I write this blog in order to partly promote our gites and the amazing place we live in but also as a reminder to me of what we have done and a diary of my life to a certain extent. I never go too intimate but this one is dedicated to my Mum who sadly passed away on the 1st June 2012.

My wonderful mum was struck down with a stroke over 4 years ago and since then has been blighted with a loss of memory making her very frustrated as she could never remember anything. But sort of knew that. It was awful to witness, this is a woman who was always very intelligent, a bridge player and solver of the Telegraph cryptic crosswords (To me she was a genius).

 As it progressed into vascular dementia it was as hard for her family and friends to cope with as it was for her. However we could walk away from it. Anyone who knows me knows that I have been going back to the UK as often as I can for 2 or 3 days at a time. I didn’t find it easy and hate myself for the number of times I shouted at Mum, snapped at her and even bullied her to do things. My only salvation was that she would forget that I had shouted at her and I would feel very humble and be extra nice. I am only human after all. I know my brothers also found it difficult.

Two weeks ago after a couple of infections and her 80th birthday which was a wash out as she was really not well, she was admitted into hospital and diagnosed with total renal failure .Two weeks later she passed away in her sleep. Myself and my two brothers and other family and friends spent a vigil by her bedside watching her and being with her. I myself said my goodbyes and left 3 days before she died. I think that I made the right decision. And I am grateful that she will no longer have to suffer as she would have hated being the woman she became.

My mum and dad were amazing (he ex RAF, muscian, members of Lions club, Rotary, Round table and keen sailor not to mention running his own estate agency). Mum had her own secretarial business in the days when women were not encouraged to work once they had children, raised 3 kids and dogs (and hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs) and looked after my Dad who was often unwell, also member of the abover charities, plus President of the League of Friends plus keen bridge player .Me – I don’t do any of that, have one child and am still knackered at the end of each day. Where they got the energy I don’t know. They entertained and dined out regularly. I remember fondly laying the table for her 4 course dinner parties, shining the silverware and getting out the cloth napkins and I remember even more fondly the fact that I was extreemly popular the next day with all my friends who having learnt of my parents dinner party would be round to scrounge any left over puddings. Mum loved it as it meant that she couldn’t eat it.

I am really going to miss my Mum although I have missed her for 4 years now and whilst I am relieved for her now I can’t believe that I can no longer call her even if it is to have a one sided conversation. I have kept a couple of email exchanges we shared over 10 years ago (I shall never get rid of them) and they reminded me of her fantastic sense of humour, her intuitiveness and the fact that we really did have a great mother and daughter relationship, something I had nearly forgotten about . We shared intimacies that I had long forgotten and am so pleased that she knew how much I admired and loved her. She loved me and my brothers equally and was so proud of us all. I can only hope that I am half as good a mother to Holly as she was to me.

Goodbye Mummy and thank you.

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Spring est arrivee

If you were to read any of my Spring blog inserts over the last 5 years (yes that is how long we have been writing these things and still no Pulizter Prize- where are you?) You will see that I refer to the same signs to demonstrate that Spring has arrived.

1 The sun is shining – yeehah ( and was so hotone weekend that Holly and friend went for a swim in the not quite heated enough pool!)

2 The birds are nesting (yet again Holly won’t be able to open her windows for months whilst Mummy bird sits on her nest and protects her eggs)

3 The birds are mating (I had to go and check out a right racket the other day to discover to Starlings ‘doing it’ back to back (is that normal?) and apparently stuck!)

4 The blossom is out in abundance and its a sight for sore eyes as it distracts us from the sight of all the dying and damaged plants that blight this region after our coldest winter in 50 years (did you know that?)

5 The Ladies of the Day are out in their fabulous body con spray on jeggings or patent thigh high boots – tell me why is that we don’t see any Gentleman of the Day – where are they? These are to be found on the back routes (don’t worry families travelling with young children!) Although my 9 year old did ask me what they were all doing there and I explained that they were either waiting for a bus or working in the vines. Amazingly my fashion concious daughter didn’t comment on the inappropriate working in the vines uniform. Phew!!

So here we are – Already May  a 1/5 of the way through the year ( thats scary isn’t it!) but glad to have winter behind us and looking forward to the Summer. We have already got our shorts on (I know it was blustery and rainy yesterday but its Spring now and I am bored of Winter and so thats if for now – shorts!) The fireplace has been cleaned (don’t try to eat your lunch off it) and Spring cleaning is in evidence (I hoovered our walls today!) Yes thats what happens when you have an open fire and exposed stone walls – you have to hoover them ! Who needs Farrow and Ball painted walls or Designer Guild wall paper coverings when you can have stone with a 3 D abstract of soot encrusted spider webs! Oh yes!

I have been back to the UK 4 times so far, so was  nice to stay put and do home stuff for a while.  A few of the weeks were a manic rush to get the gites and surrounding gardens ready for our first guests who didn’t arrive on the due date  thanks to the Air traffic strike! We had killed ourselves to get it ready but at least was ready for our next guests who arrived the following week along with Jenny and Sam my oldest friends (as in I have known them a long time old!)

Simon had a very successful trip back to England to buy a new 4 x 4 Pick Up (The Beast). Its huge and big and black and shiny – just how we like them . He flew, he viewed, he bought, he stopped to watch a day of rugby, and then drove home like the clappers to get home in time before Holly went off on her school ski trip. The only thing Simon did wrong was not fill the back of the pickup with enough Hellman’s mayonaise to last a life time (and a few other things ) Never send a Man shopping alone – wasted opportunity .

