Typical French Sunflower
 

 


Welcome

Gers Retreat

Things To Do

The French Gite

Summary and Prices

Getting There

Availability

Booking

Location

Contact

The Good Life Diary

Out and About

Postcards

Friendly Links


The Good Life Diary 2015/16

 
November and December
 

Autumn brought some much needed rain with it and while Monpardiac lake didn't look as if it had benefited much, our little pond was soon full up again.

On the first day of the month, Ruben had his last dog training and socialising class during which he was assessed for his ability to follow orders. Remarkably he did pass and came away with a certificate. His neighbour and friend Ruby however, got a special prize for being the dog that did the best trick; sadly we hadn't been able to think of any tricks that Ruben was likely to do. We were proud of his achievements just the same though.

 
 

The cranes continued to fly over and often at night, we could hear them passing over head.

The robins were back in force this month and could be seen fighting over their territories. Sadly one banged into the kitchen glass door and spent a good hour in recovery sat out-side while the cats were looking on frustratedly from the inside.

 
 

The chickens finally got too big to get through their fencing so that Martha was no longer a threat. The hope is that now they have grown, we shall get some eggs at last as we hadn't had any hens laying for weeks.

The open mic night that was held in Villecomtal this month was a little bit of a disappointment in that while we did have a number of musicians and singers there were very few people in the audience. Despite being given the posters, it seemed that the owner had failed to advertise the event out-side of the bar.

 
 

After weeks of collecting and sorting, we finally held our sale of new and nearly new clothes in the hall at Tillac. Despite having to change the date and location at the last minute because of access problems with Marciac hall, the sale was very well attended; Rita, Letty, myself and the many helpers were kept incredibly busy through-out the day.

The following week, we took our takings of 3000 Euros to the post office in order to pay it into Medecins Sans Frontiere's account and were shocked to discover that there was a 15 Euro charge for this transaction.

December brought with it some very heavy frosts during the night but most days were wonderfully sunny and reasonably warm. One week-end, we took a trip to Bagneres de Bigorre and then took a walk around a lake nearby which proved to be a very chilly experience; needless to say our picnic was eaten in the car.

 
 
Soon after, Ruben was taken ill. He would not touch any food, had no energy and was showing signs of being anaemic - The vet confirmed our fears that he had indeed contracted tic fever which can kill a dog within 48 hrs. Ruben was given injections of diuretics, steroids and strong antibiotics which had dreadful side effects. We had to just wait and hope that he pulled through which fortunately he did after a few days. It was all very scary!
 
 

Once Ruben was better, he came with us to meet Fin (back from Brunel for Xmas) at Toulouse airport where dogs are actually aloud in the arrivals area. He gave our son a very enthusiastic greeting.

Fin, our French neighbour Paul and I got together that week to work on some Christmassy songs to play at the next open mic night at the bistro at St.Sever including a version of 'God rest you merry gentlemen' which incorporated the Irish jig 'The Swallowtail'.

 
 

As with the last open mic night, December's was not particularly well attended but there was a lovely mix of musicians including a three piece Jazz manouche band.

Letty and her daughter Gus provided a magical performance and Stuart and Dennis gave us some old rock that everybody could sing along to.

 
 
 

Having had two events that have not been particularly well attended, I have decided to take a break for a while so the next OMN will not be until March when we shall hold a St.Patrick's Night celebration in Marciac.

The day after St.Sever, I participated in the carol service in Tillac church which proved to be a magical evening of carols, solo performances and readings. In homage to Leonard Cohen, a Frenchman sung a version of 'Hallelujah' which was so devoid of any feeling that it probably had poor Lenny turning in his grave. The evening was redeemed however with some wonderful acapella singing from Chantilly Fix and acrobatic accordion playing from Lucille. As usual, the church was packed and afterwards the choir led the large congregation to the village hall where everyone enjoyed mulled wine and cake.

 
 

Soon after this, we went to the UK for Christmas, spending time in Dorset, Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey before returning to France to spend New Year's eve with friends at Mike and Christine's house in the next village.

2016 had been a disastrous year for us; what with Brexit, Trump and the loss of so many of my favourite musical icons including Bowie, Prince and Cohen.

We entered the New Year with the wish for no more awful shocks.

 
 

 
October
 
 

We had fantastic weather on the first day of October; the swallows were rushing about and stocking up with insects ready for their long journey and I was trying desperately to grab photos as they flew overhead. It was while I was focusing on them that I noticed a far bigger bird coasting high above and after taking a picture and enlarging it, I realised it was the wonderful osprey again, perhaps this time starting out on its trip back to Africa.

On the same day, we heard the familiar chattering sounds of the first lot of cranes off on their travels across the Pyrenees to Spain.

Despite all this migrative activity it really wasn't feeling particularly autumnal; it was only at the beginning and the end of the day that the temperatures dropped and we started to get a heavy dew.

 
 

On a day that wasn't particularly sunny we went to the Tea in a Teapot in Castelnau Magnoac where there was an event being held in order to raise money for the McMillan Trust.

There we enjoyed a proper cream tea with clotted cream (a rare thing here) while enjoying the company of both sets of our British neighbours.

 
 

The maize in the field at the end of the garden was cut very early this year and it was great to have our landscape opened up and be finally able to walk across that field again. There was quite a bit of maize remaining which I started to collect for the hens, but within the week the farmer had turned over the whole field and all the surrounding ones so there was no more scavenging to be done.

The last few months had been particularly dry ones here in South West France and, as well as our own little pond, many of the larger ones started to dry up including the small lake that Fin and I had fished in weeks before.

 
 

Sadly, hundreds of dead fish were floating on the puddle that remained and I'm guessing that the Marie (he who swore there were no fish in his lake) was the one who came with a digger to take the bodies out and dispose of them.

It was a very spooky and sad sight with the larger dead fish showing some resemblance to the Lock Ness monster from a distance.

 
 
On a happier note, we held another successful Open Mic Night at the bar in Marciac where the room was packed out and the tables out-side were full too. This time Bruno (the landlord) had advertised the event extensively and was in good spirits (in more ways than one) as he was celebrating his birthday.
 
 

Over the two year period that these events have been held, various bits of equipment have needed replacing so on a friend's suggestion, we had a whip round during the evening and managed to raise 150 Euros. This was enough to buy a decent microphone, stand and lead and a further collection in the future will hopefully be sufficient to cover everything.

While most performers use the PA, it is always a refreshing experience to hear people perform with-out and at this session the all female group 'Chantilly Fix' grabbed everyone's attention with their totally acoustic and well rehearsed acapella songs.

 
 

The chasse were out in force this month; walking the dog across the usual terrain did prove to be problematic and twice we were turned back by the men in bright orange.

I must admit it does provide an element of excitement when you are ambling through fields with the sound of guns cracking all around you, but most of the time we relent and return to the lanes. Apparently between 2014-15, there were 42 accidental deaths in France during the hunting seasons. This small boar's death was certainly not accidental and no doubt we will be eating it at the next chasse meal.

 
 

Sadly Ruben also developed a thirst for hunting since he caught and ate a dove.

The young hens that enjoyed the freedom of roaming out-side of the enclosure soon discovered the dangers of doing so when the dog was around. Several times I had to race to rescue them from the feather filled jaws of Ruben until they learnt (the hard way) that it was safer to remain within the confines of the fence.

 
 

For the first time in ages, we had another Curry Club Evening, this time at our friends' Sandy and Mike's in Nizan-Sur-Gesse. The views of the Pyrenees from their wonderful house were breathtaking that evening, but sadly I hadn't my camera with me to capture them. Nor could I capture the wild beauty of their handsome group of huskies that they go sledding with.

The following morning, we stopped at the lake near Castelnau Magnoac for a walk only to discover that there was no water in it and the huge lake had almost completely dried up. We bumped into Ruben's training instructor walking her rescue dogs there and (impressively) Ruben was on his best behaviour showing that he could come back to us when he was called.

 
 

While digging in one of the flower beds I came across this little creature which I assumed was some kind of salamander but unlike the usual fire salamander, this one was a lot smaller and with a red stripe on its back. I'm guessing that it was looking for somewhere safe and warm to hibernate as we had just had our first frost of the season.

While the swallows didn't leave in the end until mid October, the bats made their exit a lot later and at the end of the month, the black red start disappeared and was replaced by one of my favourite birds, the robin.

The tomato plants were finally dug up and the squash stored away but the haricot verte found a new lease of life so we had a fresh supply of them and of course, the yellow courgettes. My dear friend Claire gave me a great recipe for cheese and courgette scones which proved a very tasty way to use them up.

 
 

Myself, Letty and Rita started our clothes collecting this month, arranging for people across the Gers to take their new and nearly new clothes to various pick up points.

Thanks to the help of Sue Atkins (who was taking donations at her British market stall), by the end of the month we had the makings of another good sale.

Bloopers sale will be taking place on Saturday 19th November 10 - 5 p.m. at the Salle des Fetes in Marcaic with all proceeds going to Medicins Sans Frontieres.

 
 

I always get a bit ratty at the end of the month with the lead up to Toussaint (fete des saints et des mort) as the chapel next to us becomes a real hive of activity and our peace is broken for a number of days. Over a week or so, various people come to the graves to clean and attend to them but usually this involves much chatter and takes up a considerable amount of time. It was however, a good training opportunity with Ruben and he learnt not to bark at every car that would pull up out-side.

I did make the exception twice when (bizarrely) two English speaking Jehovah Witnesses came to pay us a visit two weeks running.

Nearing November the mornings here did became colder but despite one or two frosts, the daytimes were so hot (30c) that everyone had to revert to their summer wardrobes again.

Our fire remained unlit through-out the month and we made the most of what had been the hottest October that we had experienced in the eight years that we had been here.

The cranes flying over though were a reminder that Autumn was well and truly on its way confining summer as another happy memory.

 
 

 
September
 
 
The hot, dry weather continued into September reducing our pond into a mud pit, slowing down the growth of the courgettes and making our harricot verte inedible. Our chillies and tomatoes thrived however and we had so many of the latter, that on particularly hot days I managed to sun dry quite a few just by preparing them and placing them on trays in the car. The wisteria amazingly blossomed for a third time and the morning glory plants that had been growing for months finally showed their true colours.
 
 

A couple of friends and I met up for the first time this year to discuss the annual 'Bloopers' new and nearly new clothes sale to be held on November 19th in Marciac. Last year we managed to raise almost 2,500 Euros for Medicins Sans Frontieres and it is hoped that we will raise even more this time. In preparation, the cow shed was cleared of rubbish ready to be filled with clothes.

The lakes were the lowest we had seen them in years and the small lake, hidden behind Monpardiac was looking very grim; despite the Marie's claim that it was devoid of fish, Fin and I spent many hours successfully fishing there. It had been a few years since I had last done this but (like riding a bike) I hadn't forgotten how to cast out; I had however forgotten my feelings of discomfort when unhooking the catch. I've never been totally convinced that fish have no feelings.

Because the waters were so low, the kingfishers had further to go to catch their prey and so were far easier to spot – a couple of them were darting too and throw every few minutes which was a delight to watch but sadly impossible to photograph.

 
 

Our open mic evening this month was held at the sports bar in Trie Sur Baise where we had an excellent turn out of both musicians and audience. Fortunately the bar was big enough to house everybody but unfortunately with its many wall mirrors, tiled floor and polystyrene ceiling, the bar's acoustics were appalling.

The evening kicked off with an amazing song and dance routine from the flamboyant Florita – an 82 year old lady with bright red hair, fishnets and impossibly high healed shoes. She came along with her 'roadie' partner who set up a CD player for her to sing along to. Apparently she entertains the French people in the various hospitals around the Gers and Florita successfully entertained us that night.

Fin and I actually worked on a few of our favourite numbers for the night (with-out falling out) and we were particularly pleased that it went well as our visiting family were in the audience this time.

 
 

Sadly, the weather dipped a bit while David's family came to stay and we only enjoyed a few days of sunshine. As Fin prepared to return to university in the UK, so the swallows started to congregate ready for their long trip back to Africa. It was while I was trying (unsuccessfully) to take photos of swallows flying over head that I noticed a bird of prey flying very high up in the sky. It was not until I had taken a picture and enlarged it that I recognised the form of the osprey that I guess was heading back to Africa too.

