Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Moving checklists

Giant's CausewayWith only four weeks till the moving van arrives, my mental checklist is becoming increasingly specific. Gustav catches me staring off into the middle distance, which is common enough with me, but now I have to explain that I’m mentally packing the items on the shelf over his left shoulder.

P1101354The rooms full of books have been turned into rooms with some cardboard replicas of the basalt columns from the Giant’s Causeway. Bookcases have returned to their flatpack embryonic forms, and several cupboards of overflowing wires, widgets and paperwork have submitted to being distilled to a few crates of essentials.

We have one last guest arriving in mid-February, so I’m leaving everything else in place till he goes, otherwise the house will be left with all the ambience of an empty transport container.

The really big stake-in-the-ground milestone was booking our plane tickets while they were both available and affordable. That’s all done except for the short leg I’ll have to do from London to Copenhagen to meet up with Gustav after Munson’s been handed over to the pet transporters.

The remaining time has three stages for me: packing, Paris and “parading around Britain”. I got the Paris stretch mostly sorted today with a hotel booking, Gustav’s onward flight, and my ferry booking from Calais to Dover. So I arrive in London on Sunday March 3, and take Munson in to Heathrow for blood tests the following morning, and with any luck on to Munson’s Coffee for lunch immediately after that.
parade ground
That gives us twenty days to catch up with all and sundry around the UK. So far I’ve pencilled in visits to Cornwall, the Isle of Wight, Wigan, Norfolk and Cambridge. I’ve half a mind to do another week long walk with Munson somewhere. If you have any suggestions or offers of a sofa for a night or two, please yell!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Return to the Emerald City

moving boxes
The books are being packed up again. Munson has seen this before and seems to have an inkling of what’s going on.

We’re headed for Australia – all three of us – and expect to be arriving in Sydney a few days before Easter, that is to say at the end of March. This has been in the works for about six months now, and in fact we would have already been in Sydney except we had to re-vaccinate Munson and delay the countdown three months. Gustav has been simply bursting to tell the world for some time now, but I needed to wait until some more preparation was done.

After two and a half years on the French farm, the move is not being done lightly or without acknowledging how much I’ll miss the place and having Brent, Jean and the four growing Munsoneers next door. However work options for us in this part of France are severely limited (I have temporary residency at best, and Gustav has little open to him in a dominantly agricultural area other than minimum wage work), so a trip down under provides the most options. That doesn’t mean it’s permanent  - especially if I don’t find work quickly – but we have a plan to follow and there’s no cost-effective Plan B that allows for Europe in the near term.

Our timetable has the movers collecting our furniture from here at the end of February. We will drive to Paris for a few days – notably because I haven’t been there since my two month stay in 2006, and neither Gustav nor Munson have spent any time there.  From there, Gustav flies back to Sweden to get his final packing and paperwork done, and to act as best man at a friend’s wedding. Meanwhile, Munson and I continue on to the UK where we’ll say goodbyes to everyone. Around about March 25, I leave Munson with the pet transporters in London, and I fly to Copenhagen to join Gustav, and from there we fly to Sydney.
books and boxes ... again
One of the reasons I’m spending three weeks in the UK is to finish Munson’s export preparations. It has been unnecessarily complicated to get this far with his French paperwork, and I quickly realised that it would be much simpler to get the export done from London rather than Paris. I don’t want to deal with any more local officials who ignore or disagree with the Australian quarantine regulations! I also found that it is significantly less expensive to go via the UK than use French transporters (where there is very little competition) who all blithely ignored the information I sent when requesting a quote, when they could be bothered responding.

To make this transfer work I had to obtain a Certificate of Equivalency from the Australian quarantine folks which enables Munson to move between two countries in the six months prior to export. Despite most of Western Europe being a borderless free-travel zone, and each country being rated the same by Australia, DAFF (the new name for AQIS) still has this six month rule. Through December I had a number of sleepless nights pushing paperwork between France, Britain and Australia with at least one catch-22 situation before I got the final approval a few weeks ago.

