Seven hours in the badlands

The Audax club is an international cycle club that specialises in longer rides; somebody has organised a brevet, a 200km ride, under the auspices of the Nogaro club, to be run in a few week’s time. So the president of our club decided to reconnoitre the route yesterday, heading into the Landes, the neighbouring departement, and opened it up to anyone who wanted to join him.

There are speed limits on Audax rides; you have a minimum as well as a maximum time limit to complete them, but Nick hadn’t realised the organiser would stick to these on the reccy.

It was not quite light when he left the house, to meet at the gite at 7.30am and he expected to be home by 5.30 at the latest, even if they only averaged a very gentle 25kph and stopped for a two hour picnic. It was actually 7.30pm by the time he reappeared, cold because he had put so little effort into the riding, hungry, and complaining that he’d been bored to death, that the long, straight roads through the forests made Australia look interesting. He said he’d passed the time trying to count the pine trees, and measuring the distance between houses. I think he’s washing his hair the day of the official ride.

Le club Audax est un club de cycle international qui se spécialise dans les longs trajets; quelqu’un a organisé un brevet, une balade de 200 km, sous les auspices du club de Nogaro, et on le fera en avril. Le président de notre club a décidé de reconnaître la route hier, elle va dans les Landes, le département voisin, et  il a invité tous ceux qui voulaient se joindre à lui.

Il ya des limites de vitesse sur les manèges Audax, avec un minimum ainsi que d’un délai maximal de les compléter, mais Nick n’avait pas attendu que l’organisateur s’en tiendrait à ces derniers sur le reconnaître.

Ce n’était pas tout à fait la lumière quand il a quitté la maison, pour arriver au gîte à 07h30 et il pensait de rentrer par 17h30 au plus tard, même si ils ne faisaient qu’en moyenne 25km à l’heure et arrêtés pour un pique-nique de deux heures. Il était en fait 19h30 au moment où il a réapparu, froid, car il avait mis si peu d’effort dans la circonscription, affamé, et protesta qu’il avait été ennuyé à la mort aux routes droites, plats et longues. Il a dit qu’il avait passé du temps à essayer de compter les arbres de pin , et de mesurer la distance entre les maisons. Je pense qu’il a laver ses cheveux le jour de la course officielle.

Fete de Saint Mont, or berets, berets everywhere and more than a drop to drink!

This weekend was the Fete de Saint Mont, a wine producing area that encompasses several villages, all of which take part in the festival. We started at the village of St. Mont itself; we intended to arrive in time for the mise en perce, when they tap into the first barrel of last year’s wine (well, I think that’s what it is), but spent so long driving round, looking for a parking space that we missed it. But not to worry, the festival atmosphere was everywhere, from the stalls throughout the village, selling everything from pottery to lettuce plants, and  from paintings exhibited in the church on the top of the hill to jars of home produced local honey. The local bandas band was playing as they ambled through the streets of this beautiful little village which was decorated everywhere with banners and most of the villagers were dressed in medieval type costumes. But it was the headgear that was the most striking; it has to be said that berets were definitely de rigeur this weekend and everybody who was anybody was wearing one, mostly black, but a few beige and cream too. As we’d gone in the Renault, Nick had his to hand – well he has to wear it when out and about in our favourite little sports number!

We decided to stay in St Mont for lunch, joining the queue outside the foyer rurale as we waited our turn to be served, canteen style, a tray containing garbure, foie gras en papillote, salade de gesiers, magret de canard and croustade, served, of course, with a glass of local wine and coffee. Incredibly, it was all served hot and beautifully cooked, even though there were several hundred people eating. We were lucky enough to find a couple of seats inside, out of the cool breeze that blew all day, and near to the stage where a  group of wine growers serenaded us with traditional songs in a number of different local languages, including Gascon and Bearnaise. By the time we finished our meal, people were still queueing outside.

Lunch out of the way, we walked through the village to the cave, where the wine is produced. It’s done on an industrial scale, so there’s nothing quaint about it, but the huge stainless steel containers are an impressive sight. There Nick bought the other essential accessory for the day – a wine glass on a string that hangs around the neck; suitably attired, he tasted several wines and bought three cases which were loaded into the Renault for us by two lovely gentlemen who posed for a photo for me. Everybody working at the fete is a volunteer, mostly vineyard owners and workers, so they’re all really friendly and the atmosphere is great.

