Monday, 31 December 2007

The goodbyes

It was time to head over to Carcassonne this morning to wave goodbye to my nearest and dearest. It hadn't exactly been the most relaxing of breaks for them for a variety of reasons (especially mum), and I imagined she, especially, would be happy to get home although she agrees that Pissou is an amazingly tranquil spot in an exceptional part of the Pyrenees. I am pleased she has had the chance to see it. So it was with many tears and big hugs that I left them at Carcassonne, Jamie for his morning flight and mum for her early afternoon one. A bientôt, mes chers

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Skiing at Guzet

According to various ski info websites, the Guzet ski station enjoyed a fall of around 20cm of powder during the night. It was mum and Jamie's last day here, so what else could I do but head up to Guzet with them! Mum was fortunately quite happy to spend the afternoon in the very nice cafe/restaurant up there while Jamie and I had a play on piste. The cloud was down and there were intermittent flurries which made the descents interesting. The resort was also pretty packed with vacationers, which made the limited runs somewhat hairy, as we were buzzed by youngsters on snowboards and diddy, short skis. But I was pleased not to fall over once and to ski a somewhat worn and knobbly blue run in something resembling style! There were lumps and bumps everywhere which indicated just what a hammering the resort had taken over the Christmas period when there was limited snow cover. However, it was a useful outing and Jamie thoroughly enjoyed finding his ski legs again.

Saturday, 29 December 2007


Today, mum, Jamie and I headed down towards Tarascon and discovered a fantastic little b&b, just the other side of the Col de Port in the Saurat Valley, run by a Dutch couple. It is in a fantastic, peaceful spot and has been beautifully renovated, retaining the original old beams and stone walls. The prices were very reasonable and she was fully booked for the New Year period. But one to bear in mind for the future.

The other discovery was a superb little restaurant, tucked away in Rabat les Trois Seigneurs, called la Table de la Ramade. We had planned on grabbing a sandwich from Tarascon but, spotting the sign for the restaurant, thought we would see whether a light lunch was available. It was, and the quality was simply superb and excellent value too. Jamie was intrigued by the flavours that were presented in the sauce accompanying his salmon steak and insisted that I ask the waitress to find out the ingredients from the chef! It was an altogether relaxing luncheon that was very much appreciated by the three of us.

Friday, 28 December 2007

A meander with mum

Jamie needed to crack on with some revision today, so I took mum into the mountains up from Salau. We had a lovely wander on an easy track to the little Cascade de Leziou which the dog thoroughly enjoyed too! I started to get a bit giddy about the snow shoeing and ski de rando potential up into the mountains above us to the Port de Salau on one side and Mont Rouch on the other. It was a lovely afternoon out and we enjoyed a coffee in Seix before returning home.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

The bug bites.

I awoke to a nasty gastric upset, not dissimilar to the one that I experienced back in June, with diarrhoea and cramping tummy pains. Not pleasant. It wasn't food related, as we had all been eating the same things and nobody else was affected. So I took the wise decision to abandon the idea of heading out onto the hills with Jamie. Instead, Andy took him up to the Col de Port, from where they headed up Le Pic d'Estibat and then on to le Pic de la Journalade, from where the summit photo was taken. Winter conditions prevailed and axes and crampons were put to good use, but the weather was perfect and the boys enjoyed their outing which took a little over 5 hrs in total.

I, meanwhile, had an easy day doing a bit of long overdue gardening around the terrasse with mum which was a productive exercise. We now have an area in which I can sow the wild flower seeds that Jamie gave me for Christmas which will brighten the terrasse up no end. As for the tummy, the painful cramping continued and I felt weak and pathetic!

Andy's brother Matt arrived in the evening, to stay for 3 nights as a stopover en route to Valencia in Spain where he is attending a motocross training course, so full house. In fact, we have put both Jamie and Matt next door in Claudine's house as Pissou doesn't have the capacity for so many visitors!

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Les Grottes!

