Sunday, 29 December 2013

Properly involved this year


I’m still reading blogs....I’m just not “interacting” as much as I like to. I am sure it is a reaction to feeling well, and  being able to be involved in lots of Christmas activities. Last year I was an observer from the sidelines. This year it has been so wonderful to make a Christmas cake, shop and wrap presents, bake, make mincemeat, go to nativity performances ( even if one of the schools I visited  allowed their KS2 performance of every single song from Mary Poppins to go on a bit ! ) etc etc.
 
Liam was a sheep in his nativity play
So, I intend to get back to blogging properly soon....reading, commenting and being involved in the lives of all the people, whose blogs I love to read. However, until then, just a very brief picture blog of a few important moments during the last few weeks.
 
Izzie in one of her Christmas outfits
This chutney didn't last long
 
My grandmother's rolling pin, mum's lemon squeezer which came free with a packet of Omo in 1958, and 2 of my cousin Margaret's basic cook books, which contain everything anyone ever needs to know about baking.
Baby Flynn with his new hat and giraffe, presents from Jess, crocheted by one of her friends on her teaching course.
One very happy nana with Liam and Izzie
Dexter and Clark, allowed to dismantle the gingerbread house, as they don't like Christmas pudding...or trifle.
A really happy little boy....Clark, who did nothing but smile and laugh, all over the holiday.
 
Santa left a footprint. His reindeers also left some poo ( peppermint creams covered in chocolate) but Izzie refused to open any presents until the poo had been cleared up).


 
I hope you all have had as good a Christmas as we did... and that 2014 is excellent for all of us.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

PARKRUN


I can’t believe it’s been over 3 weeks since I last blogged. Life has been hectic in our house here in Hebden Bridge as we get closer to Christmas. We’ve tried to see as much of the grandchildren as possible. So, a theatre trip with the 3 eldest, some drop in visits to their homes and what has become a regular Saturday morning get together have all been lovely.

It is the Saturday morning meetings that I want to blog about today. It all revolves around “ parkrun”.

“parkrun” is an organisation that holds free weekly 5km timed runs, all around the world. The runs are open to everyone, from complete beginners to Olympic standard runners. They cost nothing to enter, they are safe, well marshalled, and very easy to take part in. In the UK, they operate in 236 locations, and to date, have organised 23,172 runs !
Sometimes the runs have themes.... a couple of weeks ago, it was superheroes....Matt is on the far right.
 Once you have registered on their web site and  printed off your bar code, you can turn up at any run, run, and then within an hour, receive a text telling you your official time, and position.

I have competed in the Huddersfield parkrun 3 times. The first time I only ran 3 kms, and was exhausted so gave up.  ( I was very proud of myself though.....3kms seemed like a long way to me, and after the year of illness and recovery that I have had, 3kms was pretty amazing ).
 

My next attempt actually had me completing the whole 5kms. I came 442 out of 448 runners. It took me 44 minutes 48 seconds, and stepson Matthew, and step daughter Jodie, who had both already completed their runs, came back and joined me, to help me “sprint” across the finish line. It was very emotional, and I knew I was hooked.

Jodie pushing 2 year old Izzie, Sarah Jane pushing 3 month old Flynn, Dexter, 5, enjoying himself despite the damp conditions.
 
My run last week, was actually slower. I took 46 minutes to complete the two and a half circuits of Huddersfield’s Greenhead park. I was 452 out of 454 runners. My strategy is to run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit, walk a bit.....and my plan is to try to run a bit more each time. Who knows how long it will take me to catch up with daughter in law Sarah Jane, who somehow manages to do it in under 40 minutes, pushing a buggy with 3 month old Flynn. Or Jodie, who did a fantastic 32 minutes last week, or Jess, who did a 28 minute run in Liverpool last weekend.....or of course, Matthew, the family champion, who was overweight and couldn’t run at all 2 years ago.....and who now looks amazing, regularly runs 10k for various charities and completes 5km in far less than half the time I do.
some of the marshalls.....all volunteers, encouraging and cheering.
 It is not actually competitive at all. Everyone competes against themselves, trying to improve their time. The volunteer stewards cheer on the elite runners, those running with their children, and the slow coaches like me , who struggle to keep going. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the marshalls encouraging me last week, I think I would have given up at about 4kms.

The atmosphere is brilliant. Families run together, or support each other, cheering everyone on whether they are friends or complete strangers. Between 400 and 600 people, and their supporters are all brought together, for an hour every Saturday morning, in Huddersfield’s lovely Greenhead Park

Matthew and Sarah’s eldest son, Dexter, will be 6 in March. He has now completed 12 parkruns. Sometimes he does brilliantly, running much faster than I can, and sometimes he takes it a bit easier...stopping for a quick wee behind a tree.
The photo being held up on the right shows Dexter, with his dad, Matt. 15 seconds of fame....and he's only 5.
 
