Friday 2nd December
December has slunk sneakily in without knocking, bringing with it some strong winds and an undeniable chill in the evening air. Some rather macho looking clouds swagger across the sky from time to time, but despite their menacing appearance, when we set forth for our morning constitutional, well wrapped up in winter woolies, it really was not that cold! Up in the hauts de Céret, looking down on the town from a great height, there are some fabulous walks, with breathtaking views of the Canigou and Albères, both of which protect the walker from the wind. I kept my ski hat on due to a(nother) bad hair day, but I was toasty in just a jumper and thin trousers, and very glad not to have kitted myself out in all the gear!
What a wonderful place this is, but what a waste of resources when half the world is dying of starvation! It is rare that we go walking in the hills and don’t come back with some rich pickings. Many fruits and vegetables grow wild and nobody seems to be interested in picking them. Today, we walked through untended olive groves with olives scattered and rotting all around, sharon fruits swaying in the wind before hurtling to the ground and feeding the worms, and a carpet of almonds. I suppose that many of the properties around the mountain area have such a large amount of land that they can’t cope with it all – old farmers pass or sell on their land to a new generation, who don’t have the time to harvest the crops and gradually fruit trees and olive groves fall into disrepair and neglect and vines become redundant. Good ol’ progress eh?

The leaves are only just beginning to fall off the trees around Maureillas, although on a recent trip to Prades, the trees and vines already seemed to be a little stark. The world is still clothed in green, but changing hue from day to day.

Returning home through Céret, we noticed that the Pessebres are beginning to appear. This Catalan tradition, a nativity scene, is not limited to churches and shopping centres. Individuals create private tributes in their homes and gardens and some of them are great fun, with enormous attention to detail.

Monday 5th December
The weather is still pleasant, temperatures around 14 – 15° during the day, mostly dry with blue skies and bright sunshine to chase away the blues. This weekend we went up to stay with Jeremy and Nelly, Olivier’s cousins who live in Porta, a tiny village next to Porté Puymorens, a ski resort at 1600m. In the future, Porté Puymorens is to be linked with “Granvalira”, a ski area in Andorra and is expected to become the largest skiable ‘domaine’ in the Pyrénées. The snow was fantastic – pure and unspoilt still – and the ‘pistes’ were quiet and civilised! Bisou, being a ‘berger des pyrénées’ proceeded to burrow into the snow until her beard and moustache were too heavy with ice to be supported by her silly furry head!

In the evening we went to Puigcerda (meaning “Cerdanyan hill” in Catalan) just over the border into Spain. It is apparently the only road leading from France to Spain where there is no customs check…in fact no anything, so you dont really know when to stop saying bonjour and start saying holà! What a surprise we got when we left behind the slow calm of the small French village of Porta and arrived in Puigcerda, a ten minute drive away. The town was crackling! Bars and restaurants, classy shopping precincts, hot chestnuts and churros stands (type of freshly-fried fritters in long strips, dusted with sugar) bright lights, casino, floodlit frozen lake with very cold ducks and swans….. This town is apparently a great favourite with the Barcelonans, who buy holiday homes here and come up for weekends to ski or just chill. Well worth a visit.

On the way back down the mountain on Sunday, we stopped to take a look round Mont Louis, fortress town built by Vauban 1600m above sea level, and claiming to be one of the highest fortified town in France. Two other towns fortified by Vauban, Briançon and Mont Dauphin, both in the French Alps, covet the title also. Situated on one of the three chief roads joining Roussillon and Spain, Mont Louis bars access from the Cerdagne valley into the narrow descent that carries the road down to Villefranche-de-Conflent and on then to Perpignan. According to history, Vauban chose the position for the fort based on the good health and fine teeth of the inhabitants of nearby villages! He’ll not be building a fort in Maureillas then, if he has a chat with my dentist!

I found a map on one of the ramparts depicting the mountain layout around Mont Louis and was delighted to discover Pic Bastard. Sad, I know!

A late Sunday lunch out with friends was a very pleasant ending to a lovely and very tiring weekend, and the mixture of the pure mountain air and the less pure but equally imbibed red wine with dinner ensured the whole family, dog included, a very sound night’s sleep last night! Que la vie est belle!