On the way to Pissou after I had picked her up from the airport, mum had seen the signs advertising 'Les Grottes Préhistoriques de Niaux', just outside Tarascon and expressed an interest in seeing them. Having visitors provides an ideal opportunity to do some things that you would probably otherwise not bother doing. The weather was not fantastic, so it was with pleasure that I took both mum and Jamie to visit the Grottes. The visit was in French so I translated for mum and Jamie - our guide was a very enthusiastic lady who provided us with a passionate commentary about the people who had gone before us and who had made their mark on the walls of the caves. The paintings were impressive. Mum thoroughly enjoyed putting her schoolgirl French to the test, much to the delight of our guide who was amazingly helpful and informative.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Christmas at Pissou

Mum and Jamie arrived safely last night, tired but well. Christmas Day weather couldn't have been better with clear blue skies, still and warm in the sun. They took full advantage of the terrasse to relax and enjoy the view.Christmas lunch was an extended affair, with an aperitif of foie gras on toasts with a sparkling 'blanquette artisanale' white wine. We then had the most delicious oysters I have ever had, courtesy of Joelle and Philippe's shop down in Massat. The last oysters I had (some years ago, admittedly) were salty and not exactly a pleasure to eat. But these were just divine... soft, unctuous and flavoursome. Mmm. We then roasted 2 ducks from which we enjoyed the breasts for dinner, saving the legs for a cassoulet later in the week. Much wine was consumed and it was a very pleasant and relaxing day and so totally different to any Christmas Day back in the UK!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Pyrenean Christmas

The most wonderful thing about being in this part of the world is how wonderfully low key the build up to Christmas is. The fact that we don't have a TV or radio probably helps, as we are thus spared the unending hype of the adverts and suchlike. So far, this has been the least 'pressured' I have ever felt at this time of year which can only be a good thing. Our Christmas tree was procured by Andy from the woodland opposite Pissou and is decorated simply with red ribbon and some plain white lights down the trunk. The beam downstairs is adorned with holly and a few cards hang from some red ribbon on one of the vertical wooden posts. Andy has made a wreath with trimmings from the tree and some holly. All very simple. All very natural and totally in keeping with the house and our environment. Nothing flashy or gaudy here, thank you very much!

Some of the shops down in Massat will be open even on Christmas Day morning and the little 'Casino' supermarket will be open all day Christmas Day, so there is no mad panic to buy things that we will need for Christmas week which again removes much of the pressure that we have experienced with previous UK Christmases. We are looking forward to some French oysters, local foie gras and some duck for our Christmas dinner, followed by some of my mum's homemade Christmas pudding. She is arriving here with my laddy Jamie tomorrow and I am soooo looking forward to seeing them! It will be mum's first visit to Pissou and only the 2nd time that Jamie has been here - he will see a big difference in the house from when he was last here in June!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

A brief balade

The fine, sunny weather continues so Taff and I joined Pat and Kevin plus Flee (a border collie belonging to some friends in Biert) for a walk up the hill behind their house towards le Roc du Peyre Caussile (1339m). This is the hillside visible from the back of Pissou so it was good to finally see what it is all about. The walk involved some 600m of ascent from Espies with a couple of very steep sections up a woodland path, which gave us a good workout. Soon, we emerged from the woodland onto a hillside strewn with dead bracken which reminded me very much of certain areas of the Peak District. The dogs, egged on by Kev, were still going great guns. From the top, we had fantastic views towards Pic de la Journalade and les 3 Seigneurs with Pissou in the foreground. From there, it was all downhill back to Espies. A jolly little outing which took us a little over 2 hrs by which time the pooches were pooped!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Ice.....? Well, almost

Andy and John headed up to the Cirque de Cagateille (1400m approx) today to try and get some ice action. They were a day or two late as John's report on UKC testifies! But loads of potential there as these photos show. The routes are multipitch and at a nice angle, the Cirque is north-facing so it has everything going for it. But the local 'meteo' is forecasting a rise in temps over the coming few days with the possibility of rain at the weekend so my laddy 'ain't going to be pleased when he arrives for a week on the 24th!

I, meanwhile, took the pooch for a brief 'balade' up the zig zags above the Col de Port where the snow was patchy and obviously melting. I did however get propositioned by a gnarly 50+ bl0ke with 3 dogs who asked me the equivalent of 'do you come here often' which was quite funny!