Never would I have imagined that I would be spotting such an amazing bird from my own front garden!

 
 

Ever since our hen reappeared with her dozen chicks, I had been trying to persuade her to take them into the hut at night but with no success. Sadly, this proved to be her downfall as one morning she and ten of her chicks were missing and tell tail feathers were scattered on the ground. I assumed that Monsieur Renard had paid a visit during the night leaving just the two orphan ginger twins behind.

On a happier note, Ruben and I were walking down the lane as a very small and very bright red squirrel happily skipped up towards us. It was not until it was 3 metres away that the squirrel and Ruben acknowledged each other at which point it successfully escaped to the nearest tree.

 
 

As soon as Fin and our family had left for the UK, the weather improved and we had a return to temperatures in the 30s again. It was during one sultry evening that we took a trip to Lupiac where we walked around the very pretty lake and then met up with friends at the bar there for some live music and what turned out to be some excellent food.

A few days after being spade, Ruben went to his first 'socialisation and training' class at Trie Sur Baisse where he was to rub shoulders with a variety of other pouches including his friend Ruby from next door. Considering he was one of the youngest ones there, he didn't do too badly for his first class and if there was a bribe to hand (I soon learned), he would do anything, including posing for photos!

 
 

The end of the month saw the return of the black red start, the night heron paid a visit to our dried up pond and probably demolished all the remaining fish and our hedgehog could be heard rustling and snorting in the undergrowth looking for a suitable place to hibernate.

All reminders that the fantastic Summer that we had experienced this year was finally on the way out and that all too soon, the swallows would be gone and Autumn would be here again.

 
 

 
August
 
 

August was the hottest month since 2003, with temperatures well into the 40s at times.

This year, there were no 'experimental' sunflowers growing in the field next to us, so we could freely plant out our own which brightened up the perimeter of the potager considerably.

Barbecues by the lake and fishing became a regular feature this month and was definitely the coolest place to be during a heat wave.

 
 

Finally we had guests in the gite (French and American) but unsurprisingly no Brits this year.

Our friends from Brittany arrived during the second week of the Marciac festival and joined us at our friends' Christine and Mike's mini music festival in Aux-Aussat during the only evening in August that I can remember it raining. Despite this, it proved to be a magical night; the car port was turned into a stage and bar (with lots of fairy lights) and large parasols brought us altogether with-out anyone getting wet. Fin, myself and Thomas (our friend's son) performed together for the first time and how lovely it was to be playing with such excellent musicians who have known each other since they were babies.

 
 

We had further chicken drama when a hen harrier successfully took off with one of the three older chicks as it was running around out-side of the enclosure. Just the next day as I was feeding the hens, the chicken that I had assumed had been eaten by a fox weeks ago, appeared with 12 tiny chicks in tow. I did eventually find her nest where only 2 eggs had not hatched, which is pretty good going!

Following our sighting of the wild boar family last month, we actually heard them for the first time possibly fighting in the maize field next to us; the noise was a cross between lions roaring and pigs grunting and really sounded quite menacing. Days later, the chasse were out and about and managed to shoot one very large boar just a couple of fields away. The poor hunter had to wait hours before enough men arrived to help him carry off the very large prey.

 
 

August was an amazing month for bird spotting – I caught sight of a black woodpecker; I have only ever seen them in Costa Rica before. I also finally spotted the golden oriole after just hearing it for the last 8 years. It was a lot smaller than I had anticipated (the size of a blackbird), but stunning all the same with its bright yellow plumage.

Of course, the biggest surprise and definitely the highlight of the year, was spotting a pair of ospreys as they skilfully fished to feed their young. No words can describe the awe and wonder that I felt as I watched them as I had never imagined that we would see them in the Gers. I was buzzing for days afterwards.

This was the month for star gazing too and a lot of late evenings were spent lying on the recliners, staring up at the big sky above waiting to see the shooting stars.

 
 
Being five months old, Ruben was able to join me for longer walks and it was a delight to properly roam the country-side with a dog beside me again. We had been anxious about having a pup after 13 years, but despite his over exuberant behaviour at times, Ruben is very true to the Spinone breed, being very affectionate and an excellent companion. Whether he will make a good guard dog as the notice in the picture suggests is unlikely!
 
 
The meadows around about have been splattered with a great variety of wild flowers, many of which are of my favourite colours; on putting them in a vase however the bright blue ones always loose their colour within a matter of hours.
 
 

We went to the yearly 'Montesquieu on the Rocks' festival which was held at the picturesque village on the hill where a variety of bands were playing; sadly though, the sound wasn't very good this year and didn’t do the music justice.

In contrast, we spent an evening at Marciac on the second to last day of the festival and saw three excellent, but very diverse bands which were again, all free.

The Bjork look and sound alike did some amazing scatting on the main stage in the square and later we were treated to Beatles songs jazz manouche style (that did get a bit boring) and finally a Reggie and rapping band which included a very talented harpist.

Jazz in Marciac was a rather subdued affair this year; for the first time there was a military presence (unsurprisingly) and the number of stalls, restaurants and galleries were reduced considerably.

Supposedly the local newspaper had withdrawn funding this year with the reason being that the owner was unhappy that he and his entourage had not got to sit at President Holland's table during last year's festival meal. The off shoot was that the council had to then increase their funding and in order to meet costs, doubled the charges to all stall holders.

 
 

We had some friends from Farnham finally come to visit for a couple of days and with them we enjoyed some exciting cuisine at the 'Racine' (the château at Pallane) where they were offering a 'surprise menu' along with a special selected wine to accompany each course. The service was truly excellent and I would strongly recommend a visit.

We were also awash with parties this August, with 50th, 60th and 70th birthday celebrations.

Linda's 50th was another outdoors musical event during a very warm Sunday afternoon. It was interesting to note that all those who had come over from Britain for the party were sunning themselves in front of the stage while all us ex-pats were keeping to the shade having had our fill of sunshine for the month.

Days later it was my dear friend Dr.Grey's 70th birthday. Being a man of letters, I regularly receive helpful e-mails from Michael regarding my spelling and grammar in these diaries and so appropriately, we brought him a 'I am silently correcting your Grammar' T. Shirt.

 
 

The next day, we drove up to Brittany to help our friends Chris and Val's in their preparations for their joint 60th Birthday 'Out of Bounds' party.

With about 150 people expected, we had a busy time preparing all the food and then turning their delightful orchard into a party paradise with its big chapiteau and stage for the bands along with tables and chairs dotted under the trees where Chinese lanterns hung.

I think we all enjoyed the preparation almost as much as we did the actual party during which we enjoyed a varied mix of bands including Valerie's singing group. Fin and I were so busy enjoying ourselves in fact, that we didn't get round to playing ourselves.

 
 
Towards the end of the evening, the big fire was lit and it was magical to see those children who had managed to stay awake, dancing in the light of its flames.
 
 

It took a day to recover and then we started taking a slow drive back home, stopping off to camp (and fish) at the delightful town of Riberac.

Our last day of the month was spent at Monpardiac lake where we set up our camp fire, fished, ate, drank our favourite St. Mont and reflected on what a wonderful month August had been.

 
 

 
July
 
 
It's always a sign of a hot summer, when the sprinklers are turned on at the start of July. The wheat in the field next to us started to turn a golden yellow and finally the colza fields beyond were harvested. It was during this noisy activity that I observed a group of eight adult sanglier about 5 metres away making their journey through a clearing in the wheat in order to seek some peace elsewhere. It was a wonderful experience seeing them so close up but all too soon they were lost in the maize field beyond.
 
 

During the first weekend of the month, I attended Mollie and Ben's new studio opening – a wonderful barn conversion next to their house in Mielan. David had spent a few days here, helping to lay down the floor and rendering the walls so it was good to see the whole project completed and ready for use.

Both Ben and Mollie will be holding their art and pottery classes here from the end of the summer.

 
 

Returning from a lovely evening at the restaurant in Bassoues, I went to shut the chickens in only to discover that a fox had paid a visit; there were feathers everywhere and the three hens with their three chicks had disappeared. I had assumed that the fox had taken them and so was very surprised when two hens and three chicks just suddenly appeared three days later. On the same day, an adult hen harrier and two of its young got into the enclosure and took one of the chicks and (on a more positive note) I discovered that Mrs. Grey had hidden herself under one of the huts and was sitting on a large clutch of eggs. So much drama in just a few days!

Socially, we were very busy this month with a party in Antin, an 'Inheritance track' evening that we held here, a music quiz (which my team lost again) and a couple of evenings out at friends'.

On one particularly hot day, myself and two friends drove off to the grand book swap near Maubourguet, with a car boot full of books to swap. It wasn't until I had been driving for 30 minutes that we realised that none of us knew exactly where we were going. The car had no air con. and the driver's window would not open. It took an hour by the time we found the place by which time we were severely overheated and all the best of the 1000's of books had been swapped. Fortunately, there were cool beers available and enough reading matter to make the hot and horrendous journey worthwhile.

 
 

The swallowtail is one of my favourite butterflies and so it was a delight and not a disaster to come across the larvae feasting on the feathery fennel foliage growing in the back garden.

Last month, my friend Fabienne gave us one of her rescued hedgehogs to let loose in the garden and several times during July, he was seen at night happily checking out his new surroundings. Sadly, one hedgehog will not be sufficient to get rid of all the slugs and snails that we now have and my hopes for the re-emergence of cosmos have been dashed. The garden looks rather dull with-out them.

 
 

Fin and I had our first swim in the lake on one particularly hot afternoon and Ruben just took a gentle paddle. While he has got webbed feet, the breed's love of water is not apparent yet. He does make a very good fishing companion however and does enjoy just sitting and looking out across the waters.

The hot weather continued right up until we left to camp in the Ariege region. We had been expecting warm days which did not happen and we spent a lot of our holiday wishing that we had packed our jeans and jumpers.

 
 
As with all our camping breaks, a lot of time was spent with the men fishing and myself reading; but there were some lovely rivers to sit beside and luckily I did have a very good book. Both Fin and Dave did manage to catch some trout which were just the right size for eating.
 
 
 
For a change, we did visit the neighbouring town of Saint Lizier where there was quite a grand château on a hill, affording wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.
 
 

While it was a little chilly, we did spend a couple of evenings under the stars where we spotted what appeared to be tiny LED lights scattered across the grass. On closer inspection we discovered that they were in fact glow worms.

We also visited Foix which was a bit of a disappointment and while the countryside was very pretty and the rivers very clean we were of the opinion that our region of France is far prettier.

 
 

As we left the camp site and bid goodbye to the French drunk who had been serenading us during our stay, we heard the dreadful news about the bombing in Nice and so our journey back was rather a quiet one.

Despite yet another French terrorist tragedy, the mood the following evening at our Open Mic night at St. Sever remained relatively buoyant. Fortunately, the weather had picked up so it was warm enough for us to hold it outside in the pretty courtyard garden. I played an Irish lament on the penny whistle which was followed by a minutes silence to remember those who had died in Nice; It was all very moving.

Temperatures quickly picked up and during the hottest day of the month we rather stupidly decided to go to the Tempo Latino festival in Vic Fezensac, taking Ruben with us. The security guards informed us that dogs were not allowed where the live music was being played so in the end, we struggled to a bar and had a couple of beers (while appreciating all the sweaty Latino dancers in the streets) and ended up again at the restaurant in Boussous.

 
 

The first day of the Jazz in Marciac festival also saw the arrival of our first American gite guests – a delightful family from Seattle. Perhaps due to Brexit, our bookings have been down considerably during the summer with no Brits choosing to come and stay at all.

Having lost a chick and a chicken this month to predators, it was an uplifting event when Mrs Grey's eggs finally hatched at the end of the month. Despite sitting on almost a dozen eggs, only three survived which may have been due to the soaring temperatures (40c) during the week. With no signs of a change in weather, it is very fortunate that there is plenty of shade for these little ones to seek cover under and hopefully the harriers will be too hot to bother hunting them.