Saturday 10th December

Yet another beautiful day in the PO, after a crisp cold night……….and believe me, I do know about the night as as was out in it until five o clock this morning!
The ladies from Maureillas went on a ‘girl’s night out’ last night. Around twenty comely and buxom wenches (some a little more buxom than others admittedly) stepped forth to paint the Céret area reddish. After a very good (if somewhat pricey) meal at the Chat qui Rit, near Lidl on the Céret to Amelie road, we finished off the night and greeted the morning in a night club a little further up the road. At six euros for the cheapest beer in the club, the alcohol was certainly not flowing, and I must confess to being ready for bed long before I actually got there. <doc2103|right>However, I was the only ‘anglaise’, so I felt the need to teach them all a little something to uphold the British ‘end’! After half an hour of ‘heads and shoulders knees and toes’ and repetition after repetition of ‘shoulders’ which proved to be a great stumbling block for a gaggle of giddy, giggly and somewhat tipsy ladies, I gave up and sat back down to appreciate the tuneless boom, boom boom of the music on a dance floor which remained more or less empty apart from us for most of the night, and dream of home!!

To go back to the Chat qui Rit (the laughing cat for those of you who don’t remember your school French), it really was a very good meal. I had a ‘pavé de boeuf’ with oyster mushrooms and various other bits of nouvelle cuisine, beautifully presented and cooked to perfection. The hors d’oeuvres and desserts were also very good and served in a ‘buffet à volonté’ (trough-as-much-down-as-you-can-and-go-back-several-times-for-more-to-get-your-money’s-worth-despite-feeling-sick) and although you need to count a minimum of thirty euros per person for two courses and drinks, it was not too bad considering the high standard of food and decor and a loo that could hold its seat up proudly amidst Jerome’s ‘toilets of france’ site! Do try it out. Just mention my name, do a quick mime of ‘heads and shoulders knees and toes, and they’ll know exactly who you’re talking about. (might not go there again for a year or so!!)

Olivier and Lucien had a ‘boys night in’ which involved Lucien carrying his Dad for a back breaking two and a half yards and falling over! Such fun!

Wednesday 14th December
I am just on my way to the dentist in Laroque to have a lost crown replaced and I am TERRIFIED. It took me thirty years to get used to my dentist in England – good old John Hodgson in Horsforth. He used to take valium when he knew that I was coming and needed several days off afterwards to get over the trauma. A new, different, French dentist….. ooo er. Will report back if I can still speak…….well, he sheemed like a very niche chap and allglow I skill have a tooch mishing, it ij all eady to be popped back in wivoutch a ingection! A seriously pleasant chap, competent and businesslike, excellent English speaker for those who prefer to be traumatised in their own language. I hate to say it but I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t feel a thing. He, on the other hand, had to put up with garlic breath, snuffly nose and unplucked eyebrows so I think I got the better deal! The dental surgery, on the road to Sorède out of Laroque des Albères is a brand new wooden chalet, very clean and modern and I would definitely recommend him….so far – I havent had the bill yet!

A funny day weather wise – blue skies and a pale sun this morning – quite mild in the sunshine here in Maureillas – but windy and very cold in the Laroque area. This micro climate never fails to amaze me.

I helped Olivier out this afternoon by ringing round pool firms to get quotes for a pool renovation he is sorting out. We are meeting with PMT tomorrow to show them the pool. I wonder if I should tell them that should consider changing their name if they are hoping to deal with many anglophone clients in the future!

Sunday 18th December
A bright blue sky today with a pale, low sun which makes driving very hairy! Olivier and I went into Perpignan to distribute our AngloFactFile, which is a small, four side brochure of useful telephone numbers, interesting facts about the region, quizzes etc which we have brought out to help anglophone visitors and inhabitants acclimatise more easily. I must admit to being rather proud of it. We don’t make any profit from it, but the printing is carried by half a dozen sponsors, who get quite a good advertising deal in my opinion, as 3,000 copies are distributed by hand by two very enthusiastic and motivated paper boys (us!) If you are around the Céret area in shops and ‘boulangeries’ or the Perpignan tourist office or airport, do ask for one if you don’t see it.