Last week, the BBC’s One show announced the candidates for Sports Personality of the Year, and asked people to send in their photos of any sporting heroes they had. Sarah sent in a photo of Dexter on one of his runs.....and they showed it on the programme. Dexter was incredibly excited. His teacher saw it, his great grandmother nearly fell of her chair when she saw it, many of his friends saw it. Then last week at the park run, as he crossed the line, many supporters and regulars cheered the TV star across the line.

It has become an important part of our week. We arrive at Carole’s house ( Mark’s ex wife) at just after 8.30am......decisions are made about who is looking after the children who are not running ( usually Mark ). Carole and Peter get on with preparing a huge breakfast for after the run, and us runners head off to the park. The klaxon goes at 9am, and by 10am, we are sitting round the breakfast table, ready to replenish the calories we have used up on the run.

 

Well....I never thought I’d be blogging about running. Watch this space for reports of new personal bests over the next few months !

Thursday, 14 November 2013

What shall we do tonight ?


Hebden Bridge continues to impress me.

This week we went to a Folk Roots festival at the Trades Club, we saw the amazing David Tennant performance in the live beamed Richard II from Stratford upon Avon and have just returned from a showing of a great little film called “ Sunshine on Leith”, based around the music of the Scottish band, The Proclaimers. ( It is one of those charming little films that has you smiling all the way through, apart from the bits when you are in tears).
 
Hebden Bridge Picture House
The live RSC showing at the local cinema was brilliant. Apart from the actual production of Richard II, and the glorious David Tennant, the cinema was packed to the gills. It is a community owned cinema, and the money raised by the showing will be a great help.

The showing of Sunshine on Leith was one of the cinema’s Thursday morning sessions. Again, the cinema was packed. Tea and biscuits  are also included in the Thursday morning price. Tea and cake are always available.....so much better than coke and pop corn ! ( I do have to admit that wine was available to accompany Richard II......and that was an excellent idea )

On Saturday we are going out for a meal in Hebden Bridge, with friends, and struggled to decide which restaurant to book...especially as a new Italian place opened today. We decided on the local Turkish restaurant....we’ll wait to try the new Italian till next week.

On Friday, the Hospice shop, where I now volunteer, is holding a “Glam and “Glitz” night, unveiling the Christmas stock. I’ve just been baking chocolate chip cookies to contribute to the available nibbles. I suspect there will be lots of gorgeous home made nibbles created by the very loyal and dedicated bunch of volunteers. I don’t expect the Glam and Glitz night to be quite as thrilling as Richard  II, but I’m sure it will be good.
 

Mark tells me he has just booked tickets to see Dick Gaughan at the Trades Club in a couple of weeks, and we’re going to see the RSC’s Frankenstein in December too ( another cinema trip)

There is just so much to do in this tiny little town.
 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Having a purpose.

Recognising that just “being alive” is no longer enough, I have started to put some structure back into my life. This means that after a year of no commitments, apart from Drs appointments, I have decided that I want some structure back.....some things that mean I have to get up, get dressed, go out, see people etc.

Being ill can be a very selfish....no, self centred, activity......and the time has come for me to stop having the world revolve around me.

So...... yesterday, after a gym session ( I can still be a bit self centred....I want to be as fit as I can be ! ) I went to spend an hour in our local hospice charity shop. I met the manager and 2 of the volunteers, and “worked” for an hour, learning about sorting bags of donations, stock coding, and pricing. I’m not allowed on the till until my references have been checked out, but I can get on with anything else that needs doing.

I am very excited about it. I sorted the book display out......getting all the cookery books on one shelf, tidying the biography section, the travel section, the sports section and putting the fiction back into some semblance of alphabetical order.

A customer asked me if the poetry books were in and amongst the fiction..... and then as an after thought, she asked me if I worked there.... I told her as I’d only worked there for 20 minutes, I didn’t know the answer, but I would happily help her look through the muddle to see what we could find. (Note to self: establish a poetry section).

I also suggested that a lady who wanted a book about Gran Canaria, change her holiday plans as we had a good selection on Australia.....she did laugh, honestly.

I chatted with a woman who bought some curling tongs, which we decided, upon examination, were brand new, as a protecting piece of card was still attached to the plug.

I priced a couple of blouses, a belt and a pack of teaching resources aimed at 5 year olds. ( I then bought the pack to give to Jess to use on her teaching practice ! ) You will be pleased to know that I sought advice as to how much to charge for the pack, and then added a further 50p, so I could not be seen as pricing something I wanted to buy, too cheaply !

