Life in Montolieu

30 Jan

We’re just beginning our ninth year in Montolieu. It feels like we’ve always lived here and yet it doesn’t seem possible that eight years have passed since we left the UK. Life here has been and continues to be interesting although now it’s a little quiet with COVID and not so much happening except through the internet. Let me introduce you to our village.

It’s a small rural village on the tourist trail. Consequently it’s very quiet in winter but very busy in the summer. It’s in the department of the Aude and boasts many attractions. We have thousands of visitors from across the world and many nationalities have settled here. The village dates back to the twelfth century and is included in the history of the Cathars. In fact the region now focuses its tourism on Cathar country. The earliest evidence of its age that I’ve seen in the village are the dates which are etched on some of the houses, 1700 is the oldest. It was a walled village and some of the walls still exist but I don’t know how far back it dates. The houses on les Ramparts have very interesting gardens which are built on several levels from the river Alzeau up to where the old wall used to be. On the other side of the village the houses rise up from the river Dure with terraces for their gardens.

We live in the Old Tannery which is situated just outside the wall next to the river Dure. Ours was one of five mills around this village and was used for preparing the leather for making leather goods. Other mills, as I understand from locals who used to work here, were for making the clothes. The village was surrounded by not only a wall but two rivers either side of the hill, the Dure and the Alzeau. This made it a secure village in medieval times. There is still a paper mill further up the Black Mountain which still produces paper 📝 and is open to the public.

Today it is called the village of books. There are 18 bookshops and 29 art galleries and artist workshops including a large old mill which has been converted into an exhibition centre and currently houses a collection called the Cerés Franco Museum and there is a museum with exhibits of printing machines and other items which relate to the area. Our church is a National Monument in the centre of the village. There are around 850 inhabitants of 28 different nationalities who live here all year round and we have gîtes, hôtels and B&Bs and five restaurants and cafes.

Alas we have lost one our restaurants, les Ange au Plafond during the COVID-19 crisis. We also have two food shops now. Our well established mini supermarket which is run by Nelly and was run by her mother and father before her and a small shop of local products which opened last year during the crisis called l’Abeille noire.

We are so lucky to have two automatic food dispensers in the village also. One selling organic vegetables from a local farm and the second local goods. This one is sited with our farm shop which opens every Monday and Thursday evening. Unfortunately all the shops have had to change their hours at the moment due to the curfew which means we have be be in our homes by six o’clock until six in the morning. However most French people buy their vegetables at the local markets and there are markets on different days in all the surrounding villages. Our wine merchant Adrian is open almost everyday and is well known and respected by the French for his knowledge and choice of wines from the region. The post office is run by our town hall and is open every weekday morning. Unfortunately there’s still two things missing from our village, a cash dispenser, which means we have to drive up to Saissac up the mountain or down to Carcassonne and a boulangerie as ours closed down a few years ago and we haven’t found a new baker yet to take it on.

The walled city of Carcassonne

Our health care needs are well provided for with a pharmacy, two doctors (a third one starting in June), two physiotherapists, one podologue, one speech therapist, two osteopaths, one naturopath and other therapists. We also have two schools and a care home which is a convent for retired nuns and is now open to members of the village. Before Covid-19 the children at our schools used to be able to have their lunch in the convent in their refectory. But the convent has been closed to visitors during the crisis. So the children now have their lunch in the village hall where the cooked meals are brought in for them. We are also well catered for with hospitals with two in Carcassonne, three in Toulouse, one in Narbonne and one in Perpignan.

Whichever direction we look there are places of interest for everyone. Up the Black mountain there are lakes and rivers and forests and the incredible Rigole which feeds water from the reservoirs into the Canal du Midi which winds across the plain between the Black mountain and the Pyrenees and stretches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Or we can go south to the Pyrenees and across to Spain or Andorra. If we go west there are the cities of Toulouse or slightly further north are Castres and Albi or the Atlantic coast. Going east we can visit the Mediterranean or the Camargue and a little further on to Narbonne, Montpellier and Marseille and onto Cannes and eventually into Italy.

