“We’re all going on a European Tour,  A European Tour…..”
“We’re all going on a European Tour, A European Tour…..”

“We’re all going on a European Tour, A European Tour…..”

Oh. My. Days….BCFC fans look away now! Last month I was struggling to concentrate and pull a newsletter together, after the boozy Sunday bike racing event – this month, we’re both in a semi-wild state of euphoria that just won’t let up after Aston Villa’s last home game victory and qualification for The Europa Conference League – we don’t even know precisely what this means – but it’s so exciting – Villa v Sos United, here we come! Read about Lee’s whistle-stop trip back to the UK for this last game of the season, jobs ongoing & finished at la gare de Sos, Bank Holidays galore here in France, barmy stormy weather, sister’s visit for Wine-Swimming-Wine-Club, our annual trip to the tax office and a bit more…

We headed into May with glorious weather – perfect for our big party of French guests who hired out both properties for The Victory in Europe Bank Holiday – the second Bank Holiday of the month.  The pool, the BBQ, the patios, the ping-pong, our old bikes – all used and enjoyed by 3 generations who appreciate the space here that enables a big family reunion.  We were so pleased that the weather was good for them because the following week was wet, wet and wetter.  Reminder to Tracey – We do not complain about rain down here – we need it – but I did moan! Just as everything was nicely springlike and lots of outdoor jobs had been scheduled – we were back indoors, Tracey doing the boring stuff, like cleaning and touching up, repairing duvet covers and sorting out cupboards – dreadfully tedious stuff.  Lee, on the other hand, now has his motorbike garage and his Engine Shed to play in and has now spent three weeks kitting out his previously mentioned “tool board” – it’s obviously a very detailed job where each tool is meticulously placed on a precisely spaced out hook – 3 weeks and it’s only half complete – I remember writing about how bored I was when he showed me the framed board he’d made & painted up – but I never thought it would take this long to assemble the tools on it – bang in a few hooks & hang away I thought, how wrong could a girl be – he’s as intense as an artist over it and I do wonder, when he’s away for hours & hours in The Engine Shed, whether I should be checking on him a bit more frequently to make sure he’s not lopped off an ear!

Here’s a few shots taken just before guests arrived in The Pump House and The Station- the best time to admire la gare de Sos looking at its prepped best. Plus a few of the platform at night – what do you think of the red bulb – we thought it was quite atmospheric.

Back to the VE Bank Holiday – that’s the second holiday in May – called la fête de la Victoire and le jour de la liberation – plenty of unpretentious, meaningful events are planned in towns & villages across the whole of France on this Bank Holiday, to mark the end of WW2 and freedom for the French. Our closest little memorial, honouring 3 members of the resistance, is looked after by Tracey – here’s a couple of pics after I’ve weeded and tidied it and planted a pot to place in front of the very simple monument.  We headed off to Mezin and to Montréal on VE Day and had a coffee in the square at the latter whilst watching the band members arrive – then there was a short procession from the main square to the memorial.  Everybody joins in, all generations, wreaths & flowers are laid and someone says a few words, and then there’s usually community drinks and maybe a lunch afterwards.

The day before, Sunday 7th May, Sos village hosted a Vide Grenier – or “empty attic” – where folks set up stalls in the big square and under the arches to sell on unwanted stuff – usually some great bargains to be had, especially useful to find replacement items required for the gites, like sets of plates or glasses and we got a bargain boxed set of old but unused glass crystal brandy glasses.  We had drinks at the bar with friends and there was a lovely atmosphere again in the village for the second Sunday in a row – Sos has woken up! See the sheep that graze on the steep path up to the village and the church looking splendid against that blue sky. The other photos are some local flora – the pink pyramid orchids are abundant just now. The peonies are in one of our overgrown flowerbeds – job on the list – they looked stunning and made a good cut flower in a posy vase.