 
 

 
June
 
I brought back a little bit of the UK when we flew back at the beginning of the month in the form of 6 fertilised eggs from my sister's beautiful Pekin bantams in Hungerford. Fortunately there were three broody hens that were willing to do the sitting so I set up the small hut in the enclosure again, put the eggs under one of them and crossed my fingers.
 
 

On the first week-end of the month, we took the trip to Limoges to collect our pup, stopping at a very peaceful camp site at Cahors on the way. Despite it being June and lovely weather, there were very few people on the municipal site and it was a delight to stroll along the river as the mist rose in the early morning and not see a single other person.

We found Irene and Keith's house eventually the next day and were overwhelmed by the number of Spinones that we were surrounded by; as well as the eight 12 week old pups, we counted at least 8 full sized dogs and bitches living in the house.

Despite the numbers, none of them were barking and there was actually a sense of calm in the air.
Within minutes of getting our pup into the car, he vomited, but other than that, he managed to sleep during most of the 5 and a half hour journey home.

 
 

It was a lovely feeling finally having a dog again though we did struggle with the initial 5 nights of barking and whining that followed and then the rude awakening at six in the morning most days. It was fortunate that we had a spare room away from the kitchen that we could sleep in.

It took nearly a week for us all to decide on a name; His pedigree name was Mario which reminded us too much of the Nintendo game, so finally we settled on Ruben.

We had to wait quite a few days before we could take Ruben out and I found my morning walks even more frustrating but it was during one of these that I came face to face with a young hare that had jumped down from the bank onto the lane in front of me. He was so close that I could see his whiskers twitching as he eyed me up and down before ambling off towards the small lake only to return and jump back over the bank into the field.

It was a breathtaking moment but I was so cross that I hadn't had my camera on me to capture it.

On several occasions during the following weeks, two older hares could be seen chasing each other in the meadow and I'm guessing that they were planning on having another litter.

 
 
Our frogs were particularly vocal this month and as usual, we had the mass migration of the babies that could be seen crossing the paths and roads. The bells in our chapel were finally adjusted so that they chimed almost in synch with Big Ben (rather than ten minutes later) and at 7 O'clock it seemed that all the frogs in the garden would join in to create a cacophony of sound.
 
 

Along with the frogs, I had the pleasure of listening to Fin and his trumpet playing friend working on some music they were preparing for a private American themed party.

Putting Dylan aside, it was a delight to hear live versions of 'So What' and 'Take Five' as well as more recent numbers such as 'Don't Worry, be Happy'.

Our music knowledge was again tested at our friends' music quiz held at Paul and Jane's one balmy evening: this was Ruben's first social outing and he did behave very well.

Amazingly, Dave's team won and mine came second to last (again)!

Making the most of the great weather, one early evening we went to the river at St.Sever in order to fish and have a barbecue. Sadly no fish were caught, but I had packed an alternative 'just in case'!

 
 

Later on in the month, our friends Katie and Iain, dropped in on their way back from Spain and we spent a lovely evening catching up, chatting about the referendum while finishing off all the lovely bottles of Rioja that they had brought with them. I spotted my first shooting star of the month which I optimistically took to be a sign that the vote would be going our way. I wished on it, just to make sure...
In the morning we all woke up to the nightmare news that the Brexit voters had won and our hangovers were insignificant compared to the strong feelings of anger, incredulity and nauseousness that we experienced that day.

 
 

To cheer ourselves up, all three of us (and Ruben) spent the week-end at 'Bedefest' which was a lovely music festival held in the grounds of a château near Aignan. Luckily, it wasn't too hot and we spent a very relaxing afternoon and evening listening to a variety of bands and musicians in the surrounds of gently sloping hills and with the stately château as a back drop. As this was the first such event to be held here, there were not a huge amount of people so it was hardly Glastonbury, but we had a wonderful time and managed to forget (briefly) about the mess that was happening in the UK. Ruben appeared to enjoy himself too though the fireworks at the end of the evening did prove to be a bit of a challenge for the little pup.

At night, we all piled into the three person tent and unlike at home, we didn't hear a peep out of Ruben; in fact, we had to wake him up in the morning when we were ready to go.

 
 
Soon after this, the chicks started to hatch under the three hens that ended up sitting on them. Sadly, out of 8 eggs there were only three chicks that hatched and it was difficult to work out which were the Pekins and which were ours; still, as we had 6 Pekin eggs we can assume that at least one of them will be from Jane's hens.
 
 

Only days after hatching, the poor chicks had to face their first trauma with the visit from a fox. Ordinarily, I shut the hens in their huts at dusk but one particular evening, it was almost dark by the time we had returned from a meal in Bassoues. When I went to shut them in, the small hut was empty and there were piles of feathers lying on the ground. A search proved fruitless and it was assumed that a fox had taken the 3 chicks and the three hens until two days later when they all reappeared from the undergrowth.

On the same day that they reappeared, Fin and I heard a crow commotion, firstly coming from the magpies, then the jays, finally we heard the alarm call of the chickens. Rushing to the enclosure, we witnessed a huge female hen harrier just taking off, fortunately with-out anything hanging from his talons. Again, there were a few feathers lying around, but there was so much plant life to provide cover that the chickens were successfully protected from the harrier. During the same week, this happened three times until the bird finally gave up.

 
 
Another open mic night was held this month, this time at the café in Marciac where the weather was so pleasant that we had people sat inside and out. As usual, we enjoyed a wide variety of musicians and singers though sadly there was a lack of French people taking part. One exception was this wonderful man who treated us to some rather 'boozy' blues harp playing. By the end of the evening he was successfully placated by my friend Jeanette and him and a group of other musicians continued playing out-side until the early hours of the morning.
 
 

In the short time that Ruben had been with us, he experienced two live music events, a music quiz, festival, two barbecues, had witnessed loud music, camping, fireworks a rowdy bar and lots, lots more; true to the breed though, he has not been easily phased.
He is very happy in his new home, though clearly has a bit of growing to do before he can properly fit into those big paws!

 
 

 
May
 
 

The month kicked off with another floralea, this time in the romantic setting of the Abbey at St.Sever du Rustan. We had a pleasant wander around, bought our tomato plants and then had a picnic by the river with friends Michael and Sarah and their dog Mavis.

Soon after, a pleasant spring morning was spent with Mary Jane during which we took a walk around Marciac lake and heard no less than five separate nightingales singing their hearts out. What a treat!

Our garden was also full of the sounds of birds as the young fledged and the parents were on noisy guard duty. Daily there would be some commotion out-side and magpies were nearly always the cause of it. I spent a lot of time chasing the bandits away; they proved to be far more of a threat to the young birds than our cats ever could be.

 
 

While gardening round the back of the house, four feathery balls appeared to fall from the sky at my feet; the wrens had finally fledged. Inevitably one of the smaller chicks fell prey to anchovy within minutes of hitting the ground and another had to be thrown back up into the nest, but as far as I'm aware three out of four survived which is pretty good.

At the same time, the goldfinches in the honeysuckle by the hanger successfully fledged (very noisily) but unlike the wrens, they appeared to take to the shies straight away. I'm guessing that their survival rate was equally good.

 
 
My friend Fabienne was in the business of saving chicks; hers (black red starts) had their home within a well pump where the cats soon discovered and ate the parents. Sadly the babies were probably too young to be removed and hand fed, so died a few days later.
 
 
My neighbour did have more success with three hogs that had also been orphaned at an early age. Over a number of weeks, they had to be bottle fed with me taking over at the times when Fabienne had to go to work. At one point, they were poorly and had to go to hospital (free of charge), but by the end of the month the two that had survived were successfully released into the wild.
 
 

Our garden really needed a few hedgehogs this spring as (unusually) we had a huge problem with slugs and snails; The delphiniums were getting eaten to bits and for the first time the cosmos failed to appear. We concluded that the mild winter had been the cause of such an increase in insects and slugs and snails. I did manage to acquire one or two new shrubs to make up for the loss at the yearly plant swap at St.Dode where my horseradish plants proved to be popular as usual.

We spent a very pleasant musical evening at our friends' Louisa and Stuarts where I had the opportunity to jam with their two helpxs from New Zealand, both of whom were excellent guitarists.

 
 

So I was really thrilled when Henry appeared at our next open mic night at Villecomtal where he ended up forming a duo with an excellent American singer who apparently lived locally. We were also finally treated to hearing the voice of our friend Malcolm who had been promising to perform ever since the open mic nights started nearly a year ago.

The next OMN will be on Friday 15th July at the bistro and St.Sever.

 
 

'Le jour de la liberation' was celebrated at our local salle des fetes where we enjoyed free aperos and mouche bouche while catching up with all our neighbours. Hours later, we headed home much the worse for wear.

Our hunt for another pup over the past few weeks had proved fruitless; we had visited the rescue centres, searched on line but had failed to find a replacement pup that we liked. Finally we resigned to the fact that there was not another breed that was as agreeable to us as that of the Italian Spinone. Fortunately there was a litter available in France and after viewing them on Skype, we decided to reserve a little male orange and white pup.

 
 

While he was old enough to leave the litter, we were due to go to the UK the following week, so we arranged to collect him from Limoge on our return in June.

Despite the 'air ban', our hens continued to enjoy the freedom of being outdoors and we learnt that our Marie along with so many others, had chosen to ignore directions for small holders to bring their birds under cover.

Mrs. Grey finally became broody and settled in the small hut in the hanger, away from the rest of the gang.

Just before leaving for the UK, we had an excellent Eurovision Song Contest evening with our friends' Christine and Mike and their family where we ate some excellent tapas and collectively squirmed at some of the dreadful acts while celebrating others including the winner which got our 'thumbs up'.

The day after, we joined Paul and MJ in an 'Oriental evening' at the Salles des fetes in Beaumarches which was held to raise money for a trip to London for adults with learning difficulties who work at the village restaurant.

This was an interesting evening as the theme of 'Oriental' seemed to encompass a variety of cultural influences including Egyptian, Turkish, Chinese and Indian.

We were entertained through-out the event with groups of belly dancers whose change of costumes (7 in all) reflected this theme. The food was also a bit of a mix but was very good and considering that the hall was full, those involved with its execution (mainly the clients), had done a splendid job.

 
 

All too soon, it was time to leave the sunny south of France and go to the UK where we were expecting many grey wet days. As it turned out, the weather was absolutely perfect though-out our trip.

We picked up Fin and his belongings from the Brunel campus where he had just completed (and enjoyed immensely) his first year.

The next day, our son took us on a budget tour of London which involved a lot of walking and brilliant sight seeing during which amongst other places, we visited St. Paul's cathedral, Tate modern (where Andy Warhol blew me away), crossed the river on the Emirates cable car and had a great lunch at Borough market. We found a great retro clothes market at White chapel and enjoyed coffee and excellent cake at a little Russian run café.

The weather was fantastic for our niece's wedding in Farnham (I said we would bring the sunshine with us) and stayed that way during a family reunion in Hungerford. It didn't actually rain until the last day of our visit.

It was wonderful to return to the peace and quiet of our little corner of France and find that we had missed the worst of the weather (the garden had been well watered) and that there would be plenty of sunny days ahead of us.

 
 

 
April
 

This month kicked off with another open mic night held for the first time at the Cafe l'hotel de Ville in Marciac where fish and chips and draft Guinness (my favourite tipple) were on the menu. As usual this was very well attended and we had a wonderful mix of performers who were this time, mainly British.

This night proved to be a personal challenge for me as my friend Nick damaged his back at the last minute and following a brief introduction to sound engineering, I had to manage the sound and compère the evening. For over 40 years I have let other people (men) 'twiddle with the knobs' and it was quite liberating after all that time to discover that I could do this too.
Gus stole the evening (again) with her very soulful voice and successfully managed to quieten even the most inebriated members of the audience.

 
 

Spring in this part of France brings a plethora of floraleas with one of the first being in the little medieval village of Tillac which is just down the road from us.

The social aspect is always a big part of this event and I'm sure we spent more time chatting to people we hadn't seen for ages than actually looking around all the plant stalls.

