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.

Acunca

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…

Building fences

Busy bees at Happy Coulson this week. Our new workaway, Dave from Brooklyn NYC, is helping Chris put up the fences around the potager (veg patch) and chicken run. When that is finished, it will be all hands on deck to finish the concrete and tiles around the swimming pool so we can get the fence up and the outside shower built. It is wonderfully warm here now and summer is just around the corner so this has moved right up the priority list!

Our swarm

We were also joined by some real bees yesterday when a swarm appeared in our field. They hovered around a tree for a while before settling on a fence post near the orchard. There is an organic honey farm here in Lahitte so we presumed the bees had come from one of their hives. We had just decided to phone the farm the next day when a truck drove past piled high with hives.

Bee capture

We waved them down and told the two white-suited ladies about our swarm. They were very grateful and came this morning to leave a hive in the hope that all the bees will be in there by this evening. We can’t keep this hive but maybe one day…

 

First plantingFirst planting in the Happy Coulson potager: potatoes and onions. Serious teamwork with our French student, Claire, making the holes, Indy dropping in the tiny onions, Tana filling in the holes and Chris in the role of farm manager!

We have bought seeds for carrots and beans and Chris is going to plant the pumpkin seeds and lemon pips he has been saving for just this occasion. We also have a fig tree waiting to join our growing orchard of apple, pear, plum and abricot trees.

New plates

 

 

The weather is still unpredictable – in fact, we had to light a fire yesterday for the first time in ages. Today’s forecast is sunshine and lightning. Apparently no rain, just lightning. That will be interesting. But as of next week things definitely look up, with temps up to 23 degrees.

Another change at Happy Coulson… our new French car! Actually just our old car with its sparkly new French number plates. Now we really do get funny looks when people see us sitting on the wrong side!

There has been a steady stream of pilgrims calling in at Happy Coulson, unfortunately not all of them captured by us. After missing out on five in two days we now make sure we leave signs everywhere with mobile numbers and promises to be back soon.

Tinchy and kittens

Numbers of pilgrims are down on previous years due to the unseasonably wet and cold weather. Happily, though, it’s May tomorrow and I have been hearing this optimistic proverb all over the place: “En avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil. En mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît”. So fingers crossed next week we’ll be doing just as we please and taking off all our threads…

Five visitors who have stuck around are the kittens born to Tinchy Stryper in the Happy Coulson shed. Now four days old, we will be doing everything we can to find them new homes but have been warned that it won’t be easy as it is kitten season and everyone has some to give away. Hence why our other female cat, Gizmo, was taken to the vet this morning for her ‘sterilisation’.

We also have our first French student, a charming 13-year-old called Claire, from Toulouse, who is staying with us for five days to improve her English. Tomorrow we’re going to do some yoga together and plant the seed potatoes, onions and carrots in our new potager.

Nervously waiting for our first real guests who we have never met before. The house is spotless and smells wonderful, thanks to Allyson’s pork and Armagnac casserole which is warming in the oven. Allyson has provided supper as the guests are her make-up artist and photographer, sent from Paris by the Australian Woman’s Weekly. Allyson is New Zealand’s answer to Delia Smith and is living in a nearby village for 18 months with her husband, Warwick, and children Jean-Luc (10) and Olive-Rose (5). Tomorrow she is doing a photo shoot for the magazine and we are all helping – with translation, pot-washing and childcare.Buying a yoke

Allyson, Warwick and I had a trip out to Rabastens on Wednesday, in search of interesting backgrounds for the photographs. We met up with the marvellous Eric (Chris has a new beard icon) and raided his junkyard for old doors, shutters and tables. We also saw a stack of old cow yokes (‘joug’ in French) and instantly fell in love. Between us we bought the lot! I’m going to hang mine above the door of my new yoga studio (currently the barn) as the meaning of the word yoga is ‘to yoke or unite’. And it reminds me of my farming roots – for you, Dad xxx

Marie's ZumbaOk, so this doing something new every day is proving more difficult than I anticipated. I’m doing work experience at a gym in Tarbes so I can get my English fitness teaching qualifications validated. It has been fairly arduous getting to this point, battling with the French administration, so I thought the actual teaching would be easier…

But I am being reminded, painfully, that I haven’t taught exercise to music classes for almost 10 years. And now I have to do it in French. Physically and mentally drained after teaching four classes a day, and a mentor (pictured teaching Zumba) who has yet to learn the art of positive feedback, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. But yesterday was better and I even got a pat on the back!Lahitte Info committee

I revisted another former career in the evening when I went to my first committee meeting for our local newspaper, the Lahitte Info. I was roped into this after admitting I was a journalist in a former life. It was a surreal experience with lots of “Tais-toi!” (shut up) and me trying to judge the right moment to venture forth with a tentative comment. Really enjoyed it, though, and feel honoured to have a byline in the April edition.

Another first was today giving Wolfie her spring shave. No more Dial-a-Dog-Wash for us. Two hours later and Wolfie was bare. Missing a small piece of ear (oops) but otherwise unscathed. Robert, the local farmer, said it was a very good ‘coiffure’. That’s both children and dog successfully self-sheared. Oh well, if the teaching doesn’t work out…

Wolfie pre-shaveWolfie shaved

Today's jobs

Ah, the wonderful sound of work. Today, sawing and hoovering upstairs as the workways put up a new wall and door between the family bedrooms and guest accommodation. It’s going well and the door looks great so I have no idea why Seamus is looking so grumpy. Chris is in the smallest room in the house… tiling the pilgrims’ toilet.

I taught two French fitness classes this morning and have another two tonight. First is the scariest class – Aerogym – a hardcore combo of aerobics and toning set to music. Teaching yoga doesn’t require me to coordinate movement with a beat so I am finding it quite challenging.

Most days here we do something completely new, which requires us to do the best preparation we can and then just jump right in without thinking about it too much. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Try it!

Our first pilgrimsHow fitting that the first Happy Coulson blog should blossom into life on the first day of Spring. Our first pilgrims, two charming German girls, left this morning on the seventh day of their walk along the Chemin de St Jacques towards Spain. We weren’t supposed to be opening until after Easter but the local tourist office phoned and we couldn’t say no.Our workways

Fortunately, our gorgeous Australian workaways didn’t mind sharing the dorm room. Seamus and Chell have been with us for four days and fitted straight in – Chell has just done her yoga teacher training in India so she’s coming to all my classes!

The sun is shining, the mountains look amazing and there is wood being chopped in the meadow. Happy days at Happy Coulson.

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