One year on…..

Today is the first anniversary of our moving to France full time; a whole year has elapsed since we began “living the dream”. It’s been a steep learning curve for all of us; not just in terms of learning how the French systems of health care, taxation, planning etc. work, but also, having left behind most of the family and all of our friends, learning about our own strengths and weaknesses in an unfamiliar environment.

Although the main projects of building our new home and setting up a gite and chambres d’hotes business haven’t actually been started yet, we have plenty of achievements to celebrate, not least of which must be the standard of Nick’s French, which has improved beyond all recognition during the last year. He and Kieran have worked hard, not just in their French class, but also insulating the house, installing a second bathroom, transforming the barn behind the house to give us Nick’s and my workshops and an arrière cuisine, to mention but a miniscule part of what they’ve accomplished. For the first time in our married life, we’ve got a garden worth speaking of and have managed to grow an impressive amount of our own fruit and vegetables. Kieran has also got his motorbike license now and has become an expert digger driver and I’ve learned, amongst other things, how to tile walls and floors, grow fruit & vegetables and live with animals!

The people of Caupenne d’Armagnac and Nogaro have been unbelievably friendly, welcoming us with open arms to the cycling club, the walking club, the patchwork club; and making us feel valued members of the local community. It’s great to be able to go into town, bump into someone we know and stop for a chat; something we took for granted back in Harrogate, but which, we now realise, means a lot in terms of belonging.

Of course there have been difficulties and frustrations; the fear of misunderstanding what’s said on the phone, not understanding how things work, trying to get anything done in a time frame that would seem normal in the UK (not a chance!) and for me in particular, missing my friends and our beautiful granddaughter. But on the whole, neither Nick nor I would want to move back to England, or to have missed the last year for anything.

So what have we done today to celebrate this great event? Much the same as any other day, actually; Nick and Kieran have continued to work on the hangar while I’ve re-sealed the shower again. One talent I’ve discovered I definitely don’t have is silicon sealing showers. After numerous attempts, it was still leaking, so the lads removed the glass bit, I cleaned out all the old silicon, put new in and they sat the glass bit back onto it. I have to admit that it’s not the neatest job, but if it’s watertight this time, I don’t care how it looks!

Work over, it was time for a BBQ and beer. Take one of Val & Gary’s home-grown, free range chickens, cut through the base and flatten out, rub with pepper, lemon juice,  herbs and olive oil from our neighbours’ olive farm in Portugal, then cook over hot coals with potatoes, home-grown tomatoes, peppers and the first of our aubergines, serve with sauce basquaise; awesome!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventures and will continue to do so, but we’re always open to new ideas, if there’s anything you’d like to see more (or less!) of, please let us know in the comments!

Back to the grind

Now that all the family has left, it’s time to get some work done; until Wednesday anyway, when the next visitor arrives. We still have no car, but a friend has offered to take us to the airport if necessary, to pick him up.

The big project at the moment is the hangar, so Nick and Kieran have been busy preparing that for its new roof, where we hope to have photovoltaic panels installed, to feed electricity into the grid. There are big cracks running down the side walls, so now that the roof has been removed, there’s less holding them together and they’re not very stable. Kieran describes them as “flapping in the wind”; so as they’re going to cast a lintel across the front, above the doors, they’ve decided to cast a complete reinforced concrete ring around the whole building. It was also an opportunity to play with the new toy, a petrol-powered Stihl saw, (very carefully as this is a bigger version of the one Kieran used in an attempt to amputate his leg!) safely cutting the tops off the walls to bring them to an even level all the way round. The shuttering and casting of the concrete will be done tomorrow

I’m still spending hours in the kitchen, preparing fruit and veg for the freezer; at the current rate, we’re going to need a second freezer; the first one is nearly full already. I don’t know how many apples I’ve stewed so far, but the tomato tally now stands at 30kg!

No car, empty house, but the freezer’s filling up!

