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The blue hour

L'heure bleue is the name given here to twilight; that moment when the sun is below the horizon and the remaining indirect sunlight takes on a blue hue.

These days it, and the couple of hours before it, is the time I find hardest.

In preparation for the night to come, all dwindles into profound silence. The tractors are stopped in the fields, the men home for dinner, the birds tucked away in bush and tree.

For me it is always too silent here. But in these hours I'm also, slowly, understanding that actually, it isn't.

For somewhere there is always the brickety-brick of a chainsaw, the crow of a cockerel, the aggressive forced roar of a quad bike, the sound of a shotgun, and the group howl of the chasse dogs.

Cars may be sparse but they do pass, and the school bus - the fastest vehicle of all - shoots by twice a day. The yellow vans of the post have their strict timings too, and often when outside, I only know it's 2pm as the van streaks past on its way to Pierrot's and the Belgians.

Of course the computerised church bells, three in my immediate neighbourhood, ring every hour and half-hour. Naturally they don't ring in unison, but one after another, until trying to keep pace and count the time leaves one bewildered and slightly fuddled.

And then there's the constant - or rather, inconstant - background noise of cicadas and frogs. I have no idea why they sound on some days and not on others but when they do, one hears and feels the true, white-hot beat of the south of France.

The same is true of the noiseless but ever-present lizards - sweet, scuttling foreigners to our northern eyes; further proof we are somewhere very different.

Now that the ever-vigilant Portia is no longer guarding from under her eucalyptus tree, I'm also aware of other beings.

There's the fast-growing baby hare who has taken to making a daily dart for the lavender. There's the feral cat who pauses at the open door before fleeing as I rise. There's the deer who now, almost defiantly, graze or skip past in front of my prone body.

More sinister, there is the coypu, or river rat, that has established a base in the cleansed outfall from my septic tank in the ditch at the far end of the parc.

All life, all noise, however often whispered.

Overhead - since I live barely 50 minutes from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport - there is the brrrmm of planes, occasionally leaving crisscrossed contrails in their wake.

I imagine the travellers reaching for that first honeyed glass as they settle back for hours out of time, watching films, anticipating long-awaited holiday; maybe even peering down at my fast-receding tiled farmhouse as they go up ... and up ... and up.

Perhaps, as I once did, they momentarily envy my life here amid the sunflower fields that beam yellow up to their Perspex gaze. They see a blissful existence not bound by "leave" blocks on an office holiday chart.

Be careful what you wish for is all I will say.

So, back to l'heure bleue and why I find it so hard.

It goes without saying that nothing is quite the same since Portia died.

There is no-one else to think about daily. No-one to care for, feed, cosset and coddle as I did, particularly in that last couple of months.

So when I watch the light die in the silence of l'heure bleue it is with the knowledge that once I shutter up there is no need to open again to let someone out. Or even in.

No-one to ramble around the parc with in the last hour, chatting nonsense to in the absence of human-speak.

I'm actually pretty OK now, the rest of the time. In fact, rather more than OK, and can come in and out without glancing to the undisturbed sofa.

I do, pathetically, still say: "Mind the house. Won't be long," when I go out, but I think that's acceptable, don't you?

Without a dog to bark and alert me to sounds on the gravel and, of course, the arrival of the aliens, I have taken to locking myself in the bedroom every night. My night light still burns brightly.

I have not rushed to get a replacement (as if there could be one) although tempted, because I know that a pup could now outlive me. And, in truth, I haven't the heart to take on an older dog and face loss again.

So, I'm adjusting, once again, to yet another different way of life.

I'm also trying very hard to simply accept where I am and who I am now.

I don't want to be this older person yearning for other times. Who does? But I am. So, time to reinvent myself once again.

L'heure bleue is not just a time for twilight, you know.

It's also a time for that blue-tinged moment before dawn. On those rare moments when I'm up at that time my heart rises with the sun.

That hour isn't melancholic. It's rather beautiful and hopeful.

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