I headed South a few weeks ago, and arrived in the Provence region to find fields of poppies in a vegetation that was surprisingly green this year.
This was in fact down to the uncharacteristically wet weather in the region - the torrential rain I experienced when there certainly swept away any doubts I may have harboured on that theory!
Once the sun has disappeared, and the clouds settle, the temperatures drop... Fortunately, that doesn't last too long!
My friends' house is in the countryside outside Aix-en-Provence, surrounded by old platane trees, scrub and woodland, corn fields, olive groves and woodland.
The smell of the earth and the pine trees is everywhere... Everything seems heightened as time seems to go at a slower pace away from city life...
We literally follow the sleeping habits of the roosting hens - and get woken to the call the very proud and protective cockerel.
You sleep and rise to the sound of birdsong that goes from the familiar to the weird and wonderful, to the point that you even wonder where you actually are...
This all certainly makes a change from the constant hum of car traffic and the regular rumble and clanking of the trams below my flat, here in the north-east.
In fact, the intrusive noise of cars is thankfully minimal - although this time I didn't hear the song of any cigales either - probably too cold still.
All kinds of insects are drawn to nearby hedgerows that are generally full of wild flowers...
Whilst more formal varieties grow in the garden, attracting their own collection of creatures, great and small.
Just beyond the bushes lie the pig enclosures, set in scrubland that leaves these fine black specimens - le Noir de Bigorre - free to roam.
The sows grub about in the undergrowth, amongst the tree roots, wade around in the muddy puddles and bask in the sun, surrounded by a throng of piglets (thirty at the last count!).
The boar resides in a very boggy, wild part of the scrubland and waddles around in an imposing manner due to his impressive male appendages! I couldn't cross the mud to photograph him, sadly...
And here is the most recent arrival to the menagerie, Oscar. This was his first day in his new surroundings with his new mistress! His huge paws, densely-tufted nose and beard, golden-brown eyes and white-flecked coat are characteristic of Czech gun dog breed to which he belongs - le Barbu Tchèque.
However he shares the same traits as any other puppy, with his burning desire to gnaw at any kind of footwear, an insatiable appetite for any remaining food scraps, and steely determination to settle on any soft furnishings. And of course, the skill for getting himself into all kinds of scrapes...
My favourite moments of the day are perhaps as dusk grew closer, or in the early morning, when all the sights, sounds and smells seem to grow in intensity and the mountain backdrop stands out more than ever.
Who would have thought that a penpal scheme from secondary-school French classes would lead to over forty years of friendship?!!