À LA MOD
As the seasons change, Ian Moore revels in the preparations for colder times to come
Columnist Ian Moore reveals why he is happy for the warm days of summer to slip away
So what do the French call an Indian Summer then?” I asked my wife lazily as I settled back into the lounger on the terrasse, trying not to spill my pastis. “Un été indien,” she replied, desperately trying to keep the pot plants and potager adequately watered from the dwindling well source, even though we were now deep into September.
“At last,” I said, tipping my Panama down on to my nose, “something we can all agree on.”
A couple of months on and those balmy days are long behind us and you know what? I don’t really miss them.
The beauty of this idyllic part of rural France, and France generally as far as I can make out, is the seasons: the change from one to the other, the depth and seriousness of each one. The spring is riotous and barely controllable; the summer, hazy and slow; the autumn, wonderfully, colourfully indecisive and the winter, sometimes as brutal as old school Russian propaganda, harsh and monochrome. I love that.
It’s a little known fact that the original working title for 50 Shades of Grey was ‘British Weather’; Vivaldi, for instance, could never have been from the British Isles, but like everything here in France there is serious preparation to be done, alongside imperceptible change.
The well pump has to be dismantled and put away before the deep frost that’s to come, a job far easier than the annual ‘try and do this without swearing in front of the children’ rigmarole of setting the thing up. The medlar fruit has to be harvested and left to ripen before it’s remotely edible. The ton of winter firewood will be delivered and dumped, before it has to be stacked neatly and accessibly. A thing of beauty in itself.
Drive around rural France and you’ll see wood stacked in a way that’s almost an art form. One-upmanship and rivalry driving the thing, to the extent that you’ll see a year’s worth of domestic firewood out, roadside, open to the often ruthless winter elements, and why? Because it’s stacked like a Roman mosaic, that’s why, and the world must know.
Other changes from autumn to winter are less obvious. The vibrant farmers’ market becomes a pale shadow of its sunny-months self as only the hardier sellers remain, mainly the locals and especially the older locals for whom the market is a tradition and a weekly social catch up. And this older generation of rural workers don’t change their clothing, no matter what the season offers. Blue, heavy-duty dungarees for the men, with a cotton checked shirt beneath and an uncomfortable polyester dress for the women, with a workmanlike housecoat to top it off. Both may roll sleeves up or down depending on the weather, but rarely more than that.
The animals prepare too; the larger ones grow a new topcoat, our goats and horses develop fleeces and collars like a 1970s football manager and the dogs stop being irritated by passing lizards and unwelcome guests in their fur. The hens may slow their egg production. Everyone prepares, everyone is bracing themselves.
Being a city boy, I thought that it would take me years to get used to these seasonal rituals, that I would twitch at the prospect of weather-induced power cuts, wood chopping and mornings so cold and vicious you could call them Nordic Noir. Not a bit of it; rather than take to it like a duck to a frozen pond, I enjoy the changes immensely, even grumble if the crossover takes too long.
I remember lying back on that lounger excited by the imminent delivery of my firewood, and I put down my glass contently. Pastis, a seasonal drink itself for me, would shortly be replaced by the local hooch, pousse d’épine, and I welcomed that too. A harsh winter coming? Pah! A mayfly could survive winter on that stuff.
Bring it on.
Ian Moore is a comedian, writer, chutney-maker and mod who lives with his family in the Loire Valley. His latest book is C’est Modnifique!, (£8.99, Summersdale Publishers). ianmoore.info