Tuesday, May 03, 2016

a little landscaping project

Just been over to my good friend Vanessa’s for a few days whilst my van’s been in to get a wheel bearing changed.  The bearing still isn’t done, but that’s another story.  We’d skid a few times during the winter and thought it would be fun to spend a bit of time comparing notes and planing the future a bit considering that we are both single (now) and living in rural france.  Most of the time it’s great, though the long dark winter nights can be rather lonely and it takes huge effort to remain upbeat and sociable throughout the winter months.  We had a great time, the weather was fairly warm and sunny, there was a gardening project that had been discussed in the autumn to be completed.  the emphasis is still on internal renovations of the house, though they are coming to an end, vaguely, after four or so years.  (no thanks)  So i got on and tidied up a bit outside, around what used to be a cow shed and store room and is just outside the kitchen door.  Sorry, no other photos, still getting used to using my phone to take pictures and don’t always think!!  Anyway we had a great time and hopefully advanced our thinking on rural living for singles........

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

back home in the sunshine

Hurray, after a long and interesting winter I have finished in the mountains and am back on my land in Vieuzos.

It's been a mild winter with plenty of rain, warm temperatures and sunshine, so everything has been growing like the clappers.
winter mustard as a 'green' mulch being cut back and returned to the soil
brassicas, fruit bushes and some impressive onions after a bit of weeding

russian kale still going strong

list of seeds sown, crate four

another beautiful sunset

Check out what I've been uncovering in the veggie plot.  Immediately after weeding, am getting seeds planted directly in the raised beds and also sowing cells and my usual transplantable toilet roll tubes for beans, peas and squash plants.  they should be ready for planting out in a good couple of weeks if the weather continues to be as warm as it has been for the last few days.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

let them eat cake

and tarts and all manner of other delicious desserts that we provide here at the refuge.

It’s often the evening shift that prepares the desserts, the pastry bases having been cooked off in the hot oven after lunchtime service.  It’s often a quieter and calmer time of day to be doing such baking and usefully fills the time whilst evening guests are dining.

Dinner is served at seven thirty, soup usually, served in large tureens placed directly on the table for guests to help them selves, followed by a main meal, again served in its entirety on a large serving platter and left for guests to help themselves.  It is a mountain refuge (of sorts) rather than a hotel, so participation is the name of the game.  Desserts are often individual, sometimes specifically produced for the evening clientelle, though often the same as we prepare for lunchtime.

Chocolate tartlets are filled with home made chocolate filling, as are the lemon ones.  Blueberry pies are lined with confectioners custard and topped with tinned blueberries.  Apple tarts are baked on site as are most of the other creations, though the pastry and pastry cases arrive frozen and many of the other ingredients ready prepared. Fruit salad arrives fresh in large tubs ready to be improved with other fruits and a good slosh of rum, before being portioned out.  Rice pudding is made in bulk and stored in vacuum bags in the cold room until needed.  Other desserts, the more fragile ones tend to be made on the day.

During dinner, we set to and get as much preparation for the following day out of the way, so that the following morning can be slightly more leisurely.  That said, after a lunchtime service of two hundred or so, leisurely isn’t often an appropriate word to use.  It’s full on right the way through.  Individual plates of local cheeses, local ham and charcuterie are set out and cling filmed to help keep them fresh, stored in refrigerators before going on sale the following day.  Unused items are ‘refreshed’ as necessary and presented for the allowed number of days before (rarely, if we get it right) being discarded - to the local fox.

Friday, March 04, 2016

going to work

The weather is frequently interesting on the way to work, at least it wasn't too windy today.....

Tuesday, March 01, 2016


Unlike the previous years that I have spent here, snow has been exceptionally sparse this winter.  

Through to the end of December only twenty percent or so of the resort was open.  I didn’t ski at all until the second week or January, having waited patiently for a decent fall of snow.  It wasn’t really that much, but enough to properly cover the ground surrounding the ski runs, making the place much more beautiful and white.

proper snow
Since then, the whole resort has been poised, skis and boards at the ready for a really decent quantity of snow to fall.  To date, we’re still poised and waiting.  It’s just going to be a low snow year. (since writing there has been a couple of decent snow falls and everyone is much happier)

That said, I’ve had the good chance to have a couple of the best weather days off of the season so far.  Twice, immediately after a couple of days of grey, precipitous days when a fair quantity of snow has fallen, beautiful blue skied sunny days with not too many people on the slopes.  Each time I’ve been out with my ski buddy Pierre and we’ve said, ‘just the morning, till eleven or so, we’ll leave before the crowds arrive and it gets too busy’.  Each time we get to eleven and it’s still great, the crowds start to fill the slopes, we persevere for a bit and then stop and have a drink for half an hour or so.  By which time it’s midday and the whole population of France are thinking about food, the temptation is overwhelming, almost without exception everyone has to stop and eat, and by twelve thirty the mountains are almost devoid of people.  It happens everywhere, but is most noticeable in a ski resort when everyone disappears for a good hour and a half for a sit down meal.  

