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Monday, 7 December 2009

A Merry Christmas to Both of our Readers

After a year when we have been getting used to living with a different house, different country and different lifestyle, we are going to take a breather. We have both worked hard on the garden (well, Ruth has) and house and haven’t noticed the weekends passing, in an attempt to make things reasonably comfortable, warm and civilised. We are taking a few days off in Spain over Christmas and then returning when we hope to enjoy some results from our efforts. Next year we hope to see some more of this area, France and surrounding lands. We look forward to more relaxing and socialising. We also look forward to entertaining visitors, so if that’s likely to include you, don’t hesitate.

So here it is; Merry Christmas Everyone!

John and Ruth

Friday, 4 December 2009


Damn it!
I cannot upload photo images from here.
The frustration is wearing me down. I will have to make the trip to town and the cybercafe!
We are trying to keep the blog going but events keep overtaking us.
The upload photo bar does not even appear on the site!
We will win though - somehow.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


That great huntress - the Diana of cats - Topaze no less - returned in triumph with her prey.

Being a mistrustful African, I snatched Topaze up and locked her in the house so that I could fully investigate her trophy.

The poor creature was twisted in agony, its tongue lolling from its gaping mouth but never believe a dead snake is dead until you've killed it yourself twice.
However I do prefer to let snakes live. In this case I didn't have to dispose of the body as, soon after Topaze disappeared, the creature reared up lithe and well, its tongue flickering in and out as it posed for our camera.

I gathered it up and John took it to the next-door woodpile that no one uses. I guess that the colder mornings made the snake slow. It was, in any case, a very young collared grass snake and they sham death to avoid being eaten. It was also tiny.

Nothing daunted and having learnt nothing,Topaze captured the snake's brother a week later - or maybe it was the same snake - also a poor student!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

After 800 years the English retake Gascony

Here's what the village website had to say:-

Quand Labatut-Rivière fête la Saint Bienvenue…

En cette soirée du 30 octobre, la salle des fêtes de la Mairie arborait l’Union Jack ! La communauté britannique labatutoise a eu, en effet, l’heureuse idée d’inviter notre village autour d’un remarquable buffet pour que nous fêtions, tous ensemble, la Saint Bienvenue.

Répondant à l’appel, nos villageois ne furent pas en reste et abondèrent un second buffet de nos préparations régionales.

Sympathique joute gastronomique qui a mis à mal un certain chauvinisme bien « franchouillard » et révélé les indéniables talents d’ambassadeurs culinaires de nos amis britanniques. Ceux-ci ont même maîtrisé la promotion de la gastronomie d’Outre-Manche jusque dans les moindres détails puisque chaque plat bénéficiait d’une fiche bilingue expliquant la recette par le menu. Inutile de dire que les goûteurs que nous fûmes n’en restèrent pas à la simple lecture,… ils passèrent à l’acte et y revinrent. Au diable les idées reçues et vive l’entente cordiale !

En fin de repas et de libation, mais d’une voix restée digne et ferme, le porte-parole de nos hôtes fit présent d’un volumineux dictionnaire bilingue destiné à la bibliothèque municipale. La dédicace mentionnée sur celui-ci mérite lecture : « Dictionnaire offert par la communauté britannique à ses amis Labatutois, ce 30 octobre 2009. Puisse-t-il enrichir notre village de toute la diversité de ses cultures et contribuer ainsi, par une meilleure compréhension, au rapprochement de nos communautés. »

Puissent en effet nos initiatives communes, et celle-ci est toute à l’honneur de nos amis labatutois britanniques, contribuer au rapprochement de nos communautés et faire que portes et fenêtres s’ouvrent toutes grandes, ailleurs que sur nos jardins…

Tel est le sens du propos de Robert Maisonneuve qui dans nos remerciements, en qualité de simple convive, a associé June et Bryan Gadsby ainsi que Ruth Hartley et John Corley, chevilles ouvrières de cette bien agréable soirée.

En attendant, bienvenue à vous, amis d’Outre-Manche, vous êtes ici chez vous !

Alain F.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


The grue flew overheard crying weirdly on three twilight evenings and then winter arrived.

The temperature was zero or below for three mornings and the garden white and crisp.

At midday I walked around my garden crying 'Oh-oh-oh!' like the grue as I saw my blackened vegetable patch and dead flowers.


