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Thursday, 14 November 2013


This is what it will look like. Sorry I can't adjust the size!

Monday, 11 November 2013


The cranes have flown over, heading South on their annual migration. A frost within the week!


This is two skeins joining up over our house this week.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


We have been back from India for almost a month and still not blogged it. Admittedly we had been to the UK, celebrating Ruth's birthday, meantime, but the lack of anything written on India is beginning to get to me.
The reason, of course, is that we have been busy with other things. The most important Other Thing has been Ruth's book, The Shaping of Water, which is now due for release in 6 working weeks. We have proof-read it twice in the past week and it should now be ready for printing, but there have been other things to be done - getting the text written for the cover, tightening up the Advance Information etc., so everything else had gone by the board. (What board is this, I wonder?)
I really must get better organised.

Monday, 16 September 2013


When we were at the Monfaucon (English) beer festival last Saturday night a thunderstorm blew up. We were under cover so did not get wet - outside. It has saved us watering the garden again but in the mountains it brought the first of the season's snow, as we saw on our weekly village bike ride this morning.
The next British beer festival is at Bétracq on 9th. November.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

LES RENCONTRES DE MAUBOURGUET - a break from The Shaping of Water

Last weekend our nearest town/village (they don't seem to be able to able to make up their minds), Maubourguet, held its 24th. Rencontres - a kind of mixed arts and sport (and culture, although there wasn't much of that) festival. The sports section consists mainly of rugby and bullfighting and sports personalities are invited to attend, some as artists. There is the usual eating, drinking and fairground, which you would expect, but the main interest for us is the eating and drinking art.
Ruth set aside the keyboard, and thoughts of The Shaping of Water, and picked up again her trusty paintbrushes and charcoal. The main artistic activity consists of an Exhibition in the Town Hall and a Nuit des Regards in the main street. 50 or so artists - mainly painters, but with a few sculptors and a tailor for good measure (!) - are invited to install themselves under the awnings to produce a work of art over the evening and then, on the Sunday, the works are auctioned for charity, this year for two children's charities based in Toulouse.
Time for some pictures.......
The first three were taken in the Exhibition. The first shows the general scrum (!) when the artists were let in to view each others' work.

The second one shows Ruth's work "Harpy". And the third shows a visitor in awe of the picture.

Here is Ruth at work.

And this is the finished work, a kind of tetraptych, the wings of which are turned to show the development of human life.

 The auction afterwards raised over 17,000 Euros.

Saturday, 3 August 2013


As you may know, I am not much of a walker - except when I am "running" paradoxically enough. However, this year I took part in my second organised walk. I walked into it backwards, so to speak.

I had been asked to help with the inscriptions for the meal which was to follow the walk and fishing contest which take place every summer in the village. I cycled up to the village hall and my general plan was to go home straight afterwards. Cowardice and a feeling of "What the Hell" meant that I allowed myself to be drawn into the walk itself.

Here are Pierre, the walk organiser, and me walking at speed and in step not far into the walk.

Here are the rest of the walkers.

Here's the fishing contest.

And here's the meal. I'd been home to collect Ruth by this time.

Apparently this July was the hottest on record.

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Press Release


This novel is due for release in January 2014


Ruth Hartley draws on her own experiences of Africa’s Liberation wars as she tells a tale of many lives affected by The Shaping of Water




The Shaping of Water  is a character-driven story, following the different but overlapping lives of those who are connected to a ramshackle cottage by a man-made lake in Central Africa during the Liberation wars across the region.


“I wrote this book because I love Zambia,” says Ruth. “I love the people I know there, Lake Kariba and the cottage.”


The cottage and lake both exist, the events depicted in the book took place, and although the characters outcomes are imagined, they have the veracity that comes from a detailed knowledge of the history, geography and environment of the region.


Whether it be the story of Patrick the Jesuit, Andy the Selous Scout or Marielise, lover of revolutionaries Jo and Luke, the novel is imbued with the light, colour and flavour of the landscape, lake and cottage. From Margaret the banker’s wife, to Natombi and Milimo whose home is drowned by the lake, and finally Manda, a young woman trying to make her marriage work, each character is shaped by the rising lake and increasing violence in Africa.


