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Dog happy

You can't be precious with dogs in the house.

I love my dog. I really do.

Total damage this morning, one straw hat, one cloth hat, one poster, numerous bits of cardboard, miscellaneous bits of plastic and a packet of old spectacles earmarked for the optician.

I swept it all up with the dustpan and brush he'd also eaten. Yesterday it was my husband's Regatta baseball cap and a pair of trousers. The trouble is, he's now tall enough to reach the table and pull stuff off, so clearly back into his cage he must go at night - he cannot be left out and about. 

I was hoping he was over the chewing-everything-in-sight phase, at eight months, but since he had the snip a week ago, he seems to be reverting to puppyhood somewhat.

Thank heavens, the castration itself has been problem-free, unlike poor Zola, who developed a hernia. We kept Cézanne dosed up on Zylkene for a couple of days and he lounged about on cushions, out of his box. When we allowed him out it was only to toilet, and strictly on a lead.

He took it surprisingly well for a dog that is normally out of the house like a greyhound from the slips. Our normal routine is to rattle the key in the lock, open the door, shout 'Rabbits' as a warning to the poor prey creatures in the driveway, and off he goes. Zola is down to a stately trot now, conserving his energy with his failing heart, while Cézanne is boundlessly bouncy. 

Nevertheless I'm finding owning him surprising easy. I was warned that spollies were 'mad and thick', which is true, but he's still delightful. As long as he gets about 45 minutes tearing round the countryside off-lead, he's as happy as a clam. I'd really like to get him up to an hour or 75 minutes, as this is the walk I used to do with Zozy before his heart began to fail, but I've also worked out that if I walk a bit more slowly, Cézanne gets more exercise as he tears off in one direction after deer or partridges, then back again to me for a lovey. 

As I type, both dogs are charging round the living room, play-fighting. Zola used to be the boss at this, but Cézanne has topped him out now and he finds it more difficult to put a paw on his shoulder to assert his top-dog status. We have to be more careful than ever to preserve the status quo, feeding Zola first, biscuiting him first, allowing him on the furniture and the sprollie not, allowing him upstairs and sprollie not. 

When we got the sprolls, we weren't sure for certain sure that it would be a good idea, but our cunning plan to give Zola a new lease of life, and spare ourselves the terror of an empty house when Zola goes, for the time being seems to be working out just fine. Just keep bones, balls and food out of the equation...

 

 

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Rohan

Rohan has been around a long time, but it's a new label for me.

Shivling gloves

I thought I'd write today about a 'new' clothing label I've found - Rohan. 

Rohan isn't new, of course. Hikers and ramblers have been wearing their clothes for 40 years, but I bought my first things from them only recently. Aside from the horrendously difficult ordering process (about which I ended up in an email exchange with customer services), I have to admit that I'm impressed.

It was my friend J who put me onto them. J and his wife are dedicated ramblers and have been wearing Rohan clothes for over 20 years - some of his trousers are still going strong after that length of time. Rohan have a reputation among younger hikers of being a bit fogey-ish, which suits me fine, to be honest. The last thing I want is to trek across the landscape in fluorescent pink jammers and Rohan have a history in hill-walking gear, relatively long and roomy, rather than the modern skintight Alpine look. 

The range is relatively small - this is not a fashion brand, after all - and quite expensive, so I treated myself first off to some bits in the 'souk' sale section.

First up, I was looking for a waterproof and lightweight country (not town) coat that comes below my knees. (I would've liked a longer one, but it was over 200 quid.) Why manufacturers haven't worked out that it rains in summer, I don't know. You can get great waterproof coats for winter, but in summer, you're stuffed if you want to keep anything below your knees dry. 

Rohan Windshadow Mac

I was looking specifically for a country colour in order to blend into the landscape and this sage green Windshadow mac in 'Conifer' is really nice - I can now nip behind a bush for a pee without alerting every passing driver to my presence. I also really like the fabric, which is a sort of dry, matte finish that I can't really describe. But what I wasn't prepared for was the weight, or lack of it. I didn't know, but Rohan are well known among the walking fraternity for the light weight of their clothing, and this coat weighs 240g, which is eight ounces. I hardly know I'm wearing it.

I expected to keep this coat for dog-walking and rambling but in fact I'm wearing it all the time because it's actually smart enough to wear in town after all. And it packs up so small and tiny that I can stuff it in a handbag for a quick pac-a-mac style coverup. By the way, it has a drawstring waist, so when I wear it, the shape is very different. 

