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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 both eat the butter and sell it).

Very true. 

À bientot 😄

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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

I’m writing this with hands that are slightly stained brown; our walnut tree is dropping its bounty and I have been scrabbling amoung the nettles to collect the nuts. The garden has had centre stage this week. My mum has been staying with us and we have created two gardens: a veg patch and a garden for people staying in the gite

The gite garden just needs gravel over the weed suppresser layer. This is how it used to look:

and this is it now:

There are herbs, strawberries, a fig, Hebes, jeebies and ground cover plants. I  am sooo pleased and feel marginally more in control of the garden than the other way round! Huge thanks to my mum, who master minded the creation of both new gardens. I have been badly bitten by harvest mites and after consulting gardeners on Facebook, have developed coping strategies, such as smearing on Vicks vapour rub and adding tea tree oil to Avon Skin so Soft. You can smell me coming for miles. These bites pale into insignificance when I say my mum kind of got bitten by a snake!!! 😬

The lack of clarity is because she felt a sucky vacuum feeling and then yanked her finger away. That said, she has a puncture mark, so contact was made. We tried to remove venom, but nothing came out, so she is an incredibly lucky lady. 

Its been a great visit. Living here has smoothed some of my sharp corners and made me relax, I think. Consequently, here is a picture of my mum and I that I never could have imagined being taken, even a year ago:

And where are we? Back up in the mountains, La Mongie, where we’ve been before. Blimey, what a difference a few weeks make…it was freezing! Six degrees, I kid you not. Here are Eden and I, recreating a photo we posed for earlier in the summer

Its wierd wearing so many clothes. We”ve had so long being molten to our very core and now we are so close to switching our heating on and lighting our four woodburners (#stealthboasting!!!!).

My mum and I went to the market at Castlenau and bought plants for the garden and then had a bit of a wander. We found a great junk shop, with statues for sale like this one:

Imagine having that in your house! Freaky or what 😵? What was good was that everything was displayed really well, with a flair for the dramatic. Its just down from the Tabac.

Don’t laugh, but I am starting Line Dancing this week:

Its going to be brilliant; I ‘m going with two lovely new friends, one of whom pointed out that as the lessons are in french, I will be learning more vocab as well. Fine, as long as its not ‘ omg, you are terrible, have three left feet, are as uncoordinated as a Pelham puppet…’

My new book group starts tomorrow; I really don’t know how many people will come, but hopefully enough. We’re doing A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; I think I have mentioned it before? Blo#&@ brilliant. Totally immersive read. I can’t stop reading at the moment. Perhaps I feel we have done enough to the house for now and can take my foot off the pedal a bit. I now get the Guardian Weekly  and  the Sainsbury’s Magazine, both of which make me feel connected to my old world.

Do you remember me talking about getting into the system and proving we live here and won’t be a burden on the French healthcare system? We are a bit nearer. Basically nothing happens till you have been here for three months, which is actually today! We’ve hit a couple of solveable problems, along the lines of names on birth certificates and lack of birth parents on birth certificates…but we have a brilliant lady helping us. You can find her online: feetinfrance

I’ll leave you with another creepy photo:

On the way to La Mongie there is a village entirely populated by nearly life size dolls. You see them peeping out of curtains, sitting outside cafes, climbing walls. We’ve been through twice now….and we’ve never seen a living, breathing human!!

Hail seitan! How vegan food got down’n’dirty

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/05/hail-seitan-how-vegan-food-got-downndirty?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WordPress

I got off at Stalingrad

It is to be expected, me hitting a low patch. Moving house is huge, moving country is stratospherically huge. I felt very rough when Finn headed back to his life in Estonia. It really helped having friends round for drinks, it helped having Liam’s birthday to celebrate and it helped going down to our fabulous neighbours for yet more drinks ( and figs stuffed with blue cheese). 

But what has really cheered me up was going to Paris!!! Liam had to go there for work, so I decided to go along for the ride, both literally and figuratively, because we were to drive his new work car back home, hundreds of miles.

We flew into Charles de Gaulle airport and then thought we’d simply plop onto a train and arrive at our destination- I am of the SatNav generation, after all. Hmmmm, its quite bewildering to arrive and try to fathom out where to go. We did get a lot of help and maps:

and as you can see, its similar to the London Underground. Blimey, look at one of the trains we went on:

The ceiling kept changing colour, like a disco train.

