Woo-hoo, new loo!

When I moved to my apartment, I knew I’d have to have a new toilet installed; not only was the existing one blue, with a seat adorned with a photo of a pile of stones – zen style, but there was also an unpleasant smell, which no amount of bleach and disinfectant would shift for more than half an hour at a time. The wallpaper would have to go too; covered in motifs of bunches of lavender, even on the inside of the door, it was far too busy for the tiny room.

The first plumber, Kevin, recommended by Kieran’s friend Ludovic, came round; he recommended a good plumbers’ merchants, where if I asked for Fred and said Kevin had sent me, I’d get a discount. I decided to go for the “elderly person’s” option of a high loo, after all, you never know what’s round the corner. They didn’t have one in stock, it would be a long wait – 3 months!

Finally it arrived in August, two guys at the shop loaded into the car, from where Kieran unloaded it and brought it up to the apartment. I phoned Kevin; he’d be round soon. I phoned again a week later; he’d definitely be here before Saturday, so I stripped the wallpaper. Two weeks later I called again; he was very apologetic, he’d forgotten, but would call soon.

In the meantime I heard of a man-of-all-work who was working for a couple on the ground floor; they were pleased with his work and sent him up to see me. By this time it was only a few weeks till some friends were coming for a visit and I was beginning to panic a bit; Yves was happy to fit the loo, probably before the end of October, but definitely by the first week of November. Halloween came and went with no news, I messaged, but got no reply,  then I bumped into the woman from downstairs, who told me that Yves was in Bordeaux all week.

With only two weeks to go, I called Ludovic and explained the situation; did he know anyone else? He said he’d call me back, but I must admit to being quite surprised when he did, just a couple of hours later. Was I at home? Yes. Great; Cédric would be here in 10 minutes.

Cédric turned out to be a good find; he came back the following day to fit the loo, finding out and explaining to me why the old one smelt so bad, then the following Monday he came round to do the numerous little jobs that I can’t do, involving plasterboard fixings to hang heavy paintings, shelves and a coat rack and drilling into hard concrete walls and ceilings to fit curtain rails and hang more paintings, amongst other things. I’d wallpapered the loo over the weekend and got up early on Monday to get it painted so that he could rehang the cupboard.

I’ve a lot of cleaning up to do, duvets and pillows to find and need a big shopping trip before Monday, but I think I’ll be ready enough for my visitors.

Key rack
Coat hooks; don’t look at how un-straight the hooks are – I did my best!
Having paintings on the wall instead of stacked against the skirtings is such a treat!

A fun day

Our band gig in December is looming; we’ve got a set of ten songs ready and Michel, the singer and front man has written and recorded his script for the links. He’s decided that he will dress up as an airline pilot and I will be a stewardess; the whole concert will be on the theme of a flight, complete with a recording of the safety announcement, which I will demonstrate. He’s going to provide me with a seat belt, an oxygen mask and instead of a life jacket, we’ve got a child’s inflatable ring, complete with light, whistle and, in case all else fails, a St. Christopher medal.

We went to the venue this morning, to meet up with Tito, the sound man. I mostly kept out of the way as the lads knew what they were doing, unloading and installing the drum kit, speakers, amps, mixing desk and the rest. The floor was just a spaghetti-like tangle of leads for a while, but gradually things began to take shape.

We ran through a few numbers in the morning, before being called over to the bar for apéros. Some ladies from the village then served a delicious four course lunch, all provided courtesy of the mairie, and after which, at about 3 o’clock we started to do some serious work.

Tito hadn’t heard us before, but was very attentive, frequently adjusting various levels and looking very impressed by Adrian’s guitar solos. The rest of the small audience were very appreciative too.

I think everyone enjoyed the day; after so many months of rehearsal it’s great to have an event to play for.

Back on the bike, but no form.

Now that I’ve had the all clear from my doctor that there’s nothing dreadfully amiss with my back (even though it still hurts) and have been told I can go back to cycling and swimming, I’m trying to make the most of it, before winter arrives.