From St Mont, we went to the Chateau de St Go, which had an art exhibition among the indoor wine storage containers and then on to Aignan, where a local celebrity chef was demonstrating a recipe for tournedos de canard à l’orange. Of course, Nick had to do more tasting at each stop, so by the time we got home, he was very comfortable in his beret.

Ce week-end était la fête de Saint Mont, une zone viticole qui regroupe plusieurs villages, qui tous participent à la fête. Nous avons commencé dans le village de Saint- Mont lui-même, nous avions l’intention d’arriver à temps pour la mise en perce, quand ils puiser dans le premier baril de vin de l’année dernière (enfin, je pense que c’est ce qu’il est) , mais nous avons passé si longtemps à la recherche d’ une place de parking que nous l’avons raté . Mais ce n’etait pas grave, l’ambiance de fête était partout, des stands partout dans le village, où on pouvait acheter toutes sortes de choses. Le groupe de bandas locale jouait quand ils déambulait dans les rues de ce beau petit village qui a été décoré  pour la fete et la plupart des villageois étaient vêtus de costumes médiévaux. Mais c’était la coiffure qui était le plus frappante,  tout le monde qui était quelqu’un portait un beret Gascon, la plupart en noir , mais quelques uns beige et crème aussi . Comme nous y sommes allés dans la Renault, Nick a eu le sien à portée de main.

Nous avons décidé de rester à Saint- Mont pour le déjeuner, de rejoindre la file d’attente à l’extérieur du rurale de foyer où nous attendions notre tour pour être servi, style cantine, un bac contenant garbure, foie gras en papillote, salade de gésiers, magret de canard et croustade, servi, bien sûr, avec un verre de vin local et du café. Incroyablement, tout etait  chaud et bien préparé, même s’il y avait plusieurs centaines de personnes qui voulaient manger. Nous avons eu la chance de trouver des places à l’intérieur, hors de la brise fraîche qui soufflait toute la journée, et à proximité de la scène où un groupe de vignerons  ont chanté des chants traditionnels dans plusieurs différentes langues locales, y compris Gascon et Béarnaise.

Déjeuner terminé, nous avons marché à travers le village au cave, où le vin est produit. Nick a acheté l’autre accessoire indispensable pour la journée – un verre sur une chaîne qui pend autour du cou; convenablement vêtu, il a goûté plusieurs vins et acheté trois cartons que deux beaux messieurs, qui ont posé pour une photo pour moi, ont mis dans la voiture. Tout le monde qui travaille à la fête est un bénévole, la plupart etant les propriétaires viticoles et leurs travailleurs, de sorte qu’ils sont tous vraiment sympa et l’ambiance est super .

De St Mont , nous sommes allés au Château de St Go, ou il y avait une exposition d’art parmi les récipients de stockage de vin à l’intérieur , puis à Aignan , où un célèbre chef local a fait la démonstration d’une recette de tournedos de canard à l’orange . Bien sûr, Nick a du déguster à chaque arrêt , donc au moment où nous sommes rentrés chez nous, il etait très à l’aise dans son béret .

Little by very slow little…

At last, a mere 10 months after the installation of our photovoltaic panels, the men from ERDF have been round to start the hook-up to the grid; only start, mind, after all, you can’t rush these things. They will be back to do the rest……., but when asked how long that would take, they were somewhat reluctant to say. Still, we feel we are on the right track at last.

The heating installer has returned, too, to finish the central heating system. We now have a pompe à chaleur outside the house; it works by taking calories from the air and using them to warm a fluid that will run in the pipes under the floors. He said we’d try it out tomorrow, when he’s fitted the radiators in the rooms that don’t have underfloor heating. It’ll be lovely to be able to walk around barefoot in the winter on tiled floors!

Nick hasn’t been idle recently; our old compost bins had composted themselves, so he and Kieran cleared out the compost and dug foundations for new bins. Nick’s built them in breeze block this time and will make the fronts of planks so they’re removable. He crepied part of the garage wall and just needs to finish that off once the mortar is dry, so he can stand on the bins – and once the weather picks up again. After two weeks of glorious sunshine, it’s been back to winter for the last few days, with cold winds and sudden hailstorms blowing in from nowhere. Roll on spring!

