A momentous week has passed chez Happy Coulson. My brother and I together for a whole week for the first time in 23 years. Jim and I haven’t avoided each other over the years. On the contrary, we have always got on brilliantly. But living on opposite sides of the UK and having four young children between us has meant that quality time together recently has been rare, almost non-existent.

But that mattered not a jot from the moment Jim arrived. The cousins were soon inseparable and after a few days, as the mountains emerged from the summer haze, so too did the prospect of many more joyful weeks together over the years to come, remembering old and building new friendships.

My bro

It is easy to beat yourself up about not staying in close contact with family and friends: I should make more of an effort, phone more often, blah, blah, blah. But I’m a bit phone-phobic and hate those duty calls when no-one really has anything to say. I never phone any of my friends – it’s not that I don’t love them, we just have more to talk about when we do get together!

One of the best things about moving to France is that when people visit, it’s usually for a substantial amount of time. So everyone has time to relax into the holiday spirit and really get to know each other.

Cousins Cousins and kitten


One year ago today, on Indy’s fifth birthday, we waved goodbye to England and set out on a grand family adventure. Today we celebrated Indy’s sixth birthday and one year of Happy Coulson.

At 1am on Friday 20 July 2012 (it’s exactly 1am on 20 July 2013 as I write this), we unlocked the doors of a rather rundown and musty smelling old farmhouse. The next day we had our first alfresco lunch in the overgrown garden and plucked up the courage to tackle the marshy pond the estate agent had optimistically called a swimming pool.














One year on and I think we have earned the right to pause for a moment and look back at everything we have achieved:



And it’s not just the things we can see that we can be proud of. So far, we have provided accommodation for 58 pilgrims and 12 B&Bers, started local yoga and Zumba classes and witnessed our children becoming bilingual. The house is always full of life – sometimes we have 12 for dinner, often from several different countries. It is hard work and there is still so much to do. We will never be rich but we might just make this work. With help from friends, family and workaways, Happy Coulson really is becoming the dream we had.

Be the change you want to see in the world.
Or as our French student, Pauline, would say: “Quand on veut, on peut”.
Happy days indeed.

Nearly a year into our French adventure and we’ve got some real friendships taking shape. In the past, I would have been mad keen to know immediately if someone was ‘going to be my friend’. But I have learned over time that sometimes the best friendships blossom in the most unexpected places, so I have stopped trying so hard and now enjoy sitting back and seeing what path a new acquaintance might take.

The BiblioBus

The BiblioBus

The friendships growing up around us are with a mix of people of varying nationality, age and life experience.

Jim and Becci have been staying with us in their library bus for a while now while Jim renovates his sister’s house. We’re pretty similar people so it was on the cards, but we have now passed the polite first stages of friendship and are now in a place where we really enjoy helping each other out but we can also be rude! Happy days.

Some of the less likely friendships are developing with my wonderful yoga students. French couples, Claude and Sylvian and Janine and Alain, have been coming to the class I run in our village hall since it started. They are there without fail each week – funny, open and honest and I love them.


Andy and Julie are another English couple who also moved to Lahitte last year. Chris and Julie now take French lessons together with Philippe, who lives in the village. Sharing experiences like these is a great way of growing friendships.

Of course, not everyone is going to be your best buddy. People are like leaves in a flowing river – we’re all moving around the rocks and branches that life throws at us, at our own pace. Sometimes a bunch of leaves will hang onto each other and enjoy the ride together for a while. Then something happens and you move into a different stream, with different leaves, at a different pace. Sometimes you meet up again and that’s cool. Sometimes you don’t. And that’s cool too.

Fete des EcolesIs it really Monday tomorrow? I need another Sunday after our weekend of thoroughly French activities. Friday night was the Fete des Ecoles – the end of year show. First, several short plays – Tana and India were rabbits – and lots of amazing songs. Followed by a presentation on the week-long trip for children as young as six, which traced the Adour river from mountain to sea. Aperitif and snacks in the playground while the salle was reshuffled and finally a full-on, sit-down meal with copious amounts of wine that went on well past midnight. The children ate in a separate room by themselves, painted each others’ faces and played in the road outside the school in the darkness. Carnage. Awesome carnage.