We are at some altitude here and sunny days and clear skies mean very cold nights and a rather cool house.

They still haven't harvested the maize around us but soon the trees and the earth will be bare.

We are told that we will be very cold indeed by Christmas. At the moment the clear sunny days make the chill quite endurable.

The 'Grue cendree' is the common crane, or 'grus grus' who fly overhead from northern Europe to Spain and Portugal for the winter


So this is what good friends are for - they did not use the guest privy but we went to a beer festival in a community hall.
As if by magic - at the beat of the guitar or was it the vanishing of the beer - everyone changed from being old retired Brits to young French music fans.


So you know that you will have every convenience if you come to stay - here is our garden privy uncovered and exposed after John got busy with axe and chain saw and debroussailleuse.


It was pointed out that it is unfair to boast about our excess of tomatoes to those hardy gardeners struggling with English weather.

Just so that you know that things have equalised -

we have had a glut of huge hornets on our figs competing with many lovely butterflies -actually attacking them - the ground is covered with fermenting figs and flies and smells of rotting fruit which gets tramped into the house.

Friday, 16 October 2009


It is different to British medicine.

At our ages we have rather encountered it head on.

Once registered with a doctor and CPAM - a whole new experience - we immediately were invited for routine scanning hence my mammography and the envelopes of shit.

The biggest difference is that you get to hold all your medical files yourself - as yet we haven't evolved an appropriate filing system - luckily we don't have to keep copies of the envelopes of shit. I am impressed by this system as it seems to work well for a dispersed small rural population.

I have to collect my mammography Xrays and keep them. I get to keep the results of my blood test (I see them before the doctor!)- and the photos of the corneas of my eyes. I think it makes you feel more in charge of your health.

If you need a blood test the doctor gives you a prescription for the laboratory. Results are next day. For routine colorectal tests you collect an envelope from the doctor and prepare the shit slides yourself for 3 days - then post them off to the lab - results in 3 days - really!

You have to see an opthamologist to get a spectacle prescription - that way they make sure you have healthy eyes as well as being able to see but there are long waits for this service if it is routine.

Medicine doesn't seem to be by suppository as I expected but prescribing seems generous. We pay to see the doctor but prescriptions are free and some treatments or part of the treatment is reimbursed if you have insurance.

You do need reasonable french to explain your symptoms and ask the relevant questions

Saturday, 3 October 2009


(This title (awful pun narrowly avoided) is going to get us a lot of random hits!)

There I was by myself - waiting for the mammograph.

T-shirt on, bra off for some development that hadn’t been quite understood/explained.

Chap came in with a load of X-ray plates for the radiographer.

He put them down, stood up – young – 40ish – curly hair, stylish casual shirt, slim hips, tight jeans.

He gestured – "take off your shirt"

And again – "hands on your head"

Then he firmly patted and felt my breasts all around.

Standing back he gave me a wonderful smile

‘Impeccable!’ he said.

I rather hope he wasn’t the doctor!


We heard the faint mewling of a kitten somewhere in the hedgerow but did our best to ignore it for a day.
'Dammit' said I, 'I must go and see.'
A small black and white kitten came out of the woodpile and headed straight for us yowling squeakily. It allowed me to pick it up. A smelly wild male so no chance we would have it. Back on the ground, it went into the kitchen and helped itself to Topaze's food.
We retreated for strategic discussions - could it be the traditional French outdoor cat and Topaze the indoor cat? Vets bills were raised and its inevitable death on the road outside the house.

It got a meal and was put outside to find its way home.

In the early hours I hear an owl hoot and a kitten crying for help as it was carried away.

That was a solution but I did feel guilty.

However next morning the kitten reappeared. Topaze was livid. Spitting and hissing she got the kitten in a half-nelson and tried to bite its head off.

This could be another solution. Let Topaze drive it away. After all what could we do.

She adopted it.

No doubt she will publish another blog about it.

(Yes, I will - Topaze)

Saturday, 26 September 2009


John is busy.
John has been very busy.
John is allergic to flues and what they contain in the way of ancient grot and dirt.