Spark vest

I also wanted a country-colour gilet with a more waterproof finish than my fleece ones. I have a few soft fleece gilets from Lands' End but they are really only OK for indoors - when outside, you need a bit more slick if the rain hits you. They are also a bit too brightly coloured for hiking. The Spark gilet met these criteria - I got it in a nice chocolate brown colour, which is reversible, once you remove the label, to a sort of pinky-burgundy, though I don't actually see myself wearing that side. Once again, it weighs nothing - at 125g, it's like wearing a feather, which could be important when trekking back up a hill at the end of a long day.

My final purchase was a pair of thick fleece gloves, the Shivling, in a brighter colour. I go for brightly coloured gloves because they're easier to find when you drop them, is all. These are very thick and nice quality, so I will be getting more in the future.   

Rohan don't only make rambling clothing. They also make general travel clothes for town and country that repel mosquitoes, are uncreasable and can be washed out in the sink. Next on my wish list is their 'troggings', which are pull-on outdoor-fabric pants in a jogging style, which sound just about right for my shit-up-to-the-eyeballs life. 

 

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No to this

I sometimes think there's nothing at all to wear...

It hit me this morning when I was paging through the pages of the Celtic Sheepskin Co's clearance section how much I now say No to clothing. 

I rather flatter myself that it's partly because I've got my style down pat but it's also that with increasing age, I find there is so little in the shops or catalogues that suits my life and shape.

My lifestyle I've already gone into in some detail on these pages but when it comes to shape, I am a short woman (5ft 1.5in), with a curvy figure - something the designers seem to think doesn't exist. I'm titty and like to hide it, not show it off. My waist is usually 10-12 inches smaller than my hips, so clothes are always too big at the waist and have to be taken in. I also like to keep things fairly simple or I look like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. 

I don't show my legs or arms and I like my skirts long so I can go bare legged (I don't tan and haven't sunbathed in over 30 years, and my lily-white legs aren't something the public needs to see). I also have problems with my feet due to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, and have terrible trouble finding shoes.

There are some things I look for: a pretty collar in a face-flattering shape that shows off a nice necklace and earrings; a good scoop neck on a tee - not too high, not too low, not too wide; long sleeves that don't squeeze the arm like a sausage skin; flat elastic waists for the sake of comfort; pockets(!!!); bootcut trousers that balance my hips. Oh, and pockets. Did I mention, I like pockets?

But there are loads of things that seem very hard to find, such as attractive shoes that offer good support (I live in trainers and walking shoes but why are they always so garish? I go over them with black boot polish and colour in the brand logos with magic markers, but it doesn't last); flattering waistcoats or gilets that would offer a layer of warmth without too much bulk; long gilets that come down to mid-thigh; teeshirts that are long enough to go over your bust and still come down to the low hip. Pockets. Please, pockets...

The result is that I end up in a sort of boring daily uniform: black denim jeans or black Starfish straight-leg pants from Lands' End; long (27in) merino tees from Finisterre in shades like black, grey and linen; and fleece gilets from Lands' End, which I kind of hate but they lend the warmth I need. So unflattering is this getup that I almost long for the days of winter when I can pull on my fleece trousers and polonecks and forget all pretensions to style until March. 

In between-weather I also often wear a grey marl crewneck tee from Boden (I have a bunch of them because they are nice and long) but the neckline is slightly too high (and the scoopneck is too low) and I have to cheat it by wearing a necklace or scarf. For cardigans, Woolovers has proved useful, with its long (LONG, LONG, can you hear me, manufacturers?) lambswool cardigans with pockets. Oh yes, pockets...

In summer, life is easier: I just slip on one of a number of bias-cut or tulip-cut linen and hemp dresses I've run up over the years and top it with some sort of linen blouse or jacket, most of which are now heading for 20 years old (Hobbs, mainly), and I'm good to go.

All of which means that 99 per cent of clothing I see in the shops or catalogues or online is just unfeasible. Among the items I say 'no' to are: 

* Sleeveless or short-sleeved garments. I haven't shown my arms in years and there's no sense in asking me to.

* Openwork or lacy knit jumpers - these look terrible on any woman with tits because the lacy bit stretches right over your boobs giving a look the equivalent of underwear show-through.

* Boatnecks. Really? Where are you meant to put your bra straps? A slinky bra strap may look attractive on a 100lb teenager, but it's not a flattering look on a middle-aged woman with the strap cutting into her ageing skin and causing a bump either side. Gimme a break.  

