Right, said Fred…..

We’re going to the village new year’s eve bun fight tomorrow, so we offered to help with the setting up. Patrick, the organiser, arrived with his table plan; a table for each village that will be represented. So far, so good; a table for 10 here, one for 9 there, but 13? Not like that; they’ll be squashed together; not like that; they’ll be too far apart to talk from one side to the other. So they brought in a really battered old table top to add to the end of two tables; it was too long, so they thought they’d chop the end off, till it was pointed out that it was “egg box” construction, so that wouldn’t work either. Long, thin tables? Patrick wasn’t keen. The debate went on for ages, in super fast French; Nick and I were totally lost. Eventually they reached a compromise; some long thin tables and square ones for the groups of 9 and 10. We put them out, arranged the chairs, cut table cloth to length, put runners down the middle, added the table decorations, ran out, so we rearranged them, Natalie found the last three so we rearranged them again, then carefully “scattered” the sparkly bits which wish folks a joyeuse fete, all the right way up and legible. Next we tied baubles with floral ribbon all around the bar and put up the fairy lights. In the end, everyone was happy.

We all gathered round the bar for an aperitif and were told to be back there at 2.30 tomorrow afternoon to start making the toasts for the aperitif in the evening. The caterer will have put out plates and cutlery by then, so we can do the serviettes and….. the Christmas crackers.

Crackers are something unknown over here and have been bought by an Englishwoman in the village. It seems the DJ will announce instructions for their use at the beginning of the meal; I just hope we’re not asked to translate too many of the awful jokes inside them 🙂

A very merry Christmas

Well that’s Christmas done for another year, and thoroughly enjoyable it was too!

Christmas day was spent eating, French-style, over several hours. Adrian had done almost all the food prep and we had a magnificent feast; soup, foie gras, salmon ring, turkey, beef and all the trimmings, followed by the most fantastic Christmas pudding, his first attempt at making one and a resounding success. We also had a treasure hunt, with cryptic clues and the threat of a forfeit for anyone unable to solve their clues and find their treasure. Nick was under threat of running round the courtyard in his underpants, while I would have had to eat my Boxing day lunch without using my hands! Luckily we all solved our clues.

It’s a tradition in the Rhoney household that on Boxing day you make Christmas dinner sandwiches. These have to contain some of everything you had in your Christmas dinner, except the soup and the pudding, (but including the gravy!), so we set to with a will; foie gras mixed with smoked salmon (I’m sure that must be considered a heresy around here), to be piled up with sprouts and carrots, liberally topped with turkey and beef, parsnips, gravy and for Kieran, the inevitable squirt of burger sauce. You can imagine how difficult these are to build and eat, but trying to do this when the bread is replaced by rice cakes takes it to a whole new dimension!

We spent several hours on Boxing day trying out Ade’s new recording studio; he even got Kieran playing the drums and Nick the bass guitar. It actually sounded OK, which all goes to prove that you only need one musician amongst a bunch of muppets!

Then home, sweet home. After two very late nights, all any of us wanted to do was curl up by the fire and chill; but we’d been invited to Kate and Rob’s party, so off we went, without any great enthusiasm. What a brilliant evening it turned out to be; after discovering that dancing here means jiving, I’ve been keen to learn, but nobody I’d asked would agree to teach me, so I asked some of the fellas at the party, who unanimously volunteered Jean-Michel, poor bloke. So I got my first lesson last night and will have another after we’ve done the setting up for the new year’s eve do, next Sunday 😉 Another few years and I might start to get the hang of it!

Another 2am finish; we’re shattered. An early night tonight, methinks.



December 22nd and all’s well

Well the world didn’t end 😉 Personally, I’d have been a bit miffed if, after putting all this effort into our life here, it had all gone up in smoke before we’d had time to enjoy it!

It’s been a while since my last blog; not because we haven’t been busy, but because I just haven’t had time!

The lads have put a bit of floor upstairs in the garage and moved all the decorating stuff out there, which has cleared what will be my workshop (at the moment I have to sew in a corridor). They have also finished insulating the rest of the house; it’s made such a difference; the kitchen used to be 12-14º in the morning, but now is 16-17º; much more comfortable. We’re just waiting for the last few estimates to arrive before we decide which sort of heating we’re having. Joel, the builder has been round and given us our homework; we’re to dig out the foundations in the new house before January 7th, when he’ll start work, “as long as it’s not too wet”(fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain). I can’t believe we’re finally going to get started on our major project, it’s really exciting!

