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26th January

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French lesson then book club…an action packed day. We discussed a State of Wonder by Anne Patchett we were all drawn in despite it’s being full of fantasies that couldn’t possibly happen. Lunch was prepared by the host’s boyfriends’s mother, excellent quiches with salad. Sadly as bus driver I couldn’t drink any wine. I managed to find Borisse the cat and she didn’t recognise me at all. I suppose cats forget their owners, unlike dogs. I’ve had a frantic afternoon tidying up in preparation for guests and now off to the airport. The weather forecast for the weekend is awful, so unlucky after we have had such good weather.

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25th January

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We set off from Trachere at about 10am; I was looking forward to a walk that had signposts, was indicated by a solid red line on the map and no life threatening bits at all. It was remarkably warm, we were walking in t-shirts and yet if you looked up the grassy slope to the ridge you could see the last pylon in the lift system for the ski resort of Saint Lary. The only snow on the pistes now must be machine made.

We passed a palomerie, near the path was a hide camouflaged with dead vegetation and then below it in the valley some of the trees had a system of pulleys and wires with huge weights attached. In September to November huge nets are tied to the wires and somehow used to intercept and trap flocks of pigeons which are eaten locally.

The village we walked to, Eget, had an interesting history. There are only 25 permanent inhabitants left, most of the houses are now second homes, probably belonging to rich Parisians, they were all beautifully restored with slate roofs and there were newly laid cobbled streets and a drainage system through the village. Yet 100 years ago there were 250 inhabitants, a village school, presbytery and remarkably a hot spring where the inhabitants bathed and did their washing. We found the spring just beyond the village, and the walled area where the women would do their washing but the water is no longer hot. maybe that's why the village depopulated.

We were walking along the side of a south facing slope, but because the higher peaks were further south they cast a shadow and  sun didn’t come up until after 10am,  and went down behind the mountains at about 3pm you could see that the villages on the other side of the valley had no sun all day. It must be quite depressing for the locals.

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24th January

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Only two of us at yoga this morning, people soon fall by the wayside. I must admit it isn’t the best yoga class I’ve been to as I always seem to come home with backache, the teacher seems very keen on leg raises. Perhaps I should just give them a miss and do the easy bits. I went to friends house afterwards to try and show her how to do useful things on an old laptop I have given her, like listen to the radio, ebay, skype etc. though I don’t know if she will. I thought Borisse might recognise me but he just hid. Poor little kitten still doesn’t seem very settled. The afternoon was spent doing housework and making up the last of the eight beds for visitors. I realised the shower was blocked which wouldn’t impress son’s in-laws and spent ages trying to get the wire drain unblocker down, but there was an awkward bend in the pipe. Eventually I managed to sort of unblock it with some thick electrical cable, but I think there is still a problem. In fact everything drains slowly since we installed the new septic tank so there is probably a plumbing problem but we are in denial. I’ll wait till the summer and get our local friendly retired plumber to look at it.

Philip has prepared two meals for 10, now in the freezer, so we are prepared enough for the visitors arrival to have a day in the mountains tomorrow, sun forecast all day.

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23rd January

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Edited by Cathy Winsor, Tuesday, 24 Jan 2012, 12:49
In the summer I noticed one of our huge sycamores had succumbed to a disease, one by one the branches shed all their leaves and by autumn there was no sign of life. It was growing just a metre from an oak so didn’t seem worth saving and today we chopped it down. The internet is such a wonderful resource for every possible activity (I once googled how to fold fitted sheets and found a good video on youtube) for doing anything and there was no shortage of information on chopping down large trees. After half an hour’s research Philip got out the chain saw and took out a wedge on the side it was leaning towards, I had the idea of attaching a large rope to another tree under tension to the sycamore in case it decided to fall into our neighbour’s field. Then Philip made a cut at the same level as the missing wedge and I was instructed to stand clear and raise my arm at the first sign of movement as Philip couldn’t hear anything above the noise of the chain saw. It all went swimmingly, a cracking noise, he moved back and the dead tree came crashing down in just the right place. There must be a winter’s worth of firewood, though it will take two years to dry out. Philip rather enjoys being a lumberjack and I’ll do the stacking of the logs once the tree is chopped up.  We must plant some more trees to replace those we have lost. Whatever Frenchman planted the 30 odd trees in our garden many years ago must have been so altruistic, they are mostly oak and beech trees that wouldn’t have looked very impressive until they were forty or fifty years old. We have one oak tree that our neighbour thought was at least three hundred years old.
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22nd January

