Wednesday, 11 December 2013

speaking in tongues

This morning we went to buy wine for Christmas. We had to endure a drive through frosty deserted roads, under clear blue skies, through beautiful countryside and picturesque villages to the Gaillac vineyards . We had to wait while a call was made to the men in the vineyard for someone to come and open up the "cave" but we stocked up on wine and got a free bottle and complimented on our French speaking skills. On our way back we were counting our blessings along with the bottles!

The main difficulty with  living in foreign parts is of course that these foreigners insist on speaking a different language to the mother tongue. It is also one of the advantages though as learning a new language gives our aging brain cells constant exercise and challenge.

Every compliment I get on my French skills delights me and boosts my confidence. On the other hand our friend's daughter, 9 year old Elodie, keeps me from being smug  as she delights in correcting me and giggling at my pronunciation so I know I've a long way to go! I am at a dangerous stage too - often French people see that I understand something and hear me respond then assume I am fluent and off they go at full pelt leaving me listening to what could be outer Mongolian for all that I understand. Then there are the times I set off on a discourse only to find I have dug myself into a linguistic hole which can end in nothing but a total collapse into blithering idiot.

In November we organised a French/English evening along the lines of a celidh. TC managed to enlist musicians to play in a multinational "All stars celidh band" and I called traditional English and French dances in French and English to an audience of English, Dutch and French. It certainly was the biggest linguistic challenge for me  to date but I survived, the dancing was great fun and the musicians left asking when they could play together again.

I must have passed some sort of threshold though. During our last visit to England in November I found myself explaining how to use the coffee machine in a cafe to the customer ahead of me - she was somewhat bemused - I was speaking in French!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

mad in the attic

TC often used to worry ( or was it a threat?) that I would end up a mad woman in the attic from getting overstressed at work. Then we moved here and when I saw the spare room in the attic, with its big skylight windows and lovely view of the lake,  it was love at first sight - that's going to be my den I promised myself  (well a girl has to have somewhere to retreat to especially if she's married to a musician who likes to practise).  And so, out of the visitor season, MY room is a haven where I can escape and listen to whatever I feel like. The sewing machine can stay out and I can make as much mess as I want to.

I've been up there a lot lately since I got bitten by the patchwork bug. I have  loved sewing and making things since I was small but it's something like 20 years since I did any patchwork and then only one design (grandmothers garden  English patchwork style)and  I've never got as far as quilting so there's a lot to learn. My sampler quilt blocks are going well - well at least I'm pleased with them - the old hands at the patchwork group are very difficult to impress although always encouraging.

So far I've done 8 of the 20 blocks I need for my quilt. I had intended to quilt each block separately and then join them ( a perfectly respectable method according to my patchwork book) but a tentative enquiry soon made it clear that would be totally disapproved of in the Laguepie patchwork group and I should not even think about it! Apparently when the top is finished all the tables will be pushed together and it will be all hands on deck to get it backed ready for quilting - there's a great element of community in the quilting tradition which is lovely.

I also love the names of the patterns, so far I've done log cabin, tumbling blocks, maple leaf, corner to corner, card trick, spiders web, strip rail, and attic windows. It's fun working with the different colours and prints and fascinating watching the patterns unfold. I shall enjoy having another creative outlet when its too cold for the garden.

So this week maybe grape basket  and drunkard's path ? ( no rude comments please)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

how time flies when you're having fun

Three years ago this week we moved into Ségala and the fun began. We woke up to our first Ségala sunrise, the first of many, and pinched ourselves to make sure it wasn't all a dream.

Our furniture had been in storage for 3 months so we improvised !

I never have been good at keeping diaires but a blog seemed a good idea as a way of recording our progress. The problem is finding the time especially during the summer months when we live out of doors most of the time.

Looking back over the three years it has just flown by. We have made Ségala well and truly ours, inside and out, and have a very busy social life all year round. This year we have even met some English people! I could never have settled for the six month in France, six months in England option which many choose, we would miss out on so much real French life and I'm sure I would make worse progress with the language.

Another reason to be here all year round is that many associations only run in the winter. One of our dancing courses has just begun again and this week I have started going to a patchwork and quilting group - its a very long time since I did any patchwork and I have never done quilting but I was inspired by the group's exhibition in the Spring and am already hooked. The next exhibition is in three years just enough time for me to learn enough to make sure I have something on display! ( I already know it will be a wallhanging called Ségala sunrise and the design is coming together in my head). It is good for me to get out and meet more new people and practice my French without having TC in the background to help and as always when meeting a new group of French people with a common interest everyone was so friendly, welcoming and helpful.

