At the End of the Day

The perspective offered by assaults on the senses

I have never seen nature’s fecundity at quite the level of excess we have in Lot et Garonne at the moment. The damsons are are as sweet as blueberrries. The mirabelles have a perfect pink blush, the greengages fall apart in one’s hands, releasing the most amazing scent and flavour. We have pears at least five weeks ahead of themselves, cooking apples about to go rotten on the branch unless we pick and freeze them, and young prunes not yet too sweet…so you can pretend they’re Victoria plums.

Our two terriers are into everything that drops to the garden floor. But as soft fruit has stones (and they eat the whole thing) defaecation on their part becomes a painful process. The resultant residue is an odd mix of crunch and squelch. Sorry: bit too much detail there.

I was mowing the lower field this afternoon, and the house martins were once again ‘beating me up’. For those readers born after 1960, this phrase is used in the World War 2 sense of spitfire pilots larking about by flying at hedge-level in order to frighten folks. In fact, the martins are just playing: they duck and dive around the tractor-mower and just above my head, their speed and grace a constant amazement to me, a mere earth-bound hominid. I’m sure like me you’ve dreamt at times of being able to fly, the most liberating thing about the dream being that it is so easy to fly once you know how. The terrible disappointment of waking up to find the secret has vanished is as bad as it gets.

Most of the hedgerow on two sides of our land is sloe bush, and in our early years down here the collection of these for making sloe gin became something of a tradition. I have to say, it’s one I’ve grown out of: the resultant liqueur is powerful and a perfect pousse-cafe, but  one winds up with so much of it, the only solution is to damage a thousand livers with gifts. This is something about which I feel increasingly guilty. But the rest of the hedge is ash, and therein lies a short story.

We bought the house in 1998. To mark the borders of its terrain, the previous owners had planted ash trees at rather too regular intervals. Ash trees in south-west France are a bit like sycamores in the UK: something of a weed. In fact, they’re much prettier than sycamore trees, but they do grow like topsy. So over the years, we’ve thinned them out. It has become something of a hobby of mine – rather than kill the tree stumps – to trail the shoots from them horizontally to form a live hedge. This drives Jan mad, as she sees it as the creation of constant work to hack it all back regularly – and further evidence of my borderline compulsive condition.

Be that as it may, there is something intensely satisfying about, year by year, yard by yard, joining up the stumps to make a hedge which, in the end, has wound up looking rather smart. Even if I do say so myself.

The evening light tonight was staggering. Dark orange, enough to highlight red leaves in some of the bushes we have – and yet soft enough to make every white look pink, and tinge the blue patches in the sky with flecks of green. As the light faded, a dark grey cloud above the sunflowers was made to seem almost royal blue. I take pictures of such things, but no photograph can reproduce the effect on the human eye of watching such a display, having used the brain behind that eye to appreciate it on myriad levels.

This is the sort of end to a day that makes a nonsense of fame, wealth, chat shows, tabloid editorship, financial news and television. The sort of gentle dusk that enables even the amoral lies of contemporary culture to seem not just unimportant, but even bearable. We are a very self-important species having only an ephemeral effect on the planet, an orbiting sphere of far greater moment than us. For we are but creatures programmed to find all these colours, fruits, birds and climatic effects pleasing. The effects themselves are something vastly superior to anything we will ever be.

21 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

  1. The greengages arrived in Clapham today. The market stallholder was amazed that they were selling fast. 5lbs of jam already made!


  2. Beautifully painted, John. For some reason Alexander Pope sprang to mind:

    “All nature is but art unknown to thee,
    All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
    All discord, harmony not understood;
    All partial evil, universal good;
    And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
    One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right”.


  3. John,also living in the Lot et Garonne and sharing the same wonders of the region you have to wonder what all the fuss is about out there in ‘the real world’. Just sip your G & T and watch the sun set on another glorious day and be thankful.


  4. A lovely lyrical description – just what the doctor ordered to wind down to after a stressful day. The astounding natural beauty all around us provides a perfect antidote to the mental & spiritual damage we inflict on ourselves daily, from all the vile political & economic problems as the world system heads for total collapse. Simple nature good, Euro/EU bad.


  5. How very fabulous, reminds me of splendid days and evenings at the French Estate. Can hear the crickets now. Good days. see you soon. Thanks for taking a break from nailing Rupert. We like the snippet of French summer time. cheers


  6. How refreshing to be prompting poetry rather than righteous indignation…just for a moment anyway. Pope is welcome…though a bit mechanical perhaps. How about a bit of Wordsworth…..?

    And I have felt
    A presence that disturbs me with the joy
    Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
    Of something far more deeply interfused,
    Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
    And the round ocean and the living air,
    And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
    A motion and a spirit, that impels
    All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
    And rolls through all things.


  7. Sounds really lovely, John.
    This part of Dorset is rather frantic as the Bestival at Lulworth, just down the road , is hosting the unreal world that does not appear to be a victim of economic circumstances! The prices are phenomenal for yurt and teepee living, it seems that every luxury is being catered for.
    Our village parish council insisted that the festival traffic must not go through the village.
    Resulting in — empty pubs and a very well stocked up local shop that will probably still have a booze surplus lasting between now and Christmas!

    Hey ho.

    Mean while down the road here at home, in the background the police helicopter whirs overhead, and the combine harvesters hum away as they are contracted in to chop and churn the barley and wheat 24/7!

    The music plays on in the distance , as the yurts and wigwam settlements gl


  8. Ah, oui… spent yesterday evening in similar mind; a little spot of Rose to hand as one sat and watched whilst a pair of woodpeckers cleaned our apple tress, and the house martins gave a display of aerial mastery.


  9. I’ll have you know I own the world’s most eclectic collection of confit jars….but this year one will need more still….


  10. All those gorgeous fruits whilst our solo apple tree here in Surrey has borne zero fruit this year. Most peculiar, seems to bear fruit only every second year and then it’s a bumper crop.


  11. John, I have sent you a couple of emails, someone has hacked you and is using your email addy to try to get people to send money.


  12. Oldasiahand, give that poor tree some blood and bone fertiliser this autumn, its probably hungry.


  13. Why have I just received an email asking for money when you were supposedly mugged in Madrid last night. Sounds like you were in France from your blog. Wot’s going on?


  14. The machinations of the ungodly are as devious as they are (almost) convincing. This we know from John’s blog, is also true in a wider sense.

    The “Please send money via Moneygram/Western Union” message purportedly from a hi-jacked email address is not new – and more likely to evoke an immediate response than a mail from the banker’s widow in Lagos…


  15. Have you been raiding that sloe gin again? Sounds much too good to be true!!
    As a near neighbour I’d love to call in sometime, for a small glass and a chat about world affairs!


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