Boulogne sur Gesse Workaway – 25Nov to 10 December

Wednesday 25th November

It’s been raining all night and it’s looking like it’s going to be a pretty miserable day.  We wander over to the house but without any real enthusiasm for the day ahead.  There’s a lull in the heavy downpour and we take full advantage and take Rushka, Taiga and Kael for a walk.  Kael is fast becoming Daz’s favourite – he does seem the most affectionate.   After the walk we manage to get one shrub pruned before the heavy rain returns.  Indoors Sandy shows us the contingency programme – indoor work for us when the weather prevents us working outdoors.  It’s fair to say we’re not overly enthused with the tasks laid out but I think we’re just tired.  We’ve done a lot over recent days and with the early starts i’m certainly feeling pooped!  So we decide to have a break for the rest of the day and just catch up on French homework, cycle route planning and trying to plan a few days skiing in La Mongie.   I even have a lovely afternoon nap.  


Thursday 26th November

The weather is still foul.  Not as bad as yesterday but still enough to stop us working outdoors.  So no more procrastination and it’s straight into the downstairs bathroom, remove all the extraneous items including mirrors, pictures and shelving and after a thorough clean, start painting.

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 The first task is to paint all the walls white.  Since they are already white the effect is neglible.  But there is a 6” red painted skirt around the bottom of the room that needs to be painted white.  It’ll need a 2nd coat but that’ll be done another day.  The plan is to make one wall a feature wall with blue painted stripes, but we’ll have to wait for the white to dry.  After cleaning up we have time to prune another tree that seems to be blocking a lot of light from the back of the house and after that a walk with Dixi and Pushkin and we’re done for the day.


Friday 27th November

At last we wake to a dry day.  It’s cold but fine which is good for most of our ongoing projects.  Today is French day so we’re expecting Odele any minute.  Our first task is to paint a second coat of white around the bathroom skirt.  We’ve only just started when Odele arrives.  I take her off to our gite for my lesson.  She has brought a game.  There’s a spiral of boxes and in each box a statement.  I throw the dice and go to that square and talk about the subject written in the box.  These are the subjects I had: a book I like,  my favourite country, what are my plans for the weekend, a dangerous experience and something that preoccupies me.  It was a tough hour and a half but I felt it was more beneficial than last week.  After my lesson Daz had his which he shared with John, who lives nearby and also wants to learn French.  

Once I’d finished my lesson I got on with weeding, and then tidied up.  Then we had lunch and Odele stayed for lunch; she’s an incredible gossip and talker.  I thought Sandy was a chatterbox but she pales to insignificance next to Odele.  After lunch I started cleaning the pool whilst Daz and Mike worked on the porch.  Then Sandy and I took Rushka, Dixi and Taiga for a walk.  

In the evening we have a lovely dinner with them and tonight instead of wandering off to watch tele or go on the computer, we sit at the table chatting and drinking wine.  Daz and I love their company and I find them hugely entertaining; it’s the way they interact.  Sandy is a bit of a snob and a chatterbox, whilst Mike tends to say very little but his face often speaks volumes!!!

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They’re thinking of going back to the UK for 5 days or so and whilst we’re happy for them to make the most of our presence, it’ll be pants without them and we’ll have to cook our own meals!!


Saturday 28th November

Today we’re having a day off and going out for the day.  First we head to Castlenau and the market and we’re chuffed when we manage to get our 5 litre bottle filled with red wine (only €5.50!) and buy a kilo of carrots, all done in our best French!

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Then we head to Lannemezan and the tourist office.  We’re still trying to plan a skiing trip.  We originally planned to go to La Mongie but can’t find a bus/train to get us there.  Then Odele suggested Saint Lary Soulan which does have a reasonable bus service but then we discovered it doesn’t open until 19th December.  We thought the tourist office could confirm when St Lary opens and confirm bus availability but unfortunately when we leave we’re none the wiser.

Our last stop of the day is Montrejeau.  We planned to see the chateau but it’s closed for winter.  Instead we walk around the town centre, admire the view of the river and then go off for a McDonald’s. Yes you heard right,  we haven’t had meat now for a while and so 2 big meaty burgers hit the spot, they even serve beer in French Maccy Dee’s which certainly helps the meal go down.  