For my first ride back, last Wednesday, I went with group 2; I’d forgotten just how slow they are, with frequent route finding stops, eating and drinking stops, loo stops and stops for U-turns when we’d got it wrong. In winter the weekend rides move to Saturday afternoons, which I can’t often make, but could today. I had a look at the two routes proposed for today; group 2 was only 50km and completely flat, whereas group 1’s route, though not much further, at 60km, was very hilly. I hoped there’d be someone wanting to do group 1 bis; often they either follow the group 1 route, but more slowly, or they cut it a bit short.

On arrival at the start, there weren’t many prepared to brave the wind that had been battering the region since last night, so only 4 riders in group 1 and, apart from me, all very strong cyclists. Nevertheless, I’d go with them, I couldn’t face staying with the other group. We set off at a cracking pace; I held my own for the first few, flat, kilometers, but as soon as the hills started, I was off the back, realising just how much fitness I’ve lost over the past few, inactive weeks. When they stopped to wait for me to catch up, I said I thought I’d go home, I was really struggling, but they wouldn’t hear of it; they’d drop the pace a bit. I was still off the back most of the time and my lowest gears were playing up, which wasn’t useful on such a hilly ride, but I struggled on. There was so much debris on the roads that in places it was impossible to tell if the road was tarmacked; leaves, twigs, branches, and even a few trees and telegraph poles brought down by the wind.

Finally we were back in Dax – I’d made it; at least I know I’ve done something as I drink my cup of tea and contemplate the partially painted spare room furniture on the balcony. I was going to finish the undercoat when I got home, but I think it’ll wait till tomorrow.

Karaoke

When the band was invited to a “soirée” at Arboucave I must have missed something in the conversation. I knew we weren’t taking instruments, but should turn up with some food to share and that only three of us were available, but I had no idea it was a karaoke evening, complete with a very high quality sound system.

There weren’t many people, about twenty, but what the event lacked in numbers was very much made up for in enthusiasm and friendliness, with people really throwing themselves into everything they sang. All the singers had good voices, but especially a young guy called Alex, who made every song he sang sound effortlessly beautiful. The variety of music was impressive too, from country and western to heavy metal, pop rock and even a bit of Italian opera thrown in.

There was so much food! Everyone must have brought enough for 10 people! We tucked into crisps, nuts, olives etc for the apéro, followed by quiches, all sorts of salads, mountains of bread, cold meats and cheeses. Most of the desserts were untouched, there were so many, even though people had two or three pieces each, but we all took home the remains of what we’d brought

I was quite happy just to listen and to chat with Jean Michel and Jean Marc from the band, as I didn’t know anyone else, but as we finished eating, Alex came over to ask if I knew any Irish songs; the first one that came to mind was “the rocky road to Dublin”, which is difficult to sing as it rolls along at a good pace and has very few breathing spaces. Suddenly a microphone was thrust into my hand and the lyrics appeared on the screen. I have never sung it so fast! It was difficult even to get my tongue around the words and by the finish I was quite short of breath, so fast was the rhythm! But they all seemed to enjoy it. I did a few more songs later on, “chasing cars” and “zombie” among them, as well as “sweet dreams” and “knockin’ on heaven’s door” with Jean Michel. I suspect they were only just getting warmed up by the time I left just after 11. I had over an hour’s drive home and didn’t want to be too late.

I now use Google maps to get anywhere I don’t know, which was the case last night; the way to Arboucave was fine, dual carriageway , then reasonably big, straightish roads, but google thought it’d have a laugh on my way home and took me along all the smallest, twistiest, country roads, through lots of tiny villages; I was counting on the last 25km being dual carriageway, but that didn’t happen. An hour to get there, but nearly an hour and a half home – thanks Google!

Success!

I’ve got friends coming to stay in a few weeks, so I’m desperate to finish redecorating the spare bedroom; having had niggling back problems for the last 3 months means that I can only do an hour or two at a time, so progress is painfully slow.

However, it is progress; I stripped the room of its two layers of vinyl wallpaper, knocked out and filled no fewer than 58 plasterboard fixings and lined the walls with heavy duty lining paper. Over the last few days I’ve painted all the edges, so I’ll soon finish the walls and be able to start painting the furniture (it’ll be a treat to get it out of my workshop – I can hardly move in there!)

