Winter’s a-comin’

With temperatures still in the low 30s, it just doesn’t seem right to be thinking about lighting a fire, but the shops are full of wood burning stoves and electric radiators, so I guess winter must be on its way.

The commune of Caupenne has cut down some trees, so as residents we were able to order some firewood last spring, at about half the price we’d have to pay elsewhere. Philippe, the maire, called in yesterday to find out where we wanted it putting, and this morning it arrived, half of a huge lorryload. Kieran’s friend Chris is staying at the moment, so the boys have started the task of cutting it to length and stacking it; not a quick job as there are ten cubic metres of it, but it should keep us toasty warm in the winter.

A Dutch choral evening

Last week, a Dutch friend of Nellie’s (the singer in our band) was to host a reception meal for a Dutch male voice choir, on tour in the area. Marloes had asked Nellie for some help setting things up and also to sing a few songs during the dinner, so Nellie asked me to go along too.

The barn in Marloes’ garden was set out with trestle tables and chairs, all beautifully decorated, by the time we arrived, so we set to work preparing the aperos and salads while Marloes got on with the last bits of cooking. By the time the coach disgorged its passengers, everything was ready.

Everybody had to huddle inside for the aperos as, once again, it poured with rain, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of the choir members and a few wives who’d come along. They were on holiday and determined to enjoy every minute of it!

Once the aperos were done, we all sat down to eat, another friend of Marloes’ manned the barbecue under a huge umbrella, producing amazing quantities of chicken, duck and steak to go with the trays full of various salads. At intervals, between courses, Nellie and I got up to sing and, following our lead, so did several choir members, one asking to borrow my guitar, another asking me to accompany him on something I’d never heard before!

Two evenings later, the Dutch choir and a local male voice choir were singing in the church at La Bastide d’Armagnac, a few miles from us, so I went along with Nellie to listen. Mostly they sang unaccompanied; it was magnificent!

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera to either event, but here are some of the photos Graham took of our band a few weeks ago instead.

Transhumance and other stuff

There’s just one shepherd left in the South West of France, who walks his sheep in the traditional manner all the way from the Pyrenees to near Bordeaux every autumn. He’s something of a reluctant celebrity as every village he passes through provides a meal and, where necessary, a bed for the night. We went along to see the transhumance, as it’s known, where it passed near to us. It was a morning stop, so trestle tables had been laid out in the forest, with an amazing breakfast; breads and cheeses, salamis and hams, hard boiled eggs, cakes, fruit juices, coffee and, inevitably, red wine, for the gathering of locals and the odd tourist. It was a very relaxed atmosphere as everyone tucked in, then Stephane headed off with his sheep and several people who take leave from their jobs each year to accompany him for at least part of the journey. I think Nick could quite fancy a life like that!

Quite apart from that, we’ve been very busy entertaining visitors (the best sort – Julia and Chris spent a day clearing up the sadly neglected potager!), Nick and Kieran are working hard installing the new kitchen in the gite and I’ve done some more lasuring of the woodwork for the balcony.

It was Adrian’s annual barbecue a couple of weeks ago (I’ve just been too busy to blog!). Normally an outdoor affair, this year it had to be held in his barn as the thunder rumbled and the rain came down by the bucketful. Fortunately, the French don’t go out in the rain, so our reduced numbers, mostly English, were able to fit in. Ade’s band played for a while and I did a few songs too, though I wish he’d warned me in advance so I could have practised!

The summer’s nearly at an end now; the evenings are getting cooler and our current visitor should be the last for a while, so it’s back to work for us.

A week of highs and lows

Our son-in-law, Graham, a keen amateur photographer, arrived last Tuesday for a week’s working holiday; he was to photograph the wedding of Kate and Rob, our neighbours. His parents were also holidaying in the area at the same time, so we saw quite a lot of them too. Graham and Doug, his Dad, were both happy to give me lessons in photography as we spent a few days exploring the area; just as well as I was to be photographer’s assistant at the wedding. I’ll put a few of the results in this post, though the wedding photos will have to wait till Kate and Rob have their album.

