Where there’s a Will there’s a way!

Where there’s a Will there’s a way!

As always, our life in France is a balance of highs and lows, and of course we’ve had some ups and downs since my last blog entry!

Like a lot of people who make the move, we have left some wonderful people behind, who we miss enormously, constantly missing them on a daily basis – our children mostly of course – but some brilliant friends and family too. But equally, again like a lot of people – we left behind some tricky, difficult relationships, and some of those have sadly deteriorated further since we chose to live our lives in France.

I’m a firm believer though that people will always find their “tribe” – those people who are meant to be in their lives and those who are not meant to be in their lives will leave it somehow.

I spend a lot of time pondering my relationship with my dad, not least because our house stands of the land where his house should have been – if his dreams had come true. It was his sad departure from this world that afforded me and Martin the opportunity to buy James (half-brother) and Stephen (brother) out of their share of the land, and then to create our own dreams here.

When things go wrong, I sometimes left myself believe it is Dad’s way of saying “oi! What are you doing there?!” from beyond the grave. Sometimes there is even a feeling that he might not have wanted me and Martin to be here – maybe he would have preferred it if James and Nic had chosen to make this move – but equally I know that this is something James and Nic do not want to do at this stage of their lives – they are much younger than us and working full time. So, it makes me happy to know that we have created a home here that (once the world has reverted back to normal) will be a place that they can come to for holidays with Henry and Chloe (our nephew and niece) and be reminded of Dad and Ann’s dreams whilst they are here. And also, the rest of our family and those good friends who have stuck by us will also be able to come and spend time with us too.

I feel so strongly about this land, and the house being in our family FOREVER (so that the lives of Dad and Ann are honoured) that our recent findings about French succession law, inheritance tax, and joint property ownership nearly broke my heart.

It’s only now that it is being resolved that I can put into words just how close we came to feeling we had made the biggest mistake of our lives.

So, our plans are that when one of us dies, the other one will continue to live here. And then when that second one dies the four children (2 each) will inherit the house and it will become a holiday home for them to share. After having hopefully spent years coming out here to spend time with us on holidays, they will have by then become very fond of this house and the area and probably made holiday friends out here too. Ideally none of them will ever want to or need to sell it so it can stay in the family forever and their children will in turn enjoy it – and be told that the land once belonged to their great granddad Dave, and that Grandad Gruffalo (Martin’s nickname) and Nanny Sharon were the crazy people who built the lovely house.

When we actually looked into it, we realised that our Wills would be tricky and would be needed to be written carefully, using our legal right to have UK Succession Law applied to it. This is because in France the default position is that the spouse only inherits 25% and the children inherit the rest – and by having an “usufruct” the surviving spouse has the lifelong right to life in the house. This was not ideal – but we felt that would be acceptable.

Then we looked at French inheritance tax – this is brutal – if step children inherit anything at all they pay 60% tax on their share!! Yikes! That would basically result in them needing to force a sale – thus ruining the dream for everyone else – and (although we would be dead by then) our wishes would not be carried out.

It then got even worse – we realised that, whilst in the UK our property was jointly owned – here in France, because the land was in my name (as when I had bought James and Stephen out it had been done that way) this meant that Martin owned absolutely nothing!! Not the land – but more importantly – not the house either.

That in itself was bad enough – but on a day to day basis that just meant that our arguments would always be interesting and I would simply yell at him “Oi you!! Get orff my land”. But the grim reality was that if I die – Martin would inherit nothing – my kids would inherit the house – Martin would cease to have the right to live there and his kids would be disinherited!!

Now, I am fully aware that there are some parents who would think nothing of disinheriting their step-kids, or even their own children, grandchildren, cousins and so on – but not me!! I really don’t have much time at all for people who do that to their own family – although I know of a few people who have done this – often over really petty things too. But I think it says more about them as a person that it does about their relatives to be honest if even from the grave, they wish to hurt people.

So, this really weighed heavy on my mind – although I have to say Martin really took it in his stride. I was often laying awake at night imagining all sorts of horrible scenarios – whilst he was peacefully snoring beside me.

We had a number of frantic conversations at our “Notaire’s office” with lovely Candice – with me trying my very best in “Franglais” to explain that this was “tres tres importante” and I was “tres tres worried that je suis mort et Martin would be homeless”. Candice assured me that I would not die with the cheerful optimism that only a young person can possibly have in a global pandemic. She said that it was possible to remedy the situation but that it would (obviously) cost money to do so.

Then the shock came – the cost would be a percentage of the house value!! But Candace didn’t know what percentage it would be. We said (hopefully) “hundreds not thousands???” – she shrugged, looked awkward – and we knew in that moment – this was going to have been a monumental cock up on our part!!

We had to have the house formally valued – which thankfully was done on the current, unfinished state of the house rather that what it will be worth one day (if we ever complete it!!). I have never known a house valuation to have been quite so focussed on getting the value down as much as possible – although judging by the way the “immobiliere” and his colleague took it in their stride they were used to this sort of thing. Probably because there are so many harsh, horrible rules about inheritance in France – some of these laws go back to Napoleonic times so no wonder!

With the valuation completed, it was just the appointment to be made for the legal deeds for the gifting to be done. The reassurance from Candice that we could get an urgent appointment did however, as is always the case in France, quickly turn into frustration when we realised that “urgent” meant – ONE WHOLE MONTH away.

We spent the next week or so worrying ourselves sick – trying to work out from various websites what the percentage might be – and in doing so thinking all sorts – maybe 20,000€ – we felt sick.

We confided in good friends who were of the view that the Notaire probably made it sound as if it would be huge amounts of money so that when it was only (ONLY!!) a few thousand or so – we would be grateful and relieved.

I insisted on having conversations with all four of the kids, in the off chance that should the worst happen and I did die, they would understand that this had not been our intention. All four of them were fantastic!! They all shrugged it off and said “you haven’t done this deliberately”. Thank goodness that we have such lovely children, and that they are relatively comfortable and mature enough to deal with having conversations about not so nice topics.

I know how it feels to be left in doubt as to the motivation and reasons for being left out of a parents Will and feel it is really important that these things are explained properly, as there is nothing worse than hearing a false reason from a person who has no idea of the reasons but just wants to play mind f***ery with you. In my mind the reason that my brother and I were not in our Dad’s will was quite simply that after divorcing my mother many, many years before and leaving her with a property, and then him being remarried to Ann for over 40 years – it made perfect sense that he would leave it to Ann, and then in turn she would leave it to James. But, a particularly malicious person decided that they would tell me that it was all done to spite me, which obviously hurt a lot. But I still choose to believe my version of events and in any case, now we have found out just how complicated it is to leave non-blood relatives any property in France no wonder they tried to do it so that James would inherit it from Ann. They made the (wrong) assumption that Dad would die first, then Ann – but of course she sadly died before him. I completely respect their wishes – but, I do sometimes wish that Dad had spoken to me about it – which takes me back to my own need to have absolutely everything crystal clear with our own four children. No way would I ever want any single one of them feeling that way.

We insisted on a breakdown of costs as soon as possible as by this time I wasn’t sleeping properly over it – and as predicted by my lovely friend – it wasn’t so bad – yes, it was an amount that we could have well done without- but some of the costs would be entailed anyway – and the extra bit on the increased value from the land to the unfinished house will be a lesson learned by us for the future. My kitchen (if I ever get one) will be a daily reminder of how many mistakes we have made on this house building project. What was once a huge budget for a dream, luxury kitchen has now become the most basic of kitchen cupboards (but at least I had the sense to ringfence my range cooker which is safely installed in the temporary kitchen).

So, the appointment was on Friday and it went fairly smoothly. It was all in French which was very difficult, but we managed – a far cry from when me and James sat with the Notaire to do the original exchange of ownership back in 2017. Anyway – it’s all done now – the house and the land is in both names – and the Wills are in hand, and are going to be sorted out this week. Thank goodness for that!!

I realise that talking about Wills is something that some people just don’t like to do – it means facing their own mortality which is something that us humans just don’t like to accept I suppose. But I’ve always felt it to be healthy to talk about wishes for what happens to us when the time comes – in all aspects. I think this is largely due to the sort of work I have done. I have been involved with all sorts of things surrounding death, bereavement, anticipatory grief (that terrible time when you know someone will die but they haven’t died yet) because of work and also because I ran a support group back in the UK called Living with Dying. I also wanted to do the training as a Death Doula/Soul Midwife (like a midwife but even of babies entering this world – people leaving this world) and for a time I toyed with becoming a Funeral Celebrant.

I think that a funeral is the perfect opportunity to take a true 360 degree look at a person’s life – with partners, family members, and friends standing up and saying a few words, sharing stories about the person no longer with us. It must be wonderful to be a recently passed person standing witness at their own funeral and hearing how loved they are and hearing people laugh about their lives. But of course, that is more of a Celebration of Life than a traditional funeral service – but I know which I would want for myself – the party that I never got to attend.

We sadly had another funeral recently, although unlike our neighbour who sadly took his own life and was young, this one was a much older person who had been lucky enough to have a long, long life.

Both funerals made me reflect (again as they also do) how I would want the end of my life to be handled, and my funeral wishes. Martin has known for a long time that there is a folder on my lap top which gives full and explicit details about songs, flowers etc. But more than that – how I would want to be treated as I approach the end. I think an ideal death would be to be surrounded my loved ones, hearing their voices, listening to my favourite music, at home in my own bed, and when the time was right – being allowed to slip peacefully away with Martin, and my children holding my hand.

Me and Martin have made a pact that we will do our upmost to avoid a lonely, impersonal, prolonged death for each other.

We are also going to look into the French equivalent of an LPA (Lasting Power of Attorney) so that we can make sure that any wishes we each have concerning medical care are adhered to. This is especially important in these times of a Global Pandemic – with so many people being admitted to hospital ALONE and then being placed on a ventilator.

Although it must be difficult to feel that you are giving up your medical decisions to a partner or a family member in my view that is far preferable to giving up that control to a medical professional who has no idea of what my preferences would be. So, I’ll take my chances that Martin (or Ryan or Sian) won’t try to have me put in a nursing home – I’m sure they won’t!!  And in any case, I have made my daughter promise me all sorts of things – smuggling me out of dementia homes in France if necessary!!! And I am absolutely confident that they will make sure that I get a proper send off in the form of a Celebration of Life that was about ME, and my wonderful relationships and funny stories, the songs I loved and why I loved them, and my favourite food……and that they will ask my friends who knew me before they were in my life to share stories about me with them so they get the whole story of my life – that’s what I believe a funeral should be about!  

People get so isolated through anticipatory grief, and bereavement because people can’t handle talking about it – so I have always been determined to not be “that friend” who crosses the street to avoid talking to someone. I pride myself on being the sort of friend who is prepared to listen to anything without judgement, and without bringing my own agenda. I’m hoping that once this Covid-19 shit-fest is over I might be able to get more involved with Cancer Support France as a volunteer and I contacted the President of the Dordogne branch recently. It will be good to use some of the skills that I have acquired in the past and put them to good use. And who knows – maybe one day I will do that training to be a Death Doula – or a Funeral Celebrant.

So, back to some of these tricky relationships. The ones we have let go have been mostly so called “friends” who showed no empathy with us in all the issues and challenges we have been facing since making the decision to live in France – especially surrounding the uncertainty of whether we could stay or not. It’s been hard to get a balance between telling people how it is (“you are always making me feel guilty for voting to Leave”) or concentrating on the positives (“they are always bragging about living in France)”. You just can’t win with some people – and it is people like that who it is far healthier to simply let go – they don’t “get you” or understand what you are hoping for in life anymore – and that’s fine. And of course, it’s not just past relationships from people in the UK that are tricky – just because over here we are all migrants doesn’t necessarily mean that we will find relationships with others always run smooth. In fact, some of the worst offenders have been fellow expats – some of which gloat over those who are just finding their feet, or are jealous because they are new people around who may be having the fun that they once had when they were a little younger. Of course, we try with all the people we meet – but some of them you just can’t gel with no matter how hard you try. C’est la vie!!

There have been so many times over the past 2 and a half years where we have been so, so frightened that we have spent our life savings on a house that we would not be permitted to stay in – and the people who have understood that have stuck by us, egged us on, supported us when we have felt wobbly, and most importantly not belittled or down-played our worries. Thank goodness for great friends who are prepared to listen– they save us a fortune in therapy!!