En fin, seulement 10 mois après l’installation de nos panneaux photovoltaiques, les hommes de ERDF sont venus commencer faire la raccordement. Ils n’ont pas terminé; il faut plus de temps pour ça, mais on a le sens maintenant que, peut etre un jour, on sera connecté à la toile electrique.

Le monsieur que fait l’installation du systeme de chauffage est revenu aussi; il y a un pompe à chaleur derrière la maison maintenant et il va revenir demain pour installer les radiateurs où on n’aura pas du chauffage sous-sol. Il a dit qu’on pourra l’essayer demain; il sera tellement bon de pouvoir marcher pieds nus au carrelage en hiver!

Nick a été bien occupé recemment; les anciens composteurs sont devenus du compost, donc il les a débarrassé et a construit des nouveaux en parpaings. Il a fait la moitié du crepi au mur du garage, mais doit attendre que le ciment seche avant de faire la reste, quand il peut travailler d’en haut des composteurs. Il faut, aussi, attendre le beau temps; apres deux semaines d’un temps magnifique, on est rentré dans l’hiver, avec un vent froid et des orages de greles. Vivement le printemps!

Let battle commence!

There’s little love lost between the goose and myself; it’s an aggressive creature that attacks anyone who isn’t Nick and I think sees me as a rival for his affections. It even cornered me in my workshop last week when I was filling joints (in the plasterboard); fortunately there was a sweeping brush handy that I could use to fend it off until Kieran came to my rescue.

It was time to give the grass in the park its first cut of the year; with all the rain we’ve had, followed by the warm sun of the last week, it was getting really long. I decided to collect the cuttings as they would be too long to mulch down if left, so I put the collecting box on the back of the tractor. I never go into the park without a big stick, so I can protect myself from the goose if necessary, but normally, it leaves me alone if I’m on the mower. Today, though, was different; halfway across the garden, it decided to make its move, hurtling across the grass towards me and pecking viciously at the tractor tyres and engine cover. At least it wasn’t me this time, I thought, once I’d beaten it off with the stick. But a minute later, the tractor engine cut out, leaving me stranded in the middle of the park, with an angry looking goose hovering nearby. I considered my chances of reaching the gate safely, but the beast was between me and my emergency exit and Nick had gone into Nogaro to buy breeze blocks, so no help was at hand. The mower wouldn’t start again; I knew I’d have to dismantle it and clear the damp grass from its innards, a task that takes at least 5 minutes. There was nothing else for it; I’d have to leave the relative safety of the mower seat and take my chances out in the wild. I got down, clutching my stick and looking as mean as I could, I surrounded myself with pieces removed from the mower, all the time keeping an eye on the goose. It stood and watched with one beady eye for a while, but then started lowering its head, hissing and edging towards me. I stood firm, holding the length of bamboo ready to ward off the approaching enemy; but to my relief and amazement it slowed, stopped and eventually backed off. A small battle won, though not, I suspect, the war.

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Le jar et moi-même nous detestons cordialement; c’est une créature agressive qui attaque quiconque n’est pas Nick et je pense me voit comme un rival pour son affection. Il m’a même acculé dans mon atelier la semaine dernière quand je remplissais joints dans la plaque de plâtre; heureusement il y avait une brosse de balayage maniable que je pourrais utiliser pour le repousser  jusqu’à Kieran est venu à mon secours .