So now we are preparing for our third winter here, the wood is being stacked, the garden cleared and bulbs planted, the swallows have left and Bernard is chucking sheep poo around with abandon. Hopefully afterwards he will bring us a nice pile of our own as in previous years. The potager has been very productive this year thanks in some part at least to the addition of copious amounts of "fumier de brebis".

In the meantime the Autumn sunshine and blue skies are keeping the pool around 20degs so TC is still getting his swims although cooler nighttime temperatures are forecast for the end of the week so there may not be many more opportunities and I think I'll be waiting til next year!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

l'été indien

"Savourez l'été indien" is a headline on the front cover of the October issue of my French gardening magazine and all French gardening books include a season  l'été indien between the chapters for summer and autumn. I have loved this stretching of the summer later into the year since we came here - Autumn is all very well, and I know lots of people who love it, but for me the longer we can put off the retreat indoors the better - last year visitors used our pool at the end of October!

This year however it has been different, September arrived bringing cold,damp and miserable weather for days on end, summer seemed to have left early just as it had arrived late. (The wet weather finished off the tomato plants so part from a large trug of green fruit at least my "tomato problem" is behind me.) There has been much frantic scrabbling to find long trousers,jumpers and even socks for heavens sake, and also a sudden urgency to the need to find someone to sweep the chimney. For the first time since we moved in we are having to buy some wood for the fire as most of our stocks from garden clearing here and at our ex holiday house are too fresh to use. We've had some delivered but will have to get more now we've got some idea of what a "stere" of wood looks like (not a lot is the short answer).

But we shouldn't be using wood yet - a French friend told us yesterday she never lights the fire before the first of November - and panic over, apparently the indian summer is going to happen after all. Yesterday a dull morning was followed by a sunny afternoon and I got to enjoy sitting in the sunshine beside the pond with a book ( I needed to recover from a morning spent lumberjacking in time for our dancing workshop in the evening). The forecast from tomorrow and for the next week is for sunshine and warm temperatures - perhaps the water in the pool might even warm up again, I bet TC goes in anyway!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

ç'etait l'été

Looks like that was it - more then a  touch chilly the last few days - it seems that  summer is  bowing out early just as it arrived late. At least July and August were  lovely with  hot weather and very little rain and wow what a summer we've had - much too busy for blogging!

 A stream of visitors have kept us on our toes and we have been more than happy to spend the whole of the summer chez nous, why would we want to go anywhere else? We have enjoyed local festivals and exhibitions and TC got to play some music.

a little bit of Purcell

outside the Troubadour at the Occitan festival in Laguepie

a friend's party in Tarn

strolling musicians at the Parisot art festival

Our big project of the summer has been the conversion of part of the barn at the back of the house into a dining room. This meant knocking through the 60cm thick back wall of the house to make a door and several scary days with the wall supported on accro bars. The summer kitchen and barbecue area was a no go area while the builders were working but it has all been worth it though as the new room has made a big difference to the house and how we can use our summer kitchen space. I am glad to have a nice separate dining room too, I never have got used to entertaining in the kitchen!

The garden has been beautiful and the new pond has established quickly giving us a new focal point and another lovely space for sitting outside.

It has also been  productive - in the case of the tomatoes even a little TOO productive. I really must remember not to plant so many next year - I have roasted, souped, dried and sauced what seems like tons of them - 9 different varieties - I have red chutney and  green chutney, the freezer is bulging with boxes and boxes of sliced plum tomatoes and sauce. TC no longer asks what's for dinner it's "what's with the tomatoes?"

We are deliberating about where we might go for a holiday in February/March next year - could be a very good idea if the winter is going to be another long one and it could even have started already! We certainly won't be planning to go away in the summer - we love the summer  here too much.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Monet and me

I love Monet's paintings but most of all I love his house and garden at Giverny. I've been twice and look forward to more visits. Granted it's always too crowded with tourists but that's hardly surprising when it is so beautiful and the history is so fascinating. The whole garden is just beautiful and of course the water gardens are stunning.

