A new stove

The wood burner in the kitchen is a classic; everyone around here seems to have had the same model at some time, and they all seem to have had a large hole in the grate, that lets the wood fall through, and an ash pan that’s more hole than whole. So ours was no different. In common with the rest, it guzzled wood, needed constant attention and had to be used with the doors open if you wanted it to heat the room, leaving your clothes smelling of wood smoke.

So, after a bit of research, we bought a replacement; this one has a side door to load it with logs, a thermostat and will stay lit, unattended, for up to 10 hours.

We tried sending Kieran up the chimney to sweep it, but he’s simply too big these days; so we bought some brushes and cleaned it in a more conventional fashion. The next job was to cap the chimney, to stop the rain dripping on the new stove (the top of the old one was quite rusty). Unfortunately, in doing this, the lads discovered some loose bricks in the chimney stack, which will have to be cemented up tomorrow. The chimney liner had to come out as it was only supported on the old stove; quite a job as two lengths had welded together, so it wouldn’t come out downwards and had to be winched up and out of the top. But eventually, they overcame all the obstacles, removed the old stove and heaved the new one (140kg of it) into place.

We have to “season” it, which involves keeping the fire small tonight, then gradually building up the heat over the next few days, so it won’t be roaring for a little while yet, but it seems to work well and should also mean we don’t have to wear “eau de woodsmoke” all this winter.

Hugo’s a star!

At last Hugo has caught a mouse! He doesn’t seem to have realised up to now that that is his raison d’Γͺtre, but maybe things will be different from now on. OK, so Nick spotted the mouse and had to take Hugo to it and explain that he was expected to catch it, but eventually he got the message and duly dispatched the poor creature. It’s suddenly turned cold and wintry here, so I don’t expect this will be the only mouse to come in out of the cold.

Jazz in Marciac

Marciac; home to the biggest jazz festival in Europe for two weeks every August. Some of the biggest names in the jazz world perform there every year and visitors come from all over the world to be part of this magnificent event. But it doesn’t stop there; this is a town entirely given over to music; mostly jazz, but other genres too, there are concerts going on throughout the year. And the best bit is – it’s only 25 miles down the road!

We were lucky enough to get tickets to see the American saxophonist, Scott Hamilton play with his band and the pianist and singer Dena de Rose, last night. It had been a busy day; a trip to Bordeaux to pick Julie up from the airport as Adrian’s back was bad meant that we didn’t get home till 7.30pm, we shovelled some food down and were back on the road for 8pm. The roads were quiet and it was a beautifully clear night, with an almost full moon casting an eery light. The road from Termes d’Armagnac to Marciac is lined on one side by tall plane trees, standing like ghostly white sentinels below the floodlit 12th century tower at Termes; it looked like the setting for a Halloween ghost story.

But all spooky thoughts were forgotten when we arrived at the gig; Marciac is a small but vibrant town, we easily found the venue and were able to relax and enjoy the music. It was played as jazz ought to be played; not overly rehearsed, each musician listening to what the rest of them were playing and adapting their part in it accordingly. Songs that you thought you knew sounded totally different from anything you’d heard before. A fantastic evening; we’ll be going to more concerts there πŸ™‚

It was cold by the time we got home and this morning there’d been a frost. When I planted French beans at the end of August, gardeners threw their hands up in horror, declaring that it was far too late and I’d certainly not get any beans. But there are some tiny, thread-like beans on the plants now, so Nick and Kieran built a makeshift greenhouse over them this afternoon to protect them from the frost forecast for tonight. Breezeblocks, old wooden joists and the windows we took out last year were all put to good use and, hopefully, will allow us to get a late crop of beans.

A good day’s work

It would have been a lovely day to go for a ride with the cycle club, but with rain forecast for tomorrow, we thought it better to get on with the garage.

So Nick cemented the ridge tiles in place while I lasured the fascia boards and Kieran attached the guttering. Then the lads hung the first of the garage doors and left me to lasure that, while they took yet another trailerful of rubble to the tip and collected some firewood from a neighbour.

We had a heap of wormeaten wood to burn, so ended up eating our starters around the bonfire; watermelon picked from the communal garden and chestnuts, collected just down the road, roasted over the fire. Who could ask for more?!