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I spent most of yesterday writing my Tma while Philip was busy in the kitchen, emerging only before the guests came to rush round with a vacuum cleaner, light the fires and lay the table. Philip excelled himself with the Indian meal he prepared and thankfully the guests left before midnight, I was tired, writing all day is exhausting. Today after another four hours of rewriting and cutting bits out to reduce the number of words I pressed the submit button and will try hard not to look at it again in case I see some major error. So two weeks to wait to find out how I’ve done and I have already signed up for another course, ‘making sense of the arts’ which sounds good.

To celebrate handing in my Tma we went for a walk along by the aqueduct and met our neighbour taking his chasse dogs out for a walk in the woods. They spend most of the time in a pen in the garden. I did ask if they ever went in the house and he looked quite disgusted at the thought of it.

The problem with the chosen route is that it was exceedingly muddy. I felt rather sad after the hours spent cleaning the mini. We did remove our shoes when we got back to the car & I tried to hold our shoes by the laces for the return journey home but my arm soon tired and I had to put them down.

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20th January

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This morning I made a 2 hour round trip to a big supermarket where I was hoping to buy coriander, garam masala, fresh green beans and things that aren’t available locally. It turned out to be an abortive journey as they didn’t have any of those items. Philip was going to cook a biryani but we will have to decide on an alternative menu to feed guests who are coming for supper tomorrow.

In the afternoon I finally broke the barrier and got down to writing the Tma, after a couple of hours typing away on my laptop I realised that the problem was going to be reducing the number of words to 1500 and still have a storyline. So I have lots of work to do. I took a break to clean the interior of the van & mini, in anticipation of my son’s in laws arriving next week to have a look round the area and help plan the wedding. They'll probably be wearing smart city clothes and both vehicles had accumulated dried mud on the seats and floors from our outdoor activities and transporting things, so I spent hours trying to vacuum it all up. After miraculously keeping the van unblemished in three years of use Philip has managed to put a dent (reversing into the lawn mower) and scrape (trying to get past the conservatory peoples’ van and leaving van paint on the wrought iron gate) within two days. I'm glad it wasn't me, at least now I can feel more relaxed about parking in awkward places. No sign of the conservatory people despite a warm dry afternoon.

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19th January

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Edited by Cathy Winsor, Thursday, 19 Jan 2012, 19:22

Planning a wedding in France is complicated. I have been a bit ambitious in asking the mayor if he’ll marry my son and his fiancée even though they don’t live here, happily he doesn’t see it as a problem, maybe because I gave him several kilos of Mirabelle plums from our trees earlier this year. I have spoken to the catholic priest who will let them use the local church, despite being C of E, and to the English speaking chaplain prepared to marry them even though the fiancée is neither baptised nor confirmed. Maybe the fact that our son could tick both those boxes helped (I paid him £20 to get confirmed at boarding school.) A further development this morning was arranging a meeting with the marquee man, I am a bit worried that he might tell us that it isn’t feasible to put a marquee and dance floor on a sloping lawn; maybe if it is a problem we could get a few lorry loads of topsoil to create a flat area for the dance floor and adjust table legs so things don’t slide off the tables set on the area where there is a bit of an incline.

It was good French lesson, I think we are all trying a bit harder since the arrival of the new pupil who has been here only 2 years and speaks better French than the rest of us. The weather broke during the morning, a clear blue sky when we arrived but there was a fine drizzle by the time we left. I do hope it is snowing in the mountains.

