A busy trip to Harrogate

I came home on Saturday from a visit to Harrogate with Kieran and his children.

The ten days passed all too quickly, with visits to Tropical World, a trampoline park, Harlow Car Gardens, swimming and the Forbidden Corner, among other places and of course, meeting up with old friends.

Harlow Car Gardens
Forbidden corner
Harlow Car Gardens
Forbidden corner
Forbidden corner
Forbidden corner
Tropical world

The cherry trees were in bloom on the Stray, which was a treat for the eyes. I’m sure they used to flower in May, but it was lovely to see them, early or not.

I was lucky enough to be invited to an eightieth birthday party. I’ve known Mike since I was 7 years old and can remember my mother going to his 21st party; he’s still going strong and looks a lot younger than his years. It was amazing to see people there who I haven’t seen for over 50 years, and to recognise many of them.

Alex had just started a new job, so couldn’t take time off, which made the weekend and evenings even more precious, it was lovely to see her so happy after a year in her previous role in a toxic environment. Her new job looks as though it has possibilities for growth and she’s giving it her all.

Belle and I went to Harrogate theatre to see an amateur production of Sister Act, which was great; so between that, decent curries and the availability of vegetarian food in restaurants and cafés, the trip ticked all the boxes of things I miss in France.

I’d forgotten, however, just how cold it can be in Yorkshire; I took thermals, thick sweaters, hat, gloves and scarf, but was still perished most of the time in the glacial winds and have arrived home with a dose of bronchitis and without my voice – if anyone finds it, please send it to me!. But if that’s the price I have to pay for a great holiday, then so be it. I don’t think I could live in that climate again though.

Harlow Car Gardens
Harlow Car Gardens
A meal with friends
A walk in the dales
A walk in the dales
Cherry trees on the Stray
The forbidden corner
The forbidden corner
Another meal with friends
Immy at the Valley Gardens after school
Bordeaux airport

Some of my photos seem to have doubled up and I don’t know how to get rid of them, sorry!

Painting expo

Twice a year, the painting club holds an exhibition in a community building on the edge of the lake and this time I was persuaded to put in three pieces.

I’m no great painter, the only painting I’ve done over the last 50 years being of walls and ceilings, but I thoroughly enjoy the afternoons I spend “playing” at the workshop.

There are some very talented artists, all happy to share their expertise and give me the benefit of their experience, but I’ll never be a real painter and am very happy to use what I produce as the basis for some textile art, unlike the work of anyone else in the club.

I framed my three little pieces and took them along to be hung. We all do one or two afternoons manning the exhibition; often there are 5 or 6 people, which makes for a very enjoyable few hours.

I was there one afternoon when someone pointed out a couple having a good look at my work. “Go and talk to them”, she said, which I did; they wanted to know about the techniques I use to arrive at the result, they seemed very interested and ended by buying one of my works! I was delighted, though to say I was surprised would be putting it mildly.

My pieces of textile art

A few days in Naples

My brother’s partner, Penny, had some leave to take from work, but Peter didn’t; so Penny and I decided that we’d have a few days away. Naples seemed to fit the bill; we could find flights that arrived within minutes of each other and we had a good chance of decent weather in March.

Penny booked the accommodation; it was amazing – a beautiful apartment on the 6th floor of an old block, overlooking the bay of Naples and with a view of Vesuvius! There was even a concierge, who chatted away to us in Italian, seemingly unconcerned that, beyond good morning, pasta and pizza, our Italian was somewhat limited. If there was something we really must understand, he’d drag someone in off the street to translate for us.

A colleague of Penny’s comes from Naples, so we had a list of good pizzerias to try, along with a recommendation to try fried pizza. It sounded disgusting, but actually was delicious. The pizzas were so huge that we never ordered more than one between the two of us.

Friends I’d spoken to were horrified at our choice of destination – they said it was busy, filthy, etc, and it was! The traffic was unbelievable, scooters weaving their way in and out of fast moving cars, lorries, buses, everybody hooting their horns; you felt you were taking your life in your hands every time you crossed a road, even on zebra crossings, which the drivers largely ignored. And yes, there were overflowing dustbins outside the shops in town…… However, there was such a buzz about the place; people were so animated, so full of life. We loved it.

We’d booked a guided tour of Pompeii on the Saturday afternoon; a good job we didn’t book earlier as it took us all morning to work out the trains. At last we arrived, found somewhere to eat and were ready for some serious history and culture.

Pompeii was fantastic; our guide was very knowledgeable and more than happy to answer questions, he even managed to keep two very loud Americans in check. It was incredible to think that the frescoes on the walls and mosaics on the floors have been in place for over 2000 years, they’re in such good condition. Some parts of the mosaic floors resemble crumpled pieces of fabric, following the form of the earth as it moved and buckled on the day of the eruption in 79AD. There are plaster casts in glass cases, made of bodies found, intact, during the excavations, as well as fast food outlets, bakeries and  brothels.

