Aren’t I a clever girl?!

The tiling for the shower is finally finished; it still needs grouting, but I think it’s OK, reasonably level, even on the wiggly wall, and the joints match up, so I’m quite proud of myself! Nick’s had a rather more frustrating day, though, with the waste fittings for the wash basin refusing to play ball and after several hours of messing around, it still leaks. The sink was pricey, but came with free waste bits; I think I now know why! We’ll have to buy a new waste fitting before we can use it.

Alex, Graham and Izzy arrive tomorrow for 2 weeks holiday; should be fun!

Such a generous present!

Nick is such a kind soul, buys me such thoughtful, romantic presents; today’s being a 25kg tub of ready mixed tile adhesive. How lovely!

It was, however, just what I needed to get on with tiling the shower; it may not be the best tiling in the world and it’s certainly not been the quickest, but it’s all my own handiwork (apart from cutting the holes for the taps to go through) and I reckon it’s not bad for a beginner! I should be able to do the last two rows of tiles tomorrow, then the fellas can fit the shower cubicle when it’s dry.

I was a little envious, to say the least, of Nick’s and Kieran’s tasks today; both involved working in the garden in the sunshine (it was 25ºC in the shade), Kieran getting everybody’s favourite job of driving the mower round to cut the grass doing it now worse than professionals of commercial lawn mowing Brisbane we all watched on TV. The garden’s sprung into life in the last week’s warmth; there’s blossom on most of the fruit trees, everything has buds on and the first irises opened up today.

We invited our Portuguese neighbours round for aperos tonight, as a thank you for the loan of their plasterboard lifter; they had a tour of the work we’ve done so far and seemed impressed, lots of “Oh la la”ing going on and descriptions of how the house used to be when the old man lived here when they moved in across the road, 17 years ago.

A sense of belonging

We’ve had a busy few days, planting up the potager with the veg plants and seeds we bought last week, plasterboarding the last ceiling and trying to finish the bathroom in time for Alex, Graham and Izzy’s visit.

Once the floor in the bathroom was down and all the knot holes filled, I was able to seal it, then Nick and Kieran did the technical, plumbing-type stuff today while I made a quiche for them to take to the climbing club’s aperitif evening. I volunteered to tile the shower, but hadn’t a clue what I was doing, so resorted to picking a tiler friend’s brains (thank you John). It started off well enough, but I realised too late that the first row wasn’t quite level; I’m trying to gradually level it up, but I’m not sure it’s going to work. I’ve a feeling I may not be asked to do any more tiling in the future! I’ve had to leave it for now, though, as the water’s gone off; I asked my neighbour, who said that hers is off to and that when the weather’s hot they sometimes just turn it off for a while! Not too long, I hope!

If it hadn’t been for the bathroom, we’d have been out on the bikes with the cycle club this afternoon, so it was lovely to see them all, while we were sitting out in the garden, having lunch, (24ºC in the shade!)  as they rode past, waving and shouting bonjours and hellos to us. It may seem silly, but little things like that make the place begin to feel like home and as though we belong here.


A wild chicken chase

Well, the hen house has been finished and ready for occupancy for a couple of weeks now, so we decided that we really ought to bite the bullet and get some little chicks to enjoy the luxury of this lovingly built, hand-crafted, palatial residence. Like most things here, it turned out not to be that easy. We asked where to buy chickens and were given very precise directions; go and see Madame Castex; left before the bridge, up the hill, past the place with the cows, past the concrete house (wouldn’t you think they could paint it?), through the wood, turn left till you pass Robin and Jane’s place (they’re English; don’t you know them? Lovely house), then it’s on the right; but beware, they have 2 enormous, very fierce dogs.  We found the place with no problem, and Robin and Jane, whoever they might be, certainly do have a magnificent house; we even found enormous, twin dog kennels. But of Madame Castex, or the dogs (happily), we saw no sign, even though we wandered around for a good half hour, ringing every doorbell we found.

