Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Coffee with Annie

Mark went for a bike ride this morning……it turned out to be about 50K, and he arrived home exhausted….but that is by the way.

The sun was shining, I quickly finished clearing the kitchen from having friends to dinner last night, took some washing off the line ( left out by mistake yesterday), and settled down to a cup of tea in the garden.

Jess phoned, so we chatted for half an hour, then I saw that Annie had posted on face book, so I left a comment, and before I knew it we were in a face book messaging conversation that left me really wishing we could pop round to each others houses for a quick coffee and a natter.
I made a coffee…imagining I was also making one for Annie, and took it into the garden. I read for half an hour, then weeded for half an hour, then read for half an hour.

All screeching jay here at the moment.
A jay has been visiting one of the fir trees that are next to the pool house, and has taken screeching at a plastic owl we have perched in the tree to amuse the grandchildren when they come. S/he clearly believes the owl is real…..and s/he does not like it. Apart from one screeching interlude, the only sounds I could hear were much more melodic bird sounds….a nightingale sings more or less continually behind the house, and I could hear cuckoos from the forest. Some swooping swifts visited, and various finches….gold, green and chaff……popped in for a chat.

Swift sculptures...nearly as beautiful as the real things

It was a lovely morning. It could only have been improved by Annie joining me for that coffee….or Jess popping in…..which is exactly what she’ll be doing in 3 days time.

hands up who wants coffee.......Annie last September.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Home and Away

The home and away lines are pretty blurred these days. It all feels like home, so that is good.
This week, I have spent even more time than usual on the phone, or facebooking, or e-mailing, or whats apping….with daughter Jess.

Jess, last summer, when she was here, "at home" in Caunes
On Monday this week she was observed teaching , then she had to complete a written task based on the teaching she had just undertaken, and then on Tuesday she was interviewed for a reception teacher post at a very exciting and successful multi-cultural school in Liverpool.

On Tuesday at 2.30pm UK time, 3.30 here in Caunes, my mobile rang, and I saw it was her. I answered…..and her voice just said “ I got it…..I got it “.

To me , she sounded like my little 5 year old who had maybe just found an ice cream. How could this be ? Our little girl……a proper teacher. Obviously, she is delighted, and Mark and I are so so proud.

I never took Mark’s name when we married, and Jess has my family name, so, the Miss Whelan, history teacher, that I was, all those years ago,…..has now been replaced with Miss Whelan, fabulous, gorgeous, talented, enthusiastic and brilliant reception teacher.

One of my favourite photos of grown up Jess...
Jess still has her final teaching practice to finish, but now she ( and I ) can relax, knowing she has a job, and it is one that she really wanted. No more scouring the internet for posts within a 45 minute drive of Liverpool, no more forms to fill in and no more application letters to sweat over.The job is for September, so before then she will be able to spend some of her summer out here in France with us. She also decided that to help her celebrate getting the job, she would come out here for 4 days over half term… one of the bits of home in England which is so important to me, will be joining us here at home in France next week.  Can't wait.

Jess, the baby, being read to by her big sister Jodie. Where did the years go ?

Friday, 16 May 2014

Settling back

We’ve been back here in Caunes for 2 weeks. I can’t believe it has only been 2 weeks. Obviouslly, we knew we would be busy getting the house straight(ish) after it had been locked up for 6 months…but although the days have flown by because we have been so busy, it also feels as if we have never been away.

Mark has played golf a few times…even won one match, I’ve managed to visit 3 vide greniers…2 more planned for this Sunday, I’ve been on what turned out to be a 15k walk with a great group of women ( there was one man…but he was ok ! ), been to a book launch and signing, eaten in a few of our favourite restaurants, cleaned the pool and planted the vegetables.