But this week we finally got some respite from our worries about residency. Back in September last year we made our online applications for Residency Cards – but shortly afterwards, due to the Withdrawal Agreement being settled, the French Government closed down that application system saying they would be waiting until more details before opening again. So…. another period of uncertainty came upon us. Then the opening was delayed from July – but eventually finally got opened in October. True to their word the French Government did indeed process the applications that had been made in that short window back last year – so we were one of the first to be contacted. We needed to submit a little further information about our business activity and income which we need really quickly and then we were invited to an appointment in Perigueux – the capital city of Dordogne – to have our fingerprints taken and submit a photograph.

When the announcement was made that we were going back in lockdown we did fear that our appointments might be cancelled – but luckily everything went to plan and we went off to Perigueux on Wednesday.

Photo credit: Erick Orgibet – our lovely French friend

We left plenty of time for the 1 hour 20 minute journey in case we were stopped by the “gendarmes” (which we weren’t), or could not find parking (which we did) or if we simply couldn’t find our way – but with the ingenious and humorous signage that the people at the Prefecture put up all the way along the roads this was not a problem either!!

The appointment went very smoothly (all in French) and we were told that our cards will be posted out in about “one month – possibly two” (which is standard for France). We will get 5-year cards initially and then at that point we will get permanent ones.

So, all that remains to say is this:

To those people who have listened, and heard our stresses and worries and have stood by us, supported us, egged us on, gave us your shoulders when we needed to cry – thank you so much – without your love, support and friendship we would probably have given up a long time ago.

To those people who have laughed and mocked us when we were scared for our futures, or just not wanted to hear our concerns, or pretended it was not happening to us (only the other thousands of Brits making the mass exodus to the continent) – thank you too – it was better for us to have seen your true colours before we were given the opportunity to include you in this new life – you don’t deserve to be part of it – thank you for the lesson in life that you have provided us with:-

Those who made the bold move to live in another country before the EU Referendum were brave, resilient, it is not for the feint hearted at the best of times. This choice requires flexibility, a spirit of adventure and personal sacrifice.

Those of us who made that move during the Brexit shit-fest are all of the above – plus a little crazy, very stubborn, and perhaps at times a little bit pissed off with some people.

But, as all of us have shown: –

“Where there is a will – there is a way”.

Sharon and Martin – Happy and Legal (if a little skint) French Residents

Are times like these the new normal?

Are times like these the new normal?

Another long gap between entries. It’s because for weeks I had the musings of a blog entry buzzing around in my head – but it was all rather negative – so I was trying to wait for some great news to write about – but came to the realisation that as far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned that might be some time yet.

It’s surreal – we get up every morning – it all seems normal. We look up at the sky – that all seems normal – and very beautiful blue skies and lovely sunny weather it is too. But just when you start to act like normal you get caught in that thought process – actually nothing is normal at all.

Just what is normal about not having the liberty to plan a trip to the UK to visit your family? We are in the 21st Century – we have the modes of transport to allow us to cross continents – for goodness sake some of us can even cross interplanetary boundaries with spaceships. But all because of a virus we cannot now simply book a channel tunnel crossing or hop on a plane and go and see the ones we love the most.

To be fair, we actually could go the UK if we wanted to right now – there is no requirement to quarantine at the moment, and there is also no lock down. But, our only practical means of getting there is to take the dogs and go in the motor-home. Only one person out of our entire family has the space to accommodate us on their driveway – so we would need to book campsites and the ones that we would normally use have bizarrely closed for the entire season – and the ones that are open are either chock-a-block full – or have a “no visiting” policy.

Camping in the Forest sites closed
We simply cannot understand why these sites are closed….there are no toilets or showers in some of them so no cleaning. The jobsworth mentality of some businesses astounds me at times. Meanwhile here in France our friends are up at 0500 to keep their campsite ticking over so we have it here for our tourism in the future. 

Normally we would find campsites close by to where people live and they would visit us at the campsite or we would hop on a bus or train with the dogs and go and visit them. For those of you who live in France you may not fully appreciate the lack of space in the UK – so for context – it is actually quite rare for someone to have space to park an 8-metre motor-home – and some roads you cannot even get down in a large vehicle.

Then there is the issue of meeting up with our family members who have been self-isolating and, in some cases, shielding for months on end. It’s no longer practical to arrange for large family gatherings where groups from different households will all come together under one roof.

So, our trip needs to be sufficiently long enough to enable us to meet up with everyone we want to see separately. And that’s no mean feat to plan. We are hoping that we might get our window of opportunity after the UK summer holidays – but being realistic we are acutely aware that at any time a lock-down or requirement to quarantine could be imposed which would scupper that. We also have the long awaited, much excitement provoking, installation of our heating system to work around.

I’ve dragged my office admin and teaching skills out of the compartment in which they have been long buried – and am putting them to good use – creating spreadsheets with people’s Post Codes and researching the closest campsites and pubs with motor home stopover facilities -and then, are these dog friendly?, do they sell food? and if so – do they do veggie options? etc.  I’ve got a notebook dedicated to it too, and have been setting family members homework to check out the quality of the beer at the suggested stopover points.

Note book
Here we go again!! We already started plans for June which were scuppered – now we are planning again – knowing that anything can change at any moment. But we will not give up trying!!

We’ve become acutely aware of the longevity of time since we last saw some of the people. Martin’s mum has never been out here to visit, and it’s now 17 months since we visited the UK so the same since we saw her. 12 months since I have seen my mum, and the same since we saw Martin’s son’s and grandson.

And in thinking about that cold, stark fact – that is when it hits me and makes me think – this is just not normal. Yes, I know people emigrate to Australia and never see their family again – or maybe just once every five or ten years. And that is the choice they made when they made that move.

But we made a choice to move one measly little country away – over a 25-mile expanse of water. But it might as well have been to Australia now that Flybe went bust and the Southampton to Bergerac flight route has been lost, and all this Covid-19 shit fest!

My mum mentioned the other day the stuff that I left behind in her cupboards – and she said to me – “how come there is a bag of your toiletries and make up here”? And I remembered – that’s the bag that I left behind so if I needed to pop back for a quick visit for any reason (her illness, a problem with the kids – etc.) they I could do so, quickly, cheaply and simply – with just hand baggage – and use those toiletries. It’s remembering that which reminds me that this scenario will not be possible now – the days of spontaneous, impromptu flying visits are gone.

Then I think – well, hopefully this is just for now – surely it will all get better in time? But that is very uncertain too.

I secretly hope that one day soon we will look back on 2020 and say

“wow!! That was some shit – thank goodness it is all over”.

But I fear it might be more like

“2020 – that was the year all this shit started”

and that our lives will still be similar to how they are now. Maybe even more restricted.

We are facing the prospect of having to wear masks all the time outdoors. Parts of France are already having to do this – the number of places is increasing daily. Hopefully here in rural SW France it won’t be necessary – with all this space – but with the tourist season well under way, if I am to be realistic, I need to accept that the day we are told it’s our turn will come at some point.

Masks outside
Will our village be next? We are surrounded by green dots. 

I’m still not sure what scares me more – seeing “gendarmes” at our Saturday markets or the prospect of being blind as my mask steams up my sunglasses as I walk along (I can’t be without sunglasses as I am hypersensitive to sunlight)

Gendarmes at the market
Yes I know I’m a big baby – but I still really can’t get used to seeing armed police in such normal settings as a small village Saturday vegetable market. But they are very friendly!! 

But the reason that humans have survived so far on this planet is our ability to cope with change and to evolve. Our ability to change to suit our environment and to make the best of whatever challenges we are facing will help to carry us through this dilemma – and the next…and the next.

Back in January we had a clear plan as to what order we were going to complete the house in. It’s such a long time ago and that plan has changed so much – I cannot even remember what order we were going to do it in. But that doesn’t matter – because when you are faced with a lock down preventing you getting supplies for one element – you simply focus on what you can get – and continue with that to the best of your ability. Flexibility is key to survival in these circumstances.

List of jobs to be done
Shopping for building materials in France is a challenge to say the least. The shop we get our doors from is an hour and a half each way – and the stuff is never all in stock. 3 trips so far!!! 

One thing we have been quite keen to do with our house build is to source our materials from France where possible, or at least from Europe. We found out the hard (and expensive) way of what might happen if we had stuff from over that 25 mile stretch of water back last year when we had a mad panic to get the TEK panels shipped over before Brexit in case we were clobbered with import duties. Initially we thought we were buying a European product but when a factory closed down the panels were sent from Europe to the UK – then cut there – and then shipped back. Not quite what we had in mind when we set out a vision of a low carbon footprint!!

We also believe firmly in supporting the economy in which we live as that is where our future will be. It makes sense to us to buy as local as possible – from as small scale and personal as shopping for vegetables in our own village – right up to big purchases such as tiles, wood, and such like.

Market shopping
When you can get beautiful veg like this on your doorstep why would you drive nearly an hour to go to a big supermarket? And the eggs are local laid from a lovely lady who rescues hens. 

So, for us – it was never a quick fix of pop back to the UK with a van and pick up a load of cheap paint and maybe a B&Q kitchen – and our search for products which are local where possible, European where not, and represent good value, and staying power – has cost us a lot of time. We are indeed slower than the average house builders that’s for sure.

Our tiles are a perfect example of this. For months and months, we were fixated on Travertine tiles – a lot of the Travertine sold in France comes from Italy and if not there, then Turkey – that was OK as still European. So, we went round loads of suppliers – but for some reason we just were not convinced. We had the occasional glance at ceramic tiles in shops – but I could never decide on whether to go for grey tones – or beige tones. We wanted to do the entire ground floor as one entity so the colour scheme would need to be suitable to blend with living space, bathroom and bedroom. And I couldn’t get my head around needing to go for greyish tones in the bedroom area.

Then we discovered the colour “griege” – as you might expect it is the perfect blend of grey and beige!! The moment I spotted the tiles (that are now in place on our floor) in the shop (that I had been to many times before and somehow missed) I fell in love!! I could instantly see them in our house!! Months and months of time spent in pondering loads of different options with Travertine – to decide in 30 seconds that ceramic tiles were the way to go after all.

Tile order
Every corner of our house has a pile like this

Unfortunately, as is nearly always the way in France – the tiles needed to be ordered in – and although the guy in the shop said 2 weeks – it was in actual fact nearly 2 months before they finally came in. They are Italian – and the Italian’s are even slower at delivering than the French it seems (if that is indeed possible).

I know that two years ago I would have been furious if I had ordered 2.5€K worth of tiles and been told I would have to wait for 2 months to get them. But, such have we already adapted to our new normal in France we accepted the delay with a shrug, and a laugh – it’s just the way it is. “C’est la vie”.

Tiling
We have a long way to go before they are finished but we love them and the wait was worth it

Life in France – and Covid-19 – have taught us the art of patience like nothing else ever before. And flexibility, with a large helping of resilience too!

And we keep focusing on what we have done – rather than what we haven’t. For instance we now have hot water in our bedroom – only a temporary sink which was bought from a Facebook forum – but it will do for now and when we have finished our “proper bathrooms” we will install it in the Garden House which will in time become a little eco-studio to let out on AirBnB and HomeAway and also my Treatment Room.

Hot water in our bedroom
I actually really like this “petite” wash stand – but it’s the wrong colour for both of our bathrooms. 

Another thing that has really helped us both is our Yoga practice and also Reiki. During the lock down period I completed my Reiki Masters Teacher Training and became a Reiki Master – and Martin was my first Reiki Level One student. So now we both have that tool in our boxes to help guide our lives. It really does help us to focus on the here and now, to be in the present moment, and to live our lives kindly and compassionately.

Mandala Beads
Just like my own Reiki Master gave me a Mandala Bead String when I done my Reiki Level One – I got Martin to make his own one which will help him learn the chakras and Reiki precepts. 

So yes, we will have to wait until the time is right (and safe) to return to the UK to visit our family (and collect the items in storage at various family members houses), and in the meantime we just need to adapt to that and embrace the positives about that situation. And of course, we will look forward to getting our treasured possessions – like our wedding present cut glass wine glasses – and I’m sure my mum will be glad to get her cupboard space back.

We are blessed to live in such a time that technology allows us to see each other face to face in the present moment – stuff like Skype and Facebook messenger allow us to celebrate birthdays, have family get-togethers, and even go on “virtual mum and daughter shopping trips “ as I found out the other day.

