Friday, 30 July 2010

She brushes up all right, does our Sadie

Great progress today. We got the enormous 4m long Fiama awning fitted today. It's a surprisingly neat package when it is packed away along the side of the van....and provides a wonderfully big shaded area when it is outAndy also fitted the electrical hook-up socket and the water-fill cap and then set up the bike carrier mountings on the rear doors onto which the 4-bike carrier slots very neatly. In the meantime, I made great progress cleaning up the paintwork - T-cut is a superb product and Sadie is now showing her true colours :-)

The weather is looking good for the weekend and we have a roadie outing with P, K, C and F (henceforth known as 'The Gang') planned for Sunday. I can't wait!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

It's all about Sadie

I reckon we rescued her in the nick of time. She may be only 5 years old but, all the same, she is already looking a wee bit raggedy around certain edges.... notably, the rear door edges. So, yesterday, off they came. Andy deployed, first, the welder to repair and reinforce the lock mounting and then proceeded to give the doors a good seeing to in important raggedy places with the grinder and I followed on with the gentler treatment of rust preventor application. The sliding side door also came off and got a good scrubbing with some white spirit around it's bottom edge to remove the God-awful glue that the previous owner had spilt everywhere. The doors were then rehung. What a difference ...the rear doors actually shut securely now and the sliding movement of the side door is much smoother thanks to the clean up.

Today, after receiving more detailed instructions from the supplier, Andy was finally able to mount the clean water tank on the underside of the van. We can now crack on with the interior plumbing - hurrah (and not woo-hoo which some readers apparently find a tad irritating for which I do apologise ;-) ) ! I, in the meantime, gave Sadie a bit of an exterior makeover and set about removing the remnants of stubborn glue from the masking tape that we had used to hold the new windows in place.... hard stuff to shift once it has been baked on by the hot sun here. The T-cut was also used to good effect to clean up one side of the van and to remove the ghosts of the previous owner's sign-writing. She brushes up well does our Sadie. Pics in due course, of course.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

House fettling, potager potterings and more bikey fun

Sunday was a seemingly unending frenzy of tidying, cleaning, patch plastering and generally getting the house in a 'finished' state ready for the viewing on Monday morning - the frenzied activity included Andy finally getting around to creating the solid oak fronts for the kitchen wineracks which finish it off nicely.I finished the day by speaking with Claudine to ask if she wouldn't mind please keeping the dogs indoors in the morning so that they didn't wreak havoc during the visit of our potential buyers! The visit went well and the Danes made all the right noises but we have yet to hear whether they will be making an offer or not. I am not holding my breath!

The weather finally started to clear yesterday afternoon and provided the perfect opportunity to mow the grass down and to spend a good few hours doing some much needed weeding and tidying in and around the potager. The various varieties of tomatoes just need some serious warmth now before they start to ripen. A glut is assured. We had time to pop up to Peguere in the afternoon and collected some very tasty bilberries...and our first chanterelles of the yearToday, the sun has returned so we headed over to Foix for an outing on the roadies - a pretty 70km circuit on wonderfully quiet roads east of Foix. My Garmin 305 is working again following a software update, so the stats are on the usual site.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Roadie progress

It has been a wet and pretty miserable few days. But with people coming to view the house on Monday, great timing for getting those niggling little jobs out of the way that will really make a difference to the appearance of the house. A final clean up and tidy up tomorrow and we will be ready for the sales push!

But today, with an improvement in the weather, I headed over to Pat's for another gurly outing, but this time on the roadies. And what a fab outing it was on so many levels. We covered 76kms and around 700m of ascent (I don't know the exact stats as my Garmin refused to pick up the satellites - goddam!) from hers at Neylis, through to Belesta then a climb up to the Plateau de Sault which is a truely stunning spot But the best part of today, the very best part, was seeing my best mate getting stronger and able to push harder with no backlash from the gammy knee, keeping up when, before, she has had no choice but to hold back and take it steady so as not to put too much pressure on the tendon..... Ok, yeah, so it's still early days, but it's hard not to get excited about the prospect of having my bestest training buddy back after 8 months in the metaphorical wilderness!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

This week

.... well, it's kind of disappeared somehow. After Sunday's exertions up to the Port de Pailhères, Monday and Tuesday were easy but hot days, working on the van (Andy) installing the waste and fresh water tanks on the underside and pottering in the potager (me), tying in and pruning the tomato plants which are making great progress, amongst other things.

