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16th June

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I have become so obsessed with the garden, so much so that when I chatted to an English neighbour this morning and she asked “how are they all” I assumed she was referring to my shrubs and roses and gave a detailed account of the problems with aphids etc whilst she looked rather quizzical. “Actually I was referring to your guests.” In fact we do have 6 house guests, here for a grand wedding in the Gers. They just left in a taxi, all wearing such beautiful brightly coloured dresses, hats and high heeled shoes. They were like a flock of tropical birds fluttering in and out of the house, all so excited as they gathered to leave. There was one man amongst them, wearing a morning suit. Apparently that was the dress code, it’s 28 degrees outside so all the chaps will be feeling very warm.

The garden is now all consuming, I wander out first thing every morning to see what has been growing in the night. There are already beans and courgettes to be collected; I wander up and down the rows filling my Nigerian calabash. I finally understand tomato plants but it is too late to have them growing tall and upright this year, but at least next year I’ll know what to do. They have fruiting stems which emerge between leafy stems and the main stem, they have to be pinched out. I was totally confused by my neighbour’s explanation last year, but now my French has improved it seems so obvious. I still have a huge problem with moles upturning my carefully nurtured annuals. In France you can buy mini smoke bombs that you light and put down the mole hole. Finding the hole in the molehill requires several minutes of poking around. I have now used 30 of these smoke bombs at great cost and have now learned they don't work in big mole galleries, the smoke just comes up elsewhere. I counted 57 mole hills this morning. I have ordered 5 tunnel traps on ebay, a book on moles and some granules you put in the mole tunnels that give off a smell that persuades them to move away. I had already tried the sonar alarms and the French style mole traps with no success. Somehow it seems odd that in this era of amaxing technological developments, no one has successfully worked out how to eradicate moles.

Our neighbour suffered an awful tragedy last week, losing 2 dogs in 7 days, his faithful 16 year old hunting dog had to be put down and the following day his young pointer (that he had worked so hard with in the last two years since his old dog retired) was run over by some farm machinery. I only found out today when I spoke to his daughter in the supermarket. Etienne was apparently inconsolable but his children immediately sourced two adorable puppies and life goes on.

There have been ongoing dramas with our younger son who has just finished his finals. The old lady who lives in the flat below his kept ringing him during the night with bizarre requests, so he wasn’t on his best form for a couple of the final papers. He was also repeatedly contacted by her personal alarm people and asked to check on her. Eventually he thought it best to turn his phone off and unplug the door bell in the interests of getting some sleep. It now seems she has been taken into hospital. Not easy for a woman with no family at the end of her life. He finished his exams on Thursday, and with a fellow student headed off to Harwich to get the ferry to Amsterdam, only for the train and then the tube to break down. They were given a refund at the station, then wandered the streets till it got light as neither sibling could be contacted. They were sustained by the euphoria of finishing their exams and decided they must go somewhere so logged onto one of those cheap deal websites, bought return tickets to Miami for £175 and booked a convertible ford mustang for the week. They flew off this morning. I am so worried about potential dangers, but will just try not to think about it.

We have still been climbing mountains; with my wrist nearly healed I have no excuse. I somehow see it as a weekly penance for enjoying the good life in France. TOH is never completely honest about the ascent involved, but I struggle onwards and upwards. I do love reaching the summits and the views but enjoy drinking a cold beer and the sense of having survived once back at the car even more.

Converting garden produce to something in a jar or bottle is time consuming. I have made three jars of redcurrant jelly; I won’t give any away this year as that represented the produce of one small bush, but it is growing rapidly so next year there should be a few more. I also made six bottles of elderflower cordial, half of which has already been consumed by our guests. The little French lady, Alice, who lives just up the road has several elder flower trees in her garden, amazingly she didn’t know you could use the flowers. We spent half an hour breaking off the flower heads, she would pull down the high stems and I’d select the best ones. Since her husband committed suicide a few years ago by taking wayfarin she lives alone with her dog and chickens, has no means of transport, is always in the same clothes and battered hat but always seems very cheerful. Her neighbour went into an old people’s home a few months ago and every day she feeds the dozens of cats the old lady left behind. They are all pure white, interbred and in various stages of decrepitude, she goes there daily with a bucket of cat biscuits and they all rush to greet her.  A couple of them have tried to integrate with our cat family but are always chased away with accompanying cat yowls. Alice was so pleased with the bottle of elderflower cordial I took along a few days later, though needed some convincing it contained no alcohol.

The sky has clouded over during the course of the afternoon, but I have no doubt preparations have been made for potential thunderstorms over in the Gers. Thankfully the guests are provided with a taxi home so we don’t have to collect them. I am so looking forward to a debriefing so I can use all their clever ideas for our impending wedding.

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