Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Spurred on ...

... by our glimpse of the Pyrenees at Laparade, we set off yesterday for Pau.

A new motorway (the A65) has just opened that goes from this side of Bordeaux down to the mountains and we'd been wanting to try it.  Although we travel some way west along the A62 before joining the A65 to turn south, it is a much faster route than crossing the Landes directly on country roads.

The last time we went to Pau heavy cloud cover meant that, although they are only 30 kilometers away, we had no sight of the Pyrenees and we set off somewhat doubtfully yesterday under leaden skies wondering if we'd have the same experience again.  But gradually as we travelled down, patches of blue broke through and we watched delightedly as the mountains slowly emerged. How could we not have seen these giants last time?

We arrived just after noon.  No time to waste.  A quick march with Vita along the Boulevard des Pyrénées past the Irish bar and the Australian bar to a proper French restaurant with a terrace that was rapidly filling up, where we could sit and bask in the sun, eat well and revel in the glorious backdrop.  Vita, squeezed in at our feet alongside the narrow alleyway between the tables, was smiled at by most of the waiters as they rushed past and fed crispy duck skin by the man at the table opposite us.

With Christmas only just over and children not yet back at school, Pau was "en fête" in the warm sun, with a plastic skating rink and a huge blow-up toboggan run and a wonderfully girly two-storey roundabout with (appropriately) a solitary small female passenger in pink.

My photography does not do the mountains justice and they fade away against the light blue sky.  Next time we'll stay longer - perhaps overnight - so I can catch their shapes lit up by the setting sun.

Monday, 27 December 2010

On a Clear Day

The phone rang - it was Paul to say they could see the Pyrenees from their house but it wouldn't last long.

We grabbed dog, camera and warm clothes and dashed in the car up to Laparade which sits on a high escarpment overlooking the Lot valley.

There is a relief map at Laparade of the surrounding countryside showing small villages, the winding of the river and in the distance the hills on the other side of the Lot Valley.  And, impossibly, beyond the range of hills we can see, the promise of a further view of the Pyrenees, about 190 kilometers away.

We take friends up there in summer and through the haze wave our arms vaguely and tell them that the Pyrenees are "over there" (somewhere).  But we've never seen them.  Until today.

There they were, no more than a hint of grey against the grey-blue sky - a bank of angular clouds up and beyond the far hills we recognise. A vast range stretching across the horizon. 

We could see them, just, with the naked eye.  My camera struggled - nothing on wide angle, but on zoom there is a hint.

We can now point when we take friends up there and say this is where we saw the Pyrenees at Christmas.

Boxing Day Walk

A chilly bright day enticed us out for an afternoon walk along the canal. This time we went further afield and for longer - a nearly-two-hour hike from Damazan to Buzet and back.

Vita found a very fierce bollard that needed attacking, from behind the safety of Tod's legs.

The barge had a small car parked alongside and smoke coming from the chimney - some brave souls on the canal for Christmas.

And the tiny pleasure boats with their covering of leaves were a reminder of good things to come in the summer.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve

Earthy beetroots and carrots gently cooling on the stove for tonight's borscht. 
Monkfish, mushrooms and crème fraîche in the fridge ready for cooking.
Tod's home-made poppy seed cake and stollen on the side (already started, too good to wait).
Overnight snow slowly thawing on the fields.
Vita sitting guard by the front door in case the importunate blackbirds get too close.
The cottage snug and warm.

Tomorrow we spend the day with friends. This evening is just ours.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


We've moved back into winter quarters - down in the cottage - and my feet are warm for the first time in what feels like weeks.

We struggled to keep the house heated as November became increasingly cold and wet. We created small pools of warmth - the kitchen, my study, the lounge (and even that became hard after I'd broken the Godin glass) - and scuttled between them across chill passages.  We shut doors to keep the heat in and Vita (who easily opens latch doors) did not understand and wandered round opening them again pulling in icy draughts as she hunted us down to where we were huddling. 

With the prospect of even colder weather, yesterday evening after our French lesson we fled to the cottage with duvets, chicken and the spice rack for curry supper, milk and cereals for breakfast, our computers and the Sky box. 