Il était temps de couper l’herbe au parc pour la première fois de l’année; avec toute la pluie que nous avons eu, suivie par le chaud soleil de la semaine dernière, il est devenu vraiment longue. J’ai décidé de recueillir les tontes car ils seraient trop longs à composter si je les avais laissé, donc j’ai mit le truc que collecte l’herbe à l’arrière du tracteur. Je ne vais jamais dans le parc sans un gros bâton, donc je peux me protéger contre le jar si nécessaire, mais normalement , il me laisse seule quand je suis à la tondeuse . Aujourd’hui, cependant, était différent; mi-chemin à travers le jardin, il a décidé de faire son mouvement, dévaler à travers l’herbe vers moi et picorer méchamment les pneus du tracteur et le capot du moteur. Heureusement ce n’était pas moi cette fois, j’ai pensé, une fois que je l’avais battu avec le bâton. Mais une minute plus tard, le moteur du tracteur s’est arreté, me laissant brin au milieu du parc, avec un jar en colère tout près. J’ai considéré la possibilité d’atteindre le portail en toute sécurité, mais la bête était entre moi et ma sortie de secours et Nick était allé à Nogaro pour acheter des parpaings, donc aucune aide n’etait disponible. Je ne pouvais pas rallumer la tondeuse; je savais que je dois la démonter et enlever l’herbe humide de ses entrailles, une tâche qui faut au moins 5 minutes. Il n’y avait rien d’autre à faire, je dois quitter la sécurité relative du siège de la tondeuse et prendre mes chances dans la nature. Je suis descendue, serrant mon bâton; je me suis entourée de pièces retirées de la tondeuse, tout le temps en gardant un œil sur le jar. Il est resté sur place, en me regardant d’un œil de fouine pendant un certain temps, mais ensuite il a commencé baisser la tête et faire des sifflements quand il m’approchait. Je suis restée ferme, tenant la longueur de bambou prêt à parer l’ennemi, mais à mon grand soulagement et d’étonnement, il a ralenti, s’est arrêté et finalement fait marche en arrière . Une petite bataille gagnée, mais pas, je crois, la guerre .

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Last week was pretty busy; the weather has been glorious recently, so we tackled some outside jobs, such as lasuring the colombage beams on the garage front and crepi-ing between them, painting inside the roof of the balcony and starting construction of some new compost bins. The old compost bins were such a raging success that, built of old, slightly rotten floorboards from the grange, they composted themselves. The new ones will be built of breezeblock.

The highlight of the week, for me anyway, was Saturday night, when the band had been asked to play at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Adrian agreed to provide a mixing desk and play the role of sound man, so we arrived at the salle des fetes in Izotges at 4pm to start setting up. The evening was organised by the village line dancing group; tickets for the meal were sold out by the previous Monday and when we got there, the ladies were shredding lettuce, grating carrots, making mayonnaise and putting the finishing touches to the Guiness casserole for 130 people, while the men were decorating the room and the tables, all in green and orange.

By the time we started playing at 7.30, the room was filling up; those who had left it too late to book a meal came along to sample the large selection of beers and to listen to the music, while those who had booked tucked into a lovely meal. Once the dinner was finished, lots of people made use of the space in front of the stage to dance. Having a “professional” sound man made such a difference to us; not just in the way you’d expect, but it seemed to make everyone raise their game a notch or two and I think we played really well as a result. Certainly everybody was very complimentary.

By the time we finished, at 1.30 this morning, we were tired but elated; and having had just a couple of short breaks from playing during the six hours, I don’t think I was the only one with very sore fingers!

Pendant le beau temps qu’on a eu recemment, nous en avons profité par faire quelques travaux exterieurs, comme lasurer le bois du garage, peindre dans la toiture du balcon et commencer construire des nouveaux composteurs. Les premiers composteurs, construit des planchers un peu pourri de la grange, ayant auto-composté, les nouveaux seront en parpaing.

Mais pour moi, le moment le plus marquant de la semaine etait samedi soir, quand on avait demandé à notre groupe, etCelterra, de faire l’animation pour une fete de St. Parick à Izotges. Notre ami, Adrian a accepté de faire le mixage; donc nous sommes arrivés à 16heures à faire notre préparation. L’association de country d’Izotges avait organisé la fete et quand nous sommes arrivés les dames etaient en train de préparer le repas pour 130 gens, pendant les hommes decoraient la pièce et les tables, tout en vert et orange. Tous les billets pour le repas etaient vendus en avance, mais ceux et celles qui ne pouvaient pas manger sont arrivés à gouter la grande selection de bières et écouter la musique.

Nous avons joué de 19H30 pendant que les gens mangaient un très bon repas; plus tard ils ont dancé jusqu’à nous avons fini à 1h30 dimanche matin. Je crois que les gens etaient bien amusés; certainement ils etaient très flatteurs à propos de la musique.

Nous sommes tous rentrés heureux et fatigués, et apres six heures de jouer, je crois que je n’etais pas la seule qui avait mal aux doigts!