So our beautiful hen house, complete with automatic feeder and water dispenser, remains unused. I think we’ll have to order them from Point Vert; unfortunately, they won’t arrive till after Alex, Graham and Izzy’s visit.

In the meantime, work has progressed on the new bathroom, though not as quickly as we’d like, since it needs to be at least useable by the time Alex and co. arrive next Saturday. The pipework is all done now, the knot holes in the new floor are all filled in and the basin is attached to its table. Nick skimmed the very uneven wall behind the shower today, but the plaster wouldn’t stick and he ended up scraping it all off again! He’ll have to even the wall up with tile sticky. The next job is mine; to seal the floor before they attach the loo, bath etc., so it’ll be all hands on deck this week to get it finished in time.

The weather has turned warm and sunny again, and we bought some vegetable plants and seeds this week; lettuce, strawberries, cabbages, spinach and beans. So we spent much of the afternoon preparing the potager; we levelled it as far as possible, then I decided using the rotavator couldn’t be as difficult as I first thought and talked Nick into letting me have another go. I managed half the potager, much to Nick’s amusement, as it first tried to bury itself, then veered off to the left, then shot off at high speed towards Nick’s newly placed edging blocks! After about half an hour, totally exhausted, I admitted defeat and conceded that there are some jobs (sorry, any devout feminists reading this) best left to the boys. It didn’t seem to need so much good technique as sheer brute strength. I think I’ve a long way to go before I’m a proper countrywoman (more of a Margot than a Barbara so far, I’m afraid!)

I mustn’t forget to mention our friends Kate, Rob and Holly, who live a couple of miles up the road and who came round for a curry last night. Nick treated all of us to one of his superb curries and we sampled several bottles of very cheap plonk, to help Holly with her research project. It was a fantastic evening; great fun, and I hope there weren’t too many sore heads this morning.

The quest for lemon meringue pie

Isn’t it strange, how things happen all at the same time? Last week, on the same day, and after numerous delays, we completed the purchase of the flat in Harrogate and got the planning permission through for the house here in Caupenne. So now we can start on the serious work of building our new house!

The first job was a trip to Pau to buy windows for Nick’s and my workshops, plumbing stuff for the new bathroom and to collect the bath we’d ordered. Nick wasn’t overly impressed to discover that, having paid a small ransome for the bath of my choice, the legs were an extra 90euros. I wasn’t exactly flavour of the month! I hope anyone who visits will make sure to comment to Nick on the lovely bath, please!!

Last week, at Adrian’s, he commented that no-one could make lemon meringue pie like his mum’s friend; too much of a challenge to let pass, I’m afraid. So today, while work started on plumbing the bathroom, I made a lemon meringue pie; it’s passed muster here, so next visit to Brassempouy will see us arriving with a lemon meringue pie to see if it matches up to Ade’s high standards. I got a bit carried away, actually, and also made 2 quiches, a lemon cake and 15 jars of lemon marmalade.  Good to tell it was raining!

Everything with aperos

I’m sorry to say I didn’t take the camera with me this morning when I went out with the walking group, mainly because the weather didn’t look good. The wind was blowing, it was pretty cool and it wasn’t long before it started to rain; but nevertheless, there were about 35 hardy souls ventured out for une randonnée. We drove to a nearby village for the start of the walk; there were 3 routes of different lengths, all meeting back at the car park at midday. Normally someone brings, or organises, a table for aperitifs to be put out on (yes, it’s all very civilised!), so I wondered whether we’d bother today, or just go straight home as we were all wet; but, better than that, we were booked to visit a local patisserie for today’s aperos.

There was wine, floc, juice or coffee to drink, served with toasts with foie gras, pâté or rillettes, followed by tiny, delectable strawberry or mixed fruit tartelettes, miniature chou puffs, topped with caramel and the local speciality, croustade. If I’d thought to take the camera, you’d be drooling by now!

Once we’d eaten and drunk our fill, we all piled into the cars and headed back to Nogaro, where there were lots of bikes outside the cycle club (which is also the walking club) clubhouse. The cyclists were having their aperos, so several of us joined them for a second go before heading home for lunch. Aaaah, la vie est bonne dans le Gers!

