Saturday 7th May
I woke up this morning, to a wedgewood blue sky and that wonderful smell of pine and lavender that so often characterises a hot country. I couldn’t help laughing out loud, just from the sheer joy of being alive!

I would have liked to have done some shopping before it got too hot but nothing opens before 9am, even the big supermarkets. Instead, I jumped in the shower and set off with dog and husband for a walk through the cherry orchards. The cherry blossom is now metamorphasizing into tiny cherries, just beginning to peep out of the greenery. (very late as it’s been a particularly bad winter for the region) In the background the Canigou mountain, important symbol of Catalonia, rises proud and snow topped, despite the high temperature on the plain. The vines, denuded of all greenery over the winter, are now sprouting foliage and it feels like the whole world is blue and green.

A visit to Auchan is next on the agenda. Situated just outside Perpignan at Porte d’Espagne, this well known hypermarket stands in a large commercial zone surrounded by many other shops – house and garden, clothes, sports, DIY shops – everything you need really. Unfortunately, Auchan itself is usually packed in season and the car park offers no shade so don’t take the dog. The traffic on the main road around all the shops can also be a bit desperate. We went at 12H30, a sacred time for the French in this area who take their lunch hour(s) very seriously…. and quite right too. After all, this is the land of the siesta. The advantage of shopping at this time therefore is that the supermarket is often quieter: the disadvantage is that many of the shops, even large ones, close for lunch. Not good ‘ol Auchan though.

I’m back at home now and considering whether to continue the half-hearted work I was doing in the garden yesterday, or open a bottle of Pierres Plates (Terrats) 2001 – a regional red wine that I would recommend to anyone. I think I’ll go for the wine – after all it is 16H30! Speak later. Byeeee

Sunday 8th May
Ouch, my head hurts! One of the many lovely traditions in France is the ‘{apéro}’, the partaking of pre-dinner drinks and nibbles with neighbours and friends. You go {chez} somebody, or they come {chez} you. Out come the pastis, the Rivesaltes (regional fortified wine) and various other alcoholic beverages along with saucisson, crisps, olives and canapés. Last night, our friendly neighbours, Evelyne and Hubert came round for the {apéro} which lasted until 02H30 this morning! Thank you so much to the person who invented the siesta.

We popped over to Barcelona this afternoon to pick my Dad up from the airport: of course I forgot to take my camera! It took us about 1H45 from joining the motorway at Le Boulou, to arriving at the airport. The traffic was fine as it was Sunday, but on weekdays the roads are crazy and the drivers are…..well…..Spanish is the best way to describe them! We had a little bit of a drama on the way when Spanish police with machine guns and a ‘stinger’ leapt out and stopped the traffic two cars in front. They looked mean (though rather cute if you see what I mean ladies) in their dark glasses and bullet proof vests. Don’t know what was going down but we were rather disappointed when they waved us on as we were looking forward to a bit of action.

We actually left the motorway at Figuerès (the border crossing can get very constipated if the border police decide to stop any suspicious characters.) and took the main road through La Jonquera and Le Perthus. This route is not recommended in high season as the road through Le Perthus is a pain, but on Sunday afternoon, as most of the shops are closed, it’s fairly clear. A point to note: whilst almost all shops in France close on Sunday (yes, even DIY shops – shock) the supermarkets in Le Perthus and La Jonquera remain open. There is even a large supermarket at the bottom of Le Perthus main street (on the left just before the border) which is open 24/24 7/7 and many of the shops remain open until 23H.

Finished the day with dinner at the Lido in Argelès where my Dad is staying. Very, very friendly and helpful staff, pool and pretty outside area, on the sea front with panoramic views from the bedrooms, nice room, nice food but not cheap! They apparently do a ‘buffet à volonté’ at lunch time which is supposed to be very good. Bonne nuit.