Holly went off on her first ever trip without us. She had been non stop talking about it for months and I  mean NONSTOP. The night before however she had second thoughts and came down for a teary cuddle but was ok for set off the next day and it was me that was nearly in tears! They had a great time but there was either not enough, or too much snow. They got some skiing in and had some fun and we were able to keep up with them every day via a blog and photos and mini videos and daily diaries – the teacher is brilliant, we were also subjected- I mean presented with a fab presentation with mini films made by the children themselves just the other night in the local cinema.

This was coincedently the second time I have even been inside our local cinema in the 5 years we have been living here. That is because they only show French spoken films but fortuitously the other night they were showing The Artist, a brilliant film for those who haven’t seen it  – which is in fact a silent movie and therefore I could understand every word!! Great film and for 5 Euros great value!

Talking of culture, I often think back to all the cultural events that are happening in London all the time which of course when I lived there, never took advantage of particularly and that living in rural France has its drawbacks. But I have underestimated this place. I have seen a beautiful  ballet performance in January, a colourful contempory dance piece in February, In March I went to see a performance of the Narbonne Conservatoire flautists performing duets with a professional harpist (our friends daughter was playing the flute in one piece) but was totally blown away by the talents of not only the professional harpist who played the instrument like it was a flemenco guitar in one piece but also by a 10 year old girl who has only being playing for 2 years but played her smaller harp equally as well as the professional. Simon Cowell you need to see this girl! And just the other night I was taken to see a group of Russian hip hop dancers , hip and hop and break dance and do slow motion robotics unlike I have ever seen before (and I watch a lot of this sort of stuff on tv!) to a selection of classic and contemporary music.

No rural France isn’t lacking – its here – you’ve just got to find it!

And if you are wondering how we are getting on with our renovation – well things have progressed massively. We now have a concreted floor with underfloor hearing, a fully funcitoning woodburner and hot water system insalled and some fancy windows! Simon has now ripped out one of our spare bedrooms and has started to fit in our fancy new bathroom. Its all very exciting. Our friend Sean has been out again, and once again helped us with some plumbing bits and pieces but also to see the progression on his own barn. That is another story and another blog and I would need his permission to publish that but if you are buying a barn in France please speak to us first!! Photos to follow once I have learnt how to download them from my not so smart phone as it turns out (or was it the user?) and not actually delete them from everything!

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It doesn’t rain it poos……

Remember my last blog post which was posted from my rather old Dell with box on the floor with dust on it…. well it stopped working and even though we have a little notebook with which we are able to check emails and order nude peep-toe shoes from, all our contacts and documents were on this computer. Dell and various people informed us that it was rather old for a computer (4 years old) OLD??? My god in my day when they made computers they were made to last…. what is it with technology that it is built to only last until the latest upgrade comes in. For all of you who got the new Ipad 2 for Christmas, watch out Ipad 3 is on its way.  Anyway the day Bruce our genius IT man came to fix our computer, the bloody thing started working literally 5 minutes before he pressed our door bell. Typical. However on his advice we have ordered a new computer and we are awaiting our brand new Dell, with the box on the floor without any dust!

Actually the computer isn’t the only thing that has gone wrong. Since the new year we have had very blocked drains and exploding toilets (more on that in a minute)  no central heating, the coldest winter in 50 years, Simon nearly catching pneumonia, me having the worse cold I have ever had, Holly having various bumps and bruises, seeping sink drains, burst pipes,  frost ruined plants (1000s of beautiful palms 80 or 90 years old and cacti and citrus plants were all killed by the frost we had in our coldest ever winter in 50 years) ,broken mirrors ( that doesn’t bode well does it?) more Land Rover garage appointments and a dying Chevrolet. Last week we discovered a burst tap in one of gites which had cause massive amounts of water damage in the downstairs rooms, resulting in an insurance claim to help pay for the replastering that will need to be done and the many graphic novels that are priceless that Simon has been collecting for years. At this point I discussed with the family that surely we have reached rock bottom and it can only go up from here,  right? Wrong! I went to print off my boarding ticket for my flights to the UK for the following week only to discover that when I booked them (in November ) I booked them the WRONG WAY ROUND. Ryanair would gladly sort it out but it would cost well over 100 Euros which was what I ended up paying so I could catch my flight. Nothing else has happened in the last 3 days but my breath is held and I am mindful of that broken mirror.

The blocked toilets were at the beginning of February 2 days before my birthday. Simon emptied the bath one night and the downstairs loo started to gurgle and bubble and – whoosh! Out came gallons of water – we mopped up and the next day Simon tried to unblock the drains from the various points where he usually spots trouble but this time there was no budging, only a huge explosion from the downstairs loo and lets say this time the water was not so pure and there were lumps and bumps – eeuchh arrrrghhhh,  so we called a local plumber and begged him to come as soon as possible. He turned up during lunch time which is pretty impressive as the French are usually very devout to their 2 hour lunch break.

