Happy new year to one and all!

It’s new year’s eve and Caupenne is gearing up for its annual bun fight; a night of extreme eating, drinking and merry-making is in store for all those 120 people who’ve booked.

We’ve spent the afternoon preparing 800 “toasts” – little slices of bread, topped with all sorts of things. There’s ham, cornichon and pepper; anchovy butter, tomato and olives; tuna mayo, asparagus and prawn; and several other things too. They’ll be served as the aperitifs, with what I now discover is called “pousse rapiere”, the lethal mix of a local spirit and champagne that we tried on Thursday.

The meal probably won’t start till about 10pm; there are 5 courses and a different wine with each one; then the disco will start in earnest, going on till 6o’clock tomorrow morning. I suspect all the folks who live in the centre of the village will be there, since there’ll be no chance of sleeping tonight; you’ll be able to hear it from our house, a mile away!

The five long tables have been laid out by village, as big groups of people from the surrounding villages will be joining us. The two tables nearest the bar are reserved for Caupenne-ites, and with good reason; the folks of Caupenne certainly know how to enjoy themselves;-)

So for now we send all our best wishes to all our family and friends reading this; a happy and prosperous 2012 to you all. See you next year.

Market day

The weekly market in Eauze was buzzing this morning; it was a glorious day, under a clear blue sky, the frost having burnt off the rooftops and fields. Every available space was taken by market stalls, occupying every inch of the town. Oysters seem to be the thing to eat at this time of year and there were long queues at each of the stalls selling them; they had all almost sold out by 11am. The large car park was full; when I returned to load my shopping into the car, I was surprised to find that the key wouldn’t open the door and just spun round in the lock. I had visions of having to ask Nick to cycle over to Eauze with the spare car key, till I looked at the registration – one of the disadvantages of having bought a “truly French” car is that they’re everywhere! A quick look around to make sure nobody had noticed my mistake, then a nonchalant amble around till I found our car, and yes, the key worked fine!

This evening we’d been asked to go to the village hall, where the New Year’s Eve party will be held, to help set up. We arrived at 6pm, along with about sixteen others; the men put out tables and chairs, as well as hanging fairy lights and other technical type stuff, while the women made table decorations. In a couple of hours, the place was transformed. Aperitifs were then served, white wine or a potent concoction whose name sounded like “Pousse à Pierre”, a mixture of champagne and a local armagnac-based, orange flavoured spirit. Once everyone had had a glass or two, we were asked to be there again on Saturday afternoon, with bread knives, to prepare the canapes for the evening. Also to go back on Sunday to help clear up; those who do so will get lunch once the cleaning up has been done; that probably won’t be till about 4pm as we’re not expected to arrive till about 1pm. Just as well, as the New Year’s Eve bash starts at 8.30 and goes on till 6 the following morning, with soup served at about 4 or 5 am for anyone still standing!

For anyone wondering what the monstrous vegetable pictured below is, it’s half of Adrian and Julie’s pumpkin, which they gave us yesterday. I’m not quite sure how I’ll use it all; suggestions please!

Our first Christmas in France

Since Christmas eve the weather has become distinctly chilly at night, with hard frosts in the mornings and beautiful, clear, blue , sunny skies during the days; warmish, even!

We went to Brassempouy to spend Christmas day and Boxing day with Julie and Adrian, to help them eat their enormous turkey. The food, drink and company were all superb; it must rate as the most relaxing Christmas ever.

The high point of Boxing day was maintaining a tradition started by Adrian’s grandad, apparently much to the annoyance of Ade’s mother. Christmas dinner sandwiches. The trick is to put some of everything you had for Christmas dinner; ie turkey, potatoes, carrots, sprouts, stuffing and even gravy, into a sandwich. You are allowed extras, such as mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, etc. It was challenging to do this with rice cakes instead of bread, but I rose to the challenge and the result was very tasty.

I got back to work, well slightly, this afternoon, getting on with the painting in the next bedroom. I love the colour, powder blue with a hint of lavender; I just hope I’ve mixed up enough; as usual I didn’t like any of the colours available to buy, so ended up by mixing my own.


Happy Christmas

Nick and Kieran spent a large part of yesterday breaking up the base of one of the wine cuves. We now understand why the builder’s estimate for their removal was as high as it was! Rob, our neighbour, arrived this afternoon with a minibus and large trailer, which he proceeded to manoeuvre expertly into the grange. Kieran filled the trailer with rubble, using (of course) Dougal the digger, then all three of them went to Rob’s to unload. They did this twice, so we’ve got rid of a good amount of rubble and Rob knows of someone else who might want what’s left.

