The wall that Chris built

The back wall of the abri is now finished and looks really good; straight and level. It’s quite an achievement for Chris, working under Nick’s supervision and a very hot sun.

I’ve done some more balcony painting, but the enormity of the task is just setting in; it’s going to take me weeks! At the moment, I can only work outside in the mornings as it’s just too hot after lunch; it’s now 8.30pm and still 34ºC, far too hot for wellies, but as it seems we’ve got garden fleas, which love me (forty plus bites on my feet and ankles!) I have to don wellies every time I go into the garden. Très élégant with my summer dresses!

How to shock a builder

Joel turned up to finish a few bits on Friday afternoon. Looking up at the partly painted roof of the balcony, he asked Nick if he’s not nervous being that high up the ladders. “No, not at all;” replied Nick, “Jackie does the painting.” To say Joel was stunned is something of an understatement; he’ll learn!

Work on the wall of the abri is going well; Nick’s decided to incorporate a door from one of the old wine cuves into it, on the inside; hence the window-looking gap. I don’t know how much more they’ll get done this week though; it’s been in the mid-30’s for the last couple of weeks, but this week is forecast to get hot, so I think maybe it’s time to start on some inside jobs until the heatwave’s over.

Recipe for progress

Take one newly qualified graduate, feed on a rich diet of duck breast, foie gras, home-grown veg, cheese, tiramisu and home-made ice cream. Marinate in beer, red wine and armagnac and bake under a hot sun for at least eight hours a day while allowing him to learn such useful skills as plasterboarding ceilings, digger-driving, use of a cement mixer, bricklaying and pouring a concrete floor. Result? A lovely base to the abri; tomorrow he starts building the walls.

While that’s been going on, Joel and his lads have also been busy. They arrived last week with the wood for the balcony, all in kit form; the main structure of the balcony is now in place and the roof above it is complete. The rest of it, ie the joists and floor of the actual balcony and the balustrade, are up to us to do. I started painting the underside of the roof today; it’s going to be quite a big job.

Beer and music festival

By the time we got home at 2 o’clock on Sunday morning, it felt as though we’d been away for a week. My day started early (4am), when I couldn’t sleep any longer due to songs, harmonies and chords rampaging nervously around my head in preparation for the gig we were to play at the Hinx festival, where I was to do a couple of duets with Nellie, our singer; one of the songs we only played for the first time last Tuesday!

Hinx is a small town with a huge festival; there were children’s entertainers, a funfair, and a live band playing for line dancing, amid a myriad of other entertainments. We were to play in the beer festival area; they certainly had an impressive selection of beers, served by bar staff wearing pretend kilts, bright green socks, festival T-shirts and an amazing array of headgear.

We were one of three bands who played half hour shifts in rotation from midday through to midnight; when we’d done everything we know, we started again at the top, running through our repertoire one and a half times by the end of the day. We play mostly Celtic traditional music, with a few bits of folk from elsewhere thrown in; of the other bands, one plays Breton music and one is a group of Frenchmen playing Scottish bagpipes – God only knows why anyone would actually choose to play what is, after all, not so much a musical instrument as an instrument of torture, but each to his own!

As the temperature rose, once again, to the mid-30’s we were very glad to be in the relative cool of the shade next to the bar, with easy access to all the liquid refreshment we could want. Jacques, who runs the band, has an ex-theatre mixing desk, not really suitable for live music and although he has a few volunteers very willing to have a go, none of them actually has a clue how to use it. Fortunately, Adrian and Julie were coming to listen to us; what Ade doesn’t know about sound systems ain’t worth knowing, so between our first and second sets, he transformed the sound from a base-heavy, fuzzy noise to a properly balanced sound where each instrument and voice could be heard. The reproduction on the videos isn’t great, but it will give you an idea of the sort of stuff we do, I hope you enjoy it.




I hate those meeces to pieces!

A week ago, I discovered that there’d been a mouse, or maybe more than one, in the food “stock” box in the arrière cuisine; it had eaten it’s way into rice cakes, muesli and raisins amongst other things. The hens had a feast, I cleaned out the box and re-filled it, this time sealing it with a tray, weighted down, on the top. The following day I went to get something out of the box, to find nibbled bags of sugar, beans, boudoir biscuits and prunes; I think the hens must be in league with the mice! Another treat for the hens, another good clean and I found a large box with a proper lid, which I filled and sealed. Just for good measure, I put a piece of white chocolate in a mousetrap nearby and set it. Yesterday the chocolate was gone and so was the mouse; another mouse trap, set very finely, this morning, no chocolate and the trap had been upended, but no mouse……. Hmm, where’s Hugo when you need him?

Cycling, digger driving; what next for our new helper?