It’s been a fantastic three weeks; first the wedding, then having the whole family here together. We took Alex, Graham and Izzy to the airport today and the house feels very empty and quiet now.

The wedding photos are online on my brother’s site, Any friends who’d like to see them please email me and I’ll tell you the password.

Adrian and Julie lent us their car for a few days so that we could get out and about and do the airport trip as our car is still not fixed. When it was taken to the garage, a week last Monday, they were going to look at it and give us an estimate the next day, but that turned out to be a bank holiday and they didn’t get around to it till Friday evening. The estimate, including a Peugeot steering rack, was extortionate, but Kieran found a suitable, non-Peugeot, steering rack online which would save us 600euros, so we tried to order it, using 4 different methods of payment, including paypal, but all of them were refused, so eventually Adrian ordered it for us on his card (don’t know why no-one wants our money!), by which time another several days had passed. It should be delivered to the garage tomorrow, but who knows when they’ll get around to doing the work? After all, this is August!

The garden, however, is in full production mode and we’re struggling to keep up with the amount of fruit and veg that needs picking, preparing, cooking and freezing every day. There was another boxful of windfall apples today as well as two baskets of tomatoes, the last of the beans and a few plums and pears, and the Victoria plum tree will need picking tomorrow before the storms that are forecast for tomorrow night. We gave about 10kg of apples to a neighbour yesterday and came home with a boxful of courgettes in return, which I’ve made into courgettes provencales today, with some of our own tomatoes. We should be able to eat well all winter out of the freezer!

It ain’t ‘alf ‘ot, Mum!

There’s no mains gas around here, so you have the choice of bottled gas or a tank of gas; we inherited the latter, which is fine, if somewhat ugly. We decided to have a new, underground tank installed and set about getting this done, but as we’re learning, nothing, but nothing here is done at the sort of pace we’re used to.

I started by phoning the company, back in May; yes, they’d send somebody out to see us. Weeks went past and we heard nothing; I phoned again, and again, and again….. eventually making such a nuisance of myself that I was given the mobile number of the lady I needed to speak to, who came round (only 3 hours later than the appointed time!) and set the process rolling. There wasn’t a lot of gas left in the tank, but she agreed it was a good idea to order a refill when the new tank had been installed. The first date available for the changeover was August 16th; we found a plumber to join the tank to the pipe in the house and thought it would be easy. Why don’t we yet realise that NOTHING is easy here?! What fools we are!

The digger driver arrived at 8am, closely followed by the plumber. It was quite apparent from the start that there was a clash of personalities; the digger driver wanted to get the job done and the plumber’s work was nowhere near fast or accurate enough, even cutting the first length of pipe too short! There were raised voices and things nearly got very nasty when the digger driver, very skilled at his job, just happened to catch the plumber’s leg with the bucket of his machine. On the dot of midday the plumber, who hadn’t quite finished his part of the task, took off for the statutory 2 hour French lunch break; to wind the driver up even further? Who knows?

Eventually the job was done, so I phoned the company to order a delivery of gas; “Do you have the contract?” ” No, the lady who visited us in July took it with her.” She should have passed it on, but it would seem, didn’t, and is now on holiday and no, nobody else can deal with this.” Do you have the certificate of conformity?” ” No, where do I get one of those?”    “The plumber will have it.” So I rang the plumber, who has sent it off to some organisation or other, who will send out an inspector, who will inspect and send it back to the plumber, who will send it back to the gas company! “How long does this normally take?” I ask, bearing in mind that we’ve got less than a week’s worth of gas in the tank. “Normally it’s quite quick, but this is August…..”, which means everyone’s on holiday and France grinds to a halt.

Just a good thing it’s salad weather!!!!!

And speaking of weather, we’ve often been told that it can be unbearably hot here in August; this is our first August and there’s a heatwave! At 9am it was 27ºC, by 11am it was 30ºC and last time I looked it was up to 38ºC. The forecast is for it to hit 40º in the next few days and there’s no sign of any respite until at least next Thursday. By keeping all the doors, windows and Shuttercraft shutters closed all day, we’ve managed to keep the downstairs part of the house to no more that 26ºC so far, but the bedrooms are warmer, so Nick and I have decamped to the trailer tent in the grange – much more bearable!

