A love affair

Valley Gardens

Every time we come back to England, I realise how much it is, quite simply, ‘home’.  Our house  is rented out, we have few personal effects here, but still I routinely and unconsciously speak of it as ‘home’, and Laroque as ‘back in France’.  So you don’t have to be a genius to work out where my heart really is. My daughters, grown-up, mature, independent, make no secret of the fact that they’d prefer us to be around more.  It’s difficult not to agree.

England itself works its way under my skin every time I return.   We’re staying in a friend’s house on the Valley Gardens in Harrogate.  Daily walks in the park, easy access to the Stray, and the busy neighbourhood shops of Cold Bath Road have put a much more positive spin on the town than when we lived in our house in the suburbs.  Yesterday we spent walking near Grassington, along the River Wharfe, where baby ducklings and a heron held our delighted attention.  But the landscape of windswept green hills, drystone walls, sheep with their lambs, and late in the afternoon, the bluebell woods, captivated us as only ‘God’s Own County’ can.

A walk round Grassington


I’m happy in Laroque, very happy:  and I don’t want to leave.  Not yet.

Three French Hens

Léonce and I have long wanted hens.  But she’s beaten me to it.  A friend of Henri’s keeps quite a brood: lately, one of the cocks has been having a go at a quiet little trio – a cock and his two hens.  So Henri’s friend decided, sadly, that they’d be better off elsewhere.

We went for a tour of inspection last week.  Léonce was charmed by their pretty colours and diminutive stature and promised to buy.

She’s got the hen house finished off, and now….because of what’s happening over in the UK this week, she’s named the new additions to her family.  Let me introduce William, Kate…..and Queenie

Rando commando: or….training for the TA?

Yesterday, we randonneurs headed for the Aude, for a pleasant easy 18 km. walk round a man made lake, la Ganguise.  Not too much climbing, just open views across the lake itself, and to the Pyrénées beyond.  François pointed out that the lake got bigger some three years ago, when more land was flooded to increase its capacity.  Drowned footpaths had not yet been replaced, so we’d simply  be walking at the edge of the lake.  A healthy, but not too hearty day out.  Or so we thought……  Here’s our day, in pictures

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Why peasants need computers: and why, maybe, they don’t.

Three minutes after publishing my last posting, a message popped into my in-box.  It was Kalba.  Had I thought of looking on Le Bon Coin, the site where everybody looks for anything from a second-hand T shirt to a pre-loved car?  Well, no, I hadn’t, but we were soon ploughing through and responding to all the wood-for-burning adverts we could find.

By the next morning, there were a dozen suggestions in my email account, and as comments on the blog.  Even Bloggerboy, all the way from Germany, was on the case.

So how could we peasants have done without our computer? Quite well, as it turned out.

A phone call from a friend led to our calling his brother, who passed us on to somebody else who…..has wood.  Lots of it.  Well weathered chestnut, oak, beech.  We ordered some. It’s coming on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, another friend called HER friend who rang us with another lead.  This lead was the mayor of a tiny commune near here, and, intrigued by our plight, he came straight round.  He hasn’t really got any more wood to spare, but he promised to go home and scout round, and bring us something, anything, to ‘put us on’.

Just after we’d concluded that all the calls and emails made to people we’d heard of courtesy of the computer had come to zero, this evening we had a message.  A farmer near Ventenac who’d advertised on Le Bon Coin has stacks of well-weathered oak, and he wants to come round tomorrow lunchtime to see whether he can get his tractor and trailer down our street.

Yeah, yeah, I know we’ve already ordered some for Wednesday, but we peasants, you see, have to have something put by for when times are hard.  Play our cards right, and we won’t need any more wood for another four years

Wood awaiting deivery. Can you see the wild albino rabbit centre stage?

In which we visit Rievaulx Abbey and Hay-on-Wye, UK, without leaving France

Slightly iffy weather on Saturday made us decide to take the car out (petrol’s back!) to explore with our guests the Montagne Noir area, north of Carcassonne.  We’d decided to visit Villelongue, a Cistercian abbey there.

