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Logs and Language
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We passed another ruin, its sun-drenched stone walls gleaming golden in the morning sun, and marvelled. An abandoned building in a town is an eyesore - smeared in graffiti and stuffed full of detritus. But out here they weathered into rocky outcrops - the perfect prop for cascading vegetation and the local wildlife - and they looked so natural. The dry stone construction helped - even the inhabited buildings hardly had any mortar between the stone - giving the ruins a natural cairn-like feel as though they'd been part of the landscape for millennia.

We trudged on, over a rise, watching the Pyrenees slowly fill the sky from east to west. We could see the foothills now in the near distance, rounded green mounds of forest undulating before the sharp grey peaks of the mountains proper. We could see for miles. We could see everything … except George’s house.

Or was that it? Over to the left there was a collection of buildings - or upmarket ruins - nestling at the bottom of a long farm track.

As we approached, we were heartened to see a long stack of logs at the side of the track. French log stacks are often the neatest part of a French farm. I never cease to be amazed by their perfection. All the logs appear uniform and straight, usually two metres long and stacked in alternating layers lengthways and crosswise. Often these stacks stretch for thirty of forty yards, forming a six-foot high wall of wood.

Where do they find these straight-branched trees? In England, most of our logs had been gnarled and L-shaped.

I was still pondering the arcane secrets of French tree sculpting, when we rounded the last log and found ourselves in a small U-shaped courtyard. Three buildings stared back at us, three battered stone buildings with red canal-tiled roofs. One of them had to be a house - there was a mail box in the yard - but which? We appraised the three candidates. They all looked equally improbable. Each had a single door and a few irregular windows. Some had shutters, some had cracked or broken panes of glass. But only one had a chimney. Miss Marple would have been proud, we’d found the house.

We walked over to the door and knocked. And waited. A cat appeared from nowhere and started rubbing against my legs. At least someone was home.

And then the door opened and out came the tallest pair of trousers I’d ever seen - they ended just below the owner's armpit. And housed a very gaunt old man who peered at us from beneath his beret.

"George?" I asked.

"George?" he replied, cupping a hand behind his ear.

"George?" I continued, louder this time.

"George?" he shouted.

This had all the hallmarks of a long conversation.

"Claudine," I said, thinking I’d try another tack and pointed back towards Tuco.

"Claudine?" he echoed, craning a neck outside the door and following my finger toward the horizon.

"Claudine," I confirmed.

"Claudine?" He repeated, turning to Shelagh, who had already started backing away and glancing longingly towards the track.

I knew we should have stopped off on the way up and composed a script. I was stuck on the cast list and failing badly.

"Avez-vous bois de chauffage?" A moment of inspiration from Shelagh. I was about to return to another chorus of ‘George?’.

"Bois de chauffage?" he repeated, making me consider the possibility that somewhere in those giant trousers there lurked a giant parrot.

"Oui, bois de chauffage," smiled Shelagh. Had she caught it too? Was there some kind of parrot flu going around.

"Bois de chauffage?" he echoed, adding a shrug this time and a nervous look around the courtyard. Probably to see if there were any more of us.

"Bois de chauffage." Yes, that was me. Not the most original thing to say at that point but I thought that if I stabbed my finger at the huge stack of logs along his drive he had to understand.

It appeared to work. "Oui, bois de chauffage," he agreed.

"Avez-vous bois de chauffage à vendre?" asked Shelagh.


The parrot flu fever had broken. He didn’t have any logs for sale. Was he even George?

I tried to ask and explain that Claudine had sent us but I could feel a giant elk impersonation coming on. We said goodbye and left. And as for going back to the crossroads to try the other direction - no - I wasn’t going anywhere near another George until I had a script in one hand and a large dictionary in the other. If not a can of parrot repellent.