chrisdolley (chrisdolley) wrote,

Our First Day in Our New Home (continued)

To recap: we'd just survived the 60-hour move from hell and then failed to find any breakfast...

That morning - our first morning in residence and a so far breakfastless one - we sat down and made a list.

It was some list.

It was headed by a car. We had to have one. As we had to have logs, gas bottles, food, a cooker, plugs, telephone, money, a cheque book, hay, straw and fence posts and undoubtedly a thousand and one other things that temporarily eluded us.

And we lived in the middle of nowhere with not a shop in sight. Or a bus stop or a telephone kiosk or a man who knew semaphore. After all, this was what we had wanted - to be away from it all. What we hadn't envisaged was the sheer desperation of our trip down. All thoughts of plugs, food and stopping to phone ahead had been pushed aside, locked away by the certain knowledge that any attempt to deviate from our course would have resulted in unimaginable disaster. Any supermarket we stopped at would undoubtedly have been struck by a meteorite within seconds of us pulling up outside.

But today was another day. Paranoia was living somewhere in Northern France and we needed to find a phone.

So we grabbed a map and took Gypsy for a walk.

Which went down very well with Gypsy, who was enjoying her new life. After all, she'd had breakfast. Like the cats, she didn't need her food heated and we had plenty of tins and no problem locating the tin opener. I think the cats had packed a spare one just in case.

We left the cats unpacking - there's something about large boxes full of screwed up paper that cats find irresistible. They'd be busy for hours.

We thought we'd try Tuco first as it was the nearest village. Well, perhaps not quite a village. With three houses, a church and a road sign, it was large enough to rate a mention on our map but that was about it.

Walking down the winding country lane it was difficult to believe that this was winter. The mid-Februarys that we remembered were the coldest part of the year - with howling gales and biting winds vying with snow and drizzle and thick grey blankets of cloud that could hang around for weeks.

But here, the sky was clear, there wasn't a breath of wind and the sun had a strength to it. Even this early in the morning, you could feel its warmth on your skin. Which made the transition between light and shade the more noticeable. Step into the shadow of the trees and it felt cold - you could feel the frost beneath your feet, hear the crackle on the tarmac. Step into the sun and it felt like spring, the grass was green and the road was dry.

We ambled along the curving lane as it wound down the little valley. A steep-sided wood rose up on our left, another almost as steep on our right. Ahead of us, we could make out the steeple of the tiny village church and beyond that another tree-lined hill marked the far side of the main valley. It was a beautiful spot. Rolling hills and valleys, tiny villages, forests and fields. Just what we wanted.

A few minutes more and our little valley widened out into the larger valley in which Tuco stood. We could see for miles. Tiny white spots of habitation dotted the far hills. Patches of green marked out the growing crops against the predominant browns of wood, ploughed fields and scrub.

It was idyllic.

Until the advance guard of the Tuco dogs spotted Gypsy.

We dragged her past the first barrage of woofs straight into the teeth of the main contingent. Four dogs of various size and pedigree held us at bay while a large black dog harried us from behind. Gypsy was not a happy dog. It was probably the first time she'd seen other dogs since leaving her mother. And these were growling in French.

Then a farmhouse door opened, and out shot a small dark-haired woman alternating shouts and smiles as she tried to chastise her dogs and welcome us at the same time. The dogs ran back inside the yard and lay down, yawning and looking the other way as though whatever had just happened had had nothing to do with them.

Gypsy took this as an opportunity to shout abuse at them from behind our legs - amazing how brave a puppy can be after the danger has passed.

Another figure appeared from a barn, a curly-haired man in his late thirties, wiping his hands on his overalls as he walked up to meet us. There was the usual hand shaking and then ...

It was our first introduction to the local dialect. I had expected it to be a variation on the French we'd heard on the language tapes and schools' programmes. But not this much of a variation. It was unintelligible.

I'd been reasonably confident of my French up until that point. I'd coped with estate agents who couldn't speak English, I'd survived restaurants and hotels. I could usually make myself understood - eventually. And I could normally pick up the gist of what was being said to me - if it was repeated slowly and often enough.

But this was beyond me. It sounded more like Spanish. Perhaps we'd been learning the wrong language. And as my entire knowledge of Spanish was limited to beer, squid and airport, my conversation would be less than inspiring.

The best way to describe the dialect is to imagine French being spoken at speed by a Spaniard who has taken out all the words and linked them together with that rolling Spanish 'r' sound, to form one long unintelligible word. And as my normal method of translation depended on recognising one or two keywords in a sentence and then gradually working out the others from the context, I was stumped. There wasn't room for even the smallest keyword to breathe - everything was so well wrapped up in 'r's.

And if anything the man was worse. He was a lisping version of his mother, adding a liberal sprinkling of Spanish 'th' sounds.

But this was the campagne. What did we expect? If we'd been a French couple knocking on a Devon farmhouse we'd have probably been as lost, meeting a stream of broad Devonian.

I began to suspect that we might not be listening to French or Spanish at all, but one of those ancient Pyrenean languages I'd read about - Occitan, Catalan or some such mixture of old French and Spanish.

But then I started to grasp the odd word - as the woman slowed her speech down and unrolled the occasional 'r'.

Her name was Claudine and Roger was her son. Not the most earth-shattering of revelations, but after ten minutes of total confusion, it was as precious to us as the Rosetta stone. We were beginning to understand.

We then embarked on an attempt to ask them if they could tell us where the nearest telephone was. An ambitious enterprise but we were desperate.

After a considerable effort and many blank looks we succeeded.

"Là," said Claudine, pointing to the kiosk, ten yards behind us.

We turned as one and looked at the very distinctive glass booth with the word téléphone prominently displayed. Ah, that one. I declined to ask if there was one closer.

(to be continued)
Tags: nsa, nsa2
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