Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Road to Boé

At lunchtime I took the back route down into Boé, once just a small village, now a huge retail park on the far side of Agen.

We are having a kitchen panic! Yesterday we trailed round five kitchen shops looking for ideas for the cottage. Monday we spent nearly all day in Ikea in Bordeaux and today I went back to one of the shops we visited yesterday to get a proper quote. The sudden rush is that I'm back in the UK from tomorrow for a week and there are deals to be had before the end of March.

The back route winds and twists its way over the hills that shape the Garonne and the Lot valleys. Sharp bends through woodland open up to vistas of rolling farmland and distant villages. The hedgerows are crisp pale green and the plum trees are in bloom. Miles of orchards clinging to the hillsides are flushed with white or pink, the trunks stark black against the new green grass and buttercups at their feet.

For much of the way, I have the road to myself. It is, after all, lunchtime. For a few miles I get caught behind a huge farm vehicle, like a giant bright yellow child's toy. Great fat wheels straddle both sides of the road and the back of the truck looms over my car. The camper van that I'd passed miles back (first of the season) catches up with me and we crawl along in convoy until the truck pulls over. I wave as I pass and I'm back to a clear road. It beats shopping for kitchens round the M25 and the South Circular.

The plum blossom will be over by the time I'm back. But by then the tulips, pushing their way up through the pansies, should be in bloom.

Sunday, 15 March 2009


We went to Barcelona for a long, sunny weekend and came home early.

By Spanish standards, it was still winter, so the hotel air-conditioning was firmly off. Our specially-chosen-to-be-quiet small box of a room was stuffy and too hot. So we opened the window, which faced into the well of the building. After two nights of listening (through ear plugs) to very late-night revellers in their rooms, we came home to the silence of our countryside and slept.

While we were there, we savoured the joys of the city (and the metro). We wandered the "old town" with its narrow alleys, filled with tourists peering at maps; round every corner another museum, old church, quaint shop or tapas bar to try.

We strolled the wide boulevards with their grandiose, balconied residences. We found the port and crossed the road to find a busy, sunny café and a great meal - three courses including paella, squids in their ink, plus wine - all for less than the price of one dish at the posh seafood restaurants on the quay. We lazed on the beach and people-watched. I put my bare feet in the icy water of the Med.

And we found the glory of Gaudi.

The little I knew of him from pictures of his mosaics, I expected gaudy. Nothing had prepared me for the soaring spectacle of the Sagrada Família Basilica (more than a century on, still being created) or the warm, sensual curves of the wood and the play of light on tiles and glass in the Casa Batlló.

We went up one of the basilica spires and gazed down on a hazy Barcelona, then slowly descended the spiral staircase - coiled like the inside of a snail shell - every turning offering new vistas to be photographed.

The batmobile, with the hood down, brought us home via the windy (and windy) coast road of the Costa Brava. Between the ghettos of apartment blocks, there are still sanctuaries of wild countryside, elegant beaches, deserted coves and deep canyons filled with blue-green sea.

Click on the arrow below to see a short slideshow of photos from Barcelona.


Monday, 2 March 2009

Gardening Days

My wellington boots have walked wet clumps of green grass across the kitchen tiles.

I left the kitchen boiler which I'd just lit (although it's almost too warm to need it and the single basket of cut wood will be enough for this morning until we relight it tonight) and went out to inspect the small fruit trees we planted last autumn. The two nectarines have been looking like their buds will burst for what feels like weeks. Small edges of pink are squeezing out between the brown sepals. The cherries and apricots though are still tight shut.

Madame M (wife of Monsieur M who sells us his wood and who dropped round Thursday to talk about mowers and tractors and what we will need now we have the extra land) said that the weather was going to change and so Saturday, before it did so, Tod mowed our already too thick, long, wet grass, which then lay around in small heaps, ready to be picked up by unsuspecting passers-by and brought back into the house.

These are days for gardening: bright, clear and still cool enough to work right through.

On Saturday, I attacked the pampas grass at the back of the house, which needed a tidy. Tod grumbles that it cuts out the late afternoon sun and its tall plumes had been broken and scattered by "La tempête". The grass had a huge skirt of dead grey-brown blades which I tugged and raked out. Cutting back the fallen plumes I uncovered this year's green shoots, ringed in mauve, the colour of spring onions. Much of the centre is dead, but I left some of the rotten stalks as it is home to small creatures. I found two old nests (one still with an abandoned white egg) and disturbed a green tree frog. I think the hedgehog that Clara used to hunt hibernates under a pile of brown vegetation in the middle and our first summer it was sanctuary for a family of quail.

While working, I glanced up to see Tod (after cleaning the swimming pool) in shorts on the lounger under the bare branches of the silk tree, reading in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

This morning the sun is shining through a soft mist and despite Madame M's forecast, there is the promise of another good gardening day.