My daughter Sian is about to embark on an UNPAID NHS placement for 30 weeks (yes, she is a bloody hero – it’s quite one thing to be paid to work in the institution that us Brits hail as our national treasure – but as the poor student nurses have found out – that institution doesn’t quite reciprocate that care to the very people who make it. I’ve had my day of working “with” the NHS – not “for” it thank goodness and have seen first-hand how broken it is becoming) – and she needed to get some new clothes to fit better into their dress code. So off she went to the shops – and she sent me a message on the way back to say she had been very successful, bought loads of things and would I like a video call when she got home so she could show me everything. Yes of course!! I would love that – that’s the next best thing to actually going out shopping with her – and I do so miss the times we would go off to Bournemouth for a girly weekend – for a theatre show, a waffle and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and then endless traipsing around the shops. She said she was stopping off for a coffee on the way back so would call me when home.

So, she video called me and gave me a lovely fashion parade – modelling all the things she had bought – asking my opinion and advice – what would be the best one for her first day, was the white one a bit too much – should she take it back – all the things that a mum and daughter would do on a shopping trip. And of course – me being a mum wanted to treat her to something – so I asked what each item had cost, and made a note of what I thought was her favourite item – and thanks to our brilliant technology – at the same time as chatting away to her I was able to do a quick bank transfer for the cost of the gorgeous Burgundy Blazer and added a couple of quid for her coffee too!! Just like a mum slipping a few notes in her daughter’s pocket when they are out.

Burgundy Blazer
I can’t wait to see her in the Burgundy Blazer

Simple things like that help me to feel that I can still be a “proper mum” to my baby girl (who ain’t a baby no more) in these crazy times.

Healthy cakesMy weekly Skype calls with both kids together are often the highlight of my week – sometimes Sian is busy getting ready for work (she’s a carer so works a lot at weekends – and night’s too) so she will stay on for half hour or so, and then Ryan will stay on chatting for a while afterwards – and we talk about all sorts of things – last week he was giving me some healthy eating tips on how to get more protein in (always difficult for vegetarians and my solution is often to put a pecan nut on top of a cake ha ha) and teaching me a few Japanese words. His trip to Japan probably won’t happen next year now – but instead of moaning about it he is simply saying “well another year will mean I am even better at speaking Japanese”.

I know all (well most if not all) mums are immensely proud of their kids – but I really do burst with pride over both of mine – they are intelligent, caring, polite, and both very resilient. Oh, and clever – both of them – very clever!!

And let’s not forget the dad’s too – I know that Martin misses his boys enormously – and he will probably kill me for saying so – but the only time I have seen tears in his eyes over the past few months was when we realised we were on the one year anniversary point since we both saw them. He’s extremely relieved that they have both remained in work throughout the pandemic and like me, enjoys the video calls to keep in touch. And finding little things that represent a connection when we unpack boxes are enough to bring a smile to his face after the tears].

Tour de France mug
Ironically the day that I found this in a box Adam was also using his one in the UK. It’s now Martin’s favourite mug and in constant use when it’s not being washed up. Simple things really help to keep the connections going. 

So, is this the “new normal?” – does our future now involve keeping family relationships together with modern technology, learning the art of patience to a far greater extent, and acceptance that the universe not only doesn’t revolve around us it is also changing very dramatically and very quickly?

The hardest thing I find to accept is that our plans for the purpose of this house have been put under threat.

Initially we intended to throw everything we had into this building project to create a home that was big enough for us two to live all the time, that for all four of our children would be a holiday home, a safe haven, a place to come to relax, and (hopefully) distant into the future, when we are no longer – a place that they would inherit together that would be a part shared holiday home for them all. A place that over the next 1, 2 or even 3 decades they would have come to enjoy and visit often – a second home to them. We thought that Brexit might shake that plan up a little but over time that would settle down, but now Covid-19 seems to be the biggest threat to that. But there is really little point in worrying about that – as all we can do is life in the present moment and see it for what it is today.

Is this the new normal? I hope not, but if it is – we will all adapt to it – and the most important thing is that we will survive and thrive.

In the words of the Foo Fighter’s excellent (but not well known) track “Normal” (B side of Times Like These).

Normal – Foo Fighters

But I won’t give up when I want it enough
No I won’t give up
Anything, anyway, anyone, anyday
Cause I figured it out
Here and the now takes me day by day

Will you come out tonight
Will you back down, will you put up a fight
Turn me around and make everything right
Make me normal from now on

 

I love the A side of that track too – but even more so I love the Pandemic version which was released by a multi-star cast in April for the BBC Radio 1 Stay Home Live Lounge. It’s worth a watch – even if just to see Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighter’s drummer) playing a Lava Lamp!!

list of people in the Times like these video

 

Pandemic Version of Times like These

 

Material Girl

Material Girl

Rewind to Spring 2018. I spent most of April sorting out our lifelong possessions trying de-clutter in readiness for our new life in France. We wanted to take only stuff that we felt would suit our new house (although we didn’t know what style that house even would be), and also stuff that we really loved.

So, it was a massive de-clutter. An exercise that I remember doing mostly on my own as Martin was first of all, still busy with his job – by this time he was still going in to provide a handover to the poor bugger who was taking over, and then once he left he needed to go “oop North” to get some essential work done on the Motor home – which was to be our home for the next 8-12 months (we thought back then – not realising it would actually be closer to 2 whole years).

I wish I had known more about Maria Kondo back then – I could have done with her system of how to get rid of clutter – but I did what I could – really thinking about the value of each item. And by value I don’t just mean the financial value (although that did come into the equation to some extent as we were paying a lot of money to ship our possessions over to France – they needed to be worth it).

I needed to decide if things had an emotional connection to me – was it a gift from a person who I loved? Orr an item that I had purchased that I found beautiful or useful, and was it going to look right in our house?

Most of the process was done with a great deal of consideration and was well organised. I created inventories of what box each thing was in, and some of the more valuable smaller items were taken to my mother’s house for better safe-keeping rather than run the risk of being damaged. However, as with most house moves – the last few days were disorganised chaos – and some of the boxes at the end were badly packed, not properly labelled and not inventoried. I’m not pointing any fingers – but he who is responsible for the chaos knows he was in the wrong and has been reminded many a time since!!!

Hopefully the ‘motor home weighing police’ are not reading this blog, but I suspect that we travelled down to South West France very much over loaded with a lot of the last-minute stuff that really ought to have gone in the lorry 3 days beforehand – but the chaos prevented.

So, we arrived in South West France 2 and a bit years ago with a basic wardrobe each, and sensible items only – with the rest of our wordly goods having either been sold, given away, or packed away and put into storage.

Over the last year we have brought stuff out of storage – but it’s always been larger bits – a few pieces of furniture to furnish our Garden House that we put up last year, and the seasonal change of clothes. The Christmas decorations box came out in December 2018 and was put back in January 2019, then came out again last Christmas – but by then we had the shell of a house so we kept it out.

But, apart from furniture we have been very disciplined in not getting too much stuff inside the house, as it is still a building site – a work in progress – and to clutter it too much would be madness.

However, with lock down easing and us starting to entertain small groups of friends again. In the UK you are calling this a “bubble” now – well, for us it’s the same thing I suppose – we have our small friend group who we survived lock down through Skype calls with, now we are having real life get togethers.Jam Jar Aperos

 

The first time we hosted the Happy Hour, I had to do ‘Aperos‘ for 8 people in Jam Jars – as all my best china is still in storage – it didn’t matter though – we are all good friends and not concerned about who has matching china – just each other’s company! And Gin!! Of course – always Gin!

But once lock down was lifted and we could go back to storage to start bringing a few bits back to sparsely furnish our new home I was tempted and so allowed myself to bring just 2 boxes of china.

Bearing in mind we have lived without ALL of this stuff for over 2 years. We’ve made do with the very basic equipment that has lived in the motor home – and bought a few more cheap coffee mugs for when we had the builders over. There were a few items that I had actually missed for fleeting moments over that time span – but mostly it was all forgotten.

So, last weekend in the morning we went to get some bits and pieces, and in the afternoon, whilst Martin was out……….. I opened the boxes.

I thought it would take about 20 minutes to go through the boxes and sort out what things would be useful now, and which would be better being re-packed for use later on.

But my heart had different plans. Every item that came out of the box stirred up something in me. Some sort of memory, or a feeling or an emotion.

The salad bowl that I clearly recall buying – I wondered how I had ever had a life in which I thought nothing of spending a ridiculous (crude) amount of money on a bowl to eat salad from. Without any thought to it. Back in the days when it happened we were both working in such well paid jobs that we thought nothing of spending money on a whim – but I do really love the salad bowl still….I just may be too frightened to use it ever ha ha!! It felt as if I was looking back, observing a life that I now feel so disconnected with. I would never dream of (or want to) spend money in that way now. But, back then I would do it without any thought.

Trifle dish now a fruit bowl

Then there was the giant trifle bowl – the memories of Trifle Wars – a game concocted for a charity fundraiser that I organised for Macmillan Cancer Support – all came flooding back. And then of course the “mini” trifle bowls that were actually big enough as giant trifle bowls for most people! My days of trifles are long over – so now it is a bowl for lemons and limes – always in plentiful supply in our house – not just for the gin and tonic – also my ayurvedic “yellow drink” that my darling hubby makes me every morning!

White jug love affair

I laughed at my new cupboard full of milk and cream jugs – all white – all different sizes, and it amused me that we don’t really need them as we don’t drink either milk or cream nowadays, and rarely have gravy either  – but I still love them. I’ll use them for water and remember when an afternoon in M&S would result in spending the equivalent of a week’s wages (in those days term’s – more likely 2 months money in today’s terms).

My little egg cups raised a smile too – just a few days previously I had been thinking I would really love to have boiled eggs for breakfast – but our plastic motor home ones are so big that any other than ostrich eggs would disappear so far down they get stuck so need padding out with paper towel to use. And it’s funny that every time I have boiled eggs that are too small for my egg cups I think of my mother in law -there’s a humorous story in my memory bank somewhere).

Dorchester ashtray

And my little Dorchester Hotel canapes dish – that drunkenly showing off to my work colleagues at a fancy Charity event we were all at I pinched it and then used it as an ashtray for the next few years. That came out too – and stirred up so many emotions and memories – I still remember popping it in my handbag like a trophy, and everyone laughing. I wouldn’t dream of doing it now – but then I wouldn’t be sat in the Dorchester Hotel in a “Joseph Ribkoff” cocktail dress either would I? It will never be used as an ashtray again (those days are long gone for me) – but I think it will be reinstated as an olive dish so I can tell the tale to people who I am sure will be shocked that I was ever “that sort of person”. I’m shocked myself!!

Looking back, I can’t remember when I began to change – when I started to see the life I was living as some sort of a hamster wheel hell – out to work to earn enough money to pay the mortgage on an over-priced house that we used to escape from at every opportunity, earn money to pay for childcare and then for holidays to compensate to my poor kids for the guilty feelings that I had for putting them in childcare – spending a fortune on clothes for work to “fit in” with a corporate crowd of people in a work environment that I never felt at ease in – and then maybe worse – changing jobs to find that the suits I had spent a small fortune on for the old job were of no use to the trendy, casual London office environment and another small fortune to get jeans that had the right rips in the right place on the knees. My this time my Joseph Ribkoff dress didn’t fit me – but it would have been better placed that the expensive suits I had shelled out on for the previous job.

As I say, I don’t know when I STARTED to feel that way – but by the time my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer I was definitely in a place where I really took stock and worked out that no amount of material belongings will ever take the place of a person. And no matter what a person has – they can’t take any of it when they leave this earth. And I learned the hard way – that even working for a cancer charity – when your loyalty is suddenly with your family – those corporate bosses don’t give a flying fig about you. Unable to manage a yo yo life of managing family life, visiting a dying father (and step mother), a house that didn’t clean itself, AND a demanding job that required loads of travelling and being away from home – I chose to put my family first and opted for a huge loss of income and instead of visiting Marks and Spencer to buy more white jugs my trips to there were limited to the little service stations branches to buy Dad the little tubs of Welsh Rarebit that he had a fancy for when he had lost his appetite for everything else.

So, why the strong feelings connected to my material possessions if I am no longer a material girl?

Nowadays, I get so much pleasure out of the connection that an item gives me with a person. Every day I touch and use things that connect me to a person. My Tibetan Singing Bowl that my son Ryan brought me – every morning I use that in my Reiki routine.

