Friday, 31 July 2009

King ‘enry IV

There was much excitement in the local press a few months ago. The castle was to get an important new exhibit for the summer season.
I had my “get into the castle free” card, which I won at the Local car treasure hunt earlier this year, so I waited until last Sunday to play it. It is always better to wait until the initial rush of interest is past. (Although in Bristol the Banksy exhibition still has 2 hour queues a month or so after its opening.) Yes I have a team of informants all over the globe working for me.
It was a lovely, hot day with a clear blue sky.
My ticket got me in safely and I ignored the tourists who were wandering around cluelessly, probably not realising the historical extra a few metres away.
I decided to draw out the anticipation, so I went into the vaulted museum. Bits of masonry from the original abbey, and some bits of reproduction? armour and weapons. Still a bit on the dull side then.
Next stop the round tower. This is a bit nouveau in the architecture front, having been only been built recently, in the first half of the 15th century, and more than 400 years after the first counts of Foix built the original castle. It was built in front of the other 2 towers as a “look at me, I’m very rich and powerful” gesture, and was residential rather than for fortification purposes.
I went up the spiral stone steps, peeping into the rooms as I ascended. No bed.
Bed? What bed? I hear you say. Must I explain everything? Surely word of the movement of this great treasure has reached as far as Indianapolis, Alabama, Nepean and the UK? No? Well you probably read the wrong newspapers and magazines.

Yes King Henry IV’s bed has returned to the castle. Not that it was ever in the castle in the first place nor that the good old king ever spent a night in the castle.

The bed is a bit like Neil Armstrong and those other astronauts who are still alive and who walked on the moon, ie in the case of the astronauts, not a single molecule of their current body existed when they made their epic voyage. The bed has been restored to within an inch of its life. Most of the wood is probably original, but the curtains, drapes etc are all newly authentic.
I enclose some photos of the information cards for those who are heavily into silk thread and fabrics. The words might be visible if you click on the photo to make it bigger. The same goes for the Henry info card. I get so many requests for knitting tips and patterns from readers, that I know that this is the kind of information you want.
Anyway, now that you are all up to speed, back to the round tower. I popped out onto the roof and into the fresh air. I took this photo just to show what the day was like. You are looking roughly in the direction of Andorra in Spain.

While I was up there a bloke appeared, followed by a boy and his Jack Russell dog. How it managed to get up all those stairs with its little legs, I don’t know. The dog must have struggled too. Remember it was very hot. No water for the dog in sight. This leads me to a dog owner observation. Some dog owners are stupid twats and make me cross!
I unspiraled down the stairs and went up the narrower spiral stairs of one of the square towers.
At last the bed and I were in the same place. Not that it was of any use to sleep on, as a young French girl of about 5 discovered as she ducked under the barrier and headed straight for it, setting off a piercing alarm siren. Some parents are also twats! Young children should be kept on leads at all times.
Well, you have suffered enough. I will leave you with the photos of the lit du Roi. He did sleep in it, but in another castle in the Ariege. p.s just a quick note to Jan and her husband David. In principle I have nothing against your plan to knit winter duffle-coats for Shetland ponies. Remember to leave holes for the ears in the coat hoods though!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

A little vent

It was a very hot evening. Very close. Just before I went to bed the wind started gusting outside, quickly getting stronger. Crash! Bang!
I looked out of the window and I could see that my wheelie bin had blown over. I put my shoes on and trekked downstairs to upright the wrong.
The wind was very hot but we don’t suffer from fiercely hot winds like they do in some other parts of France.
I tucked my bin into a sheltered corner of the parking area and looked along the main road. Bin bags and wheelie bins were lying stricken on the pavement and in the road.
N the montelimar nougat maker arrived to spend the night at Bee-boys and he obviously thought that I was mad. Still it all adds up to my mad, bad and dangerous image that one needs to survive here in the Grand Sud.
I watched with interest as a sheet of roofing material from the garage across the road flapped wildly, held by a single fixing. Then, clunk! It flew off the roof. Not however in the direction of the cars parked adjacent, but towards their large wheelie bin, which ended up lying on its back too.
I could not see any unsecured objects on my property and returned upstairs to bed. Nobody else could be bothered to sort out their mess.
In the morning I took these photos of some of the other casualties. Next doors post box and wheelie bin and the other neighbour’s plum tree.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

You’ve not been framed!