The conservatory men were here most of the day, but progress is slow. They are constantly referring to their ‘how to build a conservatory’ manual. It looked much the same when they left as it did when they arrived this morning.

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The weather forecast was for sun all day in the mountains, and mist at home, so we felt obliged to plan a walk. I wasn’t keen to do anything scary, so we settled on a walk above Granges de Moudang. There is an easy forester’s track up to the granges (barns); it was made more interesting by huge icicles dangling from the bank and places where huge sheets of ice had formed which made walking a bit tricky. Above the hamlet of barns we came out into bright sunshine and the bluest of skies. There were several paths leading in different directions, we followed the river which was a red ribbon winding through the valley as there is so much iron in the soil which colours the rocks. We turned off to clamber up towards the to the ridge but progress was slow as we didn't bring crampons so had to constantly avoid walking and falling on ice, so we turned back at about 1800m, so didn’t get to Spain, but it was a good walk. We didn’t see a soul all day, but plenty of chamois, in their dark winter coats, eyeing us across the valley. Back home now and thinking I really must start writing my Tma.

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16th January

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We rehomed one of our cats today. A friend was looking for a cat and as Boris regularly gets beaten up by the other 5 cats we decided to give her away. She hid under a cupboard as soon as we put her down in her new home, but hopefully will emerge soon and be thrilled to find there are no other cats to compete with. On the way home we stopped at a quarry to collect some stones. That was quite exciting; we had to weigh the van, drive to a pile of stones then throw in half a ton into the back, one by one, get weighed again and then pay…only 5 Euros! We have a damp patch at the front of the house which means bits regularly fall off the wall inside and out, so we have dug a ditch, removing a load of soil and will fill it with stones, the theory being that it is the capillary action in the soil that causes damp to permeate into the mud wall. I spent the rest of the afternoon painting the new fireproof plaster board that we had to install behind the wood burning stove, one can only buy the fireproof version in pink which doesn’t match the décor.

In between checking the latest news on the sinking of that cruise ship I’m currently reading State of Wonder by Anne Patchett for the next book club and wondering why we chose it. It seems poorly researched and the story badly constructed, maybe she was working to a deadline and didn’t have time to google things she writes about to check she had her facts right.

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15th January

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Edited by Cathy Winsor, Sunday, 15 Jan 2012, 16:56

The pompiers arrived today to collect their Christmas tip in exchange for a calendar in which they all feature in team photos or in action on ladders against burning buildings or cutting mangled cars. It isn’t entirely clear what the money is used for but it’s all very organised, I saw one of the firemen had a clipboard where he noted the names alongside each contribution. It did cross my mind to ask them why they didn’t do a Calendar Girls style calendar, to raise a smile, but had second thoughts. It is possible the naked calendar culture doesn’t exist in France. I wonder if they check to see if you’ve made a contribution if they are called out to a fire at your home. It’s quite a status symbol in the community to be allowed to join. I think they are all volunteers who must pass a fitness test and complete courses on first aid as well as learning how to use the equipment. A siren goes off at the fire station when a 18 call comes in and you see people running from around the town towards the station.  The chap who used to do look after the garden while we were living in Nigeria was an ex pompier, a stalwart character who always wore his fireman’s issue jacket, I see he is in the photo of retired pompiers. I checked with the neighbours and 20 Euros is considered a standard tip.

Younger son departed today, there was a panic as he tried to finish the various submissions he needs to hand in when he gets back, so I did his packing, which was easy as he’d not brought any clothes with him (he wore his father’s clothes for the duration of the holiday.) There was an uneventful drive to the airport, other than having to come off the motorway to check if his wallet was in the jacket pocket which he’d put in the suitcase, happily it was.

I posted a few of the activities we need to complete in the final block of the module. It isn’t that I expect anyone to comment on them, I just find that if I post things I make a bit more effort than just typing them up quickly on my laptop, so I’ll try and post all of them.