Broken spoon

My little ceramic spoons that I use to measure out spices in virtually every evening meal I cook – my daughter Sian bought me those. The other week when one of them dropped to the floor when I was drying up and broke into two pieces – I cried as if my heart would break – as I feel such a strong connection with Sian through the spoon. Luckily Martin knows exactly how my mind works with these sorts of things – so as soon as he got home he made it his priority to carefully glue the pieces together so I have a mended spoon.

Everywhere I look in our house there are things that make me feel a connection to people I love in some way. Even the white Marks and Spencer jugs – connect me to my dad because it reminds me of the Welsh Rarebit.

Recently my Uncle Peter made us a very kind and generous offer for something for our house – he had a spare set of kitchen taps going (as a person does – much like our friend Jan just happened to have that spare staircase in his garage). He asked me if we would like them. I said yes, that would be lovely – it would be wonderful to have something gifted from him in our house – and he joked that if they dripped at night, they would be a constant reminder of him!!

So, after checking that we could overcome the UK to French “differences in opinion of the plumbing systems” Uncle Peter got his neighbour to pop the taps in the post to us.

This is probably the best point to mention that these are no ordinary set of taps – they are in actual fact a very beautiful set of taps by ‘Perrin and Rowe’ – and should we have decided to buy ourselves a set of these we probably wouldn’t be able to afford the kitchen to put them in to.

When a week passed and the parcel had not arrived, I began to feel a bit concerned – the postal situation in both countries is a bit haphazard at the moment – but at this point I was not too worried. I told Uncle Peter they had not arrived he said “you won’t miss the parcel – it’s quite big and bright yellow”.

But when another few days went past I did begin to get really worried. I imagined that maybe a French postal worker somewhere in France was currently the flavour of the month with his wife as he showed her these beautiful shiny new taps that he was about to fit in her kitchen.

As part of my ongoing Reiki practice and training I have been practising the art of ‘manifestation’ – asking the Universe to grant you something for your highest and greatest good. Ordinarily I would not ask for anything material in this way as I feel uncomfortable with that – but in these circumstances it felt OK to be asking that the taps arrived safely. I sat on my mat, as I do, having a bit of a conversation – part in my head and part out loud, asking the Universe to make sure that the taps would arrive safely to me, that I wouldn’t want to begrudge the said French Postal Worker of the chance to impress his wife with his findings, but that I really wanted these taps so that I would have something tangible to connect me with my Uncle. Now, there’s a long story that could be told here – but I will say the short version. I’ve not seen my Uncle for many years – family fall outs when I was much much younger meant that “if she didn’t see him, then I didn’t seem him either”. So, it has only been in recent months that we have re-kindled our family relationship. And he’s been very poorly and in hospital, and with the lock down situation being so crazy I really don’t know when I will get to see him, so all of this suddenly became really important.

So there I was – asking for the taps to arrive safely – making sure the Universe realised I wasn’t being selfish or greedy (they are REALLY good quality and very indulgent taps) but it is the connection with my Uncle that is important. All my Dad’s side of that older generation have now gone – even the in laws on that side with my Uncle George only just recently dying – so all I have left of that generation now is my mother and my Uncle Peter. And being a sensitive and sentimental little soul as I am – that is all so important to me.

So….later that day – just after lunch – Martin was out for the day and I was here alone. I suddenly saw the little yellow post van – ordinarily the Post Lady turns round at the bottom of our track and pops the letters in the box…but this day she drove up the track.

I ran out the house excitedly saying “le grand jeune packet”“oui” she said – opening the back of her van. And out it came – bright yellow!!

Le grand jeune packet

“Ooh la la” I said. It’s funny as it doesn’t take long living in France before we started saying this!

She probably thought I was a little mad as I was clearly very excited. I said “merci, merci” about a hundred times to her. She said “votre maison is tres jolie”. They all love it – the police when they came the other week said the same.

So, there I was with the parcel – feeling very excited and grateful that they had arrived. As I opened the parcel I was like a kid on my birthday.

Perrin and Rowe box

I couldn’t wait to open the taps up, and then tell Martin they had come, and then straight away phone Uncle Peter. He was laughing at me recalling how I had been saying that the taps should come to me, that they were not for someone else – like a mantra – and he said it reminded him of when I was a little girl – charging around chanting “November the 28th” when anyone asked me my birthday. And that’s just how I felt – like a little kid who had been given the best present ever. But still, not excited over the acquisition of a lovely material item – but excited and thrilled that I have the taps that are going to remind me on my Uncle Peter every time I use them – even if they do drip at night (which I hope they don’t as we sleep on the mezzanine directly over the kitchen area!!

Taps in the right place but not plumbed in

Obviously we won’t put them in our temporary kitchen –  but hopefully it won’t be too long before the taps are fitted into our permanent kitchen. We have made some progress in this direction. Our recent tile shopping trip was successful and I managed to find the perfect tiles within about 30 seconds of being in the shop – quite how I couldn’t find them on our previous trip to the same shop remains a mystery – perhaps I was looking for something different back then. But this time it was very easy. We have 103 square metres of them on order – or at least we thing they are on order – it’s always hard to tell in France – we are going to phone them up on Monday to make sure.

Now the tiles are chosen the rest is finally coming together. We have decided on a smart black shower to go with the black slate shower tray. We’ve also overcome the issue we had with the toilet being in the wrong place by 1cm!!

We’ve found doors we like – all we need to do now is work out how to order them.

Sea view camping spot

And, after 2 days solid in IKEA in Bordeaux (yes seriously – two days – we stayed overnight at the docks in the motor home with our favourite “mock sea view apartment outlook”, I finally decided ten minutes after getting home that I don’t want the grey kitchen anymore – I want black instead – but no matter – we had not ordered anything so again, we now just need to navigate our way around the ordering system.

So, it seems that whether I like it or not – at the moment I am very much a material girl – there is so much needing to be ordered – and so much money to spend. But I am hoping that because we are taking such a long time in making the decisions we will only be making though purchases once – no mistakes – we can’t afford to.

The life we have chosen for ourselves is hopefully in the long term going to be one that is very simple. It’s not been particularly simple to get to this point, but we hope that our investment in a house that is so well insulated the fuel bills should be tiny will mean that our outgoings will be so small that our modest income will be more than enough – and we can live the life of the fisherman in the Fisherman’s Tale – a Buddhist story that was the catalyst for this change in lifestyle – the point when we decided to stop chasing our tails trying to earn enough to support a lifestyle that we didn’t enjoy to the extent that we needed even more money to try to escape it at weekends.

The Fisherman’s Tale

One summer, many years ago, a banker was vacationing in a small village on the coast. He saw a fisherman in a small boat by the pier with a handful of fish that he had just caught. The business man asked him how long it took him to catch the fish, and the man said he was out on the water for only a couple of hours.

“So why didn’t you stay out there longer to catch more fish?” asked the businessman.

The fisherman said he catches just enough to feed his family every day, and then he comes back.

“But it’s only 2pm! said the banker. “What do you do with the rest of your time?”.

The fisherman smiled and said “Well, I sleep late every day, then fish a little, go home, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, then stroll into the village each evening with my wife, relax, play the guitar with our friends, laugh and sing late into the night. I have a full and wonderful life”.

The banker scoffed at the young man. “Well, I’m a businessman from New York! Let me tell you what you should do instead of wasting your life like this! You should catch more fish to sell to others, and then buy a bigger boat with the money you make so you can catch even more fish!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

The banker’s eyes got all big as he enthusiastically explained. “You can then buy a whole fleet of fishing boats, run a business, and make a ton of money!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman again, and the banker threw his hands in the air and said “You’d be worth a million! You can then leave this small town, move to the city, and manage your enterprise from there!”

“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman. “Fifteen to twenty years” replied the banker.

“And then what?”

The banker laughed and said “That’s the best part. You can then sell your business, move to a small village, sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take naps in the afternoon, go for an evening stroll with your wife after dinner, relax, sing, and play guitar with your friends. You would have a full and wonderful life!”

The fisherman smiled at the banker, quietly gathered his catch, and walked away.

Don’t Stand so Close to Me

Feature photo

Don’t stand so close to me

It’s been over a month since my last blog entry.

Certain things happened straight after that last post was published and it’s taken me this long to get my head around it all, to feel in the right sort of place to write a blog.

Things that have happened that meant I was not at all happy with writing a “Polyanna style” #myperfectlifeinFrance account of our amazing and exciting time in France, and equally things were so raw for the people concerned that it felt insensitive to be writing about them at that time. So, rather than write an entry that glossed over the real issues I chose to wait a while.

Firstly, our Dutch friends daughter was pregnant with twins, due to give birth in July. We know her daughter – a lovely, bright, cheerful young woman with a happy, sunny disposition. She was very excited to be pregnant. All seemed well with the pregnancy so we were amazed when our friend contacted me to say that her daughter had gone in to labour early – at 24 weeks and despite the medical team’s best efforts they had not been able to prevent one of the babies being born. Her tiny little son was born weighing just 800 grams. The other baby (a girl) was still inside her for a few days and then 4 days later she was also born weighing a little less. All this was happening in The Netherlands, in the middle of the Covid-19 lock down with no way of our friend’s even being able to go to their daughter. Such horrible difficult times for them – and it has really brought home the grim reality of what a truly awful thing this lock down is.

Sadly, the little boy didn’t survive and lived only one week. But he must have been one heck of a fighter to have hung on that long – such a tiny baby, he had operations on his tiny body for not just one, but two collapsed lungs. His sister is now just over a month old and, although it is very up and down for her – she is still fighting her fight.

In ordinary times this would have been a traumatic enough time for any family to have dealt with – but the added impact of the lock down has been phenomenal. It’s not my story to tell, but all I will say is that it is humbling to see the strength of our dear friends in how they have handled this – they have shown such strength of character – and looking at the bigger picture they resisted the urge to make a snap decision to go to Holland and risk the tiny babies catching something they caught along the way. It’s times like this when you really do see first hand how bloody awful these times are when something extra-ordinary happens. And of course, everyone seems to want to add their own pearls of wisdom to the situation, just adding to the mixed emotions our friends were already feeling. It’s such a shame that people cannot consider that, until you have walked a day in someone else’s shoes you cannot possibly know what challenges they face.

Also, we very sadly lost a member of the British expat community here in our village to suicide. He was a troubled character, and had suffered from mental health difficulties for most of his adult life – and it seems that the lock down was the last straw for him. His way of letting off steam was to go for hard and fast bike rides – which with the French lock down rules were forbidden. At least that’s what he thought – only after his death did, we find out that he could have got a doctor to grant him permission on mental health grounds – but hindsight is no good once someone has taken their life. The day he killed himself a fine came through the post – his partner had been fined for going out without her paperwork – the ironic thing was that she was on her way to get forms so she could do the paperwork – so a fine of 135€ was another contributory factor. Imagine, an already limited income, little money to spare, no printer at home – you go out to get a free copy of the form from the Town Hall, and Hey Presto! The Gendarmes arrive and slap a 135€ fine on top of your already bleak situation.

It hit us all hard, his death. Martin and I were not close friends with either him, or the partner he has left behind. We saw them sometimes in the village and chatted, but never really socialised outside of that. But the tiny little English population of around 30 people in Villefranche-du-Perigord and the immediate surrounding area is so small that it can’t help but have an impact. It’s a stark reminder that we are all vulnerable to the overwhelming feelings of isolation. It’s lovely to have French neighbours and have a brief chat – but talking about anything deep and meaningful? That’s not so easy.

First, I felt angry at him – then I felt angry at the system – then at all of us who could have done more to help!! But then I realised, there is no point in being angry – it won’t bring him back.

His funeral was one of the most surreal events I have ever witnessed. There were 7 of us there. We had to be 1 metre apart at all times, were not allowed to go to the front to read our poems, testimonials etc. We had to stand in our places and read/speak from there. We were allowed to go up one at a time to address the coffin but not to touch it.

Curved crem screen
I stood watching the (rather contemporary) curved sliding door encompass his coffin feeling very disconnected to the whole thing.

To hear his partner, standing alone with no-one able to comfort her, read her testimony to the man she had shared her life with for 30 odd years was something that I honestly hope I never have to experience again in my entire life. It feels as if we have stepped back in time – or forward – to an Orwellian science fiction horror story!