Friday, 14 December 2007

Skiing again

Over the past couple of days, the fine weather has held and the low temperatures mean the snow has remained. Following a visit to Telemark Pyrenees to sort out some new thermal liners for my ski de rando boots on Wednesday I was keen to get out and give them a try. John arrived down with us yesterday and hired some ski de rando kit from Tarascon, so we reckoned a trip back up to the Guzet ski station for a bit of a play was in order. We met a friend, Lee, there and skinned up to the top in wonderfully warm sunshine. Ski de rando is a new experience for John, as he is really a boarder so it was quite a surprise when he launched himself straight down a red run when we reached the top! The slope had been roughly pisted, but it was exceptionally icey where the snow cannons had been used and where it was still in shadow. The edges were crusty powder which proved to be my downfall on two occasions. John reckons he 'skis like bambi on ice' which would be fair! But for a first outing he did rather well!

This evening. Andy appears to be suffering from a mild case of sunstroke but still managed to rustle up a very tasty rabbit casserole which was mopped up with some of Gil's incredibly scrummy bread. Saint Girons market in the morning to stock up on fruit and veggies.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The skis see the light of day - yay!

The gales finally stopped and by lunchtime the skies cleared to reveal snow down to 800m. The temperature was still low so we headed over to the Guzet Neige ski station to get a feel for our all new ski touring kit on some fresh powder. It was kinda pretty out there with frosted trees and stuff.

But anyway, enough of the pretty stuff, the skiing didn't start too well with considerable discomfort from my boots due to pressure points on my shins, so we will be off to Telemark Pyrenees to sort out some thermo liners, I reckon! But we did manage a gentle skin up a gentle path to the top of Picou....
followed by a leisurely descent back down what will be a green run when the resort eventually opens. Just nice to be out really and in such beautiful conditions!

Monday, 10 December 2007


The gails and rain continued today and the temps have been dropping. The good news is that there is now snow down to around 700m and even flurries down to as low as 400m, so the tops should have had a good pasting and we may get out on the skies tomorrow :-)

Due to the foul weather, we have again been confined to indoor activities but this means I have at last got the curtain made for the door that leads from the porch to the living room/dining room/kitchen which has cut out the majority of the drafts. It also makes the space down here that much cosier :-)

I also got the lovely oak dining room table cleaned, nourished and waxed which is a job I have been meaning to do for ages. And mighty fine it now looks too!

The rest of the afternoon was spent moving gear up in the attic and scrimming the wall section that was behind the bed ready for plastering. Quelle joie!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Blowing a hooley so indoor work it is

We were subjected to more gale force winds and driving rain overnight last night, which have continued into the evening today. There was a fair amount of tree debris on the road but fortunately no actual fallen trees when I made a quick visit down to Massat earlier. The dog has been edgey all day, not liking one little bit the groans of the wind as it rattles around the house and through the trees - the great wus! He really should toughen up a bit. Minus temps forecast overnight tonight and more rain tomorrow which will hopefully fall as snow higher up.... pleeeeezzzze???!

So anyway, we did more work on the attic and the stairwell today and it is starting to look good. Quite a contrast to the same space in early September We are now about ready to start working on a racking/storage system for all of our outdoor gear which will be installed below the window which will make skis/climbing and mountaineering equipment much more accessible. The newly created doorway and separating wall are pretty much finished, with just some scrimming and plastering to do. Again, quite a transformation to the scenario in early September.

For tea tonight, we continued our knack of eeking out the cheapest but tastiest cuts of meat by creating a tomato-based 'daube de boeuf' using a 3rd of a chunk of 'paleron de boeuf' (upper shoulder/top blade steak) which cost me €11 (the other 2 chunks have been frozen to await a future creation!). Using one of Andy's cast iron casserole pots, we cooked it with a load if chunky veggies in the oven on a very low temperature (120 degrees) for 4 hrs before transferring to the top of the woodburner where it had another 45 minutes on a higher heat to evaporate off some liquid. The result was scrummylicious and we had enough for 3 meals! So we have fridged one meal for the day after tomorrow and frozen the other portion. You can't beat the long, slow cook for getting the best out of what would normally be 'tough as old boots' cuts. Shame Andy hasn't been updating his blog recently, but time has been spent elsewhere.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Ow, Ow, Ow!