Way back at the beginning of June I ordered 2 windows and a metal door from Mr Bricolage. I was told that the windows would be ready in 4 weeks and so plans for the work that I was doing on the studio and a schedule for demolishing and rebuilding the garden shed were drawn up.
Four weeks later I had heard nothing so I rang Mr B and was told that, as written on the order, they would phone me when the windows were ready.
6 weeks on and my workmen were getting jumpy. It was shameful, a disgrace and one of them rang Mr B on my behalf to demand an explanation for the delay and a reduction in the price as a result of the delay meaning that I could not hire our the studio. Mr B phoned back and said that the windows would arrive at their store on the 20th July.
The 20th came and went. On the 21st Hyperactive man got on the phone and demanded to speak to the Director of Mr B. After some time he was put through and he began his um, discussion. Shameful, disgrace etc etc.
The Director said that windows usually take 7 weeks to make, but this was over 7 weeks said my man. Since the man making the windows had phoned me to check the measurements as he was in the process of making them, this was rather strange, but hardly worth mentioning.
The director would investigate and phone back in 5 minutes.
Do you have any sweets? Asked hyperactive man. I went to my cupboard and retrieved a bag of cheap chewy sweets, which he commenced to eat one after another in rapid succession.
The director rang back and said that we would have the windows by the beginning of next week and that he would knock 50 euros off the price as a goodwill gesture. He would also phone back the next day to confirm delivery.
Late afternoon yesterday I got a call from a lady. She burbled on and I was thinking that she was doing some kind of electricity survey, when she said the words Mr B and windows. I tuned back in again. She was phoning from the window factory.
“Unfortunately the windows have fallen and are both broken” I told her that in that case I wanted to cancel the order. No, she did not think that I could do that, she said. I would have to speak to Mr B about that. Meanwhile they could rush new windows through and I could have them next Wednesday. I said that I would speak to Mr B. The lady was very helpful and even offered to speak in English, which sounded promising. Unfortunately the words I can speak English proved to be rather ambitious and we completed the call in Franglais. She gave me her number to call if I had any further questions (Like how can you drop and smash 2 bloody windows, perhaps?). Her name was Hahn she said. Perhaps she is Moroccan, I thought. Can you spell that please?
I phoned Mr B and demanded to speak to the Director. “Are you sure that you want to speak to the director?”
“The director of what?”
Mr B
“Are you sure?”
“We spoke to someone there yesterday and he said that he was the Director”
“Okay, hold the line please”
Eventually a hesitant man comes on the line, and I told him what the factory had said and that as the windows had been smashed, I wanted to cancel the order.
“Yes” he said.
“So I can cancel the windows?”
“Can I still have the metal door?”
“What do I do now then to cancel the order?”
“I will send Hahn a fax to cancel it”
So today while I was in French class. I got a call from Mr B. Could they deliver the metal door at 11.30am today? I said yes and headed home.
At about 11.15 an Intersport van arrived and delivered my big white, metal door, plus an envelope with 18 euros in it. Even the delivery had been free!
So hopefully on Saturday my workmen will stick it in the hole in my concrete shed.So one frustrating tale ends happily. Best of all is that I would have had to sell one of the windows as I would not be permitted to put it where I wanted to. So more money saved there too.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