Funeral flowers

 

 

We all did what we could for both him, and his partner, a few of us made funeral flowers from wild flowers,

 

 

 

 

 

and nice little touches

Teeny scythe brooch

(like the teeny scythe brooches as a nod to his strange wish to have death at his own funeral) but as with any bereavement these gestures are never enough to take away the pain, and with this being such a complex situation – so many unusual factors – death by suicide, death in a “strange” country, and then the lock down on top of it all – what a crazy situation it was. People’s lives changed forever and none of it made any easier by the Covid-19 situation.

I honestly wonder what the long term impact of these life events will be – will people need specialist counselling in the future to unpick all the craziness of losing a baby or a life partner in the midst of Covid-19 – and have our Governments even started to consider where all the resources will come from if this will be the case? It’s hard to really believe that locking us all up under house arrest for over 2 months and allowing businesses to crumble, relationships to suffer, and all the other horrible, horrible things that are happening to occur– is the right thing.

Yet, I have to say honestly – if I had been given the choice on whether to stay at home and avoid the virus, rather than being told to, I probably still would have done so – so fearful have I been of catching it. But choice is the key word here!! Like Big Brother on Channel 4 was just a big social experiment it feels as if one day we will look back and refer to Covid-19 as the point in time where everything in society changed.

Here in France our lock down has been lifted a bit – we are allowed to go out without paperwork for up to 100 km (and this looks to be relaxed further soon). Our restaurants are now allowed to re-open from today. We were given the opportunity to test run the new social distancing measures at our friend’s restaurant on Saturday night when we went out to get Fish and Chips to mark the 5 year anniversary of my dear step-dad’s death. He had it well under control – all the tables at least 1 metre apart, masks to be worn as we went in and out or moved around, food and drinks served to the edge of our table for us to move in to place to avoid him moving around us.

fish and chips
Fish and Chips was Alan’s favourite meal. A rare treat for him which he really, really enjoyed when he did get to eat it. We also seem to find little ways to honour our lost loved ones – often involving food. 

I’ve been going out a bit more but, I still get freaked out when people get too close to me. We are so lucky that the group of friends who we socialised with via Skype “Happy Hour”  during lock down are all really good at respecting the social distancing rules and since we have been allowed to meet up together we have turned our virtual Happy Hour into real, face to face Happy Hours – taking it in turns to host at our own houses.

Happy Hour
How would we be anything but happy in these beautiful surroundings. This is Jan and Frieda’s back garden! Lovely! 

But, outside that friend group there are people in our wider circle who we know have not been respecting the social distancing rules – and when we see them ignoring the rules, kissing our elderly friend, it’s hard to not recoil in horror – or say something. I suppose the chances are they won’t infect him with Covid-19 – we haven’t got any cases at all in our area – but who on earth would want to be the person who gave that horrible virus to an elderly man – why take the risk? I suppose the thing is, none of us really know how a situation is for another person. On the surface of it someone who is in their 70’s might be wondering why on earth me and Martin are taking it all very seriously – but they don’t know our full medical history. On the other hand, we don’t understand what factors might affect the way they feel about it. Maybe they do not know other ways to convey love and care.

I know that, for me, not hugging our dear friend on his 92nd birthday was a very, very hard thing to do, but sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind. And I believe we have shown more love and care by respecting the rules.

We isolate ourselves

Like Brexit – these times are very divisive. Nowadays we face the dilemma of not “are you a Remainer or a Leaver?” but instead “are you respecting the social distancing rules”?

Respect me…respect my distance

Love me…love my mask

Your 4 metre socially distanced square or mine?

Who knows what the next funky catchphrase will be?

Mask

We were issued with a mask by our ‘Maire’. Out and about in the shops we now find that some shops state “masque obligatoire” so on it goes! I’m not sure that putting a dirty mask that has been lurking around in the plastic bag inside my backpack on is such a good idea. 30 seconds later it’s slipped down my face so my nose is peaking out – so I pull it up – I repeat this load of times – making the whole exercise pointless.

We’ve seen people wearing masks and visors (neither of which are medical grade) and being lured into a false sense of security brushing right up next to people. It’s quite scary that people don’t seem to grasp that the masks will only stop them passing on the virus if they have it (and that is not guaranteed) but it will not stop them getting the virus from someone else who has it. The best preventative action is (in my humble opinion) to wash your hands frequently and keep a safe distance from people.

So, I’ve been singing The Police’s “Don’t Stand so Close to Me” in my head a lot these past few weeks. The song that is rumoured to have been founded in reality – that Sting as a teacher had an illicit affair with a student. I don’t think so – he was a teacher, and he experienced being the subject of many a rampant school girl’s fantasy, and he wanted to write about it.

I’ve been missing being a teacher lately – well to be honest I’ve been missing doing any sort of structured work or education as it has felt as if my life lacks structure – the lock down seems to have sent me a bit crazy.

Pandemic Pressure

And whilst I completely believe that no-one should have felt any pressure to have done anything other than survive during the lock down – in fact I felt myself getting really pissed off on a number of occasions when I’ve heard people big themselves up over how they couldn’t just sit idly by whilst the whole universe felt apart so they done some amazing task for the whole of mankind! But even though I truly believe that people had more than enough on their plate, I did manage to brush up on some skills and have completed a Level Three Diploma in Ayurveda which will really complement all the other strings in my bow. I’ve also made some really good progress with my Reiki Masters Teaching Qualification – I figured that after 3 years of being a Level Three Practitioner it is time for me to start teaching it.

Hazmet massage

And, also as Covid-19 social distancing rules will mean that giving people Indian Head Massage and Holistic Facials will be out of the question for a while (can you imagine having to wear a mask or a visor when having either of those?) I decided that I would get a qualification in Hot Stone Reflexology so I can concentrate on people’s feet for a while instead. All ways that I can adapt my work as a Holistic Therapist to live with Covid-19 but at the same time staying true to myself, respecting my own values and undertaking work that I believe will enhance and complement my work rather than just taking a knee-jerk reaction and becoming something entirely different instead.

I did rather enjoy the lock down period in many ways – not feeling any sense of urgency to get up in the morning and lingering over my daily yoga practice. I’ve even managed to entice Martin into joining me for 30 minutes yoga each morning followed by a daily gratitude exercise. We reflect on things we are grateful for, and many times that has included our wonderful friends, our amazing children, our beautiful surroundings, and the birds and animals we see all the time.

This routine of yoga and gratitude has had an almost tantric feel to it (and no, by that I do not mean that we are spending 7 hours a day practising tantric sex like Sting and Trudie were rumoured to be – again…it’s just a rumour so he says). But our little morning ritual has kept us connected deeply to each other when to be honest at other times it has all felt a little crazy.

Now we can actually go out to the shops to get the building supplies we need we are both loathe to give up that morning ritual – and why should we? It keeps us grounded and connected – and during these days of social distancing, and that tangible lack of human contact, Martin is the only one who “Can Stand so Close to Me” – so I am making the most of that! Yes we have a lot to do, and there is so much work to do on the house that it feels over-whelming at times, but if we ever reach the point that we don’t have time enough to take a few minutes out of each day to focus on ourselves, and to spend time with friends, then there really will be very little point in it at all. As the events of the past month have shown us – life is precious and we do not know what day will be our last – so live it whilst we can.

 

 

 

Holiday

Holiday

After our busy 10 days having the ‘fosse septique’ installed we were delighted that, with a bit of a tweak to our plans, we were able to get work on our underfloor heating system and floor installation moving forward as well.

Our Plan A for the underfloor heating had gone a bit pear shaped when a) the supplier who had our money and our goods was unable to deliver due to the lockdown and b) the person who had originally been going to help us lay the pipework turned out to be somewhat unreliable. This meant that a significant amount of money’s worth of insulation and pipework was sitting somewhere in Bergerac and we were unable to get it and they were unable to deliver it, and even if we did yet it, we were not sure if we would be able to even lay it. The supplier had made a mistake with the first plan, and he refused to re-do the plan without further payment, so we were a bit wary of trying to adapt the plan without a plan so to speak.

We had the idea of asking the man who was booked in to put the ‘chape’ over the top of the pipework if he was able to help us out with laying the insulation and the pipes – and it turned out he could. And even better he was happy to collect the pipework from the supplier in Bergerac!! What a fortuitous stroke of luck! And it really does go to show that it is always worth reaching out and asking for help!

So, a few days later and we had the insulation, the pipe work for the underfloor heating and the concrete floor laid on top – glistening like icing on a cake!! I love watching concrete being laid – it fascinates me, and I wonder if I ever grow up maybe I could get a job like that! Fancy being paid to wiggle a paddle around in a pool of gloopy cement wearing waders!! What a job!

Click here to watch my little video

The floor cannot be walked on for 3 days, so we cannot go into the house – at least not in the traditional manner, but we moved our temporary staircase to outside on the ‘terrasse’ so we can nip up to get anything we have forgotten as long as we don’t let any flies in!! We already spotted one dead in the floor this afternoon!! That’s not as bad as if one of the cats got in – can you imagine seeing a cat struggling to wade through the cement trying to escape! Mind you, when one of the daft buggers done that on our foundations, she didn’t get stuck – she just left some really cute paw prints – which we have enjoyed seeing everyday up until now – we will miss those!

Paw Prints

Resigned to sleeping in the motorhome for at least 4 nights we decided “f*** lockdown” let’s go on holiday!!! So, we hopped into Marsha and let her take us somewhere lovely.

Our holiday location is lovely!! Very picturesque – overlooking a lovely field that reminds us of Wales with it’s stone walls.

We are pitched up on hardstanding, with water and electric hook up. The lady of the house says ordinarily we could use her family bathroom straight through the stable door next to where we are pitched – but sadly it’s out of action due to the lockdown meaning bathroom supplies are not easily available. Never mind – we have everything we need here in our little home on wheels!!

Pitch next to stable door

It’s a shame about the weather as after nearly three weeks of sunshine it’s now turned rainy – but it’s still warm, and in between showers there is a lovely little woodland walk to take the doggos on.

In fact, on one of those walks we spotted a little place called the Garden House where the proprietor does wonderful vegetarian and vegan meals – who would think in rural South West France you could find a lovely vegan salad like this for lunch!! How lovely – we booked a table for two and plan to return most days we are here!

Chickpea pasta salad

I’ve been singing the song “Holiday” by Madonna in my head for the past few days and pondering….I don’t think she was actually writing about a holiday as such. I think the song is a metaphor for a better world for us to live in. Back in the early 1980’s (when this song was released) the world was a very troubled place – we nearly had world war 3 happen due to a fault in the Soviet Union’s ballistic missile early warning system!! Madonna talks about turning the world around, bringing back all those happy days, and also “let love shine, and we will find a way to come together, make things better”.

“Holiday”
If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice

Everybody spread the word
We’re gonna have a celebration
All across the world
In every nation
It’s time for the good times
Forget about the bad times, oh yeah
One day to come together
To release the pressure
We need a holiday

You can turn this world around
And bring back all of those happy days
Put your troubles down
It’s time to celebrate
Let love shine
And we will find
A way to come together
And make things better
We need a holiday

I think it was a call to action! And one that is now so very appropriate once again! If there has ever been a time for all across the world/in every nation to come together it is now! All over the world our leaders are trying to work out what to do next! China and the USA want things back to “normal” (what even is that?) and here in France, Macron is saying that this unthinkable situation has the ability to remake capitalism and that we need to take this opportunity to invent something new because that is all we can do. Meanwhile in the UK, now that Boris has stared death in the face Covid-19 is now suddenly very scary and he is frightened to lift lockdown even though just a few weeks ago he said that it was OK if some old people died whilst gaining herd immunity. Is that the sign of a narcissistic psychopath? Or just a human being?

We found out today that one of the two boulangeries in our village has closed down. The owner cited the reason as it being impossible to be accepted in the village despite being here for 2 years, as she was not originally from here. That’s just such an awful thing – and sadly it’s not the first time we have heard this. It’s certainly not just the English or Dutch “incomers” who have noticed that – we know of French people from other parts of France who have struggled to integrate. And it’s not just this village – the lovely lady who gave us loads of crates from the vineyard where she works in Duravel told her she was moving back to Nantes as she was simply not accepted in Duravel and had been unable to make friends.

Surely, now is the time to “come together” and help to upkeep anyone who is prepared to support our village. All businesses are going to struggle enormously during and after Covid-19 and for some time to come – so we should each be mindful of that. With only one boulangerie in the village now we will not have bread, pastries or cakes on their day off or during their holiday periods. We have always tried to spread our support equally amongst all the shops, bars, cafes and restaurants in the village – appreciating all of them. Naturally it’s been easier to support some more than others, as being vegetarian our choices in some of the food places has been limited and some have been very unyielding in their approach to offering veggie alternatives – but we have done what we can, and spread our money (and love) amongst all of them. We truly hope that we do not see any more closures.