Pierre with his snowboard
It changes our minds every time and we carry on skiing, making the most of the clockwork eating habits of the nation, only deciding to call it a day when they finally start to reemerge after a thoroughly decent meal.  I used to tell guests that lunch time was the best time to ski, but none of them ever managed to go without, or eat on the lifts and take advantage, or the empty slopes, it’s just not in a Frenchmans’ psyche to miss a meal.  This phenomenon allows us extra time on the snow without the inconvenience of queueing for lifts or crowded pistes and we make the most of it every time.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Back to my winter adventure, or more aptly put, my winter journey of discovery.  

I’ve been aware for a while that I haven’t written and it’s gotten me thinking  as to why I haven’t had the inspiration to do so.  To date, there is no one specific cause, but a series of causes and reasons that have reduced my motivation to put pen to paper (so to speak).  

For the last month or so, I’ve been working six full days a week, plus a good hour and a half, two hours, journey time on top every day.  It’s not enormous, and I’ve worked much harder and longer hours than that in the past, but it seems to be taking it’s toll this year.  

Snow from my apartment window

The evenings are altogether more calm, only overnight guests stay on, they all eat the same meal at the same time and tend to be quite self contained.  Evenings reminiscent of the Lou Rider days for me, with people sitting round playing cards or games together.  Lacking, here, though, is the relaxing crackle of an open log fire and the possibility to recline on a comfortable sofa after a day on the slopes.  The ambiance remains one of a self service restaurant trying to be a mountain refuge by night.   

Staff planning has to take into account the fact that we might be busy, it’s too late at 12:30 to call in reinforcements as it takes a good hour to get there from the nearest village, so a full team has to be in place for the start of lunchtime service.  If it’s busy, fine, everyone works flat out, rather too factory like in some respects, but fast and efficiently, to ensure that anyone that arrives is served appropriately and that after they leave, the whole place is clean and tidy before the day team leave on the last chair lift.  When it’s quiet, however, not only is the whole team geared up to work flat out, there is very little ancillary work that can be done to fill the time.  If it’s reasonably busy time passes relatively fast, but the fewer the diners, the slower the day passes, when there is almost no one, time drags like eternity and the tiredness sets in.  A huge amount of psychological and physical energy is invested in the expectation and preparation for a busy day, the deflation is imminently notable when it doesn’t happen.  

For me, with years of retail experience and the fact that I have adapted to so many different situations during my travels, I don’t find the fluctuations too difficult to deal with.  Unfortunately for a few of the others, their tolerance for  the impressive changes in workload is somewhat lacking and the ability to change speed relating to work load incredibly difficult to deal with.  It becomes wearing none the less.

Personally, my journey of discovery, continues with my likes, dislikes and preferences in such situations.  For the future I would pay more attention finding a workplace that allows time for personal contact with clients/customers.  Perhaps a restaurant, or hotel with live in accommodation.  Somewhere with a bit more continuity within work tasks and the chance to take a bit more responsibility.  Here, we jump from task to task, from day to day, with no continuity, filling in where needed and where necessary - it’s how seasonal work works I guess, yet it could be more fulfilling.

I frequently have ideas and try to share my skills in customer service and retail management here.   On occasion my suggestions are well received and implemented, but I find that the underlying attitude to customers and how they are viewed by retail and service providers remains markedly different between our two countries.

The Refuge where I work. Now with snow

I now have huge respect for those people who work tirelessly behind the scenes of self service restaurants year in year out, for the effort they put in to producing the food that (some of them) serve, all ours is produced on the premises.  Mostly these workers don’t get to see the people they feed, let alone converse with them, and as a customer, I have never given that much thought to what goes on behind those stainless steel and glass counters that one encounters all over the place.  If it’s good food, well presented, compliments due.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

missing dogs

I’m missing my dog walking on a Wednesday morning.

When I am in Vieuzos, I try to keep Wednesday mornings free.  I go to Lannemezan market to shop  - all my favourite stalls for bread, cheese (right smelly stuff sometimes) pesticide free veg - for the things I haven’t yet grown in the garden, fruit and anything else that takes my fancy.  It’s great to have a good nose around and see what’s available before buying and have a chat with some of the stall holders.

Then, after the market, I head out of town to the local dog refuge and volunteer dog walk.  A team of volunteers arrive each week to give all the dogs a walk, it depends on how many people turn up as to how many dogs you get to walk and how long it takes.  

A great opportunity to meet new folk, have a good chat, plenty of fresh air and give the poor abandoned pooches a bit of love and exercise.  I love going and it’s so warming to see how happy the dogs are when the get to stretch their legs, they are all so lovely, even the damaged and lost souls appreciate the attention and respond well to having a bit of calm away from the pound if only for a short while.  

Most of the dogs seem to be re-homed fairly quickly, though some stay for months and months and become favourites to the walkers.  I tend to get given the more boistrous, bouncy individuals as I am seen to have a calming influence on most of my charges. I have my brother, the earstwhile dog whisperer, to thank for imparting his wisdom, fairly subconsciously, in my direction, it seems to have stuck and on the whole am able to reproduce his teachings and techniques with positive results.

Unfortunately I don’t often get a day off on a Wednesday during the winter, so I miss my weekly walk.  Here are are some photos of the most recent dog walk I did.  

do I get a treat now?

a balmy early January day

some of the pound

some more of the pound

wanting another walk already