An undertaking with Shakespeare - or the woman with two pussies

I may have mentioned before that Madame has a collection of abandoned or unwanted pets. When I first arrived she had a small dog (bitch) and a 12 year old cat. She then acquired a kitten which quickly matured into an attack cat. It would patrol the garden and chase off any amorous dog that came too close.
I was setting off to do my weekly shop two weeks ago to get to Leclerc just after it opened at 9am when Madame intercepted me to tell me that the attack cat had been run over and was dead.
I told her that as soon as I return from mes courses I would dig a grave for it in a corner of the lawn.
When I returned I took my shopping up the stairs to my apartment and started putting my shopping away. I was nearly finished when I heard Madame’s voice calling me from downstairs. I poked my head out of the window and told her that I was on my way.
It was a very hot morning. I got out my spade and headed off to my chosen spot. In about 15 minutes I had a deep enough hole and a puffy-eyed and sobbing Madame handed over one stiff cat covered in two sheets of newspaper.
The small dog sat on the grass watching the proceedings as I deposited the cat (fortunately I had made the grave big enough and did not have to saw any of the cats limbs off to make it fit) and I was able to fill in the hole with no delays. Of course I had chosen a spot with no shade, so I was a puddle of sweat by the time I trampled the earth down.
I had asked Madame if she wanted to shovel in the earth or say a few words, but she remained at the wall in the parking area.
Two days ago she acquired a “new” cat. It is black and about 3 years old and has been living on the streets since being abandoned. The staff at the SECU had been feeding it, but it had been sleeping rough, under cars etc.
So now there is a rather nervous cat about the place. It won’t go near Madame’s new cat yet, and the small dog is being looked after by a neighbour until the cat has a chance to come to grips with sleeping in a house etc.
His name is Romeo, so I now have to put up with Ro-Ro, Ro-Ro! drifting up to my eerie.
It has no collar yet, has not been to the vet and rubs its ears vigorously against objects. I have tentatively suggested that it might have an ear problem to Madame. ….

Monday, 20 July 2009

TRAD'ESTIU and the 102nd thing to do with a dead goat

Once again there is a lot going on. For the last few days there has been a festival of Musiques et danses traditionnelles - traditional music and dance going on in town.
After a morning of labour I walked into town to watch a dance lesson taking place under the Halle au Grains. Quite a few of the dancers were Association members or locals, but I didn’t notice any non-French speaking people taking part.

And to answer the question "Does size matter when you are dipping and lifting?"

I returned in the evening to watch Du Bartàs

Two of my local friends trip the light fantastic.

The group consisted of 3 men. One on a drum, one with a tambourine and one with an accordion. They were very good, and there are some of their catchy songs that they sang on the myspace link above.
There were teeny children running all over the dance floor, like toys running on Duracell batteries. Even tots too small to stand up, were being supported whilst they dribbled and “clapped” their hands along to the music, or were whirled around the floor by their parents.
There were a few stalls selling tee-shirts and cds. There was also a very dangerous grillade (barbecue) going on alongside the steps of the Halle, with Toulouse sausage coils sizzling on the grills. These were often left unattended and as I said small kids were racing about everywhere.
There was a stall selling crepes and gallettes which seemed to be doing well. Next to that was a rather unkempt man selling fresh drinks and sorbets made from local flowers, Next to him was Nicolas, who is a friend of Bee-boys. If I talk of him again he will be nougat man as he makes and sells montelimar type nougat. He has long black hair, and looks and dresses rather like Snape from the Harry Potter films. He does not move about a lot, and Bee-boys mother informs me that he is Kool. He was also selling Bee-boys honey and his gingerbread.
Sunday was a day of rest for me. I went to a barbecue at my French family’s house at 5.30pm. The 3 children are on holiday and their father’s job finished recently and he is currently looking for work. So the family might well end up moving away after being here for 5 years.
The youngest aged 8, is going to theatre school this week. I told her that she will probably have to learn how to be a tree, but she thinks that I am just a crazy person. She wants to be a vet. At the moment she has the attention span of a gnat and refuses to speak English. She tells me that she can do the doggy paddle and the breast stroke.
The 10 year old is heavily into Harry Potter and is currently reading book 5 or 6 during most of her waking moments. She will not however be allowed to go and see the latest HP film, as her mother says she has not read that far in the series and it will spoil it for her. It is preferable that she visualises her own characters in the books, rather than the celluloid stars. She has however been watching the HP film trailers on the computer……. So mother is fighting a losing battle.
The eldest had long hair until recently, but the hair has grown at a rapid rate over the last few weeks and now covers the left eye. This situation will be rectified prior to the return to school however.
After the barbecue I went into town to see the music and dancing once again.
The evening was much more dance tune orientated, and the majority of those on the dance floor were the same people as the night before. Dance music is however rather repetitive and lacks vocals, or it did in this case.
The group playing were Biscam Pas
And they were very good at teaching folk dances from various parts of Canada and other regions of the world. Their web site is worth a look and can be read in French or in English. There is a list of the instruments that they make and play alongside a bit of historical information. The most unusual instrument was a bagpipe type, but is mad from a whole goat. I took this photo and the information about it is taken from their website.

