Tuesday 1st November
Lapins, lapins, lapins! It doesn’t really have the same ring in French but I’m not actually sure if it really exists in English either or whether I’ve just made it up in my tortured little brain!

Arrived back in Maureillas yesterday after a week in sun drenched Leeds (no, I’m not being sarcastic – it really was beautiful weather) and the colours of the Autumn Canigou took my breath away as always. Leeds was lively, colourful and bustling, always with a hint of menace on the streets at night, which just takes an edge off the feelgood factor in this capital of entertainment and restauration. Friday night at Ruchees Indian restaurant (on Stainbeck Lane just of Scotthall Road for those of you who enjoy an excellent curry with friendly, attentive staff) was followed by fun, games on Saturday,and home made paella to beat any I’ve ever had in Spain, chez Rosy and Alan. Monday was fish and chips with Dad and a delicious chinese meal on Tuesday including shark’s fin soup and sizzling fillet steak in OK sauce, and Sunday was that time honoured tradition, bagels and smoked salmon. Could I really have asked for more? I went round the world in gulps and mouthfuls and now I’m back to my own cooking, I might just have to get a grip (culinary skilled guests very welcome to visit my humble abode) Living in a country renowned for its cuisine has not turned me into a master chef overnight I’m afraid!

The area is changing colour again as the vines continue to turn brown and red and the greens darken and mutate in the mountains. The olives are ripe on the trees and the prickly pears now edible with care! This morning we went out gathering the abundant chestnuts which we will roast in the oven tonight or maybe on a BBQ of vine roots as it is still warm enough to sit out and eat at night but ‘une petite laine’ (a woolie) is recommended.

Sunday 6th November
Wow, wow and triple wow! It’s early November and I’ve just come back from a walk to the Col d’Ouillat and discovered I’ve got a tan! Not a cloud in the sky and fabulous views over the whole of the PO on the left and Spain (not all of it, but a big chunk) on the right. I thoroughly recommend this walk which is actually part of the GR10 but do bear in mind that the going is tough to get to the top and also that it will always be at least 3 – 4° colder than on the plain.

Col d’Ouillat –  panoramic paradise.

Yesterday, we headed for Argelès Plage, about 15 minutes from here, and spent the afternoon on the beach, flying kites and watching Bisou dig down to Australia. The beach walk along the promenade in Argelès is absolutely fabulous, particularly if you like a flat, easy and pretty walk. <doc1889|right> There is a separate bike track running alongside it, so you dont have to keep looking over your shoulder and diving for cover! However, out of season, this lovely walkway turns into a doggie poo obstacle course, (photos not supplied) as the mairie clearly doesn’t feel that it’s necessary to scoop the poop in the winter! Quelle dommage!
As you can see from my horizontal position, the weather was equivalent to an early summer day and the walls were happily poo-less. The afternoon was topped off to perfection by the discovery of a little ‘crepe’ kiosk (well, it was quite good really) just on the front, which provided us with freshly cooked pancakes with sugar, lemon and chocolate, some friendly chatter and a reminder that prices around here shoot up in high season and go back to normal from October onwards – not very fair in my opinion! (7€ for 4 delicious pancakes was very reasonable – it cost double that the last time we had pancakes on the beach!)

Thursday 10th November
A bit of a change in the weather today – still dry but noticably more chilly, particularly in the evening. Still pleasant though and no jackets required for the moment, unless you want to sit outside in the evening, in which case it is most definitely an anorak job! Spent the morning in Thuir yesterday delivering our new free mag, AngloFactFile, a four page production of useful info for English speakers. When I left the house here in Maureillas, the sun was shining, so I wore a sleeveless top and ‘pantacourt’ (three quarter length trousers) Beeg meesteck! By the time I was dropped off and abandoned for two hours in Thuir, the Tramontane was whipping round my ankles and bringing out Canigou-sized bumps on my poor defenceless naked arms. Try to look ‘ard when your nose is blue and runny and your teeth are drumming out ‘La Marseillaise’ unbidden! I was the only person in Thuir not wrapped up in my winter woolies – mad dogs and Englishmen eh! Back in Maureillas a couple of hours later however, the sun was still shining! The PO weather is known to work via microclimates but it is still incredible to see the difference in temperature and conditions within a twenty mile radius.

Sunday 13th November
Il pleut! We don’t mind at all as we’ve had enough sunshine to keep us going for a while, and it gives us a good excuse to get horizontal in front of the television. We now have Sky which unfortunately means that I have sad access to all the English soaps which I have not seen for a couple of years. I watched Coronation street yesterday and found I hadn’t actually missed anything!

On Friday, I visited Le Boulou spa to take some photos and find out how it all works. The grounds themselves are well worth the visit – there are several long and short walks starting from the car park and some fascinating architecture and structures remaining where the old spa used to be before the new buildings were built, including the old stone fountain dispenser of spa water. There is also an old chapel in the grounds called Saint Philippe but we didn’t go in as there was a crucifix wrapped around the door handle and lots of little shrines, dolls, and statues on the ledges around the chapel. I’m afraid that I’m a bit of an old heathen (although with, I hope, a healthy respect for the religious beliefs of others) and the sight of this took me back to watching the Exorcist through slightly open fingers when I was 17…. so no – I didn’t go in!