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14th January

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Philip drove back to collect more wood in the morning. In fact there wasn’t much left worth buying, but it was a bit awkward as we’d asked and been offered 5 cubic metres. An argument broke out between the couple and we were then offered their ready split logs which were in a neat pile near their house. Every log split with an axe. Of course we felt bad about buying their wood which was the product of a couple of days labour but there was little choice. Firewood is a whole science, we are supposed to avoid burning pine, but do as we had a huge Douglas fir that came down in the garden a couple of years ago. Oak and beech are the best, but they should be seasoned for 2 years, after 2 years they give out progressively less heat. An expert could look at a log and know what he’s getting, but we can’t. I spent the afternoon throwing the logs out the van and stacking them on the other side of the garage.

The conservatory chaps made good progress; virtually the whole frame is in place now. Next week they’ll measure all the dimensions between the sections and cut the glass accordingly, but it all has to be taken down again to get the glass in piece by piece. We spent a couple of hours pacing the virtual conservatory and arguing about how to furnish it. Rooms always look much smaller when they are furnished, so we’ll have to be careful. I want plenty of room for plants.

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13th January

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We had a French lesson this morning, there was a new pupil there who put us all to shame, she’d done her homework beautifully and had even cut pictures out of magazines to illustrate the 2 minute talk in French which we each had to give; she did a good one on the yeti. I did mine on that Australian girl who survived a swim in the Zambezi through rapids with her ankles tied together after her bungee cord snapped.

We took younger son out for lunch to a local restaurant, it wasn’t the best meal we have had there; perhaps they have a new chef. We are always looking for simple ingredients cooked to perfection. This meal had a strange use of rosewater and an overly imaginative take on chocolate mousse which is usually my favourite pudding. We went back home for a quick cup of tea then off in the van to collect logs. Our neighbours had sourced firewood from an English couple who had chopped up two huge oak trees the year before, so it was fairly well seasoned. It was amazing to see how this young couple and their newborn baby lived on so little. She told us they had bought a crumbling barn wall with a few hectares six years ago, and built their house from concrete blocks with straw insulation, her husband’s sole income is doing odd jobs, often in exchange for building materials. They had left holes in the wall the right size to take readymade wood framed double glazed windows which are so much cheaper than the made to measure ones we installed. There were highland cattle, sheep and pigs grazing on pasture next to their home.

We loaded up the van with logs, until it looked as if the suspension couldn’t cope with any more and drove home. I have just stacked them. Stacking logs is a bit like doing a jig saw puzzle. The edges of the pile are all important; the logs have to be laid in layers at ninety degrees to the one below to make it stable enough to pile up the logs in between. It looks so pretty when finished, neatly stacked against the garage wail. We’ll go and collect some more later.

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12th January

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We gave up on climbing a mountain for the second time this week. Last Sunday we planned to climb Turoc, which was just a steady climb a long a path through beech woods to a summit at about 1500m, so well below the now line. When we got to the start of the work we spotted that there was a foresters track that zigzagged up the hillside; it looked passable even for a low slung mini. In addition there were signs everywhere for chasse en cours, and the sound of gunfire and dogs barking and battered 4 wheel drives heading up the mountainside, the occupants wearing the compulsory yellow hunters’ jackets. The jackets became compulsory wear for hunters about 2 years ago, because they shoot each other by mistake quite regularly. Last year 36 hunters met an untimely death and 2 mushroom pickers. After giving it some thought we decided to just drive up and walk the last couple of hundred metres. I did debate whether to don a yellow jacket myself, but then some other walkers came by and said the hunters knew not to shoot near the summit as there were always walkers around. In fact we met lots of friendly walkers and at the top looked down to the other side of the ridge and watched the hunters lining up with their dogs whilst in the valley below dogs were trying to flush wild boar out of the woods. We didn’t get to see if they managed to shoot anything. We could see so many of the peaks we’ve climbed but I failed a test to name them, I don’t understand how Philip recognises them all.