So, back to our little holiday. We love this little spot that we have found! It’s perfect to relax, we are undisturbed by people, close enough to a village to get bread and vital supplies, but far enough away to have a sense of being in the middle of no-where. And of course! We haven’t really gone away!! We have just had a staycation!! We’ve been here all the time – at home! Safe at home!!

Every day I reflect on the many things I am blessed with – and the beautiful surroundings that our stunning house is situated in is always high up on that list. We never intended to build this house for just us, we also had a need to share it – with family and friends, maybe also paying guests too, the odd passing motor homer from one of our many forums, and I really hope it’s not too long before we can welcome people to our little slice of paradise….but meanwhile we feel blessed that we can have our little holiday right here.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!

 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

Day 25 of Covid-19 lockdown, and no end of sight. Yet it all seems strangely surreal. There is no resistance on my part. I am happy to be safe at home, and I do not see it as being locked up at home.

Safe at home

But….we are lucky, and we know it. We have a vast amount of space to call our home so we do not feel the same confinement as perhaps someone living in a small apartment in Toulouse might do.

Life goes on. Yet it is not the same life we had just 25 days ago. Our daily routine has changed. We get up early – knowing that if we fall in to the trap of treating every day as a Bank Holiday we will lose the momentum on life. So, the alarm goes off, and Martin rises and makes me my morning drinks. Coffee to wake me up, and lemon and turmeric water to keep my respiratory system and gut healthy. I am terrified of getting this virus – my immune system is potentially still compromised and I have no way of knowing how much – still too scared to venture over to the Medical Laboratory to get my H.Pylori breath test done. Also, the gastritis can take such a long time to clear up, I have to assume that it is still there. I still have pain in my stomach, and on occasion if stressed or if I have eaten the wrong thing, I get severe pain – so I think it is a fair assumption to make.

Then my daily yoga and Reiki routine starts – with the gift of extra time I know spend about an hour on this each morning. With only myself and Martin for face to face communication I have found that now confronted with myself, I do a lot of soul-searching, and, much like when I went half way around the world as a young woman to “find myself” I am….well, I suppose “re-finding myself”. I’m not afraid to confront myself, but I find myself wondering how that process is for people who are always keeping busy and distracted to avoid dealing with themselves?

For me it’s an interesting occupation. I think a lot these days about my part in the universe, and the things that I personally have done to contribute to the state that the earth is in. Now that we cannot take all those things for granted it is easy to see that we didn’t need to take our huge, gas guzzler pick-up truck to the big shops 25km away once a week. One big shop once a month would have sufficed. We have always used our local shops and really value them…but we could use them more, and the market – the lovely Portuguese lady who served me each week and gave me a ‘petite cours de Francais in our interaction – why didn’t we buy more vegetables from her instead of the meagre few because we had been to Lidl the day before? She is now the only stall holder permitted to trade at our market – now scarily supervised by the ‘gendamerie’.

Saturday market

Then there are the flights for short weekends. I now feel ashamed that since we have lived out here as well as numerous longer trips, I have had two weekend trips by plane – one to Venice, and one to Geneva. It feels very indulgent and extravagant now to have made such a stomping huge carbon footprint for a few days away. And selfish! At the time it didn’t feel selfish – the Geneva trip was to spend precious time with my daughter – and boy do I wish I could spend time with her now – and my son. But now, with all flights grounded, Flybe completely out of business, and the future very uncertain, I think I would honestly be happy if I could have just one visit a year to see all of my family. It’s unthinkable and unbearable to imagine never seeing them again….and if I allow my mind to wander down that path, I start to lose my ability to breath as panic and overwhelm take hold….and so I don’t. I cling to the hope that once this is all over, the world will be a brighter place that enables us to travel oversees – just in a less selfish manner.  But meanwhile, we are all discovering just how many things we can manage to do using social media and technology.

Between Martin and his brother, they have brought his mum into the 21st Century and we enjoyed an hour long What’s App video call with her this week, giving her a virtual tour of the house. She has never been out here, and maybe now never will, but at least she has now seen it.

March was my son’s birthday and we managed a Facebook video birthday party of sorts!! It went a little pear shaped when his surprise Birthday Cake arrived and he inadvertently sent it away, and my mum couldn’t get connected – but we were still able to connect with each other on his special day.

Creams waffle

By the time it was my mum’s birthday in April we had practised often enough for us to have a successful Skype party – of course it is not the same as a real face to face party…but the feeling of warmth was still there.

Hugs are now done from a safe distance – over the Internet – and we are all sending each other virtual hugs, and encouraging memes. I love these…so much so that I accumulate them and save them in a folder so I always have one ready to send back when I get one – or if a friend or family seems in need. So much so that my daughter asked me the other day if I had a stash when within 30 seconds of her expressing an emotion, I had sent her an “appropriate” poster. I have noticed though the grumpy brigade is out in force and I have seen a few people moaning about getting these. Who could hold it against someone for sending them their thoughts in a message? What they might not realise is that the sender might be reaching out to someone as they need a hug (virtual of course). With all this time on our hands are we really so self-centred that we don’t have time to look at a little picture on Facebook?

Socially distanced hug

Even Martin and I are careful with our hugs. We have to be…..he is the one who is going to the shops so when he comes back I am very insistent that he washes his hands carefully to avoid passing anything on to me. Woe betide him if he forgets. And he felt the “wrath of Sharon” the other day when someone (who shall remain nameless) called to collect a borrowed item.

Co-vidiot

We assumed that the said person would realise that in lockdown we needed to keep a safe distance apart, yet the “Co-vidiot” (yes that really is a term now) actually followed Martin into our house even when Martin said “hang on – stay there” and then he actually clapped me on the back…before then attempting to elbow bump me!!

I restrained myself from knocking him straight off the ‘terrasse’ (there is still no balustrade there) and bit my tongue until after he had gone. But then the tears and the fear came. What if…..what if he had it…what if he passed it on….so we both stripped off – clothes into the washing machine, and triple scrubbing of the hands for both of us. And a very polite (much more polite than deserved) text to say that he must respect the social distancing if he should need to return again. It’s at times like this when we realise that we do not all place the same level of seriousness on the situation in hand. And that, in itself is scary.

Every aspect of our life seems dominated by Covid-19. After I do my Yoga and Reiki we have breakfast, then Martin gets stuck into some drilling or something and I do an online exercise class. I am determined to keep my fitness levels up as much as possible, because

a) when I emerge from lockdown I would like a summer ready body and

b) I have read that a high percentage of people who have died from Covid-19 had a high BMI and mine is sneaking in to the danger zone at 28.9 Interestingly, if I was 5 foot 9 inches I would be a healthy BMI so actually I think I should just find ways of getting taller. As Garfield once said “I am not fat, I’m under tall”.

Garfield

In the afternoon I have been trying to do a bit of gardening, which I find very therapeutic, or something useful outdoors – one afternoon I helped Martin move a huge pile of wood – and was glad that I had been doing some weight training beforehand.

And then in the evenings after dinner I have been working on my Ayurveda Diploma. So far, I have submitted three modules for assessment, so am hoping that I will have achieved this qualification before the end of lock down so that I can use it in my Holistic Therapy Practice when I can work again!! It’s fascinating to learn about and as well as using the principles on myself I know I can reach out to other people and help them by using this too.

Then it’s bedtime and my little night-time routine of my Golden Milk to help boost my immunity (Ayurvedic) and essential oils on my feet to help me sleep.

With the lockdown situation our work on the house came to an abrupt halt, which has meant that we both have had to practice the art of patience quite a lot lately. So, as Martin and I are learning that gift I thought I would teach the doggos some patience too – see the video for how good they are.

But saying that, we did have some brilliant progress on our house build this week. After being told that the installation of our ‘fosse septique’ was delayed due to the lockdown, we then had problems with the motorhome water pump, so, fearful that we could end up with no water at all, I wrote an appeal to SPANC (the authority responsible for sanitation). Long story short – they agreed that the work could star,t and start it did – this Monday. So, we are now very, very close to having running water into the house, and an appropriate way of removing the water from the house…and maybe even a flushing toilet – if only Martin can find one!!

Fosse installation 2

Meanwhile – we have our dry toilet, and I never thought I would ever say this but….there is nothing quite like a compost toilet….I might just keep it!! Just for me!!

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!!

It's Life Jim, but not as we know it

I want to be a tree

tree

I want to be a tree

If only, when writing my last blog entry, I had known what our world was about to experience. Well, perhaps not, as back then I would have only worried and that would have robbed me of my joy for those days.

We are now in the middle (hopefully the middle, hopefully towards the downward part of the curve) of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and are on lock-down in France. Only allowed out with a signed ‘attestation’ (testimonial) stating the reason why we need to go out, and that has to be one of 7 authorised reasons.

Attestation

We are on Day 13 of the lock-down – which currently is expected to last until at least April 15th.

There is now so much time to reflect. Reflect on all sorts of things. For me, it is mostly reflection about what is important in my life, and also musings about how did our planet come to this? There is a surreal, almost Armageddon feel to each day – as if we might possibly be living the final days of our lives, sitting on a ticking time bomb – did we at any time in the last 14 days (the guesstimate incubation period) come into contact with one of those pesky little Corona virus cells. And if so…did it invade our bodies and is currently on its master mission to destroy.

coronavirus

I can very easily take my thoughts on a downward spiral towards catastrophic thinking – so I am doing all that I can to distract my mind from these sorts of thoughts.

I am spending lots of time doing various self-care rituals to look after myself, and my annoyingly compromised immune system. Looking back at that last blog entry where I was talking about taking turmeric and using coconut oil to support my immune system I feel very lucky that, at probably the most likely time I was susceptible to the virus I was already boosting my system for the reason of gut repair, but of course it will now be helping me with this new and imminent danger. Very fortuitous – but I believe everything happens for a reason. That’s Karma.

So, a good part of my mornings is now spent in mindful contemplation – now up on the mezzanine floor in our house – looking out at the most wonderful view of trees. In particular my particularly sentimental oak tree.

reiki spot

I find myself singing the words to Tim Pope’s “I want to be a tree” a lot these days. The words make complete and utter sense in a funny, retrospective way to me.

Looking out my window

What do I see?

A world full of people

All looking at me

Most of them got headache

It’s no place to be

 Few of them are happy

How can’t you see why?

I want to be a tree

I want to be a tree

From the very beginning

Of history

Man’s not seen the wood

For the trees

Now they’re all busy planning

World War Three

We are all invited

So, can’t you see why?

I want to be a tree …….I want to be a tree………….I want to be a tree…..I want to be a tree

It’s an old song, and one that used to make me smile many moons ago back in 1984 – of course it’s quite silly, but when you think about it – also very prophetic. A world full of people all very unhappy. And I truly think (and hope) that during these very difficult days every single person will reflect on what is important to them, and that in the future we can all make changes for a better life, a better planet, and a better universe.

Of course, ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ is also the title of the famous dystopian novel by George Orwell, and it’s very easy to let yourself think that maybe he was right…maybe Great Britain is now ‘Airstrip One’ and ruling the world with the other totalitarian super-states (amongst other popular conspiracy theories).

So, as I sit in my Reiki spot, I spend a lot of time considering the metaphor of a tree, as something that I want to aspire to be like. A tree has lots of branches, some of which look a bit ropy, and a bit dead, and for the good of the tree – those branches really ought to be cut off. I see that as friendships or habits that have done their time and are now acting like poison to the tree – best to simply rid ourselves of those. But of course, some of the branches simply need a bit of attention – some tender loving care, and if that is given, they will quickly come back into full bloom. That’s the friendships or habits that have been a bit neglected – but are well worth nurturing and getting back into our lives. And of course, a tree has strong roots, and stands grounded and strong – it may wave a little when under pressure, but it will regain its composure and be able to stand proud once again.

So, I want to be a tree. At these difficult times I want to be a person who is strong and stable and can reach out to those around me and try to help and support them. I know that in order to do this I need to make sure that I do not keep any dead wood that is weighing me down, sapping my strength. I know that for my own good it is important to nurture the healthy relationships, and to rekindle friendships that simply need a bit of life injected into them. And of course to re-establish habits that have helped me in the past.

