A private armagnac tour

A few months ago a young woman contacted me for conversational English lessons; she’s the owner of the oldest armagnac business in the area and wants to be able to conduct tours in English during the summers. Her English is already very good, she just lacks a little confidence, so the lessons are thoroughly enjoyable.

She’d already written a script for her tours, but wants to be able to talk about the business off the cuff, and of course, answer questions; so she asked if I’d like to have a tour, as a guinea pig. Naturally, I jumped at the chance and went to Nogaro, to the Dartigalongue building, for my tour.

We started in the museum; a room filled with all sorts of artefacts including early twentieth century (very un-PC)  advertising posters, letters to and from the business, old bottles, tools once used to repair barrels, which almost nobody knows how to use these days, and portraits and photos of the five generations of Virginie’s family who ran the business before her; from Pascal Dartigalongue, who founded it in 1838, his sons, Henri and André, through to Virginie’s grandfather, Pierre. There wasn’t a photo of her aunt, who passed the business on to Virginie as she never married or had children and who, sadly, passed away on the morning of my tour, but I’m sure one will be added to the collection soon.

Museum, with photos and portraits of the previous owners

The next room contains old bottles and demijohns of armagnac, amongst them the oldest registered armagnac in existence, dating from 1848. There are also bottles from as far back as 1829, but these aren’t registered, so don’t count in official terms.

The wooden pillars were hand carved by Virginie’s grandfather

Next we went to the working part of the business; they no longer distill the armagnac here, their job is to age the eau de vie they receive from vignerons in Gascon oak barrels, the process that transforms it into armagnac. There are hundreds of barrels in various rooms, each with its own microclimate; each barrel is labelled in chalk with the age, quantity, alcohol level and type of grape. 

I learnt about the different terroirs (a combination of soil type and climate) of the three different armagnac producing areas (bas armagnac, haut armagnac and Tenareze), the three different grape varieties used and the battle to be allowed to continue using Baco grapes, which give structure and the potential to age well to the armagnac, and which are phylloxéra resistant, so require less pesticides; but which are a hybrid of a French and an American grape, so disapproved of by the powers that be. The battle was won in 2005, though this grape can only be grown in the Gers, and purely for armagnac production.

Armagnac from the original, clear, eau de vie, to the fully matured product

They have to this day the old copper still that was used to distill armagnac, but is no longer in use, as well as huge, ancient wooden barrel-shaped containers, now superceded by stainless steel drums. 

The still

The whole place is permeated with a gentle aroma of armagnac, from the first floor storage, which is warm, so the “angels’ share” is about 2-4% a year, to the cool cellars below ground, where the perfume of armagnac is mixed with the musty scent of the earth below your feet.

It was fascinating to learn not just about the history of armagnac in our area, but also the personal history of one family who have devoted their lives to its production. The people who work there these days have all done so for upwards of 25 years; it’s obviously a happy place to spend an entire career, a real family firm.

Virginie wants to do a couple more guinea pig tours, so Nick and other friends of ours will have that treat later this month and if/when friends and family can visit again, I’m sure we’ll be recommending a visit during their stay.

And the winner is……… me!

I’m not much a newspaper reader, but since we moved to France, we’ve taken the Connexion, a monthly English newspaper for ex-pats. It’s very useful for explaining some of the more confusing aspects of French life, such as the horrendously complicated bureaucracy, or for knowing the exchange rate on the correct day for tax purposes.

A couple of months ago, at the end of an article on a famous gardener, they announced a competition to write about your potager, or veg plot; I decided to give it a go and spent a few evenings writing and editing, with feedback from Gemma. Finally I was happy with it and sent it off, along with some photos, then promptly forgot all about it.

Last week I received an email telling me I’d won! It would be an understatement to say I was gobsmacked – I don’t win things. The prize is two wine themed tea towels, which have yet to arrive, along with publication online.

So here it is.

