Ooof August…that was some month**

My goodness…I dont know where to start this months blog. We have had such a busy month with lots of guests, lots of room cleaning, lots of washing & ironing…oh & lots of other nice things too Its been mega busy I can tell you.

Lets start with the weather. We, like most of France have had canicule (heatwave) conditions for most of the month. We have seen temperatures in the very high 30s some days & unusually for here the temperatures have remained high after nightfall too, which has meant some hot & sticky nights. Our terrace has been a no-go area on several occasions due to the ferocity of the heat (it faces due west & gets the sun all afternoon) & even our seats under the trees (usually cool spots) have not had much use either. The poor dog has spent a lot of time confined to barracks in our cooler living room, as she doesnt have the sense to stop running after balls (thrown by visiting children) & was in danger of expiring at times. We have made good use of “our” swimming lake at Vernet la Varenne this month, but even there, we had to wait until late evening for a bit of respite from the heat. I have to say though that the water has been very warm… very unusual for us to swim in warm water! Although the weather has been lovely, we still havent seen the place packed out which is a shame. It reflects on what we think, has been a big drop in the number of holiday makers here in the Auvergne this summer. We did however, witness the presence of some pretty exotic creatures (a unicorn, a flamingo, a winged horse & a very laid-back yellow duckling complete with sunglasses) there one evening…4 very large inflatable floats, in case you hadn`t guessed. I suspect that the granddad who had the unenviable task of blowing them up (it took about 1/2hour each even with a pump) was deeply regretting their purchase! As you can imagine with all this heat, our garden looks dreadful. We have never seen our lawn looking so bad & the flowers have all withered & died. I have tried to keep giving the pots & hanging baskets some water in the evenings but even they are struggling. Our potager is OK ish & is producing lots of tomatoes now but for once we have not had the usual deluge of courgettes! The plants are still producing some, but with no water to swell them they remain small &manageable! Thank goodness for small mercies

As for the business…we have been very busy indeed. The month started with the gite being occupied by our lovely returner British family who had a great 2 weeks of almost nonstop sunshine. They had a nice relaxing holiday & as usual the kids loved playing with the dog, helping me to feed the hens & collect the eggs. I “babysat” one evening for them so that Karen & Charles could have a meal out which they enjoyed. I enjoyed it too…I love reading stories to kids We have also done a few B&Bs in the gite as the demand for B&B was very high this month & I thought it was stupid to turn folk away while the gite sat empty. This is all well &good but it does increase the workload considerably. There were some mornings when I had 8 people for breakfast & 7 bed change overs occurred several times at weekends. However, putting the wedding people over there was a stroke of genius…no disturbed nights for us when they came back in the wee small hours It was also good to have put the family with the “small well-behaved dog” over there too. This dog turned out to be a young German Shepherd, (small??) who, on being released from the car, chased our cat up a tree & nearly gave the hens a heart attack! I don`t normally accept dogs in the B&B rooms, but as the gite was empty I had agreed to let them come with the dog. However, all credit to that family, they did keep the dog under control, for the rest of their stay after that!

Our B&B guests have been a varied lot & for once some of them have stayed for several days instead on just one or two nights which has helped with the workload at times. Amongst the guests this month we had one couple who used a GPS system called “Ways” to get here…& it told them to come along a dirt track (which is not really suitable for cars) to the house. Most people who get to this track stop & ring us, but this pair tried to drive along it, got stuck, overused the clutch on the car, which started to smoke & smell…& panicked of course. We rescued them but they were in a total state of shock by the time they finally arrived & so needed lots of TLC before they calmed down! We also had a couple of English families staying on their way home from the south or Spain. One of these families had had the holiday from Hell as their car had broken down near Rouen on the way down to Spain, spare parts couldnt be found so they ended up in a very much smaller hire car & when they got there, their mobile home had been damaged earlier by bad weather & so was not in a good state. I think they were glad to be going home & to have had at least one night’s good sleep in comfy beds! Geoff phoned the garage for them before they left to make sure their car had been fixed & was available for collection when they got there, only to be told that they would have to pay extra for storage before they would release the car. Not what they wanted to hear at all. Two more guests stick in my mind this month. We had a writer (Michel Benoit) to stay, as he was here to be part of the Fete de Livres in the village the next day. It turned out that as well as being a writer, he was a pretty good musician too, so we spent a great evening with him playing guitar & singing along to some great music. The other memorable guest of the month was a poorly tortoise! Our overnight B&;B guest produced him from his car on the morning of their departure for a holiday in the Ardeche. It turned out that he (the guest that is) has 5 other tortoises at home, who were being looked after by a neighbour, but this one was poorly & needed daily injections, so was going on holiday with them as he couldnt be left at home! Now that really was a first for us here at Les Hirondelles!