I started decorating the next bedroom, to the sounds of what Kieran assures me is the best Christmas album in the world….EVER! It should look good when it’s done, though, with a slightly altered fireplace and the ugly gas radiator removed. My favourite song? Click on the link below to find out (yes, I know I’m showing my age, but who cares!)


We haven’t a clue where the box of Christmas decorations is, so I made some mini Christmas stockings to hang over the fireplace to make the place look a little more festive. All that remained to do then, was to bake another 4 dozen mince pies which we’ll take round to various friends and neighbours tomorrow. That’s 10 dozen I’ve made in total, and so many French people have asked for the mincemeat recipe!

So we’re all ready now for our first Christmas in Caupenne d’Armagnac; it’ll be very different from Christmas in Harrogate; another milestone in our French adventure.

Happy Christmas to everyone and thank you for reading our blog.





Winter solstice, but so warm!

December 21st, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. It feels unreal, so mild that when the rain stopped at 4o’clock, I went out for a ride on my bike. Not far, only 10 miles, but enough to blow the cobwebs away. I didn’t need to wrap up like the michelin man and even when the rain restarted, it wasn’t cold! Can’t believe it’s nearly Christmas!

Kieran, who, by the way, did finish plumbing the dishwasher in last night (hooray!), started this morning by clearing some of the rubble in the grange into a sensible heap, using his beloved Dougal the digger. He and Nick then removed all the steel reinforcements that were still sticking out of what remains of the cuves, before someone does themselves an injury.

After lunch, the lads decided a lighter job was needed for the rest of the day. The plan is to make one of the bedrooms into a second bathroom, with a corridor running past it, leading to the new first floor above Nick’s workshop. This involves turning the window, which overlooks the grange, into a doorway; so that was the “lightweight” job selected for this afternoon. The bedroom in question is currently a general store room for anything and everything we haven’t housed elsewhere, as well as being where the computer is; in other words, a heap! Most of the stuff is now scattered around the rest of the house and everything on the first floor is covered in a generous layer of dust. My hands are filthy as I type, in spite of several washings! Guess what my job will be tomorrow;-( Still, I did, at last, find the grammar book I’ve been searching for since our arrival here!

Rubble, rubble everywhere….

We bought a second sledgehammer this morning, as well as a new handle to replace the one that was broken; Nick and Kieran then took turns smashing up the remains of the wine cuves. The whole of the grange floor is now covered in rubble, making it difficult to walk in there, if you should need to. Hopefully, Rob will soon come and remove it. It’s been raining fairly steadily for the last few days, so the tumble dryer is essential; access to it, however, is not easy; in fact it feels more like an obstacle course than anything else!

It’s the pruning season in the vineyards. One of our neighbours, Jean-Michel, owns about 30 hectares of vines around here, rather too much for one man to prune on his own, so he employs people to help him. The pruners, who aren’t just anyone with a pair of secateurs, but are specially trained and qualified, go through the vineyard and decide which stems to discard and which to leave for next year.  They cut the unwanted stems, but don’t remove any of the wood. Some vines have just one stem left in place for next year; others two; I don’t know what criteria dictate how many are left. Next another group of workers arrives, to remove the pruned growth. The people employed by Jean-Michel for this task are people with learning difficulties, who live in a home in a nearby village and who do this work from the end of November till mid-March; they seem to enjoy the work and Pedro, who I met, was especially keen to have his photo taken. It can’t be much fun, though, with the rain pouring down or if it’s very cold.

Kieran can’t abide washing up; he’s been moaning about the lack of a dishwasher since we arrived. We do have one; it’s just that it was buried somewhere in the grange and, besides, I consider a washing machine (currently in the kitchen) more important. So this evening, Kieran has been learning to be a plumber; fitting a water supply and drainage in the débaras (junk room). He and Nick have now moved the washing machine through there and I think they’re excavating the dishwasher as I type. I’ll go and see if I have to wash up tonight – hopefully not!:-)

A very hard weekend.

If anyone is under the impression that moving to France and doing up a house is glamorous and/or romantic, let me put them right; it’s neither!

We picked up the “grande tronçonneuse” on Friday evening; the lads were pleased that it wasn’t as heavy as it looked. You pay a fee for the hiring of it, plus an extra 30 euros for every millimetre of blade that you use. There were 4mm left on the blade, so we got a second one, just in case.

They started on Saturday morning, making vertical cuts in the walls of the cuves, using the small angle grinder to cut through the steel reinforcements at the end points of the cuts and using a sledgehammer to knock bits out and the digger to push bits over. At one point, the digger was wobbling about so much that the door fell off, cracking the glass! The tronçonneuse no longer felt lightweight, but seemed to be getting heavier by the hour.