Yesterday we set off on a slightly more ambitious walk up to a peak called Mail de Cric, near the border with Spain. The first hour of ascent there was no problem, but then we had to make regular diversions up and down the hillside to get past fallen trees and progress was very slow. The big storm of 2009 felled so many trees in the area and there is no access to vehicles with machinery to cut them up, so the paths have become impassable.  We were using a walking guide reprinted after the storm but there was no mention of the trees. We had to give up and clamber back over all the trees again on the way down. We had a picnic on the frontier with Spain and drove back down the Spanish side and back home along the Garonne valley. It is so strange how everything looks so different over the border. I was quite happy to get back home; our son rang to say the conservatory builders were hard at work. Indeed when we arrived home part of the frame was up. There was a small disappointment in that it was smaller than we had requested. We’d changed the dimensions when the builder put in the foundation and added on a few cms to the plan, but the conservatory man had cut everything to the original plan. They were a bit worried about our reaction but we didn’t complain. We just want it finished so we can move in. I expect the cats will love a sunny bright room to sit in as well.

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10th January

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There was a thick frost this morning. The problem with having a wood burning stove as the sole source of heat is that once the wood has burned down the temperature drops rapidly. We have been checking out the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, I somehow thought carbon monoxide was only related to gas heaters, but apparently not, so now we open the windows when we go to bed and don’t try & keep the fire in. It’s quite invigorating climbing out of bed in temperatures not much above freezing. My task is to light the fire and Philip gets breakfast. He rushed off to the mountains first thing this morning; it was one of those clear crisp winter days when you can see for miles into the distance.  I drove off to my yoga class; the road runs south so I could watch the sun coming up over the mountains. After two hours of meditation and asanas and chatting to fellow pupils I set off home.  DHL called as I drove back. Delivery men can never find our house, so I met him at the church. It is so exciting getting parcels. This was a gadget; a Bluetooth adapter that our son assures us will change our lives. He has set up a music system in the barn that we can now operate remotely from our smart phones, so I can just press a button  for radio 4 on the screen of my phone and hey presto  it  plays through the speakers which are wedged between the butternut squashes on the ledge bellow the barn window. Technology is amazing. I even get a ping over the speakers when I get an email.

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6th January

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My sister calls it displacement activity. It’s nearly a month since I sat down and did an OU exercise a tutorial next week and yet I find myself doing a myriad of tasks that aren’t really necessary. I have no excuse now, my son has lent me his working laptop, our guests have all left and I have time.

I hosted book club here last night, we’d read Daphne du Maurier’s my cousin Rachel, we had all been totally absorbed by it and hotly debated whether Rachel was a murderer or not. We didn’t come to any firm conclusion. One of our number was from Cornwall and knew Menabilly well; there was lots of talk of damp Cornish childhood holidays. The girl who normally keeps us on track wasn’t able to come, so there was lots of chatting, of weddings, the despoiling of villages with new bungalows and the number of British people coming and going. Younger son had kindly prepared some Lebanese snacks which we enjoyed along with a couple of bottles of red wine.

I did manage to do an OU exercise this morning, but struggling to find inspiration for the next Tma. Odd plots come to mind, set in various countries, but then deemed not interesting enough and abandoned.

We are getting increasingly anxious about the conservatory; we haven’t seen anyone here since the couple of chaps came on Tuesday morning and moved all the pieces of aluminium from where they were lying on the foundation to the middle of the lawn where they are now flattening the grass. I visited some friends in the village who’d had a conservatory built by the same people and they showed me all the large puddles of water that had accumulated inside it, after a wet and windy night.

