Happy New Year

2013 has been a year of ups and downs, but aren’t they all? It was the year in which Gemma separated from her husband, Johnny, but Kieran met his girlfriend, Alice, who’s lovely.

Highlights included Nick cycling Mont Ventoux, the giant of Provence, three times in 24 hours and our trip to Zaragoza at Easter. I started teaching, mostly French to the English, but also some English to the French and I joined an Irish band.

But most of our energy this year has gone into building our new house; with the help of Joel, the builder and Didier, the electrician, we’ve made enormous progress towards realising our dream. It seems to move at a snail’s pace, but when we look back at what we’ve achieved over the last 12 months, it’s really quite impressive, though I say it myself. Especially so as this was the year in which winter lasted until the end of June, we nearly lost a cement lorry and a digger in the swamp of a back garden and Joel refused to come back till it stopped raining! Nick, being totally incapable of sitting still, has built the plinths to put the beams on, that will support the roof of the abri and finished off the joists in the chaufferie today. He can’t do any of the big jobs at the moment as Kieran’s not around.

We hope to be able to move in sometime in 2014 and start renting out our current home as a gite; just to add extra incentive, we’ve invited the whole family for Christmas next year.

So I wish anyone reading this a very happy New Year; I hope it will turn out to be a good one for you.

Christmas in and around Caupenne

Christmas Eve

Invited to Alice’s (Kieran’s girlfriend’s) parents, to meet them and the rest of the family (brothers, uncles, aunts, etc., etc.) I needn’t have been nervous after all, as we sat down to aperos of foie gras and smoked salmon, followed by a delicious dinner of lobster, chapon, cepes, to name but a few of the tasty morsels served. We had intended to go to Adrian and Julie’s that night, but as dinner went on till midnight and there was still the opening of presents to do, we took Alice up on her kind offer of a bed for the night, finally crawling in at around 2am.

Christmas Day

Spent the morning at Adrian and Julie’s, making sausages out of the bits of turkey (3kg) left over when Adrian jointed our one and his three giant birds. One batch made with added smoked belly pork, the other with apricots and cajun spice. All that hard work left us ready for a traditional Christmas lunch, courtesy of the Emperor himself. Then a walk in the lovely Christmas sunshine, a film, bits and nibbles, followed by two more films!

Boxing Day

Woke to hail lashing the windows, so what else was there to do but wait till Kieran joined us, then tuck into a full Blue Peter English, including, of course, the sausages we’d made earlier. Played some guitar, watched another film, then the annual sandwich-making competition, where you have to put some of every item on the Christmas Day menu into a sandwich; not easy with rice cakes! Thanks, Ade and Julie, for another fantastic Christmas.

December 27th

Realised I’d left my handbag at Ade’s, so we met them in Pau to collect it. A wander around the town proved enchanting, as we ambled through the Christmas Village and on to the Christmas market where a jazz band was playing. It was ridiculously warm (21ºC) and sunny, with amazing views of the mountains as we drank tisane and hot chocolate at a pavement café, listening to the band.

I’ve a horrible feeling I may be making Christmas dinner next year, the first time in many years; I hope I can live up to the standards that have been set!


Getting there!

Christmas is a-comin’, the goose is getting fat,

I’d put it on the table, but Nick won’t hear of that!

Having done battle with the goose again this morning, when I had to go into the hen run and it repeatedly attacked me, I would be more than happy to serve goose for Christmas dinner. But Nick’s very attached to Herman/Hermione, so I’m not allowed!

The heating man finally turned up last week, drew lines all over the insulation, then covered the lines up with heating pipes; the chape will go down after Christmas. This meant it was time for us to choose floor tiles. It doesn’t sound like too difficult a task, after all, there are loads of tiles to choose from, so we headed to Pau. Three shops later and we still hadn’t seen anything we liked; there were a few that we thought would do, but nothing that really grabbed us.

We decided to go to Spain, where we’d been told tiles are much cheaper; Nick seemed to be under the impression that we’d cross the border and there’d be wall-to-wall tile shops – wrong! After visiting Irun and finding not one tile shop, we headed to San Sebastian; a beautiful town, but so busy that we couldn’t even find a parking space, so we came home, disappointed.

Next stop Mont de Marsan, followed by Condom and Auch; I lost count of the number of shops we visited, but saw nothing we really liked. Well, that’s not strictly true, but as we don’t have €10 000 to spend on floor tiles, they didn’t count!

So back to Pau, where we found another shop, recently opened, and where we found tiles that fitted all our requirements; multi-sized, tone with the kitchen cupboard doors, but a slightly darker shade, hard wearing and within our price range. We even got a 20% discount! At 125 square metres, putting them down isn’t going to be a quick task, but I’m sure we’ll manage eventually.

When not driving round the country, tile-hunting, we had the band Christmas party. Everyone took food and drink; we took mulled wine, a Christmas pudding and a microwave to warm them up in; and had a great fun, if very silly, evening.

To anyone reading this, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

La Ronde des Creches

It was the walking club’s last walk of the year on Sunday and we went out in style, visiting la Ronde des Creches at the other end of the Gers. Several villages all build Christmas cribs which are open to visitors 24 hours a day from mid-December to mid-January. Each year has a different theme, this year’s being the books of Jules Verne, so each village chose a book and decorated their crib accordingly. They must take months to build, mostly made of papier maché, but some with water features and moving parts, they’re really creative. The cribs themselves seemed to be incidental to the whole thing, mostly being stuck in a corner of the creations, though this doesn’t seem to bother the 25000 or so people who come to visit each year. There are stands selling hot drinks, honey and other local produce in most of the villages, giving the event something of a festival atmosphere.

