Boys’ mini adventure, 2nd attempt

Having watched the weather forecast for weeks, the boys finally decided Wednesday was an auspicious day to go on their long-awaited motorcycle trip to Andorra. It was very hot, 35º to 38ºC in the shade, but they found hundreds of miles of twisty, narrow roads, great restaurants, a motorcycle museum and good bars where they could rehydrate in the evenings.

They were in a pizzeria on Friday night, when the sky began to darken and it started to rain; within minutes they were in the middle of a huge hailstorm, with hailstones the size of golf balls and by the end of the storm, some 15 minutes later, the ground was several inches thick in hailstones. Leaves were ripped from trees and flowers in planters in the village looked as if they’d been strimmed; Kieran was relieved that he’d left his towel to dry on the tank of his bike; the towel was soaked, but the tank was undamaged. The seat of John’s bike was ripped by the ferocity of the storm.

Their gear thoroughly soaked, they arrived home a day earlier than planned.

We weren’t idle while Kieran was away; it was far too hot to do anything on Thursday, so having a look around the sales, in air conditioned shops seemed like a good option. We found a new (to us), leather three piece suite in a brocante and another exciting purchase which I’m not allowed to disclose yet, as Nick wants it to be a surprise for the girls when they visit. So you’ll just have to wait and see!

I also finished the tiling in the arriere cuisine and grouted it all; it looks good, if I say so myself.

Today was Julie’s birthday so we invited them to ours for lunch. Julie loves chickens, so it seemed like a good idea to make her a chicken-shaped birthday cake; I’m not much of a cake decorator, but I was very pleased with the result. That is, until the head fell off! Kieran stuck it back together with lots of cocktail sticks, so eating it was quite interesting!


Asbestos gone

In our garden is a hangar, soon to be a garage with photovoltaic panels on its roof (to sell electricity to the grid),  but before we can have the panels installed, we need to increase the slope of the roof to 25% so that the panels will capture as much sunlight as possible and build a front wall with garage doors in it. The roof is currently made of asbestos, so it needs disposing of safely and legally. I read on a website that all the tips in France will accept asbestos one day a month and that the mairie (town hall) can tell you when that day is, so we went to the mairie in Nogaro, where a very helpful lady suggested we ask at the tip. We went to the tip, but they knew nothing of the scheme. Back at the mairie, the same helpful lady made a few phone calls and eventually gave us the number of someone to call, who gave us the number of the manager of the tip geared up to accept this sort of stuff in this area. Success!

I rang the man at the tip, who explained that we’d need  “les big bags”, which he could supply; so this morning Nick and Kieran went to get the bags as well as disposable boiler suits, masks, and gloves. At 32ºC in the shade, it wasn’t an ideal day for working on a roof in extra clothing, but they’re brave souls and by this afternoon the roof was down and bagged and one load  already taken to the tip. The rest will go in the morning.

Training with the French para olympic team.

In view of the brilliant performances of the British riders in this year’s Tour de France, Nick couldn’t resist the temptation to wind the French up this morning, and turned up for the Sunday cycle club run sporting his yellow jersey. The point wasn’t missed, as he was greeted with cries of “Eh, Bradley!” by several of the cyclists.

We had an email from the club this week, asking for as many riders as possible to be at the clubhouse at the usual time for the Sunday run this morning, in the club strip if possible, to have our photo taken with the French para olympic cycling team. Their races, in the para olympic games,  will be held at the Brands Hatch motor race circuit, which is very similar to the circuit at Nogaro, so this is where they’re training and they wanted to go out with a club today.

There was a tandem, an ordinary bike adapted for the rider who only had one leg and two recumbent, hand pedalled trikes.

We set off up the hill out of Nogaro at a deceptively easy pace (hand pedalled bikes don’t do hills fast, I gather), then the speed started to pick up. I managed to just about hang on for the first 7 or 8 miles, (the gentle warm-up!) as we passed our house at about 25mph, but soon dropped off the back of the peloton, so did my own ride at my own pace. Nick, on the other hand, was in his element, chatting to one of the recumbent riders, who just happens to be the world champion in his discipline and who called Nick Bradley for the whole ride.

I’ve asked for photos to be sent to me, but haven’t had any yet, so if Bruno is kind enough to send me some of his, I’ll post them later.


A day in the hills with the Tour de France

Yesterday the Tour de France was in the Pyrenees; stages in the mountains are very popular to watch as the peloton is often split up and moves slightly less fast than normal.