By Saturday night, the first cuve was done and the second one started, and both Nick and Kieran were exhausted. Kieran couldn’t even eat his dinner, he was so tired!

Sunday was a rerun of Saturday and by the afternoon both cuves were gone; apart from the bases, which can be broken up at a later date, using the concrete breaker. Rob, our neighbour, will be coming round this week to take away the rubble for a project he’s doing. Nick and Kieran look rather like zombies, too tired to do much at all. I think it might be an evening for watching a film!

We’re having another caption competition on the photo below. Suggestions in the comments box, please!

Captions please!

A day in the life…

It’s been blowing a gale and pouring all day, so we were glad of indoor jobs to get on with. I’m not much good at driving the digger or wielding a sledgehammer, so I suppose my role is best described as “support services”, ie all the boring bits. This morning I made a big vat of soup to go with yesterday’s leftover bread, for lunch, then set about making mince pies to take to my English class this afternoon. I know I’ve got some pastry cutters somewhere, but just where is anybody’s guess; we were looking through some of the boxes of still-packed stuff on the first floor, above the grange, until part of the floor fell away under Nick’s feet. Only a little bit, and he didn’t go far this time; but we gave up the search. Nick found a makeshift pastry cutter for me; it used to be part of the old water heater, but cleaned up nicely and worked well! Sadly, because of the weather, only one student turned up to class; the French just don’t seem to go out in poor weather!

The boys attacked the wine cuves again, this time using the digger; it had absolutely no effect, so it was back to the angle grinder and brute strength. Later on, they went to Aire to hire a much bigger Stihl saw for the weekend, which we hope will be up to the job.

On their return, they could only get the car partway into the mudbath we use as a drive, before it got completely bogged down. It’s still there and if the rain doesn’t stop soon, may remain there for some considerable time yet!


Demolitions R us

Yesterday, the lads had great fun; a neighbour is in need of some hard core and we need rid of the two huge wine cuves in the grange, so they decided to start demolishing them. These cuves, you must understand, are about 2.5m in every direction and are made of reinforced concrete; but undaunted,  they set to work with a concrete breaker and a Stihl saw. The roof of the first cuve was an easy enough task, but the walls proved more challenging, as you can see from the photos, taken over about 4 hours. We’ve now found somewhere to hire an industrial size, water cooled Stihl saw, so I think that may be the weekend taken care of. (Hire is cheaper at the weekend)

This morning  the rain started at 7.10; I know this because the noise of it woke me! It sounded as if a huge, celestial power shower had been turned on over Caupenne. Unfortunately, we’d ordered a tree from the market in Eauze, held today, so had to go out in it. Normally, Eauze market fills the entire town and buzzes with life, but today there were hardly any market traders there, most of them put off by the weather. However, the tree man’s made of stern stuff, so we got our Judas tree and bought what we needed in the market in record time, then came home to put our soaked shoes and clothes in front of a big fire, from which we’ve hardly moved since!


Why, oh why, is nothing straightforward?

We went to the DIY shed this morning to buy some guttering for the back of the house; a simple enough task, you’d think. But no.

When we finally found the right aisle, the longest lengths of guttering or downpipe they seemed to do were 2 metres; after much searching, we found the rarest of creatures – a sales assistant. However, he wasn’t the sales assistant for the guttering aisle, so someone else was called and we waited – and waited – and waited. When the guy finally arrived, he said that yes, there were longer lengths of guttering and downpipe, in the outdoor bit at the other end of the shop; so off we went to find them. Unfortunately, there were no prices on anything in this part of the shop and the sales assistant we found told us that they were displayed with the rest of the guttering bits, so back to the guttering aisle we went, and finally tracked down the prices board, tucked behind a stack of boxes. The price was OK, so off back to the other end of the shop again, to get said guttering. But no, you have to find an assistant, get them to write you a “bon”, which you take to the checkout, pay for the goods, then drive into the outdoor bit and collect them. Well, you do if you can find a sales assistant who isn’t far more interested in driving round and round in his forklift truck than in serving customers.

In total, we spent an hour and a half just buying some guttering; I’ll never complain about B&Q again!

To add to our frustrations, we heard from our estate agent this afternoon. The house sale in England should have been completed weeks ago, but our buyers’ buyers are now threatening to pull out if the price they are to pay isn’t reduced by the cost of replacement windows. So we’ve been asked to reduce our price by a portion of the amount! Some people just have no conscience at all!