Most of all I want to use my branches to spread out as far as I can around me and shelter those who need it.

My Reiki practice is largely centred around this concept at the moment. I am, what I can only describe as levelling up my Reiki energy, so that I can look after myself, and also reach out to those around me and help them as well.

It is being said a lot, and I wholeheartedly agree with this, that a catastrophe brings out either the best or the worst in people. I am lucky and blessed that for the most part, all the people around me are showing that this is bringing out the absolute best in them. And, as is normal for us, even though in normal life situations me and Martin are grumpy towards each other, and have some very loud arguments at the best of times, when life deals us the worst of times we actually come together really well and get closer. We’ve even started doing the odd bit of dancing in the evenings.

Life really is what you make of it. I used to love that song by Talk Talk – “Life’s what you make it” – incidentally another music video directed by Tim Pope in the 80’s. The song’s basic message is to work towards a better future for yourself by not having your mind focused on regrets and the past. Life’s what you make it in the present, after all.

Baby, life’s what you make it
Can’t escape it

Baby, yesterday’s favourite
Don’t you hate it

Baby life’s what you make it
Don’t back date it

Baby, don’t try to shade it

Beauty is naked

Baby, life’s what you make…

The feelings that I have about this situation are sometimes very overwhelming and frightening, and if I allow myself to dwell too long on things that might happen, I feel my chest tighten, my breathing get difficult, and palpitations start – the beginnings of a panic attack. So, I do my best to think about all the good that can come out of this situation. It’s far better to spend our days enjoying what we do have, and can do, than to spend them fearful of what might happen, and what we might lose. I am reminded of the first Reiki precept, which I say each morning

“Let Go of Worry”.

Of course, worry only serves to rob us of our joy, and not only can we not live in the past as it has already gone, neither can we predict the future. So why let worry rob us of the joy that we can feel today. We know that we are very blessed with all that we have here. We have a stunningly, beautiful house – which although is not finished and has no running water, permanent electricity or sanitation (the contractors cancelled the work due to the Government rules about working) – it is water tight and we can use it as a camping style base. It’s quite novel at the moment – we have pretty much everything we need – but it is between three places – the house, the motor home, and the garden house. I seem to clock up miles and miles a day just going between the three places. I’m getting plenty of exercise doing just that and the dogs are enjoying relaxing in the shell of the house – they don’t care that there are no proper walls, curtains or a proper floor.

Relaxed dogs

One of the things we really were reluctant to give up was our daily walks together – in France it is very clear – we must not exercise in pairs – only alone. So, we spent the first 2 days of lock-down cutting through the brambles to make a little woodland walk, so we can at least take the dogs for a walk together.

woodland walk

The dogs love it, and I love it – it really gives me an opportunity to just mooch around looking at the trees, and the sky, and just being still and present,

 

And thinking that I really do Want to be a Tree. So, here is my advice from a tree:-

 

advice-from-a-tree

 

Rituals, Routines and Beliefs

Rituals, routines and beliefs

After the craziness of the past few months, living on a building site, we have tried to settle down to the next phase of our life here in France.

It’s taking a while as we have not had much of a normal routine for probably the best part of 2 years now. Even whilst still in England, we were finishing up our jobs, Martin starting the wind down at work, and me starting to wind up my small business – so we didn’t have the structure that a morning routine brings for some time before moving to France, and of course once we had moved out here we were finding our feet, planning all sorts of things and then eventually having the initial stages of the building project to sort out. So, as I have previously alluded to – our lives have not really felt our own for a while. Not the fault of any one thing, or person – it just is that way.

Subsequently, we have struggled to get back into some sort of semblance of normal life. And when I say normal life, I honestly do struggle to identify what normal life is!! It’s been such a long time.

I started to reflect on all the things I used to do (when I had a house) that used to help me to start my day in a positive way, and it became really quite scary to admit to myself that I have left slip so many of my little rituals that used to help me get on to the right path each morning.

Anyone who knows me, will know that I am spiritual rather than religious. I don’t believe in a God per se, but I do believe that I have a guiding force that helps me (when I ask) to live my life in the best way possible. But, on reflection I realised that I had let so much of my daily ritual go by the by that I was feeling out of touch with my spiritual practice. And also, my self-care routine has wound down to pretty much zilch. I have been spending no time at all looking after myself in either a physical, or an emotional, or a spiritual way. And that, I feel has now manifested as the ill-health that I have experienced for the past year or so. The word disease actually is formulated from dis-ease – which when you look at it like that no wonder with all the dis-EASE in my life my health has suffered. It has frustrated me so much that when I left England I was fit, and healthy, I had a healthy BMI range, I could pump a really decent amount of iron at the gym, I could cycle for hours, could run 8km easily. And now, I cannot run at all, I struggle to walk 5km, I cannot walk down stairs properly, and my weight has sky rocketed.

With my recent health problems and trips to hospital I have of course reflected on why I might have become so ill. And can only conclude that it is a combination of two things.

Firstly, my diet became very unhealthy after moving to France (partly my own fault as I found the French bread, cheese and pastries too tempting, but also partly because eating out is so limited as a vegetarian).

And secondly, the stress levels that we have been under. The Brexit process has been incredibly stressful for us both, and this, on top of the life adjustments of living in a different country to our children, leaving work, reduction in income, pressures to learn a new language, all whilst living in a motorhome.

So, I have had to take a good, hard look at myself and reflect on how I can remedy this as the problem is clearly not going to resolve.

Having underlying health anxieties, and a huge mistrust of doctors and hospitals in general, alongside a very enquiring mind, and a lot of confidence in my research abilities, I was never going to just take the prescription from the hospital doctor without doing my own investigations and I am so glad that I didn’t. The Quadruple Therapy treatment for the Helicobacter Pylori bacterial infection was, to say the least grim. Had I followed it to the doctor’s instructions it would have been unbearable. Luckily, I found an online support group through which I found loads of ways to make the side effects of the treatment more bearable. Simple things like drinking loads and loads of water, avoiding all dairy foods, leaving 6 hours between dosages of medication (which was different as there was four dosages a day so it went like this – breakfast and morning meds at 0700, lunch and mid-day meds at 1230, dinner and evening meds at  1800 and then snack and late night meds at 2300 as I just couldn’t quite manage to stay up until midnight. Then when I woke in the middle of the night, I would have to take my probiotics as they needed to be without food and not within 3 hours of the antibiotics.

Sharon MARS sheet
I am sure I was rattling with 15 tablets a day!!

The side effects that I got were stomach cramps, a severe headache, black poop, tearfulness, anxiety, dizziness, feeling faint, vertigo, problems with my eyes, tinnitus, acid reflux, a horrible taste in my mouth, and breathlessness. Luckily the 10 days went by soon enough, but what they don’t tell you at the hospital is that the treatment strips your gut lining out completely, so you are left with the Chronic Gastritis and no good gut flora to help with the symptoms of that. So, I am now starting with a very raw, very sore stomach which needs to heal. And that process could take anything from 3 months to forever to take place. So, obviously I am going to do as much as I can to help that process. Which means, a lot of research in to the optimum diet for Chronic Gastritis, along with some supplements, and a change in lifestyle that will support the healing of my gut.

So, I’ve been introspecting a lot on what I can do to help myself. One thing I used to find helpful was the use of Essential Oils. I used to have oils for just about everything you could imagine, so I have dug them out and have put together a little Essential Oil routine for myself. The concept of ingesting Essential Oils is a very controversial one in the UK, but it seems not so much so in France as they sell little neutral tablets that you can put a few drops of oil on to and swallow. I used Peppermint Oil in this way after my Appendectomy and it was the only thing that worked for dispersing the gas from the surgery, so I am a big fan of this. But in the past I always used to ingest by diluting in water and always used Certified Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils. I’m a bit nervous about doing this at the moment as my stomach is still very raw – so I have made myself some oil rub for my stomach containing peppermint and lemongrass oils in a coconut oil base and am using it topically for the time being – but when I feel my stomach is ready for it I will start ingesting the oils.

Citrus Bliss

So, my little daily routine is:

After my yoga stretching routine I put 3 drops of a motivating blend called Citrus Bliss on my feet (the soles of the feet allow the Essential Oils to enter the system very quickly) and then I put 3 drops of a blend called Balance on to my wrists and inhale 3 counts in, and exhale 6 counts – 7 times. This is to ground me.

 

Then when I’m getting dressed, I use the stomach rub.

 

If I feel stressed during the day, I use a bit more Balance on my wrists and inhale.

At bedtime I use the stomach rub, and put 3 drops of a blend called Serenity on the soles of my feet and spray my pillows with Lavender spray.

I’ve slept so much better since doing this. And in the morning the combination of my yoga stretching, 1:2 breathing, and the oils really motivates me.

After my morning Essential Oils routine, I do my Reiki Precepts. This is the equivalent of someone saying their morning prayers. I thank my spirit guides for the gift of Reiki and ask for their love and support with helping me to use Reiki in my life for the greater good of the universe. Although I am qualified to Level Three in Reiki I have not been working as a Reiki Practitioner since being in France as our living arrangements have not been conducive to this, and also my ill health has meant my energy has been low. But I know that this will come soon, when the time is right. The 5 Reiki Precepts that I say are:

Just for today I will let go of worry

Just for today I will let go of anger

Just for today I will count my many blessings

Just for today I will live my life authentically, and speak my truth

Just for today I will be compassionate to all living beings, including myself

 

I then think about how I will spend the next 24 hours, and set intentions of how I will fill the time that I have been given.

These rituals have really helped me to start to get back on track (and now, in hindsight I regret so much letting these simple things slip as I can see how much they help – but we cannot go back and fix the past – just be in the present).

As well as looking at my self-help rituals I have also been looking at what I can be putting in my body to support my gut healing. Turmeric has come up time and time again, so I have looked at ways of getting plenty of this in to me. First, I tried the way that a friend told me – which was to add turmeric to some oil, along with black pepper and just swallow it. But I found that too difficult – I was loath to use too much oil (all those calories) so without much oil it was just an awful powdery mouthful and it made me feel sick. Then I remembered being told about Golden Milk by another friend – so I started making this in the evenings. It was a bit weird to begin with but now I really enjoy it as part of my bedtime routine – but I always brush my teeth straight after it as the Turmeric makes everything yellow.

Golden Milk

 

 

The way I make it is; one cup of almond milk, ½ teaspoons of turmeric, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, ½ teaspoon of ginger, 1 teaspoon of coconut oil, some black pepper and a good slurp of agave syrup (to make it vegan) or honey (if not vegan). Warm it up in a pan, then sit quietly, sipping and contemplating. It’s very relaxing.

 

 

 

Matcha Tea is something that both me and Martin used to really enjoy when we were in the UK. So much so that we treated ourselves to some fancy Matcha bowls and the whisk, and a really good quality Ceremonial Blend matcha tea. Martin was always better at whisking the Matcha tea to get a nice froth on it – so this was his job. So, over the past few weeks we have reintroduced this little ritual in to our day and our afternoon tea break is a Matcha Break – with Martin doing his Guru bit and whisking it up. I always feel really energised after drinking Matcha and it’s an added bonus that it is good at fighting Helicobacter Pylori.

The Matcha Guru

I had been getting quite confused about stomach acid and lemon juice and had avoided lemon juice as it is acid. But apparently lemon juice turns alkaline in the stomach so it can be good for gastritis. So, I found another way of getting turmeric in to me in the form of lemon and turmeric water in the morning.

My method is this: when husband wakes up ask him to boil some water, put ½ teaspoon of turmeric into a glass cup, cut a lemon in half and take a thin slice of one half. Squeeze the juice of a half a lemon into the glass, add the boiled water, Stir, put the lemon slice in and hand the glass to sleepy wife!! It’s lovely, and I sit in bed for a few moments sipping this before thinking about starting to do my yoga stretching. He is a good husband; as my friend Frieda said the other day – he is “sent from God” as is her husband Jan.

Lemon and Turmeric Water

About 5 minutes after my lemon water I take my probiotics tablet and also a Broccoli Sprouts capsule. These sprouts are apparently very effective in eradicating Helicobacter Pylori so I have invested in these to hopefully eradicate any that are still lurking and also prevent any future occurrence.

87961826_638850083530417_5758326605810237440_n

 

One thing I have learnt with all this research is that these bacteria are stubborn little bastards and have become resistant to antibiotics, and with the treatment being so horrible I really do not want to have to go through it again. But equally I know that I must do whatever it takes as if left unresolved the Gastritis will lead to stomach ulcers, which then can lead to stomach cancer, which terrifies me of course!