His van had broken down so he borrowed his wife’s car (she is a domestic hairdresser – i.e. comes to your house). Armed with an awesome plunger he went out to the drain access point in our garden – and WITHOUT wearing gloves pulled out the rods that we had only bought that morning WITH HIS BARE HANDS and starting plunging. Lots of brown, toilet-papery splashes later he decided to come into our house. I watched him from a safe distance whilst he plunged his plunger in with zealous abandon. The result? SPLASHBACK like you have never seen before! All over the floor, the walls, HIS FACE! I was gagging and screaming from the safety our living room. Simon was doing his best to act as a buffer between the plumber and me, and had taken up a position in the hall where he was watching the goings on and shaking his head incredulously – but our plumber seemed to be in his element. He claimed that the water was ‘propre’ – clean – but I think there may have been a few billion bacteria in there that would have disagreed with him. Then he went back outside and dripped his plunger all over our hall and kitchen floor, Holly was tasked with the important role of putting newspaper on every wet drip and foot print. When he plunged again outside he heard an explosion from outside of the boundary of the garden and looking over the fence saw that a previously tarmac-ed-over manhole had exploded and there. was. shit. everywhere. He carefully put his plunger in a carrier bag went to his wife’s car and drove round the back of our house where he tried to move the blockage from out there but to no avail, so he told us to call Veolia (the water board) and with that threw the dripping plunger into the (carpeted) boot of his wife’s car (the bag had blown away). He left us with a promise to drop the bill round. We were immensely grateful for his efforts (apart from flicking excrement all over our house and himself), as he spent hours out in the first icy blasts of the arctic wind that was to batter us for weeks. I am sorry to say that I shall never call upon the services of his wife as I will never be able to trust the cleanliness of her tools after seeing what he was covered in and got in her car! Veolia arrived 7 hours later and with their mighty machine managed to find the blockage (an old metal building tool!) and cause a geyser of poo to rise out of the ground but fix the problem. We were saved. Meanwhile we probably increased the price of Bleach shares by using gallons of it EVERYWHERE.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom. I celebrated a wonderful birthday, spoilt with presents and a wonderful trip to Barcelona. Just Simon and I. We managed to do an awful lot in one day, starting with Gaudi’s Sagradia Familia

DSCF3530 DSCF3514 DSCF3477

then we visited the Museum of Modern European Art – mainly to see the art of our friend Mathieu Bassez in situ

DSCF3546 DSCF3547 Mathieu is awesomely talented check out his work at

But the rest of the place was fantastic too.

DSCF3553  DSCF3555 DSCF3556

After a fab tapas lunch we the visited the Picasso Museum – there are no photos as we were very uninspired and came out vehemently disliking his Cubist period, and now are of the opinion that it is all highly subjective pretentious crap! Unlike the stuff at the previous museum!

Our last cultural visit of the day was at another Gaudi building La Pedrera, like his stuff or not (and I don’t particularly) there is no doubting the genius of this man and his innovative ideas.

DSCF3574 DSCF3557 DSCF3579 DSCF3584

We stayed in a fabulous 4 star hotel with great views and what’s more CENTRAL HEATING!! I was actually able to dye my hair as I was now able to sit around in a room for 20 minutes without the risk of frost bite!

DSCF3593 DSCF3594 the following day we decided to leave  gorgeous fantastic Barcelona and head home via Girona. This is another really lovely town with an old bit full of higgly piggly streets – well worth a visit.

My birthday managed to last a week, what with girl lunches and a surprise 60s themed birthday party organised by Diane in our village with about 12 of us all dressed up in 60s gear. (It wasn’t really a surprise as I did know about it) It was the best fun ever.

Holly and I left Simon to the bitter cold and burst pipes to spend a week in England.  Our first stop was lunch in the Northcote road with some of the girls from the online bootcamps I have been doing and the wonderful Janey of fame

DSCF3596 that first night we stayed with our lovely friends  Delphine, Andrea, Josephine and Leo ( Holly and Jojo used to go to school at Belleville together)

DSCF3598  the next day we hurried over to the other side of the Northcote Road and stayed with Amanda, Stephen, Maxwell and Marco and spent the day trying to visit the Natural History museum but put off by the queue of 1 hour 45 mins went to the V&A instead, killing time before going to see Cirque de Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall (disappointing by the way compared to when I last saw them about 10 years ago or so) after a quick noodle soup in Wagamama’s (I was really enjoying myself feasting in all this culture and then this wonderous edible feast!) the evening was finished off by the wonderful James Vincent McMorrow at the Royal Festival Hall – he is brilliant in the flesh, real make your hairs stand up male version of Adele. We got tickets as he is a signing to the record label that Stephen works for. It was a really full on day and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (well I did, Holly wasn’t too impressed with the V and A and would have prefered to see Cher Lloyd (of X Factor fame) but there is no pleasing everyone.


The next day we visited the Tower of London

DSCF3621 DSCF3626 we nearly got stomped on DSCF3641

and I think Hitchcock may have been inspired by these DSCF3652 we tried to lock the children up in a cellDSCF3632 but sadly there was no key. Not sure about the relevance of these DSCF3636

All in all it was great fun but somehow when you see that it is surrounded by so much 21st Century modernity it is hard to get lost in medieval London . DSCF3645 DSCF3647 DSCF3649 but it does make you proud to be British DSCF3654

Holly and I continued down to Kent to see Mum and I tried to amuse them at the Turner gallery but they weren’t impressed

DSCF3656 Holly was more interested in trying on my wedding dress! DSCF3659 and in the end was  I!

DSCF3669 I want to get married again now ! (To the same man of course !)

Our last two days were spent with Julie and her 4 girls (Alan was in France with Simon) and much fun was had in their new home based in Sussex.

DSCF3678        DSCF3680      DSCF3681

For those wishing to know how the barn renovation is coming on. Well Simon has been working very hard and even during the coldest winter in 50 years (have I mentioned how cold it was here ) which by the way was only about 2 or 3 weeks long but felt like forever, he had to keep coming into the comparable warmth of our house to defrost his fingers.

This is the front of the barn looking through to the back garden DSCF3447 this is our new woodburner DSCF3451 DSCF3459 DSCF3466  and because he is so cute


Actually the barn has progressed a lot since these photos but we shall save that for the next time. Its been so long since we posted that we wanted to make sure you are still being attentive – see you soon !

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Happy 2012!!!

