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Monday, 27 December 2010

Joyeux Noel - Christmas in France

John and I want to start the year by rebooting our blog.It is difficult to upload photos because our internet connections are so poor but we both feel it is important and a way of keeping in touch with you all. So once again I shall ‘have a go!’

Today - 27th December is cold and beautiful – not as cold as Christmas Day. John has gone to Cauterets to ski. He is really keen on this new - for him -
(The Pyrenees from the garden)

sport and wanted to go yesterday but for once we were very late getting up. I am very happy not to be up there. I would not enjoy the Cable Cars and I have no interest in downhill skiing at all whereas John is not interested in Nordic skiing. Instead I am at home fighting with my new laptop because it doesn’t have the programmes I need on it.

We tend to go to bed rather late because of watching British TV which is an hour behind us and last night watched the Geldof Live Aid story with interest. This means we get up between 7.30 and 8.30. John leaps out of bed to feed the cats, open the shutters and let the chickens out. Today after John left, I took out hot water for the chickens – not for them to wash but to drink – smashed the ice on the fish pond and brought in more wood for the fire.

The logs had frozen together. John has an improved chain saw and has done a great job in cutting and stacking the log pile. We keep pretty warm in the house by keeping the fire going all day. Our heating is all electric and the power tends to trip out frequently. Heating water in the kettle, dishwasher or washing machine seems to cause the problem – not just in our house but in other homes too. I worry about the damage this constant tripping out does to all our electrical equipment. We are getting used to it. Our logs are delivered in 1 metre lengths and most weekends John saws up enough for the following week.

We did by the way have a pleasant Christmas. Our first in Labatut.

We made a small party the weekend before – a very informal supper for 9 friends – salt beef that I pickled and cooked myself – we mostly spoke French and it felt like a very good celebration of our first full year here. Christmas Eve we had oysters and Christmas Day a walk by the river and supper of roast lamb with R’s redcurrant jelly. It feels a very significant mark/day for us. We talked about what it means to be here and so far from family especially as this year has made it clear how much we are at the mercy of changing weather patterns. Christmastime and family – is this a specifically Christian conflation – families – or tribes predate Christianity but may not survive this new century – what might happen to Christianity if families change into individuals. We both missed our families - the choice of living here is economic – not to escape.

(The newly completed Living Room)

The French here are very family oriented over Christmas and it is celebrated quietly at home and seems not to be as consumed with consumerism as in England - makes it more pleasant for the time being.

Finally a picture of Topaze and Arthur relaxing in the tent where our tenderer plants overwinter.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Authentic End of Summer

Never mind changing the clocks this weekend, never mind the calendar, never mind Lammastide or whatever, the real end of summer has been marked by the cranes flying south. Friends saw the first group fly over on Tuesday and today we saw the second group (skein?) fly over just before lunch. They arrived in "V" formation then broke up while they took advantage of a thermal to gain height probably sufficient to get them over the Pyrenees.They then formed up again and headed Southwest into the clear blue sky for the coast of Spain. It seems that they arrive in two groups, possibly from separate departure areas? Naturally we had to crane our necks to see them go. (Sorry!)

Despite the thermometer on the door reading over 40 and the temperature in the shade outside being 20, those birds seem to be reliable. When they came over a year ago, a particularly hard frost hit a few days later. Let's see how accurate they are this year. 

They should be back in March.

Saturday, 18 September 2010


“Les projets d’été”, as the do-it-yourself shops call them. In France August is the great holiday month. Most people go off for a month's holiday (the same month and to the same places, so the roads and resorts are packed) but a few stay home and carry out d-i-y projects around the house. Since Ruth and I are constantly on holiday  and simultaneously and constantly "en projet", we line up for the summer months those jobs which need to be carried out before winter. Last year our priorities were to sort out the garden and insulate and improve the heating of the house. This year we were able to direct our efforts towards "desirable" rather than "essential".
When we bought the house, there were two ugly tin sheds on the adjoining piece of land awaiting the time when it was to become a building site. Every time we sat outside drinking coffee or having a meal, we would think how good it would be not to have to see the two sheds. Solution - we bought the bigger one for use as a studio for Ruth. Now parked overlooking the vegetable garden and chickens (see below) I provided it with insulated floor, walls and ceiling and power and light. Photo above and beneath. Ruth now has a refuge - although I may get around to putting a phone in there - where she can throw ideas and paint around without needing to be concerned about the mess, relatively cool in summer and warm enough, we hope, in winter. 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Course Landaise



T comes to stay

Sunday, 22 August 2010

J and Small T come to Stay

Small T tries out the pool in the garden

J and Small T at one of the cascades near Pont D'Espagne in the Pyrenees
Fishing near the bridge in Labatut

On and under the beach at St. Jean de Luz
Dinner at sunset overlooking the Atlantic

