At the End of the Day

Early Autumn in Aquitaine

The soft fruit-gathering is now almost done. Most of what’s left is overripe, and destined for large metal receptacles where it’ll be mixed with citrus fruit and sugar to produce jam. The rest of it is already frozen in small portions to provide Vitamin C (aka naughty treats) during the winter. As a taster, yesterday I cooked blackberry and apple crumble with a dash of vanilla and Armagnac chucked in. It was supposed to do two meals, but somehow it didn’t. Can’t imagine why.

Next up will be the walnuts. My hazelnut tree has produced a decent crop (shared largely with the resident red squirrels) but the large walnut seems to be suffering like the apple and pear trees from excessively dry weather: the outer skins are black, and most of the interior flesh is inedible.


Nobody in my neck of the woods can remember a year of weather quite like this one: a long, wet and mild winter, then a cold wet spring – followed in turn by a very dry summer. Perhaps they can’t, but as a relative newcomer I am acutely aware of the climate here changing. The well that used to provide ample grey water for showers and washing machines has a lower level every year. Today, I’m thankful for the town water I had installed nearly two decades ago.

Eighteen years ago when I bought the place, there were no vipers at all: just the odd small adder, the rest largely harmless whipsnakes that look like Pirelli tyres when sunbathing. Now south European vipers are relatively common….nasty little mothers who seem to see themselves as extensive landowners, and will go for anyone or anything keen to point out their error when it comes to the land registration formalities.

One recurring worry I have is that – if the climate stays like this – deciduous trees of every kind will be unable to adapt, and the majority form of agriculture will wither away. This isn’t just me: I was discussing the possibility with my farming neighbour during July, and he admitted that the Préfecture brainboxes were equally concerned.


I spend quite a bit of each day fixing stuff. It began as a half-arsed desire to be more practical (I am to all forms of DIY what Keith Vaz is to sexual clarity) but these days it’s a necessity. Investing in assets is all well and good, but a tractor mower can cost €1,300 a year in repairs, servicing and petrol.

Bits break, bend and fall off tractor mowers like decorations off a dry Christmas tree. One senses there is an agreement between manufacturers and retailers that if such doesn’t happen enough, the former will reimburse the latter. By the time labour, materials, collection and 17.5% VAT are added to the cost of a new blade, you’re the wrong side of a hundred quid.

So I fix stuff to put off the painful presentation of the plastic. Today I spent an hour and a half employing thingies in the odds n sods box to repair the mower’s blade housing. It now works in the manner of a hovercraft ejecting leaves to a height of 100 feet, but this is preferable to it excavating the grass with terrifying efficiency. Other activities included glueing together a broken dental bridge, and defrosting an allegedly frost-free fridge. Don’t ask.


Easily the best thing about September in Département Numéro 47 is the toning down of the sun’s power. It changes from blistering to blissful in no more than six days. After a day wrestling with couche grass, mowers, prosthaetics, an Italian oven and gurgling refrigerators, diving into cold water after 5 pm with nothing on – and then letting a gentle sun dry off the skin – is pretty special.

It’s as close as you’ll ever get to being a Deity: being caressed by a tepid breeze and letting the diluted solar rays trace delicate patterns across chest, down to thighs, up the spine and onto the neck is close to the ecstasy of another human’s palms and fingers doing the same sort of ballet dance. Not close enough, but you can’t have everything.

This is the soft season. I love it.


 

12 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

  1. I’m surprised the Southern European Viper hasn’t been renamed the Parliamentary viper -“relatively common….nasty little mothers who seem to see themselves as extensive landowners, and will go for anyone or anything keen to point out their error when it comes to the land registration formalities” ….prone to vazillating

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  2. And I, like everybody else, am a real fan of your ‘End Of The Day’. Thankyou.

    As to the tree problem, one serious answer is compost. The proper stuff, that is. Good cow manure that has been stacked two metres high and three metres wide for a good few months. It really is different stuff when it comes out and it’ll easily absorb three or four times its own weight in water.

    What’s more, it doesn’t give it out so easily. Plants roots can tap into the dampness it harbours beneath the soil, but the sun can only evaporate the top two centimetres or so. It works wonders on a clay soil.

    If you’re on sand, get in touch, it’s now my expertise having battled with it for the last four years. I am, at long last, beginning to see my soil respond. It’s taken a very long time – getting clay soils to sit up and beg really doesn’t take that much. But sandy soils, they really tested me to the limits of my patience.

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  3. Oh I could really get t grips with your garden Mr Ward, Gemma did not say, a prick suggested however that
    we could go for a swim in the altogether…and shiver….but this prick is due for the shiva, as my Jewish friends would say.

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  4. Gemma
    “You are a fruitcake , but I like you” John Ward did not say, a prick did.

    I wonder if prick-for-brains realises how many aliases he/she is away from a lifetime WordPress ban?
    Let’s see, should we children?

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  5. Autumn well underway in North West Scotland leaves already falling off trees, onto my wild flower meadow, that I will have to clear away soon enough ugh. Swallows still here , and a few tardy swifts. It’s been a hotter and wetter summer here go figure. I have been watching the Tour of Spain cycling on the TV mostly Northern Spain I have been amazed how green it is there with no sign of yellowing leaves unlike here, but then they have not had the three unseasonal summer gales we have had.
    The brambles and their associated pickers are already in action here.

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  6. Thank you John for all your articles. I really enjoy reading them. We live in the Charente and have done since 2002 and we too have never known a summer like this. I parked up last week on the car park at the foot of the chateau in La Rochefoucauld and was amazed to see people strolling on the river bed of the River Tardoire which flows through the town. I’ve seen it low before, but this year is something different. Yesterday, we saw some chaps rescuing fish from stagnant pools in the river and taking them away in big bins. The weather forecasting is so erratic these days also. We’ve been advised that rain is expected in a few days for weeks now and it just doesn’t materialise. It just gets moved on to the next few days and then again ………..

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  7. Similar discussions were had in Switzerland in the late 1980s on the back of 2 infamously bad winter ski seasons, with high pressures over the whole of the Alps for 8 – 14 weeks. There was talk of the total wipe out of huge numbers of low-lying ski tourist resorts as the ski-ing season depended on the Christmas and Easter vacations to make professionals a decent living.

    We are now 25 years on from such fears and the reality is that tourism has continued just fine through the Alps. There have been good years and bad ones, there have been runs of winters with poor early snow and excellent late cover. There have been incredible blizzards (e.g. 1999) and there have been depths of 6 metres and more on the Swiss mountains this current decade.

    Climate does indeed change Mr Ward, the question is whether it is cyclical, cyclical within longer cycles or the like.

    This year is weather.

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