Rivel workaway – 12th to 24th January 2016

Rivel workaway – 12th to 24th January 2016

Tuesday 12th January

Today it’s pretty much all painting for me. More coats of paint on the shutters and then primer on the shutters Daz and Martin have prepared over the last couple of days. Meanwhile Daz continues work bringing down the level where the swimming pool used to stand. Poor sod – he’s definitely got the harder job; 5 hours of digging!

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Wednesday 13th January

A fabulous day off today, we all go to Ax les Thermes skiing and we have a great day. It’s definitely a smaller resort than La Mongie but there’s fresh snow and the pistes are in good condition – so we have a blast.

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We enjoy a picnic lunch perched on some rocks looking out over the beautiful scenery. Then more skiing. Daz has a mega wipe out, loses both his skis and a pole and slides a considerable distance down the piste but thank God he’s not hurt; just his pride is dented!


Thursday 14th January

Well another change in the weather, yesterday was blue skies and warm sun, today clouds and drizzle, but at least we are both working indoors today. But first off I am off for a pilates session with Maggie in the next village. I also drop off one of our panniers to a seamstress friend of Maggie’s as one of the sidestraps came off last time Daz was packing. I’ve never done pilates before… bit of a shock to the system, made slightly harder as the teacher didn’t bother with any English instructions! But enjoyable none the less, shame we are only here for 2 weeks. Whilst I was away Daz has been busy up in the rafters of the house we are helping renovate. There’s a load of timber logs being used as ceiling in the attic and they need to come down. They are covered with about 50 years of dirt, corn husks that rats have left behind, broken roof tiles and it’s at least 3 inches deep in places!!

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So first Daz has to use a crow bar from above to lift them from where they are sitting and turn them over to deposit the detritus onto the floor below, he then drags them to a balance point and lowers one end to the floor. They can then be moved and stored for future use. All this whilst he is sat up in the rafters beneath the roof in the dark, cobwebbed, dirty, confined space… by the time he’s finished he looks like he’s been in a sand storm for 24 hours, and can only taste dust!!

I get on with painting the shutters again, yes, I know, getting monotonous. And Daz uses chainsaw, hammer and chisel to remove a rotten piece of wood from a foot thick beam that is “holding up” the roof!! This is so he can put a new piece of wood in to strengthen the beam, it will be bolted and strapped to the old beam and hopefully will hold the roof up for another 100 years… fingers crossed!!

In the evening there are visitors for dinner, Barbara and Alan, who have retired out here as well. Alan was in the army and Barbara was a piano teacher. Barbara’s American but moved to England after meeting Alan. They have been together 40 years and have lived here for 3 and are doing up their house. Dinner is lovely, spicy cauliflower soup, teriyaki trout with sticky rice, cheese board and then apple crumble.

Alan Rickman died of cancer today age 69. Only days after David Bowie (10th Jan) died – same age, same illness.


Friday 15th January

Not much today, just filling 20 sacks with the rubble and detritis from the top floor, lugging them down the 3 flights of stairs then 2 runs to the dump to empty them. All in all we think the total weight was about ¾ of a tonne!! We also chopped some of the 18 foot beams into 2 to make them more manageable.

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Martin is going to use them when he builds the outside terrace on the third floor by taking one of the walls down. Then another coat of paint on the shutters and we’re done for the day. Tonight it’s a trip to Lavelanet to the cinema to see Starwars. Daz is very excited – he loves a cinema outing. Post film reviews: seems an echo of the first one that then became a 4th one. And this one was the 7th one, of a probable 10 or more. It will run on like Rocky!


Saturday 16th January

The temperature is really dropping here in southern France and it’s a struggle to force ourselves to the cold house to get on with our work. I’m priming more shutters, whilst poor Daz has to scrape down the window frames so he’s much colder.

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After lunch, after 2 trial runs playing a card game called Tarot (I think we were starting to get the hang of it), we go out to clear the barn loft. It’s eventually going to be Martin’s model railway room – personally I think he’s being cheated; evicted from the house to the barn! After work we introduce M&M to ‘Nominations’, they’re both very taken by it.


Sunday 17th January

A day off today and a quiet one for us. We borrow the bikes and cycle into Chalambre, stopping to find a couple of geocaches. Unfortunately the 2nd one we look for hasn’t been found in over 9months.

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We cycle around the village and pop into the bar for a couple of beers. Then we head home and drop in on Barbara and Alan so we can have a nose around their house. They’ve got a lot to do but there’s so much potential. Fantastic news: Mandy and Alex are thinking of coming out to visit us. They need to come out before her 20th week of pregnancy (she told us on Boxing Day that she’s pregnant). Vik and Gav might come out too.