Whatever your interests we can provide for most of your wishes from mountain climbing and skiing to sailing, swimming and parasailing 🪂 in the Mediterranean or hill walking in the National forests or visiting the huge caves with stalagmites and stalactites. There is a flying school at Carcassonne airport and a go kart circuit. From pony trekking to walking with llamas or water skiing on a lake. Many cyclists love the challenge of the routes which were taken a few years ago by the Tour de France up through St Denis. A route which is also favoured by motorcyclists along its winding roads up through the forests and down into the valleys.

Not forgetting the castles and chateaux of which there are numerous which you cannot get to without passing vineyards and olive groves or during July and August huge fields of sunflowers 🌻. A feast to the senses as well as great food. I almost forgot to mention that as in most villages we have a group of regular pétanque players who welcome visitors to join in. Who wouldn’t want to live here?!

A different kind of life continues

24 Nov

With the inability to travel we’ve found different ways to spend our time and perhaps got more done at home this year. Our only trip this year after confinement had been relaxed was to the Camargue. We saw the famous white horses and bulls and parts of France we’d not seen before. Not only is the Camargue famous for its horses and bulls but for the mosquitoes also. Unfortunately I get a strong allergic reaction to these bites and finishes the trip with 27 swollen bites all over my body. But it was worth it to see the animals and countryside.

We are very fortunate to live in a beautiful and rural area of France and even during confinement I was able to go out walking in the countryside with the dogs within a one kilometre radius. We are surrounded by woods and walks with rivers and valleys. On a clear morning we can even see the snow white tops of the Pyrénées from our road.

With high temperatures and lots of sunshine this year has been very good for grapes and sunflowers which surround our village. But it has also caused a lot of damage to trees around the area and many are now dead or dying and will need pruning this winter to prevent them falling onto the road.

My bees have also had a great year producing honey. In the spring I put on 2 extra floors onto the hive as they had already filled the nursery. By September both these extra floors were also full with honey. I restrict the queen to the nursery on the lower level with a queen excluder. This allows the worker bees through to store the honey but the queen is too big to get through. So she is able to continue to lays eggs but I’m able to harvest the honey without taking any babies. All I had to do was take away the top two floors leaving them with the full bottom level for the winter. We managed to extract enough honey to fill 50 jars. It tastes delicious. Thank you bees 🐝.

After confinement was relaxed I was able to recommence the English class in Montolieu so we decided to have a lesson in the garden. But the class in Carcassonne could not start again as they were held in the foyer which was closed for a longer period. But we restarts both in September but with many restrictions in place to ensure our safety. (Can we insert my avatar with my mask on here.)

Meanwhile in the UK aunt Jane died in her own home having survived COVID at the grand age of 107. What an interesting life she had.

Now we’re going to have to buy eggs for the first time in a long time as our rescue hens have finally stopped laying. They still try escaping occasionally though!

Living in the countryside it’s inevitable that we sometimes have little visitors. But with friendly traps I’ve managed to catch a whole family and relocate them further out in the countryside.

We’ve also had a few volunteers staying in the little house to help us with building and garden work thanks to Louise taking over coordinating them. So I’ve been free to do other things and not have close contact with them. The big garden is now recovering well after the flood 2 years ago and two of our seven terraces have been restructured and concrete repaired where necessary.

I had a painting 🧑‍🎨 lesson in February just before confinement so I’ve now set up my office in the garden as an artist studio.

Also this year I took Socks for some dog training sessions. He has improved but is still very active and loves to chase and hunt.

Ramblings of an amateur naturalist

19 Nov

Have you ever thought about where creative people get their ideas from? Or how some people are very creative and others totally logical? Have you considered that possibly both these seemingly opposite types find their resources in nature?

Nature is a balance between animals and plants great and small. We humans take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide but plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Moths are food for bats 🦇 and their caterpillars are food for birds 🐦. Flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees 🐝, wasps and bats. Oak trees are home to thousands of creatures. The oak and ash provide food for for caterpillars 🐛 in the spring which in turn are food for blue tits. Each animal predates on others and is predated on by yet others bigger than themselves. All creatures and plants 🪴 have their role to play in the food chain and the cycle of life.