Other vide grenier purchases include an excellent doll's pram for Izzie and Clark to play with when they visit

We only got a little bit lost on the walk at La Clape

Some of the walk was quite steep

Wendy Gedney's book launch and signing in Pieusse, near Limoux. Wendy lives in a nearby village and organises wine tours. I have been on a couple of them.  Her book is a brilliant read...and tells you all you need to know about wines in this region. It is beautifully illustrated by Jenny Baker, who also lives in Caunes.
The house and garden in Pieusse where the book launch took place.... a fantastic B&B called Maison Laurent
We also went to the races ( previous blog), supervised the debroussaillage of the land behind our house, went in search of the perfect poppy field, managed to get our French TV working, sorted out a leak in the washing machine, and with the help of a friend managed to replace a burnt out element in the oven that would normally have had Mark and I rushing to the nearest white goods store to buy a new oven.

The debroussaillage has taken away the jungle that existed behind our house and left us with a fire risk safe zone....and provided a great area for kids to have adventures.

I’ve been missing Jess quite a bit, as she is on her final teaching practice at the moment, has final essays to submit and is applying for her first teaching job all at the same time. I’d like to be a bit nearer home to offer support…..but she seems to be coping well. In fact she organised getting her broken down car fixed….all by herself….well, with the help of a very nice AA man. It was also her birthday this week, and I do seem to be making a habit of being out of the country for her birthday. ( We did speak on the phone 4 times though, so perhaps I’m forgiven ).

Its also been great to skype all the kids and the grandchildren. Matthew and Sarah are mainly responsible for the launch of a new Junior Parkrun which starts this week in Huddersfield, so they are very excited about that. 

skyping Izzie !

Anyway….the sun is shining, I’m experimenting with some interesting recipes for dinner tonight…all using fruit conserves in some way, the house is more or less dust free for now, and blogger seems to be working well…what more could I want ? 

Maybe I'll have a sneaky little glass of red with my lunch when I've posted this.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A Day at the Races

I have only been to "the races" once, and that was a special trip to the Epsom Derby revolving around my parent-in-laws' golden wedding anniversary. I remember it as being a wonderfully colourful day, with so much going on at the race course that it was impossible to take it all in......a huge fairground, the bookies shouting the odds all over the place, the massive crowds, the gorgeous silks worn by the jockeys, and of course the splendour of the horses themselves.

An afternoon at Carcassonne Races was nothing like Epsom !

The rather small stand at Hippodrome de la Fajeolle, Carcassonne
It cost 6 Euros to get into the ground, and that included 2  free 2 Euro bets. We wandered across the field from the car park, towards the stand, not expecting much at all. It all looked very low key. 

It was very low key, no fancy outfits, no hats, no bookies calling at the tops of their voices. There was a face painting stall, a bouncy castle and some pony rides for children, but apart from that, all the action was around the parade ring, where the horses and riders walked around before each race....and , of course, the race track itself.

We realised things were going to be a bit different when we saw the horse boxes lining the edge of the course...with the large 2 wheeled chariots attached to the back.

Some of the races were trotting races.... not sure if that is the correct term.....but it added a dimension we had never seen before. 

I am always fascinated by the crowds at sporting events, and although this gathering could hardly be called a crowd, there were some interesting sights.

....The above horse owner certainly would have fitted in at Epsom, and it seems, from watching the spectators,  that studying the form is universal.

We loved the colours, the horses all looked magnificent, and we won 9.60 euros using our free bets ! 

It was an unexpectedly brilliant afternoon. The low keyness of it all made it more enjoyable. It all seemed so normal. We stood just a few meters from the finish line, and joined in the excitement of watching the winners come across the line. There was some flat racing as well as the trotting, and we are hoping that there will be other meetings during the year. We'll certainly go again, and I may even take one of the bigger lenses for the camera, and try to get some real horses in action shots.