What I hadn't realised until recently was that when Monet was painting his water lilies they were such a new botanical phenomenum. Up until around 1880 the only hardy water lilies in Europe were white and it was thanks to the work of a certain Joseph Bory Latour Marliac in South West France that new coloured hybrids were cultivated and first exhibited at the World's fair in Paris in 1889, probably where Monet first saw them.

tribute to a famous customer!

The Latour Marliac water lily nursery is still open and now houses the National water lily collection of France in a beautiful garden, it also cultivates water lilies for sale and so with a new pond to stock we set off for a visit yesterday - after all whats good enough for Monet is good enough for me! I could have ordered on line but it was so much nicer to visit and choose from the real thing instead of pictures in a catalogue.

The terracotta pots are apparently antique 
cassoulet pots which were used to mulitply the lilies

Early May and the flowers are just starting to open and there were plenty to choose from but I'll have to go back later in the year to see the lotus in flower.

The personal service was impressive too. 
After helping us decide on plants suitable for our 
pond Mr Sheldon ( the current owner) collected them 
out of the ponds, prepared and packaged them. 
At lunchtime he had been a waiter in the restaurant! 

So now my pond is stocked with  some promising water lily plants

- it may not be as big as Monet's pond but the lilies came from the same place !


Sunday, 5 May 2013


- or the writing on the wall.

I had a bad knee - in that my long time dodgy knee was playing up more than usual - in the end to stop getting nagged at I went to the doctors.Two trips to the doctors, X rays, blood tests and the end result is ....I've got a bad knee!

It is of course arthritis, the doctor's cheerful diagnosis is that the knee is "abimé" and will continue to get worse. I'm not even going to start asking about my back! So nothing I didn't know already - and  the writing was on the wall as my symptoms are so like problems my mother has had for years.
So what to do ?  The main objective for me is to keep on dancing and walking so while I'm waiting for the pool to warm up I needed to think of an extra fitness regime to take a bit of weight off the knee and strengthen the leg muscles. I'm not generally good at "doing exercises" and I'm hopeless on a bike ( had an exercise bike once - think I used it twice - very dull! My solution is to take the dog for a brisk walk every day.
 A cartoon of a dog running
BUT.... we haven't actually got a dog and have no desire to get one so I take my "imaginary" dog. He's great - walks quite fast so I have to keep up with him but is happy to slow down on the way back, he doesn't bark or yap, run off and jump at strangers or pick fights with other dogs, he has amazing personal hygiene so no smelly bags of poo to carry, and is happy to go whatever time of the day I choose. Its a bonus to have 20 minutes to myself to appreciate the countryside surrounding our house, listen to the birds,watch the butterflies and generally think myself fortunate to live here. Yesterday having got very stiff sitting in the car driving backwards and forwards from the shops the dog and I got dropped off 1 mile short of home as I knew once I got back it would be hard to get motivated. Wonder how long it will last! TC is already surprised that I'm keeping it up every day.

 Not that there's much time for sitting about at home - so much to do at this time of year and the improvement in the weather means lots of planting to be done - all those seedlings are now well grown and ready to face the world! Over 800 little plants plus the tomatoes, courgettes etc so been very busy .

Most of the plants for my annual flower display are now planted - I just have to keep chasing the hens out to stop them uprooting the lot.

Not happy about the unexpected frost last weekend which nipped at my potato plants but I think we got away with it. The tomatoes are now all in and the  broad beans and peas are looking great already.

The biggest progress in the garden though has to be the completion of the pond. When we moved in there was a corner of the garden which had been abandoned to a heap of rocks ( as it turned out on top of more rocks - it was rocks all the way down!).


When the pool was installed we sweet talked the terassier into digging out the beginnings of a little pond - the hole has stayed over several season changes but TC has now finished the job and we have a lovely pond which already has its first resident frog.

 As for the graffiti  - its summertime, the sun is shining at last, got lots to do and the dog needs a walk!

Friday, 5 April 2013

ne'er cast a clout

Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out ...... no way am I waiting that long,I live in south west France for Pete's sake!  I'm trying the power of positive thinking and the winter coat is washed and put away.