(pronounced : boudégo cràbo)

The first name is from French Aude department and the second, meaning goat in the South of France language, 'Occitan', from the Tarn department. The use of this bagpipe instrument is halfway between four French departments: principally the north of the Aude department, the south of the Tarn department, slightly spilling over into the Hérault department in the east, and the Haute Garonne department in the west; an area centred on the Black Mountain massive and the Sidobre plateau. For tens of years no players of the instrument were left and thus a long period of silence occurred. It again saw the light of day thanks to the initiative of Charles Alexandre and luthiers such as Claude Romero from Toulouse or Bruno Salensson from Nîmes. The pouch containing the air is made from a whole goat, of which at least three feet are retained. This pouch is called oire or embaissa in the 'Occitan' language (pronounced ooyré or émbàysso respectively). The long cylindric back piece produces a continuous note, called the drone, tuned to the melody's dominant note, or sometimes to the fundamental note. Its main use was largely individual, rarely accompanied by another instrument. The craba, or bodega, was above all the instrument of the rural social classes of non land owners, day labourers, shepherds and farm workers; this social restriction corresponds to the artisanal nature of its workmanship. This instrument is, along with the zampogna of Southern Italy, the largest of the bagpipes.
JNRR recently wrote about making pate from a whole pig's head which she bought from the butchers, but I think that everyone would agree that making a musical instrument out of a goat is much more useful and will give much longer lasting pleasure to many more people.
By half past 11 my legs had had enough of standing about, the little kids were still whizzing about and showing no signs of running out of juice. I did not see the last group of the evening, but went home to bed instead. After all the week long jazz festival starts tomorrow!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Unstung hero

I have been silent on the subject of Bee-boy for some while now. He is entering the busy time of year for beekeepers. He has been collecting honey every 3 days but is now going to need to shift gear and start harvesting every day. His royal jelly production will also be in full swing. His parents are here again to give him a hand, but are living on a local camp site rather than in his studio with him.
Recently my bin had been relocated to near where he parks his van. He leaves the side door of his van open and bees pop in and out of it all the time.
When he moved his van, the bees assumed that the bin was the new place to hang out.
I told him about it the next day and he collected the bees. Apparently there is a man with some hives not far away and he donates stray bees to him.
This Saturday I was 5 x 4 metre pipes short of what I need. The bee-booce (that is how it is pronounced) was pressed into service and we set off to the newly opened Mecca that is BricoDepot.
Climb in, he said. Now I had been watching the bees buzzing about inside the van’s cab wondering how many stings it would take to kill me.
I opened the door. “They are very nice bees, if you put your feet there you will be okay”
This meant placing my feet next to the piece of honeycomb which was on the passenger floorwell, and which the bees were finding very interesting.
I carefully got in and closed the door on me and the bees.
B-Boy got in and realised that he had left his van keys in the flat. Off he goes.
Bees are now flying about at head height. I am wearing long trousers and a short sleeved shirt.
I open the door and bees start flying in and out seemingly happier.
When we set off I open my window and after some time bees are going out and we have gone by the time they return and we roll on beeless.
Of course once we have the pipes, we are dealing with new bees who have been attracted by the honeycombs which are also in the back of the van..
Fortunately I arrive home an unstung hero,with pipes, pipe collars and 2 more new post boxes.
I can now replace the old grey boxes with a clump of new ones. All I have to do is join them together.

Monday, 13 July 2009

And the rain it raineth

I mentioned my dampness problem. Well I now have a trench of at least 50 metres dug in the neighbour’s garden waiting for my plastic drainage pipes to be laid.
There seems to be no town drainage manhole at my property, only a household waste drain pipe and inspection chamber, so my water will splash out onto the pavement. Or rather I should say the rainwater of 5 properties which seems to flow past the back of my house. Hopefully I will be able to get these people to contribute some money towards the works. My foreman has a friend who works in the DDA? Whom he hopes will come and have a look at the situation and advise on what can be done to make them recuperate their own water instead of it all draining my way.
I took a series of videos of the rain that we had last week which shows exactly where the water comes from and where it ends up.
The studio is nearly finished, with just the removal of tools and bags of cement to be done before I do the final cleanup. Of course, the fact that my almost completed garden shed cannot be used as secure storage due to Mr Bricolage’s crap service means that this is now a real problem. I don’t fancy lugging it all upstairs to my flat.
I also had a man from TRYBA (a windows/doors firm with a superior quality product) here and Madame will be getting a new front and back door/window combo sometime in September. The theory is that I should get a 40% rebate on the windows (not the installation) in 2010. I would do the front door too, but this would not be classed as a door/window and would cost almost as much as Madame’s new twin set before the rebate. I think you could say that she is happy about her impending installation.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Setting the pace

