We got back from England early the other morning after a temporary breakdown at the Dover ferry terminal. We were in line to drive on the 2 PM departure, knowing full well if we shut off the engine the car might not start up again. But we absolutely had to get a quick cup of tea in the cafe after travelling all morning without stopping.

Between us, Eric and I have lived through several lifetimes of worn out vehicles, tow trucks and roadside assistance, so missing the ferry and spending a few extra hours dockside waiting for a repair was nothing new. We were able to catch the 6 o'clock ferry and it was fascinating to learn that some people actually arrive a good two and a half or even three hours before departure time, instead of skidding and squealing through the gates just before the boat leaves. Car maintenance, careful preparation and allowing plenty of time is our new code of behavior. In theory at least.

It's good to put aside all the frivolous work of finishing the album now, and concentrate on what really matters: surveillance.

First, there are all of our properties. We don't actually own any of them. We're merely real estate stalkers.

"That place across from the supermarket is still for sale."
"Which one, the little fifties-style house across from the ATAC or the partially-finished barn conversion out past the Intermarche?"

"They're working on that place next to the beauty parlor."
"What, the old auberge?"
"No, on the other side. With the maroon shutters. I noticed them clearing out a lot of rubble."
"Better check back and see what's going on with that."

There's the weird house with workshop next to the tower, the plain but with good potential fixer-upper two doors down from the furniture repair place, the cute but impractical maison de garde-barriere that we fell in love with two years ago.

And that's just the properties. There are our business interests as well.

"That corner store for rent? I think someone's moving in."
"It looks like a pharmacy."
"Wait, but there's a pharmacy up the road. I don't think the village is big enough for two pharmacies."
"It's them. They're expanding into the bigger space on the corner."
"Oh. Good."

"You know that British hairdresser that was opening across from the church?"
"I think they changed their minds. The sign's gone."
"Oh. Good."

And on and on. There are also all the blogs of strangers, friends and family members, plus the myspace pages of my brothers & daughter (and even some of her friends if her page is lacking pertinent details/updated information). Keeping tabs on our turf war rivals. All of this barely leaves time for maintaining watch on the moral behavior of our local commercants.

"Wasn't that the boulanger going into the tavern across from the chateau?" Like in school, where you can't believe your teacher could possibly exist outside of the classroom, it seems so incongruous and...somehow extra tawdry.

Which is why we must remain vigilant.

Sometimes it even pays off. Like just yesterday, I noticed a new business opening down the road. We better take a walk later and check it out - it might be a car mechanic.