John has had very bad 'flue' enzasneezing that made working up the flue hell but he stuck it out covered with snot - sorry soot - and grime - but -

we have a wood burning stove in place with a heat-recovery system that will capture heat from inside the flue and warm up rooms other than the sitting room.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


Winter is inevitable and so we went in search of firewood.
There is lots of wood from the tempest but it is still green.
We also had discovered that we could put our name down for Labatut wood which is shared out among villagers.
This are photos of our first delivery which John had to move and stack. He did so in record time. We have 10 square metres and have yet to discover how long it will last.

Apparently burning firewood is carbon neutral - as the same amount of carbon is released by rotting wood as by burning wood. I guess there are issues about the cutting and transport of it but we believe our wood to be pretty local - especially the village load.

Friday, 18 September 2009


These pictures are for a digital hero - my daughter T.
Everytime I take a photo I think of her.
Everyone of these shots was taken blind into the rising sun . .

The morning was so beautiful and the light, spider webs and the dew so magical and mystical. Imperfect as the garden is in daylight - it was exquisite in the new light of a dawning sun.

'Praise for the new light . . '
- somebody sing -

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Captain's Log, 12th. September

This has been another week of progress, fortunately in a forward direction.

Thanks to the loan of a trailer, I was able to get two loads of compost from a recycling facility and 1,75 tonnes of pebbles to put down as hardstanding which will hopefully ensure that we do not get marooned in the house, unable to get out, because the cars are stuck in the mud, like they were last spring.

We also got a tonne of topsoil delivered. (Compost + topsoil) = (hard work for Ruth + lots more home-produced food).

We went to the sawmill and selected a piece of beech which they cut and planed for us. It's a beautiful piece of timber which I have used to provide a shelf in the guest bedroom. As you can see, it takes meticulous attention to detail and painstaking effort to produce cabinet work of appropriate high quality and beauty.

The other thing we did was to order secondary and double glazing for practically the whole house. It is due to be installed by the end of October and one day we hope to be able to pay for it. At least we shall be warm while we wait for the debt collectors to arrive.

Oh, one last thing. One day next week is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Check it out!

Cheers, me hearties.

Cap'n Mad John




We visited the Cirque de Garvanie.
It was a hot day and there were crowds of people there.
John carried the picnic backpack - thank you I and L!
I took no more photos as it was too hazy but on the way back we stopped at this very scenic bridge - built at the behest of the Empress Eugenis - just to be scenic - and watched mad people jumping off on elastic rope.

THE BACK PACK PICNIC BAG has turned out to be fantastically useful.
Most village and social events that we go to are 'pot luck' occasions where everyone contributes a dish and you bring your own plates, cutlery, and glasses - lots of those for sampling floc, armangnac and wine - mostly homemade. We could not manage without it.
Thanks again!


Salut! Je m’appelle Topaze. Oh! I’m sorry. I try to say in English. I am Topaze. When I was a little kitten I used to live with my mummy, brothers, uncles, aunties and cousins in an appentis – ah!, a “shed” - in a big garden. I expect my daddy was there, too, but I didn’t know who he was. I asked my mummy about him, but she always got cross.

Some people who were English came to feed us twice a day. That was lucky as not many humans in France feed cats unless they live with them. John and Ruth came sometimes. When I was 10 weeks old, John and Ruth came and took me to their house. It is very nice but I missed my mummy and the first night away I made lots of shouting. John and Ruth don’t understand cat French but they stayed awake all night trying to understand. I tried again the second night, but I could see that they still didn’t know that I wanted to go home.

As we were all French cats at home, I must learn English so that I can explain John, Ruth and you some of the things that happen to me in their house.

Here are some pictures of me when I first arrive.

John is funny. When it is hot in the day and I like to sleep, he starts to work. I think Ruth likes to rest then, too, but sometimes she is too busy. And sometimes John makes much noise! I think it is better to be a cat!

I write again soon. A bientôt!



Cripes! It’s even worse than I said! I’d completely forgotten about the massive pumpkins which are girding themselves to strike. One – about the size of a small coronation coach, around which are circling four apprehensive-looking white mice – has already gained entry to the kitchen as Ruth said it had split and probably wasn’t going to grow any bigger so she would bring it in and decide what to do with it. That was over a week ago and it’s still there on the bench, occupying a Geoff Capes space and as yet Ruth hasn’t dared to take a knife to it. The really worrying thing is that there are another 4 or 5 pumpkins outside gaining strength and volume waiting to join it and one of them is already bigger than the one indoors.

