Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Mas des Chats

Several years ago a close friend bought a box of old Irish Linen in an auction. When she got home she found the box also contained a couple of books about true stories of cats. Knowing my fondness for cats she donated these books to me. 

My first two cats Florence and Freddie entered my life during a rather difficult period and I soon realised that unlike supposedly caring humans whose behaviour can often only be deemed as callous, causing much in the way of hurt and emotional distress, my cats gave me companionship, loyalty and unconditional love. (So long as their favourite food was supplied upon demand). 

The first of these books was entitled "Watchers By The Pool"by Margaret Reinhold; 

an endearing story of a cat loving lady who relocates from Hampshire to France, with her two very English cats, Rosie and Lily. Her house soon becomes a sanctuary for the local French neighbourhood cats, all of whom she welcomes and cares for.

The book is heart-warming in its descriptions of each of the cats characters; including Rosie, Lily, Bruno, Katy and Oedipus. All of the cats I have been acquainted with have had their own very different personalities, but there are strong resemblances to the "Watchers By The Pool".

Like snobbish Rosie in the book, my genteel Florence was undoubtedly The Boss. Throughout her life I was putty in her paws - a slave to her every whim.


Florence was with me for seventeen years and this photo was taken on the day she died. Sick with cancer and in pain I knew there was no hope for her. Just a few hours before she breathed her last breath, I took her into the sunny garden where she had spent many happy days. Summoning up all her energy she prowled around sniffing every nook and cranny, every leaf and stone as though imprinting them upon her memory forever.

Freddie, her son was demure, docile and compliant, always subservient to his mother; (Oedipus in the book)


Freddie was my darling - so sweet-natured, unassuming and loving. After Florence left us he grieved; heartbroken and unable to cope without her, his health deteriorated rapidly until he gave up the fight and joined her three months later. I was completely distraught at losing them both.

Lucy is a nervy little cat, petrified of noises and people, but an attention seeker none-the-less and loudly vocal in her demands. I liken her to Lily who was a loner or shy Katy.


Just as Margaret Reinhold described her cat Bruno as a comedian, so too the independent Percy (short for persistent) is a clown, who shows no interest in other cats, preferring instead to tease other more worthy opponents such as the dogs next door. 


Percy is not really a permanent fixture - he does not belong to me, and has a very comfortable home elsewhere, but he takes advantage of the fact that his mischievous ways endear him to many of the neighbours and so I am not the only one that he coerces into providing him with a bed and breakfast service.

He wanders in when the fancy takes him, sometimes surreptitiously creeping stealthily in during the night, or at other times when he wants someone to play with, deliberately causing a lot of fuss and noise, then putting his head on one side and raising his eyebrows unconcernedly when admonished. 

At times there is a look of sheer devilment in his eyes.

I awoke one night sensing something strange in the bedroom. A presence; a warm weight against my back. Turning slightly I found myself gazing into a large pair of green eyes. Percy lay stretched out languorously alongside me eyeing me speculatively. His gamble didn't pay off and he was unequivocally ejected from the bed.

Monty is self-contained and a bit of a mystery, intent upon keeping his secrets to himself.


The striking Monty's presence disturbed the equilibrium of the household. During his short visit, life became slightly tumultuous, but it is true that when Cats are stressed the effects upon homelife are profound and both Lucie and Percy's disruptive behaviour indicated that they were indeed stressed.

Like Percy, Monty too thought he could try his luck at sharing my bed. After his attempt to steal my pillow and sleep beside me had failed, Monty fixed his baleful stare upon me and proceeded to commandeer the rocking chair. 

Lucie was appalled and disgusted at Monty's staking his claim. In her opinion she had sole rights upon the rocking chair having successfully ousted Percy by bravely nibbling his tail on the one occasion he took possession.

However unimpressed with the menu, the boundaries that I imposed, the unsettled atmosphere and the already resident cats failure to accept him as a superior, Monty departed as mysteriously as he arrived. He has reappeared a few times since, materialising out of nowhere, sauntering calmly in and checking to see if the food on offer was any more to his liking, then vanishing again as silently as he had arrived.

Life settled back into a normal pace after he left and Lucie resumed her place upon the rocking chair, ensuring that it wasn't left vacant too long for any periods in case of further attempts to usurp her.

In the second book, a light-hearted and humorously perceptive cat tale, entitled "The Cat who Came in from The Cold" by Derek Longden, his little cat Thermal had originally belonged to the neighbouring family.

"The little cat Derek Longden saw sitting forlornly on an upturned bucket belonged to the neighbours, but somehow when it began to rain it seemed only natural to bring him inside"

and as is the way with cats, they have a tendency to choose where they want to live.

Cats have a mind of their own; they are not controlled by belief structures, or influenced by propaganda or commercialism. In fact it usually is the cat who is responsible for mind controlling us weaker species of human beings. Once a cat has decided upon something there is very little that the powers of human persuasion can do to make it change its mind.

This has been the case with Lucie, who once she had decided that she wanted to become a member of my household, there was nothing I could do to dissuade her. 