In the current climate of a global pandemic humans are being predated on by microscopic organisms but we are finding that being shut away, confined or locked away from others causes many of us emotional strain, anxiety, stress or depression. One of the recommendations to overcome these feelings is to get out into nature. You may be asking yourself ‘how does this help?’ If we think about it humans (generally speaking) are social animals jus like honeybees. Each has it’s role to play within the society in which it lives. Seen at a macro level, humans could be seen as a well coordinated complete organism but at a micro level as individuals. When we look at a tree 🌳 we think of it as an individual but if we were able to look underground we would see that it is connected to many other trees 🌲 and whatever affects one tree will affect many others connected to it by their roots. Old trees die off and make room for young saplings to grow and flourish.

To understand where creativity connects with nature we need to use all our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Take sight. Are all trees the same shape or colour? Are all the branches symmetrical? Are the leaves the same shape and size? How many different shapes and colours can you count? Study the bark. Does it grow vertically or horizontally? Is it dark or light? Is it smooth or highly fissured?

Sounds are all around us whether we live in a city or the countryside. The sounds of musical instruments 🎺 are copied from the sounds of nature. The wind blowing through the leaves 🍃 sounds very similar to the sound of the river flowing across the rocks or even the sound of traffic on the distant motorway. The ability to hear protects us from danger and allows us to connect with others.

Smell is important as it’s a signal to all animals to tell us where there is a source of food or if it’s safe to eat 🍄. Taste is an extension of the sense of smell and allows us to differentiate between sweet, sour, bitter, salt and savoury. Dogs, for example, see the world through their sense of smell and can be very useful in sniffing out diseases or drugs.

Touch is extremely important to some people (especially small children). 🤱It is part of the grooming process in many primates and helps to maintain group cohesion. This causes some people problems because they cannot touch for fear of spreading a deadly infection during the pandemic.

So simply a change of scenery, walking amongst nature helps with all our senses but most importantly the act of walking or exercising helps to increase blood supply to all our organs, to take away toxins and to stimulate serotonin and endorphins which help to balance the functions of our bodies and produce a sense of happiness.

If you are more analytical than creative being amongst nature may not appeal to you. However nature is based on chemical and numeric formula. 🔣 So looking at a tree you can use your knowledge of chemistry and physics to analyse how it gets it’s nutrients from the ground into the uppermost branches and leaves. Or you can see the different colours of the leaves and analyse what chemical compositions are involved in the changes of colour in the autumn 🍂. Or you can watch how the birds land on the thin branches and work out why they don’t break or how strong winds do not break them. Some animals are able to change their colour according to the background they are resting on 🦑 How do they do that? Others like bats use echolocation to locate their food and eat on the wing. How does this work? How do naturalists count the number of bees in a swarm or bats coming out of a cave? Could you produce a hexagonal shape 🛑 connected to hundreds of others and sloping down in the same direction to stop the honey 🍯 from falling out? How many bees 🐝 did I have that produced 30 litres of honey in six months?

We are talking here about biodiversity which is important to survival. If we were all clones of each other and all trees were exactly the same wouldn’t life be very boring? The same applies to people. 🧕🏼👳🏾‍♀️🧑‍🎤👨🏿‍🦳 We need that diversity to keep a balance across the earth 🌏. We are all part of it and need each other whether we recognise it or not. Eradicating anything or anyone we don’t understand demonstrates a fear which is unnecessary. What is needed now more than ever is understanding and compassion for ourselves and others and for the earth on which we rely. We need to support everyone including ourselves.

Keeping Life in Perspective

6 Nov

Being in confinement (or lockdown as it’s known as in the UK) has made me think about life in ways I haven’t considered before.

I always try to look on the bright side of life and spread happiness where I can. Most of the time this has been achieved by my actions helping people from all walks of life. And by thinking what have I learnt from this negative experience. At the same time I know I can be critical and sometimes appear negative but I consider myself a realist and not a dreamer. By this, I mean that I consider what I would like to happen and then try to look further into the future to see if it is possible. The danger of this type of thinking is that you never try anything because you talk yourself into thinking it’s not possible. I think I overcame this way back in my life because I have tried many different things. But I often put off doing things longer than necessary.

As I grow older I’m beginning to realise that we make our decisions according to our perception of the time we have available. When we are young we think we have a lifetime ahead of us. As we get older we begin to think time is too short. That got me to thinking about people who are incarcerated for whatever reason or people who are locked inside themselves (who may be described as being autistic) or people who are disabled and unable to get about by themselves or the elderly who for their own safety have to stay away from others during the COVID pandemic and how they might feel about time. I am sure that many of us feel bored and frustrated when our freedom is restricted.