In response to requests

Friends have recently made suggestions for two changes to the blog; one is that I use it to advertise gigs that the band is doing, for folks living locally and, of course, for our world-wide network of fans (well I can dream!) So below is the poster for our gig for St. Patrick’s day – Kate and Rob; this is for you!

The other suggestion is that I write in French as well as English, so I’ll give it a try when I’ve got time and am not too tired. It’s a good way for me to improve my language skills if French speakers will correct my many mistakes.

On m’a demandé faire quelques changements à mon blog; le premier est que je l’ecris en français aussi qu’en anglais; donc, je l’essayerai quand j’ai le temps et je ne suis pas trop fatiguée. Je sais que je fais pas mal d’erreurs, donc j’espère que les français qui le lisent me corrigeraient; comme ça je me perfectionerai en français. Mais pour mes etudiants qui le traduisent de l’anglais; ce n’est pas une traduction exact.

L’autre suggestion etait que j’emploie mon blog à faire des petits annonces à propos des concerts que fait EtCelterra, le groupe avec qui je joue. Donc, ci-dessous est une fiche pour la fête de Saint Patrick – venez nombreux!



Writing course


Our friend, Geoff, who lives in Nogaro, is a writer; he’s had 31 books published, so in my opinion at least, that makes him a proper writer. He suggested running a one day writing course, so my friend, Sue and I went along, more out of curiosity and a shared desire to “try anything new” than for any other reason.

There were seven of us in total and apart from Sue and myself, they were all writers or aspiring writers! Four of them were working on novels and one had published an e-book on getting your confidence back to start horse riding again. I felt quite in awe of these dedicated, lovely people; two mothers of young children, trying to juggle their families’ needs with paid work and their literary ambitions; a man working full time at a local hospital who writes between shifts; the horse riding lady who is a retired doctor, who struggled to get her “doctor” status left out of her name on the cover; and an elderly lady who’s been writing her novel for years, had paid for a professional critique and as a result is now re-writing the book. Oh yes, and Sue and I, with no intentions of becoming authors.

The course wasn’t about the nitty gritty of putting words on the page, but gave a general overview of what’s involved in writing a book; the tools, the process, the research, and how to get published amongst other things. In one exercise we were shown a picture, the silhouette of a man standing in a small boat at sunset, a rifle in his hands, near a Scottish looking croft, next to which was a car; we had two minutes to write the synopsis of a story. Then Geoff played us some weird sounds and we did the same again. The variety of ideas was amazing! We also covered such things as methods for getting over writer’s block, what to do if you don’t like the way your main character is developing and how many words constitute a novel.

The course overran its allotted time, but by the end the writers on it were persuading Geoff to run a series of follow up courses, to tackle such subjects as character development and building the plot ; they were all very keen to have regular meetings, with him as leader/teacher. I was rather sorry to say that I won’t be joining them; I’d enjoyed the day so much, but I’ve too much to do and too little time in which to do it anyway, so I must prioritise. Apart from that, the sheer hard graft involved is mind blowing! I think I’ll just stick to my little blog and hope that you enjoy reading it enough to visit again.

For anyone who’s interested, have a look at

A quest

We needed some stuff – house stuff, mostly, but especially lights, wall cupboards and a door for my workroom and outdoor lights for the terrace and balcony. Pau has the best selection of shops, not to mention great views of the hills; so we set off early in the morning.

First stop Castorama; nice outdoor lights, OK workshop lights, but they didn’t have a door. We’d look elsewhere for lights too (well, you can’t buy the first thing you see!)

Then Decathlon; Nick got some new cycling shoes, but they don’t sell many doors!

Next stop the troc (second hand warehouse; lots of tat but some decent stuff too). They had a lovely chair, but closed before we got as far as doors.

Lunch; met a great French couple who love Irish music and play and dance Flamenco!

Back to the troc; bought the chair, which had been reduced by €10 over lunch, and a fish kettle. They didn’t have a door though.

Emmaus; a sort of village-sized charity shop! Loads of doors, but none we liked in the right size.

Leroy Merlin; found some lovely lights for my workroom and spotted a wash basin we both like (you wouldn’t believe how difficult that is!) But no doors that suited.