Monday 9th May
The sky is cloudy this morning with {éclaircies} (sunny periods) predicted for the next few days and possibly some rain. It’s warm though, about 21°, and rain is always appreciated round here from May onwards as it waters the plants, not that we’ve got many to water yet. We bought this house in March 2005 and it needs a lot of work doing on it, particularly the garden. This afternoon, we’re going into Perpignan to find somebody to build our swimming pool. My husband Olivier is being a typical man on this issue, insisting that a pool is not a priority compared to the walls that need building and the holes that need filling. Why are some people so horribly practical? I did buy him a spade when we first moved in but still no pool!

This afternoon we took the car and went up to l’Hermitage St Férréol, an 18th century chapel and hermit’s retreat about 3 miles from Céret. There are panoramic views all round and a track that brings you back into Céret if you fancy the walk. You can actually drive right up to the ermitage and just sit on the old walls and admire the panoramic views of the Vallespir

Tuesday 10th May
It rained overnight and this morning, the air smells sweet and fresh. The Albères are sketched in all shades of green against a bright white sky pierced with occasional shards of sunlight. Bisou, our dog, refused to go out for her morning walk as she didn’t want to get her paws wet! Fortunately, it’s all dried up now so she’s agreed to take a little stroll.

The mountain of earth in our garden (where the pool is going to go!) has sprouted hundreds of poppies which completely disguise the fact that it’s….well, a mountain of earth. So has the unfinished patio at the front of the house which looks prettier than it has since we moved in now that it’s covered in weeds!

It’s been raining really heavily this afternoon here in Maureillas so I haven’t been walkabout. I had a phone call from the nicest man: Roger lives in Le Soler and is an absolute mine of information about the region so when I don’t have the answer, (a fairly regular occurrence chez moi) I know where to go now! However, Roger has also posted some interesting facts in the forum about lizards in the PO which have put me off leaving the house in case I run into a 90cm long legless lizard! Help!

Thursday 12th May
It’s still cloudy and drizzly and very un-south-of-France-like here at the moment. The combination of the sun and showers has sent all the vegetation round here crazy! The vines are already bearing tiny, immature bunches of grapes and the cherry trees are suddenly bursting into fruit. It’s fascinating to see the rapid day to day changes. It really makes you think about nature, and life.

This afternoon I’m taking Bisou, my Pyrénean shepherd, to the doggy hairdressers for a trim so I’ll put some before and after photos on the page (says the proud mum) I’ve just been to get the mail from our letterbox at the end of the drive. Postboxes are placed for the convenience of the postman rather than the resident, and in some cases, I know people who have to pick up the mail in their letter boxes by car. Often, there will be several letterboxes at the end of a small road to save the postman having to go to each house. They have keys, and can open the boxes to put packages in if neccessary. Not a bad system really.

Spent half an hour on the phone with Fabien, my gorgeous cousin and the technical brains behind the site. We’re trying to improve the layout and iron out the forum so it’s clear and easy to follow and the links are live! Having been a teacher in my other life, I’m much better at telling people what to do than doing it myself! {“Them as can do, them as can’t teach.”} (with apologies to all teachers)

Friday 13th May
The weather today was warm and balmy, with a light breeze and a peppering of cloud. We drove through Le Perthus and La Jonquera and headed towards Roses, a seaside resort on the Costa Brava, about 40 kilometres from the border. My Dad is still here so we thought we’d test his Spanish but everybody spoke English and French! Roses is really nice. There’s a long promenade if you want to take a stroll, with plenty of restaurants, cafés, shops and hotels. It’s a lot bigger than we expected with high rise apartment blocks, but the beach is beautiful and the sea a shimmering blue with houses built into the hills as a backdrop. I imagine it would be packed in high season, but today, it was quiet.

We had lunch at a restaurant on the front, excellent food and so cheap compared to France! The bill for 4 of us (5 including the dog but she didn’t order anything) was 39€ including wine. My fish stew or {suquet} was enough for 3 people and so delicious that I had to take a photo of it.

Coming back into France, via Figueras, the ‘ladies of the night’ were out in force (making them ladies of the day I suppose) According to Spanish law, prositution is not illegal as long as they respect health check requirements and pay their taxes! The area around La Jonquera is truckerland and apparently where there’s truck there’s brass……(I don’t think the expressions’s quite right but you get the general idea.) The local ladies stand along the sides of the road and wait for a lift from passing lorries. I decided that this was a photo opportunity I would miss out on as they were all bigger than me!

