[(I met Jenny Rhodes for the first time in 2008, in their deliciously cosy cottage in the heart of Les Angles, just a five minute walk from the ski slopes. Rosy, fun and delightfully chatty, she explained to me that she was in the middle of pickling everything that moved. I stood very still…. and asked her whether she would be interested in providing a ‘gossip in the mountains’ type of column for Anglophone-direct readers. She has never looked back!)]

January 9th 2011

Happy New Year everyone.
Where do the years go? It only seems five minutes since the New Year last year. We have always just stayed at home with some friends but this year we did something a little different and realised that the “village” does something special at midnight. At 7pm we watched the torch light descent from the top with the daring skiing in the dark by the instructors weaving their way down the “Mermet “ run, joining up with the children from the Les Angles Ski Club at the junction of the Llare,  for the last 500 metres into the base of the station. They then line up with their torches and await the fireworks. I have seen this many times now and it is still as magic now as it was the first time I saw it. The fireworks are very special and every year Les Angles puts on an incredible display.

Midnight was superb with fireworks from the top of the church tower followed by cascades of tiny paper confetti and metalic streamers. As we are so close to Spain the tradition of “The Grape” is followed . On each chime of midnight everyone pops a grape into their mouths and then tries to  keep them there without swallowing until the last chimes and then make a wish. It is also supposed to be good luck.Terrific when you look around to find that the whole village has turned into chipmonks with bulging cheeks and dribbling chins.We shared this lovely time with family and very special friends from the UK. Who could better this for New Year.

Even though there hasn’t been a great deal of snow fall, the slopes have been quite busy and the pisteurs have been working hard at keeping all the conditions perfect for the next day.All night these huge machine haul their way up and down the slopes to give that wonderful corduroy effect on the snow you get first thing in the morning.

If there is one thing that makes the Brits stand out in a crowd of skiers, it is their hats. Hats of all shapes,sizes and designs. For some bizarre reason hat makers in the UK convince their unsuspecting customers that to ski you MUST look like an idiot. Hats with tassles,loops, multi coloured dreadlocks, faces and animal heads speed along with gay abandon.Totally oblivious to the fact that everyone else is wearing either helmets or beanies.What may be great fun on Christmas Day out of your stocking should not be worn on the slopes if you want to be taken as a serious skier. Hey, who am I to say don’t wear them…..carry on. I’d hate to be a wet blanket. Plus it gives everyone something to smile at.

Now, talking about something to smile about. I must just mention an experience I had last week with my daughter. We had gone to Puigcerda market on Sunday morning and were just doodling about, as you do. There was a buzz of chatter from the locals and the market, thank goodness, was not as busy as it usually is. Suddenly there was a murmur and then a silence. We turned round to be faced with a hearse, fully laiden with coffin and flowers trying to make its way through the market stalls. Everyone stood aghast at this weird sight. Who would do such a thing on market day. There was a sort of nervous twitter from the crowd as nobody knew exactly what to do. Was this a joke or some sort of “You’ve been framed” prank.. No….it was real….then the hearse got stuck and the driver realised that he couldn’t get though. So his very embarrased  assistant got out of the car and after much deliberation and hand wafting helped the undertaker to reverse up to the shoe stall and carefully turn the car round, it was last seen going the wrong way up a one way street. The  funny thing was that there was not a TV camera in sight, no it was not a set up but it did give people something to smile about. What a way to go.
It put me in mind of a friend who always said that she didn’t want a sad funeral and was going to have the music”Always look on the bright side” played when she was taken into church. Dark humour has always been a favorite of mine.