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We head home and have a quiet afternoon (code for snoozing) and then we’re off to the cinema.  They’re showing Spectre in English.  The cinema is in a tiny village, literally in the middle of nowhere.  It’s 35km from the house.  The programme starts at 8.45pm – yes a late night tonight!  This is usually my bedtime.  Of course all the expats are there, bizarrely some dressed in DJs with their wives suitably formally attired.  One even has ski goggles on his head! James Bond aficionados!!  The screen is fine and the seats comfy, but no pop corn or snacks.   Very disappointing!  

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Sunday 29th November

Another day off and a lie-in.  Sandy and Mike are visiting friends for lunch so we manage to walk the 25m to the house and install ourselves on their sofa.  Internet time.  I send loads of emails and Daz updates the map on our blog.  To be fair that’s as exciting as it gets today.


Monday 30th November

It’s a beautiful day and we take Kael and Puskin, the 2 boys, out for a walk.  P1040732 P1040737 P1040736 P1040742 P1040741   


We soon realise that this is a bad decision when they spend the entire walk trying to out pull each other to be in front.  Sandy later reveals that walking the 2 boys is a last resort!   Only to be attempted in dire circumstances.  I love how she always drip feeds this vital information… ALWAYS after the event!

Dog walking done and we want to finish painting the bathroom.  Daz has to put masking tape on the walls so he can paint blue stripes.  Meanwhile I paint the side of the bath blue.  The paint is really thick, with the consistency of glue, and it’s not easy to apply and we’re not sure we’re going to have enough paint.  Luckily we get it all done on the one pot of paint.  

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Our next task is to clear the branches from our last tree pruning exercise and collect all the chopped wood that needs to be cut into firewood.  Then we finish cleaning the pool. I did most of it Friday but there’s still quite a few leaves and other detritus lying on the pool floor.  

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Also we need to scrub the algae off the walls of the pool.  With that done Mike puts in the pool robot, which runs along the pool floor (and up the sides),  sucking up all the fine dirt and algae.  

Daz then goes off to help Mike with the porch and I find a new flower bed to weed.


Tuesday 1st December

We take Rushka, Taiga and Kael for a walk using the track through the woods which goes quite well apart from me tripping on all the bramble runners across the track.  After our walk Mike and I check the pool.  We’ve been trying to clean it over 3 days now but it’s still filthy.  It turns out that the skimmers (filters at each corner of the pool) are full of leaves.  The pool robot also needs cleaning and the sand filters that filter the pool water also need to be back flushed and cleaned.  So we do some pool cleaning tasks and then leave the pool robot to continue cleaning the pool bottom. It’s a bit of a shock to realise how much work the pool requires and even after all this effort there’s still quite a bit of algae growth on sides.

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 Meanwhile Daz and I attempt to work on the porch roof and the placement of the roof bars which will hold the glass.  Unfortunately it turns into a mathematical exercise and 3 hours later we’ve done nothing more than mark the position of the roof bar, rub it out, recalculate, mark bar, rub it out and argue.  At 3pm, Mike bored of listening to the constant bickering, comes outside and within 10 minutes we’ve done what he suggested we do hours ago ; put the roof bars on the ceiling and measure an acceptable distance to hold the glass.  When we have an unacceptable gap at the end, divy up the difference between the other gaps.  It honestly took about 10 minutes to achieve what the 2 of us failed to do in hours.  Gutted!!! I would rather weed a flower bed than do this shit!  Having positioned the bars, Daz has to cut a groove to seat them correctly and I help Sandy whilst she cuts the dogs’ nails.  And that pretty much completes an unproductive day!  Oh, and to top it off, Daz does a side dish of sautéed brussel sprouts for dinner….. Bleughhhhhh!


Wednesday 2nd December

Walked 2 dogs, worked on cleaning pool…again, weeding… again, porch… again, walked 3 dogs.

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Thursday 3th December

OK, so today, finally, we are supposed to be putting the glass panes on the roof of the porch.  They are big and heavy so I have been drafted in to assist, but first the glass needs cleaning… guess who gets stitched with that!! Fortunately it’s just a matter of getting them, one at a time, onto a trestle and hosing then wiping them down.  At least I manage to soak Daz in the process!!  Each section of the roof (there are 5 sections) needs two panes, that will overlap each other.