Once the tour was over, we took the train to Ercolano, a modern town around ancient Herculaneum. Having been to Pompeii allowed us to interpret better what we saw in Herculaneum, which was a richer suburb of Pompeii all those years ago. It was getting dark by the time we left, the thought of the long walk back to the station was too much, so we took up the taxi driver’s offer of a “special deal”; yes, we were charged more than we should have been, but our feet felt it was worth it.

All too soon it was time for me to take the bus back to the airport, Penny had an extra half day before heading back to London.

St. Patrick’s day

I’d only met two English people during my first 9 months in Dax, one at the patchwork club, the other at the painting club, so when one of them asked if I’d be interested in joining an English book club, I jumped at the chance. My French is good, but the possibility of speaking English one afternoon a month, of being able to understand easily everything that’s said and to express myself properly was just too good to miss.

The book club is just one branch of a bigger, “international ladies’ club”; there are lots of activities, though, to be honest, lunches, aperitifs, trips to markets and cooking demos don’t interest me in the least, so for the most part, I’ll just go to the book club.

At my first meeting, I and two other “newbies” had to introduce ourselves and talk a little about our interests. A few days later an Irish woman, Sheila, invited me to her house for afternoon tea, along with a few other women. Sheila, it seems, was fascinated by the idea that I play in a band and as the afternoon wore on, even more interested in my having been part of an Irish band. She was going to host an event for St Patrick’s day and please would I bring my guitar?

She gave me the number of someone she felt sure would be happy to sing the melody to my arrangement of Danny Boy, so I contacted Glenda, who turned out to be an opera singer. Glenda said she’d love to sing and please would I send her the sheet music……. ah, well….. I had to admit that this was my own arrangement and that, never having had a music lesson, it was written a little unconventionally – the blobs were her line, the crosses mine. She took this in her stride and we met for a few rehearsals, of Danny Boy and several other songs, before the event last Wednesday.

It all went well, in spite of my ridiculously nervous state. I do wish I could conquer my nerves; I sing and play far better at home, when nobody’s there to listen, but in front of others my hands shake and won’t hit the strings properly and my voice wobbles. However, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves; we all wore something green, people brought food, so there was a wonderful spread and Sheila demonstrated how to make real Irish coffee.

At the end of the afternoon I came home and started packing for my trip to Italy the following day.

Successful vide grenier

It was a wild sort of day; cold, howling wind and frequent, squally showers, with the threat of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Kieran had told me of a vide grenier, a bit like a car boot sale, in a village near him, so I’d signed up. I went for the luxury option; to be indoors, with a 2 metre table and 2 chairs supplied, I was very glad I had.

I had an early start; it was just beginning to get light as I arrived. Kieran had helped me load the car the previous evening and had added a few boxes of his own. I was delighted with the position of my table –  the first one as you walked in, not far to go to move my boxes and bags from the car, and the first table people came to when they arrived; though later on, as the wind howled through the open door, I was glad I’d wrapped up in numerous layers of clothing.

I hadn’t even finished unloading by the time the dealers pounced, rummaging through boxes and asking for prices. Kieran’s stuff was unpriced, so I just winged it and by the time the vide grenier opened at 8am, I’d already sold quite a few things, which was very useful as I’d started with more than I could fit on the table

I don’t enjoy doing vide greniers or car boot sales; the point of doing this was simply to get rid of clutter, so I priced stuff accordingly. I had a steady stream of customers all morning and by the time I ate my sandwich at midday, had very little left. There were fewer visitors now and the woman at the next-door table said there’d probably not be many in the afternoon, given the forecast .

My table, mid morning
One of the indoor rooms, there was at least one other.

So I packed my remaining items into a single box and came home, very glad of the heating as I watch the treetops whipping back and forth and the rain lashing onto the balcony, while I sip a hot cup of herbal tea.

Promotion !

Michel, the band’s singer, has had tinnitus for as long as I’ve known him, but recently it’s become much worse; so much so, that he’s had to take the decision to stop singing with us, though he’ll continue to write most of our lyrics and do any necessary paperwork.

I wasn’t the only one concerned that this might mean the end of the band, but we all want it to continue. The next question was, would we look elsewhere for a new lead singer? Again, the decision was unanimous – NO! It’s one thing finding a new bass player, but the singer is the heart and the personality of a band, we didn’t know who we might end up with, the last time that happened, it was disastrous. Jean Michel, who takes on the role of singer when Michel isn’t at rehearsal (half the time as Michel has an eight hour drive from Marseilles, so only joins us once a month) stepped up. He has a lovely voice, but has always said he doesn’t really want to be the front man, a job done brilliantly by Michel; however, given the alternatives, he’s prepared to do it. He wants to make a few changes, however, most of which involve me doing a lot more.