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Thursday, 20 May 2010

B Comes to Stay for a While

Well folks - these photos are from November - seven months ago when B flew in for the weekend and we took him up to Hautacam well before there was any snow or any winter either.
John made a trip to the Internet Cafe and got the photos posted. We will add words to them as and when we can. We are sorry to have left you so long without news and our blog.
Here we are in summer after a warm April and a slow wet start to May. The mountains are again covered with snow but the ski season is over even though John tried to stretch it out as much as he could!
In the winter we took J and small T up to Hautacam in a scary white-out. Rather a mistake - but John, J and T did get some better skiing later that week.
Then Hautacam literally blew away in a storm and John had to go skiing at Cauterets.
Here however you see us with B, the mountains and then the Napoleon Bridge dreamed up by the Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III) because it was in such a spectacular situation. B is wearing a shirt rather superfluously asking you to mind the gap which can be seen to his right and which more reckless people than we are attempt to fleetingly fill by leaping from the bridge on bungees.

Oh, by the way the "A l'Amethyste" shop is displayed here as she is seldom far from our thoughts and because it is a shop in Lourdes - which we visited with B - selling gaudy trinkets such as madonnas in a snowstorm, flashy plastic crosses etc. likely to appeal to religious nutters, cynics and magpies. There are many such in Lourdes. (Shops, not magpies)

Raising the Roof


At the time of writing (23/05/10), this is just a taster of this Post since the second photo will reveal all and this first one reveals nowt. This is a photo of me about to strike the first blow in the creation of the dormer window in our bedroom (I can now say "main bedroom"), giving views of the garden, wildlfe pond (WOW!)- see "Lake and Mountain", below -, barbecue (CRIPES!), swimming pool *(SHEESH!) and Pyrenees (DOUBLE WOW!).

* The "swimming pool" is a slight exaggeration.

Lake and Mountain

The Departement of Hautes Pyrenees is an area of mountains and lakes. Well, that's not wholly true. Most of the highest mountains of the Pyrenees are in the Departement, but the topography does not lend itself to lakes. In addition, the part where we live is quite flat. To partly remedy the deficiency, Ruth decided that we needed a pond - and despite the River Adour being within hearing distance in time of spate, like now when the mountain snow is melting. So I dug a hole. Quite a big hole.

The first picture shows our water butt containing the first 1000 litres (450 gallons) of rainwater which went into the hole. This was followed by approximately 8000 litres from the well.

The excavation of the pit yielded a fair amount of spoil which was wheeled away to the top of the garden to produce Mont Labatut, the highest point (arguably) in the village. The third photo shows me atop Mont Labatut with a drink and the cats enjoying the fruit of our labours. The last two photos show Ruth doing likewise. Since the pictures were taken, Ruth has spent a lot of time (and money) embellishing Lac Labatut with a flagstone edging, waterplants and fish.

Saving Private SKB - A Tale of Two Stations

In World War II, the Nazis developed V weapons ("V" for Velgeltungswaffen = revenge weapons) for use against the UK and advancing allied forces. In 2009, the Icelanders, having borrowed zillions of Pounds and Euros to buy European businesses, were asked to pay the lenders back. Iceland held a referendum and voted not to repay its debts. Not only that, but they invented their own revenge V weapon - "V" for volcano.

SKB, Ruth's grandson, had gone to Zambia to visit his grandfather. On his way back the Icelanders unleashed their volcanic ash weapon. The flight, which should have transited at Nairobi and Amsterdam, petered out in a series of hops at Cairo, Istanbul and Rome before coming to a standstill at Milan. Ashen-faced, SKB erupted. "I'll soldier on by train", he exploded. But the Icelanders were too wily for him. "Ekki svo fljótur , Persónulegur SKB" (Not so fast, Private SKB) they snarled, and snarling thus they flourished their Doomsday Machine - yes, the French railway union went on strike, blocking all exits from Italy. What was SKB to do? Fortunately in a sleepy French village only a few hundred miles away John and Ruth were sitting around with nothing to do but attend a choir rehearsal. Selflessly, they tore themselves away from "Lullaby of Birdland", "Le Loup, Le Renard et La Belette" and drove towards Italy. SKB, meanwhile, had set off by Italian train to Turin and eventually to Ventimiglia, close to the French border. John and Ruth stopped overnight at Aix-en-Provence and collected SKB from Italy the next day. Their plan was to drive to the Channel and see SKB safely aboard a ferry. However, during the course of the drive, they guessed that it might be possible to get a high speed train at Avignon, allowing SKB to reach the Channel in time to catch an overnight ferry. Such proved to be the case. SKB travelled non-stop to Paris, raced across town for a local train and got to the port with minutes to spare. John and Ruth returned home, as they say tired but happy, having covered 1540 km in 27 hours with 5 hours' sleep and no meals.

Have at you, Icelanders! Anyone for Oscars?

(More text follows pictures)

The pictures show SKB with John and Ruth at Avignon and the entrance of Ventimiglia station. Ventimiglia is the station used by residents of Monte Carlo. Whilst waiting there I saw a Monegasque met by not one, but two Maseratis. I wonder if he was an Icelander?