Tales from the Potager: Jackie Cawthray’s story

From 20 square metres to 5,000 was quite the step-up for the novice potagistes when they moved from Yorkshire to the Gers – as we discover in the first of two winning entries to our Tales from the Potager competition

27 April 2021By Jackie Cawthray

When we took early retirement and moved to the Gers, we’d never had a garden to speak of; our Victorian terrace in Harrogate boasted a back yard of about 20 square metres. Suddenly we were faced with owning, and maintaining, 5000 square metres, most of which could best be described as a field.

A potager was a priority. We’d dreamt for so long of being able to grow our own fruit and veg, even though we had no idea how; it was going to be a steep learning curve. I found a jardin partagé in the local town, where I was welcomed with open arms.

I spent two mornings a week weeding, watering, planting and harvesting, but mostly soaking up as much information as my co-workers could provide, which they did with great good humour, sometimes highly amused by my mispronunciation of words I’d only read, never heard. I frequently came home with the panniers on my bike laden with produce, as well as occasional baby walnut trees that had self seeded where they weren’t wanted.

We put all this produce and knowledge to good use, digging our first potager between the cabanon and the garage; we built a New Zealand composting system, got manure from a neighbouring stables and began planting. The first year, we grew more spinach than we could possibly use; strangely, I’ve never managed to get it to germinate since. Friends and neighbours gave us tomato and courgette plants as well as seeds for peppers, physalis, broad beans and mange tout peas.

Soon the potager was too small – there were strawberries by the roadside, raspberry canes near the woodpile, cultivated blackberries in the park and where on earth could we put the five baby blackcurrant bushes we’d just been given?

We chose another location and started digging it out. The soil around here is heavy clay, though some patches of ground seemed much better than others.

We dug out the improved soil from the old potager, barrowed it to the new one and rotavated it in, along with manure and home made compost.

We came across all sorts of treasure among the bits of old roof tiles and lumps of concrete; there were old perfume bottles and very pretty bits of ceramic tiles, but best of all was the fire back, broken in two, inscribed with “Isabelle Mahue 1935”.

Who she was was a mystery to us till we were talking to an elderly neighbour one day; he knew Isabelle, whom he described as being as round as she was tall, extremely mean with money and who grew fruit and veg in her back garden, to sell on the market, which explained the patches of good soil. She died in the 70s and is buried in the little cemetery behind his house, so he took us to visit, explaining that the date on the fire back was the year she’d bought what’s now our house.

Little by little the new potager took shape. Keen gardening friends from England came for a busman’s holiday – it was great to work with people who know what they’re doing. I no longer have time to help at the jardin partagé, but the friends I made there are always happy to advise and are still amused by my mistakes, such as when I carefully potted up, nurtured and transferred a load of strawberry runners to the new potager.

They weren’t growing as I expected, so Christian came round to take a look – his diagnosis? They were all weeds, every one!

Watering during the summer soon became a problem; we’d got several large water butts to collect rain water, but this wasn’t enough and we didn’t want to use tap water, so my other half devised a system to pump the treated water leaving the septic tank across the garden, by way of an underground pipe, to a 1000 litre storage tank.

This helped a lot, but by August is usually still not enough; we have a well, but it’s very deep, 17 metres down to the water. Eventually we found a pump powerful enough to bring the water to the surface, from where it goes, by way of another underground pipe (thank goodness we bought a mini digger!) to the storage tank.

In spite of our occasional failures, we manage to grow enough tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, beans, onions, raspberries and blackcurrants, to name but a few, to fill two chest freezers, which see us through most of the year. I still get a real buzz from swapping seeds and plants with friends and neighbours and giving away stuff that I simply don’t have time or energy to process.

Last year our potager was a lifeline, we spent time we wouldn’t normally have free in the garden and as a result, had a weed free potager for the first time ever. It never ceases to amaze me how much better home grown fruit and veg taste than anything you can buy, as well as having all the other benefits of being organic.