I loved it. I loved the customers I spoke to, I loved the idea of previously owned and loved items being given a new lease of life, and I loved the idea that the hospice benefits with every sale.

I want to work on display, on marketing special events, on supporting some of the older, more frail volunteers, and on getting to know the regulars, the occasional shoppers, and on promoting the work of this brilliant little shop.

I cant wait for next week, when I will be working my first proper shift, 11-4 on Sunday, and then 10 -1 on Monday. My aim is to work at least a couple of shifts a week, and I have no idea where this will take me, but I know it’s going to be fun.
Jess, at the race for Life in Liverpool earlier this year.....purposeful, full of passion and having fun.......Life is good. Lets have more of it !
 

Monday, 28 October 2013

La vendange

I missed the grape harvest last year, as it was just about this time of year I was diagnosed with cancer. I was cross for a number of reasons, as you can imagine. One of the reasons was that I had been looking forward to seeing my first French grape harvest....la vendange.

So, it has been sheer delight for me this year, partly because I wasn’t sure I would be here to see la vendange 2013, and partly because it has been so fascinating.
Our vines, earlier in the year
The first thing to say is that it has been late this year. Friends tell me that due to the long cold and damp spring, the grapes have been at least a couple of weeks behind this year. From my limited experience, I would say this is about right. Our figs have been 2-3 weeks behind where they were last year, and the olives seem even further behind.
Our vines......one of the 3 that produced some fabulous grapes
We have a few vines ( about 25 ) on our land in Caunes. If all our vines produced as many grapes as the 3 on the right hand side of our little vineyard, we would be swamped. A few weeks ago, I was aware that some of our grapes were shrivelling up on the vine, some had certainly gone mouldy.....but some were spectacular. Suddenly, they enlarged, turned from pale green to a fabulous purple colour, and started to smell beautiful. I was worried about attracting les sangliers ( wild boars) onto our land from the forest land immediately behind our house, so I picked the ripe grapes and made them into some very good grape jelly, and picked the mouldy/ shrivelling ones, and gave them to the very grateful compost heap. I should add that les sangliers arrived anyway, and caused damage to the vegetable patch, foolishly placed (by me) right next to the vines.
some of the harvest from our vines
 
I made half a dozen jars of grape jelly right at the end of August
Within 3 or 4 weeks of my own grape harvest each drive through the Minervois countryside began to be hampered by the traffic involved with la vendange. The huge grape harvesting machines became a familiar sight, and following tractors, pulling large open wagons, piled high with grapes became a way of life.
The Caunes co-op, where the grapes are stripped from their stalks.
 
The discarded stalks from the grapes.....used for fuel in some places apparently.
Signs at the side of the roads urged motorists to have patience due to la vendange, and the spilt and split grapes on the roadway made tyres squeak, and made the air smell of rich dark fruity wine. Mark thought something was wrong with his new bike, when he heard a sort of squelchy sound......it was the tyres making their way through grape juice. The bike smelled decidedly alcoholic when Mark came home. ( please note...it was definitely the bike...not Mark ).
I should have been thinking about blogging when all this was going on....but for some reason I wasn’t. I wish I had taken more photos of the actual harvesting. It was taking place all around us.

A walk through some vineyards near Caunes
By the time we left the Minervois, for our winter trip back to England, the grapes were “in”, the Co-ops were closing their doors, and the vines had started to change colour. It was almost as if, the leaves knew that once the grapes were picked, they weren’t needed anymore. They no longer needed to provide shelter for those beautiful swelling voluptuous luxurious berries.
The grapes have gone....and the leaves seem to know.
Within days, the leaves started to curl and crisp, to redden and yellow. Vineyards which days beforehand had been lush green with huge bunches of purple hanging jewels, were swathed in reds and oranges, yellows and browns.
Just a few grapes missed by the harvester.
It was beautiful and mellow and gentle.
After the furious activity of the work involved in gathering the crop, the countryside was quiet again. The activity was now taking place in les caves, in the Co-ops, in les chateaux, les domaines and the little garagista’s wine making premises.

I have no idea whether the 2013 Minervois wine will be good or not, but I am so pleased to have been able to observe some of the activity that has been involved in creating it. I look forward to sampling some of it !
Jess, sampling an earlier vintage.
 

Friday, 18 October 2013

The prize was Pau.

A few weeks ago, when my friend Jan was visiting Caunes, we spent an interesting couple of hours at L'hotel de la cite, in Carcassonne.