As soon as we get to London at the start of March, we’ll visit the pet transporters and get them to handle all of Munson’s final tests and shots. They’re the same people as handled Bondi’s travel in 2007.
He’ll be arriving about the same time as Gustav and me, but I probably won’t get to check in with him until after the Easter holiday weekend. He’ll be at the quarantine station until May 1.

The easiest part of the trip planning was getting a working holiday visa for Gustav: his online application was processed in less than 24 hours!

We’ll be staying in Woolloomooloo with my friend Vance when we arrive, as there’s no point in moving back into my house until the furniture arrives in late April/early May.

For now, I’m busy whittling down my life into “keep” or “discard” boxes, while searching for employment in Sydney. If you have any suggestions or leads – please let me know – I have a mortgage to feed!

Also, for friends in the UK, I’ve got plenty of time up my sleeve and don’t want to be hanging around London the whole time – although some visits to Munson’s Coffee & Eats Co is mandatory!

Munson's Coffee & Eats Co (photograph- MountainThunder)

(photograph: MountainThunder)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Munson’s ice-cream bliss-out

From last September, some footage of Munson’s ice-cream bliss expression, oblivious to the sight of Morocco’s mountains behind him.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Courrensan turnoff
The weather gods are having some kind of party right now, and it’s strobing between brilliant sunshine and rain, with a bit of fog to liven up the dance-floor.  Our ponds may have filled up, but at least they’re all sitting on lower ground. Those Gascons not living on hilltops are having a much wetter time.

I had some errands to run in town this afternoon, and was amazed to see how much of the lower lands on the eastern side of the road were now flooded. If I was driving this road for the first time I might have assumed that it was a long lake. The twists and turns are all familiar but the landscape is almost unrecognisable. There aren’t many buildings on this stretch – it’s mostly farmland turned variously to sunflowers, grains or pasture - and those very few tend to hug the roadside, and even then are partially inundated.

farmhouse flood  near Justian
racetrackCloser to Vic-Fezensac the local race-course is now only fit for seahorses.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Snowdust and sunbeams

almost snow

Snow is beginning to fall across France, but we have just a small dusting which has come at the end of a week of solid rain. Our pond has refilled and overflowed at one end, and we can now see other ponds lying like silvery beads in the lower fields.  Friday was much colder, and that brought us ice rather than snow. While Sydney suffered under its hottest recorded day ever (46C or more), we awoke to the sound of the large terrace parasol crashing to the ground under the weight of ice.

This small hint of snow – the first seen in a year  - suffices to excite Munson for a few breathless laps of the yard and then it’s back to the hearth and a nap under a short brilliant burst of midday sun. I’ve just made a batch of biscotti and squeezing this post in while the loaves cool before being toasted for afternoon coffee time. À bientôt.Munson

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Where’s the cheese?

Even when Munson has a pile of bones to chew on that are comparable to Smaug’s pile of gold, the promise of a smidgen of cheese trumps them all. And any good dog figures out after a while that humans do not compete with them for the food on the floor, so they may as well chase whatever’s hovering around at human finger level.

So even with Munson crunching through bones outside, his ears are still sensitive enough to hear cheese being unwrapped inside. Moments later he’s hovering outside the kitchen door, peering in to see exactly what he’s being deprived of.
P1120598  P1120596
To round off, some cheesy grins from our weed-whacking walk around the farm this afternoon.
Munson & Gustav  The cheese is in the grin

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The scene of the crime


Munson got an extra large pair of bones for dinner last night as I didn’t have room to stuff them into my refrigerator. All well and good, except for the security issues involving in guarding them against scavenging cats. Even when Munson is inside in the evening, he’s alert to the sounds of bone scraping against stone and dropping down the steps.

In the photo above, Munson is looking out the gate to Tosca who has sent in Greycute to grab something. It’s a bit of a Fagin / Artful Dodger relationship between that pair, and as Munson checks one set of bones, Greycute dances around behind him. Finally I take pity on Mistress Tosca and toss her one of the bones and she withdraws.
Tosca at the gate  Greycute
what is this writing doing in the corner?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

We haz presenz finally

G-STAV Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time
Gustav is back home from Niflheim Sweden at last, de-bearded after a frankly scary few days when the beard had been half-shaved to leave a kind of biker/Rapunzel ‘stache.