Yesterday, I had a lovely outing with Pat. It was one of those ace gurly shopping/coffee/mountain bike outings. I hadn't planned on spending any money, honest. In fact I hold Pat entirely to blame. She stumbled upon a fab pair of end-of-line, mainly leather, 'Lake' mountain bike shoes in the bike shop near Pamiers. The size she thought would fit (39) were in fact too small for her, so she went for the size 41 shoes. Purely out of interest, being a size 38, I had to try on the size 39s as they were a fine looking shoe and mine are, well, ancient and decrepit and falling to bits. It just so happened they fitted me perfectly! Woo-hoo! But you have to admit, they are a mighty fine looking shoe, n'est-ce pas?We celebrated with a damn fine coffee and patisserie in Varilhes which we then almost worked off on a 19km mountain bike ride around the no. 8 circuit from the town. We had a hoot. I love riding with my mate :-) Good times.

Back home, Andy and I headed out for a quick mooch with the pooch in the afternoon, up to the Cap des Campets which took rather longer than expected due to the copious quantities of these that we stumbled upon and which were just asking to be eatenMmm! Nom nom! Bilberries! Must head back up there tomorrow with my bilberry 'comb' before they are all picked by the vacanciers over the w/e.

We have got some Danish people coming round to view the house on Monday, so we are having a frantic push to finish all those silly little jobs that will hopefully make all the difference when people see the house for the first time. Fingers crossed they like it.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Le Tour arrive!

Yes, today, the Tour de France arrived in the Ariège for the first of the Pyrénéan mountain stages, taking in the Col de Pailhères followed by a fast descent down to Ax and then a final climb up to the Bonascre ski centre above Ax. We had to be there! We drove down to Savignac, just outside Ax where we were lucky to find a good parking space and where we got out the bikes and road up to the Col before they shut the road - the distance is only 19kms but takes in 1300m of ascent! It was a thoroughly enjoyable albeit hot and sustained ascent with a max 19% gradient and the last kilometer and a half averaging 10.4%, but I seemed to manage it without any great difficulty....which is good! Stats for the ride (including the descent) are on the usual site.

We dropped down to the first hairpin after the Col where we had the best views of the hairpins that ascend from Mijanès
Miraculously, we bumped into a mate from Sheffield, Richard, and two of his buddies who I knew were in the area for the coming week's riding. It was their first experience of the TDF and they commented on the amazing atmosphere that accompanies the event, from the sheer number of people spectating, to the frenzy of the 'caravan' of vehicles which precedes the riders, distributing generally useless tat along the way. And then the hushed anticipation once the caravan has passed through, followed by the first hum of the VIP helicopters buzzing the route, the 'Apocalypse Now' style arrival of the helicopters that are following the riders and that bring the TV pictures to your set and finally, yes finally, the site of the lead rider(s) which always generates a huge cheer from the masses watching from the hillside. Today, that leader was Riblon who went on to win the stageThe speed at which he ascended was phenomenal! He had the Cofidis rider and fellow-Frenchman, Moinard, in hot pursuit Cadel Evans is still riding despite his fractured elbowDuring the last kilometer, much to my consternation, several riders took up the offer of a newspaper that was being handed out and which they proceeded to stuff up inside their jersey before ambling to the top of the Col.
I have just been advised that they do this (and have always done this) to protect themselves from the windchill on the long descent and isn't some comment on the slowness of the back groups of riders compared to the speed of the front-markers! You learn something new every day!

By the time all of the riders, the various support and media vehicles had passed through,I was seriously hot and desperately thirsty but I was out of water. Temperatures were up in the mid 30s and I was cooking. Time to get back on the bikes and bomb back down what we were expecting to be a fun descent. Usually, the gendarmes open the road for the vast volume of cyclists to descend before allowing regular traffic to head down. But today, for some reason, traffic was allowed on its way pretty much immediately which made for a slow and in places extremely dangerous descent for us folk that were on 2 wheels. Very frustrating! But we eventually arrived at a fountain where we could refill our water bottles before heading back to the car. What a cracking day out! Fantastic to experience le Tour again and to get in a good ride ourselves at the same time.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

A girlie roadie outing

53 easy kilometers with Pat and Fréd, coffee, cake and sunflowers. Nuff said

Friday, 16 July 2010


I love this time of year in the potager. It was a difficult start to the growing season with Spring presenting us with the most awful weather conditions from which I feared the damaged early growth would never recover. But miraculously, thanks to the alternating spells of wet and hot weather over the past weeks, growth has accelerated at a fantastic rate and the miscellaneous tomato plants in particular hold great promise for a real feast in August. We are still a week or so off enjoying some delicious French beans and the sweetcorn is still in the early stages, the courgette, cornichon (gherkin) squash plants and aubergines are all flowering..... but today's big surprise were these
I had no idea the garlic was at such an advanced stage and that the soil was hiding such an enormous red onion! How exciting! And yes, I am easily pleased ;-)