We hope you all had a lovely Christmas. We had a very hectic week driving back to England and visiting friends and family in Surrey, Northampton, London and Kent. Sorry if we offended anyone by not coming to visit you and if you are not offended then why the hell not? It was lovely seeing everyone but too quick and we packed too much in. Its much easier if people come and see us here in France that way we can have quality time with people and relax! I wanted to take Holly to see Harrods (she has never been nor heard of it!) and Covent Garden but all she wanted to do was shop!! There is a girl after my own heart!!  With added good reason, she has had a massive growth spurt – see how tall she is in the below picture and we don’t have many decent children’s shops around here – so we attacked Oxford Circus and shopped and shopped! That said we did manage a trip to the London Eye with Greg and his two boys and their cousin.

DSCF3246 DSCF3255 DSCF3327 DSCF3322 and enjoyed the Christmas lights (although I did feel this year it wasn’t as good as other years and we thought that maybe it was a nod to the recession or environment??)

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We also went to Winter Wonderhell in Hyde Park. A child’s dream come true an adult’s nightmare. Despite the fact that Holly and I are to terrified to go on any of the rides we still managed to be ripped off for a small fortune!! Funfairs just don’t do it for me. And it rained.

Christmas was spent in Kent with Grandma and at my brother Jeremy’s. Boxing Day was spent doing further eating and some dancing DSCF3387 and we even managed a trip to Tescos to fill our over full car with English goodies!! And lots of cushions!!

We were pleased to be home despite having been in luxurious centrally heated homes!! And couldn’t wait to collect Bob who we had all missed dreadfully

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Our drive home was long and arduous when the car decided to break down just 12 minutes away from our favourite chain restaurant – Buffalo Grill, and instead came to a halt near a mussel restaurant (Simon and Holly’s favourite – NOT!) The car did start thank god but subsequently it has had to go back to the garage twice more and has now cost us the price of a new small car!

We celebrated New Year Eve spontaneously with our good friends, Natalie and John, and went to a party of an American couple who have rented an amazing chateau for 6 months. They had a live band and we were served non stop champagne and at midnight oysters and foie gras! It was great fun and the first time I have had more than one or two glasses of wine in a long time (due to my online bootcamp regime with Amazingly I didn’t get drunk!! In fact I find it quite hard to get just merry drunk these days! Its sober or sick -nothing in between -what’s going on ? Anyway at midnight everyone was a hugging and a kissing and shaking hands etc and an older gentleman approached Simon (I think he was the owner of the Chateau) he tried to give Simon the ‘bisou’ the kisses on each cheek, but Simon was having none of that (I happened to see this happening), he visibly flinched, stepped back and shaking his head saying Non, NON!!! Stuck his right arm out to shake the man’s hand in a very assertive ‘We wont’ have any of that sort of thing here thank you very much’ It was very funny. Simon doesn’t do kissing men. Oh no.

Since we have been back it has been cold, warm and now freezing and the central heating is still not on, however Dunkirk spirit is high in this house and nothing that a huge log fire and fluffy sox can’t put right.  We have borrowed some electric heaters and have to get the timing right. We must remember not to use the microwave at the same time as when we switch them on or the whole house trips and we are plunged into darkness! Then is the fumbling and screeches (from Holly) whilst we seek out a torch or a candle in the pitch black!
Sean has come back to do some more plumbing so the idea is that we will be able to connect the new woodburner to the old central heating , later it will be connected to the new underfloor heating when that is laid and the accumulator which will also heat the water. We will be burning wood, but no diesel or electricity. We filled the pickup up full of wood the other day (interestingly it cost us less than last time, when is was considerably less full!) The brakes on the pickup decided not to work but Simon managed to bring us back safely!! So that is now booked in to the garage! If anyone charitable out there has a car (peferably a 4 x 4) and is so rich that they don’t need it and want us to have it, we would like it – thank you in advance.

Two things I have noticed more since Christmas – the number of men driving around with small dogs on their laps (usually it’s children which of course is just as dangerous and illegal) but what is it about men and small lap dogs? What are they hiding? Why?

The other thing is that you know you are getting older when you spend most of your time on skype looking at how many ways you can pull your sagging face back into place rather than have a conversation!

Finally – Ipads – do my head in – everyone (but me) has one and when I say everyone I am talking about even NINE year olds!! Yes. I pride myself that we don’t really need all this technology and we managed perfectly well with out it but then I wouldn’t be writing this now would I if we didn’t? I hate it and love it , I don’t want one – I do…. but one of the things that needles me is the little sentence at the bottom of an incoming email that says  ‘Sent from my Ipad/Ipodtouch/Blackberry’ Why do we need to know that? Do I brag that my emails and indeed blogs are sent from my rather dated Dell Inspiron Computer which has the big box on the floor beside it which is always  covered in dust….no I don’t.

Right off to bed now, Holly and I went to a circus in Lagrasse – it was a very good bunch of funny edgy acrobats and musicians, they made a few mistakes and it was typically indulgently French but nevertheless great entertainment and very cheap at 10 Euros an adult and 5 for kids . Rumor has it that the  London Royal Ballet are returning to Lagrasse this summer so fingers crossed!! Tomorrow night we are going to see a jazz musician who has played extensively for David Bowie – who says life in Rural France is dull. Simon and Sean are still hard at it in the barn and its nearly midnight!! What heroes!!


sent from my rather dated Dell Inspiron computer which has the big box on the floor beside it which always is covered in dust

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Tis the season …..again!!!

