Stars, planets and satellites in the August night sky
Stars, planets and satellites in the August night sky

Stars, planets and satellites in the August night sky

Bonjour mes amis,

I’m writing this on the last weekend of the French Summer Holidays – like the glorious shining sunflower petals, the lazy, hazy French summer holiday has come to an end for this year.  Everyone is getting ready to go back to school, college or work; It’s such an event that it has its own name – “la rentrée” and it causes quite a bit of chatter.  You’ll all know that French schools don’t have school uniforms, so parents aren’t having to get new uniforms sorted but there seems to be a real excitement about getting a new pencil case or a new rucksack – there are promotions everywhere. Parisians who holidayed for the summer are returning to the city, businesses that closed for the holiday are re-opening and the politicians go back to work too. There’s no sense of “the dreaded return to school / work” – more a sense of optimism & a fair bit of enthusiasm – a bit like the New Year.  It did mean horrendous traffic this weekend just gone on French main roads though and our guests that returned to the Midlands by car and through the tunnel were sixteen hours on the road!

First pet photo below – Daffers & Pasha, still best of friends but Pash has lots more stamina & energy than Daphne, who’s 9 and a half now! We walk just a little way up the back road, trying to keep under the shade of the trees, then turn back down the hill – Pasha would happily trot on to Sainte Maure, even in the heat.

We’re still full in The Station with UK guests, who still have a week to go before the return to school.  Then we’re full until the end of October with a mix of new guests, English & French, family, friends and more family at Autumn half term. So, our first season is a long one – seems ages ago that I wrote about our first French family arriving at Easter, back in April, when we had spring bulbs and greenery everywhere, oh and that dreadful pine pollen.  September is probably our favourite month – having spent many wedding anniversary holidays in France during mellow September, it holds lovely memories for us. Pleasant warm days & cooler evenings and watching the harvest come in.  The grapes have been well ahead in ripening with the hot weather but some are now hampered by water-stress with the continuing drought. Some vineyards have had special permissions granted to irrigate.  We’ve seen some other local crops being irrigated during the day when the heat is most ferocious, the water evaporating before your eyes, which seemed bonkers to us – we’re pretty sure it’s supposed to take place in the evenings for maximum benefit to the crop and less water waste.  Anyway, the harvest is ahead this year and hopefully the yields will be better than last year when I wrote about the damaging early frosts reducing the grape yield.  The beautiful sunflower heads have lost their vibrant yellow colour now, all dried out and drooping over, looking sad but lots of French villages and gardens around here have these gorgeous purply-pink crepe myrtle trees or shrubs that seem to have thrived in this heat – a cheerful sight when everything else has shrivelled up to a crunchy brown.  We might track some down and plant a hedge of them now that we know they can survive these temperatures and still flower for weeks and weeks in the summer. Here’s some photos of guests sampling some of the previous grape harvests at Pellehaut vineyard and our nephew who was told that he looked like actor Noah Schnapp from TV Series Stranger Things.

So the hot weather has continued now since June – 3 entire months of heat, heat and more heat. We haven’t completely adapted to working in the high temperatures yet and both of us have had days where heat illness has got to us.  We keep getting advice from the health bodies and our local Mairie about staying out of the sun, drinking fluids etc but they never mention stuffing packets of plain crisps down as quickly as possible, which seems to be the only thing that Tracey’s body needs after losing all the body salt sweating!  Lee wanders around with a big towel to continuously mop his brow. We feel a bit inadequate some days when we work for an hour then take 2 or more hours rest but it’s the only way to achieve anything – work-drink-rest-eat-plain-crisps-drink then go again.  It all got too much by the second week of August so we packed up the camper van and headed to the Pyrenees for some cool mountain air.  Lee sleeping up top in the roof tent and Tracey on an air bed below with Daphne. We fitted this trip in with a hospital appointment at Auch as we’re almost halfway to the mountains there.  We had lunch at an Auberge at the top of a logging road, Auberge Col de Beyrede – magnificent views all around and just this one building standing in total isolation, looking across a green valley full of mountain cattle.  Daphne loved all the new smells and by the evening we were watching the sunset on one of the famous Tour de France Mountains summits – Col d’Aspin, along with about 20 other campers & motorhomes – some top of the range absolute luxury and others about 40 years old and, remarkably, still getting up these summits.  Others on walking holidays just wild camp in their tiny little tents that they’ve carried along with their rucksacks. With all the mountain cattle about we preferred the comfort of the van and think that our tent camping days are probably over.  With the sunscreens removed and the window open, we could enjoy the cool evening air and watch the amazing stars and nearly full moon.  Strangely though, we’ve seen more shooting stars down in the station valley at home than we did on the top of Col d’Aspin. 