The question is how we deal with boredom. Do we allow our frustrations to boil over into anger and take out our frustrations on the people closest to us by shouting, arguing or even physical abuse or do we turn it inside and decide it’s easier not to talk to anyone but ourselves? When this happens most of our thoughts are critical and blaming and it becomes a vicious cycle. So how do you deal with boredom and frustration?

I feel grateful that I live where I do but it doesn’t stop me from being bored or frustrated at times. Hence, this blog. I realise I can walk into the garden or simply look out of the window at the river or the forest to marvel at nature or I can take the dogs for short walks. So what stops me? It’s too hot or too cold or windy outside or my joints and muscles are causing me some discomfort. I’m enjoying being in the warmth of my home. So why do I feel bored? I can read and have hundreds of books to choose from but I’ve been reading for weeks now and I’m looking for something different. I can sit and listen to music or an audiobook or talk to friends on the phone or even see them, even from miles away with all the technology available to us today. So why do I feel bored? I believe it’s the feeling of having our freedom taken away from us and our routines changed by someone else. There’s something unsettling about not being able to do what we want to do when we want to or go where we want. It’s not simple dealing with boredom and frustration, is it!?

It helps me to think about the people I mentioned earlier and how much luckier I am than them. I have a tendency to think too much and things get out of proportion. So my message to myself is to go and do something different from what I’m doing at the moment within the constraints that I have. Perhaps connecting with someone else who’s in a more difficult situation than I am will help me feel more satisfied.

How lives have changed

12 Jun

This year has been very different for almost everyone around the world. Life as we knew it became untenable. It was necessary to change the way we live our everyday lives to protect ourselves and those around us from a very virulent virus which has killed so many across the globe.

Richard and I are both OK although Richard’s rheumatoid arthritis is flaring up frequently, and he has tendinitis in his wrist. These problems make it difficult for him to perform some simple tasks sometimes. I have had a painful knee which has reduced my walking, as well as the regulations to protect us from COVID-19. With a new puppy, it is necessary to give the dogs as much exercise as possible so Louise has helped by taking them out on long walks in the countryside.

We are in advance of the UK inasmuch as we have been released from confinement in stages and in different parts of France. Our region was one of the first to be able to relax restrictions due to the lower mortality rate. Our restaurants and cafés were allowed to open again two weeks ago but have very strict rules to follow. Such as the person cooking the food is not allowed to come in contact with the customers and the use of credit and debit cards and contactless are strongly encouraged. Everyone must wear a mask and only remove it while eating. Our distance is one metre between people and all shops are marked out with a one-way flow and one-metre markers at all tills.

Many people are still working from home where they can and only last week have we been allowed to meet in small groups in private homes. So we had our first English class last week for Montolieu in our flat. Some schools are open & others aren’t. The library in the village is closed but many of the bookshops are now open. Visitors are still not allowed inside our care home in the village. There are many more rules which are being monitored by the police and gendarmes and the majority of people are following them. Before we were released we were allowed to go out singly or with the person we live with for food shopping, for medical visits or for exercise within one kilometre or for work for essential workers only, and we had to complete a self-certification stating what we do at what date and time we left and for a maximum of one hour.

Some of our families have been ill and had to visit the hospital. My cousin’s husband died of cancer as he was my cousin’s carer, and she is very susceptible to infection life is very difficult for her and her family. So it was difficult with a funeral to cope with. One of my sisters-in-law had a coronary last week & had to have stents put in. She’s now home in confinement but will have to return to the hospital for another stent later. Richard’s cousin’s wife had appendicitis and had to go into hospital for an operation. She then tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be confined separately from her husband at home. During the crisis, my niece had her second child and grandma and grandad had to wait to go and meet him. A friend of ours also had her first baby born in this period.

We were lucky here to have 2 volunteers staying with us before the lockdown, and they had to stay with us longer than expected, so we managed to get a lot more tasks done. They have both left now, so I can relax a bit.