 
 
While Fin was still with us, we took the opportunity to go and do some fishing. Though neither Fin or Dave caught anything resembling a fish, we did have the pleasure of discovering new waterways and two delightful watermills that were only 2 km apart.
 
 
 

We had a number of dinner invites during these weeks and there was one main subject on the lips of most of our x-pat friends and that was the EU referendum.

I imagine that a majority of the 1.26 million UK residents living in other EU countries ( 255,000 here in France) are experiencing the same level of anxiety as we are.

It is perhaps no coincidence that there has been a dramatic drop in the number of Brits buying houses in France recently and we anticipate that there will be no viewings of our home until after the referendum when we hope that our future in France will be secure once more.

 
 

Sadly our swallows that had returned last month, for some reason chose not to settle in our hangar and I think went next door instead; the little wren at the back of our garden made up for this however by choosing to build her nest in the honeysuckle close to the back door. It was a real pleasure to watch her whiz to and throw for hours on end.

In the middle of the month, we heard the golden oriole for the first time this year.

I have yet to see this exotic sounding bird but as my friend pointed out, it's their elusiveness that makes them so magical.

 
 
A café break during another fishing trip took us to the town of Maubouguet where we admired the impressive line of 'twiglet' trees that have been very cleverly grafted together to make the most fantastic canopy, providing us with some much welcome shade.
 
 

The maize field adjoining our land was finally ploughed, tilled and planted up all within a day, which was very impressive though we were disappointed at the prospect of having maize at the bottom of our garden again.

Our second floralea and very large vide grenier was held in the grounds of an impressive château at L'Isle de Noe where we managed to find coriander and bush basil plants to add to our herb gardens.

 
 
Finally, we had some colour in our garden as the calla lilies, various irises and (the star of the show) the wisteria all came out into bloom.
 
 
The front garden was filled with the heady scent from the wisteria which (thanks to my sisters advice regarding pruning), had come up with twice as many flowers compared to last year. The view from the pond was a particularly pretty one.
 
 

Having spent many hours on the garden over the last few months, it was very satisfying to see that all that hard work had paid off. Likewise, we reaped the rewards of Dave's toils by enjoying a bumper crop of asparagus, purple spouting broccoli and the very last of the onions and butter nut squash.

At the end of the month, Dave put back up my favourite reading hammock ready (I hope) for the very long and hot summer to come.

 
 

 
March
 

What a wet month this was and despite having had a very mild winter, many of the spring flowers seamed to be reluctant to show themselves and were very late appearing.

Early on in March on a rare sunny day, the wonderful sound of happy chattering was heard and I saw what must have been about 300 cranes flying overhead; the noise they made was so loud that David (working in the next village) could hear them above the sound of the cement mixer. It looked and sounded as if some of them had settled just over the ridge so I quickly popped in the car to see if I could spot them, The drive along the ridge is wonderful, affording views of Monpardiac lake and the Pyrenees in the background; but as I looked down on the lake it was clear that those cranes had not settled. I was however treated with the typical spring scene of a very proud looking sheep with her young lamb, so it was worth the trip.

 
 

The following week-end marked the start of the trout fishing season and this year, David decided to get a licence. Over an unusually sunny couple of days we ventured out with rod, camera and a good book. Our first trip was to a river on the way to St. Michel and in order to get to it, we had to fight our way into some very wild woods but once through, we were treated with the colourful sight of river banks covered with wild periwinkle, wood anemone and milk maids. The loud grunting and then the charging past of two very large black boar prevented me from taking any pictures, but I did try and follow them until the undergrowth became too dense. Later, David saw another couple of boar drinking from the river. I do hope to get a picture of them one day!

Our next fishing trip was to St.Sever where we had our first picnic and David had some success catching his first rainbow trout of the year.

 
 
Over the next few days, I set the crayfish nets in the pond again as some of them had been spotted making their way along the lane and into the ditches. Remarkably there were none of these critters in our pond (which was good news for the newts) but as usual, there were quite a few young salamanders that had found their way into the nets.
 
 
For the first time, I caught one salamander that appeared to be crested and I would be interested to know if this is a separate breed to the usual fire species.
 
 

The following week-end we drove to Lourdes airport to pick up our son who would be with us for the Easter holidays; three months had been the longest time that we had been apart and it was so good to see him again. In the evening David cooked a special meal and we enjoyed our first crop of asparagus from the garden.

We experienced another culinary treat when we had a curry club gathering at our friends' house at Frechede. This proved to be a pleasant reunion with Mark returning from his winter stay in Spain, Frances and Darren from the Isle of Man, Fin from London and honorary member Mary from her extensive travels around Asia.

What made the evening even more special for me was the large and very bright shooting star which fell from the sky in front of us as we were leaving for home.

 
 
Finally, the wet weather came to an end and we enjoyed temperatures back in the 20s - ideal for a trip to the Pyrenees. We arrived at Bagneres de Bigorre just in time to wander around the market, grab a coffee and buy some wonderful local produce for our picnic. The drive to Lac de Payolle proved to be good practice for Fin who was needing to get used to driving our old right hand drive car; there were some great windy roads to be driven along. Despite the snow on the mountains, we were too hot in our tea shirts but we were certainly not complaining; it was the perfect day for a picnic and the perfect venue.
 
 

During this month we were asked to give the details of our poultry keeping by the Marie as there has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of bird flu in the area. As from February, farmers have stopped breeding any more ducks, chickens etc. so that there will be an 'air lock' for a brief period. All areas will then be disinfected before breeding can resume again in May (in time for the Christmas trade). It will be strange seeing the empty duck farms but the smell will certainly not be missed. It seems that in general the French Government do look after their farmers and no doubt there will be a lot of compensation being passed around to cover the loss of income.

For the first time in years, we were all together for my birthday and the sun was shining.

As I was having my morning cup of tea, our little swallow flew by and into the hanger, back from his stay in Africa and later we heard the first cuckoo of the year.

We had a lovely lunch sitting out-side the bistro at St.Sever and on our return, the many frogs around the pond started to sing for the first time this year. All the firsts in one day!

 
 
Later, the cats in the garden caught our attention as they appeared to be playing with something. On closer inspection we saw that they were both teasing a very long and fierce looking snake which was attempting to bite Elgar. After getting the cats away (with a flying shoe) we managed to get a closer look. Fortunately it turned out to be the non-venomous Aesculopian snake which we later moved (with a very long stick) into the field next door.
 
 
How I love the surprises that nature pulls and there is no doubt for me that March is the most exciting month of the year as regards to wildlife activity.
 

 
February
 
 

I'm not going to pretend that this has been an easy month; the loss of our faithful companion left a huge void that I'm sure will take some time to fill. Martha was known and loved by so many people and it was therefore no surprise following her death, that we received numerous phone calls, lovely photos and messages from all those whose lives she had touched.

I continued on my daily walks but of course they were not the same and to add more purpose to them, I started to collect kindling and dig up wild flowers and ferns on the way.

A lot of time was spent in the garden in February (despite the rain), clearing the ivy from under the trees by the pond and transferring the woodland plants gathered from these walks.

 
 
Our bantams took to our new colourful little cockerel straight away and finally resumed their laying after a good two months of producing nothing. Mrs. Grey discovered that she was more than capable of jumping over the enclosure fence and was seen most days, happily wondering around the rest of the garden; fortunately being very small, she can do little damage and being a very sensible hen (if there is such a thing), she does manage to fly back safely into the hut at night.
 
 

During the month, we continued to enjoy the organic vegetables that our garden produced, including carrots, parsnips, spinach, brussel sprouts, leeks, onions and numerous butter nut squash.

The rainfall this month was quite incredible and all the local lakes (including Monpardiac) returned to their normal levels within a matter of weeks. The Mimosas that had appeared to have been all killed off during a particularly cold spell a few years ago, returned in full bloom and while I'm not a fan of yellow, they did add some colour to the landscape.

Of course in our garden, blue was the theme...

 
 
 

Myself and my friend Fabienne did come across one wild boar during a walk early on in the month but for me, even more extraordinary was the sighting of a rabbit near the small lake down the lane. We are fortunate here not to experience rabbit damage in our gardens as there usually aren't any, but this spotting of one nearby is a little worrying.

When our son used to take the bus to school, he would see one in the next village and we nicknamed it 'The rabbit of Aux-Aussat' – looks like they are getting nearer and nearer!

 
 

This month's open mic evening was held in the Cafe de Sport in Trie Sur Baise which was the biggest venue so far, but despite the size of the bar we managed to completely pack it.

Every time we hold these evenings, we get some surprise acts and real gems and this evening was no exception. The 6 piece swing band proved to be a challenge for Nick's mixing skills and it was fortunate that there was the space for them. We witnessed a magical performance from Letty and Gus and were entertained greatly by a quirky 70 year old French woman who sang old Bowie songs while making some very interesting and challenging movements with her bony black stockinged legs.

We are now being approached by bar owners who are keen to host this event and so, at the request of Bruno, our next open mic evening will be at the Cafe l'Hotel de Ville, Marciac on April Fool's Day.

 
 

In the absence of Marth, our two cats have been ruling the roost even more than usual and Elgar has become particularly naughty as regards to going where he shouldn't and rushing around the house making a hell of a racket.

Dave and I realise that we will need to get another dog and that an Italian Spinone pup at 1,050 Euros is something that we certainly cannot afford. Needless to say, we have had a deluge of suggestions for rescue dogs but we will continue with our search for the right pup; Martha is certainly going to be a difficult act to follow!

 
 

 
December and January
 

The glorious weather of November continued into December and the sun was so strong at times that I was out gardening in my t shirt. We had collected a trailer load of horse manure so the beds in the back garden needed thoroughly weeding and plants dividing before I took on the back breaking task of shovelling on all the good stuff.

Also, inadvertently, I had aided the break down of our own compost heap by adding hot embers and setting fire to the whole lot. When I got up the next morning, large blankets of smoke could be seen drifting from the end of the hanger and I had to tend to the fire in the freezing cold, dressed only in my pyjamas and a dressing gown. I had hoped that David would wonder where I was and come out and help but as it was, thirty minutes passed before the heap was under control and I could return to the warmth of the house.

The next day, the compost ended up on Dave's vegetable patch.

 
 

As usual, there was plenty going on during this month including an open mic night in Marciac, three Xmas fairs, two carol concerts (one at our friends Christian and Letty's house and one in the church at Tillac) and a festive curry club evening in St.Dode.

The open mic night proved to be a very quiet one which was a bit of a shame. The staff at La Penac had learned from their mistakes from the last OMN and were better staffed and had laid on a simpler menu. Still, those who did come really enjoyed themselves.

The Xmas fair at Marciac was lovely, with a big variety of artisan stalls and a very festive atmosphere. Our son had just returned for the holidays and really appreciated the contrast of a small French fair from the super hype and hustle and bustle of London.

There were one or two street acts including this one person band who played a beautiful looking old metal guitar quite excellently!

 
 

A few days later, we all returned for a Xmas in the UK and I actually enjoyed the frantic two days of Xmas shopping we did in Canterbury with my Brother John. We also visited friends and family in Willesborough (where I was brought up) and Sellinge before ending up at my Sister's in Hungerford for a Xmas meal and get together with my family. For the first time in years, the three cousins -Riki- (guitar & vocals), Tom - (percussion) and Fin (guitar) jammed together along with myself and John. It certainly beat watching the television!

We had another Xmas day two days later with all David's family in Farnham which was equally pleasurable and just as much fun.

We had had a wonderfully sociable time in the UK but it was still with some relief that we returned 10 days later to the tranquillity of the Gers where the sun was still shining on our little commune.

 
 

Martha had spent her Christmas with her friends next door and had had an equally good time; her arthritis however was noticeably worse and she was having more difficulty moving her back legs. Fortunately we got some excellent medication on line and within days she was almost back to normal again.

New year's eve was spent at our friends' (Christine and Mike's) 'Strictly come dancing' themed party which proved to be great fun; Everybody made the effort to dress up, drink far too much and do silly things to music (including us)!