This morning, having finished painting, I thought I’d take down the light fitting. Nick always made it look so easy – it couldn’t be that hard, could it? I turned off the electric and 10 minutes later I’d removed every screw I could find and undone a couple of nuts, but the light fitting was still very much attached to the ceiling. I messaged Kieran, with photos; he said I had to move that little tab to the left in order to remove the rectangular plug from the circular plaque by pulling on the wire – he warned me it could be difficult. It was. In fact it wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe I could get a screwdriver into the side, to help lever it out…… At last it came free.

The next part was to remove the light fitting from the wire so that I could reattach the wire with a bulb. Again I struggled for a while, making no headway. I didn’t want to disturb Kieran again as he was at work, so I collected together the light fitting and a selection of screwdrivers and spanners on the dining table and called Adrian – he understands these things. WhatsApp video calls are brilliant for this sort of thing. After a few false starts, I ended up with a plug attached to a wire, attached to a light bulb. I plugged it back in, turned the electricity back on and lo and behold, it works!

What would have been a 5 minute task for Nick had just taken me over an hour, but I did it 😊 Quite a sense of achievement.

Easy to see why I wanted rid of this!
“just move the tab to the left and tug the wire”
Just a bare light bulb to you, but a massive sense of achievement for me.

A long day

Our band, “Carpet Dragons,” has a gig booked for December 2nd, in Bassercles, a village near where we rehearse. Unlike last time, when we were part of a larger event, this time we have to supply our own sound man and equipment. Pascal, who the group used pre-covid, being unavailable, we looked for someone else; Mika, the bass player found someone, so we’re going to have a full run-through in the village hall in November, hopefully we can work together, though the system Tito uses is nothing like what the guys are used to.

We had a rehearsal booked for this afternoon, but the Maire of Bassercles wanted to meet us beforehand, to discuss stage layouts, costs, posters, etc, so I set off this morning, in the relative cool. We’re experiencing another heatwave, due to last until Tuesday, so the temperature is anything up to 35°C in the shade again; I was very pleased to be spending the day in the cellar of Jean Marc’s house, where he’s built a studio that stays reasonably cool.

Pierrette, Jean Marc’s wife, took photos of us for a poster; there was a discussion about the possibility of just using a logo, but finally we concluded that it would be best to have a photo so people aren’t too disappointed when they arrive and find that we’re no spring chickens.

One thing it seems we need to do is form an association (everything is an association here), this will make it easier for people to book us, as well as having various benefits for us. Michel, our singer and spokesman, had spoken to the Maire before and, having been a Maire himself for several years, knows the process; “it’s not complicated”, he assured us. Adrian and I looked at each other in disbelief; everything is complicated in France! To prove how simple it is, Michel read from the notes he’d prepared; it started off ok, with the name of the group, going on to a sort of mission statement, but that’s where he lost Adrian and I, who, by “article 19”, on page 5 of Michel’s notes, had completely lost the will to live! But Michel’s going to deal with all that; my job, being the only one who lives in Dax, will be to take the prepared papers into the sous préfecture, where I hope they don’t ask me any questions.

After a very leisurely meeting/apéros with the Maire, we all sat down to lunch; each person had brought a contribution – Jean Michel the main course, Adrian the cheese, Michel the wine and I took a lemon meringue pie for dessert.

Lunch probably wasn’t the best idea we’ve ever had; we didn’t start playing till 3.30pm and everyone made mistakes (no French lunch is complete without wine). We had to get through the whole set of 11 songs, though, as Michel, the singer, who lives near Marseille (8 hours drive), won’t be joining us again for a month.

By 7pm we’d finished; I wasn’t the only one feeling wrung out, but we’d made good progress. At least I only had an hour’s drive home, unlike Michel, who set off straight from rehearsal and should be home by 3-4am.

Below is a link to a video of the band, made a few years ago, before I joined them. I hope it works.

A welcome to St Paul

Everyone who’s moved to St Paul in the last year was invited to a reception this morning. It was held in the Mairie (town hall) and you were supposed to sign up beforehand, though I think quite a few just turned up as there weren’t enough chairs, the room was full and people had to spill over into the corridor and the balcony.

