Dreaming of Chocolate, by Bentley

IMG_0332As you all know our two Jack Russells are very much a part of our family life, so much so that they actually insist on writing their own stories from time to time. Bentley, the elder of the two, is nudging 70 in human years; he’s getting a little grey around the muzzle and he’s not quite as fast as he was, but his mind is still as sharp as any young whipper-snapper and he’s proven himself to be quite an aspiring and somewhat amusing author. So how could I say “No” when he pleaded with me to write another short tale? Continue reading “Dreaming of Chocolate, by Bentley”

Brocante and Chocolate


These last few days everything has felt slightly different as the sun streams in through the windows, and although the mercury is definitely nudging upwards a little there’s a cold easterly wind which is banishing all thoughts of bare arms and legs. Along with the week’s slow change in temperature, there’s also a subtle change in the light and despite the lingering smell of winter woodsmoke in the air there’s now a welcome new scent, that of freshly mown grass. Continue reading “Brocante and Chocolate”



There is something about the month of March in our family – the children nearly always fall by the wayside with this bug or that, they can happily navigate their way around all the winter sickness and then March arrives and wham, they drop like flies. I truly thought we had got away with it this year, but first Millie caught a medium dose of bubonic plague at school, and then Roddy found himself unable to walk after an ankle grew to the size of a football.

He claimed to be in some pain so our fabulous neighbour very kindly took him to the local Urgences (ER) in Rochefort as it was a Sunday afternoon.  Several hours later, and armed with a sack-load of antibiotics he returned with an infected foot after spending several hours in one of those silly back-to-front tunics on a wobbly gurney in the corridor while they did blood tests. Back in November when we were still renovating the house, a water tank fell on his foot and his toenail went quite black.  To his credit he just carried on as though nothing had happened and we thought little more of it until he dropped a log on it last week – and although the air went temporarily blue as a vast amount of expletives could be heard, the moment passed without further incident.  However, it appears that the wayward piece of oak caused a septic shock that triggered the infection.  So, ten days later, he is still on crutches and unable to drive or do anything at all.  Garden projects lie half-finished.

Just as I thought that not a lot else could go wrong, Izzi called me from university in the UK; “Mama, I’ve got an awful sore throat and cough, and I’m flying to Milan tomorrow and the doctor is closed!  Help!”.  My advice was simple – drink lots of lemon juice and honey, eat raw garlic and suck on raw ginger.  There was little else I could do from a few hundred miles away in France and I crossed my fingers it would do the trick.

So March finally passed and I welcomed April, quite literally rushed off my feet.  So many extra things to do with Roddy unable to move or drive.  The plum blossom is already over and in it’s place delicate green leaves and the beginnings of fruit.  The cherry now takes pride of place in the garden, it’s magnificent blossom overshadows everything else.


However, April brought the ants. I came into the kitchen one morning last week to find a trail of dark little specks, speeding across the floor like a tide of black dust, creeping imperceptibly under the dishwasher.  But there was no time to worry about that until I had delivered the children on-time to their respective schools!  With a much needed cup of coffee on my return, chickens let out and fed, kittens fed and husband fed, further investigation revealed a music-festival gathering under the dishwasher, writhing and dancing to some invisible beat.  After pulling the machine half-out, I realized that most of the ants in the Charente-Maritime were actually jamming away under there.  I hurried off to our local garden/agricultural centre, Gamm Vert, the place where you can buy everything – plants, clothing, chicken-feed, ham, cognac, lawn mowers, paint and even an oven, and searched for some ant repellent.  But what did I find on the shelves?  Not much choice of ant poison, but a huge new seasonal selection of snake-repellents!  Lots of the stuff.  I thought I had left Florida and snakes behind, I HATE snakes, and now, if I believed what I read on the shelves, my perfect garden was about to be invaded by all of Europe’s finest venemous varieties. Through my tears I could see shelf after shelf of products of various designs for repelling the mighty asp, the dreaded viper, and the lesser spotted cow-gobbler, or something.  Quietly sobbing I remembered the ant-bait just in time, and drove home thinking dark thoughts about reptilian defenses in the garden.