Now confinement has ended here (although sports and other social functions are still not allowed) many businesses are reopening. One such business is Le Boat on the Canal du MIDI and around other parts of France. This has had a direct impact on our lives as Richard has been offered a job with them as an assistant customer service helpline operator for the whole of France. He started working this week and will be working 30 hours a week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and all day Sunday at home taking emergency calls from customers. He will also work at the canal basin at Castelnaudary on Friday mornings. He’s so happy as it fulfils many of his passions, engineering, boats, water and helping people.

Now confinement has ended here (although sports and other social functions are still not allowed) many businesses are reopening. One such business is Le Boat on the Canal du MIDI and around other parts of France. This has had a direct impact on our lives as Richard has been offered a job with them as an assistant customer service helpline operator for the whole of France. He started working this week and will be working 30 hours a week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and all day Sunday at home taking emergency calls from customers. He will also work at the canal basin at Castelnaudary on Friday mornings. He’s very happy as it fulfils many of his passions, engineering, boats, water and helping people.

Also, this week my Mazda car passed its MOT which we thought maybe a problem as it is an old car but I love it because it’s so flexible and can be used for towing the trailer and taking passengers and dogs which are things we do frequently here.

I’ve also had success with my bees and hope I’ll be able to take some honey from them this year. I need to learn how to use a centrifuge first which I can hire from our local Apicop which is an association of beekeepers which sells all the equipment necessary and gives advice on the management of hives.

Our visit to Germany and Poland

17 Nov
The remnants of the Berlin Wall

Our four days in Berlin

What a city! Our first time in Berlin and a whole new experience. As we had been born in 1949, we’d been on the sidelines of the aftermath of the second world war. Anything we knew about Berlin had come from the media and from reading Le Carré spy stories. To help us with our visit we had purchased a book in English which described the conditions whilst Berlin was divided between the allies and the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany).

The public transport system is superb. And cheap! You can purchase an all day ticket for €7 which you can use on any buses, trams, underground or Berlin overground train. Perfect for exploring. And when we were too tired to travel by public transport we used Uber to get us around.

We stayed in a small apartment to the north of the city (in the former East German sector). We found this through AirBnB and paid €65 a night. Warm and comfortable and very close to the bus, tram and train lines.

Like in any big city there was a profusion of restaurants catering for any taste. We discovered a small chain of restaurants offering Thai soups and noodles. Excellent for lunchtime, as the weather wasn’t that good – mainly cloudy, rainy and quite cold at times.

We spent a morning at the famous Berlin Zoo – we visited the Panda enclosure but were not able to see the newly-born Pandas. The zoo is impressive and well managed. There were a large number of employees looking after the animals and the grounds. Sadly most of the eating places were closed and only opened at weekends. So we left at lunchtime to keep body and soul together.

In the afternoon we visited the Berlin Technical Museum and had a good mooch round the old trains on display. We didn’t have time to do much else but the museum is well worth a longer visit.

Our first visit to East Germany

Görlitz is as close to Poland as you can get! In fact the town is separated from its Polish counterpart by a river (the Lusatian Neisse). Crossing the border is a matter of walking over a bridge – as simple as that!

The town of Görlitz is superb. It’s known for its well-preserved old town, where buildings of different eras show off a wealth of architectural styles. St. Peter’s is a late-Gothic church, with 2 steeples and the early-18th-century Sun Organ. The early-Renaissance Schönhof and adjacent buildings are home to the Silesian Museum, displaying German, Polish and Czech art and history. Görlitz is one of the few German cities that were spared from destructive allied bombing raids during World War 2. As a result it is much in demand as a film location.

We were amongst a party of 12 people from the Saint Louis choir of Carcassonne. We’d been invited by our counterparts (The Bach Choir of Görlitz) to sing Brahms’s German Requiem at their local church (Kreuzkirche). Both choirs had been rehearsing in their respective towns and the first time we’d sung this piece together was the Friday before the concert on the Saturday.

Our first visit to Poland

En route from Görlitz to Wroclaw

The combined choirs of Görlitz and Choeur Saint Louis Carcassonne traveled by two coaches to Wroclaw (about 165 kms from Zgorzelec (which is the name of the Polish part of Görlitz).

We then performed Brahms’ German Requiem at St Maximilian Kolbe in front of a huge audience (for a church) who seemed very appreciative. The priest gave a long speech in Polish but no one understood what he said! After we were given supper – Polish sausage and sauerkraut plus cakes!