Mark had played in a golf tournament in Carcassonne earlier in the day. He had enjoyed it, played reasonably well, and thought attending the prize giving reception at l'hotel would be interesting, as we had never been inside it before.

It was a pleasant evening, wine and canap├ęs were served and the views from the back of the hotel, where the reception was held, were fabulous.

all views in Carcassonne are fabulous, but some are hidden, like this one, from the gardens of the hotel.

Mark, on the right, with another prize winner.
Then....surprise, surprise, as les prix were being announced, I heard Mark's name. He had come second in his particular group. His prize, was 2 nights in a hotel in Pau. We were delighted. I was particularly delighted as this prize did not take the form of a revolting plastic golfer or cup or badge or other monstrosity, the like of which are banished to a hidden corner of a bookcase in Hebden Bridge.

Yesterday, we returned from our trip to Pau. We went by train, from Carcassonne, changing at Toulouse, through Lourdes and onto Pau. It was a brilliant train journey. The Pyrenees looked fabulous, Lourdes looked as bizarre as it always does, and we were able to chat, read and relax as we watched the country side go by.


Sharing a compartment with a young French man, pony tail tied into a stylish top knot, while he read Zola's " Germinal" seemed perfect. ( Note to self: I will read "Germinal" in French sometime soon ).

The free funicular railway, connecting the railway station with the terraced walkway which gives visitors to Pau such a fabulous view of the Pyrenees.



Pau is a great city. We wandered, visited the chateau, (and took the excellent guided tour....in French, and coped ! ), ate good food, looked around Galeries Lafayette, spent some time in the hotel pool and spa, saw an amazing sunset, people watched and mountain watched.

Much of the chateau was renovated by Louis Philippe and then Napoleon III in the 19th century, but it had been the birthplace of "Le bon roi Henri IV", from the late 16th & early 17th century.

Spectacular tapestries are found in the chateau, most from the  16th and 17th century.....and we were allowed to take photos as long as the flash was turned off. The colours were stunning.

Henri IV as a boy


Sunset over Pau.

The sun shone, we walked for miles, and I particularly liked the shadow of this balustrading which ran for several hundred metres along a terrace, providing long distant mountain views.

All this would have been good, but the whole experiences was considerably enhanced by the hotel deciding to upgrade us. Instead of the normal ( very nice) hotel room in this 5 star establishment, we were given a suite, with living room and balcony overlooking the mountains, bedroom, with balcony overlooking the mountains, dressing room and bathroom. The bed was huge, and the complimentary cakes, bon-bons, fruit juices, nuts and other little treats kept appearing.

view from our balcony, over the park and to the mountains
We checked on the prices of the stay......the room suite alone would have cost us well over 1000 euros for the 2 nights. So, I continue to be impressed by the quality of prizes at the golf club !

 I have suggested to Mark that he introduces such sponsored prizes at his golf club in England.....where they delight in awarding monstrosities as previously described. I don't hold out much chance. However, if Mark wants to carry on playing lots of golf in Carcassonne, I will continue to approve and wish him luck every time he heads off to play.

Me, wrapped in the sumptuous towelling robe, after a swim and a sauna.....reading on our balcony.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

C'est pas grave.

When we used to have holidays in Provence and we used to dream about having a house in France, I wanted one with lilac shutters.

Then, when we had settled on dreaming about having a house in the Languedoc, I just knew I wanted one with shutters.

The house we bought in Caunes has brown shutters.
Our shutters
 
Friends in the village told us that a few years ago, whilst painting their shutters, they received a note, from the Mairie, through the door, telling them to stop painting, as they had selected the wrong shade of olive green.
This is apparently the approved shade of olive green that our friends finally used......correctly.
 
We were told that  if we decided to paint our shutters, we should go to the Mairie, look at their approved colour chart, memorise the colour, as the chart could not be taken from the Marie, and buy the said approved colour. We looked around the village and realised that were a number of so called approved colours and they were all quite muted, sort of "heritage" colours.
We have now spent 2 years considering painting our brown shutters……and yes, we quite like the “approved” olive green colour……So, went to the Mairie to look at the colour chart.

There, to our surprise, we were given a sample colour swatch to take away, to compare with the charts in the shops, and were told that it was “pas grave” if we chose a colour that was not exactly the same…..basically anything that wasn’t bright yellow would be “pas grave”.

So, it seems that times change.
 

Approved or not ? Who knows



Wandering around  Caunes during the last few days I have seen some enchanting volets.
 
 
 
 

















We have decided that our house was built with brown shutters, and that it actually suits brown shutters. However, although we have saved considerable time and effort and expense by coming to this decision, it is good to know that should we change our minds, " C'est pas grave". if we don't quite manage to find the exact shade on the Mairie's list.