 
 

For the first time in twelve years, Dave and I had to go on our New Year's day walk with-out Marth (as she wasn't up to it) and appropriately it was a wet and windy miserable day. Still, the fresh air helped to get rid of our hangovers.

One of our resolutions was to get rid of our cockerels and adopt a new one (fresh genes) and to 're home' Harry. We had returned from our break to a hell of a mess where he had been releaving himself on the veranda and for the first time ever, he and I nearly came to blows when he kept interfering with the washing as I tried to hang it out. He had to go!

We took our smaller cockerel to my friend Letty's where we did a swap with another bantam and on the way back, we dropped Harry off at the other end of Monpardiac lake.

A week later, we walked to the lake to see if we could spot Harry, but had no luck.

Looking back, it had been a mistake to call for him at the lake as the next day, he reappeared at the back door along with the two kittens that our neighbours (who were away) had adopted.

 
 

I stopped feeding the kits and within days, they returned to their new home but Harry had to be physically removed again. This time David took him into the next village, to a 'secret location' but I have a feeling that our friend (whose land it was), recognised Harry as a week later, he was back again.

Finally, David took him on a longer journey to a lake in Antin and we have not seen him since. So if any local person reading this does chance upon Harry, please do not call his name as he may very well follow you and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

 
 

Our next Open Mic Night was held in the lovely bistro at St.Sever de Rustan and proved to be the most successful session so far. The place was packed and we had a huge number and variety of performers with the majority of them being French for a change.

Nick, myself and Paul did a couple of Bowie numbers as a tribute to one of my favourite artists and nearing the end, we had some great impromptu jamming from many of the people who had performed through-out the evening. A first for me was the combination of Irish jigs and African drumming which went together perfectly and certainly got people up dancing.
In the early hours of the morning we were treated to some mesmerising belly dancing which had the audience totally transfixed.

Our next Open Mic night will be at the Sports bar at Trie Sur Baise on Friday 26th February.

 
 
Finally, It is with a very heavy heart that I have to write that my very dear companion Martha died on the 28th January after a very brief illness. Although nearly 13 when she went, this was the only time that she had ever been ill and I know that she had a very full and happy life and was much loved by those who knew her.
 
 
I can not describe the sadness and emptiness this loss creates and perhaps this is not the best place to share those feelings, but Martha has featured heavily in these diaries as she has done in our lives and she will be greatly missed.
 
 

 
November
 
 

November delivered us weeks of glorious clear blue skies and warm sunny days (perfect for sitting out reading in the garden) and cold frosty nights (ideal for killing off all the bugs).

Such weather brought out the balloons, like this one viewed from our kitchen window; the cold nights however, sadly brought in a number of wood mice too.

Despite having two cats, it took a while to trap them all and it seemed that their visits would never come to an end!

Harry was also keen to enter the warmth of the house and could often be seen looking forlorn, perched on the window ledge.

 
 

We had a friend staying in the gite for this month and it was soon made clear that while Harry liked Phil's motorbike (often leaving his mark on it), he certainly didn't like Phil who had one or two altercations with him during his stay – usually when he went to attend to his bike.

We are now wondering if Harry is likely to upset holiday makers in the future with his rather eccentric (and dirty) habits and David has even suggested that we should 're home' him!

 
 

On a couple of occasions I met up with friends for walks around Marciac lake which always looks pretty magical this time of the year.

I was also very busy, along with co-organisers Marina, Letty and Rita, collecting clothes for our big 'Bloopers' clothes sale. Fortunately our friend Sue acted as a collection point at her market stall, so I found myself going to Marciac market a little more than usual and it was lovely to meet up with friends at the only bar I know that has a life sized giraffe neck on its frontage.

 
 

I must say that I have been completely liberated this month, thanks to acquiring the old merc that David's mother kindly gave us. While it has taken weeks to get it legal and ended up costing more than the car would fetch in the UK, it has been well worth it and I am no longer tied to the commune during the week.

While (like so many others) I always had my heart set on a fiat 500, this car is so comfortable,reliable and most importantly everything seems to work; it even tells the right time and plays CDs – luxury!

 
 

It was reading week for our son in the UK, so he flew over to spend a bit of time with us and his friends which of course meant having a party in the gite. While all this was going on, we hosted a more sedate curry club evening next door with our friends.

The following week was a very busy one, taken up with preparing for the clothes sale; by this time our old cow shed was so piled high with donations that it was impossible to walk through it. Thanks to friends Fabienne and Phil however, it was all finally transferred to the hall the night before the sale and a few manic hours were spent with helpers, getting things ready.

It wasn't until 6.30 the next day that I heard about the atrocities in Paris that had happened the evening before and it didn't really sink in until I heard the news again 30 mins later.

The Blooper's sale was incredibly busy, with hundreds of people coming in and out, but during quieter moments, we could sense that there was a huge dark cloud hanging above.

I guess it was fortunate for Medicins Sans Frontieres that people still came out the day after the massacre as we managed to raise the fabulous amount of 2900 Euros for them. Even better, we also passed on suitable clothes for the refugees to our friend Louisa and the other unsold clothes were taken on to another sale in aid of a Nepalese school.

 
 

The week after, we held the fourth open mic night; this time at the brasserie in Villecomtal.

There was a very good turn out and some pleasant surprises amongst the performers including Jodie and her partner's cabaret act – Reel Relish .

Acting on a request to musicians on social media, at exactly 9.20 p.m. we got everyone to join in on a song, making as much noise as possible as a means of protest and recognition to the 130 people who had been murdered at that time the previous week.

While generally peope had enjoyed the evening, I hadn't made a very good job of organising the PA., finding it difficult to work the sound and act as compare for the evening.

At the next event therefore (La.Penac, Marciac. 11th Dec.) I am hoping to have someone to help in this area and so ensure that the evening flows and that (more importantly) performers can be heard.

 
 

While sitting in the dining room at the laptop, something banged against the window and on the ground out-side lay a very dazed and very tiny goldcrest. In the UK the goldcrest vies with the firecrest as the smallest bird and really is one of the cutest birds I have had the privilege to get up close to. I left him to come round on the window sill and am happy to say that within the hour, he had disappeared.

As usual, the deer have been seen in their groups since all the maize has been cropped and I, like them, have been collecting up the remaining cobs. The hens have been grateful for the change in diet but obviously not enough to start providing us with some eggs as a 'thank-you'. Sadly bantams do have periods of weeks when they just don't lay and ours are no exception.

 
 

Towards the end of the month, there were two Christmas fairs to go to, one in Tillac in aid of Cancer Support in France (CSF) and the other was at my friend's garden in Antin. Both were organised by x-pats and had some very interesting and individual stalls selling mainly hand made items. I was particularly delighted to see that my friend Gin had discovered her artistic side (she had kept that quiet) and was selling her paintings at a very good rate!

The sun was out when we visited the fair at Antin and it was lovely to be able to sit out in the delightful garden, surrounded by all things Christmassy, sipping mulled wine.

 
 

During this month, Martha has been a cause for concern; as well as becoming slowly blind with cataracts, her back legs are not as strong as they used to be and now and again, she falls over or walks into something.

Our walks therefore have not taken us as far as usual and at times Martha (being a stubborn old bitch) has refused to go any further. On good days, she is almost as sprightly as a pup, but on others, she is on a 'go slow' and really isn't bothered about going too far at all.

Fortunately though, she never appears to be in any pain and remains a very happy dog and the best companion a person could ever ask for. This just means that I may have to get the old mountain bike out as well if I am ever going to get some decent exercise!

 
 

 
October
 
 

'Overnight, very
whitely, discreetly,
very quietly

our toes, our noses
take hold on the loam
acquire the air'

This was definitely the month for the mushroom. Two days after heavy rainfall, Martha and I went on a very long forage and finally found the ceps we were looking for at the foot of an old oak tree (always a good bet) directly under the sign reminding us that mushrooms could only be picked if one had a licence.

Our French neighbours also turned up a day later with a bag full of ceps and other boletus, but by this time the insects had also had a tasting and the tiny holes they had created were a bit of a turn off.

Within the first week of October, our swallows finally left for warmer climes and a few days later, the first cranes were spotted overhead on their migration to Spain.

 
 
On the first week-end, I attended an autumn event at Antin gardens which proved to be great fun. Various handmade sculptures had been hidden around the grounds and it was the visitor's task to find and list them all. I think I saw far more of this magical garden and its hidden rooms than I had done ever before while taking part in this search. Of course the best bit was at the end of the hunt when there was coffee and excellent home made German cake to be had. What a great afternoon out!
 
 
The next day, we took part in a big drive around treasure hunt that had been organised by Fred and Angela from Estampe. All in all about 15 teams participated and we paired up with friends Ruth and Phil. This proved to be the perfect choice as their French and general knowledge was far better than ours and Ruth's organisational skills were second to none. It took us three hours to complete the hunt and we were the first ones to return to base. An hour later (and after we had had a few well earned beers), other teams started to appear with the last of them returning 2 and a half hours later having got completely lost. After a wonderful picnic that everyone had contributed towards, we were presented with a bottle of champagne for tying first place. We were so chuffed!
 
 

Later on in the week, the third open mic evening was held, this time at La Penac bar in Marciac. The bar was absolutely packed which sadly proved a problem for Pia and Ludo who really couldn't keep up with the high volume of customers. Despite the long wait for drinks etc, the majority of people had a great time and we had some excellent entertainment from a wide variety of singers and musicians.

The highlight for me was when my friend's daughter Guss, got up to sing and for all the time that she was on stage, the whole of the bar (including the drunks) remained quiet and spellbound – it was a magical moment.

For local readers, we shall be holding our next open mic evening at L'Escapade Brasserie, Villecomtal on Friday the 20th November.

In December we will be returning to La Penac. Where Ludo and Pia will be better prepared for our numbers with extra staff and a simpler meal.

 
 
The following week-end we took a leisurely drive to the rare plant sale at Ordan-Larroque which proved to be a delightful medieval village up on a hill, which was taken up with all variety of plant stalls imaginable including my favourite rose growers. Although this was October, the sun was so hot that we had to seek some shade at the pop-up bar for a while before heading home.
 
 
The chapel and church next door to us is home to various bats along with both barn and tawny owls, but this month, it saw the arrival (or rather, the possible abandonment) of one very small tabby kitten of only a few weeks old. Of course, my heart strings were pulled and I started to leave food for him, though he would never eat it until I was out of sight. Two days later, he started coming into the garden for his feed and a couple of days after that, amazingly another kit appeared.
 
 

David refused to look at them as he is a sucker for baby animals and it was clear that our two cats were enough and these two would need to go to someone else. It took a long time to win their trust and to finally be able to stroke them, but hardly any time at all to persuade our neighbours Doug and Denise that their house would become much more of a home if it had two cats in it.

It proved difficult to try and catch them (I still have the scars to prove it), but I'm happy to report that Otis and Reading have now moved and are very happy in their new abode which is free from prying ducks!

 
 

This was a very busy month as regards to preparing for the clothes sale that we are holding next month and by the end of it, the old cowshed was full up with bags of new and nearly new clothes that local people had kindly donated.

The sale (in aid of Medicins Sans Frontieres) will take place on Saturday 14th November at the Salle des Fetes in Marciac.

 
 

We were out and about quite a bit during October and although we have lived here for nearly eight years, we are still discovering some hidden gems, including this lovely weir and deserted watermill.

With the trees slowly losing their leaves and the threat of winter looming, we did spot quite a few of the wonderfully dainty looking red squirrels scurrying around and I did have the pleasure of discovering a slightly spooky looking hare lurking in the back garden of a house down the road.

For the first time in years, we found evidence that a wild boar had been at the end of the garden; I remember my sister complaining about the damage that badgers had created on her lawn but realise now that this is nothing compared to the great ruts that those sanglier can produce.

At the end of the month we finally cropped our squash and had to find somewhere suitable indoors for all 35 butter nut and 4 trumpet squashes. Last year we made the error of storing the veg in the cowshed where it was too cold and they did not last the winter. Now hopefully we will have enough squash and chillies (hanging from the beams in the kitchen) to last us well into the spring.

