A view with a room.

One of the things I love about blogging is the interaction with other bloggers. “Homesick and Heatstruck” recently published a bittersweet description of her balcony in Dubai, in which she describes not only the environment she sees from it, but also the sounds and the smells that invade her senses, and the thoughts and feelings that assail her there as an expat girl far from home. She suggested that I do a similar post to share with her. The view from my balcony is completely different. So here it is, H&H!

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Little My on her balcony this morning. © Multifarious meanderings

Little My has the best bedroom in the joint, in so far that she has a real Romeo and Juliette -style balcony. Any budding Cyrano had better watch his step, though; the first poor soul that dares climb up there to recite poetry to my daughter may well find himself facing her disgruntled father, armed with a Black & Decker drill.

Juliette Little My was on her balcony this morning when I sneaked up on her and took this snap. She was soaking up the view and the first rays of sunshine. Arms resting on the black wrought iron and eyes fixed on the horizon, she was dreaming as the wooden shutters with flaking grey paint creaked gently beside her in the spring breeze.

She had just watered her new babies – two garden boxes of delicately coloured, overtly feminine carnations. I pointed enthusiastically at the garish, fun pansies at the garden nursery yesterday, but Little My had already been seduced by their girly neighbours with frilly leaves and was enthusiastically cooing “Ooh, Mamaaaaan, elles sont trop belles!” I couldn’t say no.

I joined my daughter outside, and turned my face to the sun. Closing my eyes, I enjoyed that childhood thrill of seeing nothing but red through my eyelids as I basked in the sunshine. Closing your eyes accentuates the smells and the sounds around you. The smells: fresh earth as PF gardened below, wood smoke as the neighbours burned their garden cuttings, the aroma of fresh coffee wafting out of the neighbour’s open door. The sounds: Bigfoot and Rugby-boy laughing as they threw the rugby ball to and fro. The occasional blaring of car horns on the village bridge, signalling the presence of intrepid baguette hunters returning home from the boulangerie in their battered Citroëns. Smelly dog growling suspiciously at the sound of footsteps, perceptible only to her, as morning walkers wandered down the lane.

The loudest noise by far was the staccato of sparrows, finches and blue tits chirping indignantly in the huge cedar tree. I opened my eyes and saw why: the magpies were winding them up, balanced high in the tree and machine-gunning them with their raucous, rasping chatter.

The branches of the cedar tree practically touch the windows of our house, and the morning chorus usually wakes me long before the alarm goes off. As spring moves on, the sound of nature increases until it becomes part and parcel of life inside the house – particularly at night. We have a pair of nightingales that nest nearby every year, and soon they will be back. They aren’t called nightingales for nothing. Firstly, Mr Nightingale sings to seduce Madame nightingale. Daddy nightingale sings perfectly, and very loudly, from the branch in front of my bedroom window…. All bloody night. Every night, until the sun comes up to put us out of our misery. Last year, he did it for six long weeks, and only stopped once his kids had their pilot’s licences, Biggles goggles firmly strapped to their heads for take-off.

Now I love birdsong, don’t get me wrong. But a little like having Pavarotti rehearsing La Traviata at the end of your bed at three in the morning, you can get too much of a good thing. After two weeks of constant nocturnal birdsong, even David Attenborough would end up having visions of nightingales on skewers turning over a hot camp fire. I can hear you all telling me I’m a fiend. Well, listen to this and imagine listening to it all night, then think it over.

My other favourites are the owls – at the end of the post there’s a picture we took of the cute little guy who got hooted through to independence by his mum and dad last year. He was sitting on the wall and scared the pants off me when he glared at me on my way home from the boulangerie one evening.

In May the midwife toad chorus starts up, echoing back and forth along the stream as soon as night falls. I love that time of year, sleeping with the windows open and listening to the wind in the branches and the concert of toads, owls and crickets. I feel like I’m on a Disney Princess trip every time, and secretly hope that I’m going to open my eyes to see a frog playing a banjo on my windowsill.

Then the cicadas will kick in for the sultry, hot summer afternoons. And we’ll have to keep an eye out for the bats: they find their way in, but can’t find their way out. The cat goes mad, Rugby-boy laughs himself stupid, and Bigfoot runs around in circles filming the thing.