With Liam gone early the next day, I headed out intrepidly. I have been to Paris before, when I did my art course at college, but its a different buquet of grenouille when you are on your ownsome. I had decided not to do all the obvious stuff, having done Louvre etc before, but couldn’t resist hopping off the metro to snap the Eiffel Tower:

I then decided to head for Notre Dame, knowing that I could find the Left Bank from there. I thought it would be nice to stroll along the Seine…but the stroll turned me into a bright red, puffing sweatball, which was not the look I was cultivating at all!
I struggled with identifying where the entrance to the Metro is, I felt panicky by all the people and traffic and sank gratefully into a Pret a Manger for a restorative crayfish sandwich ( ècrevisse). And then I got it together. Got my Big Girl pants on, as my sister would say. A friendly taxi driver pointed out the metro and then I was by Notre Dame!

From there it was a totter over the road to…aahh.. the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop! I have been wanting to come here ever since I read about it ages ago and it didn’t disappoint:

I creaked up and down the rickety stairs, looked at sepia photos of famous literary figures ( its worth a quick google), gasped at the huge mark up on the prices, then went next door to the adjacent cafe and drank Earl Grey tea and read my book for ages, knowing that it was not only fine to do so, but everyone else was doing it too. That, incidentally, is a lovely thing about being by yourself; you can just plonk down and dive into a book:

I needed a restorative glass of rosé and a chat with my dad after that, and found the perfect pavement café. I do love the whole way you are treated here; you are welcomed and looked after so unobtrusively by the waiters that fetch your drinks to you, the bill madame? and it just is so nice.

Oh, drama!
The weather nosedived and I was forced to take shelter in Notre Dame while a storm raged. I sat quietly at the back as a mass took place and felt all Bridesheady. The lights were very pointedly dimmed after the service (time for God to go home?) and all of us were turfed out into the swirling rain. Bravely I found another bar and again got top service from the waiter and drank red wine till Liam turned up after work.
I showed him the sights, we had a so so fondue and french onignion soupe, with the stinkiest cheese toasts.. bleurgh..
The next day, hankering for green spaces, I headed for the 19th arrondissement, getting off at Stalingrad. I picked it because its a) less touristy b) has parks and c) has one of the pop up beaches. Oh joy, I had such a great time. To start with, the area feels a bit like Bristol Docks. I had coffee overlooking the water:

Then I found the beach. It lines both sides of the river and there was a pool the other side, and both sides had beach huts, deck chairs, sand, cafes, toddlers in stripy t shirts.  

I loitered here a fair while, read a bit more book, then went to find the Buttes Chaumont, which was leafy, had ducks and a great lake and a viewing point over Paris:

This was a very lovely way to spend my time. I simply wandered and passed strange sights

and a guy who was using a bench as a cooking table and had spread all his ingredients out and was chopping and frying and listening to the radio, in his own master chef bubble.

I reluctantly left this green lung and went to Montmartre and waited for Liam. I don’t know how I do it ..I found another nice waiter and drank lots of beer till Liam turned up. Its a hard life 😁

Montmartre is a bit touristy and the road leading up to the Sacre Coeur rivals Lourdes in tackiness, but the church is lovely:

We tipsily ate out at a posh very French eaterie and then, as luck would have it, found we were in the Red light district and stumbled across the real Moulin Rouge!

The next day we drove hundreds of miles back home. Our new car is awful. Its a temporary pool car and stinks of fags so was promptly christened Belle (French word for bin is Poubelle). Its covered in dings, so I can’t make it look any worse, I suppose. Still, she got us home.

Garden news: the yucca had her white flower then fell over in the same storm we had in Paris:

We’ve propped her up with the luggage trolley for now. And we have spotted three more shoots popping out of this yucca, then a whopper is emerging from the next yucca!! Liam collected our first walnut:

We had a brilliant day and evening with good friends of ours, Mike and Sabine, who drove all the way from La Grande Motte, a seaside town designed by architect Jean Balladur in the 70’s and has pyramids! We cooked fish stew on our stove in the garden and listened to music very loudly… because we can 😆

Eyes popping slightly

Life goes on. A quick word picture for you: swallows fly purposefully overhead, birds chatter in distant trees. The odd vapour trail marks the powder blue sky. Its half seven and the early evening light is golden where it hits the walls. The cat is curled up, signalling perfect peace

Its been a lovely week. We’ve had two sets of visitors


 and seeing the house and garden through their eyes makes it all feel very lovely again. I don’t mean I don’t still madly love it, but what with the killer caterpillars, hornets nest, mozzie bites and gnawing noises in the beams, its sometimes hard to remember the joy. Having visitors helps you recalibrate, I reckon. With our first set of visitors, we simply chilled: swam a bit, cooked alot, did the odd teeny trip out, such as to Castelnau, completely forgetting it was a bank holiday. The only place open was the Hotel Dupont and we sat next to a table of Brits (bloomin noisy!!!) deep in their cups of beer. The same way that lizards make a run for it when they see anyone approach, we tend to clamp our mouths tight shut when a Brit approaches, say in Lidl, and just breath through our noses, eyes popping slightly, till the danger is past!