Well we are getting into the swing of things – our holes are getting bigger! Lintels are going in! Thats all great, we have had a couple of set backs, Simon hurt his knee and back – but he is managing it and braced up he is still working hard! Our Land Rover decided that just before Christmas would be the perfect time to need a new gear box!  When the garage first told us their estimated price, I said ‘Thats it, I ‘ve had enough and went round to look at a beautiful brand new gun metal 7 seater, leather seated Discovery, the Sales Manager’s eyes literally had Euro signs in them….he could see a desperate woman….. after gulping at the initial price, I then said how much would it be with out that addition and this addition and that other one and by the time we could afford it there was one wheel rolling around in tumble weed. And we couldn’t even have that until June next year!! What? When I want to buy a new car I want to buy it NOW!!! So that bought us some time and then the garage men told us what the new part would really cost us , and it had gone from the size of the  national debt of Ireland  to the size of the national  debt of  the Isle of Wight (still big you understand but smaller than then first quote! ) we did come back and look at second hand cars but decided to be loyal to our own car and fix her up and keep her going!!

This week has been all about  Christmas Parties and school shows and ice skating shows .  Holly and I are even the proud owner of Miss Santa Claus outfits – here are some of the pics from our successful party at the Monastery last Sunday

DSCF3169 Simon Coombes who came as a Wise King or something like that

DSCF3151 Holly receiving the winning prize for musical chairs

DSCF3212 Me — ehrrm did I mention I had lost over a stone recently !!

DSCF3184 Father Christmas (Guy) and his little helpers!!

DSCF3160 The children enraptured with the pantomime (in French!)

DSCF3181 Holly refusing to give FC a kiss !! ‘Just give me my present and bog off’

Next week I shall be up loading the video of Hollys canteen Christmas show ……..oh no the phone has fallen down the loo ok you were saved from that.

This is a short one as what Holly, Simon, Bob and I really want to say to you all is

Have a very HAPPY CHRISTMAS and a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!! – Keep reading up and please post us on your facebook pages and thankyou for your readership this year!!! lots of love xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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Hello all, well the renovations are fully underway. We have huge gaping holes everywhere and the dust film is never ending. Now I can at least blame the building dust on the fact that house is never clean and not on the fact that I detest and despise housework.

Although a long way to go, before we buy furniture etc, we have been thinking about shapes and sizes etc. Simon had always said he would build us a lovely big dining table, and we have planned its position. However lately he seems to have jumped ahead of himself rather as I caught him looking at tables that convert into pool tables!! I laughed when he told me one price (£3,000) but now I seriously may have to consider having him sectioned as the latest web page displayed a pool table for a mere $49,000. You can in fact buy a small house for that. He did bang his head quite badly this morning and was cut, so maybe he has gone a bit doolally.

Last week, we were joined by our good friend Sean, who left his day job and family for a week to come and live with us and help Simon install our new heating system. The men worked well as a team and drank about 20 gallons of tea (Simon never drinks tea usually!) they finished late at night despite my suggestions that if they took less tea breaks they could finish at a decent time but that is the way of the world in building and renovations.

So here are a few pics to show what has been going on!
DSCF3089 before…… and ……………….. now  DSCF3125

before …..DSCF3072 …… and ……now DSCF3128

before …DSCF3075 ……… and … DSCF3133  you get the picture

Sean’s marvelous work has also been recorded  for prosperity. It was a last-minute decision to stick the enormous water tank between the buttresses on the back of the building, to save space in the living room.

  DSCF3139 Simon took me around to see the ‘awesome’ copper work – Men get very excited about such things.

I helped…….. I made a few cups of tea! When I could be bothered not to forget.

Actually I have been very busy the last few weeks – doing an online ‘food management made easy’ bootcamp then a body blitz one. I have lost 3/4 stone and am smaller and neater than I was including losing a well needed few inches from problem areas. I can thoroughly recommend this (Me who can never exercise alone and hates the gym) you are not alone as there are literally tons of women world wide joining in on this and through the forum, new friendships have been forged – check out my mates website for more details. I am not going to, however, show you a before and after photo!

I was invited to a fabulous wine tour and tasting at my friend’s husbands wine school. Matthew Stubbs the Master of Wine who comes to the gites for personal wine tastings was hosting one at his school, again thoroughly recommend this (and yes in order to follow the food management principles I spat!) We had a walk through the Autumn vines and a tour around the cave where the nectar is made and then lunch in the fabulous restaurant that is located in the Domaine – Totally delicious and a fabulous experience

DSCF3117 DSCF3105 DSCF3107 DSCF3110 DSCF3112 DSCF3116 –  all very interesting and whilst I have learnt a lot I can assure you I won’t become a wine snob!!

We had torrential rain for about two weeks but then it stopped and it has been lovely and mild. The rain was the first we had had in months, but whilst needed, we didn’t need it necessarily all at the same time!!

Holly has continued with her horse riding.

2011-08-09 09.28.51 She now has the full gear.

I have continued with my French – although yesterday had a very upsetting experience when one of the students, a pretty, timid and quiet girl who I used to have to lean towards to hear, started spouting weird comments and shouting, and it quickly became apparent to me that she was having a melt down. I quickly told the French teacher in English what I thought was happening and she went off and  called  the husband and pompiers and medics, followed by the police (who we told not to go in as they would frighten  her). They frightened me and I haven’t done anything! She was eventually sedated and led away – very sad, she is far away from her native country and I wonder if that pressure of isolation did that to her. I hope she will be alright , meanwhile let that be a lesson to any of you who start shouting at me …. and to you Simon if you even consider buying that pool table

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Thick Flamingoes

I had to drive down to the builders merchant today, to add some stuff to a delivery. There’s snow on the mountains!


Not the most beautiful picture, unfortunately, but the only safe place to take one whilst driving (although The Old Bill would probably argue that that is an oxymoron). Anyway, maybe the skiing will start early again this year.

I went around and took a few Before Photos of the barn, now that I have finally started work on it.