We still haven’t got the car back, so we’re spending a lot of time in the pool, just trying to keep cool. What a good investment that was! 🙂

Bad things come in threes

The week started off pretty well with Adrian and Julie’s annual barbecue on Saturday night; the barbecue was great, the weather was perfect and one of Ade’s bands played. Everyone had a great time, sitting out till the wee small hours. Once we’d finished cleaning up the following morning, it seemed like a good idea to meet up in the Pyrenees on Monday for another barbecue; this one to use up some of the huge quantity of leftovers. But the disposable barbecues weren’t great, most people were tired and Izzy was being super-whingey, so the high point of the day was the location, on top of the col d’Aubisque, which was pretty stunning.

We were about to leave when the car made a clunking sound; the steering wasn’t working properly. Not ideal for descending 18km of hairpin bends. It’s amazing how fast 5 men can get under the bonnet of a car, well, under the bonnet, under the engine, inside the engine….. not to mention how knowledgeable they are! A nailbiting hour ensued; would we be able to get back down the mountain or would we have to call out the car rescue services, involving what is still my nightmare scenario – having to make a phone call in French. The conclusion was that we were going nowhere; I had to make that call; and worst of all, I was expected to explain what was wrong with the car! Well, being an old-fashioned type of a gal, I hadn’t a clue in English, never mind in French! So I gave the phone to Nick, who used lots of technical-type words before handing the phone back to me for the “who, where, when and how” type stuff.

The end result was that an hour and a half later the car was winched onto the back of a tow truck big enough to seat 5 passengers and we set off down the hill. The hairpins are tight on a bike and tighter in a car, but positively scary in a big lorry, but eventually we reached the garage, where they booked some transport to take us home (fortunately a rescue package is part of car insurance in France).

We wondered about how we’d pick Alex and Graham up from the airport the following day, or take Gemma and Johnny to the airport today, but the cavalry came to the rescue; Adrian and Julie lent us their car for the next two days.

All seemed to be settling down, though we still don’t know when the car will be ready, until I noticed that the shower wasn’t draining properly this morning. The drains to the septic tank had backed up, so nothing was moving. Nick and Kieran have spent the afternoon with drain rods doing whatever it takes to clear that sort of thing; I haven’t asked and I’d rather not know. One of the (few) advantages of being a woman is that we’re not expected to do such “blue” jobs. Well there have to be some perks, don’t there!

They say things happen in threes; I’m waiting….


Hot? Well just take a dip in the pool!

We went on a shopping expedition before going back to the UK for the wedding; one of our purchases was a swimming pool, in kit form. So the last couple of days have been spent assembling said pool and today we were able to fill it and make the most of the lovely cool water. As it was 37ºC in the shade today and is forecast to be hotter tomorrow, that’s where we spent most of the afternoon; bliss! 🙂

The wedding of the year (for us, at least!)

We’re home! We had a fantastic week back in Harrogate, for the wedding of Alex to Graham. The wedding day itself was wonderful, full of joy and laughter as Alex and Graham started their new life together. Even the weather was kind to us; it only rained when we were inside and was reasonably warm. I haven’t got the official photos yet, but will post some more when I have.

Hugo had an adventure while we were away, staying with John at Ade and Julie’s; he got up to all sorts of mischief and kept John awake at night by chewing his nose, but they both survived the experience. Hugo got a shock last night, though;  he was stalking Hermione when she turned on him, he shot across the garden, leaving Hermione with a beak full of fur!

We brought Izzy home with us, while Alex and Graham are on honeymoon, she’s having a holiday here in Caupenne. So far she’s driven the mower and the digger and helped Kieran excavate the bit of garden for the pool that we’re installing. Gemma and Johnny have joined us and Alex and Graham will be here too next week, so it’s quite a houseful!