That said, I am so very grateful to a couple of my countrymen, who are going to be helping us get our van on the road and get rid of all the uninvited critters free loading in our house, grrrrrr.

We did do a day trip to the African Safari park near Toulouse. I will say that it was sweet, well organized and interesting, but its not a patch on Longleat Safari Park. Liam was terrified of driving through the park with the hire car, very sensibly pointing out how the monkeys at Longleat clamber all over your car, pulling anything they can off, but really, we were perfectly safe. Not only was it ridiculously hot, but all the animals were behind electronic fences. We did feel quite close to the park inhabitants:

Maybe we might have liked a bit more fenceage with these bad boys, for example; I’m not sure an electric fence would have stopped them if they had wanted to get out of the pool…

We’ve been playing lots of chess in the shade:

The garden continues to keep on giving. Look at these pretty pink flowers that just randomly pop up:

and this beast that just emerged the other day

We were sent these amazing biscuits the other day:

I’ll just put the kettle on, and catch up next week xxxxx

French homegrown figs

Its funny, but it can be hotter here at five, than in the middle of the day. We’re not suffering the catastrophic heat that is frying Spain and Italy, but its hot enough today to be seeking shade at 18.40. Last Monday we had the most violent storm I have ever experienced. The first wave coloured the night sky violet with orange flashes and there was a moment when we all heard an approaching roar in the dark, had just enough time to say ‘what’s that noise?’ then suddenly a wall of rain crashed towards us. As a family, we legged it, only to realise the cat was cowering under the outside sofa and we all stood shakily at the back door calling her, rain gobbeting all around us. Then….a second storm erupted, with lighting so bright it burnt our eyes and flashes came every heartbeat. And it hailed!

Now, the sky is a delicious blue and the air is still and I ate my first French homegrown fig. We used to have a fig tree at Rigby House in Norwich and these taste just the same. I am planning a lunch tomorrow with melon, cheese and honey and figs. 😆 We had such a great snack yesterday in Sainte-Lary’s:

We found a fancy bar, with a balcony and drank beer. Sainte-Lary’s is our nearest ski resort and we piled into the car to take a gander. The town itself is further above sea level than Mount Snowdon, but is spread out at the foot of the mountains, so we drove up as far as we could:

A group of lads strode passed, weighed down by massive ruck sacks, which turned out to be parachutes for paragliding! We watched the sky fill with neon frowns, drifting down to the valley below:

Seeing the ski lift trundling down was brilliant

Not far from Lary’s is a big tunnel that takes you to Spain. We’ve left that adventure for another day. That, by the way, neatly illustrates the difference between being on a very long holiday and realising we actually live here; there is always another day to explore our new world. Talking to other arrivistes makes me realise that we haven’t really done that much yet; with the husband working, we only do trips out at the weekend…but, no rush 😄

I did finally get to check out a local market though, just down the road. Its a sweet village called Castlenau Magnoac and holds its market on a Saturday. 

The village is very attractive

and has a magnificent cross.

Youngest and I have been playing i spy Jesus on the cross all summer, admiring the diversity of materials and colour. This one is a 10pts, I reckon. 

Trying to rescue Sleeping Beauty from behind her thicket of thorns, or, more prosaically, trying to bring the garden under control, is proving to be a herculean task, or even a Sisyphean task:

We have gone from thinking one of us can chop, while the other chomps ( puts branches etc through the shredder to be composted) to now thinking the best we can do is simply stack everything we chop in a big pile and then have a massive bonfire in October, when all the crops have been harvested. There is literally layer upon layer of cascading brambles and ivy choking the trees. And who knew that mimosa trees could spread just like bamboo, which we also have, sending up shoots in the blink of an eye? 

The cat loves the garden and comes on walks with us, climbing trees to show off. She has even turned her hand to playing poker in her bid to become more human. Her mouse tally is rising. 7 kills and counting (3000 to go, we are a bit infested 🤔. That’s what you get for living in the country side, sigh).

Hoping you have a sun drenched week 😎

I worried that I might hit a week where I have nothing to relate, apart from ‘gosh, it was hot’ and I did some gardening, but actually, things have a way of filling your days, so I think there will always be something to write about.

My head is still full of smokey tendrils from reading A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It was an intense, painful book to experience; I felt bereft when I finished and keep returning to it in my thoughts. I rather think it is not a book for everyone as it can feel overwhelming and relentless and I can indeed imagine one friend hurling it into a metaphorical bin, with a snort of ‘How bloody depressing!’ but for me I believed in the writing so completely that the characters are almost people I might have known. There is merchandise, t shirts and the like and I am quite tempted, just as a way of keeping them with me a bit longer.

