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You’ll be glad to hear I have recovered from my Christmas Blues. There are several reasons for this, starting with my total appreciation of how calming it is to be far, far away from shops, traffic and general  panic consumerism. Last night we did our Christmas shopping in front of the fire in our new home, accompanied by glasses of bubbly and tasteful Xmas Toons. The tree lights twinkled, chestnuts crackled and Amazon buttons were clicked…easy does it. 

I’ve been to a couple more Christmas markets, including a big one in Toulouse:

The thing I’ll remember about the Toulouse Market was the wonder which is Tartiflette. Of all the food stands, it was easily the most popular. Slithering into a plastic bowl, a gloopy slosh of potato and cheese is ladled from a huge, bubbling vat, that wafts garlic fumes. It is the absolute epitome of Winter fare and originates from the Alps. The reblochon cheese retains its stringiness; hard to eat elegantly, but it is delicious and goes so well with vin chaud!

I am glad I didn’t mention the name of the town hosting the Fair I went to last week. I’ve since found out that what I saw was the result of local traders and townsfolk getting together and pulling out all the stops to put on a great show. There was no Mayoral contribution, it was all funded by local small business donations and I applaud the hard work that went into it. That said, I might go a bit later next year and hopefully avoid the Ladies Keeping Fit demo. And perhaps walk around with headphones, till my veins are thick with Christmas music. 

Having talked to a good few people about how Christmas is celebrated here, it is clear that having your family around you is at the very heart of a French Noël and I am, indeed, counting the days till my boys arrive to celebrate with us. Eden is visiting his brother in Tallin next week, then they are travelling here together. I have Amazon Primed some thermals for Eden to take with him to Estonia. Looking at the UK news, meanwhile, I am astounded to see all the snow that has blanketed everywhere and everything…except here and rather think thermals might be useful in the UK too.

As a self confessed snowaholic I am rather put out that the moment we decide to leave and I stage my very own Bexit (can’t take credit for this joke, but its rather good), it decides to snow for the first time in years! My weather app on my phone did its best to forcast snow, going as far as actually stating ‘it will continue snowing in your location for several hours’. Lies, all lies 😆 I uninstalled my weather app in a fit of pique and for a whole week simply relied on what I could see with my own eyes, out of the window and walking in the garden. If I felt raindrops on my head, then it was safe to assume it was raining, that sort of thing.

But, if its Christmas in our house

its Spring in the garden! Silvery buds are appearing on gnarly branches, yellow forsythia is flowering and brave bulbs are pushing through the earth. A friend in Bath posted a lovely photo of fragile, early snowdrops; early signs of Spring are not unusual, but it still surprised me, all the same. I guess I’m just used to months and months of gloom and murk, whereas in reality, Winter here will be shortlived, Spring will be early and then, in the blink of an eye, glorious Summer will be here again! Speaking of which, our pool is emerging out of the sticky clay:

and the soundtrack to our days is the chugging and clanking of the digger. The garden has disappeared under a layer of earth, but in my mind’s eye, our pool nestles amoung verdant grass and birds tweet, as I float lazily, looking at clouds and vapour trails.. 

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Sometimes opening the blank page to start blogging can feel very similar to setting up your easel, lining up your brushes and paints, putting on your smock and beret and then….an empty space glares back at you where words or a painting should be. Not this time folks! This time, I am struggling to keep the avalanche of words and ideas in order. 

I might have mentioned that I was joining a newly forming Writer’s Group? We had the first meeting and to introduce myself, I read one of my columns that I did for The Star in Bath many moons ago and then set it next to one of my recent blogs to see how my writing has developed. Even to me it was obvious what has happened. With the advent of smart phonery I now heavily rely on photos to talk for me and I am therefore speaking less. I also clearly work well when I have a theme to stick to. So, here’s my solution: in addition to all my photos, you are going to get more words, not less and also, perhaps, a theme! I think my theme this week is Christmas and Disappointment. Here goes ( clears throat huskily):

We’ll start with a picture.

After a busy afternoon harvesting logs, we put on our best Going to a Christmas Market in Rural France outfits on and headed out. It was bittersweet. I desparately wanted to go out and yet I also wanted to watch the seven or eight snowflakes that were dancing down; having been waiting for the promised snow deluge, I wondered if this was the start of it? I comforted myself with the thought that perhaps where we were heading would be thick with crunchy, crispy, glittery snow; this thought was reinforced by two cars passing us that were covered in the white stuff. Honestly, they looked like lemon meringue pies! Then we turned right. Kept going for ages and any chance of seeing snow depreciated with each kilometre we travelled.

