Thursday March 2nd

Well, here we are in March and spring has nearly sprung, fairly warm with sunny periods and mimosa and almond blossom around every corner, still a little unsure of itself but growing bolder by the day.

This morning, Olivier had a telephone interview with France Bleu Roussillon, the radio station for the region, and explained to them about the site and our free magasine and what he thought about the accusations from some locals that the Brits are responsible for the soaring house prices and so on. It was set up because I have been in e mail contact for the past year with a very nice lady called Estève, who has helped me out with the Catalan language and always been happy to reply to my enquiries about meaning and traditions within the Catalan culture. In return, I have given her a hand with an occasional English translation and we have had a nice arrangement and relationship. Of course, I never knew that Estève was a radio star until the interview was arranged. Imagine therefore my surprise this morning when a sexy male voice introduced himself as Estève! I just kind of assumed that Estève was like Estelle and have been chatting to him woman to woman for ages!! Sorry Mister Estève!

Sunday 5th March

I managed to get rid of both boys last night when they went to watch the Bradford Bulls slaughter the Catalan Dragons 18-50. “Shontayne Hape and Andy Lynch both scored two tries apiece as Bradford ran in nine tries to beat the Catalans Dragons in Perpignan…… Hape, Lynch, Stuart Fielden and Jamie Langley all went over before the home side got onto the scoreboard……… Despite the absence of Lesley Vainikolo, the Bulls were dominant throughout with some sparkling play….. A dramatic 80-metre try by Justin Murphy was late consolation for the home side” (BBC sport – not Katespeak) As representatives of Anglophone-direct, they were given VIP cards and a press pass, and sat in the press box with Christelle and her boyfriend Arndt – all feeling very smug and self-important! Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I pulled out the snout of an extremely nice wine box, purchased yesterday for the event (the event being me having an evening to myself) and tasted liberally! I would most definitely recommend it as a quality wine at a very reasonable price.

After a pleasant couple of days, sunny periods and mild temperatures, the Tramontane is out and about again, and we cut short our morning walk, for fear of finding ourselves blown to Perpignan. It is decidedly chilly, a day for staying in the house and catching up with some of those little jobs like bathing the dog and mucking out Lulu’s sty. Have seriously consdidered clearing out the loft, which has just been a dumping ground since we arrived, but I’m worried about what we might happen across from the crittur world! For example, have you read my article about the mycale spider? I have this direct from the Oracle who unfortunately DOES know what he’s talking about!

The Mygale ….A kind of black “satiny-skinned” spider (Latin name Macrothele calpeiana), quite large with stretched legspan about handsize – body about large olive size. Apparently they are endemic in Andalucia and one of their favourite habitats is among the roots of very old olive trees. It is those olive trees – imported from southern Spain (dug up with roots and earth) which have been the source of a few findings in the PO – for example in Canohés in somebody’s garden. Their bite is poisonous but very rarely fatal unless specially allergic.. They tend not to be agressive – but will bite an unwary hand or foot if feeling threatened.. bit like snakes in that respect. The good news is that our winters (especially this last one) are too harsh for the babies to survive (no breeding) and most adults cannot survive our winters either. If you or any of your neighbours have recently imported or bought from an importer, any really old (e.g. 500years) olive trees (they COST so not that many can afford them) then one would need to be careful around the roots of that tree.. ” Merci à Roger Oliver pour ces affreux détails!!! You can run but you can’t hide!

Monday 13th March

Tra la la la la! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the lizards are out and about and the cherry trees are sprouting a pale pink blossom alongside the golden hues of the mimosa – there’s a fresh, fruity flavour in the air. Set all this against a backcloth of clear blue sky broken up by a a snow capped mountain range and hey! You’re in the Pyrenees-Orientales!

I have just returned from a week in Leeds chez mon père. It was extremely pleasant, if a little chilly, and gave me the chance to catch up with friends, family and ex colleagues. However, I returned last night to find the cupboard bare, apart from a rabbit marinating in sauce. Now I don’t see myself as being a fussy eater at all – in fact, I’ll happily trough down bucketfuls of most things, but I do have a bit of a wimpy reputation on the French side of the family for eating with my head rather than with my mouth! In other words, there are certain foods that I just can’t eat because I don’t like the thought of it. Rabbit, horse, insides of anything, food that is gooey, fuzzy, furry or clearly recognisable as being an animal……Returning home to rabbit nearly led to divorce. The boys had to eat it in the garage (and happily Lulu has now decided he hates rabbit too – could be the lack of comfort in the garage dining room!) The poor chap (the rabbit, not Lulu) has now been given a proper burial and his family will not be turning up on our table again in the near future.

There have been high winds throughout the region during my week in Leeds which have caused damage to telephone and electrical cables and wreaked chaos amongst the mimosa.
Lucien came home from school today with a beard and moustache painted onto his face in eyebrow pencil by some of the girls in his class during a Latin test. Glad to know he’s learning something at school in Céret – at least he should be competent at putting on make-up by the end of the year!