Monday 14th November
It is absolutely HURLING DOWN with rain! Lulu, son of his mother that he is, arrived home from school with a friend half an hour ago and, when he did not report for biscuit-barrel-emptying duty as usual, was spotted leaping up and down on the trampoline in his underpants. His friend of course, doesn’t know me well enough to strip down to his grundies so he remained fully clothed, the weight of his sodden adolescent uniform (jeans and hoodie) making it very difficult to defy gravity! After twenty minutes they opened the front door, friend grunted something unintelligible, Lulu grunted back and friend disappeared into the mist! Rain is really not an issue under 14! (I must admit I quite fancied a go myself – it looked all slippery and sloppery and flubbery – but I had to maintain my mature and adult demeanor – and they were already getting down by the time I got my shoes on and went out to join them – doh!)

Wednesday 16th November
Woke up this morning to a blue, cloudless sky and a white shawl of shimmering snow on the Canigou – what a beautiful region we live in! I stepped out of my front door in slippers and tee shirt (trust me, not a pretty sight first thing in the morning) and snapped away without even leaving the doorstep. Wow! It’s a funny kind of climate here at this time of the year though because, in fact, in the sun, it’s still very much tee shirt weather – warm and sunny, in the high teens, but if you step into the shade it’s quite chilly. (One of the worst contructed sentences I’ve ever written – lucky I’m not being marked!)

Lulu was selected for the inter-schools cross-country (calm down Aunty Rosy, it’s only local!) and we went to watch him run around the lakes at St Jean Pla de Corts – three and a half kilometres. Ooooo – I was proud! He did really well, despite being a little short of leg and running against big chaps, much older than himself, and came second for his school.

Take a look at the new stamps by the way. Well, they’re new to me anyway although I suppose they might have been out for a while. They’re great fun, and give you something to read while you’re writing your letters!

Tuesday 22nd November
I remain convinced that September, October and November are the best months of the year in the PO. Yet another cloudless blue sky today with the snow-topped Canigou in the distance becoming whiter every day. It’s as if a new coat of paint is slapped on haphazardly every couple of days, dribbling further and further down the mountain each time it is topped up.

Yesterday we went for a walk to the Fort de Bellegarde, five minutes from the centre of Le Perthus. It is like walking into history, the ruins still intact and views across Spain, of La Jonquera, Figueras and further, that leave you in no doubt why this position was selected to defend the border. You can easily follow the traces of the proposed [TGV->The-TGV] and spot the place where the cross-border Alberes Tunnel will begin/terminate. It is doubtless an observation point which will become popular amongst trainspotters from 2009 onwards. However, when we were there, we were totally alone with the ghosts of the past!

In fact, the fort and the Col de Pannissars nearby are points on the Via Domitia, the oldest Roman road in Gaul, and one of the oldest Roman roads anywhere. It links Rome in Italy to Cadiz in Spain, and is part of an immense road network of more than 70,000 miles, built by the Romans over eight centuries. This route was probably the one taken by Hannibal and his famous elephants in 218 BC on his way to the Alps (before the Via Domitia was built).

Olivier managed to lighten the atmosphere of thousands of years of history by picking up his son and attempting to throw him into the historical brambles. Aforementioned son resisted and clung on, hoping to avoid being dropped on his head, a most unreasonable attitude which infuriated the instigator and made him even more determined that Lulu should take a dive. Both ended up in the nettles. Serves them right. Boys!

Sunday 27th November
I don’t really need glasses. I don’t. Honest. Yeth, methinks me doth protest too much too! This morning, I had a hot bath with a large bluebottle which I truly believed to be a piece of black fluff off my socks until the fluff started making buzzy un-fluff-like type sounds as it struggled to reach terra firma. I was out of that bath like greased lightening, as, without my glasses, it could have been a locust or a lesser spotted bollweevil for all I could see!

We have snow on the Albéres at the moment – very pretty and quite chilly! The Canigou is quite spectacular as seen by this fabulous photo sent by Colin. Our ‘clim reversible’ (reversible air conditioning) is actually proving to be very efficient and warming the whole house through quite thoroughly. We are very lucky, as many of our friends live in houses built and equipped for southern France living, and when we do have these occasional cold snaps, a log fire, although atmospheric, just doesn’t heat up the house efficiently.

We had dinner with friends last night and watched Star Academy. This is the French equivalent to Britain’s Fame Academy or Popstars and Olivier is an addict! French television is really quite similar to English telvision in that it shows the same old rubbish. The adverts are great fun though, often the best part of an evening’s viewing with lots of bare bottoms and bosoms, the French being less conservative than us Brits when it comes to letting it all hang out!

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