Monday 18th January

The temperature has really dropped here and Daz and I seem perpetually cold. I start the day with some painting. The shutters I primed the other day need their first coat of green. Once they’re done I paint the hinges black. Meanwhile Daz is busy erecting the scaffolding so that he can prepare the window frames for painting; scraping and sanding. I think he also hangs a pair of shutters I’ve painted.

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After lunch I prime another shutter that Martin has sanded and repaired and Daz finishes priming his window frames. Then it’s demolition time – whoppee! We knock down a wall in the kitchen and then clear up our mess.

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And today Daz shaves off his beard. Clean shaven at last – hurrah!!!

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Tuesday 19th January

More demolition today. This time the plaster and lathe false ceiling in the kitchen needs to come down. We thought if we removed a few key supports the ceiling would collapse but no such luck. Instead we spend ages chipping the plaster off the wooden lathes. This is really hard as we are using hammers and chisels above our heads and after a couple of hours the stress position is starting to hurt!

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Then Daz attacks the lathes with an axe and runs straight down the middle and down the right hand side. Now we can pull that half of the ceiling down. There is so much dust coming down it is awful, our noses and mouths are full of it!! We separate the rest of the lathes from the beams then after lunch attack the other half of the ceiling. By 4 o’clock the whole ceiling is down and all the wooden lathes have been separated from the plaster/rubble.


Tomorrow we can begin clearing up!! We do make a remarkable discovery once the ceiling is down… there has been a fire at some in the past which burned through the huge foot wide support beam that runs from wall to wall. And several joists have a couple of foot missing where the fire has burnt through them. Someone has bodged a few half bits of wood in the joists to make a ‘repair’ and it’s a wonder the whole central wall and upstairs haven’t collapsed!! Martin will need to do a proper repair before replastering!


Wednesday 20th January

Not much change today, rubble clearance and painting of shutters and window frames.

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After work we cycle the tandem out in the late afternoon sunshine to Chalabre, have a quick beer and then back. But it’s a lovely ride and we are both starting to get the itch to cycle. Next Monday we will be cycling onwards to Spain and fortunately the long range weather forecast is looking favourable for early next week. I’ve sent approximately 63 emails on warmshowers and couchsurfing only to be accepted in 6 (actually 7 yeses but one from father and son in same house in same village) locations; the failure rate is still very high for us on these sites.


Thursday 21st January

Today is another skiing day – fabulous. We go to Martin’s closest resort Monts d’Olme. The weather is beautiful so a perfect day for skiing. Daz hires big feet and really enjoys their dynamism. However, the boots I’ve hired suck. I really struggle with hire boots because I have high arches and before this trip away I hadn’t used hire boots for over 10 years. So we return to the shop and change boots but they’re not really a good fit. The resort only has one chair lift and all the others are button lifts and at the start the jerk is so huge we nearly take off.

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There’s some novice boarders having a real tough time with these lifts and falling off repeatedly. Still this will be our last skiing excursion until next season so it’s great to be out on the slopes. On the way back Martin takes us past Montsegur, a huge rock outcrop over a small village with a castle on top, very impressive. We are glad we didn’t have to cycle up here to see it as the road is very hilly and then there is a further 20 minute hike to the top, a picture from the roadside will have to suffice!!

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Friday 22nd January

A spot more painting for me and Daz paints more window frames. Then he moves the wooden beams/logs from the top floor of the house to the wood store in the barn. Then Daz and Martin mix some cement to fill the window recess.

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But all this is dull compared to the great treat from Maggie. Maggie has been collecting kimono for many years and absolutely adores all things Japanese. She has made 4 extended trips to Japan including a trip to learn how to dress in kimono. And this afternoon she’s dressing me. She’s picked a 1940s kimono with a geometric pattern and has also selected accessories I might like.

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What a fabulous experience. There are so many elements to being properly dressed. First the tabi (little white ankle socks with a separate large toe);

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Then the undergarment ,

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There’s a collar stiffener inserted into the collar to keep the erect and then some special tying to ensure the nape of the neck is showing.

Then kimono but also the obi sash; effectively a wide belt worn under the bust .

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The focus is to view the nape of the neck; it’s considered the sexiest part of a woman’s body by Japanese men. Once I’m dressed we (Maggie, Daz and I) go outside into the garden and then take a little turn around Rivel whilst I practice the walk; tiny steps with the feet turned in. What a fabulous dress-up session. Absolutely loved it!

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The kimono(きもの) (着物?) is a Japanese traditional garment. The word “kimono”, which actually means a “thing to wear” (ki “wear” and mono “thing”), has come to denote these full-length dress. The standard plural of the word kimono in English is kimonos, but the unmarked Japanese plural kimono is also sometimes used. Kimono is always used in important festival or formal moments, it is the representative of polite and a very formal clothing.

