EEC 9, 2nd April 2005

I pottered around the shops in the morning, checked emails, then phoned Guy Monge who lives around 40 miles to the north. He has bought an almost new UK registered envelope and had been told he had to send it back to the UK to obtain an export CofA. It was just luck I happened to be in the area and can do the check on the envelope so he doesn't need to send it to the UK. I declined payment - after all he is about to be my neighbour - but I did accept the offer of dinner. Foie Gras followed by Confit de Canard. Excellent.

I parked in his yard for the night, there was a huge thunderstorm, with thunder and lightning, I didn't catch any lightning but did manage to capture the light effects.

There was a superb complete rainbow but too wide to photograph.

Next morning I left hoping to make contact with Roland Martin, an old ballooning friend who is renovating a farm just a few miles away. I flew with Roland in 1973 in his balloon La Fiere Montgole, he has long since ceased to be an active pilot, but later he held around 8 or 9 superb balloon meetings at his previous home in the Loire Valley. They were like country house parties, but everyone had a balloon with them, I made some super flights from his home, including one where I counted 14 minutes floating, in the balloon, in the river Loire! Anyway, Roland and Isa were out. I called by his house and took a couple of photos. This is the front

and this is the back.......

It's a bit bigger than mine. I continued on and called on another friend Nigel Hill, an Englishman who is renovating another big old house. He and his wife were fiercely planting small trees to try to beat another threatening thunderstorm. Last night, in the thunderstorm, they had hailstones the size of golf balls. He says they are a year behind on their renovation schedule but they did lose some time last year building a swimming pool that they had not allowed for. I last met him 3 years ago, they had by then already renovated the pigeonerrie, and since then they have about finished 5 rooms in the main house, 6 more to go. They are doing the renovations themselves. This will be superb when it's finished too.

I've been thinking about my match box size house following complaints (no, requests!) from sister, asking where shall we sleep when we come. I've come to think it will not be sufficient in the long term to put a bed settee in the lounge, so I'll convert the workshop into a bedroom. It's very handily placed, with direct access to the bathroom, I'll just have to build a bit bigger garage to allow for a workshop. Whilst I am envious of the finished results of Roland's and Nigel's houses, I am not at all envious of the work needed to get these results. I know the work that is needed, I did a lot of work in the house we had in Villiers le Morhier. I've done it once, not again, thank you. I'll go touring instead.

Whilst pottering around the shops yesterday I bought some new speakers for the van. They are now fitted, and my, what a difference! Not only has all the crackling gone, but I can hear all the bass tones, and everything else more clearly. It's like getting a new life. The second van battery is now installed and the gadget to control the charge/discharge seems to be working fine. It runs my auxiliaries, my light, my cooler box, my laptop charger, and my phone charger, from both batteries in parallel until my main battery drops to 12.6 volts, then isolates my main battery, and takes all the current from the second battery. When it charges, it charges the main battery until it's full, then switches the charge to the second battery. The whole idea of course is to ensure that there is enough power in the main battery to start in the morning. Now that I can run the cooler box all the time it is doing a far better job at actually keeping things cool. I think it will keep the champagne at a drinkable temperature. Well, champagne is drinkable at any temperature, but cooler is better. Much better. I'll just make a quick mention, whilst it is probably unbelievable to Americans, ice is virtually impossible to buy in Europe, even in the hotter areas, and it is never, ever, sold in supermarkets, so the only way to go is an electric coolbox.

I headed back to my previous parking spot near Mirande. There is a very pleasant view over the valley and, sometimes, a distant view of the Pyrenees. They are about 100 Km away. They do not show clearly on a photograph but the make a very pleasant backdrop to many of the views around. The skiing stations are a touch nearer of course, only about an hour's drive away.

Next day I drove around the area. The whole countryside around about is gently rolling hills

I collected a whole bunch of information from the Tourist Office in Mirande, checked out local suppliers, bought large scale maps of the area, and fixed the control unit for the two batteries which it turned had not been charging the second battery. I added a couple more wires to the system, checked out the whole thing frequently with my voltage tester, and it is now, finally, working as it should. I visited another couple of local towns, Masseube and Mielan, both a touch further away than Mirande, which is about 9 Km north of my new house. Tomorrow evening I go the notaire, the lawyer, to officially sign to buy the house. There are various searches to be done, I should be installed in around 6 or 8 weeks.