Back in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Cistercians spread wide over Europe.  Following the simple life of hard work and austerity promoted by the Rule of Saint Benedict, their architecture was also simple and distinctive, avoiding superfluous ornamentation.  We’ve got two Cistercian abbeys in Yorkshire, Fountains and Rievaulx, and what they have in common with Villelongue is their ruined condition. But the Yorkshire abbeys are National Treasures, and beautifully managed.  Villelongue’s in private ownership, and more quirkily run.  It has, for instance, an important collection of pumpkins, though we’d missed their big day of celebration last month.  After enjoying the peaceful cloisters, the remnants of the abbey, we spent our time inspecting the slightly zany management of the monastic gardens, all ancient bicycles, parakeets, and blue chairs with pumpkins perched on them.

Then we went to Montolieu.  That’s France’s answer to Hay-on-Wye.  Both towns are in their own versions of the Black Mountains, and both have made their mark by appealing to book lovers.  Books old and new, collections of magazines and dog-eared collectable posters appear in traditional shop fronts, down narrow side streets where bookshops have been made from tiny front rooms, and ancient staircases lead you to low-beamed attics stuffed with more books and papers.  We had fun poking around, but didn’t buy.

We’ll be back to explore again, but half the party was nursing the first colds of the season, and anyway, there are only so many pumpkins and second-hand books you can take in one day.

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On n’est pas sorti de l’Auberge…..

Or – It  Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings

I was worried in my last blog that because of the continuing French days of action and strikes, Tom, Sarah, Brian and Sue wouldn’t make it over here.  I was right to worry, but they HAVE made it.  Here’s how.

In the days before their arrival, we all check Easyjet’s site, compulsively.  By the night before, it’s saying that their flight, alone of Easyjet flights to Toulouse, will depart.

BUT Ryanair cancels almost all French flights for the Thursday, which doesn’t lead to peace of mind.


Tom & Co. get up at 3.00 a.m. and go to airport for a 6.30 flight.  Thomas texts me,

5.59 BST: Still looking promising. Flight still on time.  They checked our bags in.  Fingers crossed.

In Laroque we listen to the French news and learn that this day of action is intended to disrupt mainly transport, and two thirds of all flights will not take place

At Gatwick, they all board as planned. They taxi off.  Over in France, we read on the website that they’ve taxied off, and so we depart for Toulouse.

Half way to Toulouse, this series of texts from Thomas:

7.59 BST: Still being held on plane at Gatwick.

8.09 BST: Just been told we expect to take off in 45 minutes

8.39 BST: We’re off.  Probably.

An unusually deserted airport: Toulouse Blagnac yesterday

And so they are.  By 11.35 French time, they’re with us.  We are out of the auberge, and this particular lady, though not fat, is quite prepared to sing.

As I read this back, I see that this frazzled journey was only delayed by some two hours.  But the nail biting, the anxiety in the preceding days (To cancel?  To postpone? To bash on and risk its all not happening) has been….stressful.

Cancelled flights

On the day before, Wednesday, I was talking to an extremely militant French friend who goes on every available demo, waving placards and generally making his presence felt. ‘Nous ne voulons pas emmerder les gens’, he explained. ‘On veut seulement ravager l’économie’ (‘We don’t want to b***** people about, we just want to destroy the economy’).  He seems not to have succeeded in his first objective, but to be doing fairly well on the second

A Chimney Falls

Martine won that medal of hers – see my last-but-one posting – for producing 6 children. Where would we be without that family?  She, Francis, and 3 of her children were responsible for getting rid of our garden sheds for us a couple of months ago.  Last week, Francis and yet another of her sons were responsible for demolishing the monstrously heavy & ugly asbestos chimney that emerged onto our roof terrace as the outlet for the now demolished central heating.  Malcolm sawed it up the next day: even the six pieces he made of it are horribly heavy. Now they’re safely wrapped up, and the whole thing’s at the tip.  Another job done.  Thanks, team!