We have spent many happy star gazing nights with our visiting nephews and our guests this month excitedly shouting out “shooting star” and we’ve managed to identify the teapot in Sagittarius (well done Martha!) and the crown of Corona Borealis.  We’ve also seen the Milky Way, the August super moon, the Starlink satellites trekking across the sky and Jupiter was visible this month without a telescope. Thanks to Kyle, one of our guests this month, for these amazing shots – the Station at night as the moon was rising and the stars in the sky above the station clock. If you look closely at the photo of darkness, you will see the stars & the Milky Way clouds – thanks for that one Harry. All taken with mobile phones too.

We had a little set back with the broken wrist progress – Tracey has been diagnosed with neuro-algo-dystrophy and is seeing a specialist in September.  The physio continues and has definitely improved wrist movement at the base of the hand but the fingers have locked and don’t want to behave – It’s something to do with the brain not sending the right signals to the arm / hand nerves.  We shall see what the specialist says. We have completed one other big job this month – the parking area at The Pump House is complete – the sand arrived and then the gravel – very physical work, raking that sand and stone!

Lee is becoming well known around here for his motorbike knowledge and a few folk have asked him for advice.  At the start of the month, a German chap pulled up on his Yamaha 125 and introduced himself – turned out he did a lot of the carpentry in the station for the previous owner years ago, before having a dreadful accident falling through a glass door.  We enjoyed a good old chinwag about broken wrists and motorbikes which then led to Lee spending many hours in the garage fault finding, servicing and repairing the bike.

We’ve finally met the couple who live at the next station along the line at Poudenas – about an hours walk down the old track bed – it was a small country halt with a crossing house and we’ve never seen it occupied but knew that the owners were British – and from a Worcestershire town it turned out, not far from Kidderminster where Tracey did her schooling (and all those French lessons many years ago).  Tracey has managed to walk on the other side of the river Gelise with Daphne on a rare overcast morning – looking down across the valley at the railway line where we usually walk – it was great to see the other side – which has always been a private, residents only footpath. The Mairie has opened up the walk and created a leaflet to follow but up until now, it has been inaccesible in places – we need to keep using it to stop it overgrowing – we never even knew this little lake existed – see photo – Daphne was a bit naughty barking at the goats and got a tellng off.

Lee has had a planning meeting about his next building project – a small engine shed for our little Decauville loco, which we’ve got planning permission for, and he’s been trying to source some 50cm narrow gauge track & switches.  This is not that easy to find and we’re thinking of re-gauging the axles because 60cm S&C and eventually some more rolling stock will be easier to locate.  These are future projects for our garden railway that will keep Lee happy and occupied for years and years to come. We’ve had plenty of folk stop and take photos of the little train in its current location, next to his garage.  We don’t mind this at all, but it is interesting to note the different attitudes to encroaching – we’ve had folks tramping around the station with their cameras and a whole bunch of cyclists piled into the drive this month – I thought it must be a professional race and they needed help or water so ran out smiling to find out that they had just stopped to look around. They looked at me as if I was mad asking if they were ok – I politely mentioned that it wasn’t a public railway station anymore – same thing happened today at lunchtime with a couple of cyclists shading under the warehouse canopy.  We’ve read in the press about swimming pool squatter incidents in this hot weather where residents have come home to find a load of strangers in their pool!  Reminded us of another project that is on our list – an original railway level crossing gate that we found in an antiques yard and were told it was from this line at Nerac in days gone by – it needs rubbing down, repainting in red and white and installing – it slides on a wheel in rails that we’ll install eventually – we can’t barrier off the station drive but it will go at the access to the new engine shed.

I mentioned visits from nephews who had a few nights with us and then went off to a holiday rental in nearby Moncrabeau.  It was great to see family here again and Tracey was finally able to visit the Roman Villa, about 15 minutes away from us, and which has never interested Lee.  Thanks Owen for taking me.  Fascinating place – see the photos of the incredible roman mosaic tiles and thermal baths that lay undiscovered under the vineyards around Montreal until discovered by a farmer in the 1860s.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that volunteers started excavating the site. Google Villa de Seviac at Montréal if you’re interested in all things Roman.

These other photos are of the restaurant Le Phare de Jeanne, in the village at Moncrabeau, which we would never have discovered if the nephews hadn’t been staying nearby. The village has a world famous annual Liars festival where you sit in the stone chair and lie your head off to be judged the King or Queen of the Liars – see Tracey sitting in the chair saying ” I do not eat cake”.

We also took the nephews out for a couple of meals – they bought their friend with them from the Czech Republic and later in the week met up with a group of other friends, all staying in the gite at Moncrabeau. We finally managed to make it to the last two summer evening markets on Wednesdays in Sos – None of the summer fetes this year were able to put on their firework displays because of the forest fire restrictions but as usual they were well attended, with some delicious local pork burgers,  duck fat chips and decent local wine available.  They were very, very hot though.  Didn’t stop some dancing in the square to Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane pour Moi” – Lee said the last photo in the gallery below looks like a lunatic’s outing. Honestly, it’s the heat, it does strange things to me…!!!