I also love being able to compost not just kitchen waste, but all paper and cardboard packaging too; I buy as little plastic wrapping as possible, so we have very little waste to recycle or put in the commune bins.

It’s nearly time to start sowing seeds for this year … onwards and upwards, as they say on Gardener’s Question Time.

Work and play

You may well be forgiven for thinking that, after our limited rights to go out and live a normal life over the past year and a bit, we’d have finished the gite by now. But, ridiculous though it seems, you’d be wrong.

We started well enough, tackling jobs that had needed doing for years, though they were mostly, it has to be said, in our house. Then we did a lot of gardening; the veg plot had never been weed free before. But the gite? As time went by we found it increasingly difficult to motivate ourselves to do very much at all and we had a very slow winter. Whenever possible, Nick’s been out cycling, making up for the times it was forbidden. 

What we needed was a kick up the proverbial; it came in the form of a neighbour who runs a chambres d’hôtes asking if we’d be ready to take bookings for the lorry racing weekend in July, she was already booked up and was still getting enquiries.

We made a list of jobs remaining to be done; it should be perfectly feasible in the 10 weeks remaining, Mart gave our details to her booking lady and we set to.

Nearly 3 weeks on and the new bathroom is tiled, grouted, fixtures fitted and plumbed, walls and ceiling painted and window varnished. In the débarras Nick’s crepi-ed where the old chimney came out and finished the tiling, which I’ve grouted. He replaced the glass doors in the linen cupboard with wood and added a coving to the top, while I painted walls, ceiling and cupboard, and cleaned and varnished the beams. The end is in sight, at least in there; next we’ll tackle the kitchen.

Refurbished linen cupboard

The debarras; a few little jobs to finish now
The debarras
Just waiting for the heater and shower screen
The newly enlarged bathroom

We haven’t any bookings yet, but I think that not having en suite facilities is a disadvantage in these covid times, as people from different households can’t share facilities. But we’ll see what happens; it’s good to be making progress again.

In the midst of all this unaccustomed activity, we’re trying to take time off occasionally. After a very dry spring, the rain has been almost relentless in May, but last Wednesday was lovely. 

When Nick suggested we go out for lunch, it took me a moment to realise what he meant, as all restaurants and cafes are still closed, but we could put some food in the camper and find a pretty picnic spot; the camper is due its MOT next week, so it would benefit from a run anyway, not having seen much use over the past year.

We packed some thawed out soup and chilli and set off for Marciac, where there’s plenty of parking by the lake, and found a lovely spot, right next to a picnic table. There was some fishing gear stashed at the water’s edge, just down the bank.

As I prepared lunch, I heard a van pull up behind us and Nick talking to someone; there was a young man who wanted to know how long we’d be there as it was his fishing gear on the lakeside, he’d been parked there for two days and had just vacated his spot for a few minutes to do a bit of shopping. We said we’d move as soon as we’d eaten. He sat chatting for a while; if we didn’t eat the soup soon, I thought, the rice would be pudding, so I asked if he’d like some soup, there was plenty. Yes, he’d love that, so we ate soup, then stretched the chilli and rice to three servings. I think he regretted accepting the offer of chilli; the French, generally, don’t eat anything at all spiced and he found it too hot, though in fact it was very mild.

He brought a lovely cheese from his van to finish the meal and Nick made coffee as we sat chatting. He was taking a year’s sabbatical from his job as a psychiatric nurse; Nick misunderstood his job, (he had quite a strong accent), hearing “fermier” (farmer), instead of “infermier” (male nurse), so the poor guy was a little confused when Nick asked him whether he kept animals, or grew cereals. I think he had Nick down as a future patient for a moment, till the misunderstanding dawned on us and we could explain.

Once the meal was over we moved the camper and had a walk around the lake and into Marciac; we were only out for a few hours, but it felt like a proper break and set us up to do some gardening on our return, watching the solid, black, heavy clouds approaching while I planted strawberries. Shortly after we finished, the thunder and lightning started, followed by rain and a hailstorm. Fortunately the strawberries have survived.

