sod's law will no doubt bring us several mild winters that will not really put our wood fibre and cellulose wool insulation to the test... But hey-ho, Christmas is coming, the girls are planning what will be done, eaten and so on. I have made a traditional rich fruit cake (must remember to feed it a drop or two of booze today), next week or the one after will be time for me to make the Weihnachtsstollen and that is 2015 nearly all done and dusted. Well, not so much dusted as dusty given what is being generated at present, but what the heck, spring will soon be here!