The weather on this trip to Auxelles has shown us the full gamut. On the morning we arrived, there were still considerable piles of snow at the side of the roads, left by the snow ploughs that you’ll see in even the narrowest lanes in the smallest villages. Back in the UK, there’ll be snow and we’ll see no sign of a plough, even though we live at the top of a steep hill and next to a primary school.
For the two days of our quarantine it was foggy and cold, and we turned the radiators down and lit a fire every day, burning wood that has been in the barn for 50 years. So you could say it’s seasoned. Inspired by the You’re Dead to Me podcast episode about mediaeval Christmas, we made a sport of finding the biggest logs we could fit in the stove and letting them slowly burn. None of them would have lasted 12 days. The furthest we could walk was to the bottom of the garden, where we could look out upon what should have been the village, but was instead a bank of fog.
It was when we went down to Plancher Bas for our quarantine ending lateral flow tests, a couple of kilometres (and a hundred metres in altitude) down the hill, that we realised we’d been missing out on glorious crisp sunshine. Duh. It was only foggy at the top of our hill, everyone else was enjoying the frosty ground and the low December sun — the best kind of weather, some might say.
The other odd effect of quarantine was that those first two days (especially after the stress leading up to the journey) didn’t seem to count in my mind, so that when December 24 arrived, it seemed to come too quickly. Mind you, this is not the first time I have felt snuck up on. A few years back, when the Reveillon roast was a capon, it was nearly lunchtime before I remembered it was supposed to be in a bucket of brine.
The weather changed on the 24th, and it started raining, more or less constantly, for the next five or six days. So much rain that on one night, I woke up to the sound of running water and thought a pipe had burst in the kitchen (again). I went downstairs to check, but no: it was just raining still. I say five or six days because although it hadn’t completely stopped by the sixth day, it was still drizzling enough that the automatic intermittent wipers on the car were triggered regularly. We walked around the Malsaucy lake and I wondered if the rain would be coming back. My watch decided it needed water to be ejected, as if I’d been swimming rather than walking.
That burst pipe in the kitchen was a few years ago now. There’s always something with this house. Last summer it was the boiler: the pump had seized up, probably because during the pandemic we hadn’t been turning up to run the hot water every six weeks. My brother in law fixed it. But he’s in the middle of building a house at the moment and hasn’t got time to fix this holiday’s problem, which is the increasingly spongy floor in the kitchen. The old oak floorboards are suspended over the cellar. They’re covered in a roll of cushion flooring and I daren’t look but: in certain places around the kitchen, the boards give way rather too much. There are at least three spots you don’t want to walk on. There were some emergency repairs in a couple of places a few years back, but the problem is spreading. Dry rot? Wet rot? Whichever, there’s a big job waiting there that won’t wait much longer.
Yesterday, the last day of the old year, the rain was well and truly gone. The weather app said it was 8°C, but in the sunshine it was much warmer. We walked around the village. All walking has been a struggle for me this month because I’ve got a problem hip, but it was too nice to stay home. It really was the most glorious of days. There was still water gushing in the drainage ditches and the surfaces were wet, but even in the forest, because of good drainage in this stony soil, we could walk up the track without getting too muddy. We saw two butterflies, a moth, a bee, and – on arriving home – found that the cat was sitting by the tree stump near the front door. This stump is home to lizards, and sure enough: there she was, scuttling around to soak up the sun, and avoid the killer cat.