Of course when I spoke to our neighbour that afternoon he told me that there were indeed snakes, but  –  not too many would be seen, if indeed any at all.  They were small, and the cats would keep them away as well.  “Just don’t put your hand in any cracks in old walls” he said!

So ants dealt with, snake fears almost allayed, it was time to learn how to use the chainsaw.  Our barn is stacked full of wood but most of it is cut to metre long lengths and I had to halve them to fit our fireplace.  Roddy is normally in charge of this programme, but he was still in his chair and we needed some wood.   I am quite amused that despite being a farmer’s daughter and growing up on a farm I had never used a chainsaw, but after Roddy dutifully hobbled out and showed me how to mix fuel and start the noisy beast, I now know how to cut firewood. He did not have the courage to watch me cut my leg off and hobbled away once he thought I had things under control.


Easter arrived and along with it came stunning weather; clear blue skies and some much welcomed sunshine.  I set off for Bordeaux airport with Millie to pick up Izzi who was flying in from Milan, thankfully feeling much better.  So excited at the thought of having all five children together again. She had been staying with a university friend whose family lives in Milan as she has two weeks Spring Break.  It was a stunning drive down to Bordeaux as it was Easter Day and the roads were quite empty.  Millie told me all about her forthcoming school-trip the following year to China.  She will be starting Lycée this September, the equivalent of the last three years of High School in the USA, and she has decided on Chinese as her third foreign language choice, alongside Spanish and English.  Of course for her English is the easy foreign language she doesn’t have to even think about (an easy pass as we call it).   Jack, who is 13 in a couple of weeks time, will be going to the Alps with the school next winter for a week learning how to dog-sleigh.  A skill I doubt he will need in life but immense fun!  The two youngest girls are off on a big school-trip on Thursday and have had not one but two parties this Easter weekend.  I have decided I want to go back to being a student; I don’t remember it being half as much fun when I was at school!


I rarely go to Bordeaux as the airport is an hour and forty minutes south of us and normally everyone flies into La Rochelle.  However, on such a beautiful day it was fun to see new scenery, and with so many vineyards Millie and I had great fun differentiating the organic ones from those using endless pesticides – the latter have grass around the roots which is an incongruous shade of orange.  As I love driving, the time flew past and Millie even managed to take a photo of the River Dordogne as we crossed it at 70kph!


Easter Monday, I managed to spend a couple of hours in the garden in the afternoon in some easterly sunshine, attacking the weeds that seemed to have sprung up overnight with the warmer weather; the chickens helped as always when Fritz would leave them alone (note to self : spring is definitely in the air), or perhaps they hindered; either way I enjoy their company!

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I hate it when the children go back to school even after just a long weekend at home; it is always so much fun but suddenly today the house was silent again.  To cheer myself up I stopped on the way back from dropping them off to take some quick photos of the beautiful weeping willow outside Pont l’Abbe, it really is quite fantastic in the early morning sunshine.


The daffodils along the river beside the willow will soon be past their best; it seems like only yesterday we were so excited to see the first signs of spring and now already we are moving on to the next stage.


Everywhere the blackthorn is in flower, delicate little white petals which bely the sharp prickly thorns they hide.  I have never seen so much blackthorn; every hedgerow is a sea of white, mile upon mile of surf surging up out of the ditches, its spume blowing across the roads with every gust of the breeze.  There are plenty of old folklore tales about blackthorn; in autumn it bears the sloe fruit, of course, and this year we will be ready with empty bottles and some gin or vodka. If there is an abundance of fruit, which with so many flowers this spring might suggest, it is said it will be a harsh winter – what my Father used to call “a blackthorn winter”.  But still I can’t start thinking about next winter yet, we have only just said goodbye to this one.   Still I learnt to use a chainsaw! I wonder if it will be effective on the snakes !!!