This time of the year, the Pyrenees can be seen more clearly and there is a lovely view that can be had of our house and commune from the ridge road above us.

Seeing the house in this setting reminds us of how very fortunate we are.

 
 

 
September
 

This was always going to be a difficult month, with our son's pending departure to the UK, but visits from family and friends along with some wonderful late sunshine did help to make it that bit more bearable.

We held our second open mic evening – this time in Villecomtal and this proved (again) to be a huge success. One very talented family travelled for over an hour to join us and provided some great entertainment. We were also treated to a lovely performance from my friend Debbie and Fin and I played for what will be the last time for quite a while. While many participants did use the PA, this session saw the establishment of an acoustic set too and in future 'Gin's corner' will be a regular feature of our evenings.

Soon after, three members of Dave's family came to stay and managed to acquire healthy tans during their few days here, though sadly the evenings were a little too cold to sit out and this time it was too cold to swim in the lake.

After numerous driving lessons over the past few months, Fin finally sat his driving test and afterwards we had arranged to have lunch in Condom to celebrate; Unfortunately he was not given his results afterwards and was told that it would be a couple of days before he would hear – but we celebrated anyway.

 
 

Being in Condom also gave Fin the opportunity to say goodbye to all his friends and tutors though despite having had his exam results back in July, the Lycee were unable to give him the certificates that he needed to take with him to the UK.

This was a particularly stressful time for Dave's family as on the 7th Sept. Dave's brother Mike set off to swim the channel. Via Facebook we all followed his steady progress and amazingly he completed it the next day having covered 21 miles in 16.5 hrs. Of course, there was much relief and huge celebrations and now there is a video (cleverly crafted by Dave's niece Luisa) which promotes the swim in order to raise money for The Prostrate Project.

After all this excitement it was soon time for the family and our son to go and I must admit that this was a teary farewell.
Once everyone had left for the airport, Martha and I took a stroll down the lane and marvelled at the hundreds of swallows looking their best in the early evening sun as they congregated on the telephone wires along the way; They too would be leaving soon!

 
 

The week-end that followed was a miserable wet one. To cheer myself up, I persuaded Dave that we should go for a walk and have a treat afterwards. After picking our friend Sarah up we took a stroll around the lake at Castelnau-Magnoac (which is not half as pretty as our Monpardiac one) and then made our way to the 'Tea in the Teapot', just out-side the town.

There is nothing like a proper cream tea to lift one's spirits, especially as the last time I had eaten one was years and years ago. While the teapot is not in a particularly nice setting, the interior of the pot certainly makes up for it and Sarah and I loved the décor and the 'Kath Kidston at the village fete' themed details within.

 
 

During the week that followed, we heard that Fin was very happily settled at Brunel University, had made lots of friends and had already joined the labour party - how chuffed was I! He also finally heard (ten days after the event), that he had passed his driving test.

As the weather heated up again, our group of friends from Ringwood arrived and there was much celebration as this was the first time we had all been together in years.

On the Sunday, we went to the vide grenier at Beaumarches which is one of the largest and nicest car boot sales in the Gers.

 
 
On another wonderfully warm and sunny day, we took a picnic and drove out to Mauvezin castle which has to be one of the best picnic spots we have found so far.
 
 
Fortunately it was a very clear day, so we could see for miles and the few clouds that were in the sky managed to turn the Pic d'midi (the highest point of the Pyrenees) into something quite magical and mysterious.
 
 
Afterwards we re-visited the waterfall that we had discovered last month but this time the walk to it was a lot less hot and sweaty thank goodness.
 
 

Over the past few weeks, Harry and I have developed something like a friendship and now as well as Anchovy (the cat) I have a duck by my side when I am gardening.

He is a very sociable bird which I hadn't considered a problem until he tried to 'muscle in' on our friends' game of boules and gently pecked at everybody's legs as they sat round the table. Perhaps the biggest concern was his regular visits to the gite veranda resulting in our friends having to give the floor a wash down on quite a few occasions.

Despite his faults I maintain that 'Dirty Harry' (as our friends liked to call him), is a lovely duck and we will certainly not be stuffing him with our onions as someone insensitively suggested!

 
 

On our friend's last night, we went to the nearby village of St.Dode where there was a British band playing, a bar and jambalaya to eat. Sadly, this was not well attended, but it did give our friends a flavour of French village entertainment.

Dave and I went to another music quiz, this time at our friend's house at Monclar where my team came fourth and Dave's managed to win. We consoled ourselves with the fact that not knowing theme tunes to adverts and TV shows was not necessarily a bad thing and if we had had more questions relating to 'proper music', we would have won hands down!

On the final day of the month, we joined in our friend Darren's 50th birthday celebrations and had a great time meeting old friends and making new ones while listening to some wonderful music provided by a French duo. It was a delight for me to join in at points and play music that I would normally not have the opportunity to play.

 
 

There were many lively distractions to the month and with our son finally 'flying the nest', so too did the swallows prepare for their big journey ahead.

Another wonderful summer gone, but not forgotten.

 
 

 
August
 
I was right last month when I said that August was going to prove to be an even more steamy and sociable time; with temperatures up in the 40's and a host of events to go to, this month was a complete blast.
 
 

Our friends from Dorset arrived for a week's stay at the beginning of the month and together we enjoyed the many delights of the Marciac Jazz festival while managing to avoid most of the self indulgent and completely unmemorable free jazz bands. It transpired during one wine fuelled evening in the garden, that our friend's daughter Ellie (who has been friends with our son from an early age), had a voice very similar to that of Amy Winehouse. After a touch of persuading and a bit of practising together, Ellie and Fin took their first turn busking on the streets of Marciac. They managed to make enough money for a few beers while having a great time in the process.

Also during our friend's stay, we did manage to take a dip in Monpardiac lake and have a picnic at one of our favourite spots in the Pyrenees at Lac d'Estang.

 
 

The caterpillars that I photographed last month, disappeared soon after and couldn't be seen anywhere. I later read that they actually bury themselves 15cm under the earth and turn into a chrysalis before emerging as a moth a few weeks later. Sadly, I missed their emergence but am still in hope to see the Deaths head hawk moth in full glory at some point.

After following the sounds of much grunting and rustling, I noticed a hedgehog busy building a nest in one of the raised beds in the garden. After a few days, I did have a peek under all the leaves but could only see the hedgehog. She started making a warning hissing noise at me and I guessed that she had gone there to give birth and was now protecting her young. Sadly I missed the emergence of the babies and within a few days, the nest was deserted.

This month saw the arrival of Ruby a delightful bearded collie pup, providing company for our neighbour’s dog Brodie and a possible playmate for Martha.

 
 

Our garden did suffer in the heat; the pond dried up to the point where we lost three carp that we hadn't realised were there, the grass turned yellow and the rose bushes ceased to flower. The cosmos however survived this dry period and grew even taller than me, providing some much need colour in the beds.

 
 

This was a great month for the veg patch and after a lot of watering and tender loving care from David, we were eating our own organic courgettes, harricot vert, beetroot, carrots, spinach, lettuce, rocket, tomatoes, chillies, onions and melons. Our shopping bill went down considerably and I must say that there is nothing better than being able to take your basket to the end of the garden and pick what you are going to eat that day.

The sunflowers at the end of the veg patch were also thriving until we were approached by the farmer after he had been inspecting his own sunflower crop in the field next to us. It transpired that he was growing his flowers for the seeds and had only just realised that our wonderful display of red and orange ones would be cross pollinating his. For the price of a bottle of champagne we were politely asked to chop them down, which we reluctantly did. For weeks afterwards though, I would look with regret to the end of our allotment and really miss that colourful display that were worth at least four more bottles of champagne!

 
 

Myself and four other women got together this month to organise a fund raising event in aid of Medicins Sans Frontiers; this will involve a big sale of quality new and nearly new clothes in the Salles Des Fetes in Marciac on the 14th November. If any local readers have donations for this cause or can help us on the day, please let me know.

I had a huge success this month with my crayfish hunting; the two nets that I had left over night in the lake, managed to trap over 50 of them. This was very well timed as we had been invited to our friends' Herman and Lin's barbecue that evening, so I brought them as our contribution. Sadly, they were over cooked and completely out-shone by the lovely vegetable dishes and meats that our friends had barbecued. We left with the opinion that the Belgians should not just be known for their chips – they make the best barbecues too!

Friends Christine and Mike also held a great barbecue where a chapiteau was erected under which various people (including three generations of the hosts' family) got up and performed. As well as some great acapella singing, and trumpet playing, we had two very little girls giving their rendition of 'You are my sunshine' and  a Frenchman playing 'Stairway to heaven' from start to finish. It was all very diverse and hugely entertaining!

 
 

A couple of weeks into the month and we finally had a couple of much needed downpours and it was quite a relief to have a spell of cooler weather.

The birds (other than the swallows) were noticeable in their absence from the garden as this is often the time when many start moulting and are therefore more vulnerable to prey; even in 'Sparrow city' (our bamboo bush), things remained very quiet and the dawn chorus was almost non-existent.

Unlike the birds though, we were out and about quite a lot and our son was certainly making the most of all the music festivals in the area.

Our friends Frances and Darren held the first ever curry picnic in their delightful garden in Antin. We arrived at 12.30, ate some quite remarkable and imaginative vegetarian Indian finger food, drunk copious amounts of wine and didn't leave (or rather stagger away) until 8 o'clock in the evening. Needless to say our first curry club picnic had proved to be a great success and will certainly happen again!

 
 

We made our yearly pilgrimage to Montsquieu for the 'Montesqieu on the Rocks' festival and enjoyed the incredibly entertaining band https://ohgunquit.bandcamp.com/.

Other than Grace Jones' miserable attempt during the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, this was the first time that we had seen someone sing and even play the trumpet and swing a hoop on her hips at the same time.

Right at the end of the month we took the opportunity to go away camping for the week-end, realising that this would be the last time all three of us would have the chance to spend time together before Fin left for university.

 
 

We did not have to travel too far (only an hour and a half's drive) to find one of the most tranquil parts of the Gers. The Baronnies are the foothills of the Pyrenees and in my opinion, one of the most stunning areas for both landscape and wildlife that I have come across so far in this area. Despite this being supposedly the busiest time for French tourism we hardly came across anyone else and at our camp site, there was only one other tent.

On our first day, fighting against the heat, we followed a small sign which took us on a long walk ending up at a most fantastic waterfall. A cool place to end up on such a hot day.

 
 

After an hour long walk back we were delighted to find that the village bar was open and cold beers were on offer.
The next day we took a very windy drive to the Petite Amazonie where we had a picnic and then followed the river for miles, admiring the amazing vegetation of ferns and lichen that adorned it on all sides.

 
 

We had read that there were an unusually large number of salamanders that lived beside the river but sadly we didn't see any of them.

While we were only away for a couple of nights, it was still magical and those hours in the evening spent chatting under the stars (a few of them shooting) have provided us with special happy memories that will stay with us way beyond the time when our son leaves.

What a wonderful end to the month!

 

 
July
 
What a wonderful month this was – definitely a highlight of the year so far. The weather was absolutely perfect with long hot days, balmy nights and the occasional wild thunderstorm bringing with it some much needed rain and excitement.
 
 

We attended our second village fete of the year which involved a good 200 villagers sitting out-side for a three course meal with a bizarre demonstration of line dancing in-between and a firework display at the end. There was plenty of time to catch up with our neighbours as we ended up waiting two hours for our meal. By this time most of us were well and truly light-headed from all the aperitifs that we had been drinking and were almost up for doing our own version of line dancing. We all agreed that the fireworks (which were promptly activated at mid-night) had been well worth waiting for.

We had two bits of very good news at the beginning of July; After the stress that Fin went through last month and only eight days after his last baccalaureate exam, he received some great results and was formerly offered a place at Brunel university for September.

On the same day, our swallows finally hatched after a whole month of inactivity; At points, the Mother was sitting on the edge as (I'm guessing) she sensed that it was too hot (43c) to sit on the eggs.
To celebrate, we went for a meal out together at our favourite 'low budget' restaurant in Bassoues.