Adjusting our scarves and hats, we headed jauntily off towards the market. I’ve mentioned before that markets in France have loudspeakers around them, so you know where they are and your spirits are kept high perhaps? The first teensy sign that things weren’t quite right was that the music was as far removed from Christmas musak as its possible to be. As we turned the corner, we saw that at the heart of the market was a demonstration of Ladies Keeping Fit! Energising tunes blasted out from the speakers. My eyes twitched left and right. Where was Christmas?? In between the straining lycra and thick anoraks I spotted the odd pair of reindeer antlers stuck on heads and I relaxed slightly. And then tensed right up again as Line Dancers took to the stage and Shania Twain warbled out, crackily. 

We attempted to get into the spirit of things and toasted each other with Vin Chaud. I noticed Liam was looking slightly deafened and defeated too. Nevertheless, we tried to enjoy this experience and walked around the stalls looking at the crocheted blankets and bamboo lamps with an interested, slightly fixed expression. Then we quietly walked back to the car and drove home.

Later, over a bottle of red, we tried to piece together what had happened. My summary is this. Coming from Bath we are so used to the scale and chi chi ness of the Christmas Market that we had even started to moan about the number of extra tourists, the impossibility of parking, the sameness of the stalls. But, the truth is, I loved it to bits! I loved the bustle, the buzz, the smells of cinnamon and mince pies, the fake snow, the ski lodge bar.

Last night I experienced disappointment for the very first time since we moved to France. I stress its the first time…I’ve happily embraced everything else since we arrived. But, freezing cold, my ears assaulted by country and western instead of Christmas carols, desperate for an artisanal smorgasbord of beautiful things to buy I realised for the first time that a wrinkle had suddenly appeared in the fabric of my new life.

Wine, or is it time, is a great healer. I can see now that the fault lies within me. My expectations were as high as the snow crusted mountains that I see everyday. This is deepest France and dammit, they did their best. I didn’t even mention the indoor boules or the pop up cinema and the smiling faces. I just concentrated on what wasn’t there.

Today I feel a bit better. In so many ways France is an absolute beauty. Its up to me to get my Christmas on, myself…and maybe next year book a flight back to Bath to see the Christmas Market again, if I feel the need. Meanwhile, I’m off outside to decorate the holly tree!

❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄

Photo gallery:

Our pool is starting to be built! Here you can see the pile of concrete and steel etc

and above is where the pool will be. The wall is going to be knocked down so we can see the pool from the house. Digging starts this week!!!😬

Instead of Christmas baubles, we are hanging fat balls on these trees for the birds. The blue tits visit everyday and also Robin no.2.

This beautiful photo wasn’t, alas, taken by me. I asked on Facebook for photos from people’s back gardens in France to show me the snow I am missing and this, amoung others, was posted! 

Hope all is well with you? Have a lovely week,

Madame Becs ⛄

Cocktail sausage sized dogs

When we were examining the possibility of buying our new house, we both were aware that we were, in UK terms, at least, going to be fairly far from the sea. Being near water is something we both love and we had to find a way to satisfy this need; having the odd weekend away beside the sea solves this conundrum. It also means we get to stroll around, popping in and out of bars that take our fancy, rather than one of us having to stay sober and drive us home.

Biarritz ticked both those boxes, being lively, full of history and glamour and lying right next to the water. Hearing seagulls high up above us was wonderful; France is so clean there isn’t a bin ripping, scavenging seagull issue like we have in the UK. They just fly past, beadily.

Our airbnb was in Anglet, just a 15 minute walk from town and its a sweet burb, with shops and restaurants. On the recommendation of our airbnb host we went to the nearest eaterie, which was 2 mins from our Lurve Pad:

Cripes, the food was good! I had those salt bejeweled padron peppers, then tuna steak encrusted in black sesame seeds, far too much wine and coffee so strong you could break a tooth on it. Then, hazily, we staggered down to the sea in the dark and gulped in the salty air and…hit the beach bars! I dimly remember the night after this; saffron gin was involved and possibly cointreau. All good fun!