I’ve had it very easy up to now; the lyrics don’t need much learning when they’re mostly ooh and aah, with a few choruses now and again. But French songs tend to be wordy and the lyrics that Michel writes are often full of metaphors and incomprehensible to me, which makes them difficult to learn. Their wordiness also means that sometimes it’s difficult even for a Frenchman to get his tongue around them quickly enough; I’d have no chance.

Jean Michel came over last Sunday and we worked for hours on how best to arrange the songs we have and those that are in the pipeline. He wants me to take on three more solos, in addition to “sweet dreams”, as well as taking a bigger role in several others. Where I’ve written and learnt harmonies, I’ll have to learn the melody and in some cases, teach Jean Michel my harmony. Occasionally I’ll be playing my guitar too, just need to buy a cover for the sound hole so that it won’t cause feedback.

Jean Michel, Adrian and Mika in the studio
Never having had a music lesson, my written music is without timings.
Jean Michel and Adrian
One of my new songs

Between that, preparing to play at a St Patrick’s day do and trying to finish a few pieces for the painting club exhibition, I’m certainly not going to have time to be bored.

Work in progress

Christmas, a bit late

Now that I can post again, it’s about time I had a catch-up, rather belatedly.

Alex, Graham and the girls came over for the Christmas holidays, Kieran took the time off work and Gemma joined us for a week around new year. I’d wondered if, my apartment being about a quarter of the size of the house in Caupenne, we’d drive each other mad; but everyone mucked in and got on so well together – no problems at all. Graham and Alex did a lot of the cooking, a real treat for me, especially Christmas lunch, one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

I couldn’t believe how well Immy, Artie and Emily got on together, as if they were together all the time. We spent several afternoons at the temporary ice rink in Dax and at the funfair, where the kids ate their way through the most enormous quantities of waffles, crepes, ice creams and churros.

We played silly games, watched slideshows of old photos, visited the Sourceo spa, went to the seaside, laughed a lot and generally had a great time.

New year’s eve

My plan to take the kids to the local garden centre to choose a Christmas tree decoration each, to put on my tree, was somewhat hijacked by Kieran and Graham, who went for the “who can find the tackiest decoration?” option. To be fair, they were spoilt for choice; I think Parisian chic doesn’t extend this far!

Brian and Ryan
Suitably tacky

Alex and I spent an afternoon in the band’s rehearsal studio, where Alex recorded a song that Adrian wrote a few years ago, but which is too high for me. It still needs bass, second guitar and drums adding, but one day we’ll get around to it.

All too soon it was time for them all to go home. My apartment and my life felt very quiet and empty for a while, but life goes on and I’ve got plenty to fill my time with; band practices, painting and patchwork clubs, cycling, so I’m back into it all now. I’m looking forward to going to Harrogate with Kieran and the kids in April though.

Bungee trampolining – Immy loved it!
Christmas lunch
A day in the studio

At last, I can post!

I haven’t posted anything for quite a while now because the site wouldn’t let me. Kieran has promised to investigate and, I hope, rectify the situation. In the meantime, however, the band now has a YouTube channel (as a sort of audition piece for a festival we’d like to play at in the summer), so I’ll try to put a link to that at the end of this post. There are three videos of the evening at Bassercles; the sound is poor, but you can get an idea of what we do.

The young wrinklies

December 2nd marked the band’s first performance with Mika, our new bass player. The event was the inauguration of the new bar in the salle des fêtes at Bassercles, a tiny village in Pyrénées Atlantiques.

We arrived at 3pm for the setting up and sound check; Michel, the singer and front man, was streaming with cold, Mika had a bad back and Adrian hadn’t eaten for the last 48 hours, following a gastric bug. Not the greatest of starts. The afternoon’s rehearsal was disastrous; nothing went right and we ended up doing one, normally easy, song five times before we were satisfied with it. We’d never played so badly, everyone was on edge.

Michel had decided that the evening would have a theme – that of an aeroplane flight; he dressed as a pilot, while I was an air stewardess. We had a recording of take off noises and the safety announcement; I did the safety demonstration, using a mock up seat belt and oxygen mask and, when it came to the life jacket, a child’s inflatable swim ring, equipped with light, whistle and, just in case, a St. Christopher medal.

Michel’s a great front man and found his form, as well as incredible energy, from somewhere, bouncing around the stage, making sorties into the audience with his microphone, to encourage them to sing along.

In the event, it went very well, everyone seemed to enjoy it. I was thrilled to see two of my neighbours from Caupenne, who’d driven an hour and a half to be there, as well as three friends from the cycle club in Dax.

Hopefully this will lead to more gigs as the maires of several neighbouring villages were there.

The link to the YouTube channel is below; if you’d subscribe to it, we’d be very grateful, we need as many subscribers as possible. Thank you.


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 great find; he came back the following day to fit the loo, finding out and explaining to me why the old one smelt so bad (a joint in the pipework wasn’t fully sealed), 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.