Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Patron Saint of Housesitting

I got up with the sun this morning, or shortly afterwards at any rate - the bedroom faces north, and the shutters are nearly closed, so I don't get the full effect of the light. I followed the purring cat downstairs and opened a pouch of goopy food for her, and by 7am I was out the door, taking the dogs for their morning constitutional. The weather's turned chillier, although the upper reaches of the house still get stuffy at night. The first thing I did when I got back to the house - after feeding the dogs, of course - was to open up the windows and shutters in the kitchen to get a cross-breeze and air out the house. One of the dogs has a skin condition and is rather stinky.

I made a cup of coffee and sat down at the computer to catch up on depressing news from around the world, fun things my friends are doing, and my Lexulous moves, and then went out in the back to vacuum the pool and clean the pump. Fortunately this time there weren't any dead mice in the basket filters by the side of the pool, because that's just gross. A few days ago while I was running the sweeper along the bottom of the pool I heard squeaking noises and looked over to see the cat tormenting a small grey animal underneath the wooden swing; the next time I checked she was busily crunching off its head. She eats three pouches of food a day as well, and she is a growing cat of just 9 months, but I think she probably also has worms. I might too, now, since she's been sleeping with me. But it has been so nice to have a cat to sleep with again, or to snuggle with as I watch silly shows on Food Network, which is about the only channel that the family's Sky TV subscription gets that I'm at all interested in watching, though I do tune into BBC News every day for a bit.

At some point in the past this traditional arrangement of house-attached-to-larger-grange was redone so that the house became two gîtes. It looks like one gite is the old house, with a large open space leading to a small kitchen area, two bedrooms, and one bathroom with shower (a recent addition), and a steep staircase leading to the balcony and another set of bedrooms and bathroom. The other smaller unit appears to have been tacked on later, with a living room/dining area/kitchen all together, and a hall leading to three bedrooms and the bathrooms, with no upper floor. I spent several hours doing the cleaning for the changeover last week, and several more hours washing and hanging out and ironing all of the linens. I'm glad that's all done.

The family house is what used to be the grange, I think, because it's the bigger blocker building, and because the upper floor is criss-crossed with head-banging huge wooden beams. It's got a lovely big kitchen that I've enjoyed cooking in, and an old wooden table that's almost at the right height for a laptop workspace, as long as I add cushions to the chair. I'm sleeping in a dark narrow room belonging to one of the boys, and I closed all of the other bedroom doors to keep them clean and tidy. The stairway to the top floor is fairly ladder-like, and I'm careful to hold on to the railing, especially when there are dogs and cats trying to navigate the stairs at the same time.

Behind one of the bedroom doors is a vivarium, and in the vivarium is a large corn snake. When I applied for this housesitting gig, we talked about the two dogs and the cat, and I think Nikki mentioned the hamster as well, but she didn't say anything about the snake. When we were going over instructions for everything the day I arrived, she asked me if I was scared of snakes, and I said no, not particularly. "I had a friend in Oregon who raised boa constrictors, in fact," I said, "and I liked handling them, but it was really icky when they had to feed the young boas on those little baby mice they call 'pinkies' - but this isn't a boa constrictor ..." She just looked at me. "I'm going to have to feed it baby mice, aren't I?" I sighed.

So every Saturday, I have removed a plastic bag full of baby mice from the freezer - not the pinkies; these are slightly older mice with actual fur - and placed a single mouse in a bowl, and then poured boiling water over it. After a minute or two the mouse is thawed and hot enough mimic being alive, if not very lively. The first time I opened the glass sliding doors the snake was curled up in his(?) den. I placed the mouse on the sacrificial altar and tried to get a picture of the snake, who started coming out to check out the offering, but I think the light on my camera startled him and he went back in, and wouldn't come back out as long as I was there. But the second time, I'd waited until the evening on Saturday, and when I got there the snake was waiting as well, halfway out of his den, head moving over the altar, searching for the prey that should have been there. He backed off a little bit when I opened the glass doors, but as soon as I put the mouse down he glided forward again, tongue flicking, before making a vicious lunge to subdue the immobile mouse and drag it back into the den.

The dogs have been fairly easy to deal with, though the smaller yappy one annoys me by being yappy, which is pretty much any time he sees one of the guests go by, or the neighbor's cat, or when the two neurons in his head happen to connect (this last does not happen very often). Actually, he's not that bad. The bigger dog is a Husky mix, and howls when he wants to go for a walk or be fed, but otherwise doesn't bark unless yappy dog sets him off. It reminds me of the time that I brought an LP (remember those?) of recorded wolf howls home from the Ashland library and we played it for our coyote-collie mix who had never ever howled before, but who joined in the chorus with a high ululation for a minute or two. Kate and I collapsed with laughter, and apparently that was enough to embarrass Brownie, because she never howled again.

I'm actually glad the dogs are here, because it forces me to get out and take a walk myself twice a day, and with the cheese-note recording and blogging and the freelance projects that have had me busy this last week, I probably wouldn't have gotten out as much just by myself. And that would have been a shame, because it's quite lovely around here.

There are a few pastures with cows, and others with large shrink-wrapped rolls of hay. There's a large grange at one corner filled to the rafters with rectangular hay bales, and an old mostly-abandoned farmhouse complex that's almost completely hidden under rampant swaths of wisteria, and a handful of houses that look like places that people have come to retire. There's a house across the street where an English couple came to retire, I think, but they've got the house on the market now. I found out that this house is for sale, too, so if you're interested in buying it let me know, and I'll give you the contact information. But mostly it's vineyards, interspersed with smaller fields of corn or sunflowers. A few mornings ago I walked the dogs past a vigneron's home, a well-kept place with a glassed-in porch and wide terrace and long cool green lawns on one side, and business-like barns on the other filled with all of the machinery used to cultivate the vines. There were two dozen tables set up under a large canopy, and plenty of chairs, and I wondered if they were going to have a family party, or an open house and wine tasting. On that evening's walk, I heard the sound of a not quite professional band drifting over the top of the vine-covered hill between this house and that one, but I didn't go to crash the event.

Other than the fact that there is literally nothing within walking distance here - unless you're an intrepid walker who isn't freaked out by insane French drivers (and, in this area, English ones who forget which side of the road they're supposed to be on) on narrow lanes with no place to leap aside to avoid the vehicles - it's a very nice location. I'm so glad that Nikki left me a car. After cleaning the pool this morning I came back to the computer and printed out all of the documents I need to get into the UK on Thursday evening (please, please let those be all the documents I need ...) and then did another few hours of freelance work. I'm going to take the car over to Talmont-sur-Gironde this evening, unless it starts raining; the sky is cloudy and the wind has picked up, though there's still no rain forecast and in fact according to the weather report it's supposed to clear up in a few hours. If the weather hasn't gotten any less chancy by 5pm I'll probably stay home and start organizing my packing, though I haven't really unpacked much of anything other than toiletries and a change of clothes. And I'm sure there's something wonderfully mindless on the Food Network.

Thursday morning I'll head to London, and my three free days at St. Christopher's Camden where I will be "[s]urrounded by rockers, city hipsters, young professionals and artists alike." It will make quite a change from being surrounded by goats (August 2013), pigs or young annoying mostly-male students, if that's not repeating myself (September 2013-June 2014), or horizon-spanning fields of green and gold (July 2014). I start my next housesit on August 3rd somewhere in north London, taking care of one dog and one cat. No snakes have been mentioned. So far.

Onward to the next adventure!

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