This is the jockey...on a horse called Baraka, who won us 9.60. I dont know why he looks so miserable, he had just won.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Janice in Caunes is back in Caunes

We have always flown when we have come to the house in France. I have even blogged about the surprisingly good service we have always received from Ryanair.
However, this time…..facing our 3rd summer in Caunes, we decided to drive from Yorkshire. The plan was to stop off to see family in Surrey, to locate a family ( Mark’s great uncle Donald) war grave in Cambrai in northern France, drive across the Millau bridge and to arrive in Caunes  with a car full of “stuff” that has never quite fitted into our Ryanair hand luggage allowance.

Saying goodbye to the grandchildren involved some fishing in Carole's pond
So, last weekend, following a busy park run and breakfast meeting with all the children and grandchildren and a last minute farewell visit to the Overgate Charity shop in Hebden Bridge ….we set off.
We spent 2 nights with Mark’s sister and family in Reigate in Surrey. Niece Erica, has recently returned from world travels, and we spent time chatting about our favourite spots in Australia and New Zealand, as well as hearing about some of her adventures in Vietnam and Thailand. Mark’s sister and husband have just come back from Costa Rica and the Galapagos islands….so there was lots more travel talk to be had there.

As well as travel discussions and hearing about nephew Mark’s up and coming wedding plans ( wedding to be held in September in a French chateau near Bordeaux ) we managed to fit in a lovely walk through a park in Reigate, past bluebell woods and a delightful lake.

Anyway, we finally left family behind and headed across the channel via the Euro-tunnel, intending to be in Cambrai in time to search out the memorial to Mark’s Uncle Donald, who died there in 1917, aged 29.

We failed miserably…..The motorway junction we needed was closed, the diversion was miles long, so we decided that Uncle Donald, having waited this long for us to visit, could wait a little longer, and we will endeavour to find him when we drive back at the end of October.

We headed south in torrential rain, and began to feel that Ryanair would have been a better option. However, I am particularly anxious to have my car with us in France for the next 6 months. I don’t like driving our large French people carrier, and it has always felt marginally criminal to be leaving my car sitting outside our Hebden house for 6 months of the year. ( Having 2 cars in France will also mean I don’t have to drive Mark to the golf club…and back, and then have to repeat the journey 5 hours later when he has finished his round. )

We were pretty tired after a day’s driving, when we arrived in Vichy, where we decided to stay for the night.
Sheltered walk around a main square in Vichy
What an interesting city ! Before its infamous past as the base for the war time Vichy government, it was…and still remains, a major spa town. The  Belle Epoque artchitecture is gorgeous… and if it hadn’t been pouring with rain, we would have wandered around for hours. 
Dome over one of the spas.....attached to our hotel
We did manage a stroll after breakfast the following morning, and loved it.

We had a further 5 or 6 hours drive before getting to Caunes, and took a spectacular road through the Auvergne, and across the Millau bridge.
The rain stopped, and as we got closer to Caunes, the sun came out. The temperature rose from 11 degrees to 22 degrees……….and finally, we arrived home in Caunes.
Our house in Caunes
The garden looked great. Many of the flag irises are past their best, and I have missed the almond and lilac blossom, but the vines look healthy, the sages we planted last year have grown and are starting to flower and all the trees, including 2 new cherry trees look to have survived the winter well.

Healthy vines.....amongst the weeds.
The weeds are pretty amazing, and the vegetable garden will need some serious work….but everything looks wonderful…..and it is lovely to be back.

Within minutes of arrival we received an invitation to lunch with friends in a nearby village in a couple of days time. The internet was up and running, the gas and electric turned on with no problems. We briefly thought we were going to be without hot water for a while as a particular switch had jammed. ( Something to do with a small dead animal found in the electricity junction box), but a friend who has overseen work we have needed doing here, arrived within 20 minutes to fix it.
First trip to the bar for a quick lunch in between cleaning and weeding sessions.
So, we are back. We have made out first forays into the village, and have reintroduced ourselves at the bar and our favourite restaurant. The dusting and the weeding have started. Setting up furniture under the pergola, opening the pool, and getting around to inviting people round will happen soon......and  it seems our neighbours have acquired a new addition to their family while we have been away.
Our neighbours now have a goat.