Two years already!

It was two years ago yesterday that I arrived here permanently, Nick and Kieran having moved in a few days before me. It hardly seems possible; the time has flown by and we’re beginning to feel as though we belong.

Some things, though, we still haven’t got the hang of. We were invited to our neighbours’ son’s 18th birthday party on Saturday. The only food mentioned was a barbecue in the evening, so we had a bit of lunch before we went to the party in the early afternoon. There were crisps and nuts and melon balls and foie gras on toast for aperitifs; but very soon everyone sat down to eat. Melon and ham was followed by platters of salmon and king prawns, served with a mixed fish salad. Next were trays of cold roast beef, cold roast pork and salade piedmontaise, then the cheese board and finally the most enormous birthday cake I’ve ever seen, huge chunks of which were passed round. To say we were overstuffed would be something of an understatement!

Lunch finished at 7pm; there was a quick break from eating to watch the firework display, before the barbecue started. We’ll know next time!

Once we’d recovered from that, we could get on with some work; Nick’s installed the rest of the velux windows in the roof and I’ve sprayed the balcony joists with woodworm/termite treatment before lasuring them.

It’s also a busy time in the garden; we’ve got a fantastic crop of apples this year, which need peeling, coring, stewing and freezing; Nick’s dug and tied up the onions, which have done well, even if they are red when I thought I’d bought the yellow variety. The beans and tomatoes are starting to come through now, in spite of a very late start and once again, I’m going to be short of freezer space soon.

In which Alex has her leg licked by a Frenchman dressed up as a sheep!

Alex and two of her friends came for a week’s holiday; it was pretty frantic as they tried to fit in as much as possible. This included a visit to the jazz festival in Marciac, numerous meals out at various restaurants and a few evenings at the Nogaro fete; it was at one of these, as the floats, decorated on the theme of various countries, that a man dressed as a sheep leapt off his float, got down on all fours and proceeded to lick Alex’s leg!

Alex was thrilled to meet Alice, Kieran’s girlfriend, who spent a few days with us, including the day Alex finally achieved her dream of going paragliding (parapente) in the Pyrenees.

In between all the activity, as the weather was glorious, the girls spent time in the pool, topping up their tans and getting to know the goose, while Nick and Kieran installed the beams to support the balcony and shaped the ends, and I continued to lasure the woodwork.

The house feels very empty now, but we should be able to get on with some work before the next lot arrive in a fortnight.

Kieran’s new number plate

As Kieran’s going to the Isle of Man with my brother to watch some motorbike races at the end of the month, he began the process of registering his bike in France over two months ago, so he can legally ride it in Britain. Between French bureaucracy (every bit as bad as it’s cracked up to be) and the French habit of closing things down for the whole of August while people go on holiday, it’s been an extremely fraught process. This time yesterday, having dismissed the ideas of a) him riding pillion on my brother’s bike (he looked horrified that I’d even suggested something so completely uncool), b) hiring a bike in the UK (too expensive) or even c)  sticking false plates on his bike (I put my foot down at that one), we really thought he’d have to cancel the whole trip. However, a clutching-at-straws trip to the garage this morning paid off; he now has his carte grise and French number plates, not to mention a huge smile, and it’s all legal.

When not on the phone or the computer trying to sort that out, he and Nick have been hard at work removing the old kitchen; we’ve moved into the arriere cuisine temporarily, while they install the new kitchen, which I hope will be ready for October as I want to start teaching here instead of going to other people’s homes to do classes, which costs a fortune in fuel (not reclaimable) and takes up hours of my time. The electrician is back from his holidays now, so he’s made a start on the next bit of wiring in the new house, so it’s all moving on.

Jazz in Marciac

We’ve long dreamed of going to the Jazz festival in Marciac; it’s reputed to be the biggest and best in Europe and is only half an hour’s drive from us. Yesterday we finally made it and we weren’t disappointed.

The whole central square of the town is taken over, covered with a huge chapiteau, a sort of pointy tent roof, at one end of which is a stage, facing row upon row of chairs; from 10.30 each morning, until about 7.30 in the evening, there is a series of bands playing, all differing styles of jazz and all free.

Around the edges of the chapiteau is a myriad of mini chapiteaux, parasols and various sun shades, beneath which are stalls selling everything from hats to Indian slippers, vinyl records to books of jazz fingering for guitar, food and drink of every description, clothes and jewellery. Along the length of the side streets radiating from the centre there are more stalls and shops; you get the impression that many of the garages, where the good folks of Marciac normally keep their cars, have been rented out for the duration of the festival and now house art galleries and shops selling jewellery, crafts and hand made guitars, amongst other things.

We sat in the shade to watch a few bands, ambled around, looking at the stalls, had dinner in one of the many restaurants which spill out onto the pavements, then took our seats under the chapiteau to wait for the concert listed for 9pm. As the evening wore on, bands started to play in many of the restaurants around the square. However, it seemed a little odd that the seats weren’t filling up very quickly; in fact, by 9.15, we were still among a very elite group of people sitting there, the piano was still covered up and there were no other instruments on the stage. I asked someone; this was A chapiteau, not THE chapiteau; the main event of the evening was taking place under the most enormous marquee I’ve ever seen, just out of town; it was ticket-only and all 6000 seats were sold. However, we could still see the show as in the bars and restaurant surrounding THE chapiteau there were several TV screens broadcasting it, so we watched Wynton Marsalis and his ensemble, which included all the usual jazz instruments, as well as sitar and tabla.

Our first trip to Jazz in Marciac certainly won’t be our last!

A catch up

Chris has gone home; we hope he enjoyed his stay and learnt a lot while he was here. Maddy and Dom have also been and gone; we had a lovely few days with them, including a day in the hills, cycling up the col de Hourquette d’Ancizan. Since they left, the weather’s got even hotter; the weathermen seem to think the worst is now over, with temperatures peaking at 40ºC yesterday; not a good day for us to go to Condom, where we scuttled from one patch of shade to the next, trying to find some respite from the ferocity of the sun. Today’s 35ºC nearly had me reaching for a cardigan!

So now it’s back to work. Kieran has to re-register his motorbike over here; he has spent many weeks sorting out the paperwork and getting a certificate of conformity, so we headed off to Auch today, armed with every bit of paperwork anyone could possibly ask for and quite a lot of other stuff, just in case, in the hope of completing the task. But as is so often the case, it wasn’t that straightforward; what he’s got is only a partial certificate of conformity, due to the age of the bike, which has to be inspected again to complete the certificate. I phoned the various places to arrange this; to speed things up he can take the paperwork to Tarbes on Monday and meet with the technician, but when I asked if the technician could  inspect the bike there and then, the suggestion was met with horror – no, it takes three to four weeks for this! So we’re on tenterhooks now, as he has booked to go back to England in 3 weeks time.

We were more successful in our other task in Auch; that of getting Kieran a social security number and registering him as an auto-entrepreneur, so that he has some health cover, since it now looks likely that he’ll be staying longer than originally anticipated. The poor woman in the RSI office must dread idiots like us turning up, with very limited knowledge of how the system works, or even of the vocabulary used! However, she explained everything (I’m not claiming to have understood it all, but that’s not her fault!) and even gave us a space in her office to fill in the forms in situ, so we could ask about what we couldn’t understand on the forms. Two hours later – Kieran now officially exists here 🙂 English people we meet so often complain about the rudeness and unhelpfulness of French civil servants; I hope I’m not tempting fate, but we’ve met with nothing but courtesy and helpfulness up to now.