Marciac lake
Marciac lake

A bit of textile art

Now that we’re in our third covid lockdown, I was thinking of the previous one, last October, which seems such a long time ago. One of the ladies in my textile arts group heard of an online course, to be run by someone from France Patchwork, covering various textile art techniques, with the aim of producing fabric books in three different styles, over 3 months. Four of us signed up, along with another eight women from across France.

It has to be said that the teaching was somewhat sparse, comprising one 15 minute video per month; if you didn’t already know what you were doing, you’d have been lost quite early on. The subject matter proposed was also unimaginative – all the teacher’s books took India for their theme and, apart from the style of book, looked very similar.

First we made a scroll, making or buying stamps to print on used teabags and learning how to sew little Indian mirrors onto the fabric. I also tried my hand at traditional Indian embroidery, though it’s not my forté, requiring far too much patience for me. Unlike most other participants, I also used techniques I’m already familiar with, to give some variety to the end result.

Next came the “Sumerian tablets” book, square pages joined together concertina-style. My theme for this was the seasons and as I started working I began to get into a different frame of mind artistically, attempting to mix styles and techniques in a way I hadn’t tried before. The new techniques this time were stencilling with fabric paintsticks and using paper in the work too. I didn’t have paintsticks and found they were quite expensive to buy, but having plenty of fabric paints, stencils and stencil brushes already, I was able to achieve the desired result. I used some lyrics from the “Seasons” album by Magna Carta, who I used to know and who gave me permission.

The other new technique for this book was the use of angelina fibres; our textiles group bought some, which each of us used and posted to the next person on the list. Maybe they’re available in other, less hi-viz, colours as well as the ones we bought, but I wasn’t impressed, so used them for the cover of the book; frankly, I think the result’s pretty awful.

I always send photos of my current project to Gemma, my daughter in Australia; she gives me good feedback. When she saw the summer page she loved it and wanted a decent quality photo to have made into a canvas; better than that, I thought, why not give her all the finished pages; so I didn’t actually make up the book, but kept the pages separate, mounting them on background fabrics so that she can frame and hang them.


The new technique for the third book was to use gesso; I’ve had a tub in the cupboard for years, but never knew quite what to do with it. We cut some firm cotton fabric out, soaked it in dilute PVA glue, then glued on bits of scrunched up tissue paper, muslin, gauze and lace. We let it dry then painted it with gesso; mine took two coats as I’d used heavy cotton lace. Once that was dry, we painted it, added gold foil and gilding wax. The result was spectacular, definitely my favourite technique of the course.

This was to be the cover of our third book and was to be cut in an interesting shape, so I used a Moorish arch shape and dug out the photos of our trip to Morocco, choosing several as inspiration for the inner pages of my book.

I was totally engrossed in what I was doing by now and keen to explore as many new techniques as possible; Nick made me a weaving frame so I was able to weave one page to give the effect of a terraced hillside, as well as a tiny rug for the page based on the souks of Marrakech. I embroidered by hand and machine, used water soluble fabric and bits of a page of a Moroccan newspaper we were given while on holiday; I stencilled onto teabags, embroidered on organza to give a transparent look to a cut out window, appliquéd, foiled and of course, used my newly discovered gesso technique.

The souks of Marrakech

Tiles and orange trees in the El Badi Fort and blue pots representing the Majorelle Gardens, Marrakech

I made a back and a spine for the book, to match the front cover and my son in law’s father very kindly printed my “inspirational” photos onto canvas for me to include in the book. It took a while to work out how to put the whole project together as I wasn’t impressed with the method used by the teacher (her book had neither back nor spine), but at last, after 3 months, it’s finished. I’m very pleased with the end result; it’s a very personal and evocative souvenir of our holiday. 