A day in the life…

I think autumn is my favourite season here. The leaves are just starting to turn; shades of gold and red, often against a brilliant blue sky, herald cooler days, longer nights and much needed rainfall. The mornings are cool and often misty, the brume clearing by lunchtime, allowing the sun to lift the afternoon temperatures to figures only dreamed of in mid-summer in England. And best of all; after months of swelteringly hot nights, it’s now cool enough to sleep comfortably!

One thing we really miss here is a theatre; we used to go to most of the productions at the Harrogate Theatre. There’s a cinema in Nogaro, which shows an excellent range of films, including quite a few foreign ones in “version original”; you can come unstuck if the original language is Korean, but a lot are in English. The cinema doubles up as a theatre occasionally, though many of the productions up to now have looked somewhat erudite; but last Friday we went to see a trio playing Latin American and Spanish music. Two guitarists, who also sang, were joined by a guy playing a traditional Peruvian instrument, whose name I’ve forgotten, but which looked like a wooden box that he sat on. The front of it was covered in a skin or cloth and he played it like a drum. The music was fantastic; so vibrant and full of energy, that even though there were only about 60 people in the audience, quite a few of us were dancing in the aisles for most of the evening.

Yesterday Kieran was asked to take a look at a laptop belonging to a cycle club member. He repaired it and Jean-Paul took it home, only to phone half an hour later to say that it wouldn’t now connect to the internet. I took the phone call and, as Kieran doesn’t do phones in French, had to translate the conversation between them. Bearing in mind that I have only the most rudimentary grasp of computer-speak, even in English, this was no easy task; I hadn’t a clue what “wireless”, “network” or “yellow flashing light on the right hand side of the front edge of your computer” are in French and even when I tried, Jean-Paul seemed almost as clueless as me! So in desperation, I sent Kieran round to his house to sort out the problem; it wasn’t difficult; the network cable wasn’t plugged in!

So life goes on; Nick cemented the garage ridge tiles in place today and we’re hoping to make more progress tomorrow, before the next lot of rain arrives on Thursday, so watch this space; I should have some more photos to put up soon πŸ™‚


A sad day for Hugo

Poor Hugo; nothing to eat or drink from 8o’clock last night. Poor Hugo; kept inside when he should have been out overnight. Poor Hugo; this morning, being put in that infernal box and taken for a ride in the car. Poor Hugo; he had no idea what was to come.

We collected him this afternoon, hungry and a bit sleepy, but otherwise no worse for wear, considering he’d just been deprived of his manhood.

Sorry Hugo!

Like all males, taking consolation in booze!

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – and mushrooms

Mushroom picking is a national obsession in France at this time of year, each person’s favoured location for finding the much loved fungus a closely guarded secret. So imagine my surprise when, on a wander round the garden this morning, I found dozens of delicious looking mushrooms dotting the grass. They look like ordinary field mushrooms to me, but I’ll take a couple of them to the pharmacy tomorrow, just to make sure they are edible. I can’t eat them, but would hate to poison Nick and Kieran by serving up garlic poison toadstools!

Kieran arrived home from his stay in Harrogate this evening, delighted to be back in the warm and the dry, after a very cold, wet motorbike ride through England and northern France. The garage roof has passed his inspection and he’s keen to get moving on the removal of the grange floor, which Nick has put days of work into over the last week, enthusiastically assisted by Hermione. She doesn’t like the noise of the concrete breaker, and gets out of the way as fast as her clipped wings will allow her when that’s in use, but stands as close as possible to Nick all the time he’s digging with a spade; he reckons she’s depth testing the hole he’s dug so far.


Garage roof – done!

Last Friday Nick finished tiling the garage roof, well almost! He still needs to cement the ridge tiles in place, but it’s watertight. Just a bit of wall to build above the lintels now, a new concrete floor to lay, then doors to build and fit and it’ll be ready to use.

Having worked so hard last week, we thought we’d have a weekend off. The weather was glorious on Saturday so we went for a wander around the Nogaro vide grenier; this was part car boot sale, part market, part brocante, with hot roast chestnuts and bourret for sale on every street corner. Bourret is a delicious, cloudy, fizzy, slightly alcoholic drink, taken from the early stages of wine production and is for sale everywhere around here at this time of year; it’s always served with roasted chestnuts. I found a mirror for the bathroom and Nick bought an old spoke shave, so it was a good trip.