It continues to be the season of working longish hours to get work in and around the house completed.
However two weeks ago I took a Sunday off to go on a trip with my adopted French family.
At the end of my road there is a sign which indicates that there is a viewpoint called La tour Laffonte (I may have the spelling wrong). Of course there is no indication of how far away this is located.
We set off in the car, past my house and on up into them thar hills. Of course the road is twisty and turning. No white lines in the middle of the road of course, and just to up the degree of danger the road has been resurfaced by spraying it with tar and then dumping loads of white chippings on top, and presumably rolling them into the tar (but I doubt it). The result is a treacherous road surface covered in loose chippings, but ideal for people seeking the adventure of skidding vehicles or a broken windscreen thanks to the chippings.
We drive slowly and eventually reach our destination 20 minutes later.
What we have is some kind of stone shelter shaped a bit like a small church divided into 2 small rooms. This is a road which is closed to traffic for 4 or 5 months a year due to snowfall. The col de Peguere is at an altitude of 1375 metres.
Round the bend is a semicircular stone table with a ceramic top. This shows / names the outlines of the various Pyrenees Mountains and the locations of the villages.
There are already people clustered within the table’s circumference (I knew those hours of geometry would come in useful one day). They have no intention of moving anytime soon to let others benefit from the information. We will return later.
Our mission today is to climb to a higher location where there are 360 degree views.
We double back and start up a path through trees. Unfortunately the tree cover does not last long and we are soon out in the open at the hottest time of the day. And it is hot!
We set off at a cracking pace, and it is maintained. Surely the high bit in front is where we are headed for. Of course not. And there are many such wished for moments.
I am bathed in sweat by the time we reach our destination 45 minutes later. Cap du Carmil at 1617 metres. All that sweat to gain less than 300 metres in altitude.
On the way up we pass a farmer who is repairing his rickety electrified fence. Usually the hills have cattle and sheep on them. Once the fence is repaired the sheep will return to one side of the hill and the cattle to the other.
We flop down on the grass and take on more water and some food. When I take my little rucksack off, my shirt has turned into a gooey consistency turning the newly found cool breeze into a very uncomfortable icy experience.
On the journey I had been trying to find out if the children played games like
Eye-spy, but they don’t know it. On the hill though, a game which is obviously a family favourite is unveiled. The object is for one person to go behind group and change something about what they are wearing or how they look.
Bearing in mind that we are wearing trousers or shorts, shoes, socks, a top and a hat, with perhaps the odd shoulder bag. The first person to guess what the change is “wins” and it is their turn to be the changee. You might think that this could not last long. Wrong. It continues for a good half an hour, with a wrinkle in a sock here, a strand of hair moved there etc.
In front of us are the Pyrenees with some snow patches still glistening in the sunshine, behind us somewhere is our town. It is rather hazy, but we think that we can make out the castle’s three turrets.
The journey back down to the car takes half the time, and we arrive with no injuries back at the stone map.
After a spell there trying to work out what is where, we cross the road and start up another path towards the tower. Within 5 minutes we arrive at a short stubby tower, a bit like a broch, but without the level of fortification. There is no roof and some of the stonework looks rather precariously balanced.
Just below the tower, hidden in the trees, someone is asleep in a hammock strung between 2 trees. Of course we wake them up with our noise and chatter and then we move on.
When we reach home again, my legs have not lost their jelly-like consistency. I am not as fit as I thought I was, but in my defence I do have a cough that I cannot shake off.
I returned back to my flat and went straight for a recuperative siesta.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Time travel but not as we know it Jim. Neighbours

Now that I am even more confused as to the time / sequence of events I will attempt to get the show on the road but the road to Catchup City can be a long and arduous one, especially when your keyboard has a mine of its own.
Work began on clearing away all the debris and in smashing up the concrete flower bed which will be filled up with concrete to make a flat patio area.