* Three-quarter sleeves. Well, OK in summer, but not a useful length at this time of year. I'd always prefer the option of rolling up full-length sleeves rather than being forced into three-quarter length. Don't kid yourself - manufacturers do this to save on fabric yardage, not because of anything to do with you. 

* Crewnecks. My tits (and those of 90 per cent of British women) are far too big for this.

* Wrapover tops or dresses with Lycra. Far too clingy. Not a single one of those wrap-style things is wearable by anyone with breasts unless you also wear a camisole and even then you still have to pin yourself together to avert catastrophe. Hopeless. I have wrap clothes from the 50s and 80s that fit perfectly well, however, because the styles in those days designers actually knew how to design for women who looked like women. 

* Leggings. Obviously...

* Jeans, on the whole. If trousers fit me at the hip, they're about four inches too big in the waist and jeans are a nightmare to alter because of the heavy fabric. One day, I keep promising myself, I will make my own and until then, I make do with crappy looking jeans that are too big, or denim jeggings.

* Breast pockets. Picking up a theme here? Me in breast pockets looks like twin battleships have hoved into port.

* Pencil skirts, which walk straight up my round hips and in which I can't sit cross-legged anyway.

* Knee-length skirts, which make me feel horribly exposed when I sit down - I prefer a floaty mid-calf length skirt cut on the bias or A line.

* High heels, which foot problems have made a thing of the past.

* Ballet slippers, loafers and most sandals, which although flat, give insufficient support to a pronating foot.

* Shorts. God give me strength... What woman over 40 is brave enough to wear these?

It is galling, because I can't be the ONLY woman who has these issues of trying to force a real woman's body into clothes designed by gay men for teenage girls. It is totally unrealistic. I am not six foot tall with a flat chest. Models today seem to have bust measures between 31 and 33 inches, while the average British woman has a 39in bust, a 40in hip and measures under 5ft 4in in height. 

However, fortunately, there are still companies I can rely on, even if it does mean having deep pockets: Finisterre, Rohan, Wall, Toast, Orvis, Celtic Sheepskin Company, Aigle, Armor-Lux, Craghoppers, Woolovers, Seasalt, Boden. By picking and choosing between these brands, and even still occasionally at Lands' End, I can hopefully find enough things to actually wear.

 

The end of the maize

The last harvest of the year is upon us

Maize

They are taking the maize. 

It's always with a touch of melancholy that I write that phrase each year - though this year it's later than usual, due to the wonderful long Indian summer we've all been enjoying. The end of the maize is the signal to hunker down for winter, to make sure the woodpile is well stocked, the oil tank is filled and the velvet throws are back on the sofa. 

The maize in this part of Normandy is for animal consumption only - we simply don't get the sun and heat that would ripen it enough for humans to eat. All day long and all night the combines have been running for the past few days, as hunters gather around with shotguns in case of the wild boar or deer that hide within the maize fields. The farmers don't own the behemoth machines, which cost hundreds of thousands of euros each: no one farmer can afford one, so the plant is hired out, hence the 24-hour work schedule. 

The maize is beautiful when it's standing, forming great tunnels 8ft high, turning country drives into something of an adventure (when lost, head uphill - at some point there'll be a church and then you can find your way again). But the harvest brings consolations with it as the landscape opens out again and fills with light, restoring a view that was lost for months. 

In normal progression, then will come the rain, which turns the stiffly stubbled fields into something resembling the paddies of South East Asia - on a bright day, the reflection from the water is like walking on a landscape of mirrors.

This autumn, though, it is particularly beautiful, with china blue skies above, the golden maize, and all the trees still in leaf, turning shades of gold, russet, ochre and saffron. Walking the dogs means crunching over acres of chestnuts - one of the biggest crops I've ever seen in our 18 years here. If only they weren't so fiddly to cook... I always feel it's such a waste that these trees, planted originally by the Romans that came this way as food for their troops, are so little harvested - and when we eat chestnuts, it's usually the Italian bottled variety. 

The apple crop is bumper too this year, at least for the late bloomers, and the whole district smells of apples and pineapple weed and camomile.  

The maize is the last harvest of the year, barley being the first. Our land is entirely surrounded by the fields of one farmer and this year he planted barley for his chickens - my favourite crop because of the achingly sweet smell when it's ripe, turning every day into a honey-dipped festival. Every other year he plants wheat, which takes the longest of all crops to grow - the farmers plant it in November or December and by Christmas, it's coming up like a lime-green pelt clothing the furry landscape.

