April 2022 Newsletter
April 2022 Newsletter

April 2022 Newsletter

April, Dear reader, the month of yellow pine pollen dust on everything and the enormous burst of lush vegetation turning last month’s bare branches into the most vivid and luminous shades of green.  And the month where the mowing is non-stop for Lee as the grasses and weeds push upwards relentlessly.

Well, this is starting to sound a bit like a Lady Whistledown column – Alas, For Netflix fans of the colourful Bridgerton, I cannot bring our readers the latest Society News from Southwest France, just another report of the wearying work grafted out by Lee & Tracey here at la gare de Sos.

Does anyone remember the high praise for Lee’s pool maintenance that I started last month’s newsletter with?  Well, our swimming mojo was short lived when Mr G decided it was time for REAL pool maintenance before the summer season visitors.  Anyone coming on holiday here soon, look away now! 

Evidently, the “skimmers” (which I think is the technical pool language for filters) and connected plumbing have been in situ since the 90s and badly needed replacement.  As we are just embarking on our first season with paying guests, Mrs G made some minor protests to this idea to be told

“Do you know how important it is to have properly functioning skimmers to keep the pool clean of debris and not to overwork the pump?”  “Err, nope”

 I also did not know that sunscreen is a big culprit of the contamination in the skimmers and pipes and creates havoc, being all greasy & oily, yuk! So, REAL pool maintenance was definitely required.

Skimmers are massive, plastic basket things that eventually deteriorate, as shown above, and they are concreted into the pool at just the right level to skim the debris off the top of the water and must line up exactly with the throat area in the pool.  Then there’s another filter down at the bottom of the pool, two and half metres down.  Probably sounds like a simple replacement job but it’s been the hardest task we’ve attempted so far.  The worrying aspect was getting replacement parts that would fit, what with them being well over twenty years old but that turned out to be easy at the very helpful Nerac Piscines.  Smashing, chipping and jack-hammering the concrete away to remove the skimmers without damaging the pool liner however was not easy and draining the pool of water took 3 days. And on the hottest day of April, instead of cooling off with a refreshing swim we were trapped in an empty pool suffering from a version of snow blindness, trying to scramble up the incredibly deep sloping sides, like two contestants in “It’s a Knockout”.  How Lee managed to balance on that slope to change the underwater pool lights, I’ll never fathom.  They haven’t worked for a long time and when we opened them up, the slimy vile green contents were scary and alien-like but we are pleased to report these are now replaced and working, ready for evening swims, hurrah.  We’d like to thank previous guests for the provision of the inflatable avocado which enabled us to float around to do the re-sealing around the tile edges.  The damaged coping stones have been repaired and the empty pool had a full sanitising scrub down as you’ll see in the photos.  Our dear friend, the Barnsley hospital cleaning manager, will be proud of us.  As I write, the hose continues to re-fill the pool and has been running for two days – don’t mention the water bill-agh!

Rest assured folks, it will be full of water, sparkly clean and wonderful in time for paying guests.  The guests that came at Easter, before Mr G’s maintenance plan, had a fabulous time swimming under the glass and their feed back was really positive about the pool and the pool area facilities. 

We had a French family staying for Easter – a big gathering for the grandmother’s 85th birthday and the space afforded here is just perfect for big families to do just that – a meal “en famille” – 12 can be seated comfortably around the tables for meals, indoors and out and this family enjoyed several.  The young ‘uns in the party shared the attic space and had a ball up there.  See the photos of the attic arrangement and the station, all cleaned and prepped by Tracey, ready to welcome our Easter visitors.  And afterwards, the cleaning work starts all over again and 58 items of laundry need washing, drying, ironing……if another ladybird lands on my clean white sheets, I’ll cry.  Tracey’s new life is now a cycle of “clean, greet, repeat” and that’s not easy with a chuffin mandolin cut through the palm of your hand (I know, idiot, I could hear Rick Stein’s warnings about mandolins as I did it).  One of these days, I’ll have something a bit more elegant to report, like how I’ve sat creating pretty pillowcases from vintage tea-towels like Angel in Escape to the Chateau but for now, I clean, and then some. Right, whine over girlie – you live in France and the sun is shining and we have wine (more wine, less whine is in order) See the new wine cellar further down the page.

The beginning of April, commenced with the wine cellar project, now complete and the first collection of wine from the local Chiroulet vineyard was ordered and collected – the 2018 red is so good.  The temperature is perfect down there and if we get flooding again, all the wine is stored at table height so will hopefully be saved. (Tracey won’t hesitate to wade through flood water to save the wine collection though & the excellent XV du President collection is waiting for a good friend to visit.)

