Thursday, 30 April 2009

Toulouse and some observations

We headed up to Toulouse this morning. An IKEA trip was required, so we thought it would be nice to spend some time in Toulouse while we were up there, go to the Victor Hugo market and have lunch. The market was excellent. We bought duck hearts, gésiers, mousse de canard, head cheese, some Toulouse sausage..... yum!

Toulouse is a lovely city, with plenty of little squares and impressive architecture. We were drawn to the Place du Capitole by the sound of music and chanced upon a Catalan youth 'troupeau' playing 'flabiol' and Catalan drums, with accompanying dancers riding hobby-horses. They were superb!I fancied lunch in the sun (20 degrees in Toulouse) in one of the restaurants on the square and spotted one that had an interesting 'plat du jour'. We sat ourselves down, only to be told by a brusque waiter that he had no 'plat du jour' left (this was at 12.30), but that we were welcome to eat at their rather more upmarket restaurant adjacent. No thank you! We moved on. We stumbled across a nice little restaurant in a quieter situation in Place Saint-Sernin, took a seat and waited. 10 minutes we waited, without even the courtesy of an acknowledgement from the waiter who was clearly overwhelmed with the lunchtime rush. We left, frustrated. We satisfied our stomachs with a very nice chicken salad baguette and a bottle of water from a boulangerie. The conclusion is that the recent reports on the BBC and other newspaper reports about the dire straits in which the French restaurants are now finding themselves are based upon nothing more than hot air! Pretty much every restaurant that we passed in Toulouse city centre on this Thursday lunchtime was rammed, heaving, packed to the gills! I'm sorry, but the UK reports amount to nowt but overheated hot air! Just the same as reports that UK Expats who have been living in France are returning to the UK. Anything for a good 'story' ......?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Out

The weather is decidedly temperamental at the moment. The clear skies and sunshine of a few days ago have been replaced by dark, stormy skies, rain and cooler temperatures.We have been cracking on with work on the house while the poor weather is upon us, making good progress and have now crossed lots of small cosmetic jobs off the 'to do' list

However, this afternoon I chose a rain-free spell to take the pooch for a run along the route forestiere up at the Col de Port. The snow had pretty much cleared from the track although a few big drifts remained on the more sheltered sections, but they were consolidated and firm so didn't cause too many problems, although they obviously slowed my progress. It's good to see the landscape down the valley at last turning from the wintery grey and brown of the past 5 or 6 months to a more vivid green as the grass pushes through and the trees come into leaf
It was a good run, short at 8kms but my body seemed to respond well to my requests for it to work harder on the 2km long gradual incline and I was back at the car in under an hour feeling like I could have carried on, which is not a feeling I have experienced recently. Some gentle stretching this evening and hopefully I won't have any repercussions in the morning. Pat and I have a 13.5km trail race pencilled in for the 17th May which I am really hoping I will be fit enough to enjoy!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Red tape and frustrating bureaucracy

France is renowned for it. They excel at it. They would win gold if it was an Olympic sport. But you have to accept it, work with it and be gifted with limitless patience when dealing with it. Let me explain .. are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin. Our health cover ran out at the beginning of the year and since then we have been waiting for our new health care provider to send us at the very least some form of acknowledgment that we are in the system and ideally new 'cartes vitales' or a new 'attestation' in the post. It's nearly 4 months since the cover should have been set up and we have heard nowt, zilch, nuffink. Eventually today I received an email that confirmed that yes, indeedy, we had been in the system since 01/01/2009 but that we needed to go to any social security office and use a terminal to update our 'cartes vitales' with the new provider's details. Great! Result! Oh, but less haste.....! The teminal at the CPAM in Foix revealed that completely incorrect details of the 2 'beneficiaries' had been uploaded to my card. So another phone call is in order, more waiting and hopefully, hopefully all will eventually be in place. You gotta love 'em!

Otherwise, the past two days have been glorious, with an ambient temperature of around 24 today and 'in the sun' temps of well into the 30s. Gorgeous. When we got back from Foix, I took the pooch for a short run along the Peguere route forestiere and up onto the road, where at last the winter snows appear to be melting.
I was therefore able to complete the circuit rather than having to return back the way I had come. We encountered a troupeau of goats and then some sheep on the way along the top which made Taff's day :-) Although everything felt heavy and I was lacking in energy, it was a much-needed stretch of the legs and I pushed myself on the gradual ascent which will hopefully have done me some good. However, my body has been behaving in weird ways since I had the trapped nerve in my back problem. Muscular aches and pains after minimal exertion, waking up feeling stiff and achey ..... strange stuff