Out to dinner again this evening, in Céret this time, we tried home made Boles de Picolat, a traditional catalan dish of meat balls and beans in a sauce – very nice indeed and merited another photo. I’m so full now that I’ve had to drag Bisou out on another walk to try and digest my TWO big meals. She didn’t really want to come out as it’s dark and she’s frightened of the loudmouthed croaky frogs that keep up a continual ‘rivet’ throughout the night, but a little persuasion in the form of a piece of chocolate soon did the trick.

Monday 16th May
The weekend was warm and sunny but it’s rained overnight and this morning is close and cloudy. On Saturday morning, I went into Céret market. I love the atmosphere of the market, a torrent of colour and noise. Home produced goat’s cheese, pottery, herbs and spices, crafts, fruit and veg, textiles, clothes and curtains, plants and leather goods, books, CDs, meats, bread, olives and all manner of local specialities. There is also a stall selling English food which I’ll check out next week and tell you more about.

On Sunday, we went to Calce for a boozy lunch with the family. Calce is a pretty, one-horse village about 5k from St Estève, with breathtaking views down to the sea. When the Tramontane blows, it takes all your concentration just to remain standing, as it’s high up and very exposed. Cousins Jeremy and Nelly came down from Porté Puymorens at the top of the mountain near Andorra. There are some fabulous walks around Calce – it’s dry and arrid and surrounded by vines – and there is a sign in the ‘centre’ (outside the one café/general store) indicating suggested circuits. In the Summer, it is VERY hot there so if you choose to try one of these walks, which I would highly recommend, do take plenty of water as there is no shade and no watering hole!

I’m quite proud of myself today because I’ve finally worked out how to post photos on the site so that they grow bigger when you click on them. Computer whizzkid I aint but I’m improving! Click on the photo of walking circuits of Calce and pray!<p>

Anyway, back to Sunday. On the way to Calce, we met up with Roger, my oracle who was just as nice in the flesh as on the phone. Hi Roger.

The weather today is still ‘instable’. Threatening rain with the occasional peal of thunder over the mountains. A potential downpour however did not stop my 12 year old son, Lulu (short for Lucien) going out with friends to ‘borrow’ some cherries from the cherry orchard down the road. Ooooops, if you’re reading this Monsieur Cherryfarmer, it wasn’t me!

Tuesday 17th May
It is absolutely pelting down! I feel so sorry for the cherry farmers as apparently when it rains heavily like this, the cherries split because of the weight of the water and are no longer saleable. Many of the smaller farmers who depend on the cherry crop for their living could be ruined. Nature is so uncompromising!

On a brighter note, we’ve booked the building of the swimming pool which is to start mid June and be finished for mid July. Once they start the digging, I will take daily photos and put them in PO Life (site) with an explanation. I’m so excited!

Wednesday 18th May
Yippee! The sun’s come back out. The sky is cloudless and the flowers are smiling. However, the Tramontane has reared its tousled head and come out to play with the sun so we have yet to benefit from that warm southern glow.

As expected, many of the cherries are ruined after the heavy rain so expect prices to rise in your local supermarket. It’s amazing how quickly the cherry season has been and gone. One moment the blossom peeping out shyly, the next time I looked it had been replaced by small green cherries, and today they are ripe, ready to pick and already falling off the trees in some areas – all this over a period of 3 weeks!

This afternoon, we went to the ‘mairie’ in Maureillas to get the forms for planning permission for the building of the pool. They said it would take a month to be approved but I think they’ve struck a deal with Olivier to put it off as long as possible. We now have to draw up plans of the pool in relation to our garden and boundaries and fill in a ‘déclaration de travaux’ (planning permissions form) – and all of this in triplicate. Expect a maximum of paperwork for a minimum of return where French administration is concerned. It’s the tradition!