Kimono are T-shaped, straight-lined robes worn so that the hem falls to the ankle, with attached collars and long, wide sleeves. Kimono are wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial) and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. Kimono are generally worn with traditional footwear (especially zōri or geta) and split-toe socks (tabi).

Today, kimono are most often worn by women, and on special occasions. Traditionally, unmarried women wore a style of kimono called furisode, with almost floor-length sleeves, on special occasions. A few older women and even fewer men still wear the kimono on a daily basis. Men wear the kimono most often at weddings, tea ceremonies, and other very special or very formal occasions. Professional sumo wrestlers are often seen in the kimono because they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress whenever appearing in public.


The formal kimono was replaced by the more convenient Western clothes and yukata as everyday wear. After an edict by Emperor Meiji, police, railroad men and teachers moved to Western clothes. The Western clothes became the army and school uniform for boys. After the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, kimono wearers often became victims of robbery because they could not run very fast due to the restricting nature of the kimono on the body and geta clogs. The Tokyo Women’s & Children’s Wear Manufacturers’ Association (東京婦人子供服組合) promoted Western clothes. Between 1920 and 1930 the sailor outfit replaced the undivided hakama in school uniforms for girls. The 1932 fire at Shirokiya’s Nihonbashi store is said to have been the catalyst for the decline in kimonos as everyday wear. Kimono-clad Japanese women did not wear panties and several women refused to jump into safety nets because they were ashamed of being seen from below. (It is, however, suggested, that this is an urban myth.) The national uniform, Kokumin-fuku, a type of Western clothes, was mandated for males in 1940. Today most people wear Western clothes and wear the breezier and more comfortable yukata for special occasions.


Many modern Japanese women lack the skill to put on a kimono unaided: the typical woman’s kimono outfit consists of twelve or more separate pieces that are worn, matched, and secured in prescribed ways, and the assistance of licensed professional kimono dressers may be required. Called upon mostly for special occasions, kimono dressers both work out of hair salons and make house calls.

Choosing an appropriate type of kimono requires knowledge of the garment’s symbolism and subtle social messages, reflecting the woman’s age, marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion.

Saturday 23rd January

Our last working day in Rivel.

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A final bit of painting for me whilst Daz helps Martin put his newly purchased fibre board into the barn attic. Then they work on getting some fire wood ready. Then our last job is to dismantle the framework against the barn and then clear all the brambles and other undergrowth.

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Work done. Tonight we’re going out to see a band in the brewery in Puivert.

Before going to the pub music night we dropped in on Owen and his wife, this was the guy we had previously met in Puivert when out for a cycle and got chatting. He had mentioned he had some French and Spanish language lessons he would copy for us, so we could continue our lessons on the road. Thanks Owen, and good luck with the house hunt!! The brewery is packed full by the time we arrive and there’s a young chap playing the accordion at the front. The appreciative crowd is a mix of old and young, French and English. We struggle to the bar to order drinks and Paul who we had met before welcomed us. We mentioned we were leaving on Monday and he told us to pop in on the way through. We stood, there being no free seats in the bar, and listened to the music, after the accordion player there was an old man singing what sounded like French folk music and playing the guitar with the young lad on another guitar backing him up, then after another guy with a harmonica and guitar. All very low key and great fun, and the micro brew was excellent too!

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Sunday 24th January

Our last day in Rivel. No work today, but a trip out with Maggie and Martin to Limoux. This busy little market town holds a festival each year… The Carnival of Limoux takes place for three months on the weekends between January and Mardi Gras and is conducted in Occitan, the area’s traditional language. The festival is famous for its alternation of bands and pierrots. And as soon as we arrive in the centre we can hear a band kicking off and as we turn the corner we see a parade of women dressed in gaily coloured clothes and masks marching before the band. There is confetti everywhere, a modern twist on the old custom of throwing sugared almonds and flour… According to a tradition that dates to the 14th century, millers were released at Mardi Gras from their dues to the Dominican priory at Prouille and celebrated by walking through the streets scattering sugared almonds and flour, accompanied by minstrels. The carnival has been celebrated in Limoux since 1604. We walk around the town, down to the bridge over the Aude and then have coffee in a distinctly Spanish style bar/cafe. Later we get treated to a meal in a very nice restaurant by Maggie and Martin. The food is excellent and French, what a fab end to our stay here.

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Tomorrow will see us leaving Rivel, and heading towards Spain. We will be cycling down the Mediterranean coast to Gibraltar and then Portugal.

France has been fab, and we will definitely be back some time.

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