I’ve just been to buy a bike. It’s kind of obligatory with the stripy French top in my idealised view of France. The bike also now has a new pannier. The pannier is hand made. I’m told the chap who made it actually went and cut the willow. It’s beautiful. And cost almost as much as the bike, which isn’t beautiful, but functional and second hand, but most importantly, made in France.
We arrived on Monday. Today is Friday. I haven’t heard the news for five days, but Brexit is on everyone’s mind. The chap in the bike shop, who insisted we spoke English despite me pressing on in French, thinks I am mad. ‘The Europeans will want to punish the British for being so selfish.’
I drove home, or to what will be home in a few months’ time when the bureaucratic cogs have turned and the final papers have been signed. Then, I will be the proud owner of a thirteenth century priory, a forteenth century tower and a 1950’s gite. All in about half an acre hidden behind honey coloured stone walls that will, before too long, have heavily scented roses pouring over the top, and honeysuckle and clematis sending heavenly scents across the garden. Already, the ancient moss and lichen covered cherry tree is in full blossom, the mahonia is attracting hordes of bees and the first cuckoo I have heard for years has just been calling.
This morning, having bought the bike, I set to and scarified the circular lawn, around which the drive flows. I started to dig out the first of numerous weeds that have invaded the neglected lawns, but the aching body soon relented and I am almost resolved to splash out on weed-killer. All very well being a purist, until five lawns look up at you, teeming with weeds and it’s two weeks work or a quick spray. I’m really on the verge of giving in.
The garden is beautiful, but overgrown is an understatement when describing the condition I have found it in. I have spent the past four days cutting back laurel hedges and raking up ancient dead leaves, which have piled up, in some places, to five inches deep; and in the most inaccessible places under hedges, with particularly low and awkward branches. So far, I have cut two large hedges and filled twenty sacks with leaves. When I get bored or too hot – it’s been twenty plus degrees - I work round the garden, keeping in the shade. I move on and find a border that I can start clearing of debris when the sun reaches me again.
The seriously hot weather of the past few days has today given way to overcast skies. I have a thin top on though and no socks, so it isn’t that chilly. It has given me a chance to consider the different areas of the garden in greater detail. The main house has been let through the summers for the past five years, but the tower and the gite have been empty.
The church, whose curved apse wall forms part of the garden boundary, has a bell that rings the hour (twice, five minutes before the hour and five minutes after), and the half hour and then goes mad at midday and at seven pm with the Angelus. Mostly I am oblivious, but sitting out in the garden to write, I notice. I love the sound, which resonates continuity, hearth and home and makes this little corner of France feel like a tiny corner of paradise.
But perhaps I am waxing too lyrically… Read on to decide.