We have friends who run a holiday home for weary (and not-so-weary) cyclists 17km from Arreau, one of the towns to be visited, so Nick and I drove to Alison and Ian’s, left the car there and cycled up to Arreau. Ian had already set off with his 15 guests and was on the col de Peyresourde above Arreau, but the road was closed by the time we arrived. We found a shaded spot as it was 30ºC in the shade and scorching in the sun, and waited for the fun to start.

The publicity caravan soon arrived, throwing freebies of every imaginable sort into the crowd; our bag was soon full of biscuits, key rings, hats, frisbees and even a tee-shirt. Once the caravan had passed, the atmosphere of anticipation grew by the minute as we waited for the first of the cyclists to arrive. Somebody in an apartment above a shop was watching it on the TV and occasionally shouted a progress update out of his window. Then we heard the whirr of the helicopters, a sure sign that the riders are approaching, the whistle of a gendarme to warn the spectators to stand well back, and Thomas Voekler and Chris Anker Sorensen whizzed past, taking the hill at incredible speed. The peloton was really strung out; a minute later another four riders came through, followed by groups small and large for the next 30 minutes. We were able to spot Bradley Wiggins as he sailed past, looking very comfortable in his yellow jersey.

Once everyone had gone through, the road was reopened and the cars started to queue to go home; the road which had been almost entirely empty for our ascent was now totally gridlocked for the next half hour or so, as we wove our way between the cars on the descent back to Ian’s.

Three of Ian’s guests were old friends of ours so we ended up by staying to dinner and having a good catch up with them; a great day out.

Mission nearly accomplished

It was the turn of Magnan, a nearby village, to have their fete this weekend; it included a 30km mountain bike ride and a 12km walk, so Julie, Adrian and I chose to walk while Nick and John (who’s staying at Ade and Julie’s on his holidays) decided to cycle. John was concerned that he hadn’t done a lot of training, but borrowed the stuff and gamely had a go at the ride, which turned out to be very much hillier that expected! I won’t be so mean as to describe the state he was in by the finish, but there was one Brit in the top 3 and another  bringing up the rear.

Having recovered over lunch, John then came into his field of expertise; he’d offered to help me tile the floor of the arrière cuisine (some people have a strange idea of what it means to be on holiday), so we cleared the rest of the tiles, paint, preserves etc out of the way and started. I’d got to the difficult part on my own, with an uneven bit of floor and lots of complicated cutting to do, so I’d stopped before I messed up. We got quite a long way yesterday, then started again this morning and by this evening there are only some edge tiles to cut and lay. It’s going to look good!

Mini boys’ adventure

This wasn’t actually an adventure for mini boys, but a mini adventure for three as-grown-as-they-ever-get male children. It ended up being mini as the weather curtailed the planned week long trip to Andorra.

It started on Thursday morning with the sanding, varnishing, assembling and delivering of Adrian’s latest little job, a table, to the chateau in Brassempouy. Not exactly either motorcycling related or adventurous, you’re thinking, but he needed the cash for the trip.

They were finally on the road for about 1pm; first stop McDonalds in Orthez at 1.30, but never mind, this was always billed as a real blokes’ trip. With Ade’s bike sounding like a bucket load of spanners rolling down the stairs, the next leg was undertaken. Unbeknown to John and Kieran, Ade’s satnav had the latest software update, allowing the option of choosing the narrowest, most badly finished, graveliest piece of farm track ever to call itself a road; this ended up, eventually, after much grumbling and gnashing of teeth, at Laruns and a well-deserved coffee stop.

Then it was on to the camp site to set up camp, where it was discovered that Ade’s tent was minus pegs – not the best scenario!. However, 23 years of RAF experience in dealing with difficult problems had not been totally lost on Adrian or John, and in true Blokes’ Club fashion, they nicked half of Kieran’s. With tents sorted, they were able to set off in pursuit of twisty mountain roads, completely naked – the bikes, that is, not the riders!

Mission accomplished as far as the twisty roads were concerned, they now felt the primeval need to go out hunting and gathering and after a short walk (thanks in part to Kieran’s smartphone and google maps – an indispensable part of any self-respecting neanderthal’s tool kit), pizza and beer were successfully tracked down, after which they even managed to find their way back to the camp site.