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 The top sheet of glass needs to be packed along both edges so that it sits at the same level as the overlap.  After cutting some of the strips of rubber to be used as packing I point out that it doesn’t look like there is anywhere near enough… bugger, this stuff was ordered from the UK so getting more quickly isn’t an option.  Mike thinks about it for a while and then decides to go to the DIY shop in the village to get some thin wood slats to use as packing. But they are closed for lunch   so we down tools and have our lunch too.  After lunch whilst Mike is out getting the wood I rope Daz into weeding.  He’s pretty crap at it, as even though I point the weeds out he misses most of them and I have to step in.  I give him the rake and tell him to collect leaves…he’s good at that, and he’s pretty mean at emptying the ‘barrow too (saves me walking all the way across the garden to do it!).

Mike is back with the wood.  We place the lower glass roof pane in position and fix it in place with an end bracket.  Now for the tricky part.  We need to feed the 2nd heavy pane up the ladder, through the gap between the roof bars and the first pane then position it in place on the prepositioned packing which has silicon sealant on it.  It’s a bit of a palarva, and once it’s in place its weight is causing it to slide down the roof, so Mike has to rig up a bit of wood and a clamp to hold it in place… very precarious it looks too!  Then it’s a matter of putting a cap on the roof bar which will clamp down on the glass and hopefully keep it in place.  Again this means leaning out over the roof to fix it in, as there is no other way to reach.  

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Daz and Mike get it screwed in place only to realise the bottom pane has slipped about 5mm whilst this has been going on! Because of the positioning of the upper pane, the packing and the silicon there’s not a lot they can do.  They try pushing it back up but to no avail.  It will require a bit of a bodge to fix the end bracket on!! I’ve cleaned another 2 panes of glass and I was hoping they could stick them up whilst we’re on a roll, but then I remember that they still need to put the flashing up against the rear wall to stop the rain coming through the gap, so this needs doing first.  Then it turns out we also need to put a decorative cover over the cap before the flashing!!  But this doesn’t fit, no matter what we try, it looks too small.  So we are frustrated again and now it’s the end of the working day and we decide enough is enough for today and tidy up.  The whole day has pretty much seen us fix into position 2 panes of glass!! I hope the remaining 8 don’t take as long!!


Friday 4th December

Today is French day.  We’re expecting Odile and our first lesson is supposed to start at 9.30.  So we start a bit earlier than usual and take Taiga, Kael and Rushka for a walk. We’re back before 9.30. I start weeding a new flower bed and Daz gets the chain saw to cut up some firewood.  Mike and Sandy are going out because Sandy needs a blood test at Lannemezan.  It’s nearly 10 before Odile turns up.  I have my lesson first and we do directions.  Then we role play using a town map, she asks for directions to certain points of interest.  


That goes fairly well and then I have to talk about our plans.  Much harder.  When I hand over to Daz for his lesson I feel shattered.  I don’t think it’s just trying to work stuff out in French but trying to keep up with Odile.  Even in English she’s on permanent transmit, seeming to flit from subject to subject and tough to follow.  Daz is on his own this week so I imagine he’ll have a tough time – nowhere to hide.  Later on he shows me what they worked on… pages and pages of vocab and descriptives, I’m impressed that he has managed to remember most of them, now all he needs to do is figure out how to use them!!

I return to my weeding and Sandy and Mike return not long after Daz’s lesson starts.  We have lunch where the French interrogation continues – arghhhhhhhhhh, and then Sandy has her lesson.  Daz goes with Mike to fetch wood from Boulogne sur Gesse and I finish weeding and start clearing the weeds from the cracks in the patio paving by the pool.

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 When Daz gets back he helps me with a little weeding before the tedium becomes too much for him and instead he sweeps and tidies and empties the wheelbarrow.  Daz had his parcel arrive today.  He ordered a new kick stand for the bike but not satisfied with the old model, he’d ordered a huge heavy duty double kick stand which will require some specialist clamps to fit it.  And we have a local man, Daniel, who can make the clamps for us.  But when we try and work out how to fit the stand we realise it’s going to interfere with the chain and is no good.  Doh!  We’ll have to send it back and order the first type and hope it lasts longer than the last one.

Tonight we’re going out for dinner at the Tarragon in Castlenau.  It was supposed to be us 4 and Queenie and Steve but they’ve pulled out because of the puppy they’ve just got and instead Odile is coming.  