So there you go. Hope you enjoyed the view from M.M’s pad. I’m sending birdsong your way, H&H, and hope that this post gave you a bit of a hoot until you get some real birdsong to listen to.

Tawny owl baby- last year's recruit for the local wildlife brigade. © Multifarious meanderings

Tawny owl baby- last year’s recruit for the local wildlife brigade. © Multifarious meanderings

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Gargamel.

The interactions between humans whose territories are side by side are fascinating, and have been used as a basis for TV series for donkey’s years. A neighbourhood is a rich microcosm of society that illustrates the best and the worse of human relationships, which remain the same whether its occupants are penned in plush, posh houses for upmarket despotic housewives or popping in and out of the one-up, one-down terraced houses of Coronation Street.

I have never understood how people can live side by side without ever speaking to each other, and I am often struck by the strange impression that the denser the human population is, the more lonely and anonymous people seem to become. This fear of alienation could explain why we have always lived in small towns or villages.

In our microcosm, many of our neighbours are over the age of 70. When I saw my 85-year-old neighbour chuck his cane on the ground then take what felt like light years to kneel down in the dirt and play marbles with my kids, his eyes shining like someone 80 years his junior, I was thrilled. I think we all interact pretty well.

Gargamel and his cat Azrael.

Gargamel and his cat Azrael. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All, that is, except the one I have come to call “Gargamel”, who always made it obvious that he wants to keep himself to himself. A modus vivendi has evolved, and everyone respects his wish to remain at a distance. Like Molière’s Misanthropist, he flits around people like a moth around a naked lightbulb – fascinated and attracted by the warmth and the light, yet scared he will get burnt in the process. He suspiciously surveys all his neighbours through a carefully crafted hole in his garden wall, muttering incantations. He thought nobody had noticed his look-out point until the day Bigfoot waved cheerfully at him and grinned mischievously before politely calling « Good morning, Monsieur. How are you today ? »

Gargamel goes through all the motions of a happy retiree, but something is missing. He somehow managed to plan everything for his golden age except the one thing you can’t put aside for a rainy day: what the French so nicely call la joie de vivre. Consequently, a black cloud hovers permanently over his head wherever he roams.

You could set your watch by the regularity of his daily routine, executed with military precision. First thing in the morning, he cycles to the bakery with his trouser leg bottoms rolled up and carefully held out of chain’s reach with clean wooden clothes pegs. His trouser legs remain rolled up for the rest of the day, presumably to avoid getting the hems dirty. Then he returns home, tidies away the bike and the bread, and goes for the same walk he goes for every day. Garden, lunch, the news, an afternoon siesta, garden, dinner and the news. Then he spends all night awake because he had already slept all afternoon. The same routine – day in, day out.

The bottle is always half empty in his book, and his upper lip curls with contempt at any form of kindness, optimism or spontaneity: kindness and friendship are merely social tools for sinister Machiavellian plans.  Chewing on a toothpick, he complains in his nasal twang that the world is going to the dogs….. Any occasional, short conversation is closed with a perfunctory « Pfft. Have a good day, and walk in the shade », before he stomps home, his rolled-up trouser bottoms flapping a few inches above his ankles, and perceptible wafts of loneliness and vulnerability trailing behind him.

Always the same remark: “Walk in the shade”. I tried to work out if there was a hidden message in there, to no avail. I have since concluded that it was his credo on life: If you keep out of the sun, you don’t get burnt. If you live life in the shade, nobody bothers you.

Well…. I’m sorry, but although I’m not the type to sing Julie Andrews blockbusters in the garden during your siesta, walking in the shade just ain’t my cup of tea. I’m more a « sunny side up » kind of person. If life is a loaf of bread, I’m the slice of toast that always tries to land butter side up, then get back on the plate in time to see which jam is on the menu today, even if I am covered in dust and dog hair. The Gargamels in life used to sap my energy and make me sad. Now I smile, say hello and goodbye, then get back to the sunny side of the street rather than trying to drag them over with me. You live and learn. But if you need me, you know where I am, and you’re more than welcome to join me….