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Thursday, 13 December 2012


Oh! Yes it is!



We started the year in Tarragona (Spain) where it was warm and sunny. In March Jasmine and Thomas came over for a week’s skiing and I went back with them to the UK to make some arrangements for my Aunt Gwen who is getting on a bit and is now living in an old people’s home in Chard. I stayed with Amethyst in Frome and had a good time with my family. The sunny weather (yes, there was some) helped. Simultaneously Ruth was in Zambia attending the funeral of her ex-husband with 3 of her children, the Vice-President and 500 mourners. Ruth’s son Ben has amicably ended his relationship with Amora, and Ruth's daughters Tanvi and Rachma are living close together, Tanvi doing a PhD at Bath Spa and Rachma is a vicar at Radstock. We were in Spain again in the summer when we went to Bilbao for a couple of days to see the David Hockney exhibition and the Beaux Arts museum. In October we were there again, this time at Estartit, where I had 4 days’ scuba diving among the offshore islands. This time we were joined by Ben.


At the end of October, to mark Ruth’s birthday, we got the train to Paris and saw Stravinsky’s opera, The Rake’s Progress, at the Palais Garnier. We had some decent meals, too. The day after we got back Ruth started work on her novel on which she worked throughout November. 50 000 words in 29 days! She must be up to 60 000 by now. It’s an absorbing read and she hopes to have it published in 2013. Also on the agenda is our getting PACSed. The PACS is the French Civil Partnership and should be quite a simple process, but with us being foreigners and our documents being in English, it seems to be unnecessarily complicated.


The house has shown some improvements this year. I finished our bedroom and, finally, the upstairs bathroom. Between these two I have made a study for myself which has my computer in it, the hi-fi and a rocking chair. When all the other work is finished, I look forward to spending many idle productive hours in this room. I have recently finished building a larder off the kitchen and am now engaged upon making a workshop for myself in the chai, where Ruth’s paintings are stored. This will probably take me through the spring. We also re-equipped our heating system and now have four large (and expensive) air-to-air heatpump heaters providing our primary heating. I also replaced our older electric radiators with up-to-date models.


Our singing activities continue. This time of year is particularly busy as I am in 4 choirs and in December I have six concerts with three of them. In July there was a charity concert in our village church featuring the Maubourguet church choir, The English Choir – where, paradoxically, I sang a French solo – and the village choir which I conducted.


I’m still skiing although I don’t think I am getting any better. I went for the first time this season last Thursday and am going again tomorrow. I didn’t do any sailing this year. The winter and spring were dry so there was insufficient water in the lake. No marathon runs either but next year, to celebrate my 70th. birthday I shall be running in the Barcelona Marathon. My kids, grandson and some friends are coming so there could be quite a good party afterwards. Absolutely my last marathon!


A Merry Everything to Everyone!

Friday, 30 November 2012


Today is 30th. November. In the past month Ruth has written 50 000+ words of her novel, with the working title as above. It's (inter alia) the story of 3 women of different generations living (and dying) among the politics and war of southern Africa over a 30-year period.

The book is a wilful teenager at the moment. When it grows to adulthood it will be an enthralling read.

What a woman Ruth is!

Friday, 23 November 2012


 Oh, no, it isn't!

Friday, 16 November 2012


Here are some shots taken of the Krama Singers' last rehearsal before our performance on the 6th. July in Labatut church. Who would then have foreseen our triumph on the night?
Actually Ruth took some photos and a video of our performance but I somehow seem to have deleted them. Shame!


When I published "Cleaning the Mountain" some months ago I said that I wished I had had a camera with me. Well, a short time later I and Ruth went for a walk in the Pyrenees on part of the route at Luz Ardiden that I had helped to clean and we took a camera with us. These are the result. We particularly liked the sheep hiding under the digger out of the sun's heat. And on the way back, we did see some marmottes.
Oh! This season's ski discount card was actually paid for as a reward for cleaning the mountain. (See Part I)


A few shots of a some months ago to remind us what summer was like. (Not that it's that different now!)

Sunday, 21 October 2012


It's been 4 months since we last posted. New Post in gestation.

Sunday, 17 June 2012


Or “Montagne Propre”. If only I had had a camera! I pay for my skiing by using a discount card which is valid for 8 “stations” in the Pyrenees. At the beginning of the summer, volunteers are invited to each of the stations to comb the slopes looking for litter and bringing it down in sacks. Last year 900 volunteers collected over 5 tons of rubbish.

I have done nearly all my skiing at Cauterets but when the call for volunteers went out I decided to clean up at Luz Ardiden, a station not much further away where, I had been told that the runs would be just fine to improve my level of ability.  And having now walked them, I’ll give them a try next season.

Yesterday was Montagne Propre day and the weather was perfect; cloudless and hot but with a gentle steady breeze to prevent it being uncomfortable. Because of the late and unusual rain we had been having, the mountains were green all the way up. The “transhumance” – when the cattle and sheep are brought up from the valleys to their summer pastures – was only a couple of weeks ago so there was still plenty of new growth in the grass. And lots of flowers; white, yellow and blue.

We rode up to just over 7 000 feet on the chairlift and wandered back down 1 200 ft to the station. In the breaks from the chatter of French around me (I only heard one English voice all day – a man talking to his dog) the silence was near total except for the clanking of cow- and sheep-bells. A woman near me saw a marmot looking out of its burrow. Think “groundhog”. I may have heard two of them whistling to each other too. Yes, they whistle.

Between the 150-200 of us at Luz Ardiden we collected a small mountain of rubbish with quite a surprising amount of metal. How somebody managed to leave a 10ft.-long iron girder behind is somewhat perplexing.