However, all this carousing meant I was feeling slightly fragile the next day. 🤑Briskly walking along the beach definitely helped alot though. Its quite hilly in places, Biarritz, and this made the slog up to St Martins 16th Century church a bit of an effort. The outside is very plain, but just look at the stained glass:

Despite many of the buildings being white, my impression is of bold splashes of colour and art. Here is an eye-catching statue:

and a derelict building had been painted with magnificent colour, like anarchistic beach huts:

Talking of beach huts, people were surfing:

and, the next day, we saw scores of people run into the sea and swim right out to big rocks near to the statue of the Virgin:

Looking at these two photos side by side shows the difference in the weather very starkly. It was perishing on the Saturday, it has to be said and for a minute there, the idea of staying tucked up in bed watching the rain thunder on the sky light of our Lurve Pad was very appealing. However, the lure of Biarritz was such that we endured the cold. We even had drinks outside the Casino and watched the French promenade with their cocktail sausage size dogs. Sorry, no dogs in this pic, but imagine them if you need.. 🐩

On our way back we went to visit the Russian Orthodox church that was opposite what was the Imperial Palace built by Empress Eugenie. It was shabby and chilly, but still worth a look:

Lourdes do the holy water thing with rather more flourish, it has to be said:

That night, the rain set in so we ate locally again at a fancy Italian restaurant, that was so busy we didn’t get seated till 10ish. Drinking Aperol Spritzes helped pass the time. We have these whenever possible; it reminds us of our amazing weekend in Venice.

Blessed with glorious sun on Sunday, we packed up and headed out to see the Virgin statue on a rock.  I have to say that Sunday was my favourite day. I found Biarritz in the sun to be quite a dazzling place, alive with light and wonder and kept only glimpsing this the day before. Just look at the Rocher de la Vierge:

We saw the famous landmark house:

Many of the houses had a fairytale look to them:

Lets imagine Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald stayed in one of these, or perhaps Brigitte Bardot?

We rounded off our visit with a look at St Jean de Luz, just a few miles down the road. What a pretty place, reminiscent of Dartmouth, perhaps?

So, we headed away from the sea and back towards the mountains, which are covered in snow. Liam is planning to go snow boarding this weekend and….snow is forcast here, in our little corner of sunny, rural France, this Friday!! Our cat, Madame Luna, still hasn’t seen any snow, ever, so she’s hopefully in for a big ole treat!! ☃⛄⛷❄

Bon Soir, mes amis,

Empress Rehbehka

Everything grows like #@*+ here

We’ve just come back from our french lesson. Its a fun two hours and my brain feels slightly less sluggish. I would say that its quite a big ask of oneself to not only move house, move country but also start to absorb another language. I’m learning to be less demanding on myself. For instance, I hate being late for things and I hate being lost. I was both of those things last week. I was invited for coffee and tapped the gps coordinates, checked how long it would take to get there and set off. 

An hour and a half later I was still driving, sweat pooling under my arms, hair frizzelled in my stress aura, eyes nailed to the road ahead. I finally arrived at the correct destination, exploded into the house, apologies bursting out of me and the host just said ‘you’re here now, thats all that matters’. She exuded calm, as she walked around with bare feet (they have underfloor heating) and I felt the anxiety ooze out of me like hot, orange oil. I was also late to pick Liam up from the airport. ‘Don’t worry about it’ he said, as he hopped into the car. And right now, sitting in the back garden, drenched with sunlight, I resolve to try not to get hot and bothered again.

I had a few days in the house on my own while Liam was away and I had built it up to be such a big, scary thing…in the countryside on my own, totally dark, huge empty house, etc etc….and in the end, the time flew. I made some curtains

 did gardening, saw friends, boxsetted. Its a friendly, old house too and the cat looked after me very well and temporarily suspended her mouse/vole slaughtering tendencies. I only ate bread and blue cheese; its not a big wow to cook for one.

One of my indulgences from the UK is the Sainsbury’s Magazine, which arrives each month. There was one recipe which I had to try straight away… Christmas Gin! 

Take a sterilised jam jar and put in a good double slug of gin and a heaped tea spoon of sugar. Add a few cloves, some Clementine peel and some lime zest. In the recipe, there is talk of pareing the zest with a veg peeler, but that didn’t work. Anyway, give it a good shake and stick it in the fridge till required. Next, the good bit. 

Put a coupla ice cubes in your glass, a slice of Clementine, a good dash of orange blossom water, strain the gin and top up with tonic. Its sooo good. Here’s the picture of the delightful lady from the magazine clutching a gin she clearly made earlier:

I feel very lucky to now have workshop space:

This is a really brilliant thing; there’s nothing more annoying when you are creating than to have to tidy away at the end. If you are on Pinterest, you can see what I plan to get up to in the very near future. Just search Rebecca Shields.

We’ve had a few cold days, with frost

and ordered more wood. Every crevice in the house is now stashed with logs:

I went to Toulouse Ikea and loaded up with candles and Christmas garlands, and Occitan doormats:

Everyday there is more visible snow on the mountains and Piau-Engaly resort (an hour from here) is opening this weekend. I can hear my Dad shivering from here, he loathes and abominates the snow 😬 , but it seems very lovely to me, even though I can’t ski. We associate the South of France with warmth and al fresco living, but the Autumn is exquisite and Winter is looking to be marvellous and is a relief to have respite from all the buggage that summer brings. The number of card games we had to take inside from the terrace because of the crowds of moths and wasps and mozzies and flies! 