The Shaping of Water is a story of damage and survival, passion and uncertainty, adaptation and love, set against a background of escalating war. It is the story of a world turned upside-down by cynical politicians and reinvented by the courage of ordinary people, allowing the reader to discover more about a little-explored place during this period of time.


This is a novel that will affect your heart, challenge your ideas, and remain in your memory. It will appeal to intelligent and thoughtful lovers of good fiction, travellers and explorers - both actual and armchair.


“I lived in Africa throughout the events described in this book, some I learnt of later in my life, but I care passionately about all their outcomes and I still do. I have always supported the fight against Apartheid and injustice.”

-     comments Ruth on the inspiration behind her novel


Born on an African farm in 1943, RUTH HARTLEY attended Art School in Cape Town. She has travelled back and forth between the UK and Africa over her life, spending her most recent years travelling throughout Europe. She now lives in France.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Production of Ruth's book is proceeding apace. This is a rough draft of the cover:-

What do you think?


Tuesday, 16 July 2013


Ah, they don't write 'em like that anymore! And they don't sing 'em like that anymore, either! When was the last time on Eurovision that you saw a baritone in evening dress singing the British entry? It might easily have been Bryan Johnson in 1960 (53 years ago, good grief). And he came Second!
But it is not of such that I speak today. Last night we were offered a flight by a friend of ours in the village, who has a plane, to go fly with him. Taking Mr. B. Johnson's example, we were too gentlepersonally to refuse, so we did.
Here's the plane:-
Here's Ruth getting into it:-
And here she is aboard:-
Here she is soaring above the village:-
And here are some photos I took while aloft:-
The junction of the rivers Esteous and Adour in the village.
Our house, with the white car in the garden.
A shot of Marciac - a bastide [fortified town] founded in 1298 by Philip IV (the Fair) of France as a defence against the English, who controlled Aquitaine at the time. You can see the marquee (confusingly called a "chapiteau" in French) being erected at top left for the Jazz Festival at the end of this month. Note the gridiron layout of the place with the rounded ends which were once the defensive lines.
Coming in for a quick touch-down at Maubourguet - behind the supermarket - before the short flight back to Labatut.
Thank you, Henri!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Open in a New Window

These roses are nothing whatever to do with the new window but they came from our garden and it seemed a pity not to show them.

Nothing gets done terribly quickly in this household. Our kitchen was OK but it could do with more light in it. (You'll see elsewhere that this is the 12th. window we have put in in the last 4 years.) Over a year ago some friends gave us a new window they weren't using and we thought it would go well there. I started knocking a hole in the wall with hammer and bolster but it was very soon apparent that this was going to take me a long time so I called in Eugene - a real builder - and this is the result.

The photos were taken as the job was being done. It all looks fairly back-to-normal now. And I must also thank Pete and Lesley for their gift of the oak lintel.


Summer Scenes

First some pictures taken in Mazeres church on the occasion of Pierrette's 80th. (!) birthday celebrated at Monday's choir rehearsal. She looks pretty good on it, but I can't say as much for the 70-year old at her right.

It's pretty warm here at the moment - low 30s C., low 90s F - and most French people close their house's shutters to keep the heat out. We're British, so, of course, we throw ours open to let the heat in and then complain about the temperature. Not so this morning where I was cutting the grass and we closed the shutters to keep out pebbles thrown out by the mower.

The next shot shows the anti-mosquito doors I installed yesterday. We got them months ago from a scrapyard - a minor story in itself - when the winter rains hadn't finished. They were double glazed but I took the glass out and fitted aluminium mosquito mesh which Ruth had wanted for years. We needed to be able to secure access for the cats which was via the cat flap I put in the base of the door. A job I hate; the flaps seem to demand impossibly tight tolerances but they usually work in the end. Of course Topaze and Arthur being cats, they have so far refused to use their new entrance, choosing to come in and out by the other end of the house.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


Here's a photo of us just before our latest performance on 5th. July. My goodness we look cheerful!

6 British, 8 French.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Saaremaa Island

Our last, lost post from June 2008, taken from our "Drafts" file.