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Tidying up

With the alternating very hot/very wet spells of weather that we have been having recently, the grass, weeds and thankfully also the veg in the potager have all been going rampant. So today, it was time to awaken the lawnmower and the strimmer from their winter slumbers and put them back to work. Pissou always looks so much neater and tidier after the grass has had a haircut and it is particularly good to be able to tackle the grass/weeds that surround the potager before they get out of control this year. Just by way of comparison, this jungle photo was taken in May last yearand then after I had scythed the plot of land on which the potager now sits for the first time and before the first pass with the lawnmower...and before we dug part of it over for the first time in October...and this is how it looks now..
I am sure the site will look even more impressive in the summer once the veggies are ready for harvesting. It is particularly pleasing to be able to put redundant but very fertile land back to good use. I have taken advantage of the forecast for a couple of days of warm weather to sow some Italian mixed salad leaves, the second round of both beetroot and rocket and also some coriander. I have also dug over the remaining section of land in the potager into which I will be planting on the chillis, capsicum and tomato modules in due course. Progress is good and I am just hoping that the rather lively mole community does not decide to wreck all of our good efforts! Traps are in place, one has been caught, but we need to double our efforts.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Delivery

We were up bright and early this morning to receive the delivery of timber and boards for the new terrasse at the back of the house. I submitted the necessary paperwork (including some very professional-looking architects drawings created on a free CAD package!) to the Mairie yesterday and if we have not received any communication from them within 30 days then we are free to proceed with the project. However, the Maire did not foresee any problems whatsoever with clearance for such a small project, so we spent the afternoon clearing the rest of the wood at the back of the house and preparing to dig some big holes that will eventually take the concrete and upright posts. The earthworks in themselves will no doubt take longer than expected so it's good not to have any time pressures.

It has been dry today and the Méteo has promised me the return of M Soleil tomorrow - I may celebrate by having a bit of a jog with P&K whom I haven't seen for far too long!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

How much?!

Still it rains. It was torrential for pretty much the whole night last night and has continued throughout the day. According to our neighbour Claudine, the equivalent of 2 months worth of rain has fallen in 24 hours. The streams and rivers are full to bursting.

video

Tomorrow is set to be clearer. It can't be any worse!

My comfort food today is therefore going to be raisin and walnut bread which is currently on its second rising ... yum!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Wet.... very wet, muddy and wet!

The weather has taken a turn for the worse and the potager is now a claggy mudbath. Thank goodness I have cloches to protect my emerging veggies. I had to take the car down to the garage in Massat for a bit of a service and general check over first thing this morning, which meant making my way back up to Pissou under my own steam. Fortunately, it was late morning before the rain started, so I had a very pleasant albeit somewhat heavy-legged jog home along back roads, paths and mule tracks. It was good to stretch the legs and get some fresh air. However, by 5pm when I was due to collect the car, the weather had closed in so I donned full running waterproofs and meandered my way back down to Massat along different tracks and paths to this morning. It was mudsville and very slippy on some of the descending paths, but the outing was somehow exhilarating in the rain and I felt much better than I did this morning! Anyway, the car is fine with no problems highlighted which is good to know :-)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Cracking on

Steve left us yesterday morning after a few days of 'chilling out' at Pissou. Today, I have been mostly pottering in the potager, planting out some more Charlotte spuds and some more garlic (a bit late, but hey) and also planted the first batch of French beans which I hope will germinate and sprout, although I am guessing a cloche may be required. I also potted on my basil modules and planted out four Kuri squash plants which may also need some protection whilst there is still the risk of frost.

Then this afternoon, we started clearing the wood pile at the rear of the house which is where the terrasse will be constructed. We haven't managed to clear it all, so another session is planned for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Inner workings

I was down in St G yesterday afternoon having my lower back and pelvis X-rayed. Such a contrast to the UK system - it's the kind of thing you can get done in your lunch hour here! Within half an hour, I had been X-rayed and was given the news that one leg is 8mm shorter than the other (something to do with the head of the femur, apparently) and I also have mild scoliosis in my lower back, with the two lowest vertebrae possibly being responsible for the twitchy nerve pain that I have been experiencing. Not a great deal you can do about a back that is too bendy!

Other news - 'projet terrasse' has been a tad delayed. On the Mairie's advice, I popped in to see the nice chappies down at the DDE in St G yesterday who are responsible for development and planning permissions in the area, and it appears that we are obliged to submit a 'Déclaration de travaux préalable' for the project. Normally, if the terrassing is no higher than 60cm from the natural ground level and the decking is not covered, no permissions are required. But the problem with our terrasse is that the land is sloping, so one end will be over a metre from ground level. Hey ho, French red tape strikes again. If we don't receive any communication from them within a month, we are free to go ahead. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Potager progress

I ventured out to the potager this afternoon to check on the progress of the various plantings, which have all been under cover for the past week or two. The peas are coming along nicely....and the spinach and rocket likewise...
I have had a patch of soil covered by a cloche since last week in an attempt to warm the soil before planting out the beetroot modules and the two aubergine plants that I bought last week. With today's sun, I reckoned conditions would be right so got them into the ground before pulling the cloche back over to trap some more of the afternoon's sunlight. I also got the parsnips sown and some Charlotte potatoes planted into containers.