Skiing at Cauterets

Sorry for the layout of this Post. I tried writing text between the pictures, but for some reason it didn't work. The storm Xynthia in March which devastated some of the French coast and killed 27 people in France, as far as I can remember, also damaged and put out of action the ski resort at Hautacam where I had been taking my first halting steps in skiing. Actually halting wouldn't really have been a problem. If I had been able to halt more easily instead of careering almost out of control in places I hadn't meant to be, I should have been happier. Anyway with the devastation wrought at Hautacam (by the storm, not by me) I was obliged to loose myself onto the denizens of somewhere else, as it happened Cauterets.

I was a bit wary of Cauterets at first. The ski slopes cannot be seen from the village as access is by means of cable car. Not having seen the slopes, I wondered whether there would be anything easy enough for me to try. The only way to find out is to go, so I went. The cable car ride is an adventure in itself. The cabins launch out over the village rooftops and then swing up the hill. At the top of the first hill you see what you are in for - a swing over the trees, across a valley and then up the side of a very steep, very high mountain, you look ahead towards the peaks and aargh!, "We can't be going up there!", but we are, up to that little dot up on the horizon. I was lucky, there wasn't anyone else in the cabin to witness my gibbering. I was twice lucky because, before I bought my ticket, an old codger of my age who had just come down gave me his day's ski pass. The picture was actually taken on the way down, towards the bottom, and you can see Cauterets in the background.

Anyway, when I got to the top there is a large cafe terrace (2nd. picture) and some baby slopes nearby. The last picture is from the top of the baby slopes looking towards the cafe.

I went to Cauterets several times during the following weeks and slowly, very slowly, built up my confidence. On one of my last visits I noticed someone obviously very experienced flying down the slope at a helluva speed such that he managed to avoid all those in his path and coast uphill to the cafe. I was impressed. Later the same day I was on the longer slope and having managed a couple of half-decent (I thought) turns, I pointed downhill and found myself completely unable to stop. I flew down the slope at a helluva speed such that I managed avoid all those in my path and coast uphill to the cafe. Coincidence?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Or that might be "am bush". This is a photo taken some months ago. We detected unusual movement in one of our trees. Topaze and Arthur, our cats, had come up with a cunning plan. The idea was that they would both hide in a bird's nest up the tree with their mouths wide open and when the mother bird came back, they would close their mouths suddenly with the bird inside.

Unfortunately the plan did not work as:-

1) The birds didn't start nesting until some weeks later, and

2) They started to fight each other and had to come down as this nest wasn't big enough for both of them.


Thursday, 25 March 2010


It is lovely in the garden - not beautiful you understand - but full of new growth and shoots. It is also warm at the moment so it is really pleasant to be outdoors - there has been just enough rain to make it easy to pull up weeds and to dig. The ugly but capacious waterbutt is filling up and there's a tale.
I went to England 2 weeks ago in a blizzard of snow - the plane was delayed 2 hours waiting to be de-iced and take off and the ensuing snow melt is what has mostly filled the water butt. It has been very dry but as yet the garden is green and damp. What a contrast the last 2 weeks have been with early March!
(And here's an example. When I dropped Ruth at Toulouse Airport I was having to chip ice off the wipers and clear the windscreen of ice and snow. When I picked her up a week later, I had the air-conditioning on.)  

I had a very good time in England seeing family and friends and talking!!

It is also good to be back at Labatut with John.

John has made me a work space all for myself in the study by putting up the IKEA bookshelves and decamping with his computer and files to the grenier/attic. I feel human again - my own space for thinking, a wall to work on - and it is an attractive and convenient room, too. The books are accessible and both John and I have been enjoying reading again.

I will get photos up for you but we are stilll here and blogging!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

It's/was Carnival Time!

For those of you who may have been wondering what we have been doing since the village New Year bash (featuring the golden voices and red noses of your bloghosts), here are a couple of photos of us dressed for and participating in Labatut's own Carnival celebration. This consisted of a long-drawn out meal - none the worse for that - accompanied by a mystery guest wine, as usual. The main course, which appeared many times, was "demoiselles". No, we didn't know what that was either, but now we know it to be duck carcasses unencumbered by legs, wings etc. flattened out and barbecued. Very messy to eat - especially in costume and more especially while wearing a mask - but delicious even to me who doesn't normally like poultry. 128 people attended and, by my reckoning, about 300 ducks post mortem.

Our costumes, in case you were wondering, were modelled on Carmen Miranda (without the fruit) - that was Ruth's costume, you'll be relieved to hear -and I was dressed as near as we could easily make it to a generic Morris dancer - a complete mystery, even more mysterious than the wine, to which we are becoming (ab)used, to the French. The picture above shows us, a mixed team of British and French, performing one of our thunderously received musical numbers.

(Advance Notice: The village website threatens a gallery of photos taken at the event. If it appears, some of the photos may also be added here.)