Thursday 16th March

Another beautiful day in the PO but you’ll have to take my word for it as my camera has gone walkabout again. If you’re around the region, beware of driving through Maureillas. The whole village has gone into roadwork mode and getting from one end of the village to the other can actually be quite grizzly, particularly if you are a nervous and pathetic wreck of a driver like wot I am! (had to bung some poor grammar in there in order to lower the tone a bit) Living around here does not hone your driving skills to a a fine point! In fact, you get so used to tootling around at whatever speed you fancy, with the minimum of awareness of whatever may be going on around you, that when things do go on, it’s a bit of a shock! The other problem is that, living in a small community, people wave to you, flag you down for a chat, or just distract you (I already have a particularly short attention span compared with the average sparrow) by unreasonably standing on the pavement and smiling.

Saturday 18th March

It’s cold, miserable and very, very wet! Bisou was refusing to get her hairy little bottom out of the house, being not at all partial to rain, and I spent a morning in front of the computer. Around about 2pm, the rain stopped, and within twenty minutes, the sun came out, the ground dried up, and the PO started masquerading as an early summer’s day. “Oh” thought Bisou and Kate. “Let’s get the bike out and go for a little ride, to shake the cobwebs out of our (very similar) scruffy locks” In fact, in the time it took me in the garage to extricate my bike from the chaos – the contents of my English house removal many moons ago which I am hanging on to ‘just in case’ – and set off towards the vineyards, the heavens had opened and loyal, loving Bisou had turned round without as much as a by your leave, and legged it! (or should that be pawed it?) Big panic of course when I realised that she was no longer trotting alongside me! A tour of the cherry orchards, vines and village did not reveal a cowering, lonely and frightened hound-dog, so I set off home with a heavy heart, to inform the family and drum up some reinforcements for the search. She was there of course, sitting in the dry in front of our front door, licking her bottom without a care in the world!

This is not typical weather around here, but, c’est vrai, when it rains, it really rains! Take a look at the photos of friends Christelle and Arnt in St Cyprien last month, and also at the sunrise over the Med taken by Christelle a few days ago – just a reminder, amongst the raindrops, that the PO is still the most fantastic place to be!

Wednesday 22nd March

I received an interesting e mail last week from a lady who had seen my article on tent caterpillars or ‘chenilles processionelles’ in our little magazine and commented “These caterpillars build their nests almost exclusively in pine trees (as in your photo), are considered as pests in this part of the world. The trees are gradually destroyed by the insects and there is a strong campaign in the Roussillon to eradicate them. Anyone who has a nest in his property is advised to cut off the branch of the tree and immediately burn the nest. People who have large properties and a large quantity of the nests can ask the local authorities to send a crop spraying helicopter to deal with the problem. The caterpillars leave their nests in a group and attach themselves to each other hence the expression “processionelle”, one can see them sometimes crossing roads or paths. They are highly toxic and can cause burns and irritations to any person or animal that touches them. So English men beware!! Keep well away and destroy them in your garden, otherwise, they will destroy your trees!” Beware English women too, I would say, that they don’t drop down the back of your neck when you’re taking a walk in the woods (shudder – quelle horreur!)

I’ve just put a new Catalan recipe on the site by the way. Escalivada comes from the Catalan word escalivar , meaning “to char” or “to braise” (the vegetables were traditionally cooked over embers) and is very similar to ratatouille, but nicer. I have some friends coming over from Leeds at the weekend so I might just test it on them! Talking of which, the weather is a little dodgy at the moment – it doesn’t know whether to rain or shine. True to tradition, whenever we have friends over, it usually rains so I’ve got fingers and toes crossed that next week will be the exception to the rule.

Wednesday 29th March

As expected, our friends arrived on Sunday at Perpignan aiport and doom and gloom arrived on Monday and Tuesday in the form of heavy skies, a distinct chill in the air and a few raindrops thrown in for good measure. Today however, the sun has finally struggled out and a hot sun is pouring down on our thick wooly jumpers and quilted anoraks. We’ll get it right eventually!

Yesterday, we went to Cap Bear, next to Port-Vendres, the last stop for sailors before crossing the frontier into Spain. It is notorious for its high winds (‘though well worth a visit – quite spectacular views) and of course, the wind was on top form, whipping around our heads in great gusts, and preventing us from walking in a straight line. Port Vendres actually used to be a German submarine base during the war, and in 1944, before their departure, the German troops blow up the port. The remains of the blockhouses and gun installations are still very much in evidence around Cap Béar, and it is quite surreal to stand by the lighthouse and look down at the remnants of such a terrible time in history.

After Cap Béar, we had a pleasant lunch in Collioure, going steady on the red wine for once, and finished off the afternoon sitting on the port in Argelès, playing cards, drinking beer and saying at regular intervals “At least it’s not raining” and “It looks as if it’s brightening up” It did a little bit eventually.!

Rosy, Alan and Dave, our friends, actually arrived with the first flight of BMIbaby from Manchester to Perpignan. Although there was no inaugurational glass of champagne offered, the flight was apparently excellent and, shock, horror, actually arrived early! As I sit here writing this now, they are sampling the pleasures of Le Perthus, so I expect them back quite soon. Once you’ve been into one shop, you’ve been into them all! (that is unless they start product testing in which case I don’t expect them back before nightfall, very drunk and with bad garlic breath!)

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