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Every one needs good neighbours
by Creusebear • Mon 06 Jun 2011 00:04

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour.
Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936, English writer, poet, journalist).

Our neighbour is a retired farmer, which, in these parts, is a bit of a tautology. Obviously, in this rural area, most of our neighbours are farmers, and many are retired. Creuse has one of the oldest populations of any département in France. When we are there we must lower the mean age of the hamlet by a good twenty years.

Bernard has spent his life on the family farm, rearing cattle, growing cereals and hay and keeping a few rabbits and chickens for the family table. Farming methods have changed a lot in that time. As a young man he worked alongside horses on the farm and even after the tractor made them redundant, he continued to keep a couple of gentle Percheron to work and show. A thickset man with a generous waistband, he is always seen in an old blue jacket, a flat hat and a jumper, even in the hottest of weathers. As he goes about his chores, he moves with the slow deliberation of someone who has spent a lifetime learning how to ration his energies over a long working day. He is a man used to getting things done in a certain way.

He never married and, since retiring from working on his brother’s farm, he spends his days maintaining the small plots of land he has dotted around the commune: a pond here with a few carefully grafted fruit trees, a field there where he raises a few sheep, a corner of woodland over there where he coppices his firewood, a large vegetable plot up the lane and a strip over there to grow a few bales of hay. Next to his house he also has a small strip of land leading to an ancient orchard where the trees’ natural lives have been extended by supporting them up with forked wooden props. Life is good: he has a tractor, a dog that loves him and a ‘copine’ in the next village.

orchard.jpg
Bernard's old orchard
Although we were introduced the day after we bought our house, it has taken a while to get to know Bernard. At first, most communication was conducted through his sister-in-law, with whom he lived. I think this was in part due to the natural insularity of the ‘paysan’. Our arrival in the hamlet did not affect him in anyway and so he had little reason to be interested in us. On top of that his local Berrichonne accent was so thick that I had difficulty in holding even a basic conversation with him. A handshake here and a cheery wave there was the extent of our dialogue.

Things changed last year. After a bout of ill health and on the advice of his doctors, Bernard decided to cut back on some of his commitments. He rented out some of his fields and moved his centre of operations closer to home. Right next door to us, in fact. Now we saw him every day as he ploughed up the patch of land at the back of the orchard to create his new vegetable patch and tended to his rabbits, newly ensconced in their cement hutches behind an old wall. His chickens have made themselves at home in our garden and every now and then a broody one takes up residence in the shed. When we notice her we always move around on tiptoe while she is on the nest. I always feel a surge of pride when she finally brings her new family out for the first time, as if I’m the one who’s done something clever.
hen.jpg
Our new neighbours
Inevitably, our communications have had to move on from a wave and a nod. Now we discuss the weather, marvel at the size of his rabbits and enquire what he is going to plant on his vegetable patch. Bernard has taken this new level of interaction with good grace but will rarely start a conversation and I have the feeling that, when we are in residence, he makes the walk up the path by our fence hoping to remain unnoticed. But it would appear that our persistence is finally starting to wear him down.

We were over for the Easter break and had been in the house for a couple of days. We had already done the wave and nod with Bernard and had even discussed the weather so I did not expect to have any further contact when I heard my name being called from the orchard. It was so unexpected that he had to call me again before I turned and realized that it was Bernard, gesturing for me to come over to the fence. I was astonished. In the six years we have owned our house, this was the first time he had ever instigated a conversation, the first time I had ever heard him use my name. I moved towards him with some trepidation. What did he want? What had we done?

‘Pour vous’, he said gruffly, handing a small battered cardboard box over the wire.

I took possession of the gift and opened it to find twelve little eggs. Well, I could not have been more touched, usually Bernard sold his surplus to supplement his pension, and so this was not an insignificant gesture. Before we left a crisis arose. The man we employ to cut the grass and so save us from the ire of our tidy neighbours had fallen ill and would not be able to mow the garden for a couple of months. The grass was already showing signs of spring growth and if we had to leave it untouched until our next visit we would be greeted by a jungle.