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I have to close up the hole in the first picture and put a door in it. And I have to make a hole for a door in the second.

DSCF3074 I’ve moved the water tank and disconnected the boiler that was in the little red brick house. The red brick house is now a pile of rubble that will be the hardcore for the raised-up kitchen floor.

We had an impromptu Bonfire Night Party the other night and we had our dinner out here.


Upstairs I have put a few Veluxs in the roof. DSCF3088 It’s lucky it has been torrential rain for the last few days because it is showing me the places (and there are many) where the roof is leaking.

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Finally, I heard a weird noise while I was working in the barn the other day and went outside to investigate. This flock of birds was wheeling aimlessly about in the sky. I reckon they were flamingoes that set off for Africa and headed in the wrong direction.



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Bob has had his knacks chopped off. He got a bit excited about another dog on the other side of the road and nearly dragged Honor under a bus. We realised his teenage hormones were kicking in and after a lot of advice, the only solution was to whip them off. He seems fairly relaxed about it now.

We had a rather early bonfire night during half term as we had our friends Amanda, Stephen , Maxwell and Marco staying and also Alan and Julie and the girls were back from England for half term so it was quite a party. The usual sausages and beans with potatoes baked in the bonfire mmmmmmmm and of course toasted marshmallows!


On one of the half term days , we made a six hour round trip in torrential rain to visit Salvador Dali’s House. The drive there was quite scary . We have literally had NO rain for months and then it all came down in 36 hours – however despite that we soldiered on with our crusade to visit one of Northern Spain’s most eccentric genius’s. Or is it genii?

Dali’s studio. He liked to paint sitting down so he had this easel made. It’s a massive metal framework which moves all around and even sinks into the floor. (That’s a picture of a woman with male nadgers on it by the way)

DSCF2921              and this is a random piece of garden art !                     DSCF2980

DSCF2935 This is where Dali and Gala slept. There is a mirror on the opposite wall, angled so they could lie in bed and watch the sunrise. Attention to detail – nice.

This is Dali’s kind of Experiment Room. It is full of weird stuff and the means to examine it very closely.

DSCF2931  DSCF2927 Here’s his storeroom, where he actually used to go and get his gear. Awesome!

The weather totally sucked, but we made the best of it…

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The house grew as Dali and Gala lived there, it has loads of little passages connecting all the additions.



He liked his eggs.


Also heads.

DSCF2973             ROOAARR!!!             DSCF3001

The pink thing in the water feature down at the end of the pool is a skip. A lot of his sculpture type stuff seems to be recycled.

DSCF2997DSCF2990I wonder what inspired his swimming pool with the two ball shaped things at the bottom and the long thing that ends at the banqueting table …….

The view from the little harbour next to Dali’s house.


DSCF3020 The house is the buildings on the right, and spreads on up the hill. We were very impressed and definitely want to come back and visit on a blue sky day. We have now visited 2 of Dali’s museums, which leaves the Castle that he built for his wife. That will be our next adventure

Today the sun was shining and the rain seems to have cleared all the dust off the landscape leaving the most stunning country side

DSCF3040 Every angle you look there is a red or orange or lime green vineyard. Stunning

We decided to go and explore a walk in the countryside outside of Lagrasse in a village called Mayronnes. Along the trail there are lots of sculptures which represent I don’t know what but make an amusing diversion.


Tortoises made out of motorbike chains. Groovey.



DSCF3054  Who do you think has grown the most since last posting? Certainly Holly’s feet have as she grows out of yet another pair of shoes!!

We no longer have any gite guests which is sad and the apartments are empty (although we do tend to shove our friends in them or dinner guests too drunk to drive home) and even we may be living in one when it gets cold and we need heating (as there is none in our house at the moment!)

Our last lots of guests were all fabulous and got involved in a lot of local things. One couple joined me and some locals to learn about Southern French cooking and another group spent a quality couple of hours  with our Master of Wine, Matt Stubbs , learning about the wines from the region


Actually this group was well up for all things local and joined in the ‘vendange’ or grape harvest for our neighboring vigneron Chateau Maylandie

DSCF2742 no age restrictions when it comes to wine picking DSCF2738

The evening was spent at the ‘cave’ feasting on delicious stew and drinking several vintages of the Chateau’s best wine!!

Our friends at the Monastery were let down by the Monks but after a call for help, many hands were on deck to help cut those grapes

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We are getting lots of enquires (and bookings already!) for next Summer, which is great, but I can’t help thinking that now is a fantastic time to visit the area. The temperatures are often good, the sun shines more often than not and there is still so much to see and do without the tourists.

In many ways it is the best time of year.

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We’ve been growing our own. Look at this beauty!


Actually it’s not that impressive.

DSCF2211 That’s centimetres. Not even inches.

Thank you Simon for your contribution. Yes that is the single success of our melons this year, or lack of maybe.. but our tomatoes fared much better and we even had a couple of peppers and aubergines!! Figs I can not take credit for, they literally grow on trees around here!! So we are well fig chutneyed up now!!

La Rentree started on Monday, with Holly going into CM1 (she still has 2 years of primary to go before she is even allowed to think of having a mobile phone – that is how she gauges progression) We didn’t know what class she would be or which teacher she would have at first but it has sorted itself out and she is a class of 23 of whom only 4 are her year and the rest are the year above. Her teacher is Bertrand, who looks a bit like hippy guitarist but has a good reputation. So I feel confident so far. However many of the local colleges (secondary school) have all been on strike this week. I have no idea why, and find it incredible that these so called professionals would do this in the first week…what kind of example are they giving?? For now I am not directly worried and there are options but striking is one thing the French do excel at. They should look to the African communities who just want a job to be able to provide for their family. Here (although not exclusively in France) it is all to easy to winge and whine that the retirement age has increased by a year – well some people would love to just be able to work ! Let alone get to retirement age. Strewth!! Ok sorry rant over

What Southern France does excel in, however if the ability to live outside and embrace all the wonderful sights and sounds of the region. And we have fully exploited the ability to spend all our days doing out doorsy type things.