PetanqueSaturday saw a rematch of a recent BBQ with our neighbours, Franck and Shirlie, and friends, Jim and Becci, who live in a library bus in our garden. In France, you generally start a social event with an ‘apéro’ – your choice of drink ranging from wine with cassis to beer or Pastis. Franck and Shirlie arrived at midday, the apéro was served and it began. Basically, we ate and drank all day, breaking for our first game of petanque.

Then the boys went to fetch Franck’s ping pong table and there ensued a fierce Anglo-French battle, dominated by the French but thoroughly enjoyed by the English.

Ping pong

Chris rediscovered his teenage love of ping pong and we will be looking for a secondhand table. In fact, at the hog roast we went to today (not quite so French as it was organised by the local expat group), he met someone from the next village who has a ‘club’ in his garden where men gather to play pool, darts and ping pong. We are so checking that out…


To have and to Holden

Hooray, summer feels like it is finally here. Thanks to our latest guests, Abby, Pete and Sophia Holden, who clearly had the sun tied to their car as they drove through France. The Holdens were here during one of the busiest weeks we’ve had (pilgrims, cyclists and new classes a-go-go), which could have been really hard work. But they were always there to help out, whether with concreting, kids or learning Zumba. We miss them already and can’t wait for their return trip.

Also in the photo are our new Liverpudlian workaways, Craig and Hannah. Keen to try their hands at anything, Craig is like the Duracell Bunny and Hannah has already demonstrated many talents, being gifted at both digging the potager and cleaning. We look forward to another four weeks with these two.

Are you my daddy?

The kittens are now six weeks old and growing up fast. We have hopefully found homes for all of them, thanks to the wonderful website, Le Bon Coin – the French equivalent of  Gumtree. Ebay isn’t big here at all so Le Bon Coin is king, selling everything from chickens to yachts.

India’s current favourite kitten is this wee one – named Coco by our Kiwi friend Allyson, who tried and failed to convince her husband they could take one home to New Zealand.

We still don’t know who’s the daddy. If I hadn’t taken Happy Cat here to be castrated myself I would put money on him. He does look as though he wants to eat them every now and then, though. Not sure if that’s a natural paternal feeling…


Yoga in Biarritz

It’s official – new friends are good for the soul. Spending time with like-minded people, even if it’s just for a weekend, always fills me with fresh ideas and inspiration.

Just back from a wonderful weekend in Biarritz with the Guerilla Yogi himself, Marc Holtzman, and hosted by the lovely Rose Capagli (sitting, taking a photo), an Anusara-Inspired teacher like me. It was my first yoga training in French and could not have been more perfect. The sessions were taught in English and translated into French by translator and yoga teacher, Terence. For me, a week before I take my yoga to a wider French audience, it was manna from heaven. And around the frantic note-taking I also got to do some amazing yoga. Happy days.

I made some wonderful new yoga friends – from Belgium, Poland, France, Italy, Canada – and thoroughly enjoyed our bilingual conversations, flitting between English and French as if it was one language! Lunching on calamari tapas by the sea, I found it hard to believe I live just two hours away…

As with all good yoga courses, I came away filled with energy and fresh ideas. Perfect timing as next week I launch my new Happy Fitness timetable upon the good people of Maubourguet and surrounding villages. You can see the new timetable on the Happy Fitness page. Very exciting!

I am also making plans with a lovely new friend and fab Pilates teacher, Debbie Adams, who lives 40 mins away. We are busy planning the first of many Yoga/Pilates events for the local English-speaking community. Oh, and a final thanks to Thierry, who made everyone on the yoga course a CD of his group – Ocho Y Média. I have been listening to his incredible salsa/mambo/ska all day and can’t stop dancing!

My carte professionelle!

I collected my hard-won ‘Carte Professionelle’ today and am now officially an ‘Educateur Sportif”, able to teach any group sport or fitness in France. It was a scary ride but I’m so glad I persevered and didn’t give up when the going got tough.

The going is tough at Happy Coulson at the moment as the weather is horrible. It is so cold that my roll-necks and big jumpers are out again. The kids even have hot water bottles tonight! The unseasonably wet weather means we’re nerve-wrackingly behind with all the outside jobs and are instead forced to spend days inside catching up on paperwork. Yuck.