Here’s a view of the little garden my mum and I created when she came over to visit. All the plants are bedding in nicely; as someone pithily said ‘ everything grows like #@*¢ here’:

I’m off now, errands to run, more curtains to make and nails to paint. Hope your week has gone well. I urge you to try the gin recipe and let me know what you think 😍

Au reservoir (any Mapp and Lucia fans out there?)

Madame Becs

Moles, oui, sanglier, non

Well, good news. Another plump robin has appeared to replace the one that Madame le Chat savagely mangled. We have ordered her a collar with a spangly bell just to give the critters a fighting chance. The vole/mouse catch count is still quite high. We generally manage to rescue the little beasts and return them outside, often only with a few chunks missing.

 We appear to have swung straight into Autumn/Winter and we are both mostly to be found in thick woolies. I saw a rainbow the other day amoung all the roiling clouds:

 I do wonder if it feels particularly cold because we have got used to being so boiling hot all the time? 

We have transformed our dining room into a Winter sitting room by dint of bringing in our garden furniture

 and so far have sat here every night, with internet radio on. The other night we had bluegrass radio on from deepest darkest America; right now its a salsa channel. We had fondue in front of the fire the other night and homemade lemon meringue pie and ice cold cava from our trip to Spain:

I finished my dancing lady at my fabric sculpting class.

The stuff you saturate the fabric in is called Paverpol and you have enough time to tweak and twiddle with the fabric before it sets solid. I am very pleased with my Spanish dancer, I have to say, and am excited by the possibilities she represents.

We always promised ourselves little weekend jaunts away to break up the quietness of our rural retreat. Funny, now we’re here, we realise that actually our new life is anything but quiet and unchallenging, but we still fancy stretching our legs. We are booked into an airbnb flat in Biarritz in a couple of weeks!!!We’ll see the sea, eat tapas, wander from bar to bar and even see shops!!

Thanks to a very fab new friend, we’ll also be going to opera in Toulouse in the New Year, an extract of The Ring Cycle and Carmen. 

Near to us is Lac d’Asterac; a local nature reserve and lake that I’ve mentioned before. The wind was shaking the trees today and rain was threatening ; perfect for a walk. We parked at the far right edge of the lake and admired the natural sulpture trail

 then walked along the beach till we could get up amoung the trees and look what we found!

Its an adult den complete with a couple of deckchairs stashed down the side, a barbecue with a log pile, oil lanterns and even a sign tacked onto a tree that says La Plage. I guess it would be amazing in the summer to hide away up there amoung the trees in the summer and look out over the lake. I wonder who built it?

Our new french neighbour Martine came up for drinks and we cracked open our fancy new gin that Mike and Maz bought us. Cripes, its niiicce 🤗 Martine was very patient with us and we only had to resort to google translate twice. Her garden is very exposed and has been truffled up by naughty wild boar. Our garden is littered with acorns, but thus far, touch wood, we have escaped wild boarage. Moles, oui, sanglier, non. Martine has three cats and one of them, we call him Stumpy, appears to have a death wish and leaps out in front of our car as we go past. We now know to creep past Stumpy’s house; we wish other drivers would do the same.

I’ll finish with this beautiful pic of the mountains. Everyday when they decide to grace us with their presence (you’ll understand when you come and visit; there are days when its as if the mountains simply aren’t there) you can see a little more snow:

Well, I could ramble on a bit more, but I’m going to have a couple of rounds of Boggle with Monsieur Shields.

Have a lovely week,

Madame Becs 😆

My kitchen smells really tasty, with veggie sausage rolls baking in the oven. With the help of yummy smells, the glow and warmth from the fire, we are as cosy as we have ever been.

You will know that I love this time of year the most and I am curious as to how a winter in our new life will measure up. So far, so good;  Halloween was fun and spooky
 closely followed by a new tradition, All Saint’s Day where all Saints are celebrated and the living visit their honoured dead. We popped into our local cimitaire and saw the wonderful profusion of flowers that  turned it into a glorious sight:

Posters are starting to appear about local Christmas Markets ; both Trie and Castelnau markets are meant to be fabulousness incarnate…. loads of stalls, vin chaud, Père Noel. When I think back to the magical transformation that comes over Bath when the Christmas market is set up I have a slight pang, but I also  remember how impossible it is to  park in town, and how it seems to  be the same stalls each year. We’ll get our Christmas cheer a plenty, but without the crushing commercialism and stress.The supermarkets are starting to put out Christmas chocs…look at this display of pick and mix Lindt I saw yesterday

but its all very restrained so far. However, we do have a bit of a problem; the cat killed our friendly robin the other day 😣 and we are still very sad. Can we have Christmas without a robin??