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2nd January

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I’m not sure which I prefer; the anticipation in the days leading up to Christmas or the feeling of satisfaction when the tree and decorations have been taken down and everything is back to normal. Older son left on Wednesday to celebrate New Year in London. He announced his engagement on Christmas day, so there has been lots of excitement and planning, I have already asked the mayor if he can get married here in France and he is quite happy to marry them at the mairie and give us the key to our very pretty local church. Daughter’s nine friends arrived as older son left it so it has been a very busy few days, having thirteen people in the house; now six have left, all on different flights which was a bit complicated. A couple this morning were meant to leave at 530 am to get a flight from Bordeaux, but slept through their alarm, luckily I was up early and noticed their hire car was still outside at 630, there was a mad panic as they threw on their clothes and rushed out. Now I have a huge pile of bedding waiting by the machine and I’m waiting for the shops to open so I can buy washing liquid, yesterday evening we ran out of beer too, the visitors couldn’t understand that here in France there really isn’t anywhere open to buy basic groceries on Sundays, but they were happy with gin and tonics instead. They have all had fun, lunch out, walks, cross country skiing, we’ve been travelling in convoy in three cars to various destinations and Philip has been directing outdoor activities. New Year’s Eve was celebrated in French style, with a four course meal and games in between each course, then we opened the champagne & sang Auld Lang Syne outside on the terrace, and daughter & friends continued partying into the early hours. The best thing about having visitors is that they are all sleeping in the main house and we are sleeping in the barn, I think everyone appreciates that arrangement and they enjoy the challenge of keeping log fires burning in the stoves in the main house. It has been strangely mild again, cold at night, but it was 23 degrees at midday in the sun yesterday, I am sure nature will compensate and it will become much colder soon.

My laptop is giving up the ghost, the battery stopped working years ago, but it worked as long as it was plugged into the mains, but now it only works if I hold the adapter plug at a certain angle in the back of the laptop and stops instantly if I let go, then takes 5 minutes to start up again. I might have to buy a new one.

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25th December

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Everyone decided that it was quite warm enough to have breakfast and open our Christmas presents on the terrace, despite it being just two degrees with a thick frost on the ground. But the sun was coming up over the hills, filtering through the oak trees, and with several layers on it was just about warm enough to sit in the sun and have coffee and fresh croissants which Rupert brought back from the bakery. Philip arranged the presents around the Christmas tree on the terrace, each family member taking it in turns to open their presents. Everyone had been very efficient and sent the online links for their preferred gifts, but there were also a few carefully thought through surprises. By lunch time it was much warmer, 20 degrees in the sun and it was just wonderful to have Christmas lunch in the sunshine. The cooks produced a delicious meal, roast guinea fowl, with all the usual trimmings and a Christmas trifle.  We walked the circuit in the afternoon, then did lots of clearing up and had a trip to the recycling bins, wrapping presents isn’t eco friendly but they wouldn’t look quite the same under tree unwrapped. I made a start on a jigsaw while the others argued through a game of scrabble, I was called upon to invigilate every few minutes.

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24th December

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There isn’t quite the same pandemonium in French supermarkets as there is in the UK on Christmas Eve. A big difference is the boxes of oysters which are bought up by everyone, we are not fans of oysters, for some reason they remind me of getting stuck under a sail and swallowing sea water. There are always special imports of exotic fruits on the shelves, mangoes, lychees, passion fruits etc.  It was another beautiful day, the forecast is for sun all weekend, it might be warm enough to have Christmas lunch on the terrace. It is a pity we don't have the conservatory yet, I swept up the leaves around all the construction material lying on the foundation. The cardboard boxes have disintegrated in the rain, I hope they'll be able to identify the pieces when they finally arricve to put it together!

When the children rang from Heathrow to let me knowthey were on the plane, I set off to the airport with the van, arriving just as they came out. I loved the drive back with the three of us sitting in the front of the van. On clear days there is a view of the Pyrenees in the distance, getting nearer as you drives south, it was particularly impressive today, with the sun going down over the peaks. They had optimistically arrived with skis so we’ll have to go skiing regardless of the conditions. Butternut squash risotto for supper, then some more wrapping of presents which they'd brought back with them. There is a huge pile waiting to go under the tree outside.

