Sunday, May 20, 2007

Whither, Frangipani?

George has just returned from his daily inspection of The Frangipani Project.

Always a disappointment.

It seemed a good idea at the time. We'd had a thrilling visit to the local Garden Festival – trampolines, chess-piece plants, musical features, squirting water features, huge bouncing balls just like that ancient cult TV series whose name I’ve forgotten... (except, not self-propelled).

Inspired and channelled irresistibly to the Shop, we wandered round for hours like kids at Christmas. So many wonderful books, plants, ideas and amazing garden stuff to transform our own bit of green – how to choose?

In the end I plumped for some amusing and imaginative greetings cards, and George got a packet of Frangipani Seeds. The picture on the box was beautifully colourful, and you can use its vivid flowers to make those rather fetching welcome garlands - so redolent of its exotic native climes, and a joy for anyone in the grim Arrivals Surge at Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

Unfortunately, George’s hours of sowing and devoted caring for these seeds in a specially-recycled plastic kiwi fruit container, has borne neither fruit nor frange. Maybe six months isn’t long enough for them to hit the surface.

To deepen his gloom, today’s inspection included a frenzied tussle with our first snake of the garden. In fact it was Sabrina-Cat who was tussling, and the poor snake was probably a baby, being only six inches long and half an inch in diameter. So it was the cat who George was trying to belabour about the ears with a big stick.

Since arriving in France, we’ve often been warned about the vicious vipers who love long grass and can’t wait to leap out at you and take a chunk. First forays into our undergrowth were therefore tentative, but a wise friend said just warn them you’re there and they’ll run off. So we stamped our feet, sang hearty songs and thrashed around with garden hoes. This was ludicrously exhausting in a 40 degree summer, and we decided to let them go ahead and bite. They’ve never been tempted.

Until now – seemingly tantalised by the half-buried perfume of George's Project. Do snakes eat frangipani seeds, or will they fiendishly lie in wait for the first juicy shoots to peep through?

Or will the cats just dig it up and piddle all over it as usual? Whither, Frangipani-Project?. And to what end?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Tick Trauma

Removal of Ticks

Step 1: Decide that the curious lump you’ve been idly stroking from time to time on Algenon-the-Cat’s neck should perhaps be investigated in case (god forbid!) it’s a Tick.

Step 2: It’s a TIIIIICK! And so is the Curious Lump on his left flank.

Step 3: George goes on the Net to find out what to do about it, having received and forgotten masses of advice on the subject since we’ve lived here (all of which was conflicting).

Step 4: Find masses more conflicting advice. Decide to pull the bloody thing off.

Do we have ticks in England, our Old Country? I don’t remember ever hearing about them, let alone worrying that one might be lurking in wait for our armpits as we strolled across the fields to the pub.

But they certainly live here in this green and pleasant zone of the Loire - we know people who’ve been afflicted!

What to do? Some say you have to twist them out ANTI-clockwise. Others say it MUST be clockwise. Or “touch it with a lighted cigarette”, or “NO, that’s last thing you should do – splosh it in alcohol”…

So today we seized the disgusting tiny grey wineskin of a thing by its neck-end with a pair of tweezers and gently tugged. Algenon howled like a werewolf, freed a paw and sliced my finger open.

Little tinker.

After another tug the tick’s horrid little hooks became apparent and we went on unleashing thousands more hooks until I managed a successful twist (in all directions) and it suddenly jerked out.

Where the hell did it go? There followed a sort of juggling-with-red-hot-potato interlude trying to catch the thing without touching it.

We managed eventually, and did the same with the second tick. They’re currently both festering at the bottom of a cup of meths – Hah!

So… how d’you know when they’re dead, then?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cast n'er a Clout...

till May is out, as agèd auntie Doris was wont to say. Well, since every day in April topped 175 degrees, George and I have felt the need to cast quite a few already.

I’m not very keen on heat. Sunshine’s terrific, but preferably with a chill in the air - you can swathe yourself in nice woolly clouts and sally forth for an energetic ramble, returning wonderfully invigorated and ready for a large dollop of Treacle Pud.

In hot summer, however, you must first lather yourself in sticky, smelly unguents to repel attack by horrid flying things and prevent the loss of quite useful layers of skin. When you finally drag your sweaty blobbedness back home, you are ready only to beg someone to pour ice cubes down your vest.

Admittedly, picnics in summer are more fun, because that’s the only time you can get other people to eat outside with you. And in France, everyone loves to eat outside in the summer. Last year we bought a chapiteau – a sort of tent-roof on poles, reminiscent of Camelot. We had a lot of jolly parties under it, but I can’t help thinking they would have been more agreeable if the wine hadn’t been gently simmering and the flies hadn’t been quite so numerous.

Apparently, we may be due for another hideous heatwave this year, like the constant 40C of 2003. We made desperate use of the riverette at the bottom of the garden that summer, specially when we had people to stay. We stuck a couple of old plastic chairs in the middle and sat in turns with a glass of rosé, cool water lapping at our nethers. And we got an inflatable boat for paddling round in hysterical circles. Bliss.

Looking at it now, I can't believe we voluntarily plunged into those festeringly muddy depths - who knows what lurked beneath and why no-one ever caught typhoid.

This year, I shall have all my frivolities down in the cellar.