I have had a wee twinge in my neck since last weekend, which I assumed was possibly because I had been sleeping funny or something. No big deal, I thought, it will go. It didn't. Wednesday, as you can read below, I spent sanding down and painting. No major discomfort. But then overnight it developed into the most excruciating pain which almost made me cry as I tried to turn over, as if somebody was sticking hot needles into an area between my shoulder and my neck. I was wincing with pain even following the slightest of movements. Whiplash, Andy reckons, as a result of throwing the ball for the pooch at the weekend which would have been OK if I hadn't been so silly as to work on a 30 degree wall the other day which just served to inflame it :-( Horse tranx ibuprofen had no effect whatsoever on the pain, but a visit to the Pharmacie got me fitted with a fetching collar and some codeine which I was instructed to take alternately with Ibruprofen every 3 hrs. The collar brought immediate relief thank goodness, as it took over the job of supporting my head from the muscles/ligaments that I have damaged. By yesterday evening, the drugs were taking effect and I was more comfortable. I am so hoping this clears up quickly as I am feeling decidedly deficient in the exercise department :-(

And as for the weather...well, best not mention that. Gale force winds and lashing rain today, but it's mild with it, so still little chance of snow. Rubbishy has been warned and will be bringing his climbing kit and maybe his bike instead of the snowboard next week!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Renovations continue and balmy weather t'boot

With visitors (OK, a visitor...."Hi Rubbishy!") arriving in a week's time, we reckoned it was about time to do a bit more on the spare room (les combles) situation. It is a pain in the arse job, but one that needs tackling in chunks ... a bit like an elephant... after all, you can't eat an elephant in one go.. can you... or something.... uuuummmm!

So anyhoo, I spent the morning sanding down the 'rough bits' created by Andy's 'skimming' with shitty French 'plaster' and then spent the afternoon 'sealing' the plasterwork with a dilute white paint mix. It seemed to take forever and was all the more soul destroying when I realised that my efforts accounted for only 1/4 of the attic! We still have 3/4 left to scrim, skim and paint :-( But it does look better and I can see how it will look when we have finished and I am quite excited (after all, I'm just a guuurl!). I did allow myself to take the odd break on the terrasse this afternoon to take advantage of the unseasonal warmth of the sun (shorts n T-shirt, in December, ffs?). What a contrast to the chill, wet, miserable weather of the last couple of days! Long may it continue.

Andy got the stairwell up to the attic scrimmed this afternoon and the space is unrecognisable to the same space 2 months much potential in this house... still early days.

Anyhoo, I luuurve the sun and the warmth and all that... but when your impending visitors are hoping for snow (and lots of it) and you are sooo looking forward to testing all the new kit, you feel a bit stuffed really. Rubbishy is arriving in a week's time and Jamie is out for Christmas and both are so excited by the prospect of snow and 'going high'... how do we break it to them that, actually, hmmmm, well, there 'ain't none...??! (answers on a postcard please...?!)

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

A bit of an update

Following the wee chimney fire last Thursday, we took advantage of the good weather at the weekend to reinstall the woodburner. This involved Andy straddling the apex of the roof for a couple of hours in order to secure the double skinned stainless steel 8m long conduit that now runs directly from the woodburner, up through the chimney and out of the chimney pot which is how it should have been installed originally. It was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement (well, on my side anyway!) that we lit some paper to check that there was no smoke escaping from the system. All OK, so we set a proper fire going. The difference was amazing! We quickly realised just how badly the burner had been drawing due to its poor installation. Wow, we had heat again! And, we knew it had been correctly installed and we were safe. Job well done :-)

Car update - Jean-François down in Massat got the car up on the ramp on Saturday and yes, we do indeed have an oil leak coming from somewhere around the oil pump (well, duh!). Infuriating when you consider that we spent nearly £600 back in January having the engine dismantled in order to replace both the oil pump and the timing belt. Looks like a certain amount of dismantling and therefore a number of hours work will be required to fix this apparent gasket problem .... money we don't really have at the mo, but hey, it has got to be done.

Anyway, Tuesday today and we have had solid rain for the last 36 hours accompanied yesterday by some pretty high winds too which is rare for this neck of the woods. But this afternoon, the skies are brightening and the worst weather appears to have moved on.