As I write this November newsletter, we’ve just waved goodbye to Team Cymru in the World Cup and Lee is content, Tracey is a tad glum. It’s exactly two years this month since the purchase of la gare de Sos went through and the Welsh words “Yma o Hyd” seem quite appropriate. I had goosebumps every time the anthem was sung and have really enjoyed the Red Wall singing Yma o Hyd, more than the football to be honest. And here, at la gare de Sos, we’re waving goodbye to a rather long November, goodbye to the warm Autumnal days, the swimming pool, the last garden tomatoes and (we thought) the last guests to visit for 2022.
Early November dip!
We welcomed Tracey’s sister Debbie with her husband for their first wedding anniversary at the station during the first week of November – oh, the change in weather since then. We were still able to swim, the water temperature was at a cool but manageable 20 degrees. We managed to keep the pool going until 17th November, when the temperature had dropped to just below 19 degrees for one last brisk, bracing dip. We miss our daily dips – they really are a tonic for the body & soul but we don’t heat the pool and once the temperature has dropped below 20 it starts to become a bit of a squealy ordeal. So the pool has had its winter chemicals added, the pool house has been sterilised and closed down and that’s it until April 2023 for aquatics. Have a look at some blue sky photos taken at the start of this month, contrasted with some of the greyer ones taken at the end of the month and further down the newsletter – I think it was the grey days that made it feel like the month was dragging on. The heating is on now in the warehouse – only set at 17 degrees – we’re determined to cut consumption and if we’ve understood our electricity bills correctly, we’ll get a discount if we can reduce our electricity consumption from last year – the higher the reduction in consumption, the higher the discount. There are still some fabulous Autumn colours here – despite the summer heatwave, some trees are still hanging on to their leaves but the first frosts are predicted as we enter December.
Anyway, we fondly remembered spending our first wedding anniversary here too, back in 2006 – who’d have thought back then that we’d be living here now, not me anyway, but I reckon Lee always knew he was going to end up living here – I married a man with a plan.
Here’s some photos of sis and brother-in-law – we had an amazing morning wine tasting at a recently discovered vineyard – Domaine de la Haille at Montréal du Gers and came away with some cases to stock the cellar for all the long winter evenings to come. We can highly recommend their cream liqueur “coq au lait” – an Armagnac cream, bit like a Baileys, but better! Our brother-in-law hired a bike from Gascogne Bike Hire and had some trips out on remarkably quiet, misty roads. My sister took one of our own bikes out too but had a little mishap en route when the pedal came off – fortunately, she was near a restaurant and had a nice lunch & sipped some wine whilst waiting for Lee Green’s International Rescue to arrive to take her home for another swim instead. That’s twice in one year that sister Debs has managed to get over and it’s so lovely for us that family want to visit us here and enjoy the place as much as we do. Just when we thought visits were over for the year, a nephew, with some Uni downtime is heading out to us for a week in December so we have that to look forward to as well.
Lee made it home for an away Villa game this month – a long way to go for a game from here so a win against Brighton was a fantastic result and he got to eat a famous “Piglet’s Pantry” steak & ale pie to boot! He also bought a cold home from the UK and gave it to Tracey – our first colds in two years and they seem to be lingering – lovely gift husband!
Talking of germs then, we’ve had our flu jabs but no sign of a fourth covid booster yet. We have a fantastic facility in the village where three nurses operate from the front lounge of a village house. You collect your jab from the pharmacy, keep it in the fridge at home until your rendez-vous with the nurse who administers the jab in a jiffy. They take blood tests too, as well as dressing & re-dressing wounds and removing stitches (we’ve both taken them up on this service in the last 12 months) and they always answer the phone when you ring them – a marvellous local service. Here’s that pie…he also sent me photos of an amazing indian meal shared with a good friend & a spectacular plate of fish & chips that he “squeezed” in on his short trip home – the two things that we miss from the UK.