Busy

Well, the weather has been truely appalling for the past few days, only clearing this morning, which is good timing as Steve, Andy's dad is arriving with us today. However, we haven't told him that more poor weather is forecast for later in the week!

So, indoor jobs have been the order of the day over the weekend. Yesterday, we fitted the bathroom out with an offcut from the seagrass carpetting and it just finishes off the room perfectly. We also finished the plastering around the new porte-fenetres which now just needs a light sanding before I can size and paint it and then that will be another job completed. There have been other numerous 'small' jobs that we have been busily ticking off the list and Steve's impending arrival has been just the incentive we needed to have a much needed tidy up and clean up around the house. Progress indeed!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Projet 'terrasse' - ça commence!

Now that the 'porte-fenêtre' has been installed to lead out of the bedroom to the rear of the house and summer is not that far away, the natural progression is to make the rear terrasse the next big project. The space is currently used for wood storage and is a tad unsightly to say the least! ......... but from April onwards it starts to see some lovely evening sun, with views down the valley and up to the Peguère area. Adding the terrasse would no doubt add value to the house and make use of the dead space there. So the wood is now bought and due for delivery a week tomorrow .... watch this space for a progress report in a little over a week's time!

Yesterday

I finally finished painting the bedroom ceiling yesterday afternoon which is another job ticked off the list. The wet, slushy, sticky snow that fell overnight Tuesday had all melted by the afternoon, thank goodness and today has dawned bright and clear.

I spent a lovely evening yesterday in the company of Anne-France and her family and also her cousin Dany and Lee. Anne is a fellow blogger who lives in Stockholm but whose family are from the Ariege. It was quite surreal starting a conversation only for Anne to say 'yes, I read it on your blog'! Thanks for a lovely evening, Anne, and we hope to see you at Pissou soon!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Photos du grenier

As promised, some photos of the finished grenier - my favourite room in the house! Here's a photo taken before we moved in (the little window is hidden somewhere behind all that clutter!)...
and now....The top of the attic stairs before ...and now...
The hard work has most definitely been worth it!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Blue skies, sun, warmth....

... and then torrential rain, cold and uggh. At least that is what the Méteo is forecasting for the rest of the week. I watched a big bank of cloud roll in from the west earlier this evening, which, I am guessing, is the precursor of the afore-mentioned uggh. So, more work on the interior of the house will be the order of the day. However, today, I sprinkled some organic fertiliser on the rest of the potager which the rain will hopefully help soak into the soil. The spinach and rocket are already quite well established thanks to the protection of the cloche and the same can be said for the baby carrots in the tub. The leeks appear to have taken well and the kuri squash is positively rampant and will be ready to plant under a cloche within the next week or two. The beetroot, chilli pepper and tomato seedlings are likewise thriving and the Charlotte tatties are chitted so bring on the Spring!

Otherwise, I took the pooch for a bit of a run this afternoon down through the woods opposite the house and through to Eycherboul then along down the side of the river and back. The lungs and legs complained on the uphill sections but no inkling of the trapped nerve problem, thank goodness. The woodland flowers - white, purple, yellow - were out in all their glory and quite beautifulI have been holding out some vague notion that I will be able to take part in the Trail des Citadelles next Sunday. However, if I did participate, you would most probably see me come in 'la dernière'! But hey, it's not the winning but the taking part that counts ........?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

A sorry state

The final job before we can consider the attic 'finished' has been to renovate the small windows which look out to the side of the house. As you can see, they are in a terrible state and probably haven't been touched in goodness how many years
The old putty was carefully removed and then the panes of glass taken out and cleaned up, the frames rubbed down and some wood filler applied to the lower sections that were showing signs of decay. The panes are now back in, so I will be applying a top coat of paint tomorrow and the transformation will be complete - now all we need are some new hinges for them and the jobs a good'un!

Today, Andy has rehung the grenier door so that it passes over the sea grass carpet without rubbing, and has tidied up part of the side of the staircase which is now much neater.

This afternoon, I took myself up to the route forestière that heads up towards Peguère for my first stretch of the legs in a month and since I have had the trapped nerve problem. I was out for an hour, walking/jogging and everything felt fantastic, so I am keeping fingers crossed that that is the end of it and I can now concentrate on getting back some level of decent fitness!. It has been a lovely, warm day today but clouds are building....... with poor weather/snow at higher levels forecast on Tuesday.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

House work

We are having a bit of a spurt on work on the house at the moment. With a visitor imminent, I was keen to get the grenier flooring sorted out. However, neither of us is inclined to invest much time or money sanding the variable floorboards, so a covering for the floor seemed like the most suitable option. Mr Bricolage have had an offer on 'tapis de jonc de mer' (seagrass flooring) and I reckoned that would provide the ideal covering, being both a natural product and a neutral colour. The price was the deciding factor, so after collecting it yesterday, we have spent today laying it - 42m2 in all. Jolly fine it looks too - pics to follow in due course.