And what is out ? Well plenty of daffodils for a start, the hedges and fields are full of cowslips, the sloe bushes, cherry, apricot and peach trees are blossoming and the first asparagus has appeared in the market. We've had some really nice days just to tease but mostly temperatures are struggling to stay in double figures and there has been much too much rain but with reports of April snow in London and 5 foot snow drifts further North I'd rather be here. When the clocks went forward at the weekend we even manged to eat our evening meal outside in the sunshine .

 at least I have been able to get started on the garden, the potatoes are in , first sowings of peas and broad beans are through and the greenhouse is bursting with seedlings ready for planting when the danger of frost is past ( positive thinking again!).
 I love having the greenhouse, its not heated  but is great for keeping me busy at this time of year when the rain falls and the wind blows. Its much too hot in the summer so becomes an extra shed then - in England my greenhouse was the only place I could get tomatoes to ripen - here I can use it to sun dry the fruit. I do love it here!

 This time last year we were in a rush to open up the pool and get it ready for the summer Even last year we realised we had been too hasty and should have left it until nearer the end of the month, so it will be a few weeks yet before we start to investigate that - nice to think about though!

 I may have put the winter coat away but I'm hanging on to my waterproof hooded jacket for a while yet!

Monday, 25 March 2013

a morning in the market

This winter has certainly held Northern Europe tightly in it's grip and been reluctant to make way for Spring, with blizzards even now in the North of England. We are feeling very lucky that we made a visit to family a week earlier than we had originally planned - there was a glimpse of Spring sunshine and I went out without a coat- but just a week later and winter has returned there with a vengeance, we would have had huge problems traveling around the country  on our tour of family and friends in the North.

winter too much for this palm even under its protective fleece

Even here winter has been long, cold and wet with more snow than is usual but at long last I have been able to discard  layers some layers of clothing ( great for instant slimming!) and I've even washed my winter coat before putting it away. There have been a few opportunities for al fresco breakfasts and lunches, the daffodils are out and the blossom is beginning to open on the cherry trees. I think we can say that Spring has finally come to Ségala.

On Thursday our weekly trip to the market in Villefranche de Rouergue was a real treat for the spirits. It was a beautiful day, blue skies and sunshine, the market was buzzing and we were able to sit outside beside the square with our morning coffees. Before we moved here, or "autre fois" as we refer to those times, our idea of a perfect holiday moment would have been just such a morning in the market. We reflected, not for the first time, how lucky we are to have a lifestyle in retirement which basically matches our idea of a great holiday. Of course it wouldn't work quite the same if your perfect holiday is sitting by the pool/beach sipping pina coladas - that way leads to alcoholism I should think! After struggling to beat the winter blues, chest infections and dodgy joints for months that morning in the market was just what I needed.

 Mind you its not all play - the arrival of Spring brings lots of work in the garden and we have plenty of projects planned.
potatoes in
dead trees to fell
start of the pond


 watch this space!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Not over til it's over!

Winter that is.

We've had some really warm days and had started to think Spring was on its way. After all we had been promised by that nice French lady we met on our walk that the "grand hiver" was over. OK there would still be frost at night but we could get started in the garden, I could start sowing some seeds - even the grass looked like it needed its first cut

first sighting of cornellian cherry in bloom

then what ..........we turned our backs for just a few days and went on a birthday jolly for TC in Rome ( the plan was to enjoy some nice early Italian sunshine). In Rome it was wetter and cooler than we had hoped but there was worse at home. Le Grand Hiver paid another visit and there was more snow.

When we got home the house was freezing - these stone houses are great in the summer months because they stay cool but its a different story in the winter. The stones act a a heat sink and it has taken a couple of days with every heater we possess on full blast to make it feel habitable again. The cats' food was frozen in the dish - it was lucky they also had biscuits especially as the lady who comes to feed them had broken down on the last day and never arrived.

We also arrived to find we have another problem. I went to let the hens out, including our two recently acquired arrivals, only to find one of them indulging in some very "unhen" type behaviour with one of our older girls. Further investigation plus some exuberant  morning crowing convinced us we did indeed have a cockerel in the henhouse. He will no doubt be a very handsome bird but I keep hens for the eggs alone so he will have to go! Luckily for us the lady who sold him to us is willing to have him back.

The weather is not the only thing that can't make it's mind up. I seem to have been fighting off a chesty cough for months and thought it had really gone before we went away and now it seems to have sneaked back and most unwelcome it is too. My dodgy knee, which had settled down a lot, has also flared up again so much so that I was seriously limping around Rome - maybe because we had enjoyed three nights of dancing in the week before we went but I'm not going to admit to that! Maybe I'll go the doctor when something gets better - can't go about two ailments at once.

In the meantime - that's quite enough of winter. They do say its not over 'til the fat lady sings - you have been warned - today I am going to sing A LOT!!!