 
 

We went to our second music quiz of the year (this time at Caroline and Colin's wonderful out-doors pop up bar and restaurant in Montesquiou) and enjoyed some great food and company along with some very challenging music questions We had such a good time that neither of us can now remember which of the eight teams actually won.

A few day's later myself, Lynda and Chris held our first open mic night at La Penac bar in Marciac. The evening proved to be a great success with a lovely variety of musicians and singers turning up to perform on what was on the night, a very hot and sticky stage. Despite the heat, the audience were greatly appreciative and the owners of the bar (pleased with the takings) have agreed to open once a month during the winter so that we can regularly run this event.

 
 

We had our first evening barbecue by the lake during the very hot weather and I still find it a delight to have the freedom to make a proper fire to cook on and eat and drink in such beautiful and peaceful surroundings.

We did seem to be rushed off our feet socially this month and in one particular week, we were out for four evenings. It seems we spend the winter hibernating and moaning that there isn't anything to do and come the summer, there is always too much going on and we complain of social exhaustion!

Despite the heat (over 40c at times), there seemed to be a lot of activity in the garden; Harry (still with-out a Sally) finally discovered the pleasures of flapping around in the pond, the cats were hell bent on catching any poor fledgling that had failed the maiden flight and Martha spent her time trying to steal their prey.

 
 

For the first time since the spring, the male hen harrier could be seen hovering above the garden but thanks to the crop sprinkler in the field next door, the hen enclosure was so lush with plants that there was no chance that any chick would be in danger; Sadly though, we did lose one hen and two chicks, all of which died in mysterious circumstances.

Four other chicks developed some sort of eye infection which rendered them blind and disorientated but thanks to a twice daily application of saline solution, they recovered within a few days.

One of the highlights for me this month, was the discovery of three huge and very colourful caterpillars which I found (well camouflaged) on a shrub in the garden.

 
 
After asking around, they were finally identified as being the larvae of the Death's Head Hawkmoth – as featured in the film 'The silence of the lambs'. As a child, I used to breed Giant Elephant Hawkmoths (which were pretty impressive), but was always hoping that I would come across one of these; What child wouldn't want a moth with the design of a human scull on it!.Forty odd years on and my childhood wish has been realised.
 
 
As part of the long summer celebrations, Fin took himself off to the three day Temp Latino festival in Vic Fezensac where we joined him a couple of days later. As usual, this was a very lively affair with some great Latino music and fantastic salsa dancing.
 
 
This marked the start of the festival season here in the South West and we got the feeling that July was just hottening up for an even steamier and sociable time in August.
 
 

 
June
 

This was a wonderful month in so many ways; the garden was looking at its best and most colourful, the wildlife was out in abundance and we were out and about quite a bit too.

All seven of our chicks grew and changed considerably over these weeks and were soon happily wondering in and out of the enclosure on their own.

At the beginning of June the weather was cool enough in the mornings to be able to get on with quite a bit of gardening and I was delighted to discover a nursery of baby frogs when I was dead heading the white lilies. The flowers had provided the perfect feeding station for them.

 
 
We continued to catch the odd crayfish in the pond and for the first time I actually came across three of them ambling awkwardly along the lane towards the big lake. At the beginning of the month our salamanders were still gathering at the bottom of the pond but within weeks they had all migrated. After leaving the water they slowly turn bright yellow and black and it is surprising (considering how many we had), that they were never seen walking up the lane like the crayfish!
 
 

We guessed it was going to be a warm and dry month as soon as we noticed that all the crop sprinklers had been activated; we were also delighted to discover that the field next to us had been planted up with sunflowers rather than the usual maize.

Our friends' open garden at Antin was a true delight to visit this year more than any other and not just because of the great coffee, German cakes and company. The garden was looking the best we have ever seen it and we were well impressed to discover a patch of tobacco being grown in the veg. patch. I had been very proud of my delphiniums (which were taller than me) until we saw Gertrude's, but then my love in the mist were pretty spectacular too!

 
 

On my way back from a keep fit class with my friend Rita, we came across a little yellow duckling running down the road heading away from the village. I managed to chase after and catch it and, after checking that he hadn't escaped from anywhere, took him home. Harry was incredibly fearful, so I just made a space for him in the hanger, with his own cat carrier to hide in and left him to it. By the end of the month he had settled in nicely with the free run of the pond and at night he would return to the safety of the carrier where I could shut him in.

We had our first picnic of the year down at the lake on a particularly hot day. Just near us, two French families had parked up for a day's fishing and as we left, they were hauling a big bucket full of crayfish into the car.

 
 

June was a particularly stressful time for our son who was revising for the baccalaureate exams that he was taking through-out the month. Twice Fin had to sit for 5 and a half hours as he was getting extra time for having to use a computer; In France (unsurprisingly), students are aloud to bring food and drink into the exam room which is just as well! Days before his music bacc, Fin had all his clothes and his 5 string banjo stolen, which was a real blow; fortunately our kind friend Claude lent him a banjo for the exam, but Fin's was a lovely instrument and will be greatly missed. A couple of times, I had to drive Fin to Auch for his Spanish and English oral exams and (although it was incredibly hot both times) I really cannot think of a nicer city to have to wait around for hours in.

 
 

During the hot afternoons I had taken to the hammock in the out-side kitchen to read my book and nearly every day I witnessed a little wood mouse taking the journey from the wood pile out to the garden and back again – no doubt to feed its young.

I had hoped that our swallows would have multiplied by this point but there were no signs of activity and on hot days, the mother could be seen perching on the edge of the nest rather on it in order not to over heat the eggs I'm guessing.

 
 
Near to the time of the summer solstice, we attended the feast of St.Jean at the Salle de Fete in our neighbouring village; this involved an outdoor village meal and live music from a band that looked and sounded as if they had been playing since the 70s. Near the end of the evening we had a procession of lit torches which lead to a huge bonfire down the lane. It was a very pleasant evening but those torches proved to be quite dangerous and I nearly set fire to my hair with mine.
 
 
We had the pleasure of the company of our friends' dog Mavis for a couple of days while her owners went to Holland Park for the formal short listing by the Guild of Food Writers for the cookery journalist of the year award. Again Sarah Beattie was just beaten by the broadsheet writers, making her many followers, friends and family very proud all the same. Away from all this excitement, Mavis remained her usual very sedate self in our company, making Martha seem positively hyperactive in comparison!
 
 

Towards the end of the month we received an orange weather alert and were prepared for the worst; This time we did close our shutters and were fully expecting hail, thunder and very strong winds. Fortunately all we had was two days of torrential rain which was greatly appreciated and quickly brought our pond up to its usual level.

Harry became particularly animated during this time and almost seemed happy – I think if we found him a Sally though, he would be even happier...so if anyone has a duck that they want to get rid of, please let me know.

 
 

 
May
 

This is the month when nature goes full out to stimulate all our senses. So many trees and bushes are in bloom, the roses and wisteria are fantastic and the many acacia trees that line the lanes around here give off their heady scent, leaving white carpets of confetti beneath them. There is the constant sound of crickets and the underlying croaking of the frogs as they gear up to perform their evening chorus.

In early May however, there was one sound that was notably missing – that of the swallow. This time last year, they had all returned and were celebrating noisily, but this year only three were spotted and they appeared to be reluctant to settle anywhere. It was as if they were waiting for the others to return before they really started to let their feathers down.

Following the huge hailstorm we had last July, we actually received a cheque from the French Government as our commune had been declared an area of 'Catastrophes Natural'; so with our total of 8 Euros we brought our tomato plants for the season at the floralea at St.Sever. Of course, it wasn't just the tomatoes that had been devastated during the storm and we did share the joke with the plant seller as we reminisced over all the other plants we had lost and the damage that had been caused to the house. More than eight Euros worth we concluded!

 
 

With the warmer and lighter evenings it was wonderful to be able to sit out-side to eat and drink again and while there were a few cold days (but rarely wet), it felt good cleaning out the wood burners for hopefully the last time for a few months.

We had a very enjoyable curry evening with our friends in Frechede where we were able to sit out side for a lot of the evening and listen to the distant sound of a nightingale in full flow.

The pond was a hive of activity with the usual newts, snakes, frogs, dragonflies, small fry and young salamanders. Unfortunately the crayfish were also still about. I did manage to catch a few young ones and remove them, making a mental note to return in a month when they would have grown a bit and be easier prey.

 
 

We took Martha to a dog show for the first time since she was very young when at two, she had won 'best bitch in the village' and the 'dog the judges would most like to take home'. This time we entered her in the veterans section and the poor dog wasn't even short-listed; being a bit of a celebrity round here however, she did receive lots of support from onlookers which no doubt cheered her up.

Because we go on a lot of cross country walks, very occasionally I end up finding a tic on me and it is not usually a problem once it has been removed, other than the unbearable itching. This month however, I noticed that after a few days of removing the parasite, a large red ring had appeared around the bite. Thanks to a very efficient health system I was promptly put on penicillin after which the ring disappeared and the itching ceased.
It is worth noting therefore that if a red ring does appear around the bite, it is a sure sign of lymes disease and needs to be treated immediately.

 
 

For the first time in almost a year, we attended Jane and Paul's music quiz in Monclar. I really enjoyed the lively competition and it was great to catch up with so many friends who we hadn't seen in ages. Despite my teams' enthusiastic efforts and (of course) vast knowledge, we somehow managed to come second to last, with Dave's team making a remarkable victory.

We also had our first barbecue of the year with our friends Paul and Mary Jo. Paul had recently broken his leg which proved to be an attraction to a wandering stag beetle.

 
 

Towards the end of the month there started to be some 'chick action' in the hen enclosure; but with 4 birds sitting on over thirty eggs, none of them seemed to take responsibility for the hatching chicks and sadly several of them died through parental neglect. Only one black and white chick pulled through. I decided then that the 'let nature take it's course' policy wasn't working and finally intervened.

A nursery hut and run was set up and 10 of the smaller bantam eggs were placed in the nest with one of the broody hens on top. All the other eggs were disposed of and the other hens were left to look after the surviving chick. At one point, this little survivor went missing, to be discovered at the end of the day, all floppy, lying under the step to the hut where it must have fallen in the morning. After some gentle blowing, heart massage and water dripped on it's beak, s/he started to show signs of life and following a night under one of its many mothers, the little chick was back to rude health by the morning.

Days later, the other chicks started hatching and in the end we had six more.

 
 

This all happened just a day or two before we were due to go away and leave our friends next door to look after all the animals – exactly the same thing happened last year just before we were due to go on holiday! We had all been invited to our niece Amy's wedding to Andy in his home country of Malta, but unfortunately Fin had two of his baccalaureate exams during that time so only Dave and I attended.

The wedding took place in the most wonderfully romantic location. We were all driven there in colourful 1950's coaches and then walked along a little lane festooned either side with wild fennel which led us to a pretty little chapel on a hill overlooking the sea.

It was great to meet up with all the family again and to get to know the locals who were so friendly and out-going. Andy and Amy provided so many people with some wonderful memories of their special day.

We stayed a few days in Malta after that, enjoying the novelty of being in a foreign country where English was spoken and fast food and draft Guinness were readily available.

 
 
 

On returning to Lourdes the first thing we noticed straight away was the presence and sound of so many birds, making us realise that we had seen hardly any in Malta – not even sea gulls!

As in Malta, we came back to temperatures in the 30's and we were so pleased to find that a pair of swallows had nested up in the shed in the hanger where Mike next door had kindly propped open the door. Finally we could hear their excited chirping and watch them flying in and out of the hanger, with the occasional detour into the kitchen and dining room and out again.

It was a real delight!

 
 

 
April
 

On the first day of the month the cuckoo was heard for the first time and so began David's attempts to reciprocate the call which he can do quite successfully now after years of practice.

Spurred on by his hunting success of last month, Elgar the cat spent most of his days catching mice and voles and leaving them dead (thankfully) in the utility room along with Anchovy's kills. One day they were spotted crouched over the body of a French partridge which I'm guessing Anch had caught (as it was a lot bigger than Elgar) and by some miracle they managed to eat the whole bird before Martha stepped in to 'help out'.