We had another Bank Holiday on Thursday 18th May for Ascension Day and we were invited to a BBQ with our Belgian friends who live just outside of Sos up on the Poudenas road  – a lovely evening spent on the patio watching fledgling birds, looking out across the valley views, glugging back a lovely fizzy rosé from the local co-operative wine seller at Mezin, which went perfectly with locally grown white asparagus in a butter sauce, topped with chopped hard-boiled egg.  A red was opened for the BBQ meat course and, of course, Armagnac to finish, after Tracey’s contribution of homemade lemon possets.  We are so lucky to have found new friends here, who put up with our dreadful French and help us negotiate some problems that we encounter, as well as enlightening us about Belgian life – it’s not all about the chips.  We forgot our phones for photos but took these photos earlier in the day when we walked Daphne at Castelnau d’Auzan, Note the dogs and a cat on the wall getting animated about Daphne trotting by. Plus a couple of local water tower photos which we like finding – the brutal concrete contrasting with the lovely Gascon countryside.

Jobs completed – the laundry room in the garage – hurrah and the garage loo has been plumbed in with a genius privacy door – we used an original door from the Station toilet block, well over a hundred years old which was worth saving in the end – it was coated in something black & sticky – like creosote – but hours of sanding and a wax and it looks fab– see the pics.  My flip down shelf for folding all the gite linens is a great addition too and was a surprise for Tracey – thank you Lee & Paul for thinking of this. We cleaned the inside and out of the velux windows – 2 days later they were coated in pollen dust again – we’ve had a second wave of yellow pine pollen, followed by something very fluffy, coating every ledge, crook & cranny and sticking to the windows & pool glass.

The wiring of Lee’s Engine Shed is ongoing – just need the external feed putting in from the pool house but the lamps, wiring and fuse box are in situ – those old Revo lamps are just perfect for the building – we brought a collection from the UK with us in 2020 and Lee’s been sourcing extra ones for months – sorry if I’ve already written this, can’t remember, but the last batch arrived packaged in a pile of old women’s skirts – I came in to the warehouse and thought I was seeing things – Lee holding up a black pleated skirt and a box overflowing with long flowy skirts on top of a pile of lamps – “Never mind the lamps Lee, let me try the skirts on” said a delighted Tracey.  It was like times gone by when I used to get hand-me-downs from my cousin Sal.  Lee has a garage and shed fitted with beautiful lamps and I’ve got a new wardrobe. The concrete ramp access to The Engine Shed was also completed this month which means, for the first time since the purchase of our Ford camper van, it is now parked under cover. Lee has given it a right good wax polish and it’s currently very shiny. See Lee’s railway sign collection too, all slowly finding a home. Lee moved the recently purchased rolling stock to the Engine Shed as well using his straps and lift on the back of his tractor – so they are under cover too. He’s also trying to find time to finish painting our original crossing gate – see how he supported the heavy gate upright so that he can paint both sides – genius.

Tracey has revamped the headboard in the front bedroom of the station this month – I’d spotted a re-print of an original travel advertisement for Weston Super Mare for sale and it was screaming “buy me” and gave me the idea to do a GB travel poster headboard – the one I did for room 102 was all French repro posters – it’s art deco style and was created to lure the American market with the strap line “Air Like Wine” – yup, to Weston Super Mare. I went on holidays to WSM as a child – we had a horror of an experience when all us kids went off exploring and my younger sis started to sink in the mud flats and we couldn’t get anyone’s attention to help us – we pulled & pulled until we heard a loud sucking sound and got her free – she lost a welly deep in that mud if I remember right and it scared the life out of me – “Beaches like Quick-Sand” probably wouldn’t have lured all those tourists. It’s a beautiful poster nevertheless. And anyone who knows 80s / 90s Birmingham will appreciate the significance of “The Ramp” poster and probably have memories of that magical meeting place!