On other matters, Sadie has been receiving more attention over the past couple of days. Not only are the roof vents now safely installed but also, after a bit of adaptation to the fitting instructions, the two solar panels which are capable of providing 240W of power when the sun is at its strongest. These will be essential for keeping the leisure batteries topped up in order to provide power to our somewhat energy hungry laptops while we will be awayShe's looking good, don't you think? Next step is to install the fresh and waste water tanks underneath the vehicle and then start on the plumbing and electricity which will be, er, fun!

Now then, unless you have been in a state of hibernation for the past nearly 2 weeks, you will know that le Tour de la France is currently meandering its way through the country. To date, the stage results have generally gone totally against the predictions with a number of notable upsets (I won't bore you with the nitty gritty). But the race arrives in the Pyrénées on Sunday and we are planning on cycling up to the Col de Pailhères/Mijanès area to be at the heart of the action on that day. I can't wait! I have some friends in the area for the stage so will hopefully be able to hook up with them at some point too. Then on Monday, le Tour heads from Pamiers through Saint-Girons and on to Bagnères-de-Luchon. There is still an outside chance we may be able to catch some of that stage, so fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A cracking roadie outing

Andy and I joined Pat, Kev and Céd for a cracking roadie outing from Varilhes this morning. It was blissfully overcast with temps in the low 20s when we met up, which made for perfect riding conditions, initially. Pat and I quickly agreed that today, we would let the boyz do what the boyz do best. She is still having to be very gentle with her knee and consequently we would not be following their example by putting on daft uphill power surges, burning each other off or launching surprise attacks on each other! Oh no, we were quite content to meander along the wonderfully quiet and picturesque valley roads towards Aigues Juntes and Mas d'Azil before stopping off for a welcome coffee in Artigat. It turned out to be a lovely undulating circuit of just under 68kms with 830m of ascent which felt easy peasy!The legs felt good and we all had a jolly jovial and fun ride out, with the boyz a tad more pooped than us gurlz, which is not a bad thing! More please!

Oh, and in case anybody thinks Sadie has been abandoned, fear not. Yesterday, whilst manically dodging horse flies (Gah! I hate the vicious little buggers!) we managed to cut holes in the roof and install the three ceiling vents, two at the front and one at the back. A bit more work is required to 'sandwich' the inside sections to them, but they are looking good

Monday, 12 July 2010

Testing out the new wheels

I received a surprise present from Andy the other day - some lovely shiny new wheels for my road bike! The ones on my Specialised Dolce are the basic entry level ones that came with the bike and have been appalling for going out of true. These new Shimano RS30 wheels not only look the business but they should also be able to handle the vast variety of road surfaces that we have down here rather better than the old ones.To test them out, we headed out yesterday with the intention of doing the Trois Vallées/three valleys ride from Seix. The first leg is up to Aulus and back, the second was up the Ustou Valley and back and the third up the valley to Salau - approx 90kms in all. The ride up to Aulus was lovely and my new wheels even sounded like 'proper' road bike wheels with their smooth tic tic whirr hum. We arrived in Aulus to be greeted by the first rumbles of thunder that signal the arrival of the afternoon storms. The ride back down the valley was a race to beat the rain that would surely not be long in coming. It was a wonderfully fast, fun (up to 53kms/hr) ride back down the valley with both of us taking turns in the lead. Unfortunately, we had to abandon any idea of doing the other 2 valleys as the storm clouds were rapidly gathering strength. We'd only covered just under 40kms/340m of ascent in 1 hr 20 min. Still, a good turn of the legs and I am well impressed with my fancy new wheels! Full stats on the usual site.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The shallots from the potager are not bad this year. The peas, however, are few and far between but a lovely flavour none the less. And as for the rasperries ....? Nom Nom Nom!

Friday, 9 July 2010


Where has this week gone? Is it Friday already?! Since Monday's roadie outing, we have mainly been very busy with business stuff - it's that silly time of year again and I will be glad when the holiday season comes to an end. But fortunately, it has been a stinkingly hot week with temperatures peaking at 34 degrees in the shade yesterday which had made staying inside the best option anyway. We had a major storm yesterday afternoon/early evening which not only gave the potager a much needed watering but also cleared the air which had become oppressive - the temps dropped by 13 degrees in 3 hours!