The Maire gave a speech extolling the virtues of living here and introduced those of his helpers who were able to attend, we watched a short film about the town, were given a nice tote bag full of goodies and were sent off the the “forum des associations”, being held just up the road.

All clubs, whatever they do, tend to be associations; there were far more than I expected – everything from dance classes to food banks, from the club that puts on bull fights, to judo and tai chi. I got caught by one woman on the cremation stand – I only stopped for a look because I thought I must have misunderstood! But no; you sign up, leave them something in your will and they’ll make sure your wishes are followed. She was very pushy; when I said that my children know my wishes, she insisted that they might know now, but once I’m gone, will they really carry them out???? Unfortunately, my french isn’t good enough to tell her that by then I really won’t give a monkey’s! Finally I got away, clutching a large sheaf of papers, which have gone straight into the recycling.

I found the painting club that I was looking for and even a patchwork club that does a bit of textile art too. A friend had asked me to look out for ballroom dancing classes, but there weren’t any.

After lunch, I went to man the cycle club stand at the twinned event in Dax. If I thought the forum in St Paul was big, Dax was huge, with over 100 stands, as well as demonstrations of all sorts of sports, dancing and even stilt dancing. I took a video, but it won’t load up.

There were lots of visitors and we handed out numerous flyers about the cycle club; whether or not that will translate to new members remains to be seen, but at least people know we exist.

I also found a group doing Spanish classes, which I’ll join at their open day in a couple of weeks, as I’m keen to improve my Spanish so I can go to Peru to help my friend Susie with her charity.

On my return I met my neighbour, Antonia, in the car park; she’s invited me to two events next weekend, gradually I’m getting to know people.

Concert on the balcony

There’s a lovely lake just 5 minutes walk from where I live. It seems to be the cultural hub of St Paul, hosting all sorts of events throughout the year, from vide greniers (car boots) and art exhibitions to firework displays and triathlons. When I went for a walk around the lake this week, there were barriers being erected, along with a large stage, drinking water sources and signs to the toilets; I’d noticed posters for a music event this weekend – “Tempos du Monde”. I vaguely thought about having a walk down to see what went on, but it’s a ticketed event, so I forgot about it.

On Friday afternoon, sewing in my workshop, the window open to let in the lovely, cooler air that’s finally arrived (it’s been up to 41°C most of the week), I could hear music. The various bands were obviously doing their sound checks, some reggae, some African beats, all perfectly audible from where I sat.

So once things got started in the evening, I smothered myself in mosquito repellent, poured a glass of wine, grabbed my book and headed out onto the balcony to listen to the free concert. Life could be a lot worse!

Dax fête

Once upon a time, according to legend, there was a Roman legionnaire who arrived in Dax with his elderly canine companion. The dog suffered from rheumatism and walked so slowly that the soldier left him in Dax while he went off to do whatever it was Roman legionnaires did, coming back for his old friend a while later. In his absence the dog had been rolling in the mud on the banks of the river and such were the health giving properties of the mud that the dog’s rheumatism was completely cured.

Dax has been well known as a spa town for a long time now, though whether it dates back to Roman times, I couldn’t tell you. The town’s other claim to fame is its annual fête, held over four days around August 15th, the second largest in the south west of France, beaten only by Bayonne. 

I thought it’d be rude not to take a look.

The first thing that struck me as I approached the town was how wrong my clothes were; almost everybody else was dressed in white and red. There were stalls on the roadsides, selling shorts, tee-shirts, neckerchiefs, scarves, all in white and red.

I could see a large crowd by the side of the river, so went to see what was happening. It was the opening ceremony; groups of people were dressed up as all kinds of Romans; soldiers, dancing girls, elders from the forum, camp followers….. There were battles re-enacted between the Romans and the Gauls, then Caesar and his wife appeared, riding in a chariot. It seems that normally they arrive by boat, but the water level in the river was too low this year.

I walked into Dax for three of the four days, dressed appropriately, having unearthed white shorts, a white and red tee shirt from the back of the wardrobe, as well as a pair of red earrings. The bull fighting events didn’t interest me, but the stalls showing various aspects of local history and traditional local crafts were fascinating. In the area around the arènes were several big marquees, all of which were restaurants, catering to the thousands of hungry visitors. I didn’t want a sit down meal, but treated myself to an excellent cone of chicken kebab and chips from one of the many fast food vans.