This last week has been a round of Christmas “nibbles and drinks”; my English class, a French class I took, the Pilates class I go to……… So I made a huge batch of mince pies, which went down very well; I’ve also made several Christmas puddings and a couple of pork pies. Unfortunately, I only had one tin the right size for pork pies, but, necessity being the mother of invention, Nick came up with a cunning plan – he sawed the end off some left-over stainless steel chimney flue – it made a perfect pie tin! But I’ve spent most of the week making a present for friends; I’ll put up a picture after Christmas as I don’t want to spoil the surprise. There was the walking club AGM, followed, inevitably, by a slap-up lunch…. and today was Nogaro’s Christmas market, a much grander affair than the usual 5 or 6 stalls on a Saturday morning. There was pottery, hand-made paper, all things duck and goose, an amazing variety of wines and armagnacs, not to mention the dried fruits and nuts. And though it was busy, there was none of the manic rush of Saturday-before-Christmas in Britain; people still had time to stop and chat, the stall holders took the time to talk to you about their particular products; a very pleasant event.

But even after all that, it doesn’t feel at all like Christmas; today was sunny and warm and tomorrow is forecast to be another glorious day and 21º – ridiculous! Not that I’m complaining 😉


Kieran, the miracle-worker!

When a woman none of us recognised turned up on our doorstep this afternoon, asking for Kieran, we wondered what was going on. It transpired that she’s a neighbour of one of our friends and was having problems with her computer; she said that Rob had told her Kieran can “work miracles” on computers, so she was here to ask for his help. It would seem his reputation is spreading far and wide.

When not fixing peoples’ PCs, he and Nick have been busy recently, doing what they do best – making a mess. Sorry, that should read insulating the house walls. We did a couple of the bedrooms last winter and it made an enormous difference, so they’ve done the last bedroom and the sitting room, and nearly finished the kitchen, which just needs plastering tomorrow. While they were in plastering mode, they skimmed the landing ceiling; unfortunately, they decided it would be far too much work to remove all the pictures from the walls before they started, so I’ve spent a large part of the afternoon cleaning lumps of plaster off the paintings, as well as the walls and the floor :-/

I should be getting on with making a present for a friend tonight, but there’s nowhere to put my sewing machine in the kitchen and we can’t light the fire anyway as the furniture’s too close to it; which all seems like a good excuse to light the fire in the sitting room and watch a film.


Hugo the cat had sneezles and wheezles,

He sat himself on Kieran’s bed,

Looking sad and morose from his paws to his nose,

He was miserable, even when fed.

He went out for a walk in the garden, but stalkin’

Small creatures was not his desire,

So back in he came, for his favourite game

Of sleeping, curled up by the fire


The PAC man cometh!

The time’s come to make some decisions; who we’ll get to install photovoltaique panels to feed electricity into the grid, and, more importantly, what sort of central heating system we’re going to have and who will install it.

We’ve had three PV estimates so far; they vary enormously, with one being the sum of the other two! We won’t be using him.

We’ve had three people round to talk about heating systems; oil, gas and electric are out as we want to use one of the new, eco-friendly systems. We’ve dismissed the idea of geothermic (water pipes 1m and 2m below ground take calories from the earth to heat the house) because it’s simply too expensive, which leaves a pompe à chaleur system, taking calories from the air and either pumping warm air into the house or using the calories to heat water in underfloor heating and/or radiators. I love the idea of a warm floor, but it takes a lot longer to warm up or cool down than radiators and is far less responsive than the hot air system, which can be noisy. And, of course, everyone we talk to has their own favourite and pushes that one.

We’ve another four people coming round this week, as well as an air/water PAC installation to visit. One thing we are learning is that cheating the tax man is a national sport here; the more you talk to people in any sort of business, the more you realise that “as long as you do it intelligently”, it’s perfectly acceptable! I think we’ve got a long way to go before we’ll be really French!

While we listen to the pros and cons of thermodynamique water heaters and planchers chauffants and try to comprehend the ins and outs of the planning permits required and the system of credits d’impots, Kieran is doing the lion’s share of insulating the rest of the house. The external wall on the landing is done now; next on the list is Kieran’s bedroom, which is north-facing and bitterly cold now that winter’s here. Roll on spring!


Saturday was the Telethon, a national, televised fund-raising event. In Caupenne, it kicked off last Sunday with an afternoon of line dancing at the salles des fêtes; I went along to help sell flowers, teddies and things like that – the stuff fund-raising is made of.