You must understand that, as market towns go, Nogaro doesn’t rate in the top 5%. There are two markets a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays; there are three stalls on Wednesdays and a huge seven (on a good day) on Saturdays. However, there are a couple of good veg stalls on Saturdays, so, rather than buy in the supermarket, I shop at the market; the only problem being carrying the goods back to the car. So I have had to not just think, but do the unthinkable and am now the owner of not a tartan, but a bright pink pull-along shopping trolley! Just how old lady and Grannified is that?!

On Saturday afternoon, I worked at the communal garden. Christian, who helped set it up, has sent me some photos taken in the early days when they’d just started up, so they’re included in this post. I was sent home with loads of strawberry runners and instructions to plant them that day as it was the most auspicious day according to the lunar calendar, which everyone around here seems to use. There wasn’t time, however, on Saturday, so I decided to do the planting on Sunday; but it was wet, so wet that, by the time I’d finished digging over the plot of ground to put them in, the water was trickling down my jeans and puddling inside my wellies. Being a fair-weather sort of gardener, I gave up, came inside and lit a fire; I planted them today and hope the moon doesn’t mind too much.

Do cyclists really have longer kilometres?!

Why is it that when you ask a cyclist “how far is it?”, you can guarantee the reply will either be “not far”, or a totally unrealistically low figure? Or is it just men in general, perhaps?

On Wednesday afternoons the cycle club goes out for a ride, the same route that will be done the following Sunday, but at a slower pace. It was a lovely day, with plenty of cloud cover to stop it being too hot, so I talked Nick into having a break from roofing and go for a ride. I’m not fit at the moment and Nick wanted to get back to do more of the roof, so we decided to do about 40km; another club member was doing a short ride too, which he said would be 50km. I was feeling OK, so we stuck with Christian, but had already covered 56km when he announced that it was only 10km back to Nogaro; by the time we got home, we’d done 69km, and at a reasonable average speed too! Which leads me to wonder whether there are differing measurements for cyclists’ and other road users’ kilometres!

But no pain, no gain; it was nothing for Nick, but I was nearly on my knees coming up the last hill, so it must have done me some good πŸ™‚

Nick has made good progress on the roof today, around the ride. We need to get more tiles tomorrow, but it should soon be finished.

Kieran’s list

It was still pitch black when Kieran left, at 7o’clock on Saturday morning; he’s gone back to England for 10 days, to see friends and, I suspect, to have a rest. 35 hours and 987miles later, he arrived at Alex’s.

He told us we can have a break too while he’s away, once we’ve finished doing the hangar (have to start calling it the garage) roof, dug the grange floor out to 50cm depth and re-sealed the shower -again! Yes, the shower’s leaking again and it looks as though we’ll have to dismantle the whole thing and build a wooden, frame-type structure under the basin to stop it flexing. Nick didn’t seem too impressed at the idea.

Still, he’s getting on with the garage roof; the back is done and the front has lats in place now and is ready to tile tomorrow, with tiles that we exchanged for breeze blocks with Adrian.

I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs while all this progress has been progressing. We tried the solar fruit dryer; it was OK, if rather slow, while the sun shone, but it did have certain problems, for instance, you had to bring all the fruit in at night and find space for it in the fridge since it took 3 days to dry a batch of figs. It was also considered a very desirable location for the many ants that live in the garden – not ideal. We tried standing the legs in water, but then the sun disappeared for several days. I borrowed an electric dryer from a neighbour; I wasn’t keen on the design as you had to slice things thinly before putting them in; no chance of drying whole figs, so I bought one online. It has removable shelves to accommodate larger pieces of fruits and veg and seems quite good. So far I’ve dried a batch of halved figs (the whole ones are still drying) and have put in a load of cherry tomatoes. It may sound ungrateful, but I think I’ll be quite glad when the tomato season is over; I weighed the first 50kg of tomatoes our little potager produced, but we must have had at least another 20kg since then and I’m sick of picking them! There’s no room in the freezer for anything else at all and the shelves are groaning under the weight of bottled produce; hence the dryer, to produce our own un-sun-dried tomatoes and figs.