Today, in biting wind we've trotted backwards and forwards carrying down winter clothes, books to read, cameras, extra shelving, the store cupboard and veg.  Every time we come in through the cottage front door the warmth has enveloped us.  Vita follows us contently from room to room - no shut doors to paw at.

We can look at the forecast with equanimity. We are promised snow.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Had Enough

Shouted at the fire because it sulked and wouldn't start. 

Slammed the Godin stove door shut and broke the glass.

Lounge full of acrid smoke.

Sulking logs that wouldn't burn in the stove are now blazing away out on the lawn.

Burnt the grass.

Vita's wisely gone off hunting.

Fortunately Tod's out.

I'll be alright tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Vita's on a Diet

We went to the vet's the other day for Vita's tick vaccination (after Smudge I'm taking no chances). 

Her check-up included a reluctant moment on the scales (which are very scary).  Even more scary, she's twenty-eight kilos!  She was twenty-five a few months back.  Even Clara, who was a BIG Airedale and everybody assumed was male, only reached twenty-eight.

It's true, Vita's been looking a bit podgy round the backside and cuddly along the middle - not much evidence of ribcage - but it was a shock to discover just how much she now weighs.  So NO treats and only two chicken wingtips for breakfast and three for her evening meal. Which means between-times she hoovers up every crumb in sight.

It's a grey afternoon, cold and raining again, so stuck inside and a tad stir-crazy (where does that phrase come from?) I try to make nutella flapjacks without treacle (which I find makes them too sweet).  The outcome is a resounding failure as the oats haven't really glued together.  Still Tod will have some crunchy bits to mix with his breakfast cereal and the burnt nutella-ry bits of oat flake do taste rather good.

Vita's come to join me at the computer, front paws plonked on my lap, head across my keyboard, she's finishing the non-flapjack bits on my plate that I've missed.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


We're on the side of a valley. When the weather is from the west, as today, we can see rain coming long before it reaches us.  Useful.  Gives us time to get in the washing.

Look east and the sun's still shining ....

 But not for much longer ...

Then behind the rain is more sunshine ...

And a spectacular rainbow.  The crock of gold is in Serge's field.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A summer's day ....

... has slipped through a crack in the seasons and appeared today as a gift after a week of November rain and wind.

We have friends coming to supper and we are serving autumnal butternut squash soup and beef stew.  In the warm sunlight it feels like we should be serving salad.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A Finial

Our house (somewhat unusually around here) has a pigeonnier - a dove cot - on the roof.  And on top of the pigeonnier is something I now know to be a finial. 

A finial finishes off the roof and may be pointed or round and sometimes is ornately decorated.  Our finial is round and plain and we've never thought twice about it.

Martyn has been filling the gap between the roof and pigeonnier where, when it rains hard from the east, it leaks down onto the veranda.  He knows old buildings and tells us things about our house. Things we hardly notice suddenly become special.   Like our finial.  He showed us it's an upturned hand-made cooking pot, with the handle still intact. Not many finials like that!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Les Manifestations

Students are taking to the city streets. Refineries are blockaded.  Queues form at petrol stations. There's panic buying in the shops. The police move in at night to break up strikes. Friends in the UK wonder if we are stranded at home, running out of food.  There are posts on the forums about whether or not to travel and whether it's possible to get petrol and fierce arguments about whether striking against raising the retirement age to 62 is "right".

Here though, in this rural backwater, we are surrounded by a placid normality. 

Getting anxious from the news reports, I set out to fill up the car just before Tod came back from the UK.  Ah, the joys of the French "lunch hour"!  At 1.30pm I had the petrol station to myself. 

Now, a few days on, it's true there are signs saying "no jerry cans" and we're careful to top up before the tank is half empty.  We are more organised with our journeys into town (or at least a little bit).  As everything is only ten minutes drive away it's all too easy just to pop in, whenever.  But yesterday I set out with a car load for the municipal tip, instructions to check the tyre pressures, an empty gas bottle to change and a list for Leclercs, which was reassuringly empty of customers and full with goods.