Saarema Island (in Estonia) was also a down-time. We found the only caravan site on the island. It turned out to be a battle site between the retreating Germans and the Russians in WWII. Estonians on both sides having been forced by circumstance into whichever army was in power at the time. However we walked on the beaches and paddled in the shallow baltic seas and looked at the swans on the water. The was a weekend long wedding party at the camp site in the Fire House which is a modern version of the Hall Beowulf entertained Grendal in I think! Saaremaa was off limits when the Russsians used it as a military base until 1991 so pretty untouched. I did enjoy myself.
you get to the isloand by ferry and causeway. We saw the meteorite hole there. This is us leaving on the ferry


Another orphan found dozing in our Drafts file. This one from May 2008.

Many European cities have resurrected their Jewish quarters or Ghettos. It is uncomfortable to visit them – their inhabitants all disappeared and murdered so recently. Every city owes so much of its cultural life to Jewish artists, writers, thinkers and creators. They are integral to city life so the absence of Jews feels very painful to me. Prague has a moving Holocaust Memorial that is part of the beautiful and crowded old Jewish Cemetery. Nearby is the Old New Synagogue where according to legend Rabbi Low created the Golem to protect Jews during a pogrom. The Golem is a giant clay figure brought to life by a holy and magic word imprinted on its forehead. It still is hidden in the attic. I was delighted to see its home – if only it had had more power to protect this century!


Strange thing about community animals - dogs and cats - that I will tell you later.

In fact we never did tell you later. I found this in our blog drafts from November 2008. It must have held some interest at the time. I can't even be sure where it was taken. Probably Turkish, certainly not angora. 


The latest news of Ruth's book, The Shaping of Water - a tale of three women set against a background of the wars for majority rule in Zambia, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and South Africa - is that it went to the typesetters yesterday. The pace is quickening!


Saturday, 29 June 2013

NUMBER CRUNCHING (with insincere apologies to Private Eye)

In the past 10 years:-

399 the number of Blog Posts written

40 the number of countries visited

12 the number of windows inserted into our house

8 the number of marathons – that’s a running total (geddit?)

4 the number of our children who have visited us in France

3 the number who haven’t (yet)

Sunday, 23 June 2013


You will remember my writing about the huge amount of snow that fell in the mountains over the winter. La Pierre St. Martin, where I went yesterday, instead of its usual 3m (10ft.) of snow, had 10m (33ft.)  Well, now it is melting and there have been terrible floods. President Hollande visited the area the day before yesterday.

Houses, cars, roads, bridges and people have been swept away, including a friend of a friend. Luz St. Sauveur and Cauterets have been cut off, the roads to them having been wiped out. And when I say “wiped out” I don’t just mean under water or the surface having been loosened, I mean caverns gouged out under the road. It will be months before things are back to normal, whatever that now is.

You can see details on Ecolorado Rafting’s Facebook page. Take a look at the 18 minutes of French TV footage which is linked to there.

My trip to La Pierre St. Martin was to take part in the annual “Montagne Propre” (mountain cleaning) day where volunteers go up into the ski resorts to clear away the rubbish left at the end of the skiing season. This is certainly worth doing not just for cleanliness but also because of the breakfast and lunch which are provided and the free discount card for the following season. I should also say that, in the two years that I have done it, it has provided a beautiful sunny experience high in the mountains wandering around and not working particularly hard. It has also provided the opportunity to visit a station which was previously unknown to me.

La Pierre St. Martin is a bit further than I would normally go for a day’s skiing but, having finished fairly early and with it being only 7km from the Spanish frontier, I thought I would pop into Spain and get some essential supplies (i.e. cheaper wine). I drove down to Roncal but found a) there was no suitable store and b) that it was siesta time and nothing was open. I therefore decided to take a trip along some country roads through the Pyrenees and return to France through the Somport Tunnel which we had last used 3 and a half years ago when we went down to Andalusia. It was an interesting, twisting and rather tiring road to drive, which abruptly deteriorated when I left Navarra and entered Aragón. There were lumps of fallen rock all over the road to catch the unwary and mess up their wheel-tracking. I think I may also have taken a wrong turning somewhere (the Spanish do not always put up signs at the entrance to villages) and arrived in Jaca – where I hadn’t particularly intended to go – from an unexpected direction. However, there was a supermarket there and I was able to stock up on wine and olive oil.