The following morning it was time to head for home, so with everything loaded, it was off in search of breakfast. This came in the form of wild coffee and a roaming herd of particularly vicious pain au  chocolat; then home via some other twisty, though better surfaced, mountain roads, they were back in time for tea and medals!

This entry to the blog has been brought to you courtesy of Cawthray-Roberts productions.

Tiling – day 3

Day three of tiling the arrière cuisine and I am getting a bit quicker, not that I could be much slower at putting tiles down than I was on day one! It’s taken about 16 hours to get to this stage! I’ve reached the join between the old and new floors now; it’s certainly not seamless! I think Nick may have to put a skim of cement over it since tiles don’t bend that sucessfully.

Tomorrow we can start to clear the tools, tins of paint, shelves, jars of jam, compote and chutney, bottles of wine, etc., etc., through to the other end of the room so that I can continue tiling. But I’m delighted to say that it looks as though I’ll have some help over the weekend; a friend who’s an expert tiler is coming over to give me a hand, so that should speed up the process considerably.

Hugo tries his paw at tiling

Hugo and I started tiling the floor in the arrière cuisine today; I hadn’t envisaged having an assistant, certainly not one whose idea of helpful was to remove all the tile spacers and scatter them around the floor, but he had great fun, also chasing the tape measure as I tried to work out how and where to cut the awkwardly shaped tiles!

Nick assures me that I’ll become quicker with practice, but at today’s rate it will take about 2 weeks to finish:-( He also tells me that he’s given me this job because the floor becomes “ever so slightly undulating” as it reaches the other end. Hmmmm, perhaps it’ll be even more of a challenge than I’d thought! Hey ho; I wanted a rustic finish and it doesn’t sound as though perfection is on the cards, especially as this is the first time I’ve laid floor tiles. Oh well, it’ll be another new skill to acquire and there will certainly be no shortage of opportunity for practice.


A home for Hermione

Hermione now has a beautiful, hexagonal house with little, heart-shaped windows; Nick and Kieran finished the roof today and I lasured the walls. She didn’t seem terribly impressed, but maybe she’s not a very architecturally cultured goose!

We’ll have to get on with the arrière cuisine soon, as the temporary shelving in there is now groaning under the weight of produce; we made 13 jars of apricot jam today and 10 jars of apricot pie filling. We also need space to put a decent sized freezer; the one we have is minute. I tried making a white chocolate mousse on Saturday, for our visitors. It’s a fool-proof, stand-by recipe which has never let me down before; but the white chocolate that I bought here simply wouldn’t melt, it just went lumpy, and of course, you can’t buy whipping cream here, so I bought something that I hoped would work. After a lot of effort, it looked as it should, but 24 hours later, still hadn’t set! So I put it in the freezer this morning and have taken it out every so often all day today to whisk; it looks a bit like ice cream; any volunteers to taste it?

A busy weekend

A few weeks ago, a friend asked if he and five mates, all motorbikers, could stop off overnight at our house on their way to Portugal. We agreed, only realising later that it coincided with the night our friend Adrian’s band had a big gig at Monsegur, at which we’d promised to support them.

Various ideas were thrashed out and finally it was decided that we’d feed the bikers at our house, where they were due to arrive mid afternoon, then Kieran would lead them to Adrian’s while we took the trailer tent,  and Adrian would put up another tent. We would all go to the gig and probably end up sitting around the pool with band and bikers after the gig, playing and singing into the wee small hours. But the best laid plans…..

By 2pm on Saturday the preparation was all done for a six course meal, suitable for hungry bikers; the house was clean and we were ready to roll. We waited, and waited and waited…. They finally arrived at 6pm, having had a hard day’s riding. So we got on with the meal as quickly as we could, only managing three courses before they decided it would be a good idea to take the rest with us to eat at Adrian’s after the gig as it was getting late and they were all quite full.

We all set out in beautiful evening sunshine, but half an hour down the road there was what I can only describe as a cloudburst, with thunder rumbling and lightning flashing all around, so by the time the bikers arrived, they were drenched; they changed and we headed to Monsegur, thinking we’d have missed the band by now, but no, the storm had caused a power cut so the whole evening was pushed back by two hours! The gig was great, but didn’t finish till 2am; so the rest of the band went straight home and the bikers headed to bed, just leaving the hard core sitting up, drinking and chatting till 5o’clock.

The bikers left at 10.30 this morning and the rest of us were unsurprisingly subdued for the rest of the day, watching, or dozing in front of, the telly till it was time for us to come home.

Bonne nuit!