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We get there for half 7 and Daz and I are very excited – so much choice with MEAT!! There’s no sign of Odile so by 8pm we’ve run out of patience and ordered. Sandy and Mike both have the gnocci with rocquefort and walnut sauce for stater and grilled tuna for main.  Daz and I forgo a starter.  He orders the Wagyu, some sort of special steak from Japan, and I go for a burger.  Then Odile turns up and from that point on following the conversation and attempting to get a word in, becomes the all consuming challenge.  Poor old Daz can’t get anyone’s attention!!!

But it’s a fun evening, most entertaining and the food is lovely except Daz is disappointed by his special steak.  


Saturday 5th December

A day off, and the plan was to take a drive up to the mountains and see some of the scenery, but on opening the curtains the cloud and fog soon puts a dampener on that plan, as it would be a waste of time.  So we go to the back up plan and go for a look around the local area.   First we drive to the Gorge de la Save, this is a deep cut in the hillside nearby where the river Savé flows.  There are also some geocaches here, so a nice bonus. There is a nice path alongside the river and the cliffs rise up above us on either side.

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 Unfortunately the first 2 caches prove to be impossible to find, not least because they are up a steep and slippery slope beneath the cliffs, and with us only wearing Crocs it’s all very shaky legs and muddy slides!!  At one point Daz is climbing a short, steep, muddy slippery slope whilst holding onto an old branch.  Then the branch snaps and he comes hurtling back down the slope.  Very scary and too dangerous, so we give it up.   But later along the gorge we spot some caves and manage to clamber up to them to find our first cache of the day.  We continue the walk and then retrace our path back to the start. A very pleasant walk.  

By now we are getting hungry and go to the local town of Bolougne Sur Gesse to have a scout about and get some food.  It’s 2pm and we try several places but everywhere is either shut, or their kitchens are, so we sit and have a glass of wine instead before going to watch a Petanque match, the town team versus a visiting team.  Daz, who once played in the British Open Petanque Championships thinks they are quite good players, and I have to agree.  They seem very accurate,  both with their placing shots and ‘shooting’ (this is where they throw hard and fast to knock the opponent’s boule out of play).  Still hungry we end up going to the local Intermarche and buying some snacks, bread and cheeses to quieten the rumbles in our tummies!!  One the way back we check out Blajan another local village,  but everywhere is closed.  So it’s back to Cabardos and an evening of cheese wine and a good book.


Sunday 6th December

We awake to glorious sunshine and we are soon on our way to St Bernard des Commingues and a Xmas market.  The views as we drive down towards the Pyrenees are stunning; breathtakingly clear with beautiful snow covered mountains.   

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As we drive up to St Bernard we see it sits on a hill with a huge Cathedral in pride of place, it looks stunning.

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 We park up and wander the narrow streets, and even though it’s a Sunday most shops and bar/restaurants are open, they must get a lot of tourist trade.  We ask in one shop where the market is, only to be told it’s back down the hill!!   


We drive back down and finally spot a large group of cars beside a hall, and we realise it’s an indoor market!!  We go in and although there are some very nice craft stalls theres not much Christmas about!! We do strike up a conversation, part French – part English, with the woodturner whose craftwork we are admiring. He is obviously very enthusiastic about his work, and we are equally impressed by the craftsmanship.   

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After leaving the ‘market’ we go back up the hill to the village and enjoy the sights again before picking a restaurant for lunch.  Whilst we are eating Sandy and Mike walk past and pop in too, they had mentioned they might go to the market and they sit and have a drink and a bite also.

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After lunch we bid them farewell and visit the Cathedral, it’s huge and very ornate inside, but the sitting area is totally surrounded by carved wooden panels and sculpting to a height of about 12 feet so you can’t see inside, we’ve never seen it’s like before.   

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On the way back we take the scenic route and visit Barthe de Neste and then closer to home the remains of a Roman villa in Montmaurin, where we pay the princely sum of €3 to wander the footprint of the ancient villa’s many bathrooms, bedrooms and courtyards.  Fortunately we got a map on entry and I can give Daz the full guided tour!!

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Back in the village itself the sun is still shining and we pass a large group of people having a friendly match of Petanque in the late afternoon sun.  We stop to watch but  it’s so confusing as we think there are at least 6 players per team but on which team we’re never quite sure.  And as to who is winning???!!!

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Monday 7th December

Another beautiful day and we kick off with a dog walk with Rushka, Taiga and Kael but Kael is so full of beans today that he’s pulling Daz for the entire walk.  