Enter our saviour, Bernard, upon his trusty ride-on mower. Up and down the uneven ground he went, with me darting to and fro to remove obstacles and debris that might foul the blades. Fearlessly he mowed up a steep bank and teetered dangerously close to the edge of a ditch to cut every last corner before he declared himself satisfied and, having saved the day, rumbled off down the lane on his trusty steed much like just the hero in ‘Shane’, riding into the sunset. A milestone has been passed, our conversations since have seemed a lot less strained and we have even shared a refreshing beer across the wire divide. Bernard seems to have been able to find a place for us in his mental landscape, no doubt labelled as ‘mostly harmless’.
mow.jpg
My hero!

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Creusebear
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by smilespwp • Mon 06 Jun 2011 02:40

Nice story. Are the sketches yours, very good.

Best regards

Brian
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by Annik • Mon 06 Jun 2011 17:05

I love the drawings! How are you getting on with your special computerised sketch pad?

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. (Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.)" Groucho Marx
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by Lynn • Mon 06 Jun 2011 18:33

How lovely, the local people are welcoming but take quite a time to really accept you, don't they?
A friend of mine had an abundance of tomatoes last year and took some to his elderly French neighbours knowing that theirs had been affected by blight. He tried to hand them over and said it was a small present...the response..Pourquoi? He repeated that it was just a small present and again..Pourquoi? He finally convinced them that it was exactly what he said and the result now is that they wave and chat to him much more than previously, it really seems to have broken the ice with them, friendship is on a much better level now.
Thanks, Creusebear.
Lynn

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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by Creusebear • Mon 06 Jun 2011 22:46

Being only fair-weather visitors 'acceptance' may be a step too far, I'll settle for good-humoured tolerence! :)

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Creusebear
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by Creusebear • Mon 06 Jun 2011 22:52

Slowly! The Artrage software is a bit tricky to get my head round.I want to put it onto my work laptop so that I can use Photoshop. I'm also debating whether to download the Inkscape software Brian recommended but I am always frightened I will download something harmful to my precious Mac.

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Creusebear
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by Creusebear • Mon 06 Jun 2011 22:56

Thanks! :oops: Drawing and painting was supposed to be a major part of my time spent in Creuse but dry-walling and pointing seem to have got in the way! This year I am determined to get some more time with a sketchbook.

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Creusebear
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by haithdee • Sun 14 Aug 2011 22:21

Lovely post. We too have found our French neighbours to be amazingly accepting of us. We do live here full time and now love being invited for dinner or out on a jolly with them. Love your sketches by the way. Are you a professional illustrator?

A job well done is a pleasure to behold!
haithdee
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by Creusebear • Mon 15 Aug 2011 18:48

Gosh - you do know how to flatter a bear! No, not professional by any means, just a dabbler.
Welcome to the forum!

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Creusebear
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by Goose • Thu 15 Sep 2011 15:49

Another great article. I enjoyed it very much.
We found the same - our neighbours were amazingly accepting of us right from the start and so very kind with their produce. I think it was initially because we had such a lot of work to do in those early days and often in that January's pouring rain we'd be outside struggling to get things done. One neighbour told us they respected what we were doing and that was the reason we were accepted.

We were always answering the door to a neighbour with armfulls of their garden produce or we'd come home to find offerings on the window-sill. We could respond in kind from the various fruit trees we had and when they were finished I made cakes to take round to my generous neighbours.

We too all helped each other in times of illness and shared regular "coffee and cakes" afternoons in the various hamlet members' homes when everyone chatted about their families and then gossiped about anyone who wasn't there!!

They loved our old dog Willie (now (very sadly) in doggy heaven) almost as much as we did and never minded if he happened to wander into an open gate and in return, he didn't chase their chickens when they escaped into our garden.

After almost since we departed from France we are still in touch and remember birthdays. Once again, my home-sickness is showing. I need to stop looking at Pontnoir - I've tried but I can't!

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Goose
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by Creusebear • Sun 02 Feb 2014 11:50

Poor Bernard passed away last October. He was taken ill in June and spent his last months in hospital in Gueret. His old dog had to be put down and I think he just lost heart. We will miss him.

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Creusebear
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Re: Every one needs good neighbours
by edmoraz • Sun 09 Feb 2014 10:08

Oh how sad

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