At 255 miles it was a longish day and all spent at a constant 22 degrees, so not a bad day in all.

(Sorry about the lack of photos. I forgot the camera.)

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Ruth explains why she writes:-

'The old storyteller has travelled on vanished roads in other worlds. Now she importunes the guest at the celebrity wedding of Commerce and Advertising.
'Stop! Listen! My spellbinding story is soon told. It has been years in the making though it measures only as long as my short life.'
'It is a story of Yesterday, and Today walks over it with deaf feet on a road that circles backwards.'
'I have spent my time unravelling the nettle shirts from the backs of princes to give them back their voices and their swan wings.'
'Now they are ordinary people and sing of war and engineering, of drowned valleys and damage, of politics and principles, of murder and gardens, women, men, love and crocodiles. Mine is a story for travellers in unknown and magic lands. Mine is the story of everyday and everyone.'
'My story is your story.' 

Friday, 31 May 2013


Excitement is mounting. The manuscript of Ruth's book "The Shaping of Water" went off to the publisher last night. Let's see how long it is until we have the finished book in our hands!


Souvenirs d'un Marathonien

My attempts to download the photos having failed, I can only direct you to the Labatut-Riviere website:-

Let's hope the site server doesn't pack up this time!


Friday, 17 May 2013


Yes! I am looking forward to a relaxed and tension-free January 2014. For not only have I completed both our French Income Tax declarations for 2012, which were due in by 27th. May and which in the two previous years we had completed by accountants, but I have today posted off my UK Income Tax Declaration for FY 2012/13. The latter is only due in, in paper form, at the end of October or online by 31st. January. So, for once in my life, I shan't be faced with a panic to meet the year-end deadline which I have every year and the performance with being levied with a penalty and then appealing against it. The threat of what is to follow immediately after Christmas is lifted.

I feel this merits some sort of celebration. Any ideas?

8/6/13 HOLD the Celebration. HMRC have sent back the Return because no Foreign section was included and which the Notes said I didn't have to do. Well, it's raining today so, instead of finishing off the lawnmowing I shall complete the bloody Foreign section - the work of a moment - and send it back to them.

OK. You've another couple of weeks to think up celebratory ideas.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Drought Witch - A Taster

The weekend of 27th.-28th. April, the village held its "Reveillez Vos Talents" weekend featuring the work of local artists plus, on the Sunday, a Plant and Car Boot Sale. This year Ruth exhibited her children's story The Drought Witch together with her own illustrations and a translation into French by myself and Marie-Edith Labarthe, one of our friends.  Here is a photo of part of the display.

And here, as a taster, is the first page, in a draft French version:-



En plein cœur de l’Afrique, dans une vallée fertile et verdoyante, vivaient Simon un agriculteur travailleur et son épouse Dorcas gentille et sérieuse.


Simon et Dorcas avaient un fils Adam et une fille Constance. Adam aidait Simon à rassembler son troupeau au poil luisant et Constance aidait Dorcas à sarcler le jardin où poussaient du maïs et des légumes. Les enfants s’entendaient bien et allaient  ensemble chercher de l’eau à la rivière ou chercher du bois de chauffage dans la forêt.


Un jour après la première pluie d’été, toute la famille alla aux champs pour préparer la terre pour les récoltes de mil et de tabac. Avant que Simon ait  le temps d’atteler ses deux meilleurs bœufs à la charrue, il y eut un bruit comme l’arrivée soudaine et le crépitement d’un feu de  brousse et un énorme tourbillon de poussière déferla sur la vallée. Simon et Dorcas dirent aux enfants de courir s’abriter, mais Adam et Constance se cachèrent près du palmier Ilala pour regarder le vent qui faisait tournoyer l’herbe dans les airs. Ils rirent quand le tourbillon passa car il arracha un morceau de tissu rouge du Chitenge de la clôture de la Boma où il séchait.


Tout à coup ils virent une sorcière maléfique chevauchant au centre de la tempête parmi la poussière et les débris. Elle était tout en os  et peaux de lézard avec les yeux incandescents d’un hibou .Constance et Adam étaient choqués et effrayés, mais avant qu’ils puissent faire quoi que ce soit, la sorcière leur avait jeté du sable au visage, les empêchant de voir ce qu’elle faisait et où elle allait.