Today, with overcast but humid conditions, Andy and I had a rematch with the run up to the Cabane des Roses which I last tackled in March. That was the first time that I attempted to run the 3-4kms with 300+m of ascent so it was interesting to see how I managed on this second attempt. Very well, is the answer. But not as well as Andy who, thanks to the loss of 9kgs in the past 3 months, succeeded on his first sustained uphill run I think probably ever! We reached the cabane after 3.9kms with 335m of ascent in 31 minutes. That's not a bad pace. The view from up there was wonderful as alwaysAnd the view to the other side, back in the Massat/home direction was dominated by the enormous bank of cloud rolling over the hillsideCôté potager, it is starting to yield some really good produce. I have maybe left the celery a little longer than recommended before pulling it, but it is mighty tasty all the same. Red onions and shallots are almost ready for harvesting too.The cornichon, courgette and squash plants plus mini sweetcorn, French beans, tomatoes, carrots, beetroot and goodness knows what else have also really benefitted from the alternating very warm and then wet conditions. I should really start seeing some good produce in the coming weeks.

Monday, 5 July 2010

A roadie and potager update

The weather yesterday (cloudy, overcast but still warm) provided me with the perfect opportunity to get on top of the weeding in the potager. It's quite amazing how many weeds spring up when a hot dry spell is followed by a few very wet but warm days. But potager progress is good, with the first beetroot harvested today and Early Nantes carrots at a size which is perfect for their inclusion in a salad. The new potatoes are also now ready but please don't ask me if they are first or second earlies or whatever as I have no idea! The varieties (that I planted at the same time) are Rocket and Charlotte and both are equally tasty, either boiled lightly with a sprig of mint and a pinch of salt, served with a smear of butter and black pepper or served cold in a salad with natural yoghurt and some chopped chives. I also pulled the first red onion yesterday which was quite delicious. The tomato plants are growing well with plenty of flowers but needed tieing in to their bamboo stakes once again and the first sowing of French beans also needed some extra support. The second sowing has come through in the past couple of says so hopefully we will have beans through until the end of August. Lastly, the sweet peas have finally flowered in their pots - their heady scent is just divine and a wonderful reminder of my childhood days!
Today, with the skies still overcast but the conditions dry, Andy and I headed down to Foix for another outing on the roadies. We went for a rematch with the Foix FFCT circuit no. 4 that we did just over a year ago and on which Andy bombed quite dramatically. This year, being fitter and lighter, it was sure to be a different story. Sure enough, we whipped around the 50+km with 544m ascent in not much over 2 hours - a vast improvement on the just under 3 hr tootle last year!! It was a lovely outing with just the right amount of incline versus long level straights. Stats on the usual site. But my legs are once again demanding a serious stretching session (although I did spend half an hour stretching yesterday evening) if they are not to seize up again. This getting older malarkey is no fun!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

A weather 'blip'

Last week was a week of stickily hot temperatures, but yesterday we were 'treated' to a full on 'eye of the storm' experience which, only after the event, I truely appreciate for it's temperature-lowering prowess. At the time (6pm), it was, well, pretty scarey - it was the full thunder and lightning, torrential downpour with hailstones experience, accompanied by blasts of wind that threatened to bring down yet more trees/branches. The strength of the wind was such that the rain was forced into any nook or cranny that was even slightly vulnerable. This, unfortunately, included the newly installed windows of the van - the installation instructions for the windows specify that jet washing should be avoided for at least a week following installation. Gah! Bad timing! But hopefully no lasting damage done.

Today has been overcast and blissfully cooler (down to 20 degrees) so we kept our appointment with Pat, Cédric and his partner Frédérique this morning for a short roadie outing down near Foix in ideal conditions.... well, apart from the low cloud and drizzle up the valley from Saint Félix du Rieutort, but that was actually surprisingly pleasant to ride in! Pat is still taking things very easy due to her ongoing knee problems, but Cédric couldn't help but put the hammer down from time to time to which the rest of us couldn't help but respond which provided some fun. It was a wonderfully sociable ride out which we all enjoyed. Looking forward to more! Recreational stats here as usual.

Tomorrow, I think a run with the pooch will be required whilst the temperatures are still amenable. A big Atlantic high pressure area is pushing in next week which is sure to bring temperatures into the 30s. Then next weekend we will be heading up to the Alps to watch Le Tour roll through - bring it on!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Sadie's new windows

It has been very hot again today, reaching 33 degrees in the shade this afternoon. The day has been spent doing the rest of Sadie's new windows. Andy made short work of cutting out the panelsand the new bonded privacy glass windows were all in by 4pm
Sadie is looking less like a utility vehicle every day!