In no particular order, its been a great week. I went to a fabric sculpting course and am making a Spanish dancer sculpture out of wire, pulverised foil, masking tape and resin and clay and fabric. I’m finishing her off this week, but here’s a look at the skeleton:

The potential for this type of craft is massive. Just look at these hares which are made using the same method:

It was brilliant to be doing something creative and sculptural; its inspired me.

I was also very impressed by the new choir being set up in the next village. We were all very focused, I think, and it felt a tremendously positive space. Singing makes you feel good anyway, but this choir had lots of sparkle and people with seriously good voices.

Liam and I went to our local cinema to see The Square, which is a witty exposè of the pretentious of some art exhibitions. It had cameo roles for Dominic West and Elizabeth Moss, but was mostly in French. At times it was unsettling, perspicacious and bitingly funny and unexpected, especially the gorilla scene. I’ve been wanting to go to the cinema since before we moved; its in an old nunnery and feels really special and cherished, with lots of old posters and baskets of pumpkins on the stage. And the best bit, no annoying ads for car insurance and the like. We got comfy up in the balcony, chatted for a few minutes, then bouf, the lights went out, a couple of trailers were shown, then the film rolled. We loved the whole experience and will be going again soon:

To top our week off, we finally made the trek to Spain. It takes just over an hour and the scenery is superb so you spend your whole looking at stuff like mountains and cool houses. On a recommendation from a friend we headed for Bossost. Its very pretty:

and…also on the recommendation from the same friend, we had an absolute treat of a lunch. We went to  Er Occitan, which is just tucked away behind the main street. Can you believe that we were sat right next to a lovely couple that we knew? Its hard to know who was more surprised. They’ve been coming for special treats and went yesterday just because..and bumped into us. It really enhanced the whole occasion for us; their pleasure in the restaurant spoke volumes. What a lunch! Fresh, imaginative, multi layered, with amuse bouche’s of olives with local vermouth and smokey oysters

and fresh bread, home pressed olive oil, local cheeses…as a self professed foodie, I was in heaven and Liam really liked it too. The view from the window was confusing though, looking exactly like Wales, or perhaps Ironbridge. Particularly after my really strong aperitif, I was slightly displaced, I think, particularly since we weren’t even in France anymore!! Anyway, here’s a couple of pictures of my lunch, just to tickle your taste buds:

I can’t recommend this dining experience highly enough and can’t wait to go again!

The other thing you do when you go to Spain is go to the supermarket as its a darn sight cheaper than here in France. We couldn’t find a need for this behemoth of whiskey, but looked anyway:

and, I kid you not, you can buy wine and sangria from draught taps:

We came home with blue pastis, as you do!

I’m slightly disappointed it doesn’t stain your tongue blue, but it does taste like the blue aniseed licorice allsorts, so all good.

Just finished reading Exit West by Moshin Hamid and Toute Soul by Karen Wheeler. I liked both, but loved the latter, mirroring as is does, my experiences so far in France. I cried at the end; it was the kind of book you can just wallow in.

Phew, this has been a long blog. Hope you have a lovely week,

À bientot,

Madame Becs 😆

Holy Terrors!

We occasionally ask ourselves if we have really taken on board that we live here now, or does it still feel like we are on a very long vacation? The answer lies somewhere in the middle, but as we watch the seasons change and the nights draw in, it is reinforcing the fact that we are properly residents. I started noticing hints of autumn colour quite early; our conker tree started turning yellow and curly in August. But now, everyone has red plants in their garden and loads of berries:

You spotted the pumpkin? I always love Halloween, heralding as it does the wonders of Winter and we had a few friends over last night for drinks around the fire and ghostly stories to properly celebrate. And, right in the middle, a huge combine harvester roared passed and finally harvested the corn, barely 10 metres away from us! We whooped and cheered everytime he came to the end of a row. They are still at it now:

And today, we have a totally new landscape surrounding us:

We can now see the mountains from the downstairs windows and also when you are sitting down on the terrace. I found another great place to dine outside:

We had more visitors, my lovely sis and neices and at the same time, our friend and neighbour from back yonder. As a group of five women, we were holy terrors!!

We laid waste to Lourdes (with hindsight, maybe Karin hissing ‘abort, abort’ as a collecting bowl headed towards us in a chapel and us stumbling out, giggling helplessly, was not the most tactful moment ever) 😂. Travelling in a pack of women meant we never had to hurry past the tat shops, or explain why we needed to stop for yet another cup of tea. One of my favourite memories was of how I pulled up too far from the payage at the motorway toll and my neice simply rolled down the car window at the back and hung half in and half out as she fed in the coins.