Anyway, I digress. We took some of our precious brochures (I really am so, so proud – I admit I’m no journalist but I love doing it – researching and writing up, deciding what would be most useful for a particular season…) to the Perpignan rugby ground, USAP. There is no security there – anybody can just wander on to the rugby pitch – so I did! Bisou showed a little bit too much interest in the green grass in the middle, and I think she would have quite liked to have annointed it, so I made for the stalls and sat there thinking that I could quite fancy myself as a rugby groupie, (as long as I could find players less than 5′ 4″), and soaking up the potential atmosphere. It suddenly seemed like a good idea to attend the Leeds v USAP match, taking place that very evening. However, I chickened out at the last moment as the Tramontane was whistling up my trouser leg, and Olivier went with Lulu and the next door neighbours leaving me to spend a pleasant afternoon and evening in with Evelyne and a couple of bottles of Tautavel! They (Leeds) lost by the way – I feel they would have had more of a chance if I been there to cheer them on – I am quite loud!

Wednesday 21st December
I’m sitting here all alone in front of my computer, feeling sorry for myself, having dispatched Oliver and Lulu to buy me a last minute, ‘surprise’ birthday present for tomorrow, which could be my only one this year! The surprise bit will be if they come back with anything! Even my Dad forgot! The trouble is that I’ve lied so often about my age that I don’t know how old I am any more! Somewhere in between 20 and 100 with a mentality of quite a lot less! The reason I’m feeling sorry for myself is that I could just really fancy a crunchie! The large supermarkets around here such as Champion and Intermarché all do English food now – Heinz tomato soup, salad cream, sandwich spread(?!), marmite etc but NO CRUNCHIES. They obviously haven’t done their research properly! If I had still been living in Leeds, I would just have rung next door, where I had a open-all-hours-and-cheap-at-half-the-price sweetie supply service in the form of friends and neighbours Sue and Beth, who also provided free delivery. Can’t somehow see Evelyne popping round with a crunchie!

Over on the forum, Colin has been having problems with the workforce in Scotland, as you can see by these photos. Clearly an excellent employer (and maybe hedging his bets to be sure of receiving that framed, signed portrait of LHH that he ordered for Christmas) Colin brought the little chap in and nursed him through his suicidal tendencies. (It appears he tried to hang himself) He is apparently now back on the job and doing fine.

And talking about forums….we have a new one. Do please, please, please try it out so that you can explain it to me afterwards!!

Thursday 29th December
Well, I’m back after an uneventful Christmas spent chez the parents-in-law in the Paris region. Christmas day in a French family usually starts with the ‘apéro’ at midday and goes rapidly downhill from there. It is imperative to open the correct bottle of wine to suit each course, and when you’re having eight or nine courses, it is equally imperative to take it steady! I have a problem watching half empty bottles leave the table to make place for the next wine, and feel obliged to finish the bottle! Each time! Last year, I didn’t actually see Christmas Day as the traditional Christmas Eve oysters and I had a major disagreement, and I spent the day in bed with a sick bucket. Too much information, did I hear you say?

Although it would actually be cheaper and quicker to fly from Girona to Beauvais airport, not far from where the ‘beaux-parents’ live, we always drive up, as Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Bisou. She got a new bandana for Christmas which she wears with pride around her hairy neck! The journey is much easier now that the Millau viaduct is open. We head out of the PO towards Beziers, leave the motorway at the Cap dAgde exit, heading towards Pezenas, and follow signs for Clermont-Ferrand, crossing the viaduct and traversing some magnificent scenery. Apart from the toll at the viaduct, this motorway is free of charge and usually clear of heavy traffic, as the lorries tend not to take it, either out of habit or because it is quite torturous in parts as it winds through the Massif central.

The journey back was very chilly, in the minuses in some areas, and I was particularly glad to be wearing my après-ski boots – not because it was cold but because I was obliged to visit several ‘toilettes turques’! I have been told repeatedly by those who know (men obviously), that Turkish loos are much more hygienic than a nice comfortable sit-down toilet, but I’m just not convinced!! Maybe I’ve never quite learnt to adopt the correct position! I would never hit my target if I had to fire a gun either!

The new forum is now taking up most of my time, both trying to understand it and importing information from the old one so as not to lose some of the many very precious contributions (and some not so precious!) So few people actually POST on the forum – it’s such a shame as it’s a great way of getting to know people and you can learn such a lot about the region. Go on, take a look at [it->] and see what you think!

Well, up into the mountains tomorrow for a few days skiing and a big New Year party. I think that what I’m most looking forward to in the new year is a few days a home!!


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