We have continued to escape for our date days each week but that will now be coming to an end as Geoff goes back to his teaching in earnest next week. We do enjoy these days & it is nice to just get away from the house, the phone, the computer & guests for a bit. It is also a good opportunity to explore the countryside a bit, eat lunch in new places & swim in different lakes & rivers not far from here. This month we have visited an English run auberge in Chassignollles (which we thought was a bit overpriced & the service was painfully slow despite us being the only diners), eaten truffade in St Nectaire, lunched in Langeac along the Gorges dAllier, picnicked in the Val DAlagnon & swum in Lac Chambon &; the plan deau at Champagnac le Vieux. All lovely days out. We didnt get a date day done this week though, as we had a bit to do & new guests arriving for the gite, which all made things a bit complicated. However, we are going away for the night with our daughter & son in law when they arrive at the weekend so that will compensate I think.

Our village fete at St Etienne sur Usson sort of passed us by this year, as we were still very busy & really tired. We did go up to the village briefly on the Sunday to eat & have a quick look around the vide greniers, but it was very hot that day, so we didn`t really do it justice. We were also there for the fireworks in the evening & along with everyone else, we were disappointed when the pompiers arrived & after much discussion the display was called off as the wind had become a problem & all the area being tinder dry, it was deemed unsafe to set off fireworks. Our maire has declared that the display next year will be doubly good though! We did go to the firework display at the lake at Vernet La Varenne though which was wonderful as always & compensated greatly for the late start & inevitable numb bums we had sitting waiting for it to begin!

We have managed to fit in a couple of meals out with friends this month. We ate delicious Madagascan food with Elsa & Jean-Charles (our ex B&B guests who bought a house here) to celebrate JC`s birthday &also to say thank you for feeding their cat whilst they were away. We also ate at Le Margalou with Peter & Claude, friends who have a holiday house here & caught up with all their news which was nice.

**We were extremely surprised …& delighted I may add… to receive a tax rebate this month too. When we had our new wood burning stove put in last year, Nicholas the installer told us to claim a rebate on our next tax declaration form, which we did, thinking nothing would come of it. However, a nice cheque duly arrived this month so it was worth doing after all despite all our disbelief that anything would come from it

Geoff has been quite busy too this month & has finally got his book published. He has always been a bit of a deep thinker & since he has been teaching here, he has developed some theories about the way people learn, based on his observations. He decided a while ago to put these thoughts & observations into a book & at last it all came together this month as it went on sale on Amazon in kindle & paperback format. It is called “How exams fail our kids” if any of you are interested. Its not very long & is very readable & whilst I dont always agree with all his theories (which wife always agrees with her husband eh?) I did find them interesting. Anyway Im very proud of him for carrying though his promise to write this book &if any of you want to buy it & give him feedback, please do. I have a vested interest in these sales…if he sells a certain number (highly unlikely as he has put the bar very high here) I get a cruise out of it…so feel free to buy away everyone!

**Now that the month is almost at an end we have been sorting out the final preparations for our holiday to the States. Only 14 more sleeps…not that I`m counting you understand! We discovered (a little late as usual) that our car hire conditions MIGHT include having an international driving licence which annoyed us a bit, as we had stated right at the start to the tour company that we had French licences…in French of course. However, we decided it was not worth the risk of arriving & not being allowed to hire a car, so we now have international driving licences (at a cost of course) which no doubt will never be asked for! We have also decided that our original idea of just taking carry on luggage was not realistic so we have now added a case in the hold to our flights. Our flights to & from Paris & overnight hotel stay have been booked & our house sitter is all poised for house & animal looking after duties. She is looking forward to her holiday here too So we are all set to go now….bring it on . I really need this holiday

One last anecdote which made me smile this month. We have lovely holiday house neighbours, who came to stay for almost the whole month this year, much to the delight of Xena as she loves them & their dog Janka very much. In fact, as usual, we saw very little of Xena as she prefers French food to ours according to Vincent, & as he BBQs regularly while he is here, Xena is in her element! Vincent also likes to bricole (do DIY) & this year he excelled himself by building a shed to store his bike etc in whilst he was here. This turned out to be a lot more of a complicated job as they had originally planned for & although Vincent was in his element, Vero, his wife was not so thrilled with spending all her holiday as a builder`s mate! Eventually, she went off to see her sister for a few days & on her return she came over to see us with a gift. She asked me (in English) if I liked cheap cheese. I was a little unsure how to answer this as you can imagine…what on earth was this gift of cheap cheese?? However, it turned out to be fromage de brebis (SHEEPS cheese)! Brilliant! We do, of course, like fromage de brebis…& it was delicious. We had a good laugh when I explained the meaning of cheap to her too!

So now I think I can safely say that our busy summer is at an end. My business email is once again mostly spam &the phone has stopped ringing with last minute demands for accommodation thank goodness. The washing machine is breathing a sigh of relief as it is no longer in action 2 or 3 times a day & the ironing basket is remaining empty for several days at a time at last. We are both a bit worn out, but are looking forward to our holiday & celebrating our ruby wedding anniversary in style next month. We will be in San Francisco on the actual day…hopefully eating in a nice restaurant on Fisherman`s Wharf. But that is all for the next blog post when I will tell you all about our trip.

A bientot mes amis