It was barely light and very frosty when we climbed onto the bus for the two hour drive to the canton (a collection of villages) of Miradoux. The scenery en route was  breathtaking , the early morning mist beginning to burn off the fields, the rivers and the forests as the sun rose in a clear blue sky and the temperature started to rise. It’s a lovely area, rolling hills and valleys, with most of the villages being perched on the tops of the hills, a throw back to the wars of religion in the 14th century, when they were all fortified to keep out the enemy. We visited the first creche then did our walk, visiting another two creches in villages en route, followed by lunch, then back onto the bus to visit the rest. The sun was setting by the time we left the last one and headed back to Nogaro, having had a very pleasant day.

Coffee and cakes on the balcony?

The weather’s been so lovely this week, with cold, clear, frosty nights and gloriously warm, sunny days, that it would have been a shame to stay indoors. So Nick and Kieran took themselves off to the wood yard to choose the wood for the balcony; they decided on acacia as it is very hard and doesn’t rot, in fact it’s what they use to make the stakes in vineyards. Three trailer-loads later, we had all we needed.

Just as the living room floor is going to be 3cm higher than originally planned, so the balcony needed raising by the same amount, so they cut strips to go along the beams, then put the floorboards on top of them. It actually looks really good, just as if it was planned from the start. Come the spring I’ll get round to lasuring it, but in the meantime, it’s great to be able to sit out in the December sun, for tea and cakes or a beer!

The heating man came for a couple of days and has put down most of the insulation, but there wasn’t enough for the ground floor, so heaven only knows when he’ll be back…….

Telethon 2013

It’s Telethon weekend; a bit like Children in Need, there are events all over France, some of which I assume are televised, to raise funds for research into genetic diseases.

We in Nogaro do our bit and yesterday there was a bike ride, a walk, a cake stall, a plant stall, a guess-the-weight-of-the-bread competition and a lunch. It was cold and foggy, so Nick was one of only four cyclists, though they had a good ride. Loads of people did the walk and I baked and helped man the cake stall. By midday we were all frozen, so headed to the gite for lunch; soup, daube de boeuf and apple tart, all washed down with red wine, coffee and the most enormous bottle of armagnac I’ve ever seen, donated by the local cave. There were about 100 people eating, with all the profits going to the Telethon, so we must have made quite a lot of money.

Today dawned very frosty, so while Nick went out cycling, I took the camera out for a walk. It was cold but beautiful, not a cloud in the sky and by this afternoon, it was 26ºC on the terrace!

Weathertight, but no sign of the heating man

For anyone who’s been following this, we weren’t surprised when the man installing the heating failed to turn up today. Nor when his wife failed to reply to the message I left on the phone.  Monday? Who knows. C’est comme ça.…. Frustrating, though!

The lads haven’t been wasting their time, though; the upstairs window is in and glazed and looks great. I can’t wait to get started on the stained glass to put in it! But that’s not a priority at the moment. They have also bought the wood for the balcony floor and I think Nick plans to start putting it down soon. From there we’ll be able to see the Pyrenees on a clear day; not as much as from the end of the garden, but it’s still magical to be able to spot them in the distance, over the tops of the trees.

At the risk of being really boring – the shower started leaking AGAIN a while ago, pouring water down the kitchen wall again. So Nick and Kieran removed the entire thing, right down to the tray, we cleaned off all the old sealant and they re-installed it today. Fingers crossed!

A rant!

It’s now six months since the photovoltaique panels were fitted, and we’re STILL not hooked up to the grid! The last time Nick asked the company, they were waiting for something from ERDF, so I decided to take things into my own hands yesterday and phoned ERDF, who claimed to be waiting for payment and paperwork from the company. Phoned the company; they’d speak to ERDF again and let us know the outcome when the boss came to see us last night. He claims they sent payment and the forms, but they received something from ERDF in a non-PDF format, which they couldn’t open….. so what did they do?? NOTHING!!!!! Incredible, isn’t it? So I think we persuaded him to contact ERDF and ask for the forms in PDF; he said he’d let us know what’s going on, but I’ll believe it when I see it!

In the meantime, the same company started work on the heating last week, but only for a couple of hours. Nick spoke to the boss, who, Nick thought, said he’d call in last Friday to tell us how much to lift the doors by. No surprise, then, when he didn’t turn up. So I asked his wife yesterday; they’d restart work when the doors were lifted and the walls were in place. WHAT!!?? Obviously a major breakdown in communication between him and Nick, in addition to which, the workman who came last week told him there were no internal walls in place. Well that’s because we aren’t having internal walls upstairs, surely obvious when the walls we do have are all plasterboarded!

So, the boss came round last night to have a look at the doors; we need to raise them 3cm, which is what we thought. He also looked at the floor; lots of sucking of teeth; the parts of it that were underneath the big beams that held the roof up when the floor was poured were pretty uneven – too uneven to put the insulation onto. So today the lads have made up and laid a cement chape over the bad one-third of the floor. Fortunately, it’s been a lovely day, warm enough to work with the doors open, which should help it dry out.

The current plan is to start work on the heating on Friday – I’m not holding my breath.

I can’t believe it!

The guttering man gave us an estimate for extruded aluminium guttering; it was quite expensive, so we priced up plastic guttering. Not only was it more than half the price of the aluminium stuff, but one shop only did the regular size (too small for our roof) and the shop that sells the bigger size doesn’t do the downpipes to match. We shouldn’t really have been surprised; that’s the way things work around here.

The aluminium looked much more appealing now as it will last far longer and the price included fitting, so he came back to measure up a few weeks ago, quoting us 5-6 weeks to delivery. I can’t describe our amazement when they turned up at 8 o’clock this morning, extruded the required lengths of guttering, fitted it to front and back of house and were finished by 10.30! If only everything worked liked that! The added bonus is that it looks good too, blending in with the roof tiles so that you hardly notice it.