For some reason, the lilly of the valley flowered early this year and provided a wonderful scented carpet around the nectarine tree, that remained for a good few weeks.

 
 

With the arrival of Spring, two of our hens became broody and by the end of April there were four of them sitting on over thirty eggs. I did try moving them to the 'nursery house' so they would have more room and privacy, but bantams are far more stubborn than their chicken cousins and successfully sabotaged my plan; as a compromise therefore, an exit has been made at the back of the hut ready for when the new family arrive.

With several of the fields planted up with colza and the wild cherry trees in full blossom, the surrounding landscape was particularly bright and fresh looking this time of the year.

A great number of bee hives were positioned next to the bright yellow fields until the flowers eventually faded and they were whisked away again.

 
 

In mid April we noticed one loan swallow arriving and we watched with bated breath as he checked out both our shed and our next door neighbour's barn – flying in-between the two. For years we have had swallows nesting in the shed in our hanger and we have always made a point of keeping the door open; last year however, we had a family staying in the gite next door and perhaps because of the noise, the swallow moved out to our neighbour's barn. So we are in competition with Rita and Michael this year, to see who gets to play host to these beautiful birds.

Also at this time, both the nightingale and the Golden Oriole returned and it was wonderful to hear their familiar voices again.

 
 

For the first time in six years, the wisteria that I had planted, finally flowered and is now quickly making it's way across the front of the house. We also managed to recover the huge wisteria that was wrapped around the willow tree which fell last year. Amazingly, this too flowered and filled the whole garden with a wonderful scent.

With the arrival of spring, we decided to put our house back on the market, with a hope to take on a small renovation project – the property market here has been very slow and unlike the UK, prices have fallen rather than risen.

Interestingly, the immobilier considered that one problem was that less UK citizens were moving out to France because of the threat of the UK leaving the EU; of course for anyone living and working in France, this could prove to be disastrous!

http://www.sud-ouest-immo.com

I had a wonderful surprise from my friend Paul Waite when he and his partner came round for a curry; I have always admired his recycled sculptures and now I have one of my own. A very special birthday present!

 
 
As Dave's birthday was only a few weeks after mine, we decided to hold a joint birthday party where we invited all our friends to come dressed as an album title or a song. Most people made a real effort, particularly Irish Paul who was covered in red balloons (not quite 99), which he had inflated one by one. He had a bit of difficulty entering the house and could do nothing but stand for the first few hours. People had to guess what song or album everybody else was dressed as and there was a prize for the person who guessed the most. Dave was 'Plug in baby' – which I hadn't guessed and I was 'Love cats' though I forgot to put the ears on that I had spent ages making and my tail was hardly noticeable.
 
 

Still, everyone had a good time and following the 'cereal packet game' in which Herman proved that he is the bendiest man on this planet and some great playing with ukulele, trumpet, flute, banjo, guitar and concertina, the party finally wrapped up at 4.30 a.m.

The next morning we got up to face the mess from the night before discovering amongst other things, numerous red balloons, a ukulele and a Doctor's coat that had been left behind.

 
 

At the end of the month we decided to attend the first gathering of a facebook ex pats group that we belong to near Lectoure. We failed to find the venue on account of Dave not writing down the directions (again). You always find though, that no journey is ever wasted as there is always such great countryside to drive through and often a surprise around the corner; like this field of what turned out to be flowering purple sprouting broccoli.

No good for eating now, but wonderful to look at!

 
 

 
March
 
I thought we had seen the end of the wet weather, but it continued to rain well into the second week of March and there was little in the way of sunshine, resulting in a noticeable delay in the blossoming of the spring bulbs. This didn't effect the wild ones however and there was a profusion of cowslips and comfrey to pick, both in the garden (where they have taken quite nicely) and down in the valley.
 
 

The wet weather did not perturb Martha from wandering off on several occasions only to be found half a km away, feasting on the dead deer that I had nursed the previous month. One or two times, she would be missing for a good two hours and couldn't be found anywhere, which was really worrying as there was a lot of tractor activity on the road and I did not trust the bitch to have the sense to keep away from them.

One day, I managed to spot her sloping off again and decided to follow at a distance. Martha really looked like she was a dog on a mission as she made her way across the fields towards the lake, oblivious that she was being followed. A kilometre on she finally stopped at the fresh carcass of a coypu and almost jumped out of her skin when I appeared behind her.

 
 

Since then, we have had to keep a really close eye on her as she is obviously not to be trusted and at the ripe old age of eleven, her teenage rebelliousness appears to have returned. Anyone who has read the ' Warning Poem' – 'When I am an old woman I shall wear purple' will know what I mean. Martha is definitely going through her 'purple period'!

Martha has also started to bring back 'findings' from our walks, including what looked like the horn of an old goat or sheep– something she was particularly proud of!

 
 

I shall be berated dreadfully if I do not mention here, our friend Irish Paul's St.Patrick night bash at his house in Tillac where we enjoyed probably the best Irish stew I have ever had washed down appropriately with quite large quantities of Guinness.

This is the second year now that I have not been gigging on what has always been a special day for Irish music makers, but the excellent food, good company and of course the Guinness did in some way make up for it and Gin and I did manage to play a few Irish tunes during the evening.

The curry club also got together in March, this time at St.Dode where we rejoiced in our new found celebrity following our founder member Sarah Beattie's excellent (and very moving) article on us - 'Tales from the Gascon Curry Club' in the March edition of Vegetarian Living.

Despite or perhaps because of the wet weather, we enjoyed some great veg. from our vegetable plot. Our onions lasted us well into the month and we had so many parsnips that we were giving them away while still having plenty more stored in the freezer.

Of course the real stars of this month have been the asparagus and the purple sprouting broccoli, which are always my favourites. Sadly the French chillies that we brought from plants were not half as hot as we had hoped, so this year we have planted cayenne seeds from the UK which will hopefully have the heat factor that the Curry club members desire so much.

It seems like the whole of this month was spent collecting and spreading loads and loads of fresh manure onto the garden, along with extensive weeding of the huge flower bed where the weeping willow used to be before it was felled by the storm.

 
 

Loosing this tree has had some advantages in that it is easier to spot the various birds that gather there. With the return of the black red-start, I had always assumed that the robin made a disappearing act but have since discovered that he just takes a back seat amongst the small trees here, leaving the red-start to take over the more high profile role of 'gardener’s friend' during the spring and summer.

In the wildlife World, March is definitely the month for fighting, flirting and fornicating; we had two very handsome cock pheasants strutting and scuffling in the garden and the young stag was making his presence known amongst the doe of his clan in the field above us. Most spectacular of all were the two peregrine falcons which put on an amazing aerial display and then mated (screeching at high volume though-out) while hanging precariously from the small branch of a tree.

 
 

Near the end of the month, our son held a 'casino party' in the gite next door which entailed his friends dressing up like 1920's American gangsters, playing poker etc and drinking mojitos.

It was my birthday at the end of the month but the awful weather put paid to any real celebrations – for the third year in a row, it rained!

Still, our little cat Elgar did have a real ' red letter day' when he caught a vole and noisily announced his success out-side the back door – it was the first time that I had seen him catch anything for years. Despite being small and sleek, he has no patience whatsoever and has over time, given up trying to catch the usual game, spending most of his time chasing frogs by the pond. In retrospect, the vole had either must have been blind or had some sort of other physical disability to fall prey to Elgar – Still, it had made him a very happy cat!

We did have quite a few sunny days this month once the rain had stalled and Monpardiac lake was looking wonderfully inviting, though it will be a good few weeks before it will be warm enough to swim in again.

 
 

 
January/February
 

January
I was going to write this diary last month, but when I looked to see what photos I had taken during that period I found none, which made me realise how uninspiring those few weeks had been!

The first day of the new year was particularly bright and sunny and after picking our son up from his party the night before (and recovering from ours), we took a very pleasant stroll around Marciac lake where many other people had had the same idea. It is a rare thing to see the French walking their dogs, but the lake seems to be the place where a few people do.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the horrific events in Paris that happened this month and the way that the French joined together in solidarity. Gatherings were held through-out the country (including small communes such as ours) and it seemed that the whole of France was in mourning and in a state of shock. The French people appeared to recoil; schools, colleges and lycees all imposed curfews which kept their establishments in effect, closed from the outside world. A friend’s 7yr. old had a sleepless night after his teacher had explained to the class that the doors to the school had been locked just in case an Islamic terrorist came in and shot the children, explaining in detail what had happened in Paris. These horrific incidents will remain etched in people's memories for decades to come.

 
 

Later in the month, my cousin and his partner who were on their way to Spain in a camper van, came to stay for a few days and enjoyed some reasonable weather while they were here. On their last evening and for the third year running, we held a Burns' night party where everybody had to come dressed in something Scottish, bring a plate of Scottish food, at least one Scottish joke to tell and a list of well known Scottish characters for 'the name game' that we played later. Dave wore his Father's old Black Watch kilt, while friend Mike wore a somewhat flimsier (and much shorter) nylon version. The whole evening was a big success, helped no doubt by the large amount of Scotch that had been consumed through-out.

February
The month started off well when we went for a delicious lunch at our friends' Dennis and Simone's during which we ate goose and had a great time catching up with a few friends we hadn't seen in ages. Just two days later and we woke up to find ourselves snowed in.

 
 
This was a novelty at first and both our neighbours (Scottish and Welsh) made impressive snow characters, one of which was a cat and the other, a Bassett hound – though I must say it did look far more like a sea lion. I'm guessing that our French neighbours considered this an eccentric way of passing the time!
 
 

The birds struggled during this period as the snow stayed for a good week. It was lovely to see the pair of hen harriers out flying again and the lone white heron (that has been in the field opposite during the whole winter) was camouflaged for once!

Unwisely, the little green frog that had been asleep in the crook of the front door, decided to come out of hibernation as all the snow lay around and he had to be persuaded to return to the safety of his home.

 
 

Soon after the snow had cleared, we had a bit of a crisis in the chicken enclosure where I was horrified to witness the two cockerels attacking each other; there was blood everywhere and it was evident that they were going to continue fighting to the death. We managed to separate them, but for the older cockerel, it was too late and it was obvious that he wasn't going to survive. Sadly we had to put him out of his misery. The fight had been such a disturbing thing to witness that it really made me wonder how people can still hold cock fights and consider it 'entertaining'!

Anyway, nature has a way of sorting things out - two cockerels for nine hens was one too many.

On the 7th anniversary of our move to France, we found ourselves back in the UK, sadly to attend the funeral of David's Father; but as we bid farewell to one of the first generation, we got to meet the first of the fourth generation to be born in the family.

Fin also received the news that he had offers of places from all the universities that he had applied to in the UK - so it was a time of mixed emotions.

 
 

On our return, we had a few very warm and sunny days, followed by rain that seemed to go on for ever and ever; the chicken enclosure became flooded from the water that had overflowed from the pond.

I carried on re-decorating until I finally ran out of paint and had to spend the time reading instead. 'A hundred years of solitude' seemed the most appropriate book to read at this point and successfully kept boredom at bay.

Our spirits were totally lifted when we heard the first calls of the cranes coming from the skies and saw forty of them winging their way back from Spain. A sure sign that Spring was just around the corner.

At the end of the month, Martha and I were just returning from a walk along the ridge when she flushed something out from the woods and then disappeared. When I turned the corner, there was something thrashing away in the ditch in the distance and at first I had the horrific thought that it might be Martha. On closer inspection however, it was a young deer lying awkwardly on it's side; it's tongue was lolling in a blooded mouth and it's legs were kicking in the air.

I briefly stroked the deer's head, but then soon realised that this was just stressing the poor creature out even more, so I spent the next ten minutes (though it seemed like hours), watching the pulse on it's neck slowly fade and finally stop.

I'm guessing that the animal had been knocked by a car previously and had gone into the woods to die until Martha flushed her out, but whatever the reason, it had been a privilege to have been there and I came away feeling quite moved by the experience.

 
 

 
 

The Good Life Diary 2014

 
 
 
© www.gitetorentfrance.co.uk