I want to include this beautiful pic of all the vapour trails. As you get nearer to Toulouse, you are struck by how congested the sky becomes:

That was the day I finally moved my quest to get my healthcare sorted along and after dropping my family off at the airport, Liam and I went to the hospital in Auch and met my new consultant for my Crohns Disease. With the efficiency that seems to be a feature of France I had the chat, answered some questions and finally was given the holy grail, my prescription for Humira. And the cost for this hideously expensive drug is covered, because Crohn’s is a ‘maladie grave’ (serious condition) and is covered 100% once you have your social security number. Feel free to skim read this section, but I’m including it for any new readers who might be worried about jumping ship from the Uk to here. The answer is, bring 4 months worth of your meds, because you have to be here for three months before you qualify for your social security number. Then, quickly register with a local doctor and ask them to refer you to a consultant. This all happens pretty much straight away.

Now I can feel the stress ebbing away. We still don’t have our carte vitales, but we do have our attestations, which have our temporary numbers on them. I have to say that we were given invaluable help navigating this bureaucracy and would recommend anyone who is moving here with a serious health condition does the same. Its simply too important to not get it right first time.

Right, back to fun stuff. I have a nice week lined up: meeting a friend for coffee at Mirande market, going to an art course, going to the new choir and going to the Teapot to discuss what our next craft project is going to be.

As I write, night has fallen and its a little chilly. BUT just look at what our boy in Estonia had happen last week….snowfall of 15cms!!!

Have a lovely week. This blogging thing doesn’t have to be a one way street; drop me a text, send me an email; I always love to hear from you 😄

Your correspondent in the South West of France is signing out and slouching off to snuggle on the sofa to watch season 2 of Stranger Things!! But before I go, something wonderful happened last night. We heard migrating cranes fly overhead above our house in the dark. Now I feel we have truly arrived!

Its Praying Mantis season

I’ve just seen a Lounge of lizards lazily amble up and down our wall. Like them, I am sitting in the sun, which gently warms now, rather than dessicates. I am recognising an inner chilled core that has settled in me now. I still have moments of unease, such as navigating lane changes near Toulouse airport, but generally I am very tranquil.

The cat coped with her first trip to the vets, just to get her in the catty system

and I have had a french filling and another tomorrow. My new dentist was quick, efficient and twinkly. Although we haven’t yet got our carte Vitales ( health cards), we have got our social security numbers and this means I am now registered with a doctor and am off to see a gastro specialist next week. I am pretty impressed with the healthcare system so far…will let you know how it goes next week.

I think its a little while since I have blogged. I had lunch with my new girl friends here and was introduced to Cafe Gourmands, which are teensy coffees accompanied by mini puds. I gobbled them up too quick to take a photo, but this was lush too, fruit tarts in the sun at Castelnau market:

It seems ok to buy a cake, croissant etc at a stall, then sit at a cafe and scoff it.

We’ve just had another mini heatwave, which was perfect timing for our visitors. We did the mountains:

visited the spa again, strolled around Auch. Graves have been found just a foot under the ground right outside the cathedral:

The skellybones have been removed, but questions remain. Mediaeval monks, I reckon. On the way back to the car we came across a folk dancing gathering:

We would have joined in but everyone knew what they were doing with no callers. And sometimes its nice to just watch.

Talking about watching, on the way to Auch is a cornfield full of turkeys that peer interestedly through the wire

I guess I’ll see them get enplumpened over the next few weeks.

Lots is starting to happen here: a new choir is being held in the next village, I’m going to an art workshop, the writing group is about to meet for the first time, bookgroup is tonight…busy as an abeille!

Speaking about bees, its now Praying Mantis season:

I continue to get bitten by âoutats, but this is probably because I am going bravely into bramble thickets with the chainsaw. Here is an example of what we are having to tackle:

The dark cloud of plantage to the left is an explosion of brambles. Cutting them down gives me enormous pleasure and we find hidden bushes, such as this wonderful holly tree and uncover priceless views.

All our visitors get a Virtual Reality experience; we bought a headset just after we arrived. I’ve been a bit hands off, but I am pretty hooked at the moment. We bought a beautiful puzzle solving game called Luna and last night I was planting a landscape with trees and flowers and marvelling at how real it felt to gently submerge into the lake and move through the shallows, watching the fish and dragonflies. It doesn’t take much for vertigo to slay me though and my toes anxiously grip the floor as I stand on a sea of stars…

The neighbouring cows must be about to be fed/milked as I can hear them on the still air, above the woodpigeons and distant traffic hum. We’re still waiting for the corn in the field next to us  to be harvested; its dry as tinder. We had one eye on the brazier and another on the sparks as we sat in the back garden last week:

As I stock the fridge for our next lot of visitors I am reminded of the french saying we were taught yesterday:

Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre

(You can’t both eat the butter and sell it).