Thursday 19th May
What a perfect day! I wish I could paint it. Those of you who know me know that I have a barrelful of enthusiasm for painting but absolutely no talent whatsoever – a little like my singing in fact – but nothing stops me singing and painting merrily away! (see picture of my latest work of art but please don’t laugh)

The world is bright blue and green again. Walking through the vines this morning, I noticed that the figs are coming out and there was an odour of fennel and mint. The vines themselves are growing so quickly and change in size and colour from day to day. The amount of work that goes into maintaining them is phenomenal and all done by hand round here as far as I can tell. Whole families work in the ‘vignobles’, trimming and spraying and chatting. They must inevitably produce ‘happy wine’ as, despite the heat and the back breaking work, they always have time to shout ‘bonjour’ and smile. Have you tried the new regional wine ‘Fruité catalan’? It’s been produced after research into the requirements of the modern wine drinker and is based around the fruits of the region, cherries, peaches apricots. (no figs as far as I know!) I’ve got a bottle cooling in the fridge right now so I’ll let you know what it’s like tomorrow.

Friday 20th May
Very drinkable! Now, I’m no wine expert – if it’s red and it’s wet, I’ll drink it! However, this ‘petit vin’ at a price of 2,65€, was very pleasant to drink, chilled, on a warm evening. The first taste was really nothing special but its the kind of wine that grows on you, particularly when you get on to the second bottle!!. It is also available in white and rosé.

Another beautiful day today. We drove to Sorède and played ball with Bisou amongst the vines. She looks odd with her new haircut but I’m sure she feels much more comfortable and she certainly smells better! Olivier worried all day that she would be self conscious and embarassed without her fur coat. doesn’t seem to bother her though – she remains her hairy, stinky adorable self!!

Barbeque weather is definitely upon us and the evenings are full of an appetising smell of ‘saucisse catalane’, lamb chops and steaks wafting in the breeze. Like many people round here, we no longer use charcoal for our grills but {sarment}, wood from the vines when they have been chopped or replaced. It’s supposed to give extra taste to the food but my husband, in a very ‘un-french’ fashion, regularly cremates our dinner so I’m yet to verify this! Not so long ago, the wine-growers were quite happy for people to help themselves to the piles of sarment lef over after the grape harvest, but now they’re beginning to catch on to the commercial aspect and it’s more difficult to find it ‘lying around’ unless you have the right contacts! (nudge, nudge, merci Roland!)

Remember that it is not only humans who love sarment for their BBQs but also termites, who are very keen to lunch on same, so if you do have sarment in your garden, keep it well away from the house unless you want to come home to find uninvited guests snacking on your priceless antiques!

Oh! and talking of house guests, how do you fancy waking up to this GIGNORMOUS chap peering in through your bedroom window? He (she?) greeted me this morning just before I ran screaming from the bedroom with the dog on my heels, equally scared and paws raised in panic. It is in fact ‘only a cricket’ Olivier pointed out to me in a calm and patient voice (the way you talk to a child) and ‘it’s fantastic’. Well, beauty {{is}} in the eye of the beholder!

Saturday 21st May
Another lovely day, warm and slightly hazy. I’m going to Cleront Ferrand this morning to meet with Fabien for a “site improvement meeting” We chose Clermont Ferrand because it is the half way point between Paris (where Fabe lives) and us, therefore a good point to meet. Another place we sometimes stop, which is also half way down, is Limoges but the advantage of passing through Clermont Ferrand is that the journey is much prettier and you cross the Millau viaduct. It means I’m going to miss the market this morning in Céret but I’ll treat myself to some ‘retail therapy’ in Clermont to make up for it!

Sunday 22nd May
I’m back. It took us 5 hours to get to St Nectaire, just below Clermont Ferrand, and then it proceeded to rain non-stop from the moment we arrived until the moment we left for another 5 hour journey home. I feel like I’ve spent the whole weekend ‘en voiture’ The highlight however, was spending some time with cousin Fabien, which made up for the atrocious weather – and the fact that the hotel had pool and jacuzzi!!

