Haute cuisine? I think not!

I think it’s fair to say that we haven’t had a winter this year – well not yet, anyway. Loads of rain and floods, yes, but apart from a couple of nights’ frost in November, it hasn’t been cold. The plum and cherry trees are all covered in blossom and there’s even a magnolia in full bloom in Nogaro! But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to days like today in February; deep blue sky and warm enough to work outside in a tee-shirt. Not that I’m complaining, mind; we’ve started clearing the potager of weeds and planted loads of tomatoes, lettuce, roquette and chillies under glass, as well as spinach in the potager, to join the mangetout and broad beans that have over-wintered there. We’re looking forward to eating well on the proceeds of our labours.

This area is well known for the quality of its food; there’s always lots of local produce on the markets, from large and small producers alike. And people take a keen interest in the quality of their food; usually when we’re invited to dinner, always at least four courses, the meat is from a local producer, known personally to our hosts and the fruit and veg are often home grown.

But last Friday didn’t follow the normal pattern. Thierry, who’d cycled Mont Ventoux with Nick last year, invited the other cyclists from that trip round to dinner, which he would prepare with the help of another of the group, Philippe, giving Thierry’s wife an evening off. The aperitifs were fairly standard, while we watched a slide show of photos taken on the trip. Then we moved straight on to the main course; a bowl of pasta, a jar of carbonara sauce, a jar of tomato and basil sauce, a plastic packet of grated cheese and a bag of mixed salad (though this they had managed to put into a bowl). We’d taken a pudding, so everyone tucked into that, and we had a brilliant evening, but it just goes to show that not all French are great cooks, especially the blokes!


Didier’s not quite finished, because he’s been called away to a couple of emergencies; but we now have electricity in the new house. Never have bare bulbs looked so good! And, by way of celebration (?!), we worked till it was thoroughly dark outside tonight, Nick tiling the chaufferie floor, me taping plasterboard joints.

Today was my English class at the CLAN, where I work as a volunteer one afternoon a week. For the last few years there have been four English teachers, so the work was divided between us. But this year, due to various factors, there’s only me; so my ever-increasing class, nine today, squeezed into a room that comfortably holds six, has everything from absolute beginners to those whose command of the English language is very impressive. As someone whose practical teaching practice comprised two 10 minute lessons given over two weekends, it’s fair to say I’m struggling to keep everybody happy; I’m constantly worried that the lower level students won’t understand, while the better ones will be bored. So if there are any “proper” teachers out there, reading this, any suggestions on how to cope would be gratefully received!!

Wanted – large, cheap room for band practices

Our band’s rehearsal room is in a large building, run by an association whose aim is the promotion of “culture” within the community; there’s yoga, qi gong, traditional dance, art classes and us. A few weeks ago Stephane, who manages the building, came to a practice to tell us that Madame P, the deputy mayor of the town, who is also the “cultural” representative at the town hall, has taken a dislike to us and wants us out of the building, which the town hall leases to the association.

It was the association’s AGM tonight; Madame P was to be there; so we all went along to fight for our cause. We can see no reason why we shouldn’t use the room and Madame P accepted our money when we paid our dues for use of the room for 2014, just a few weeks ago. There were plenty of people at the meeting, but Madame P didn’t turn up; nor did she send a spokesperson; no reason given, just a message that she’d meet our representative sometime next week. Everybody was furious, both those in the band and everyone else present; nobody can understand why we’re no longer welcome and all suspect that she has a hidden agenda, not to mention that she must have known how much opposition there’d be to her stance. So we held the AGM, everybody getting very hot under the collar about the unfairness of the decision and wondering who’ll be next for the chop, but unable to do anything about it.