Very true.

À bientot 😄

Dew covered shrooms

I’m going to start this week’s blog with a funny story.

We finally had our first airbnb guest to stay in the gite and all was going well: nice chatting over a glass of wine in the front garden. Then we took our guest through to the front door of the gite, only to see that Luna- the- cat had left a big fat juicy mouse/doormouse right outside! Nice 😵

I am a planner and generally have thought of every outcome long before it happens. I had carefully organised a week of short and long trips for our family visitors last week but hadn’t even considered illness as a possibility. Thanks to a sneezy lady on the plane, both our guests went down with a nasty coldy bug, so we did quite a bit of quiet times sitting in our fabulous garden, drinking wine, which was really nice. Before the bug struck we did visit Lourdes again and this time found an amazing chapel thats mostly underground! Closely resembling the inside of a brutalist concrete whale, this chapel was enormous

and was hung with huge banners of saints of all descriptions:

I peered more closely at the huge mosaics outside the cathedral and realised that all the eyes are huge and fathomless, just like the cat’s, before she kills:

I remembered to take a pic of the glorious tackiness of the gift shops and this sums them up:

We did Seissan market with our guests and spent a fortune on the dried fruit and olives stall:

It all looked so unctious, as Nigella would say! We wore our special ‘going to market’ outfits:

We went out for dinner at an auberge in Sainte Blancard. It was all so pretty and promising:

 This is my review:

I really wanted to enjoy my evening here; I understand how important it is to give good reviews wherever possible to help support local businesses. This part of rural France is not overrun with tourists, it has to be said.

Our welcome was warm and the chat about the menu was informative and very helpful. All vegetarian​ options were pointed out, with emphasis on this directed at the two mature ladies in our party, who are the biggest carnivores going! 

We had plentiful bread and butter, breadsticks and tapenade to munch on while we waited for our starters. These were fine: prawn cocktail and soup are good, if unadventurous options. The mains reflected the diverse tastes of our party. The two carnivores had duck and steak, the husband and I had salmon and our son had pizza. So, my salmon was faultless, moist, well seasoned. Where it started to unravel for me was that I realised everything else on my plate was only so so. I am a chip fanatic; these chips were unremarkable in everyway. I had chosen salad. What arrived was lettuce, grated carrot, grated celeriac and tomato. It could have been better. I tried the vegetables on my husband’s plate, thinking I would have preferred them. But, courgettes, tomatoes and onion, heavily flavoured with thyme just doesn’t cut it either. Every other house you drive past in this part of France has an explosive vegetable garden. Plants grow so well here and this was not reflected on our plates.

Now the problems really started. We all finished and sat and waited for our plates to be cleared. We waited.. and waited….and waited…and in the end started to stack the plates ourselves. Oh, before you start to think that the restaurant was really busy, it wasn’t. There was only one other table of diners in there. They all seemed to be family members related to the owners, which is fine, but, hey, we were paying customers. After the plate clearing debacle puddings came pretty swiftly and it was fine to mix and match what we had.

We finished and sat politely and waited for our plates to be cleared…and waited… and waited.. and in the end had to cough and wave and holler to ask for the bill.

When we left, the chef/owner didn’t even look up from his chat with his mum to say thanks and goodbye, even though they were right next to us. We trooped out into the night feeling full but not uplifted.

I snapped a pic of Eden with a snazzy suit of armour right outside the restaurant:

I got to do lots of gardening this week and hacked back this tree, which turns out to be a bay tree!!

I woke up early one morning, the cat caught another mouse, and saw this beautiful cloud on the corn field:

and I thought you might like this photo of shaggy ink caps that popped up in our garden, which are indeed edible before they go all drippy and inky

We have had all manner of funghi growing in our garden and pharmacists here are trained to tell you which ones are edible or not. You simply walk into your chemist with a basket of dew covered shrooms and find out which will kill you and which won’t. 😬

Eden and I went on a trip to Les Grottes du Médous, near to the mountains. The start to our visit was inauspicious; the ticket guy simply swiveled one eye up towards us and kept the other one down on his hunting magazine. Next to him was a plate of gnawed bones, which was hopefully the remains of his lunch. Nervously we waited outside for something/someone to appear. In the distance we could see a little old lady sweeping up autumn leaves.