St Nectaire is an interesting little place, quite touristy I would imagine in season (when it’s not raining) and known for its petrifying waters (they don’t work; I wasn’t even a little bit frightened!) The hotel we stayed in, Le Mercure, was really nice and the rooms were very clean, if a little faded. The restaurant and service were both excellent. Dinner and breakfast were very reasonably priced, but when the final bill came, the price of beer and coke at 3, 50 a glass pushed our bill up enormously. I would recommend it for an overnight stop if you need to break your journey down to the south but go easy on the beer!

Back home, the weather is not greatly improved, very warm, but with thunder and lightening. After a long phone conversation with my friend Rosy, who has just returned from snow in Scotland, I went outside and nearly fell over this little chap who obviously has no fear of losing his legs when I’m around as I’m a Yorkshire lass and prefer a good old chip buttie any time! Rivet, rivet. However, I can’t speak for Lulu and Olivier……..

Monday 23rd May
My ‘frog’s legs’ comments of yesterday have actually just backfired on me as the Oracle has informed me that it is a toad, not a frog! What’s more, I can now be more specific and confidently inform you that it is a “Bufo Bufo (the common toad)…. There are more exotic ones lurking in the bushes……Very good for the garden – likes slugs and snails – but DON’T let Bisou lick or especially bite it as it exudes a milky looking poison from those big ‘warts each side of the head. Not fatal or anything but can paralyse the mouth of a small pet for some hours.. harmless to pick up gently but don’t squeeze it as this makes it do its thing!!” Oh yeeuch!

Tuesday 24th May
I love my life! I’m an optimistic person by nature, which helps, but if my fairy godmother came along right now to grant me a wish, I wouldn’t change a thing. (apart from winning the lottery of course) The smells and sounds of a sunny morning are intoxicating – this is what I wake up to! How could I possibly feel any other way?

The snow is melting on the top of the Canigou but it’s still white in the distance. According to cousin Jeremy, it snowed up in the mountains last week and everybody agrees that it has been an unusal Winter in the whole of the region in terms of weather; much colder than usual with more rain. However, Summer’s come to the Pyrénées-Orientales now and the locals are finally abandoning the multiple layers of clothing for a more summery attire.

The shops are suddenly full of melons and peaches and exotic fruit, sandals and shorts and suntan cream and the café ‘trottoirs’ feature a melange of nationalities, smiling and smoking, drinking and chatting, or just sitting and watching the world go by. There’s a warmth in the air this is not purely meteorological….and on that long and possibly non-existent word, I take my leave.

Wednesday 25th May
Oh wow, what a day! I’m not even going to bother talking about the weather any more because it’s beautiful every day now so pointless to repeat myself. I will tell you when it’s horrid!

Went into Céret today – I make it sound like a trek but it’s only 5 minutes away from Maureillas – and there were cherry stalls {{absolutely everywhere}}. Just ordinary people like you and me who had set stalls up in their garages, gardens, on the pavement, in front of their house – just everywhere. Personally, I’m cherry-bound (a little like egg-bound but more comfortable I would imagine) and am getting a bit bored with cherry pie, cherry tart, cherries in liqueur, cherry pasty, cherries on toast, baked cherries, fried cherries, grilled cherries, cherry paté, cherry sundae, cherry quiche, cherries with spam…….

Beloved son Lulu, bless his little cotton and extremely whiffy and grubby socks, had highlights put into his hair today at the hairdressers in Céret, next to the Café de France. I promised him that if he let me take a picture, I definitely wouldn’t put it on the site – there are some people that you just shouldn’t trust!

Thursday 26th May
…….cherry rissoles, cherry pizza, coq aux cherries, cherry burgers, cherry stew, cherries à la king…..!

One of the many pleasures of running this site is the people I meet. I have received so many e mails, telephone calls and good wishes from both here and abroad and made so many new friends – it’s quite overwhelming. Yesterday, we had our second interview with the Independant, the regional newspaper. The reporter promised me that if the photo he had taken went in, he would try to shade out my double chin – nice chap but can he be that talented?