And I had a shock when I went into the garden this morning. I knew that there was a Second Planting of tomatoes about to break from the plants which Ruth had put into the ground to produce a late-season crop. What I hadn’t realised was that the first lot were still producing flowers and fruit and were about to unleash a second deluge of tomatoes, equal to the first. A ruthless (n.p.i.)* tomatophobe might have been tempted to sabotage their plans. But it wouldn’t be me. They’re taller than I am.

*n.p.i. = no pun intended

Friday, 11 September 2009


I've previously animadverted on the tsunamis of foodstuffs washing over us from the garden. A momentous event occurred today. Ruth picked NO TOMATOES!! We ate NO TOMATOES!! And we SHAN'T be having ANY TOMATOES with our cooked breakfasts this weekend.

We have a new dilemma, though. One of our trees (a fig tree, as it happens) is producing HUNDREDS of FIGS (Capitals Are Habit-Forming, ArEn'T tHeY? I've been to lots of them.) None of our welter of recipe books tells us what to do with a surfeit of figs. Ruth has made fig jam, and it's delicious, but we have so many and it's taking a significant amount of each day to pick them. Does anyone have any recipes, preservation methods, etc.? A recipe for fig wine or fig distillate would be much appreciated by me.

The Invasion of The Tomatoes is not yet repulsed (or would that just be appropriate for peas?). The Second Planting is about to ripen.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


Well I have tried my hand at grey water saving in the past.

This place might offer another and better opportunity to be ecologically pure and righteous.

Well -

And I don't mean the dry well!

Soon after purchase we found that in spite of having an out-of-date fosse (sceptic tank) our sink water goes out of the kitchen and into the 'fossé' or roadside ditch (note change of spelling).

Here is a photo showing the fossé neatly trimmed and cleared by John and full of washing up and laundry water.

Sadly it doesn't go through a reed bed to my thirsty vegetables!

As we use ecofriendly products to wash and launder we don't feel too bad about this arrangement and may live with it till we die!

Anyway everyone in the village has the same system even the Mairie!


Well - here it lies - rolled up and stashed or stacked away in the grenier and no new work happening and at a standstill on the ideas from our round Europe trip.

Am I depressed about it?


Right now I am far too busy to do more that think about it.

There is also no studio as yet!

John went to a chorale choir evening last night with lots of ladies and some men and it sounds interesting enough to carry on with.

I am thinking of starting an art blog related to this blog but different!!

If I can think of a good name to tie it to.

Who will look at it?

Who knows.

Perhaps I should give it all up.


We all know we are different and we all hope to be unique and yet we all do the same things.

Here we are in France busy growing grapes, conserving our garden produce, 'a la retraite' like a large proportion of the British we met and yet we all like to think that we are the 'pathfinders', the special people doing it for the first time - finding our own way . . .

So though we have so much in common - sometimes we are not too friendly to each other. I guess I have seen these hierarchies and cliques in other expat communities - I guess we have them in our towns and villages back in the UK.

We need the friendship and help of other British people.

Most days for retired folk do not give them easy and constant contact with working French people!

Any how John's grapes are tasty and my shelf of conserves - mostly from overgrown courgettes is increasing! Hopefully they will help to conserve us over the winter.

We are still rather lonely here - missing friends and missing family - and hoping that our circle of acquaintances and friends - French and English-speaking- will grow and enrich us.


Here are the cat and I checking her newly arrived passport, the Carte d'Indentification issued by the Societe d'Identification Electronique Veterinaire. As you can see, in the bottom right-hand corner it carries her photograph, not wearing a hat or sunglasses. The form that came with it has a tear-off portion so that modifications can be notified to the authorities. One of the boxes is for a change of name of the cat. The space for inserting the name (that's the "usual" name, not a pedigree) is 33 characters long! Imagine calling that out every night!

Is a name change likely? Probably not as we are intending to have her spayed and she will therefore keep her maiden name.


This is where I started from as a child of nine.

My father sold his farmhouse to pay off the mortgage on the farm and built a new home in the middle of a mealie field - all red dirt and dry stalks and no trees for acres around. He scratched out a plan of the house on the earth and built the house from bricks made from termite hills. My mother scribbled out a plan of a garden on a foolscap page . . .