Home is where the PC is

Electrics are done very differently here from in England; first you run lengths of flexible plastic piping, in several different primary colours – it’s very pretty, a shame to cover it up, really! Then you hide it all away, covering it with plasterboard or pouring concrete floors onto it. Once that’s all done, you take lengths of wire, the different colours on different spools, and pull them through the piping; then, of course, you can put in the plug sockets, light switches, etc.  Didier, our electrician, is well named; he must be all of 5 feet tall; but a lovely man, quiet and hard-working. He expects to finish the wiring on Monday, so we’ll have no excuse not to continue working when it gets dark then!

Apart from that, the main news item of the week is that Nick’s cleaned his workshop! As a result, the compost heap is about a foot taller with wood shavings from the floor. I’m continuing to fill the plasterboard joints, but hadn’t realised that the bits we did with Adrian last week were the easy, quick bits. Now I’m taping the corner joints; you mix some sloppy joint filler, trowel it either side of each corner, stick special paper stuff onto it and smooth out all the excess sticky stuff, leaving a neat finish. Once that’s dry, you then put on a second coat, covering the paper with a layer thick enough to hide the paper edges, but fine enough not to show. When the second coat’s dry you sand it all to a smooth, perfect finish. Well, that’s the idea anyway. I’m only at the taping stage so far, which looks likely to take many weeks of  “I’ve just got a couple of hours between lessons” time. Apart from that, we’re just pottering on with bits and pieces; tiling the chaufferie floor, crepi-ing the chaufferie walls and finishing off some plasterboarding. Kieran only appears on request now, turning up when there are big jobs to do, requiring two strong men – none of this filling, or painting or other “pinkish” jobs for him. He moved his computers to Dax this week, so I think he’s moved out.

The true story of Sleeping Beauty

The Emperor Adrian came to visit yesterday, bearing all sorts of gifts – mortar board, plastering trowels – oooh, how exciting! The emperor’s kitchen staff is away in England at the moment, so the poor emperor has to fend for himself, (no violins, please; he’s more than capable) but he doesn’t bother, preferring to use the time to lose a bit of weight, so he says.

So in exchange for lunch, he helped us to fill joints in plasterboards and between the three of us, we got most of the walls done. Just the ceilings to do now.

Kieran doesn’t like the fiddly tasks, preferring to apply himself to really manly jobs, like driving the digger, using the chain saw or erecting scaffolding. So he went to Alice’s yesterday and when she went to Bordeaux today, he’d arranged to go to Adrian’s; but at 3o’clock Adrian phoned to ask if we knew where he was, he wasn’t answering his phone or emails. We tried too, but with no success, eventually resorting to emailing Alice, who was also unable to make contact and obviously worried. She sent her parents round to the house to look for him and there he was – still asleep at 5pm!!! He won’t live this one down in a hurry!

This and that

It was a fairly manic weekend; the cinema Friday night; a gig on Saturday night, including songs to which I’d only written the harmonies during the week and instrumental pieces I heard for the first time on Thursday night. But it went surprisingly well, with people dancing in the narrow gaps between the rows of tables in the little bar in Riscle. I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Then Kieran, Alice, Adrian and Julie came for lunch on Sunday. Nick would normally have been cycling on Sunday morning and I’d have gone out with the walking group, but we were both very relieved to hear it pouring with rain at 7.30 on Sunday morning, giving us the perfect excuse to catch up on some more sleep, having only got home at 2am.

Kieran’s not around much these days, so when he’s here we make sure there are “big” jobs for him to do; the jobs that need two strong men. So they’ve finished plasterboarding my workshop, fitted the doors and door frame at the end of the hall and removed part of the outer wall where the new front doors will go. At the moment, the doors are taller than the space for them, but I’m sure Nick will find a solution!

When not teaching, I’m filling joints in the plasterboards and trying to convince the postman that I don’t have a secret admirer! A parcel arrived for me yesterday; it rattled just like a box of chocolates. Sadly it was only some stock cubes that Alex had sent, but Didier, who always stops for a chat to improve his English, thought Valentine’s Day had arrived early. Me?! Secret admirer?! In my dreams!!