I tried being stern and carried her back to her rightful owner on numerous occasions, but each time I had no sooner returned home than I would find Lucie at my heels looking up at me. I tried locking the cat flap to keep her out, but her shrieks and wails and attempts at breaking down the door during the night were not conducive to a peaceful nights rest for any of us. 

Besides, her determination also led her to discover how to circumnavigate the cat-flap when it was locked and I was puzzled for a while to understand how she was able to gain entry until I saw her prise the cat-flap outwards with her claws and wriggle underneath, landing with a flop in the hall. 

Lucie's resolve to live with me has led to problems with my neighbour, which has unfortunately resulted in poor neighbourly relations. Being so soft-hearted towards the feline species and feeling sorry for her nervous nature, I could not bring myself to throw water over Lucie or gravel at her as my neighbour suggested I do in order to frighten her away. 

The one thing that does however always have a negative effect upon her is the presence of men. As soon as the door opens to admit any male, Lucie dashes behind the curtain trembling in fright, her heart pounding in fear. This fear quickly dissipates if they should produce food, when she will emerge from her hiding place and entwine herself around their legs, fluttering her lashes up at them in the most persuasive and flirtatious manner.

Thus I cannot help thinking that her nervous and shy nature is a facade - sweet, pretty little Lucie is a master at manipulation and mind-control and has no shame in using these methods to get her own way.

I loved reading these two stories; the cats in Provence and the antics of Thermal. If you too are a cat lover I would definitely recommend both of the above books.


Monday, 20 January 2014

La Petite Maison - Work Continues

Can you believe it? January is over halfway gone already. 

Well, what can I say - since the start of 2014 following my recent and now seemingly annual recurrence of winter flu, I have been making up for lost time at La Petite Maison where it it has just been Busy, Busy, Busy!

In the old kitchen / back room - now officially known as the Guest Bedroom and En-suite

(which formerly looked like this)

the walls had been newly plastered

and when dry a coat of white paint was applied, 

before I then had to muster up some energy for sanding the floor. Not without a few glitches I might add! I have convinced myself however that the gash created by dropping the still spinning circular sander onto the floor will only add a more authentically character appearance.

(Gash disguised with some woodfiller)

Failing that a rug can always be strategically placed to hide a multitude......! 

After sanding I used the same lye solution as before in the other rooms, and then with a lot of elbow grease completed the treatment by rubbing white wood oil into the floorboards.

William arrived to finish the woodwork. Taking one look at my pale wan face and hearing my croaking voice - alarmed that he may fall prey to any air borne viral particles, he redoubled his normal whirlwind speed and wasting no time on goodbyes disappeared almost as soon as the last screw was put into the doorknob.

Thankfully the en-suite was tiled without the pain of the previous tiling disaster in the bathroom, where the tiler (different tiler I should point out) created more of a basket weave effect with my beautiful Welbeck tiles, resulting in the blue and white patchwork splash-backs having to be unceremoniously removed - still waiting to be redone again at a later date. Fortunately the remaining tiles are much admired by everyone and the unplanned undulating brickwork effect does not seem to detract too much from the lovely creamy crackle-glazed hand-made tiles.

The bathroom tiling made me nervous and I had a momentary panic when I saw the en-suite tiles grouted; panic lasting even as the grout dried - turning from dark wet cement colour to the colour of blue-tack, which against the warm white of the marble tiles looked awful. 

(photo taken in artificial light, so isn't really a true representation of the colour)

Happily the grout is still drying and the now paler silvery white picks out the veins of the marble and looks alright. Phew!

Woodwork done and tiling of the en-suite complete, I was able to resume my role as painter and decorator.

(windows and doors still to be painted with a topcoat in this photo and curtains are only temporarily hung - it was dark when this photo was taken, hence the strange blue light outside the windows.)

Handles for the French doors and the casement windows are still to be fitted. The sanitary-ware in the en-suite failed to arrive on time, so is not yet in place. The curtain fabric I had decided upon for this room is out of stock at Cabbages and Roses; - in the meantime I am adapting my old Caroline Zoob Faded Flowers curtains to fit the windows. But despite these minor set-backs the renovation of La Petite Maison continues to move steadily forward.

Not fast enough though for the elderly lady next door, who has started to complain about the state of the garden. Hmmm - hold on, there are limits even to my ability to do everything at once and after all it is Winter; copious amounts of heavy rain have turned the driveway into a sea of mud made worse by workmen's vans churning it up, and let's be honest - there is no point doing anything about it until all the building work is totally completed.

I take heart in knowing that the roses that I have planted in the front garden are currently establishing 

Munstead Wood planted alongside purple Sage in the front garden

Rose de Recht outside the front door

and I know that I shall be able to transform the gardens into floral havens where there will be roses and lavender; 

(inspiration from Virginia Woolf's garden)

hydrangeas and hollyhocks, 

(source http://tradgardsflow.blogspot.nl/)

but perhaps it is the time-scale that she is concerned about. How much longer before the transformation?

Rome was not built in a day and La Petite Maison is certainly taking longer than ever anticipated, but be patient please dear elderly neighbour; just as my my allotment was not transformed overnight, I can nevertheless say that it was well worth the wait and all the hard work involved.

Allotment in the beginning

Allotment last summer (three years later)