Brico depot; finally found a suitable door, along with wall cupboards for which Nick will one day make decent doors.

By the time we’d loaded up, it was 6.50pm and we didn’t know what time Castorama closed, so a frantic, or as near as you can at rush hour, dash to Castorama, which is open till 8pm, phew! Outdoor lights purchased.

A very successful shopping trip; but after 12 hours, I understand the term “shop till you drop”!

One day, two expeditions

Today marked the opening of the cycling season in the departement of Haute Pyrenées, so the Nogaro club set off early to ride to a village near Tarbes. Nick joined 15 other hardy souls who left Nogaro at 8am to cover the 88km in time for the lunch provided by the St Juillan cycle club; ventreche (belly pork) sandwiches, cake, prunes, chocolate, wine, coffee….. then home again, 166km in total. After the weather we’ve experienced recently, today was amazing – warm and sunny, with not a drop of rain.

The all day bike ride coincided very nicely with the walking club’s raquette (snow shoe) walking trip to the Pyrenees, cancelled three weeks ago due to lack of snow. There was fresh snow this week, so we were able to go. Not many people were available because of the school holidays, so we were a small group of eight who set off from Nogaro as the sun rose this morning.  We set out from the ski station at Hautacam, where you can do downhill or cross country skiing or raquette walking, and hire the equipment if necessary; there are paths marked for several routes of varying distances. We did a 12km route, amid acres of virgin snow, stopping on the summit for lunch and to take in the amazing scenery all around. In the area used by the downhill skiers, their individual tracks were still evident, making the hillsides look like lace! The forecast had predicted heavy cloud all day, so I didn’t take sunglasses or sunscreen – bad mistake; it was glorious all day, so I now have a badly sunburnt face! I won’t make that mistake again.

I’m sorry about the quality of the photos; I took the small camera and couldn’t see anything on the screen in the sunlight!

Curry night in Nogaro

At the end of the monthly cycle club dinner at the gite (which doubles as a clubhouse) the president stood up and called for quiet. “Last summer I was talking with Nick and Jackie when they offered to cook for one of our dinners” he said. “We agreed it would be in February and they suggested making a curry. I think we’d all agree that they’ve shown tremendous prowess; not only did they prepare an entire meal, including the bread, for fifty people, but it was an excellent meal too.” He asked for a show of appreciation and they gave us a standing ovation!

It started last Tuesday when I did the shopping; 10kg beef, 18 litres milk, 5kg rice, 50 chicken portions, 8kg onions, 4kg bread flour, 3 litres natural yoghurt and 12 extra large tins of tomatoes, amongst other stuff. Philippa had agreed to help, so she’d brought back from a trip to England the most enormous tubs of Patak’s curry pastes I’ve ever seen, along with an equally huge tub of mango chutney and Kieran found a shop in Dax where he could buy gram flour and cardamom pods. We were ready to roll.

On Wednesday Nick and Philippa spent the day at the gite, making beef curry and chicken tandoori. I went down between lessons, to put together the rice pudding, take photos and, in Philippa’s opinion at least, generally be a nuisance. On Thursday we started making the dough for the naan breads, did a veg curry and Nick made carrot halva. He went back on Friday morning, while I stayed home to wait for a parcel delivery, and made 100 onion bhajis – well that’s how many were left once he’d finished the quality control! Adrian arrived Friday afternoon and helped us decant the rice pud into dishes, make 100 samosas, prepare the salad and roll out the naan breads. The team who set out the tables arrived and transformed the room while we finished washing up. Time to go home to have a cup of tea and change; one of my students had lent me a sari, so I did my best to tie it correctly. I don’t think it was right, but at least it stayed in place for the evening and it certainly provoked a few comments!

Once I’d been round and explained how things were meant to be eaten, (most people had never tasted curry before!) the assembled cyclists tucked into onion bhajis and samosas with salad and raita for starters. Then beef curry, veg curry, chicken tandoori, rice and naans for the main course; I was amazed to see people going back for seconds and even third helpings! By the time we served the rice pudding, then coffee with carrot halva, everyone was pretty full, but I think they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves and I suspect this may become an annual event. We’re just glad it’s over for now; it’s been a very hard week.