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.