On the way back I also took in the small garden centre that does cheap bedding plants in the hope that they might have something for the border I'm making behind the pool house.  They were full to brimming with huge pots of chrysanthemums  - nothing but great mounds of gold, rust, purple, in polytunnel after polytunnel - plants for La Toussaint (November 1st, All Saints Day) when France visits its dead friends and relations. 

They say the petrol will have to be flowing by then.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

This strange, magical world ...

... of the internet.

People I have never met - never will meet - have become important to me through their words and images on a virtual page.

I smile when they are happy, cry when they are in pain and worry when they do not write.

Through these days I carry in my heart and in my thoughts Wilf, Angus and "the Font".

Wilf the PON discovers France

Friday, 15 October 2010

Thick mist ...

... has lingered all morning.  The house feels cold and damp.

Thermals for Vita's walk.

The fire alight in the lounge.

Home-made vegetable soup for lunch.

Three days ago I saw cranes heading south.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

October on the Beach

Vita and I dropped Tod off at Bordeaux airport yesterday (on his way back to the UK for a week) and headed west.

Look at a map and Bordeaux is near the sea.  To get there though is a long haul through scruffy hinterland.  Endless straight roads are bordered by sandy, scrubby tracks that veer off into the gloom between interminable rows of pine tree trunks.  Tired hoardings advertise "PAINTBALL!" or the nearest collection of holiday "cabanes" that are many, many miles from a beach.

The road is only one lane in each direction and the French predilection for tail-gating means that we travel along in small packed convoys behind a battered Renault driven by an elderly man in a cap or an oil tanker heading for the nearest hypermarket.

But it's worth the journey.  Mile after mile of surf-pounded sand to walk along - almost alone. 

Vita agrees that sand is fun, but still thinks getting wet is very dangerous.



Thursday, 7 October 2010

I thought I'd done ....

...with digging boulders and builders' rubble out of the cottage lawn.  But apparently not.

I've bought grass seed.  We've had a bit of rain.  It's sunny and there's a light breeze. I thought I'll just dig out the weeds, rake it over and then seed before too many leaves come down and smother the new grass.

It's that sinking sensation as the fork goes in no more than a centimetre or two and there's that jarring gritty thud as the prongs hit something solid. But we dug this all over last autumn!  I thought we were rid of all the big stuff, but oh no!

It's the cornflake packet syndrome.  The big bits move up to the top as the small particles drop through the gaps to the bottom.  And that's what's been quietly happening to the lawn all through this year. 

I prod around with the fork, trying to find a gap where it goes in a bit further, heave, watch the tines bend and the ground in front of the fork slowly rise as another flagstone comes to the surface. Behind me the "lawn" is now a muddy mess.

And the weeds!  Tod has been mowing this scruffy patch and I'd hoped that it would gradually grass over, but there's more weed than grass and even the grass is more like weed - tough and coarse.  The mowing has kept it tidy, but the perennial weeds (dandelion, thistle, mallow, fat hen) have thickened and sent down long tap roots, which have easily found a way through the rubble. 

I carry this image of my father - bent over a neat lawn, legs straight, slightly apart (more so after his hip operations) picking up a leaf, digging out a weed.  He said he wasn't a gardener, but a "tidyist".

I could do with a lawn "tidyist" right now.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Air is Full of Dust and Noise

The combine harvester is in the next field.

The wind is blowing hard and hot from the south carrying the dust from the chopped-down maize across the border I'm planting on the bank behind the wall behind the cottage. 

So I'll stay inside until the noise and dust are further away.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

I Knew What We Could Do

I grumped.  I was tired of thinking about food, buying food, preparing food, cooking food, clearing up after food and I wanted to run away to the sea before summer completely disappeared. But the météo showed cool and rain for the Med, so I stayed.

And gardened in the sun. And felt better.

And then Tod moved my bike out of the garage while he blocked up the gap in the colombage that sends gales of cold air into our lounge in the evening and I knew what we could do.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Château Chats

We took our visitors to meet friends who are lovingly restoring a château.

And I fell in love with these two.