With our friends Alan, Julie and their 4 girls we all met at Banyuls sur Mer to do some snorkeling in the underwater marine nature reserve. It was absolutely stunning and worth the hours drive to get there. Simon , myself and Holly had decked ourselves out not too expensively at Decathlon (the mecca of sportswear and equipment) and were very keen to try it all out. Check out these pics



Holly is practically riding this fish!


Holly had a lovely day with her friends  DSCF2283

Delphine, Andrea, Jojo and Leo from London came to visit us after having spent an amazing week hiking and climbing in the Pyrenees and we had a lovely day and night with them. They were all pleased to meet Bob

DSCF2321 and he was pleased to have the attention!

Delphine told us a funny story about being Leo being told off for making funny noises with his armpit in school (She tried hard not to giggle whilst the teacher, unamused,  explained to her what her son had been doing). Which meant that the rest of the evening was spent practicing this ancient art of arm farting by us 4 adults ….

….here is Simon demonstrating.

DSCF2328 Delphine I have the perfect photo of you but won’t up load it here !

We took them to my favourite river swimming place at Ribaute, where some fishing was done

DSCF2330  and ooops DSCF2331 


Holly and Josephine put the world to rights


and so did the Mummies


and this was followed by lunch in Lagrasse and then sad farewells till next year!!

Bob has been continuing with his hydrotherapy and we think he might actually like it! DSCF2397

One fine day we went to visit an amazing Butterfly farm – At first I thought ‘is this it?’ but I was soon mesmerized and went around and around. They are so tame they land on you!

2011-08-10 10.17.51  2011-08-10 10.28.52 2011-08-10 10.54.50 and Holly had fun with her friend Shanon

2011-08-10 11.00.42  And finished off with a picnic on the beach it was a  thoroughly great day out !

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The lovely Elissa came and stayed for a few days which was great. Despite irregular chats on skype with webcam, I haven’t seen her in the flesh for 2 years, so suffice it to say we had a lot to chat about!! And Elissa having spent the last 3 years in Kuwait was delighted to be able to drink unrestricted quantities of Rose!! Not unaccompanied though!


Elissa and I had a lovely day out in Narbonne, eating lunch in the square (Mussels Narbonaise, mmm) and shopping. For a bit of culture popping into the cathedral and chancing on this character who was performing in the cloisters! I have no idea what he was saying but he wasn’t alone and the audience were laughing!


During the summer and also off season, you can often come across a petite animation going on in the streets or covered markets and during the Festival of Carcassonne, I discovered 4 men singing Acapello  in the Cathedral in the old city. Who needs pricy tickets to see Tom Jones (who was also performing in the city) when you have such lovely free stuff!

Ferrals Les Corbieres holds weekly ‘spectacles’ in the village square and this year we saw several dance troups (the Brazilian Amazon tribal dancers and the Gold Lamed gentleman who crucified an Abba song) but the main event is the village fete with live music every night. Trouble is it starts at my bed time but according to our guests the Friday night band was better than good. (I had managed their expectations before hand and ensured that they were low !) Anyway here is Holly and Simon successfully shooting to win a prize that is actually worth less than the price of the bullets but hey ho, mustn’t be all scrooge about it ! Holly was very chuffed!

DSCF2434 and here is a very dark photo of Holly and me challenging Ana and Darren at the dodgems!
DSCF2449  All our gite  guests were here, in fact all our guests were great sports and joined us kayaking

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Hats off to everyone as it was hard work. 15 km but Newton did especially well as he was on his own in his canoe and it was his first time! This is him exhausted!
DSCF2671 I had a little go in the rapids too! DSCF2673 and finally after what seemed like forever the end was nigh!

DSCF2690 we slept well that night.

Our guests also joined us at O2 for some intrepid tree top climbing. Two of the Mums joined in but Corinne and I decided to stay put on terra firma ….well someone had to take the photos you know!
DSCF2713 Holly had one of very favourite friends for a stay over – Ana who has come to stay at our gites 3 times now and they had a go at making face masks

DSCF2722 DSCF2723 guess who gets to clean out the little pots after?

That’s all for now -I am starting the next one right now!!

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Its been a while and I apologise to friends who haven’t had their names in print so far.

Polly was the next visitor in our sequence and she joined us at the end of school term, a nice time of year, the weather is getting better and the anticipation of long lazy hazy summer days to come are on the horizon, just before it all turns to Autumn and then Christmas!

It was just around the time of plum harvest! DSCF1847  when Polly arrived and with her also came her hair straighteners .DSCF1869 Polly was also one of the first Maison de la Roche guests to try out our  new in- house therapists  Karen’s magical hands, in the shade, for an Indian Head Massage DSCF1848

Polly knows to make herself at home although sometimes she goes a bit too far in the making herself comfortable lark DSCF1860 and yes she is wearing her pyjamas there……..

Bob has still got his limp poor boy and is always looking for snug places to get comfy

DSCF1842 DSCF1843 and so is Simon DSCF1858

To celebrate the summer we hit it off with a tea party in the garden DSCF1853 and the summer activities continued with our regular visit at this time of year from Jane and Jenny who with our gite guests helped the village celebrate the Bastille Day celebrations (a fab meal, disco, fireworks and as much booze as you could drink!)