Anyway, back to the South of France. My little tiny village of 326 people was swelled by loads of party goers with a night of fabulous gypsy music:

and the day after, in the next village, there was a Fete of ancient times, with people in costume, recreations of a school room and lots of art and tat:

And sunbathing fat geese:

And really furry chickens:

And old vehicles:

I couldn’t resist this photo of old bikes:

We’ve been swimming in the municipal pool, which is just down the road. It is now packed with brown smiling bodies of all shapes and sizes, as kids are on their grande vacances.

Oh, I will just mention our favourite cake shop, in Saissan. Each time we walk towards it we think it will be shut; its not that it’s unwelcoming, it just has a very quiet aura, very relaxed about attracting passing trade. Its just near the pizza emporium on the corner. Anyway, you cautiously push open the door, see it is open, then smile and drool. Its very simple fare, but delicious:

My current favourite is the coffee or chocolate religieuses (éclairs). Actually, my phrase there, ‘ its simple fare, but delicious’ sums up all my foodie experiences so far in France. For instance, yesterday in Toulouse, we had veggie and also salmon burgers at a place opposite the market and they were so tasty: perfect chips, nice salad and brioche buns and moist salmon. No apologies for talking about food in this blog and no simpering about weight worries. Its good food here in la belle france and I intend to delight in every mouthful 😆

So, critter of the week award goes to this guy:

Award for gadget of the week goes to this petrol generator. It means we can finally cut back all the brambles at the ends of the gardens ( yes, the plurals are deliberate )

We spent a happy morning chopping down our poor old fig tree, that collapsed in a storm. The smell was pure Jo Malone, peppery, exotic and fragrant. I roasted some of the baby figs, chutnied some and pickled some:

Can you believe this? A car pulled up and a very tidy, middle aged pair got out, with shiny glasses and ruffles and high waisted beige trews. They wanted to talk to me about God and were Jehovah’s Witnesses! In rural France!!! It turned out I was very busy, so they tootled off, but how surprising!

Another surprise was how gorgeous Toulouse is. I previously associated it with the airport and being very stressed by the motorway, but, the very pink, beating heart is really lovely. We simply wandered around, popping into dark churches to cool down:

The architecture is stunning:

I loved all the views of roads going off to exciting places

and look at this door knocker

I recommend this ice cream Parlour:

and I loved my lime and basil sorbet, which was like a mojito in food form. Mmnnnn

I’ll leave you with this goofy picture of Luna, with one of her favourite humans.

Lime green Madonnas

Its a lazy sunday morning; Liam is out cycling, the rest of the family is still asleep. We’re having a lazy day because… yesterday, we went to Lourdes!!!! Its been on my to do list for a very long time and not because I’m a Catholic (I’m not), but because I love ritual, churches, history. This did not disappoint 😆 

Fittingly, we stuffed a quick Lidl picnic into our mouths before arriving. Travelling as a pack of five is considerably more expensive than two. For example, six drinks in a caff in Lourdes was €22!!! Fittingly, because Lourdes is, in places, staggeringly grotty. The main drag to the Sanctuary is an explosion of glow in the dark giant rosaries and lime green Madonnas. Its kitch with bells on. And I loved this aspect of it, although, interestingly, didn’t buy anything. We are looking for a religious icon to go in our alcove, but it wasn’t to be found in Lourdes. But what was there was atounding. 

There’s so much bling and pomp, it makes your eyes pop!

We were staggered by the sheer volume of people there…nuns all in white, volunteers pushing people in wheelchairs, delegations from Ireland and Salford…all of a very specific strip of humanity was there and it was very impressive. We followed devout ladies into the sacred grotto, filing past a priest doing a huge outside mass and also touched the smooth, dripping sacred wall. We didn’t see St Bernadette, but we had a lovely, albeit boiling hot day. 

We took ourselves back into Auch for dinner one night. Its such a pretty place and we always manage to find somewhere to park.Look at this artwork on a high up window:

And see how pretty it is at night:

We went back to the same pizza place as on Bastille night, because they are darned fine pizzas and the owner looks like Iggy Pop. 

Its on Rue La Fayette. As a family of non meat eaters, its a great place to eat. My favourite is goats cheese and honey and rocket, drizzled with lemon oil. 

I made jam this week with the hard, yellow plums:

and will be making wild damson gin today:

And the peaches are nearly ready to be munched:

A baby lizard stayed still long enough to be papped:

But what wasn’t good this week was finding out that our new little garden friend, Harry the hairy caterpillar is actually a very dangerous critter, that poses a very real danger to pets and humans 

So serious is this pest, that we need to summon pest control and notify the Marie (our town hall). Torching the nests and cutting down branches has been mentioned. I will keep you informed.

I am about to be presented with beans on toast, so shall sign out for now

A bientot 😄