Choeur Saint-Louis

15 Jun

I joined this choir three years ago. It is one of the main choirs in Carcassonne and focuses on works from the Baroque era – Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Saint-Saens. I am the only English person in the choir, which was quite challenging at first. In fact, I had been reluctant to join, mainly because of the language difficulty and also because I’m now deaf in one ear.

Patricia persuaded me to give it a try after we went to a concert in a lovely old church nearby and noticed that someone remarkably like our vet was singing in the choir. The next time we went to the vet with Nettles, our dog, we asked him, and yes it was him. He asked me if I could sing and I said yes, that I had sung tenor in a choir in Kent for a number of years.

He invited me to turn up the next evening to their rehearsal. I thought I was just going to see what it was like and to find out if I could understand the instructions (I had no trouble reading the music as the annotations are international). However, the next thing I knew, I was a full member of the choir! And I have throughly enjoyed myself. This is the leaflet for our next concert.


J’ai rejoint cette chorale il y a trois ans. C’est l’un des principaux choeurs de Carcassonne et se concentre sur des œuvres de l’époque baroque – Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Saint-Saens. Je suis la seule personne anglaise dans la chorale, ce qui était assez difficile au début. En fait, j’avais hésité à y adhérer, principalement à cause des difficultés de langage et aussi parce que je suis maintenant sourd d’une oreille.

Patricia m’a persuadé de faire un essai après être allée à un concert dans une vieille église charmante et a remarqué que quelqu’un remarquablement comme notre vétérinaire chantait dans la chorale. La prochaine fois que nous sommes allés chez le vétérinaire avec Nettles, notre chien, nous lui avons demandé, et oui c’était lui. Il m’a demandé si je pouvais chanter et j’ai dit oui, j’avais chanté le ténor dans une chorale du Kent pendant un certain nombre d’années.

Il m’a invité à venir le lendemain soir à leur répétition. Je pensais que j’allais juste voir comment c’était et voir si je pouvais comprendre les instructions (je n’ai eu aucun mal à lire la musique car les annotations sont internationales). Cependant, la prochaine chose que je savais, j’étais membre à part entière de la chorale! Et je me suis bien amusé. Ceci est la brochure de notre prochain concert.


Marseille in April

7 Apr

I’m not sure how I imagined Marseille was going to be like. Many French people told us of all the different places to visit so we went off in the car with a long list of interesting places to see. We picked up a young man as a BlaBlaCar passenger in Narbonne and he travelled to Marseille with Richard, myself and Nettles. I discovered he moved to France from the UK when he was 15 months old. He now works as a scientist on research into immunity. After dropping him off near a Metro we drove to our holiday apartment. Once we found somewhere to park, we settled into a comfortable apartment on the ground floor with a double-bed, shower room and open plan kitchen, dining room and lounge. It had all the amenities we needed for a short stay. It was located in a residential area but unfortunately we weren’t able to walk to any attractions as it appears that Marseille is built on hillsides. Many of the streets in that area are very narrow one-way with cars parked in every available space including the footpaths. I found a boulangerie, a boucherie and a small corner shop just down the road. There were roadworks everywhere as well as graffiti and dog poo, except the tourist area in central Marseille. Due to our physical disabilities we were not able to walk far and Nettles was reluctant to go to the toilet as she couldn’t find any grass!

Tuesday evening. We drove to the harbour and walked around the pedestrian area which was very extensive and clean. Many people were using electric scooters which they could pick up anywhere they found one and pay online for its use and leave it wherever they wished. Apparently at the end of the day trucks would go around picking up them up and returning them to their pick up points. On returning to our apartment Richard managed to find a place to park not too far away. That evening we walked to a little Italian restaurant. But we decided to take a Uber taxi back because we found it a little bit too far to walk back as well.