DSCF1893 DSCF1903 Jane pulled a local named RenneDSCF1905 DSCF1894  and then the following day we had a ‘Ladies Day’ with Karen the beautician treating us all and also Holly!! DSCF1910 who found it all a bit ticklish!

The day culminated in the best firework display I have ever ever seen and these photos can not do it justice. To get here we followed a convoy of cars to find the last parking spots in Carcassonne (The city was blocked off by the 70,000 people who visit here every year!) Cars were even parked on roundabouts and in the middle of roads. We sat in a field up behind the old city and had brilliant seats (for free!) It started with the sunset

DSCF1938 and then the real display DSCF1944 DSCF1946

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they had planet shaped fireworks and heart and lip shaped it was incredible and all choreographed wonderfully. I am definitely going back next year!!

Meanwhile our guests have been joining in the fun and as ever, Holly has made more friends ……

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Holly and I managed a trip back to the UK to see mum and also found time to see lots of lovely friends in between shopping in Sainsburys, this time not only did we bring back the Cheddar cheese but an old friend of mine Karen, whom I hadn’t seen for 6 years…. we had plenty to catch up on and she was immersed into our life here and was dragged on one of my girls nights out (they are now a regular spot in the calendar) and out to dinner at our local vigneron’s home and of course I dragged her around a few of our beauty spots.

DSCF1979 Holly went out in her usual subtle attire DSCF1982

It has rained here ! Yes it has and it was ok as Holly had her new umbrella. Although it hasn’t been as hot as previous Julys, its still be warm and the  other night we witnessed not only an amazing thunder and lightening storm but several guests whooping and jumping in the rain!!


In order to help Bob heal his shoulder he has been undertaking swimming therapy and finally we have found places that he likes, the only thing is that Simon has to go in with him too!DSCF1988 Actually in doing this we have discovered some real magical places. The most stunning was at a place called Mirepeisset where you can sit and have lunch whilst watching the boats float past on the Canal du Midi over an Aquaduct over the River Cesse (where we took Bob for his physio) – stunning. Its real Enid Blyton land of loveliness here.

I have been embarking on marketing Maison de la Roche through Face Book and one of our lovely guests found us this way. Margot whom I hadn’t seen since before her beautiful daughter was born. It was lovely to see her and Gary, and Holly had fun with Maisy

DSCF1999 …..holly and maisy holly and maisy 2 .

Greg, Bec, Jake and Ethan also came for their annual summer holiday and as usual it was great to see them although our livers probably think otherwise. We visited the recycling bins more times in 10 days then I have in the last year! One of our trips was to the most amazing Grottes I have ever visited and we were treated to a light and musical show. The only thing was the guide only spoke French and kept turning the lights out whenever we (lagging at the back) reached the front!. Still awesome crystals

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Incredible that they are so old and yet still forming. These caves are a few minutes drive from St Guilhem de Desert, a stunning village/town in the middle of a gorge. There is a river for kayaking and swimming which was very tempting but we ran out of time as we had to get back in time to go out for dinner at our new village restaurant (delicious) but we will definitely go back there again and take our swimming togs.

DSCF2136 At St Guilhem, it was so hot that this restaurant kindly sprays its clients with water vapour whilst they eat. We wished we had found this earlier. The original restaurant we chose looked nice enough but when we asked for a table for 7 we were told they were full. I pointed out the 3 empty tables but the waitress said she didn’t have time to clear it, I offered to help but was told no but to be patient and she would clear it. After about 45 minutes she finally cleared the table , one plate at a time (in this time the chef had gone out twice to smoke a fag , good work ethics, he didn’t even think to help!) Eventually we sat down and then we were promptly forgotten about. It was hot and a glass of tap water by this time would have been very welcome. I asked one of the other clients if the food was any good and she motioned not really, so finally we upped and left. To go to a cafe 3 metres away who couldn’t be more helpful. This was the only blight to a perfect day.DSCF2164 It is a town really worth visiting . Its a charming medieval town with lots of wiggly lanes to explore. Next time we will climb up to the Hermitage at the top of the mountain.

DSCF2180  We have been spending days on the beach and visiting other lovely spots. Bages and Peryiac sur Mer are charming and we were able to spot flamingos (white ones) We also spent hours in French Telecom trying to finally change our package and reduce it by half AND get free calls and unlimited texts etc…. We have been entitled to this for years but in France if you don’t ask the question (and the question has to be asked in an exact way) you won’t get an answer and never will they offer you information. And if you are a loyal long term customer, it means nothing. New customers actually get the better deals. Anyway the up side is that I now have a new swanky phone , we have unlimited phone calls to fixed lines and unlimited sms and emails on my swanky new phone. The down side is that we are now paying for TWO contracts whilst they overlap, the fixed line hasn’t kicked in with its free calls yet, my new swanky phone cost a small fortune and I can’t work out how to use it. But I am very excited with it. I know why they are called ‘smartphones’ its because you need a university degree to work it out. Having said that most people I know have them, including young children who have more modern technology than I even knew existed, and they can work it out….maybe its me? Anyway I have joined the 21st century and its all very exciting.

Oh and when I have worked out how to download my photos on my phone I shall show you the pictures of the dead boar feet that some villager has proudly displayed on his front door. I can show you this nice door knocker though and interesting cat flap.

DSCF2129 there are many captions I could put here but I won’t

DSCF2193 love this cat shaped cat flap.

Other photos I can’t show you are of the amazing butterfly farm we went to. They were so tame some even landed on shoulders, and having fun at the aqua jet place…. but by the time I write the next blog I will have a Masters in Smartphone downloadability.

We are horrified about what is going on in the UK and hope that you are all ok. If you need to get away …you know where to come

a bientot

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