The barley is taken in early summer, the wheat in late, when cutting through a field smells like walking through a loaf of brown bread. Between may come oilseed rape with its insistently bright flowers and sickly honey smell when in bloom, followed by the rotting cabbage stench of its leaves, usually ploughed in for green manure when they shoot again after the seeds are taken. Occasionally the farmers plant oats - a tough grass that will grow almost anywhere and which I dread a little because the next year it will come up all over our courtyard. 

So, just a few more weeks to enjoy nature's bounty and then it will all be gone, the morning walk with the dogs will be in wellies over ploughed brown earth, the silhouettes of trees will be like black skeletons and the colour will drain from the landscape, leaving the eye to frantically seek out colour when it reappears again in spring. 

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A nip in the air

Autumn is approaching - time for fleece pyjamas

Mint pyjamas

The mornings are preternaturally beautiful at present. Now that our puppy is seven months old and can hold his bladder for the night, my getting-up time has gradually moved from around 5.30 to around 7.15. It's still pretty dark then but by the time I've walked the dogs up the lane to the chasse coops to do their business, the horizon is pink and orange, with blazing contrails bisecting the landscape. 

Our neighbour's field, which held summer barley, has been stubble for some time now and give a huge, wide view of the district - wooded hills to the east and south, the village to the north, hidden behind rows of poplars, and our garden, looking like a dense, solid woodland, to the south. I usually walk the mutts up here for 20 minutes or so in the low-lying tree mist, where they can chase the rabbits, skylarks, and any of our neighbour's chickens dumb enough to stray too far. 

It's on these mornings that I really notice the nip that has appeared in the air. A couple of days ago I washed my Squall Stadium coat from Land's End - one of the great things about these fleece-lined, quilted coats is that they are machine washable - but I have also noticed, the past few days, how the wind is starting to whistle right through my cotton jersey pyjama pants.

Peach pyjamas

Hence I've just splashed out on a couple of pairs of fleece PJs for the coming season. Only Ebay jobs, but they're very pretty and in the sort of boudoirish colours that I hope will tone with both my pink bedding and my naked face.

When it comes to PJs, I like a conventional cut with a proper button-front and collar, so that I can flip the collar up to keep my neck warm. It always strikes me as a terrible design flaw that almost all women's nightwear covers your body but leaves your neck, arms and shoulders exposed - the very places you need coverage. Personally, I tend sleep in a cashmere poloneck in winter, though I have just also bought the new Alize poloneck from Finisterre, which I think will be a useful weight and length. Then the PJs go on the morning. 

I am also pretty thrilled with my new bathrobe from German brand Otto Werner by WeWo Fashion. No? Means nothing to me either, but I found it a local shop - one of the few that is very pretty and elegant - and snapped it up even though it's a mans, too big and cost 112 euros. I was so fed up of my piece-of-shit Habitat bathrobe that snags and pulls at every verse end and which, although quite new, looks 20 years old. Let us hope this one lasts longer. 

I feel, though, that it will soon be pensioned off as a dressing gown in favour of my Lands' End down. We lit a fire a couple of nights ago, and it's starting to feel really quite chilly in the mornings, though we usually try to hold of using central heating until October. This weekend, though, it will be time to put the curtains back up. We manage without in summer, as we're not overlooked, but I'm starting to feel the night's black eyes staring at me round about 8.30 now, so the windows could do with a bit of sweetening.  

 

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Another one bites the dust

I fear that one of my favourite labels has gone the way of all corporates

Puppy love

As if life wasn't complicated enough...

One step forward

Oh, the wonders of a flushing toilet...

Oh, so thoroughly fed-up

Our bathroom refit from hell is proving a little wearing.

Greta the Green Room

My latest project is doing up an old caravan.

Makeup for the over-40s

If you've never worn makeup at all, your 40s and 50s is a good time to start.

Review: Lipikar Gel Fluide

Lipikar Gel Fluide by La Roche-Posay is a wonderful, lightweight moisturiser.

A learning curve

I'm on a steep learning curve when it comes to makeup.

The wonder that is Noz

Is it really worth paying thirteen times more for a near-identical product? Two facial scrubs I found at a discount store seem near-enough the same.

Christmas bouquet

My Christmas bouquet from the garden this year.