Wednesday. We decided to take a tour on an open top bus (yes a London bus) with Nettles. We stopped off for lunch and a large square full of restaurants. Nettles not only is invited into the restaurants but she’s also offered a bowl of water. After lunch we walked back to the bus stop to wait for the next tour bus to complete the tour. Unfortunately before the bus arrived the thunder and rain started so with Nettles shaking like a leaf with fear we got onto the bus and sat at the front downstairs. After a while the rain came down very heavily and I realised Nettles were sitting in a pool of water. When we looked around we saw the rain coming down the stairs like a waterfall so we moved to the back of the bus where it was dryer. After leaving the bus we rushed over to the café to get warm and it was filled with men smoking hookahs. A few ladies came in later and started smoking too. It was time to get a Uber taxi to take us back to the apartment. The first Uber taxi we took from the Italian restaurant was very nice and allowed Nettles to travel in the back seat with us. The second one we used to take us to the city centre accepted Nettles reluctantly if she travelled in the boot. Naturally she was as good as gold on both journeys. However the third Uber taxi driver refused to take Nettles at all which meant Richard had to go in the taxi to go and collect our car and come back into the city centre for me and Nettles who were getting and wetter and colder by the minute. It would have taken almost an hour for the return trip so I took Nettles into another café and ordered a hot chocolate. But before the chocolate came, I had a call from Richard saying he had persuaded the taxi driver to take us as well! We decided we didn’t want to go out again and Richard didn’t want to cook so we ordered an Indian takeaway to be delivered by Uber food. It arrived on time and was delicious.

Thursday. We’d been told that Aix en Provence is very beautiful and that it was only a half hour drive from Marseille so we decided to go there for the day. It is a beautiful city and it was a sunny day but with a cold wind. Again we decided to take a tour on a little six seater electric bus. The people were very friendly and helpful too so again we stopped off for lunch with Nettles and a super little restaurant with excellent food and service. With the electric minibuses there were three routes to choose from so we chose a second route after lunch and the third later. Each one only cost €1.60 for the three of us! That evening we ate in with a pre-prepared meal Richard had made and brought with us. Then we watched a film on TV.

Friday. After packing up we drove to the port again and found another little restaurant where we had swordfish to eat, before setting off to pick up our return BlaBlaCar passenger in Marseille to go to Narbonne. I should state that Richard did all the driving around Marseille as I didn’t feel confident in his car in so much traffic so many roadworks and so many parked cars everywhere.

My first impressions of Marseille. It’s a big city! It has a multinational community. It has a lot of history, good restaurants and many tourist attractions. Apart from the tourist area it is dirty and overcrowded with traffic and roadworks. There was too much graffiti and dog poo for my liking. The people in the restaurants and shops were friendly but like in any big city people did not speak to you in the streets, unlike the small villages like Montolieu and in Aix en Provence.

That dreaded B***it word

16 Feb

Well I have avoided it up to now, but now is the time for me to express my feelings about the UK leaving the EU.

I have been using a forum called Quora which is a place to gain and share knowledge. It’s a platform to ask questions and connect with people who contribute unique insights and quality answers.

Someone asked me the question “What do the older generation in England feel about Brexit?” So I thought I would reproduce below my response.

I’m 69 years old and lived in Britain until I moved to France in 2013. The referendum result was a shock to me and a lot of my contemporaries. I got the impression that people were expressing a profound dissatisfaction with a lot of things, and at the same time not really understanding the implications of their decision to leave.

I’ve been involved in trading with Europe since before the opening of the European market in 1992. I was chair of the 1992 committee in my home town, when our mission was to explain to businesses the implications of the open borders. It helped a lot of small businesses to trade into Europe (and particularly France) and it was an exciting time. No border controls for goods, no tariffs, no long queues at Dover, no barriers at all. If it had the EU mark then any product could be sold throughout the EU.


I also studied how the EU worked, as a lot of my clients needed to know this. I formed the view that it was accountable although unwieldy and that it had the interests of all the citizens at its heart. It provided dispute resolution between countries – a much better way to resolve issues than the USA’s current trade wars. And I was proud of the role the UK played in the EU. My European friends often said, ”we need the UK, to control our excesses)”!


So I’m sad that all this is changing. I’m sad for my fellow citizens in the UK as they will be going through a profound change over the next ten years. No aspect of life will be untouched, I predict. They will change what they eat, what cars they buy, where they go on holiday, how they work, etc. And if j know Brits at all, they hate change and this is too much change all at once!