Nick keeps promising to add another page, or gallery, or something, to this blog, one on which I can put photos of the textile work I’m doing, so one of these days it might appear.

A nice bit of woodwork

When we moved into our new house, nearly 4 years ago, we installed a temporary island in the middle of the kitchen; an old table top on reclaimed legs, the barrel that Didier made us at one end of it, topped with a circle of chipboard, both pieces covered in plastic tablecloth. The idea was to see if it worked. It worked very well, so much so that we almost forgot that it was meant to be temporary.

However, a few months ago, Nick decided it was time to make the real thing; he’d got enough oak for the frame and we bought some beech blockboard for the tops. Maddy and Dom had brought us a circle of toughened glass for the centre of the barrel top on one of their visits several years ago. It would be an enjoyable project, working with real wood.

The frame construction took a long time as Nick wanted to do it properly; he had to buy a big new planer before he could really get started as his old one couldn’t cope with the oak and started to smoke after only a few passes! Once all the wood was planed to size, he cut mortise and tenon joints for most of the base, which he brought up to the kitchen in pieces, for assembly. He cut curved slats for the shelf and put in a space to store chopping boards and trays on edge, an improvement on the original. The other alteration was a drawer in the end, to store sharp knives and aprons; he had to cut the dovetails by hand as the router wouldn’t behave itself – another tool that’s been used nearly to death!

I varnished the frame while he made a start on the tops; the barrel top is made in eight sections with a space in the centre for the glass, to show off the barrel.

I thought it might be a good idea to have some sort of detailing on the tops, so I ordered an alphabet stencil and researched sayings about wine, finding four of the right sort of length, that we both liked, in English, French and Latin.

Finally the tops were ready, so I sanded and stained them; the stain claims to be light oak, but Nick’s had it for years and it’s darkened over time – oxidised perhaps? Being made up of lots of pieces of beech, the different blocks all took up the stain differently; not at all the finish we’d envisaged, but it looks great, like an old farmhouse table.

I’d drawn out the wordings for the stencilling full size on lengths of paper, to work out the spacings, so I nervously started the painting – I couldn’t afford to make a mistake. Once the lettering was complete, I sanded it all down, to age it, then gave the whole lot a few coats of varnish to seal it, followed by a coat of beeswax.

Hooks for tea towels and oven gloves on the sides, handles on the drawer and it’s finished. I have to say we’re very pleased with it.

A huge achievement!

Now that Brexit has actually happened, we have to apply for residence permits, known as cartes de séjour. We’d had a look at the rules on several occasions over the last few years, but had got no further than that, putting it off as everything bureaucratic is so complicated in France. We didn’t believe the powers-that-be when they announced that the procedure would be simple, it certainly didn’t look it from what we’d seen, with lists of documents required; translated birth certificates, utility bills from the last 5 years, proof of income, maiden aunt’s father’s dog licence……. You get the idea! However, we couldn’t put it off any longer, we must get our applications in before June, so we set aside the whole of Sunday to get on with it. We found the lateest version of the website (there have been several) and this time were pleasantly surprised; passport, proof of arrival date and a utility bill from 2020,that’s all! They’ve even translated the application form into English! So it’s done and I can’t tell you what a relief it is! We’re on our way to being legal, post Brexit residents.

All we have to do now is wait to be given appointments to go to the prefecture for photos and fingerprints.

Next we have to hope they sort out the driving licence fiasco; it’s no longer possible to transfer a UK driving licence to a French one, since the Brexit withdrawal agreement didn’t cover that, so people whose licences have recently expired either have to give up driving or take a French driving test. We’ve got until the end of this year to get a French licence, so that should give them enough time to sort it out – shouldn’t it?

No photos today, paperwork is just sooo boring!

Winter cycling

When we went into our first lockdown and weren’t allowed to cycle, Nick decided that it might be a good idea to get a bike home trainer; unfortunately everyone else had had the same idea and there was none available. 