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23rd December

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We’d invited 12 for aperos in the evening. Aperos is a French custom, a pre supper get together, drinks and snacks, but when we do it we provide enough snacks to negate the need for a meal afterwards. Philip & Rupert worked away in the kitchen for most of the day while I ran round cleaning up after them and shopping for forgotten items. The weather has changed again; clear skies and a wonderful view of the Pyrenees as I drove back home. Husband & son enjoy working together, and created lots of labour intensive bite sized food; smoked salmon and courgette roulade, miniature onion tarts, sausages and bacon on sticks and then foie gras on toast with homemade quince jelly. My contribution was mince pies, a Katy Stewart recipe with ground almonds in the pastry.  We all squeezed into the salon and even our new English neighbours who arrived just a couple of months ago speaking hardly any French managed to hold their own.  We caught up on all the neighbourhood goings on and felt guilty that we didn’t do this more often.

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22nd December

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Edited by Cathy Winsor, Friday, 23 Dec 2011, 09:32
Husband and son went off to Saint Lary at the crack of dawn for a day’s skiing, determined to get there when the lifts opened. I had the book club Christmas lunch so couldn’t go. Soon after they left our farmer neighbour knocked on the door and gave me a pigeon he’d just shot & to say he wouldn’t make drinks on Friday, his cows (blonde Aquitaine’s) have all got flu and one died yesterday, so not a good time. He was interested to see the progress of the conservatory and pointed out the drainage system wouldn’t work, so that will be another task for us. The lunch was a bit of a disaster, the restaurant cancelled at the last minute, then the French teacher offered to host it, cooked lots of delicious food, but as time wore on one of our number got so fed up with the left wing ranting of the of the others that she got up and left, to the accompaniment of abuse by the host. I left soon afterwards; everyone was much drunker than I was! Phew, glad to get home, I went for a walk and then did a bit more duvet drying and bed making. The boys had a good days skiing, the snow wasn’t wonderful, having melted and refrozen, but skiing is always fun. They came back laden with shopping; they’d stopped at a big supermarket on the way home and bought a chapon de pintarde (castrated guinea fowl) for Christmas lunch along with lots of other goodies not available near us.
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21st December

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It was not a good day. Our guests left late and I was still cleaning the kitchen in the early hours. We left our son to turn off the lights and close up the stoves. What he didn’t realise was that we’d reinstalled the cat flap in the sitting room door when we replaced the old door at the end of the hallway with a double glazed one. This is a much better arrangement as we can just close the sitting room door and the cats have no access to the stairs and bedrooms. When he went to bed he made sure the cats were in the hallway and shut the sitting room door, their only access to the garden. He'd also left a couple of bedroom doors and loft door ajar as he’d been going through the loft and all the cupboards looking for ski gear. Yesterday I’d made up eight beds for guests, clipping and sewing duvets together for warmth. The cats must have drunk vast quantities of water before being locked in overnight.

The washing machine has been going since 5am since I heard them in the hallway asking for food and realised where they’d spent the night. Five cats were locked in and, given the choice, each cat likes its own bed, preferably a double one with freshly laundered sheets and duvets.   There is still a pile of duvets and mattress protectors soaking in the bath, in plastic bins and every water tight container I could find. I just hope the tumble drier can survive being run continuously for hours on end.

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20th December

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Edited by Cathy Winsor, Wednesday, 21 Dec 2011, 08:36

Yoga again this morning, I drove there and back in pouring rain, everyone is getting excited by the plentiful snow up at the ski resorts, they are all open. It was a busy afternoon preparing for a dinner party with friends. We decided it was a good idea to have neighbours over for drinks on a different day from other friends, so we’ll have another do on Friday. Philip & Rupert made lots of good recipes from Madhur Jaffrey’s cook book, samosas, spiced leg of lamb, chapattis and then a lemon tart for pudding. While they worked away in the kitchen I did other useful tasks like decorate the Christmas tree on the terrace. We have used the same battered Christmas decorations for nearly 20 years, mainly a large box of about fifty tiny hand painted Christmas figures that I paid just a few guilders for in Holland that are seemingly indestructible. I’m slightly worried about the tree lights getting wet and electrocuting someone, the tree is a bit exposed to the elements as most of the covered terrace is piled high with bits of conservatory.