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After the walk I return to weeding the swimming pool patio and Daz to sawing fire wood.  That takes us to lunch and thenin the afternoon we both clear up my mess and then split the logs Daz has cut and create new log piles.  

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Tuesday 8th December

Today we are walking up the lane with Pushkin and Dixi when we notice 2 hunters on the track ahead.  They are spaced about 100 metres apart and after passing them we can hear the hunt dogs baying below us in the woods.  Then a couple of dogs come up to the track so we decide it’s probably best to turn back and take our dogs home.  A short walk today!  We get back and Mike is raring to go, and so we have a tidy up of the working area around the porch and then prepare to work on the wood panelling.  The lower half of the porch is going to be panelled.  The upper half will be open except the 2 sections that meet the walls.  We fetch all the timber from the tent.   Then Mike gives me a crash course in ‘routering’!!! I am very nervous to start with and really think this is a Daz job, but he gives me some encouragement and before I know it, I am the Router Queen!  

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So Daz is on the chopsaw and I’m on the router and we soon have a good flow going producing all the surround batons for the porch.  We have to make sure they are a good fit, so there are no gaps, and soon have them all finished.  

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Now it’s just a case of glueing and screwing!! Whilst Daz gets on with that I go back to weeding the patio area around the swimming pool. By the time Daz has got the last lot fixed into place it’s time to tidy up and hopefully tomorrow we can finish the panels, although Mike and Sandy are thinking of running the dogs using their wheeled sled tomorrow afternoon so it’ll be a busy day.


Wednesday 9th December

After walking the dogs we work on finishing the panelling for the porch.  This entails me getting a quick lesson on the chop saw then left to cut planks to the right length from 3 meter boards.  I manage to do this without once loosing a finger!! But I do drop one of the planks on my finger and it doesn’t half smart!!  

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Daz in the meantime is busy bolting the corner post to the side and front of the porch.  It takes him ages to find the right tools and then he spends another age making sure it is level and in the correct position before drilling, recessing and then bolting in place! By then it’s lunchtime.   After lunch there’s still more work to do on the porch before it’s time to take the dogs to the forest.  We load the dogs and the wheeled sled into the van and then and we set off for some local woods where we are going to run the dogs.  We help set up the sled – it’s more like a 3 wheeled trike that you stand on and the dogs are strapped in as we would expect (from our Finland experience!).  The dogs are lovely and quiet… up to the point they are put in the traces, and then they go barmy, wanting to be off and running. It’s really weird, but very familiar.  Then Mike is off with the dogs pulling at a very fast pace.

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 It looks really unsafe but Mike is used to it. We drive the van back up the road and prepare for the dogs to appear.  They come out of the woods having done a loop.  The dogs are covered in mud and water, and panting like crazy, but it looks like they have had fun!!  We give them water and treats and wait for them to calm down before heading home.   Back at the house we cut a few more planks and that’s all the wood panelling ready for fixing.  


Thursday 10th December

Today it’s a dog walk and then a push to get the porch done.  Jobs that need doing;  the panels need to be equally spaced, marked for drilling, drilled and then the screw, screwed in.  We work together well and by teabreak we’ve finished every section except one.   After tea break Daz finishes the last section whilst Mike comes out to sort out his tools.  We have been shoving all the tools into the utility room whilst the porch construction has been underway but we took them all out this morning and put most of the big items away.   Now there are only a few bits and pieces to put away.  I clear away all the wood we don’t want and then tidy and clean the utility room.   Daz has just finished the last panelled section and just needs to perfect his chiselled channels for the roof bars and it’ll be done.  Of course there is only one section in the roof with glass.  It was a week ago when we tried to get the roof done and realised that the decorative cap didn’t fit on the roof bar and because of this they couldn’t be fitted neither could the flashing so our roofing efforts ground to a halt.  After a couple of emails and photos the suppliers admitted the wrong stuff had been sent and agreed to send the correct parts.  We’re actually expecting a delivery any day.

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Anyway it’s time for me to swan off, I’m getting my hair cut and DYED again.  I’m a bit nervous. The hairdresser was recommended by Odile, Denise.  But I needn’t have worried;  I have a fabulous afternoon chatting to Denise, have bright orange hair again and managed to avoid wood chopping in the forest!   Bonus any which way you look!  ( See what I did there?)

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