Good news, at last, we’ve been booked for our first housesit. We’re off to Blajan in the south of France to look after an elderly boxer and rescued collie cross. Jim meets us at the gate with Babushka and Padi at his side. Both welcome us with sniffing and seem friendly which settles our nerves.
We stand chatting in the garden that is a good size, with plenty of trees to provide shelter from the sun. The house is traditional French countryside with a large courtyard from which we enter the house. We follow Jim into the kitchen where he pours us a glass of wine and tells us about the girls, their characters and needs.
Apparently, Padi is normally nervous around men but for some reason she is comfortable with me and I have, somehow, gained her approval. After an hour or so Jim leaves us to make ourselves at home. We spend the remainder of the day sitting quietly in the garden letting the girls get used to us being around.
At about 6pm we take the dogs for their first walk. Babushka has arthritis so is happy to walk at Carole’s side as we walk down the lane, Padi on the other hand drags me along then when I’m not walking quick enough she runs back and circles around me as if I’m a sheep that needs to be encouraged down the road – who’s walking who?
Every now and then Babushka breaks into a trot while constantly frowning at Padi’s antics as she dashes about with her tongue hanging out one moment then shoves her snout into the grass the next.
This is a farming area. Most of the fields are now empty but several still have a harvest of corn to reap. The soil is a creamy pale yellow, dry and fine, the fields that have been prepared for new planting have been very neatly ploughed.
We’ve seen our fair share of farmland over the recent months and picked up on various differences from place to place, typically, when crops are harvested and what that crop may be. The most distinct contrast is the manner in which herds are contained within a field. Back home fields are edged with stone walls, thick hedges and hefty gates, on the continent a simple bit of string apparently is sufficient. It typically stretches between metal poles that mark the perimeter. Yes, some of it does appear to be electric but most do not.
Cows make me a tad nervous; I understand they’re an inquisitive species but there’s something about the way they stare you down and head straight towards you that I’m uncomfortable with, so the idea of a length of frayed blue twine as a protective barrier takes some getting used to.
While here we thought we’d take the opportunity to learn a little about wine. First up was a Merlot for a cheerful 2,40€ (£1.70) that seemed ok to our novice palates followed by a second for 3,10€ (£2.19). The higher price point resulted in higher satisfaction so a bottle of Corbières was acquired at a similar 3,59€ (£2.54).
At this time I decided it would help if I knew something about tasting so it was onto the internet for a quick knowhow upload. This greatly improved the enjoyment but I think it’s going to take a lot of wine before I start to pick up the subtleties of different types, that said, I did notice a distinct change to the Bordeaux – 3,80€ (£2.69) – that followed. A bottle of 3,90€ (£2.76) Minervois was quickly dispatched without my senses getting any keener so I’ve broken the 4€ barrier with a Gaillac at 4,11€ (£2.91) to try and register some sort of reaction.
I’ve also been learning how to set a fire in a log-burning stove. On the first night I just squirted lighter fluid everywhere, not that sophisticated but effective. Over several nights I develop a build of various sized kindling and logs combined with twists of paper ignited by a single fire starter.
The days are hot but the evenings get chilly so we cocoon ourselves in the kitchen, while we cook and eat warmed by the stove. The girls lay snoring on their bed occasionally glancing at us when we make a noise that disturbs them. In the morning, regular as clockwork, they’re at our bedroom door wanting to be walked and we soon get into a comfortable routine.
We’ve driven about forty or fifty minutes south in the direction of the Pyrenees to the very picturesque village of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges. It sits on the top of a hill and as you approach you see the impressive cathedral built on its summit. We park at the foot of the hill then walk up into the walled, medieval town.
After a quick circumnavigation we pay the fee and enter the cathedral. Included with entrance is an audio guide that directs us from interesting feature to architectural detail. There’s some impressive carpentry in here especially the organ structure that climbs towards the vaulted roof in one corner. Filling the central space is a large enclosed choir made of exquisite carvings, its best features are not revealed until later when the audio guide leads you inside.
One fascinating item, hanging from one of the columns, is a stuffed crocodile. The legend says that St Bertrand killed it with the power of prayer – or it may have been a gift from a passing pilgrim.