Yesterday there was a selection of stalls in Nogaro; cakes, books, more flowers, the fire brigade making merveilles and hot chocolate, as well as a walk and a bike ride. Even the little aerodrome was involved, giving plane and glider flights in exchange for a donation. Someone with a 3-wheeled motorbike was taking people for rides around the motor race circuit, as was another man who had what I would describe as an old-fashioned racing car. I’m sure there’s a more accurate description of it than that, but I don’t have a clue what it is; it looked like fun, though! At lunch time the cycle club put on a meal in the club house; garbure and daube, followed by apple tart, coffee and armagnac – just what was needed, whether you’d been standing outside in the cold all morning, walking or cycling. Janneau, who does the cooking, even made specials for me, without the ingredients I’m allergic to, so while I was baking for the cake stall, I made an extra cake for him. He’s a retired patissier, so it had to be something I thought he’d never have tasted before; carrot cake with cream cheese icing seemed to fit the bill and he looked suitably unsure when I handed it over. But Nick tells me that when they went back to the club house after today’s ride, there was only a miniscule piece left, which was divided among the cyclists, who were told it was made by “Madame Nick” 😀

I don’t know how much was raised in total, but when I find out, I’ll let you know

Another little job jobbed

Today Nick and Kieran have finished laying the new floor above the arrière cusine and bike shed; there’s still an awful lot of mess to clean up, but it was such a lovely day that Nick and I were allowed time off this afternoon to go out for a short bike ride.

We’ll have to buy another tarpaulin tomorrow, to drape underneath the roof tiles; most of the roof is already draped, but not above the newest bit of floor. To say it rained on Tuesday is something of an understatement; it came down in torrents of rain and hail, overflowing gutters and flooding the drive within minutes. That was when we realised that the roof above the boxes containing the new kitchen isn’t exactly watertight. So until the roof is replaced, a tarp will have to protect the new flooring.

The wreckers are in!

There is nothing Nick and Kieran like better than a good demolition project to get their teeth into! They’ve had a great time today!

The next job on our list is the arrière cuisine, which is like a second kitchen, on the cooler side of the house, and used for making things like jams, chutneys, fruit liquers and other sorts of preserves. It will also be useful, when the weather’s hot, to keep the heat out of the main kitchen. The electrician came last week and started the wiring; now we need to put in the insulation and plasterboard the walls before he comes back to install plugs and the like. But before any of that can happen, we need to replace the floor above both arrière cuisine and bike shed; most of the floor is OK, but there are some rotten bits, as Nick discovered when he fell partly through a little while ago! The space above will become a “family room” when the gite and chambres d’hotes business is up and running, but up to now has just been storage space. I’m keen to get on with the arrière cuisine, as once it’s finished, they will start installing a proper kitchen in the house we currently live in; at that point I can get rid of the antiquated gas cooker, with its oven that burns everything, and have a new electric oven 🙂

So while the boys were having great fun (no accounting for it!), I was assigned the task of ringing round the local suppliers to find the best price for floorboarding. I actually spent most of the morning on the phone, calling numerous companies to arrange estimates for solar water heating, photovoltaique panels and a pompe à chaleur heating system.

That done, it was time for my English class; Dominique had asked about the words to the song “Que sera sera” last week, so I printed out the lyrics and took my guitar along to class. We had great fun, ending up singing “Silent night”, at Maithée’s request and I have to take my guitar again the week before Christmas so we can get into the Christmas spirit! It sounds as though we might have quite a party!


Britain and France have a reciprocal health care arrangement which means that, for the first little while that we’re resident here, we have health cover. However, because I worked part time in the UK, my cover expires on Jan 5th 2013. It’s something we prepared for and is the reason I did a TEFL course, to enable me to teach English here and thus get a carte vitale. So I’m going to be an auto-entrepreneur, a scheme in which it’s meant to be simple to set up and run a small business. It may be simple by French standards, but I was completely lost, trying to fill in the forms online; I couldn’t even understand the questions! So I went into Nogaro and asked there; no joy; I’d have to go to Auch. So off we went, to visit the CFE office where they’d help me; but I couldn’t get past the receptionist, a very helpful woman who spoke very fast and is convinced that she answered all my questions. She probably did! But I’m none the wiser, so my friend Maria came round today to help, but she wasn’t sure either and suggests the tax office in Nogaro may be of some assistance. I’m going to ask an English friend, who speaks brilliant French, to go with me this time and maybe I’ll get somewhere.

While in Auch, we also went to the ADEME office for information on the various types of “eco” heating systems. Again we didn’t get the sort of information we were looking for, but did get a list of registered installers, so I spent this afternoon leaving messages for people to call us back; I hope they will.

All this bureaucacy is disheartening, so I’ve sorted out a few pictures of people, places and events that have made 2012 memorable; they cheered me up, I hope you enjoy them too 🙂