And that brings me nicely onto the presidential elections – we’ve had the candidates staring at us from posters in every village for weeks, some get graffiti-ed – moustaches added etc or even ripped down.  You’ll know by now that Macron was re-elected for another 5 years.  We don’t get to vote anymore but it was interesting to watch our little community react to polling days – there were two rounds and polling day is on a Sunday in France.  Both rounds bought lots of folk out into our village, and there was quite a group in the bar on both polling Sundays, unfortunately, (or fortunately) our language skills aren’t quite up to political debates with the locals yet but I am sure that the conversations that we overheard in the bar were all about food anyway.  Our department, Lot et Garonne, voted 50/50 for Le Pen and Macron with a 75% turn out. Here’s Daphne, wondering if free Bonios are in any of manifestos.

In food matters – at Easter we generally like a jolly big marzipaned fruit cake but this year Tracey decided to marzipan a homemade Bara Brith – a chunky slice was like a meal in itself – started it on Good Friday and made it last all the way to Easter Monday!

A you can see from the photos, we’ve also indulged in some April pastries – those pain aux raisins were divine, and those little cakes were like a cold soft set omelette with chocolate and raspberries in; I wonder if a chocolate and raspberry omelette would work? And then there’s the lemon tarts….oh dribble, dribble.  We’ve squeezed in a meal out one lunchtime too – Mont Resto at Montréal, a restaurant that we’ve passed for years but never visited.  It was 3 courses for twenty euros and worth every penny – absolutely top notch and Lee tried a Gascon aperitif that we’d heard about called Pousse Rapière – described as one of the planet’s most lethal concoctions – an orange flavoured Armagnac mixed with sparkling wine – it’s strong and very delicious.  It takes its name from the long swords of the Musketeers apparently.  Tracey’s plate of pork mignons with pasta and a sort of meaty gravy/sauce was melt-in-the-mouth and both our puds were dribble-icious.  And Lee’s legs didn’t give way as we got up to leave so not sure about the reputation of that Pousse Rapière.

Scroll the photos below to see Daphne in Montréal and a lovely house with shutters and spring blossoms.  Despite the hard work in Spring, managing the land, lawns and gardens we absolutely love this time of the year.  We have black woodpeckers and blue tits nesting and honeybees to watch, we’ve got more irises in flower than last year and our lovely friends from Cornwall who sent us the wild garlic will be pleased to know that we have a grand tub of pretty garlic flowers. We also had early flowering Lily of the valley, Muguet in French and a French floral tradition is to give bunches in abundance to family, friends and neighbours on May Day to bring good luck. The fête du travail or International Worker’s Day is a public holiday, always on May 1st and this falls on a Sunday this year – we’ve only just realised that it’s not a bank holiday here on the Monday – Sunday is the holiday. You’d have thought the International Worker’s would have something to say about that, wouldn’t you.  And just as we might be considering a bit of a rest before our May visitors arrive, along comes another project – our friend with some very useful plant and machinery (see pics in the gallery below) arrived to dig out two areas for us where we want to build shelters – one for log storage at the side of The Pump House and one to extend Lee’s garage with an open shelter, a compromise because we couldn’t get the permissions for Lee’s original mega-garage plans.  So we now have some unsightly, messy patches of earth but Clarence is loving rolling around in the dirt and once we’ve laid the hardcore, then the concrete bases, we can crack on with building the shelters, then roofing them, then varnishing them – oh joy.  Honestly, I had a five-minute sit in the sun one day this month, before I charged up to the village to give an English lesson, I remember setting my alarm clock for 5 minutes!  Let’s retire to France, my husband said to me once……

April’s main feature, that I can’t believe I’ve only just got round to mentioning is The Pump House.  Our hard work creating our second gite, is pretty much complete. The abri outdoor eating area was erected in a couple of days and then we varnished it with linseed oil to keep the wood light and natural. A nice collection of railway signs and pictures have been put up and Tracey is just in the process of arranging the cupboards and putting up the blinds & curtains. It looks fabulous.  Thank you to David for leaving the lovely GWR & LMS prints which we’ve had framed for The Pump House decoration. Take a look at the photos so far in the gallery below- Any feedback appreciated – this gite is for 2 to 4 people or can be an extension for a big family / party that have booked the Station.  It’s been designed to hopefully be very easy to clean and maintain. We’re looking forward to going on holiday there for a night to test run everything out before paying guests arrive. Voila! 

To end then, one more photo, a rainbow above The Pump House and garage after an April shower, magical! See you next month.