The wild boar hunting season is well underway now and the hunt have had two busy weekends in our valley. I’m sorry to repeat myself about the hunting situation here but we understand why many peaceful weekend walks are becoming loaded with anxiety as the crack of rifle shots ring out in the crisp morning air. This weekend just gone, our valley was singing with baying dogs and gunshots; two years living here and we’re still not used to it. 90 reported accidents in the 21-22 season, eight of them fatal – some of them innocent hikers or folk that live in the forests just going about their daily business, shot by stray bullets. I was happily wandering down route de la gare after fetching the baguette & croissants on Saturday when I was met by a very concerned looking neighbour, shaking his head and looking in the direction of the station. Uh-oh, there may be trouble ahead…sure enough, Jean-Pierre told me that the hunt was at the bottom of the road and “les sangliers” were everywhere. He waved me off with a “Bon Courage” as I looked left & right for 150 kilos of wild boar with terrifying, razor-sharp tusks, heading in our direction. We made it home alive but perspiring. Daphne is decked out in her hi-vis vest at weekends now – it wouldn’t offer any protection from the boar, just hopefully means that she won’t be an unintended hunt target. The picture of her near the lonely little sunflower was taken near Fourcès – we had intended to do a fairly long hike on the last Sunday of the month but we walked right into the middle of a shoot – several waiting hunters, armed with their rifles, in position as they wait to see if the rest of the hunt, men & dogs, can flush the boar out of the woods and bushes into their line of sight. Strangely, they weren’t interested in shooting the deer that ran straight past them and out across the open fields. It’s the rampaging boar that do the damage around here – crops, fences, vines, gardens, vegetable plots all get wild boar attention and the hunt is seen as an ecological way of controlling the wild boar population. It doesn’t lessen our concern though about hunting accidents.
On the way home, we stopped to take in the magnificent views of the Autumn vines with the snow-capped Pyrenees in the far distance from Chapelle de Louspeyrous. After all that excitement, we came home to a cottage pie and a nice glass of red.
The annual maintenance work has now begun and we’ve almost completed room 102 which needed decorating – the photo shows the prep, not the finish! The railway poster headboard is having a re-vamp and we’ve gone for the old Intercity colour scheme of red and grey – pale grey walls, a darker grey for the shelves and headboard frame and finished off with the red rugs and deep red original SNCF bench. I loved the Intercity logo with the silver swallow and I sometimes forget what a great time I had working for British Rail Intercity back then, happy days at Wolverhampton Station and Oxley Depot, despite those awful shift patterns. The chimney sweep has been arranged for the log burners in the station and the pump house and we’ve started to re-vamp our boiler room which also doubles up as our store cupboard and was in desperate need of plastering, painting and organising with shelving. Simultaneously, some exterior works are ongoing, building the engine shed. The loco has been moved and placed in situ so that we can build an open abri around it. Once it’s under cover, Lee will hopefully find some time to start looking at it, stripping it down and doing whatever mechanical engineers do to make things work. The tracks that it will eventually travel on also arrived this month – see the photos and expect a full-page special once the track laying commences – any volunteers ? (please!)
There are two bank holidays in France during November – All Saints, or Toussaint on the first, when the dead are remembered and honoured and then Armistice Day. The memorials and graveyards are full of colourful “fleurs des morts” – or chrysanthemums. Huge pots of them appear in markets and supermarkets and even in our local tabac and they certainly add rafts of colour to the graveyards – bright yellows, perfect whites, fuchsia pinks and burnt oranges – probably the only flower in full bloom in November. Remember not to give this flower as a gift in France – it is a flower to honour the dead. I had planted some chrysanths and hoped that they would be in flower for me to place on the WW2 Resistance memorial on the back road to Sainte Maure but sadly, the buds came early and they were just a collection of shrivelled brown heads by November 1st so I cut a variety of foliage with a couple of blooms from the garden and made a posy which I placed in front of the memorial, after giving it a good clean & sweep.
So that’s it for November – the commune workers are busy preparing the village Christmas displays so hopefully Sos will be looking festive next month. I can smell the lamb cawl simmering away, but minus the swedes – none at the market today – and I can hear hubby drilling away in the station so I’ll take him a cuppa…thanks for reading…Yma o Hyd!
The last few pics – the pets of course, a lovely local bottle of Armagnac and one of Lee’s ultimate birthday gifts – A Frey Bentos Pie!