So here John and I are in the middle of mealie farms in France but we do have trees around us.

In front of the house is a fig with ripening fruit.

To the east is a neglected overgrown hedgerow with brambles, may, blackthorn, ash, and dog roses, sloes and a walnut. The nuts - hazels and walnuts are all worm eaten. We gathered a few sloes too late and hope to do better from the fig tree. The blackberries are all too high up to reach. The is also a huge and prolific pear but no possibility of getting any of the fruit.

Thank goodness! It is a huge amount of work preserving it and impossible to eat it all or give it away!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


The 'Rencontres de Maubourguet' are about leisure, art and sport.
In Maubourguet that is rugby - and bull-fighting - and art.

It goes on all weekend and makes for a rather good atmosphere.
I couldn't recognise Maubourguet at all - here is the funfair - and here is the estate agent who sold us our house - but somehow it has become a funfair stall!

The artists are very varied - mostly seem very professional - they turn up for one night - make a piece of art while the fascinated public watch - and it is auctioned two days later even it isn't dry!


John is on the roof again.

Essential work boarding up the gaps under the eaves so that the insulation, the heat, and the cat don't keep escaping.

The cat is a keen observer of people working hard in high places. She frequently checks on John to see what he is up to and to see if she can plan her next circumvention of his careful blocking up of wind-ways.

I decided to make a tiny watering hole for small wild creatures as it has been so hot and so dry recently. It is not beautiful but I hope it will attract a dragonfly or two. So far only a water boatman and a ring-necked dove have succumbed to its charms.


Ruth coming down the mountain when she comes

This is the end of the road.

From here there are only walks up the mountains. This was Valcebollere and the Auberge des Ecureuils when we met old friends of mine from some 20 years ago. We had a great meal together and talked and talked.

One of the last times I saw them was with their daughter, then under a year old, now a married woman. We had taken the wrong route through a deserted Game Park in Zambia and kept having to dig ourselves out of the sand in dry river beds while elephants paraded nearby.

J and C love walking holidays and are very fit. We followed their advice and walked up the mountain as you can see. It was lovely and worthwhile but I am a plainswoman and can only go up hill slowly.

I also contacted another friend from the past and then remembered the first time another J and her husband B and two small daughters (same age as R and T) stayed with us at Lake Kariba.

We were woken first by a convoy of lorries in the night. New to that aspect of Africa, we were not unduly concerned but at 5 am we were woken by a loud knock on the door. I opened it to find a soldier with an AK47 pointing at me and a number of other soldiers lying in the front garden with guns aimed at me. They refused to allow me to make a cup of tea for friends and family and we were marched off to the football field in the village with every other inhabitant of the area, white and black, while they rounded up 'aliens'. Do you remember this, older kids?
When it got hot around 11.30 everyone got tired and we were all allowed to go home.

At the moment nothing like this seems likely to happen in France.

Are we 'aliens' though?

Brits are perhaps just Brits and maybe they won't send any soldiers to round us up.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Cosmopolite ou Quoi?

Ever since we have been online via satellite, something strange has happened. We sign in in German. Why is that? Easier than Turkish or Magyar, though!

The other thing is that, on Ruth's computer, "@" has changed into """ (or vice versa) and """ has changed into "@" (or verce visa).


Topaze is growing fast and a couple of Toms have been on the prowl around - one even venturing into the study last night!

Topaze has explored every inch of our house especially the roof spaces She cannot be locked in, any more than the heat and the freezing cold can be kept out.

She has proved to us again and again why we were so cold in April. We were actually living in a barn! The beams, roof struts and tops of walls are Topaze's walkways and exits.

Here is a photo of the quality roof struts over our heads. John is covering them up with insulation as fast as possible.
I have also added picture of that upstairs toilet!

We still are living in a barn but every day John brings about some new improvement as he adds some more insulation and another degree of comfort. (Stop Press! Extra! Extra! We now have an upstairs toilet! Only just though, as, due to the many different sizes of pipe and the materials from which they are made - plus a degree of senile dementia - it took me 4 trips to BricoMarche' in Plaisance before I got the correct pipe union.)

One day Topaze will have to use a catflap in a door. (That one day may be far away!)

Right now she is a free as that icy wind!