Back at the station, a goodish lunch was laid on, with wine. It’s rumoured that our next season’s discount cards will be paid, as well. That would be a bonus.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Another Record

Ruth is spending the day drawing at the Fete de Mazeres.

It is the hottest we have recorded since coming to France. 48 degrees in the garden, 118 degrees F.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A Guilt Trip: Albania – Not as Scary as They Say (Part Two)

This is a guilt trip because I feel very guilty about not having completed the write-up of the Albania trip sooner. Largely this was because Ruth had the photos on her computer and I never got round to asking her to copy them to me. Anyway, here we go....

Albania was, in fact, not scary at all, as a blog commentator has pointed out.

Some preconceived ideas remain, however. Apparently in the 90’s (pedants have suggested that that ought to have been written “ ‘90s “) there was an enormous scam of Mercedes being stolen in Germany and being smuggled to Albania. When we crossed the border, the customs officials spent a lot of time checking out our paperwork to ensure that we weren’t smuggling-in a several years old Opel van/car. We noticed however, that of the first 6 cars we passed in Albania, 5 were 1990s Mercedes. This remained the pattern throughout our stay. After the first (very) few miles of dual carriageway, the road settled down to a winding lesser A-road standard and we turned off onto a many-hairpinned lane over the mountains and down to the sea. Albania has something the other countries on the east side of the Adriatic do not – sand - and the beaches, often in rocky coves, are, at least in the south, backed by mountains.

Of course, by Western European standards, Albania falls a little behind. This is true of the public transport system where passengers for Butrint can have to wait a considerable time before their bus turns up.

Luckily, when we went to Butrint, we drove our own car. How pleased we were that we did. By tradition, Butrint was founded by refugees from Troy but by evidence it has been inhabited by Hellenes, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks. Formerly an island, in its heyday it was a busy trading city with theatres markets and temples. We were shown around by a research student. This photo is of a gateway (built specially low to make it harder for invaders to get in) whose lintel is reminiscent of the lion gateway at Mycenae.

The largely unspoilt scenery is a treat. Here is a view from Ksamili at sunset with the coast of Corfu visible on the horizon.

On our drive up through Albania to catch the ferry to Italy from Dűrres we debated as to whether to take the apparently good condition inland main road or the coastal road over the Llogaraja pass which the guidebook describes as being "particularly treacherous". Albanians we asked said that in fact the inland road was worse since it was being dug up for "improvement". The view from the top of the pass (with Corfu in the distant haze) looks like this:-

Ruth normally likes to have coffee late morning. We pulled into a village square where we saw a suitable-looking cafe. When we got out of the car we heard a loud noise, sounding like industrial machinery. To our right was an incredible cafe/restaurant built under, around and above a mountain torrent. Here, to finish our brief notes on Albania, are some pictures:-


I just wanted to record that I enjoyed my last skiing session of the season on 19th. April. .

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A Janus Moment

For New Year, we spent a few days in Tarragona, Spain. It was sunny and warm, or, at least warmer than it was at home in France.

The first photo was taken while we were waiting to pass through the one-way Bielsa Tunnel through the Pyrenees, looking back towards France.

The second picture was taken inside Spain, looking back at the (barely) snow-clad mountains.

Next comes a shot of one of the Roman gateways of Tarragona which had been the administrative capital of Spain under the Romans.

Finally a photo from the same gateway of the setting sun. It was all so much more impressive at the time!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

It’s a miserable day – grey cold and rainy. The day feels dreadful because winter feels endless, the world seems in stasis, and the sky sits on my forehead obstructing my third eye.
The cement mixer is chuntering on here and the compressor gragging on next door.
Next door is a painful eyesore. The adjoining terrain à bâtir – larger than our plot was sold in three p

ieces to a kit-form housing firm. Three little boxy houses have sprung up inside 7 months, each without trees, gardens or any kindnesses right in front of us. They look especially grim now as my garden is shrunken and leafless and doesn’t offer us a screen. They must be endured because they will not go away. I tell myself they will have compensations and they are somebody else’s dreams. I don’t know if I am ashamed of my feelings or of having the houses as neighbours. The house I was born in was the same size and boxiness.
God knows what they are doing next door. There are always 3 or more men inside but no materials ever seem to be taken in with them. By now one imagines that such a small building would be fully insulated, plastered and fitted with electricity, water and kitchen. I am dying of curiosity on two counts. One, to see how the house is constructed inside, and two, to find out if they are just playing poker. They come out now and then to make a pi-pi. They discretely hide from the road and the house to the south, but pee where they are in full view of our house. Strange indeed.
Here John and Eugene are doing a fantastic job of putting down a cement floor in the chai. The area of floor that is to be pantry is nearly complete. John is mixing the cement, standing in the drizzle on the back of the remorque, wearing in my opinion, inadequate winter gear.
It took us the weekend to clear the chai out though most of the work was done by John. All his lumber and tools and junk have been rearranged in the new garden shed and my roulotte. I managed to squeeze the preserves and tinned food into odd places in the kitchen and dining room. It felt good to have the space cleared – it was badly organised because the floor is uneven mud and mould liable to flooding and it’s a dark cold damp space at any time of year. It will improve our lives enormously when it is done. All the shelving used to stagger and slouch propped up with odd bricks and planks under its legs – soon it will stand straight and presumably stored tools won’t be tumbling off it in the same way. It will be progress and progress appears tidier at first.
John has almost finished the grenier which is his study/office and once the floor in the chai is laid, he will begin to sort out the upstairs bathroom. We should be able to use it by March though it won’t be tiled for a while longer.
It is time for me to go to the Supermarché. I decided that the market was out this week. It is far too wet. Must go and make a list!