We have been collecting piles of letters from various French government departments – social security, child benefit, the regime for self-employed people etc – putting off the day we tackle them…

That day arrived yesterday and I spent an incredibly frustrating morning on the phone (paying for EVERY call, even if after several minutes of music they said all the lines were busy and I couldn’t be connected!). The first few people I spoke to were so unhelpful that Chris had to calm me down (hello, role reversal). Then, thankfully, I got through to a wonderful monsieur who answered all my questions and made sure I understood exactly what I have to do next. The clouds lifted and all was well.

Today we took the children (Wednesday = day off) to our nearest city, Tarbes, for a seven-hour mission sorting out paperwork and buying supplies for the house. They were so well-behaved we took them to a fantastic Chinese buffet restaurant for lunch – only 11,80€ for adults and 8€ for kids. The kids had a ball – Tana reminded us it was our first meal out since last August and that was only at the local supermarket…

I’m feeling a little guilty as I’m heading off to Biarritz this weekend for a weekend of Anusara yoga with the amazing Marc Holtzman. It really is work as the sessions will be translated into French so I will be learning loads of new vocabulary for my classes. Convinced? Neither is Chris.

Maurice and Massa

Lovely BBQ last night with pilgrims Maurice, from Québec, and Massa, from Tokyo. You won’t believe it but these guys are 66 and 67 respectively and Massa has walked more than 7000kms on trails like this.

It was wonderful listening to how Maurice and Massa had met during another pilgrimage several years ago and had stayed in touch. They decided to do the full Camino de Santiago together.

It is great for the children to sit down for a meal with people from so many different countries. We have already had 11 nationalities staying with us – French, English, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Belgian, Swiss, German, French Canadian, American and Australian.

We had a houseful last night, including Mark and Lynette Dagless, who have been staying with us as B&B guests for a few days. Mark worked with Chris in Norfolk and says he seems to have adapted very well to his new life in France!

Mark and Lynette have been all over the place in the last few days, visiting the mountains, Lourdes and Pau, flying home first thing this morning. Like us, they were horrified to experience the cold spell we’re having and cosy fires were the order of the evenings.



Oh my word. Most surreal meeting ever. Last night, I was invited to Acunca (www.acunca.fr), a fitness centre in a truly beautiful setting about 25 minutes away, to find out about teaching classes there. The studio is a wonderful space, with a glass wall overlooking trees and rolling countryside.


The meeting, of the ‘association’ which runs the centre, was supposed to start at 19h30 but actually got going at 20h30, not with committee business but paté, bread and wine. This was followed by local goat cheese. Then came a basket of gateaux dipped into what I thought was apple juice. It wasn’t.

Two hours, two glasses of wine and three glasses of cider later, and after several hotly debated agenda items (no decisions reached), it was my turn to speak. By this stage I could barely remember a word of French but managed to introduce myself and I was the topic of discussion for another half an hour.

I made my excuses and left the meeting in full swing at 23h00. Slightly unsteady on my feet and with none of my questions answered but with a new group of friends and an awakening insight into why things take longer in France. As it said on Acunca’s ‘Mot du jour’ noticeboard: “Rien ne sert de courir si l’on n’est pas pressé” (Pierre Dac). “What’s the point in running when you’re not in a hurry”. Brilliant.

Dutch cyclists

The lovely Dutch cyclists who arrived less than an hour after we put a Happy Coulson sign at the end of our road!

These guys have cycled all the way from Holland and are following the Camino Santiago over the Pyrénées and into Spain. They arrived with us on Day 16, 1600kms in and averaging 100kms per day.

The bikers from Venray Holland say: “We are happy to stay in this comfortable B&B with Chris and Kate. We enjoyed an perfect dinner and hospetality. We recommend this place to other Caminopilgrims. Nice place to be and friendly prices.”
You can check out their blog here. Thanks to Caroline Dijkstra for the translation:
“It is about time to find a place to sleep but we expected it was going to be difficult and we were right! There should be enough sleeping possibilities in Mauborguet but the camping ground is closed and Chemin de St. Jaques is way above our budget. So that means back on the bike and after 100km we discover Happy Coulsons in Lahitte-Toupiere with a variety of sleeping places (www.happycoulson.com). After 10 days we finally sleep on a normal mattress and enjoy heating and wifi. Boeuf Bourguignon is cooked for us with cheese, red wine and a cup of coffee at the end. Clothes are being washed so that we can have a clean and refreshed start tomorrow. Our English hosts are very enthusiastic and helpful! What is breakfast going to be tomorrow: English Breakfast???” It wasn’t. Hope they weren’t too disappointed…
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