First lockdown ended, we had a few months of freedom, but Nick kept looking – still nobody had any in stock. Finally, 2 weeks into our second lockdown, he found one; but by now the question arose as to whether or not we’d use it enough to justify the investment. In the end we ordered one and took delivery just the day before lockdown finished.

Nick loves it, especially as it means he can do a hour’s hard workout at the end of the day, when the winter days are short and as the weather’s not been good recently, he’s been using it regularly.

It’s a very strange experience; you put your bike, minus back wheel, onto the trainer and plug it into a laptop, then choose from hundreds of rides that have been filmed all over the world. There’s everything from short, easy, flat rides around Amsterdam to extreme routes in the Alps or the Dolomites and as you ride, the resistance on the back wheel alters with the gradient, making it feel quite real. 

Other aspects aren’t as easy to get used to though, such as not needing to slow down for junctions and corners; and it’s almost impossible not to try to lean as you go round bends, in fact we both find we close our eyes as we corner at high speed!

My first ride left me unable to sit down for several days as it’s a bit of a pain to swap bikes, so I rode Nick’s; he has a plan B, but today he put my bike on for me and I did a virtual tour of Barcelona. There were plenty of eye-closing moments as pedestrians stepped out in front of me, or when there was fast-moving, heavy traffic to be negotiated; but I’m sure I’ll get used to it, or find another ride on quieter roads. 

A good idea? As I listen to storm Bella’s winds howling outside, watch the hail bouncing off the balcony and am surprised (not to say a little scared) by  the ferocity of the unseasonal thunder and lightning storm, an indoor workout definitely seems the better option.

Winter’s a-comin’

We woke to frost one morning last week; it hadn’t been forecast quite so soon and all the tender plants were still out, including the citrus trees. 

By the afternoon the weather was gorgeous, brilliant blue sky and lots of warm sunshine; time to move the citrus to their winter residence on the terrace, then we’d put up the greenhouse around them.

We moved small tender plants indoors and cleaned the terrace, then Nick strapped himself into his new back support corset, finding new sympathy with women from the 18th century.

For the next two hours we pulled and pushed, levered and shoved and eventually got one tree onto the edge of the terrace. It was becoming quite apparent that this wasn’t going to work; it’s horrible to have to admit it, but we’re getting too old for this level of physical exertion; and it’s not going to get any better in the coming years.

The sun was dropping and the temperature with it, we had to find a plan B; a dig through the cabanon revealed some fleece, which we wrapped around the trees for now; they look like Halloween decorations, but it gives us time to decide what to do next.

Oh, the joys of getting old 🥴☹️🥴

Back into lockdown

Along with many countries, we’re in lockdown again. The same rules apply as last time; we can only go out for work, shopping, doctors visits and one hour a day for exercise, within 1km of home.

Nick took it very seriously last time, not leaving the confines of our land for the whole two months; thank goodness he’s a little more relaxed about it this time. We can go shopping by bike, so when it’s a small enough shopping trip, we do so, frequently “getting a bit lost” on the way home. We also have a short, 5km, loop through the village; Nick can get round this 6 times in the hour, though for me, 5 times is an achievement.

Once Nick’s back felt better, we got back to work; I’d never really liked the paint job I’d done on the bedroom furniture, and Nick had since added a top to the chest of drawers that fits right into the corner, as well as plinthes around the base of the chest of drawers and the bedside chests. So we emptied the drawers and I repainted it all, a distressed finish on the bodies and a crackled effect on the tops. I’m much happier with it now.

I’ve never had a proper dressing table mirror, and have used a tiny, stand alone mirror, an eighteenth birthday present, for the last 40 years; so Nick decided it was time to put that right. He’s making a swivel mirror on a stand that will have two little drawers in; most of it will be painted to match the chest of drawers, but the mirror frame and drawer fronts are to be oak, treated with vinegar with rusty nails soaked in it, which ebonises the oak, then rubbed with liming wax. It gives a beautiful finish. Worth waiting 40 years for? Probably. I’ll post pictures when it’s finished.