Then, up bounced Monsieur le Tour Guide and everything got better. He looked just like a French Willy Wonka and my abiding memory is of his laugh that cascaded out of him at any opportunity and filled the caverns with light! He conducted the whole tour in french but made sure we understood and were involved in his jokes. We saw rock formations in the shape of dragons and Buddha’s and marvelled at underground lakes and bats. We even got to go on a boat ( ‘The Love Boat haaah ha ha’). I can’t show you a picture, as photos aren’t permitted, but it was pretty brilliant and worth a visit.

Now, the absolute highlight of our week, again without pictures, sorry. We went to Aquensis spa in Bagnères de Bigorre and it was delicious!!! The design is brilliant, reminiscent of a Viking longship. Wood, water, lights and frothy bubbles everywhere. The pool downstairs is a triumph, with currents, sprays, fountains and jacuzzis and the life guard looks like he is in a dj booth and controlled all the watery delights. There are jacuzzis and saunas on the roof, a pool that plays underwater jazz and…a hamman! This is a wierd experience: totally steamed up, you are drawn to the sound of running water and eventually find a cool grotto and sink into it beneath the billowing steam and just wallow there in relief. There’s hot mint tea on tap, just to add that finishing touch of luxury.

Thats all my news and how was your week?

It might be nudging Autumn, but the sun is back out again and we are enjoying life en plein air once again. More visitors are, as I write, on their way from Toulouse to stay with us for a week, so I just fancy sitting blogging to you, while I have a quiet moment.

The gite garden is finished! I love popping round to see what is starting to bed in. Look, the blue lanterns have really started to grow! 😄

Sid the snake is still in situ, but short of reaching under the concrete slab he calls home and dragging him out, hissing and screaming, he can live there, just as long as he minds his own snakey business.

My veg patch is holding its own, but slugs have had a munch of a couple of the lettuces, the filthy swine! My first lot of radishes have started to pop up. Its very exciting.

On the theme of gardens, Eden and I visited Les Jardins de la poterie Hillen, just down the road from Castelnau. We loved our visit there so much; it was quirky, elegant and colour coordinated and we can’t wait to go again. Here’s a flavour:

There are about four mini lakes and see what I mean about use of colour

I liked this mad apothecary shelf installation:

and just look at the veggies

One of the lovely things about this garden is that there are seats everywhere. You just start to feel a bit hot, a bit weary, then, bammm, like magic, there’s a seat. We found a ceramic chess board all set up under a shady tree

We are starting to broaden our horizons a bit and went to Bar 65 in Castelnau. There’s a wonderful aperitif made locally, called Floc. Its fortified wine and armangnac. I only had a beer at Bar 65, but we had a peek at the menu and I spotted Floc and yesterday we picked up a bottle. Its delish. 

On a friend’s recommendation we headed to Simorre to go to a tapas bar that is really good. We checked out the night market and tried homemade orange blossom macarons. Here’s the bag that had the macarons in:

Simorre has a very arty vibe, a bit like Totnes, only tiny. We sat in the square for drinks and felt pretty chilled

I decided to go and check on our booking for Wine Notes, only to find that it was shut, indefinitely, if my reading of the sign on the door was correct. Disaster! We headed into the bar where we had been chilling and asked if we could have dinner…and was it a problem that we didn’t eat meat ( this is rural France, after all)…after a slightly awkward wait the waiter said yes we could have dinner at half seven. Sitting back outside we discussed a bit anxiously what we were to eat, as we couldn’t see a menu. I quickly trip advisored and discovered that Le Bouche a l’oreille is a fabulous bistro, with a brilliant chef and the food is all cooked fresh on the day, with just one set menu. We relaxed then and had the most fabulous meal. 

We had this as a starter:

mini veg cooked in a cream and tarragon sauce (I think) for main, then look, feast your eyes on my pudding!

The fruit leather was embossed like an Italian leather bound book, I could taste basil in the sweet sushi and the flower tasted of turkish delight. And the man that made the wine was at the next table!

I enjoyed myself so much and loved the community vibe, with people popping in and out and kissing each other loudly, kids playing games next door and in the street and, the best thing, we could only hear french voices. I sound a bit rude there, but its very common to hear Brits wherever you go. My friend and I were saying we purse our mouths like um…cat’s bums when we hear a fellow expat talking loudly in the supermarket. 

My first line dancing class was fun and run entirely in french. It was pretty easy initially, but got way harder. What a laugh though! And yes, I shall go back. You have to get your doctor to sign a form to say you are fit and well and this is true for every activity you want to do. You can’t be too careful 😆

A good week, had new friends around for drinks. I like getting recommendations and they told us about a fabulous spa. We will report back on this shortly!!

Have a lovely week,

😆Xxxxx