The food was excellent, but for some reason conversation didn’t flow, it seemed to be mostly competitive things I have done/ places I have been to conversations between those we’d invited, who don’t really like each other anyway. The cats kept everyone entertained by competing for mice. One of the tom cats was convinced his mouse had climbed the curtain, I don’t think it had, but the silly cat kept clawing his way up to the rail and then falling back. They left just before midnight, one of the guests brought us a present of some delicious home made chocolates, I'm looking forward to eating those.

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19th December

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Edited by Cathy Winsor, Tuesday, 20 Dec 2011, 06:36
In the morning I made up all the guest beds in readiness for New Year, sorting out winter duvets so no one freezes. I have 20 odd duvets lined up in the cupboard in stuff sacs, but no indication of the weight, so had to pull them all out , and stuff them back in if they were summer weight. I labelled all four corners this time. It was so cold, maybe not by Scottish standards (5 degrees) but I braved the temperatures to go round the garden with a wheelbarrow collecting all the fallen twigs and branches, dragging the big ones across the garden to the old pond. Like all old houses there is a big depression at the end of the garden from where the clay was taken to build the house, it’s very useful for dumping garden waste. I noticed the deer have made a huge gap in the laurel fence, on both sides of the garden so that they have a thoroughfare.  I thought laurel was poisonous; maybe they strip it down but don’t eat it. Not that I mind, as long as they don’t raid the potagere, they can happily feast on acorns in the winter and fallen fruit in the summer. The next project was digging up the Christmas tree, Philip had a go with the garden fork, but I had more success just pulling it out sideways, (and gave myself  back ache again.) I hadn’t dug much of a hole when I planted it last January, so the root ball hadn't grown. Now we have it in an old egg jar on the terrace, will decorate it tomorrow.
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18th December

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Edited by Cathy Winsor, Monday, 19 Dec 2011, 07:41

Wintry weather at last, which is reassuring, it felt quite odd having summer temperatures last week. I kept the stove fed with logs and the cats enjoyed the warmth, now there’s three of us it’s harder to squeeze in between them all spread out on the sofas in the sitting room. We have a problem with the unchipped cat as she can go out but not come in through the cat door, so if we see her sitting meowing piteously on the kitchen window ledge, we have to open a window, (letting in lots of cold air and rain), then hide until she jumps down and then close it again, she is still very nervous. She’ll lie under the table until she gets beaten up by one of the more resident cats and then rush out through the cat flap.

Our son embarked on various cooking projects, there seemed to a bowl of rising dough permanently next to the stove, in the morning he made some delicious cranberry  bread,  (but I’m not sure if it went with the butternut squash soup we had for lunch), then he moved on to making Indian breads. We spent most of the day inside, enjoying having him home. The morning was cold and windy but in the afternoon there was a sunny interval between the showers and the three of us went for a walk, all getting rather muddy. Since the gales the colours have changed dramatically, the yellow and orange of the oak trees has disappeared, the trees are now all bare of leaves. Our neighbours dog slipped her chain and followed us home, hope she doesn’t get into trouble, she cowers now when we approach her, not a good sign.

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17th December

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I rushed round with a vacuum cleaner and mop in anticipation of son’s arrival then went off to collect him from the airport after lunch, stopping on the way to drop off the mince pies at the garden centre. There was torrential rain as we drove back; I had to slow down to about 10kms an hour, there was a river running each side of the road. I stopped to ring Philip to check the position of the bucket in the loft, to make sure it was catching the leak, but oddly by the time we crossed into Haute Pyrenees the roads were dry. So now we are three. Great excitement unpacking son’s suitcase, it contained 2 months of Amazon orders, other than those that wouldn’t fit in. The evening’s entertainment was watching the cats attack a remote controlled mouse; it was an early Christmas present. They lost interest after a while, two of the tom cats fell asleep under the coffee table ignoring it zooming in circles around them.

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