Images of a chaotic process

I have also been cutting and pasting images that either amuse me or reflect my view about leaving and I’d like to share these with you as well:

Brits abroad

I think the hardest thing of all for us British people who have taken advantage of the freedom to live and work in another EU country, is the almost complete lack of empathy (or even compassion) shown by those in the UK that support leaving the EU. I won’t reproduce here the many nasty comments that I have received after I have posted a comment or a question about Britain leaving the EU.

I can probably sum up the responses as either being “You chose to leave so hard luck” or “You are no longer in Britain so you have no right to complain” to those that basically tell me that it will be alright on the night. So just in case you are amongst the latter, who think it will be OK no matter what version of Brexit is put in place, let me tell you that having one’s life turned upside down is very difficult indeed. For the moment, I suspect most of you in the UK will not have noticed much change personally (apart from all the media publicity and ferocious arguments).

Those of us living in Europe have had to completely change our plans. Some have already returned home – there are many British people leaving our area, selling up and coming home because they are fearful that they won’t be able to afford the healthcare in France. That’s going to be a terrible problem for the NHS since you are now having a lot of relatively health migrants leaving the UK, to be replaced by a bunch of mainly older and sicker people!

Those of us who cannot return home (similar to us in that they have sold up and moved everything to France where the cost of living is lower and therefore much harder to return to the relatively high cost of the UK), and have decided to tough it out.

We are applying for permanent residency in France (called a “Carte de Séjour”). This involves quite a lot of work, assembling all the evidence required to prove we have lived over here for at least five years and that we have the means to support ourselves and not be a drain on the French social security system. Since we had no idea that we would have to apply for this when we moved here at the beginning of 2013, we had not kept much paperwork. So you can imaging the pain of having to get hold of utility bills and bank statements going back nearly six years.

Next, we will be applying for French citizenship. This is a more convoluted process which will entail several interviews and answering questions about our understanding of France and how life works here. Fortunately I have had a good grounding in this provided by my French teacher with whom I have had weekly lessons via Skype. I also can communicate quite well in French (for a foreigner) and, because I am over 60 years old, I am exempt from proving my competence by examination. But others are less fortunate.

All in all, it is an extremely worrying and stressful time for British people living in Europe. Just so you know!!!

Well that’s Christmas over with!

7 Jan

It’s all quietened down here after Christmas and the New Year. To be honest, it never got into gear! It’s one of the differences we noticed when moving over here – Christmas is not a big deal. Firstly, only 25th December and 1st January are public holidays (and only if they do not fall on a weekend). Secondly, as the holiday break is so short, there is not the frenzied rush to go shopping beforehand. So we quite enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere.

The ice skating rink – Place Carnot, Carcassonne

It can get quite cold over here, says Trish!


Les Gilets Jaune

The astonishing site of people protesting in yellow high visibility jackets (“les Gilets Jaunes”) has created quite a stir in France. It has certainly shocked the French government. The demonstrators have intermittently blocked roundabouts, commercial centres and motorways over the last eight weeks. They have caused chaos – and many firms are laying off people, complaining of drop in sales (up to 30% has been reported which is bad news just before Christmas, especially when many seasonal businesses get about 40% of their sales in the run-up to Christmas). They have also caused an immense amount of damage – in Carcassonne they have defaced the Prefecture and the Town Hall, vandalised nearly 30 cash dispensers and burnt part of the toll booth at Carcassonne East exit.

It has to be explained that this type of protest is perfectly normal in France – the police or gendarmes will only intervene if the protest or assembly is illegal (all protests have to be notified to the Prefecture three days in advance). In general. French people see this type of protest as perfectly acceptable; it is the right of the people to demonstrate. I know I found this hard to understand before I moved to France but now I see it is part of the culture here. And it often works.

However, the level of violence and damage is much higher than usual. And in part this is due to the average person feeling unrepresented by the authorities. The price of fuel (which has risen by 15% in the last 12 months) was the last straw. But many feel isolated, under-rewarded and forgotten. So they are making their feelings known. And it has worked in part.

Each mayor has opened up an official book in which any citizen can write what they want to see changed. It is based on six main themes, so as to give the result some cohesion. The results will be fed back to the elected people and from this the government will set out their revised programme.

Protesters in action

But now public sentiment is turning against the protestors as the mindless violence and damage continues. In Toulouse, there have been groups of female protestors, marching to say it’s not them that is causing the damage.