Gradually the cement blocks for the shed rose in height and the three of us went into town at lunchtime to get a kebab.
The kebab place was closed so we had some food at a restaurant in the town centre.
Work recommenced and was going well well the neighbours whose garden the shed backs onto turned up.
I have been told that they stay there for about 4 weeks a year, and this was the first time that I had seen them.
There were two brothers and a lady who must be a wife to one of the brothers. They were of course, on the attack. What was going on? Who had given permission for the work? Where was the paperwork? Etc etc.
They told me how rude it was of me not to have discussed things with them first. In fact they kept on pressing home this point.
They looked at my official permissions. Who had passed such permissions…..
Monsieur had photos which show the height of the old shed etc etc. The height is not an issue. The permission is granted to build a structure under 10m squared on my own property. The sole stipulation was that rain water from the structure did not fall on a neighbours land.
I tried the old, “But you are never there so how could I talk to you about it”
This did not work as they said that I could have got their name from the Plan.
Since they were there anyway, I let them know about the other work that I had permissions for and work that I might do if I ever have the money.
Why had they not been informed about this work etc etc.
Eventually they calmed down a bit and were able to supply some useful information and verbal permission to put drainage pipe in their garden, running alongside my house and down to the nearest drain.
We discovered that there is a drainage problem at the rear of the house as rainwater from several neighbouring properties all channels into a blocked gulley that runs along the back of my house. One source of the dampness. I got the names and numbers of the landlords and the following week and had a chat with hi; with Madam in tow. Ilegally he has no guttering on the back of the house. The water is not a problem to my property he says as the ground slopes in the opposite direction. This is patently bollocks and I videoed the rain today for his viewing pleasure. The lady who rents the property at the back of me, has been trying to get her landlady to do something for the last 10 years about her house flooding when it rains. It is going to be tough to get any money out of these people to resolve my damp problems. In fact today’s rain showed me that rainwater from the whole area beyond even gutterless mans house, flows into the gully and past my house wall.
I had to get changed in a rush as I was scheduled to be picked up in town to go to see the town’s experimental orchestra who were performing at the Niaux caves.
My travelling companions were the husband and daughter of one of the ladies in the choir. She had been coming but had got her dates wrong and was due to help out another choir perform the same evening.
We were on the first bus from Niaux Mairie up to the caves and we arrived at about 7pm while rehearsals for the concert were going on. The concert was not due to start until 10pm so we had a bit of a wait.
The choir and orchestra disappeared and a small projector screen was erected. We were to have a few speakers talking about astronomy.

Unfortunately when you schedule such things a couple of days after the longest day of the year, you are always going to have a light problem.
Lecture cancelled. There was someone with a little telescope there (it was an astronomically themed evening). It was set up so that we could look at the sun. I could not see anything so will not be rushing out and buying a telescope anytime soon.
Next there was a musician with two strange instruments which he explained and demonstrated, then people could have a look at.
One was a theramin which he had adapted, and the other had been invented by someone whose name I cannot remember. It had a little keyboard and a pull out drawer with little knobs and switches on which when twiddled produced a range of electronic noises.
One man and his nobs.

Finally the light levels permitted a speaker to talk about the Niaux Caves. It was all about how they monitor the caves to ensure that no damage is done to the cave drawings etc. Now only about 40 -50 people can visit per day.
They had water infiltration problems, but these were traced to the fact that the vineyards which had covered the earth above the caves had been replaced by trees.
Finally the concert started. It was to be the first performance of a work created by the conductor, or it might have been the orchestra leader. It had taken four years to write and involved a choir too.
If I had not previously heard Gustave Holst’s the Planet suite I might have been well impressed as that was what began the performance. The plinks, plonks and weird sounds from the choir marked the change to the new orchestral piece. Its amazing what you can do with 3 cunningly angled Overhead projectors. Herer three artists did cave drawings simultaneously! Why did Jean-Michelle Jarre never think of that???

Once the performance was over. We located our torches and walked the 1,5km back down to the car park. For some reason the flare type torches which lined the side of the road were not lit until we had reached the bottom of our descent.
Another cultural outing completed.