Another first for me.

We’re back at Adrian’s again, starting to rebuild the maisie. Yesterday was spent buying supplies, taking the rubbish generated last week to the tip and doing the preparations, then today the lads started to put up the ceiling, having first sealed off the leaking water pipes.

I spent yesterday cooking; soup, fish cakes, chilli, chocolate cake and carrot cake; so today I was given the afternoon off. It was another glorious day, so I sat on the terrace, playing my guitar, until the lads ran out of support rails and couldn’t complete the ceiling.

They decided to shoot seed pods and beer bottle lids, put on fence posts at the bottom of the garden. Somehow I got talked into having a go and managed to hit the seed pod both times!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

We thought we deserved a few days’ break after last week’s exertions, so we didn’t do much on Sunday! But Monday saw us back to work. We’d found some doors on “le bon coin”, an internet selling site; so Nick and Kieran headed off to Mirande to pick them up. They’re perfect; right size, in excellent condition and complete with frame, so Nick continued to build the wall to his workshop around the frame this morning. This afternoon saw him and Kieran put the new floor down in the bathroom; the bath should be ready to collect from Pau this week, so we’re on schedule to have it finished by the time Alex, Graham and Izzy arrive for Easter.

Today has been glorious, so I made the most of the weather and got out in the garden, planting raspberry canes, weeding flowerbeds and mowing the mole hills. The grass would certainly not win prizes in a  best-kept-lawn competition, in fact I don’t think it would even be recognised as a lawn, but it’s mostly green so hey-ho!

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

On Saturday it was Adrian’s village annual meat-fest, the hunt lunch. It started at midday with aperitifs, followed by the meal proper. I’m learning that these events aren’t geared up for would-be vegetarians at all, anything faintly vegetable-like being hidden beneath a mound of “proper bloke food”, but there were half a dozen green beans to be found in one course and there was an (optional) salad course later on in the meal. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons there were so few women there!

The first course was served at about 1.30, amidst much noisy conversation and general bonhomie; by the time we got to dessert, you could hardly hear yourself think! The rosé was followed by red, followed by champagne, followed by armagnac, in a very convivial atmosphere. We thought we’d escaped at 7pm, but were dragged back in by a very drunk Thomas, wanting to continue practicing his English on us. Adrian denies all responsibility for teaching him the sort of gutter English he’s very proud of! Three of us got away again at 7.30pm, by running for it across the car park, but we had to rescue Nick half an hour later, when we’d loaded up the car to come home.

On our return, I found a newspaper cutting in my emails inbox; a report and photo of the walk I did in the Pyrenees last weekend with the Nogaro walking group. Aaaah, fame at last!! Though why they called us escargots, I have no idea; we weren’t that slow!

And now – to start rebuilding it

I left the boys at Adrian’s this morning; casserole in the slow cooker and soup on the stove; and headed back to Nogaro, where I had a meeting and then my English class this afternoon.

There were over 5000kg of dry materials between the mountain of sand and gravel in the courtyard and the bags of cement in the grange; then the tractor turned up, and the cement mixer, so it looked pretty businesslike. By this evening, all the raw ingredients had been used up and there’s a new, damp-proofed floor in the maisie. A good day’s work!

My day was rather less pleasing; as only one or two students ever turn up to my English lessons now, they decided that it’s unfair to ask me to continue the commitment. They assured me that it’s nothing to do with my teaching, and that because people pay so little for these lessons, this is something that happens when the weather improves after winter; but it still feels like a failure. Then, when I got home, the house was bitterly cold and I discovered that there was no wood cut for the fire! Not to be defeated, though, I sawed up 5 or 6 logs by hand (Nick and Kieran use the chain saw, but I don’t know how to work it), then split them with the axe; all of which left me plenty warm enough!

Tomorrow I’ll head back to Adrian’s as we’re going to his village hunt lunch; lots of wild boar, venison etc. It should be a good end to a hard week.