And talking of sisters and wine – the other sister came out to see us this month – the one that didn’t sink into the mud and we had a week of “Wine-Swimming-Wine-with-a-bit-of-cycling-thrown-in-Club” – it was wonderful.  See the amazing pizzas at Jean-Claudes, further down, who has fallen in love with both my sisters this year!  He’d been flooded out a couple of days before and had no electricity – so only his wood fired pizzas were on the menu.  We’ve had some heavy rainfall overnight this month and some crazy thunder and lightning storms – the pizza café is down at the bottom of the village, under the most ancient arches, and the heavy rain washed down from the upper roads bringing an enormous pile of leaves & debris with it that then blocked the drains so the water ended up in his restaurant.  And this happened only a week after he’d re-opened after the winter closure and done the spring cleaning.  We’ve had a lot of debris brought down from the plane trees in route de la gare and the murky, muddy colour of the river Gélise at The Pump House is reminiscent of a mustardy 70s Morris Marina but, thankfully, no flooding here.  The thunder has scared Daphne, who really is a baby – no such problems for Clarence who sits on the platform watching the storm and bolts of light streaking across the dense black sky.

Note the pics of the impressive Gothic Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste at Bazas, a stop off between Bordeaux airport and Sos – we try to find somewhere different to stop for a coffee or wine on each airport run. We all had a slice of deliciously custardy pain perdu with chantilly cream.

Sis and I did a huge cycle ride to Condom – over 40 kms I think it was, part on a cycle way but lots of hills too.  Lee had a great idea to strap the push bikes to his small trailer, and me and Debs sit on the push bikes while he drives us around the countryside – it could catch on! Last year, me & sis tried to save a little fledgling bird that had fallen from a nest and this year we found a tortoise – bizarre find – couldn’t tell if it was still alive or asleep but we moved it away from the cycle path and into some grass.  Thanks for the box of wine of Sis – if anyone wants to splash out on a gorgeous bottle of white – Domaine de la Haille produce L’Authentique at 17.50€ a bottle but I promise you that it’s like a fine Burgundy, very special, different to most Gascon wines and worth every euro.  They also make this gorgeous cream liqueur, Coq au Lait, from Armagnac, salted caramel and creamy milk, it’s like a soothing, liquid pudding.

Jean-Claude’s pizzas, eating a la platform, Sis by the pool and on the stepping stones at Nerac

Tracey got landed with the tax return and cutting 40 metres of hedge at the end of the month while Lee made a whistlestop tour back to the UK for the last Villa game of the season, against Brighton.  Seriously, read that again please – not fair!  To make matters worse, when Tracey settled down to watch the match, Orange pinged a message to say switch the wifi box off because of potential electrical storm damage – agh!  Whatever, we won, we got that Europa Conference League qualification and Lee had a great weekend, meeting up with pals and his family, travelling on trains, eating curry and fish & chips ( and sending photos of his food back to Tracey) who was cutting the hedge by hand with pretty blunt shears, exactly a year after the broken wrist accident. Two galleries below – one of Tracey’s weekend, one of Lee’s back in Blighty.

About that tax return, it would be tricky enough in English I reckon but trying to fathom the forms in French, is nigh on impossible.  We had made an 11h00 appointment with our prefecture in Agen online and on 31 May – the date that I thought was the deadline day, we headed off to Agen, full of apprehension with several incomplete forms.  A road diversion, our normal carpark being dug up, a police check all added to the tension and we ran through the prefecture gates at one minute to eleven.  There was a huge queue, it all looked a bit manic but before we could even look at each other and say “what shall we do?”  an English-speaking Tax Officer, called out “Green” and we by-passed the queue and got to sit in a private office with the wonderful Beatrice who sorted it all out – we felt like VIPs – turned out that we were ten days late with the tax return as well – oops!

So that’s it for May here at la gare de Sos – lovely guests arriving on Saturday so we’re busy again, Lee marathon-mowing, Tracey cleaning & bed making and hunting down cobwebs… about nine pm we’ll settle down with a cuppa and watch Villa highlights, again, so I’ll end with a well-deserved “Up The Villa” !

Tracey & Lee

Clarence & Daphne photos and a few others – a meal out at the start of the month to the Auberge, Les Contes d’Albret and Tracey’s new glasses – my first bought in France – a really positive experience.