Well I signed, went out to the house the next day to check on a few things. I found there was no water meter, the previous supply had been drafted in from the farm next door, father of the owner of the house, the same applied to the gas for the water heater. The estate agent thinks the owner should pay to have a proper water supply installed, me I'm not too bothered, it's a few 100 Euros, and the gas supply means I'll have to buy a gas bottle. The drains it seems did not go the route we thought, there has to be approvals granted to give permanent rights to this route. There is no main drainage, it is a septic tank, but this on the father's property. Oh what a lot of fiddly minor bits and pieces to get right!

I need to find out the situation about building a garage, I think below 22 m2 planning permission is not needed, but the mairie, that's like the town hall, is only open Tuesday afternoons, and they have the information, so I left my lovely parking spot of total 7 nights, that's 7 nights including my original stop there 3 years ago, with it's sometime super view of the Pyrenees. This is a better photograph from there, but it only gets as clear as this, I am told, when the weather is going to be bad!

My house is down in the valley so I won't get a view like this. I am behind trees and a house, but I think I can catch a glimpse of the mountains from my bedroom window. But this type of view of the mountains occurs frequently as you drive around.

There will be more photos of the area in later accounts, but up to now I have been more concerned with finding out about the local shops, building material suppliers, and things such as that.

So, as I said, I left my parking spot, Then I headed south, towards those mountains above, for a brief holiday. Of course, my whole life is a holiday, but this is a holiday from house buying.

I had a steak for dinner and put a touch of pepper on the steak. I am using a cheapie throw away pepper mill. Some people may know, I used to make pepper mills, amongst other things. I finished up the second largest producer of pepper mills in the UK. Now that's actually not as good as it sounds, the largest producer had recently bought out the second largest, and the third largest had gone bankrupt. Anyway, whatever number I was, I made a lot of pepper mills. And I spent around 25 years explaining to people that you must turn the top clockwise, and not go back and forth, because the inside of the pepper mill was a spiral design, like a meat grinder, and you had to go that way to force the peppercorns into the grinding mechanism.

Now this "mill" carries the instructions that you must go back and forth to get the best results. Aaaargh!

I stopped just off the road then next day I wandered around St Gaudens then followed a route suggested by my Michelin Green Guide. I'll divert again briefly. While in Mexico I found the Lonely Planet guide invaluable, and the best of the six or so guides I bought. So I bought the Lonely Planet Guides for France, for SW France, for Western Europe, and for Central Europe. At about 15 each. And as far as I can see they are close to useless here. They seem to mention only the main cities, and concentrate on places to stay and where to eat. I want to know about places to see, everywhere, and not just the main cities.

I passed a cavern and could not resist. The prehistoric Grottoes de Gargas. Now while I was by El Paso, Texas, last year, I was shown around some ancient Indian wall paintings from 150 years ago. I think I did remark at the time that I did consider these paintings were rather recent to be considered ancient. Now the Grottoes de Gargas are not extremely beautiful, they are OK as far as caves go, but what they do have is paintings and drawings from 27,000 years ago. Yep, 27,000 years ago, 25,000 years BC. The originals. They are not as sophisticated as those in Lascaux, in the Dordogne, about 200 miles to the north, which were painted some 10,000 years later. Those in Lascaux are much more beautiful and are considered so precious that a replica of the cave and paintings has been constructed a few hundred metres away, and it this the replicas that you visit. I have yet to see them, all visits for the next day were booked when I was there, but I will get to see them, eventually!

As I said these paintings are not sophisticated. There are two basic types. Line drawings of animals, and outlines of hands. About 220 outlines of hands, usually left hands, since, presumably, the right hand was busy fixing the paint. The "paint" was usually charcoal, ground up, mixed in the mouth with saliva, then spat at the painting. One can imaging that with the hand becoming black, and the surrounding rock becoming black also, that hand would seem to disappear into the rock and would make contact with the spirits who lived beyond. Many of the fingers on the paintings are shortened as though they have been bent whilst being "spray painted" but the reason for this is not known.

I found a small lane heading up and this is where I have stopped for the night.

Best regards

David Barker

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