If you’ve visited Céret and small towns nearby, you may have noticed a ‘drain’ of running water that runs all around the town and its outskirts. This is a {canal d’arrosage}, originally built to allow the farmers to irrigate their crops. It is of course still used for watering the fields but now it is also used by property owners who place a hose pipe in the canal and, via a pump in their gardens, use the canal to water their plants. Many people have a large tank in the garden for storing the water and a timer that pumps the water out at a regular time every day.

On the way back from our walk this morning, I noticed that there were still a couple of caterpillar webs in the trees. If you’ve read [this article – in local news, you will know that these are cocoons created by the Tent caterpillar and are usually gone by now. I don’t know whether it’s the unusually long Winter we’ve had or whether these fellows are a bit slow on the uptake! There seem to be quite a few critturs appearing with the arrival of the warm weather. I think I’ll have to ask the Oracle for a list of biters and stingers so that I know what to avoid.

Saturday 28th May
….cherry casserole, cherry fritters, cherry purée, barbequed cherries, braised cherries, steamed cherries…. I haven’t had an internet connexion for 24 hours – our server has obviously been having problems – and it’s made me realise that I have become a computer addict! I just didn’t know what to do with myself, it’ a terrible thing cold turkey. Without the site to occupy me, I was obliged to go out shopping instead and buy things. Life is so hard! Anyway, no more sitting on the patio eating off our knees. We now have a table and chairs ‘en teck’ and will actually be able to sit at a table for dinner like proper people.

Tonight we went round to the other neighbours for the ‘apero’ They brought out Catalan beer for us to try with an alcohol percentage of 13! I was very controlled and only had 2 bottles as I’m still drying out from last night’s red wine excesses. They have installed a new fireplace which burns with compacted sawdust pellets! No smoke, no smell or fumes, ecologically sound and apparently very economical as well as providing a topic of conversation amongst the men which lasted an hour. It just looked like a fireplace to me but apparently it’s some new technology which is taking the fireplace world by storm! When we left, they very kindly gave a a large carrier bag of cherries…..

Lulu has gone out tonight to see Brice de Nice, the ‘in’ film at the moment amongst kids in France so Olivier and I have the evening to ourselves – but soft! what noise on yonder settee breaks? ‘Tis a beery snore in fact from Olivier who has succumbed to the high alcohol content of the ‘bière catalane’ so it looks like I’m on my own.

Sunday 29th May
I know I said I wouldn’t mention the weather again but it’s bursting out of me! It’s so lovely – a sky bluer than robin’s eggs and a gentle breeze ruffling the leaves of the eucalyptus trees and spreading that distinctive smell of Summer.

I woke up to a lovely surprise this morning. One of the local cherry farmers who we know vaguely and who always stops to say hello very kindly brought round a bucket of cherries……… What a nice man!!!

Later this afternoon, we’re going to Perpignan airport to pick up my friend and ex colleague, Stuart, who’s coming to stay for a few days. It means I’ll get all the gossip from school. I wonder if it will make me nostalgic. I had a lot of good times at Guiseley School in Leeds and left behind some great people who played a big role in my life over the past 15 years. I often think of the classes I’ve taught – some fabulous kids who made teaching a pleasure (and some not quite so fabulous but in the minority) Good luck with your exams guys! Would you like a cherry?

Well, Stuart’s here, I’m not the slightest bit nostalgic and what rotten luck – he hates cherries! We popped over the border to Spain on the way back from the airport and interestingly, all the shops were open in Le perthus and La Jonquera. If you are thinking of going over the border to buy cheap alchohol or cigarettes, Sunday is the day to go as there was much less traffic than during the week and the usual jams in Le Perthus were greatly reduced. As for the prices, there is no doubt that tobacco and spirits are much cheaper but watch out for the quality and only buy known makes. All the shops sell souvenirs and food, many of them sell clothes and creams and potions but we have not found them particularly cheaper than France and once again the quality is sometimes sacrificed. It is worth filling up your petrol tank however as petrol is a little cheaper. Right, come on Stuart, let’s get that beer tested!

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