Chris never having seen the Tour de France, he and Nick just had to take him into the Pyrenees yesterday to watch a stage. They left the car a little way from the Hourquette d’Ancizan and cycled up the hill until they reached a suitable vantage point, from where they could catch all sorts of freebies, from polka dot print hats to cakes, keyrings to fridge magnets, thrown to spectators from the publicity caravan as it passed by. Later, as the riders flew by, Chris was delighted to be able to spot Chris Froome in his leader’s yellow jersey, and to marvel at the speed at which they shot up the first category climb.

Once the race had passed, they headed back to Ian and Alison’s bunk barn in the foothills below Arreau, where numerous cyclists were staying for the Tour week. Back before anyone else, they let themselves in as the place is never locked and assured the Irish woman who was hoping to stay there that night that she’d be welcome, then fed cake and flapjack that they’d taken as part of their picnic to returning hungry cyclists, before helping to make dinner, to which, naturally, they were invited. They got home in the wee small hours of this morning, having had a brilliant day.

Today was back to work; Chris fancied trying his hand at driving the digger and dug a very respectable trench for the foundations of the abri (shelter) that we’re going to build on the side of the cabanon. Tomorrow he’ll have a go at making concrete in the cement mixer; all new  and different experiences for a lad who, just a week ago, graduated in Philosophy from Cambridge.

Summer’s arrived at last – with a vengeance

A couple of weeks ago, the band played at the music festival in Lannux, a tiny village with big ideas. We started in the church, where we accompanied Cathrin, our harpist; we were followed by a superb choir. Everybody then headed down the road to the salle des fetes for the serious business of eating, drinking and making more music. There was a display of African dancing and a band played during the meal, then, because it was France’s national fete de musique, when anyone can play/sing any music they like without having to pay royalties, several villagers got up to perform a variety of stuff, mostly very lighthearted and received very enthusiastically by the crowd. It was then our half hour slot, followed by a blues-rock band and a “proper” rock band as the night wore on into morning.

Since then, the weather has changed and summer’s now arrived in a big way; 35ºC in the shade today for the fete at Magnan. Nick and Chris did the mountain bike ride this morning, Chris looked the part in gear borrowed from Nick; then we joined the rest of the village for lunch, held in the air conditioned salle des fetes as it was too hot to be outside. Chris has taken to South West cuisine like a natural, tucking into several plates of duck hearts and chips; not bad for someone who was vegetarian until a short while ago!

The maire of Magnan, one of my students, looked a lot happier and more relaxed than last Wednesday, when he had an English lesson. His wife was away for a few days, so he had to feed the dogs, cats, chickens, water the garden, look after himself and organise the final details of the fete. He’d recently found that a helper who should have arranged insurance cover hadn’t done so, and during the lesson had a phone call from the caterer to say that the ovens in the salle des fetes weren’t working. He sorted that lot out, but still had to mow the 15km mountain bike course and make 200 individual servings of tiramisu, amongst a miriad of other tasks. He’d obviously accomplished all of it as everything ran like clockwork today. Monday, he says, he will be playing golf; well-deserved, I say!

Back at the ranch, work goes on; we discovered that the lads had put all the wall insulation in place the wrong way round, so it all had to be turned round so the paper side faces in; we live and learn!

And now one for Terrie

In the fairytale world of King Nick and Queen Jackie changes are afoot; Prince Kieran is soon to head off to sunnier climes for a fortnight’s holiday, though there are those who say the last 21months have been nothing but holiday. This would leave Old Nick to continue work alone, as Queen Jackie’s no use at all when it comes to such heavy skills as plastering, plumbing and mixing concrete. So the word went out; throughout the land they scoured the populace for a suitable replacement for Prince Kieran. Was there anyone with suitable qualifications? Someone who could keep Old Nick from falling off the ladders, work from morning till night and light and cook an excellent barbecue.

A shortlist was drawn up – a very short list, as there was only one candidate mad enough to volunteer; Cinderello, aka Chris, was flown in at great expense (his own), courtesy of Ryanair (don’t forget the fanfare – they arrived on time) and immediately put to work. Well, his apprenticeship only lasts till Kieran leaves on Saturday, so there’s no time to lose in his training.

He soon got the hang of fitting insulation between the rails in the living area, took quite well to the habit of drinking beer at the end of the working day to rehydrate and he won’t forget Kieran’s barbecue-lighting method in a hurry (white spirit and a blow-torch). He was fed suitably meagre rations of gruel in the form of duck heart kebabs, magret de canard, veggie kebabs, cheese, salad and cherries fresh from the tree while he and Kieran discussed the relative merits of Ubuntu, crashbang and deviants, among other things totally incomprehensible to the old folks. Now there only remains the task of finding him somewhere to sleep; under the kitchen sink? Having had no sleep at all last night, I think he’d probably sleep well anywhere! Just hope that interfering old baggage of a fairy godmother doesn’t find him; glass slippers really won’t suit him.