On the last two days there was the “grand défilé”, or procession. Groups of musicians and dancers from numerous countries, as well as locals and the inevitable Bandas bands, join in this event, all dressed in traditional costume. There were Mexicans in sombreros,  Spaniards in flamenco costumes, Scots in kilts, playing bagpipes, Ecuadorians, Basques and lots of others. One of the Bandas bands apparently choose a theme each year, dress up and play music appropriately; their theme this year was Charles and Camilla. The musicians all dressed up as beefeaters and played “Land of Hope and Glory” while the “King and Queen” were pulled along in a chariot.

There were all sorts of events, from a competition to see who could kick a rugby ball the furthest across the river (they’re rugby mad around here), to stilt dancing and initiation into walking with the traditional stilts, used by shepherds when the land was mostly marsh. There seemed to be bands playing in many of the bars and the atmosphere was great.

I was advised by several people only to go in the daytime; apparently the nights get quite wild. Certainly in the mornings there were plenty of cars parked all over the place, windows and/or doors open, full of sleeping bodies and certain parts of the town smelt distinctly unsavoury.

A very interesting few days, though I wouldn’t like to have to clean up after it.

Train travel hell

It won’t go down as the best holiday I’ve ever had. I went to Harrogate for two weeks, supposedly to help Alex with childcare, but it wasn’t destined to work out well.


Between a bad back, requiring two visits to see the osteopath and a stinking cold which left me feeling like death warmed up, I wasn’t a lot of use to anybody!
I’d forgotten how awful the weather can be; it rained almost every day of my stay and was so cold that I had to buy extra clothes, my summer clothes staying in the bottom of my case.


The journey back to Manchester airport was one I’ll long remember; originally I’d booked a train from Leeds on the morning of my flight home, but decided it wasn’t fair to ask anyone to get me to Leeds by 6am, so tried to book an Airbnb in Manchester for Thursday night; my Airbnb account wouldn’t work, so Alex booked for me.
I booked trains to Manchester; the previous evening I heard that the Leeds-Manchester train had been cancelled, in fact four of the six trains around rush hour were cancelled! Great!

Graham took me to the station in Harrogate, only to learn that that leg of my journey was also cancelled. Never mind, I’d have time on the following train to make the later, running, connection to Manchester. I got to Leeds station, lugged my bags to the platform on the far side and waited. There were so many people, how would we all get on one train? There was an announcement; our train, running late, would actually leave from another platform, so I heaved my bags up and down the stairs with everyone else. Finally it arrived, already fairly full. I’m not good at pushing to the front and it was obvious that I wouldn’t get into the nearest carriage, so I started walking along the train; every doorway was crammed with people. I got to the end, very small, carriage with a few others and we squeezed our way in, nearly 30 of us in a carriage with only six seats.


After a very uncomfortable ride as far as Huddersfield, people began to get off. I was by far the oldest person in the carriage and was very grateful when a young man kindly offered me a seat that had been vacated.
Finally we arrived in Manchester, just one more train, then a short walk to the BnB. But instead of taking me directly down the main road, Google told me to take small roads through a housing estate; I was soon totally lost! After asking a few people I found the BnB; my host had gone out as I was so late, but left me keys, so I let myself in. I’m not entirely convinced the sheets had been washed, but was too tired to do anything other than crash, very relieved that I’d booked my host to take me to the airport the following morning. That evening I had another email from the train company, letting me know that the morning train I’d originally reserved had also been cancelled! What a complete farce!

I’d planned to take the train from Bordeaux back to Dax, but was so pleased when Kieran offered to come to pick me up instead, saving me the hassle of taking the tram into the centre of Bordeaux.


The holiday did have its good moments, however, meeting up with friends, two of whom are coming to visit me in November,  and spending time with my gorgeous, talented granddaughters (and Alex and Graham, of course), even if I could do much less than I’d planned. Immy and I went to York one day and I managed a short walk around Stainburn with Graham. I also got quite a few books read, so not all bad. Next time will be better 🤞