Moving swiftly on, I went down to the lake the other day. It has been frozen over for some time now but I have never bothered to go and look closely at it. It is quite weird, it doesn’t look like ice it looks like jelly. White cloudy jelly.but it is solid. Of course I had to throw a stone onto it just to check and instead of sinking into the “jelly” it bounced. And I now can understand why children get trapped and caught out.It has a magnetic quality about it and though deadly had a weird appeal. The one thing that did pass through my mind was that there needs to be many more safety notices. Never walk on “frozen”lakes
Lilli needs a walk so I had better get my coat and sensible hat on and go for a stroll. Although I tend to think it is her taking me for a walk now.At 50 kilos she takes some stopping when she starts to run so I am now trying out a new harness that should slow her down a bit. The words “no pulling” don’t seem to work very well.
Til the next tim, take it easy and let’s all look forward to the Spring.

Sunday January 30th

“My life in the PO” has pinched some of my news this week. Hmmmmmm Kate we must talk soon…very soon. No, really I was going to mention these “ladies” who are lurking on the highways and byways.  How weird is this? They are out in broad daylight and not a policeman in sight. Personally I feel sorry for them, they are left at the side of the road, freezing their tails off. It is not a life. Mike even felt sorry for them standing for hours in the cold. The girls we saw were on the roads between Beziers and Montpellier. Decked out like Christmas trees and just waiting. Not a life for anyone.

Now on a brighter note. The snow. Where did it go? We were supposed to get up to ½ metre over the past few days and we got about 4cms. Everything pointed to huge amounts falling for hours and then having us….well…OK……..Mike, digging us out. There may have been much more on the tops of the mountains, which is great for the skiers. All day yesterday it was stop , start, stop, start and then just stop and now it is lovely and sunny and from where I am sitting I can see cars coming into the village for a great day on the pistes.

Of course Lil [the dog] is happy playing about in the fresh flakes, she does something similar to a Commando type shuffle on her tummy and snorkels her way along the ground. The colder the better for her although we have warned her she is having a haircut soon as her hair is out of control and although she looks amazing she is a nightmare to groom.

On Wednesday we went up to the Sal Hors sac [Les Angles] and met up with some friends. It’s the best idea we have ever come across. There are two huge fireplaces and is fully staffed. You take your own food [sausage,chops.burgers,etc.] Jacket potatoes and Mont d’Or cheese can be taken if well prepared beforehand and they cook it.

Long trestle tables are laid out inside [if the weather is bad] and a selection of outdoor furniture is set out on the huge new terrace for eating in the sunshine. They supply paper table cloths and drinking water and the rest is up to you. It is what you make it. We love it. If you are around this way ….try it, it’s great fun.

I can’t believe it’s now over a month since Christmas and New Year. Spring plants are now on sale in the garden centres in Perpignan but they are not for me. At 1600 feet spring flowers don’t survive and my spring bulbs usually come out in May or June. When I first moved here I bought loads of geraniums etc and potted them up. My next door [a very elderly gentleman] neighbour hung out of his window and did one of those long drawn out sucking of air through his teeth and shook his head and shrugged. It was May, what was his problem? Hmm…… just jealous of my glorious array of flowers. Not for long though, one night we had a very heavy frost and I lost every last flower. They turned black overnight. All that money, I was distraught. Then it dawned on me, the slowly sucked air, the shrug of the shoulders…. he had been right and I had planted out a month too early. I now know not to be a smart Alec and think I know better. Never plant anything until June and then you are virtually guaranteed there will be no frost. Pierre has not survived this long in the mountains withouy learning a thing or two. I listen closely now to what is told and glean every bit of advice going.

There are reasons why paté is popular and why air dried meat is sold everywhere. Why there are so many wonderful “mountain” recipes for meals with potatoes and cabbage. They were foods that they could grow. Potatoes are widely grown up here, even to the point of having a potatoes fete in October. Goat cheeses are freshly made all around the area and are sold at the weekly markets in all the villages. And do not smell of the usual “Billy Goat” pong that is associated with goat cheese in the UK. Nasty!

We have a changeover today in the barn so I had better get myself off this machine and do some work. It’s funny how so many people think that we are retired and that we don’t do very much. It’s just that retired from one life to try another and work twice as hard.
We’re not complaining …..we love it here.
‘Til the next time

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