Having completed all the painting I could, I spent a few days cleaning, then the next few weeding the potager prior to covering it for the winter. I planted broad beans and mange tout, barrowed the contents of one compost bin onto the potager and raked it over, then turned the next compost heap into the empty bin. I was on a roll, there was no stopping me……. until my back gave out the next morning.

I really should know better by now, but at least spending a few days in bed gives me time to read; PG Wodehouse, Joanne Harris, Isabelle Allende, David Mitchell….. It’s a while since I’ve managed a book a day.

Bedside chest
Bedside chest
Mirror support, needs painting
Mirror frame, ebonised and limed

Why do the French make everything so complicated?

Everyone goes through patches in life where nothing seems to go right, and that’s been the case for us over the last few weeks, leading up to our second lockdown.

It started when, having worked very hard with Kieran, then spent 2 days chopping firewood for winter, Nick hurt his back.

He couldn’t get out of bed, so I called the doctor, whose receptionist informed me that the doctor doesn’t do house calls and Nick would have to go there; I don’t know which bit of “he can’t get out of bed” she failed to understand. It transpired, however, that she told the doctor, who tried repeatedly to call us, but the phone wasn’t working and he didn’t know where we live.

After two weeks in bed, it began to ease, much to our relief. The weather had been unusually foul, wind and rain every day, so at least he hadn’t missed much cycling.

Our internet and phone had been hit and miss for a while, so this latest failure convinced us to change internet suppliers. I sorted a new contract and set about cancelling the old one, but they don’t make it easy. It’s claimed that you can cancel online, so I tried, only to be told half an hour down the line that they’re only joking (ok, it didn’t exactly say that, but that was the message); but I should try by phone. So I tried that too, with no option of speaking to a real person; but they didn’t recognise our phone number – the one they supplied. After much searching ( their FAQs don’t, of course, cover “how to cancel my contract”, though they do show how to cancel your cancellation of contract!) and a lot of head scratching, not to mention the air becoming a bit blue, I eventually found a site with an address to send a recorded delivery letter to and, joy of joys, an example of said letter.

I copied it out, signed it and put it in an envelope. The whole, delightful experience only took a little over 4 hours!

I took it to the post office, along with a couple of parcels, one of which was fine, but the second, carefully wrapped, was unacceptable as it has to be wrapped in cardboard, not paper. I bought a box and asked about the recorded delivery letter. “Oh dear, it’s the wrong shape of envelope, this envelope is too short for the label”. The best idea would be to buy a special envelope, whereby I’d get an email on receipt of the letter; all I had to do was take it home, fill in various things on the PC and bring it back. I explained that I didn’t have time for that – surely I could do it on my mobile, couldn’t I? Yes, of course, she’d even help me. What I had yet to learn was that she’d never actually done this; I spent the next hour and a half (no exaggeration) in the post office, my phone being passed from one member of staff to another as they failed to make it work. They tried on their own phones and the computer, but with no joy,  till eventually the boss came in and sorted it in only half an hour. Afterwards she told me that I should have installed the post office app, then it would have been so much easier and only takes a couple of minutes.

As I left, they all thanked me for my patience, so at least we parted on good terms, but Nick thought I’d left home.

So, between these nuisances, the birthday present for my granddaughter in England which arrived here when I know I clicked her address (thanks Amazon) and various other irritations, it’s been quite a frustrating few weeks.

Fortunately Nick’s back is lots better now and we were able to spend the last day before lockdown cycling; the weather is back to normal for the time of year, with warm, sunny days and beautiful autumn colours. The freezers and cupboards are full of home produce, the wine rack is well stocked and we’ve plenty to do, so the next few weeks will pass quickly enough, I’m sure.

First lunch stop
The voie verte from Mont de Marsan to Villeneuve
Second lunch stop – well it was a 100km ride!