The story is currently seeking a publisher. For further details you could see Ruth's blogs, Marginal Scribbling at or at


Monday, 6 May 2013


We were leafletted on Saturday morning - by a religious group. I shan't mention their name lest our site receives a load of spam, but it wasn't the content which annoyed me, it was the presentation. The thesis of the leaflet was that the Earth is ruled by demons under the direction of Satan, but that's as maybe; I'll read anything. It may be rubbish, but there's always the chance that there may be some interesting ideas in it.
Three cars containing five people drew up outside our little group of houses. They were all soberly dressed in dark clothing, jumped from the cars and put leaflets into each of our letterboxes. Then they drove away.
Now where we live is in a thinly populated part of France, many young people go away to find work and relatively few people speak English. So what language was the leaflet in?   English! And what were you supposed to do after you had read the leaflet? Write, yes Write! to one of the 16 contact addresses on the back of the leaflet. All the addresses were in English-speaking countries. No phone numbers, no email addresses, no websites, no hashtags! What kind of World do they live in? How effective is it to send teams of people round the planet distributing literature which hardly anyone can read and running away before anyone can engage you in conversation, leaving only an address in a foreign country to which you have to write in a language not your own? They cannot be serious!
I think Ruth may be right. Perhaps they were Americans sent out on punishment duty. But it's not a way to save the World, is it?
P. S. The Pic du Midi ski station opened this week to take advantage of the remaining snow. It's almost tempting.  

Saturday, 20 April 2013

late wet spring garden

We had a LOT of rain in the winter. It wasn't a bad winter but it seems to have held most things back. And then, in a week, everything seemed to come into leaf and flower. One day this week everyone's wisterias came into blossom on the same day.
And the lawn. I have mowed it 3 times in a week. I mowed it the last time on Thursday. I think it will need doing again on Monday. 

Pax - no sorry pactes - no sorry pacse

On 8th. April AD2013 we were PACSed. The PACS (Pacte Civil de Solidarité) is the French Civil Partnership - a marriage in virtually all but name. We had decided some time ago that we should have to have some form of legal arrangement between us as French law is very specific in terms of inheritance rules and we wanted to protect our children's positions, besides putting our responsibilities to each other on record.

The Partnership agreement itself is quite simple, the handwritten document which Ruth is holding in the picture is it. But the difficult stuff is obtaining all the documents - birth certificates, certified translations, proofs of good conduct, certificates proving that we are not married or partnershipped to anyone else in UK or France - which takes the time.

This photo shows us as photographed by the Greffier who PACSed us. To my left is a small part of the piles of paperwork she moved to let us sit down.

This is us in the restaurant afterwards.

And at home.

And our post-prandial champagne. Note (lumpfish) caviar and olives.


Last Wednesday I went for my last ski of the season. I don't normally go on a Wednesday, since this is the day the schools are on holiday and that makes for crowds. I reckoned that so late in the year, it wouldn't make any difference. It didn't.

So, here's a few photos of that last day, 10th. April.

The first shows the mountains taken about a mile from home.

A few miles closer:-

Le Pic de Jer, near Lourdes. My route lies to the right of the Pic.

I have done most of my skiing this year at Luz-Ardiden, but that station closed on 7th. April. Cauterets was open for a further week but, a couple of months ago one of the pylons on the main lift there was moved by an avalanche, leaving that lift closed for the rest of the season. This is the pylon. However, there is a smaller lift, which you can drive to, further up the valley.

These next 3 pictures are a bit white, but they show that there was plenty of snow still up there.

And this is the small lift, going down.

A roadside cascade, at the left of the road visible in the distance on the picture above.

The mountains seen from the supermarket car park on the way home.

Ruth busy in the garden when I got home.

So that's probably the last of the snowy photos for this year. Everywhere is closed now, except Piau which has opened this weekend (20/21st. April) to take advantage of the abundant snow which remains. They are talking of being able to ski in Ariege, along the Pyrenees towards the Mediterranean, in July.