On Thursday, at band practice, we’d been asked to supply a photo for the association that runs the building we rehearse in, so Graham stepped in and took several photos of us. Two other band members had a friend who was nearing the end of his life, due to cancer. He’d already arranged for us to play at his wake, but wanted to hear us play one last time. As it wasn’t practical for us all to fit into his living room, just Nellie, Jacques and Claude, Jacques’ wife were going, but asked if I’d join them as a rhythm guitar gives fullness to the sound.

We went to see George on Friday evening; I wasn’t sure what to expect and can’t say I was looking forward to it much, but what could have been a morbid few hours turned out to be an evening full of life, love and laughter. George was a keen gardener, so while the light lasted we all walked through his Japanese garden, stopping for George to sit down at each of his favourite places, while his wife lit small fireworks and Jacques played the bagpipes. When night fell, we went back indoors and Jacques, Nellie and I played and sang for a while, until he fell asleep. We all shared a meal, to which everyone had contributed, and said our goodbyes to George, now awake again.

I’ve just heard that George went downhill quickly after that evening and passed away on Monday. His wife said it was as if he was just hanging on until we played for him and was then happy to go. I feel very honoured to have met such an amazing man and to have played some small part in making his last few days more enjoyable.

Caupenne fete

Last weekend was the Caupenne fete, the biggest event in the village’s year. It kicked off last Monday with a basketball tournament, which ran all week, but things really got going on Friday night.

On Saturday morning there were fishing, walking and horse riding events organised, followed by a lunch under the trees in the village centre. Saturday night was paella night; a band played outdoors until the meal started at around 10.30pm, then followed us into the Salle des Associations and played throughout the meal. There was a bit of a panic as they estimated about 80 people would turn up for paella, whereas numbers actually topped 140, but they coped somehow.

Sunday’s lunch is always the high point of the fete; after lavish aperitifs, over 200 sat down to eat at about 2pm. A different band played during the aperos and dinner; they were brilliant, though we did remember from last year to sit near the back, so we could talk to our neighbours. We finished just after 7pm, by which time Nick and I called it a day.

Monday morning was the big clean up; we mopped and scrubbed, swept and stacked, dismantled the temporary kitchen, took down lights and bunting and generally transformed a chaotic scene into the normal, tidy village centre. Then home to start cleaning up for our next lot of visitors; Graham is the photographer at our neighbours’ wedding next weekend, so he’s making a holiday of it and has brought his parents to visit the area too.

One for the Emperor Adrian

That well-known dictator, the Emperor Adrian, has been in the wars recently; not picking a fight with a neighbouring state or invading some little known island this time; in fact the only person to be injured is himself, with a nasty burn on his leg from the exhaust of his trials bike and a back injury that needed an operation. To add injury to insult, the Empress Julie had booked a holiday the day after said operation, leaving a very concerned Emperor Adrian in the doubtful care of his friend Lord Roberts of Elgin, here for his annual two month holiday (it’s alright for plumbers!)

The great dictator is making the most of his incapacity, chaining Lord Roberts to the kitchen sink for hours at a time then banishing him to the grange to install a new washing machine and heave huge boards of chipboard up the rickety staircase on his own, which he must then put down to create a decent floor over the very uneven old one.

But Lord Roberts did manage to negotiate a day off for good behaviour on Thursday and as Ade can’t ride his motorbike at the moment, he invited me to go for a ride on his big, shiny, (technical terminology) new motorbike.

We were soon swooping through the narrow,  twisty roads as I clung on for dear life whenever John accelerated. We soon arrived in Navarenx, where we stopped for lunch by the side of the beautiful river, then coffee in Sauveterre. On the way back, the road down from Salies de Bearn twists and turns for miles; motorbiking at its best!

But on our return to Ade’s I was reprimanded; the bloke who refers to me, scathingly, as the paparazzi wanted to see the photos of the trip. Sadly, I’d forgotten to take my camera; so no pics of this ride, but I promise to take some if I get another chance. Perhaps if there were enough comments on facebook or the blog, it might improve my chances??!!

In the meantime, here are some links to see the places we visited (I hope they work; I’ve had to work this out on my own!)