I had asked that we not exchange Xmas gifts until his return, because I needed those four weeks to knit up the G*STAV sweater you see before you. I just had time  to sew it all up yesterday and have a couple of minor tidy-ups to do as well as adding buttons. It’s just as well I took the needles and wool down to visit Claire last week so I could make some progress on the collar.

Gustav gave me something that’s been on my Xmas wishlist for a while now – a Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time apron. Rib Ragu coming up, bitches – someone is G*starving.

Munson’s present was having the natural order restored: now he’s back to two plates per meal to lick.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Sails in the sunset

The windmill at Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze (6)Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze lies about a half hour drive south of Toulouse. It is overlooked by the fifteenth century windmill of  Pesquies (map). The current sails are purely a decorative addition to replace the long defunct originals after a local society was formed in the 1980s to restore the collapsing structure. One of its members has made a 1/10 scale model with moving parts.
The windmill at Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze (1)We took all the dogs up the hill for a run this afternoon. The windmill itself sits in a little open park with picnic tables, surrounded  by ploughed fields. While Django and Coco went off to chase frisbees, Munson and I, together with Claire and her son Olly explored the windmill exterior. It’s open for inspection on Sundays and holidays or by arrangement by getting a key from the township. 
P1120540 P1120548
There’s a French expression « Entrer comme dans un moulin » meaning that something is as easy to enter as a windmill. This is because they usually have two doors, in case one of them is blocked by the sails. The roof of the building rotates to move the sails into a favourable position.
The windmill at Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze (4)  The windmill at Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze (2)P1120544
The windmill at Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze (3)  The windmill at Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze (5)
The windmill at Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze (7)


pink contrails (1)My day began with the sight of new sunrise-lit contrails slicing up the eastern sky. A few hours later Munson and I were driving in that direction to a location south of Toulouse where my Australian friend Claire and her family were staying for a few days. Their hosts Thierry & VB have some German Shepherd dogs to be introduced to Munson. I’ve made a lemon & thyme cake to bring – it looks a bit strange, like a house-brick with a cavity in the top, as I put in too much baking powder, it rose too far and then collapsed when I removed it from the oven to drizzle it with lemon syrup. I’m expecting that it will still taste fine.

I was very pleased that the new dual carriageway road from Auch to Gimont is now complete, and so we shaved some time off the usual trek.  We then turned south through Samatan and the southeast corner of the Gers that I haven’t visited since moving to the farm. It was here that I saw a very long unbroken tubular pillar of cloud that I’ve seen on other eastbound journeys. The last one sat very close to the ground from Vic Fezensac to Toulouse. I wonder if they’re a regular feature of this region where air moves between the Atlantic and Mediterranean north of the Pyrenées.
Django, Munson & Coco (1)  Munson & Django
At our destination everyone was out for the afternoon except for Claire’s husband John, so I took some time to do a staged introduction to the two dogs Django and Coco.  Beginning with Django the large male I followed a similar protocol as I had with King in Denmark last year. The two boys were given space and a chance to sniff each other before allowing both off leash. There was a bit of piss and vinegar at first but Django quickly got over and the two became quite solicitous towards each other. Coco the female was a bit more difficult but as long as Munson didn’t interfere with her toys she was OK. I took it as a good sign that all three dogs would come to me for reassurance and listened. Munson is bigger than the two of them put together but just wants to play.
Later in the afternoon when everyone was home, I had a delightful half hour in the spa, glass of champagne at my side while I looked out towards the Pyrenées as the sun set. Thierry le chef spoilt us all with a multi-course dinner while Claire kept the champagne flowing. Pop!

champers in spa, sunset over Pyrenées

dinner time

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Munson’s winter wonderland

Munson, Milkshake & Greycute
As prior posts have shown, it’s been ridiculously non-wintry over the last two weeks. The sunshine and warmth have even fooled a lot of plants into thinking it’s Spring already. I’ve seen buds on the elders and lilacs, and most of the figs are not only budding, but I have three – no four, I just checked - new figs on one by the terrace.
28 Dec hay excavation
chickens? what chickens?

dreaming of the tundra