The gut healing diet is going to be challenging. Avoid dairy, avoid gluten. So that’s all the amazing French cheeses and bread out for starters. Avoid starchy vegetables. Don’t go too mad on beans and lentils. Avoid sugar. Avoid alcohol. Is life worth living??? So far, I’ve not been able to stick to it completely, but I have cut back significantly. Breakfast has been eggs, with home made lentil loaf. Lunch – soup or leftovers from dinner.

Collage of food

Dinner is some form of beans, or chickpeas or lentils, with either gluten free pasta, or brown rice, and vegetables – so Veg Chilli, or Curry, or Pasta Bolognese – that sort of thing is easy and pretty much what we have all the time but I now need to think tasty rather than spicy. So, the main meals are covered – but it’s the in-betweens that is the problem. I’ve always had problems with bloating if I get hungry, which I now know is a symptom of both H Pylori infection and gastritis. When there is nothing in my tummy the little buggers start getting hungry and gnaw at my stomach mucus lining! Charming!! So, it’s best to not get hungry – which means in between meal snacks. Trouble is, the rule is to not eat fruit on its own – you need to have it with protein and fat at the same time. So, I’m struggling for ideas, although I have discovered buckwheat pancakes (taste lovely but don’t look so great. I’ll get there – I always do manage to rise to a challenge when it comes to eating – I love cooking so now that I have my new range cooker to play with I will soon be conjuring up healthy snacks that are Gastritis friendly.  In order to support this, I know that my best chance of success will be to meal plan – another routine to get in to again. I used to do it every week – have a whole week’s meals planned out.

It does all seem like a bit of a flaff at times – but I know ultimately, I need to do this. I really do need to put my health first, and although it will undoubtedly be an inconvenience at times as eating out will be very difficult, I do need to be kind to myself.

I think about that Reiki Precept a lot these days – it was always the one that really hit me straight in the heart – I would say “be kind to every living being” and then have a nagging voice coming back saying “yeah, what about those ones you eat”. And that was ultimately what prompted me to become vegetarian. I felt as if I was being untrue to those Reiki Precepts. But of course, in the same way that different people interpret the bible teaching differently, different people interpret the Reiki Precepts differently. Some people will interpret that as being mindful about what they eat, honouring and respecting the animal, others will take it as to not harm at all, and others will read that as not causing any harm other than eating it at the end of its life. We are all different, and ultimately none of us are righter, or more wrong that the next person. We each need to be able to go to bed at night and feel comfortable that whatever actions we have taken in that day make us the best version of us that we can be (or not….as the case may be).

I humbly accept that not everything I do in any given 24 hour period is all kind, but I do feel that I try hard to be kind to people when I can be, and I’m always kind to animals, but I also now realise that I have to be much kinder to myself. My default setting is to beat myself up and that has been due to past abuse, and so I need to learn to be kind to myself. I’ve also had to learn over the past few years that sometimes in order to be kind to myself I have needed to let go of people who have constantly provoked anger and anxiety within me – it’s one thing trying to accept that they may have a different point of view, but when they show no regard to my feelings it is kinder to myself to simply let go and let them be who they want to be without them harming me. A friend once said to me that people only stay in our lives as long as they are meant to be there. Looking back I was very hurt when she appeared to drop me as if I was a piece of shit on her shoe, I had no idea what I had done wrong – but I now realise that for her, I was no longer a person that had a place in her bubble. It’s true – there are people now gone from my life who I never could have imagined ever not being part of my bubble….but they have made way for the people who are meant to me in my life right now – here in this moment in time. One of life’s lessons that I have learnt is that we should not chase people, if it is hard to form a relationship with a person despite a lot of effort and goodwill, they are not meant to be in your life and that is OK.

Be Kind

 

 

There’s a lot of talk in past weeks about being kind, since the tragic death of Caroline Flack. Her story resonated with me so much, on many different levels, but in particular two reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Firstly, I can’t help but think that the incident she was being prosecuted for was a domestic argument that just simply got out of control and led to an accident. Who can honestly say, hand on heart that they have never acted in a way that was out of control when having an argument with a partner? In this case I feel that she was a troubled woman with a need for help for her mental health issues – not a demon. Have we as a society really been reduced to a culture of attacking people who actually need help? I knew of a young woman once who hanged herself – she went to friends begging for help and no-one would take her in as she had her big dog with her. I often wondered if she would still be here now if her friends had put themselves in her position and just been a bit kinder, more flexible and opened up their homes to a poor woman in distress with her beloved dog.

Secondly, the CPS did not need to pursue the case. Her partner withdrew the allegations. The CPS could have and should have dropped the case, yet they allowed it to continue. Many years ago, a man attempted to rape me. This was a traumatic experience enough, yet by the time the police caught up with him some 9 months later I had begun to put my life back together and wanted to just move on and put it all behind me. The CPS however would not drop the case and forced me to take the witness stand. I was made out to be all sorts of things in that court room. I was victim shamed, called a liar, and told it was my fault. All so they could get an extra month on his sentence (he had assaulted a police officer on a separate occasion – undoubtedly the main reason they were so keen to prosecute him). The CPS didn’t care about how I felt about pushing those charges, and in my case, it caused me a significant amount of trauma. In Caroline’s case I believe it cost her life.

So many lessons to be learned from tragic events like these. We all need to be kind, to each other, but most of all to ourselves. An act of kindness often costs us nothing at all. It can be as simple as a hug to someone in distress.

Sometimes you just need to talk

We don’t have to have the answers to other people’s problems – it is enough to just say “I have no idea how that feels but I can see you are upset – can I just be with you?”

And to ourselves – just a few minutes a day to spend taking care of ourselves, putting the right stuff in, or doing something to alleviate some of the stresses, maybe just saying “enough is enough” and giving up on an unhealthy relationship (pressing that Unfollow or Unfriend button can be oh so cathartic), finding healthy rituals to soothe ourselves – whatever it takes …..just “Be Kind”……for your sake, for our sake, and for Caroline.

One final ritual that I always take comfort from is the marking of the birthdays of our special loved ones who are no longer with us. I usually mark my Dad’s birthday in August by eating cheese….in particular Roquefort cheese as that was his favourite. And on my Step Mum’s birthday in February I marked the occasion by planting up a lovely Meleze Planter with mauve and yellow flowers. Mauve was her favourite colour. I found it very therapeutic to plant them using the top soil dug out to create the space for the foundations of our house, from what was once “their land” and to give it pride of place on the “terrasse” of our house hoping that she is looking down and approving of what we have created here. I am always mindful that it is a sad fact that it was the devastating and abrupt end of their dreams that has afforded Martin and I the opportunity to fulfil our own dreams out here on “this little piece of land”. And for me, this simple little ritual helps me to feel that I am respecting, and honouring their dreams, and them, for giving us ours.

Planter 1

The tail wagging the dog

The tail wagging the dog

At what point can you say a house is finished? When the exterior walls are up and the roof is on? When the interior walls are finished? When the furniture is in place? When the garden is perfectly manicured? Or…quite simply when you can honestly say that your heart is totally and utterly 100% in it? When you start calling it home!

We reached a few milestones in January. Firstly, when the ‘macon’ (one of the various types of builders) returned and installed some lovely stone slabs underneath the doors (filling the gaps that we had lived with over the Christmas period by shoving spare pieces of TEK panel in front of).

The new stone slabs

This stopped most of the draught and also stopped the cats entering when we weren’t looking – although on one occasion we inadvertently moved a piece of TEK panel and a cat got in – we had fun chasing her round and evicting her. Once the house was air-tight it felt more as if it were a complete house, but still having builders around on most days putting the ‘bardage’ (cladding) on meant that it was still noisy and quite intrusive at times.

Cue my little story about one of the workers. I’m never one to name names, so I will just refer to him as “C – the cock wielding Charpentier”. It’s fair to say he was not my favourite. All the other workers that we had over an entire 4-month period were lovely – polite, courteous, friendly, chatty – but “C” only had two volumes – ‘Thunderous and Ear Splitting’. When other, more responsible workers were around he was merely Thunderous – very loud, but you could still hear yourself think. But, once the responsible grown-ups were off-site his noise levels increased to such a pitch that he sounded like a crazed, wild-man, screeching and yelling. It was never clear if he was laughing insanely, or really angry at something. On the afternoons that I was home alone and Martin was out I just retreated to the motor home and pretended to not be around. But far worse than his noise level was his habit of taking phone calls and a piss at the same time. The first time I witnessed this was when I ventured around the back of the house and saw him up on a pile of wood, coat swinging from side to side – his left hand was holding his phone – into which he was screeching at some poor bugger, and his right hand was aiming his urine all over our compost heap (that compost will only be used for flowers – not vegetables I promise you). I found the first occurrence quite amusing to be honest and that’s when I gave him his nick-name – but to be honest – walking round corners and bumping into him with his hands down his trousers did become quite tedious. His little doggy took after his master – although he was a sweet little thing, he was very male dominant and cocked his leg all over the place – fair enough that’s what doggies do – but I drew the line when I caught him cocking his leg all over our motor home cover! He pooped all over the place too – much to our annoyance as, up until now our two dogs have never pooped on our land, but this was a green light to them and they broke the rules and also began to poop and pee anyway they felt like. So back to basic training for our two. After a couple of months of this we were honestly feeling like our own home had been taken over by the cock wielding Charpentier who was now setting the tone of the day to his own tune, and his little doggie who was running riot whilst our own two were spending their days in solitary confinement in the motorhome.

Why can't we come out to play
Why can’t we come out to play?

His work was very good – and that was his saving grace – had it been shoddy we would have waved him ‘au revoir’ very quickly.

Many moons ago, in a galaxy far, far away – I lived another life, in a strange country called Britain, and made my living by working for a large organisation whose head office was in London. We had a saying about those who ran the organisation – “it’s like the tail wagging the dog”. In other words, those who are in charge really don’t know what the people who are having the do the job really need to do their work, and have no clue about what the users of the service actually need.

Tail wagging the dog

That was a very, frustrating working situation. Many times, in the past 4 months I have felt like that with this house building project. It seems like those who supposed to be offering a service to us have had a disproportionate amount of control in our lives. For example, had we not stuck to our guns and insisted on staying up here, next to our land (albeit on the commune track) rather than going now to the ‘camping car aire’  for what we were told would be “just a few weeks” we would have been stuck down there for 4 months (with me recovering from an operation too). So, that little saying has been forefront to my mind a lot. After wasting a lot of time researching and fretting over the order to get the ‘chappe’ laid (that’s the screed that will be laid over our underfloor heating pipes) all because the builder wanted to get the air tightness test done as quickly as possible, we decided enough was enough and we were going to take back control and do things in the order that we feel is right – albeit maybe not the order that some people might feel is best – but everyone has an opinion and not everyone can be right can they? So, we decided to stop letting the “tail wag the dog”.

So, I suppose for me, that feeling of the ‘house’ being complete, and becoming ‘home’ really started when the scaffolding came down, and we knew that was it…..no more builders, no more “cock wielding Charpentier’s”, no more living on the track like “not so posh-pikeys”. Now, for the most part it is just us two cracking on with it. There’s still absolutely loads of work to do. And the house is by no means finished – but now, for the most part – it will be us doing the work, and we only have ourselves to answer too. No more feeling as if we are in the way, no more having to be up, dressed and out walking the dogs to be back by “silly o’clock” in the mornings to unlock for the builders, no more endless vans driving up and down the track making mud, mud and more mud.

Mud, mud and more mud
I can’t even leave my own home without walking boots on these days

Martin came down with the dreaded “man-flu” and was wiped out of action for a while. In actual fact it was worse than man-flu and I felt a bit mean when he was sent for a chest x-ray and blood tests and then found out he had a lung infection. Thankfully nothing more than “just an infection” though. Neither of us said at the time of course, but both of us secretly feared that the x-ray would show the dreaded black dots that no-one ever wants to find out they have. My thoughts went frequently back to my Dad during this time – how he had a persistent cough for over a year that he ignored. Here in the land of “just get on with it” I can now understand why he maybe didn’t go to the doctors when he should have done, and of course when he did finally go – it was too late. But we didn’t have anything of that gargantuan proportion to worry about thank goodness. Martin didn’t enjoy being my patient though – Nurse Sharon was too bossy!

Martin steaming
Ewwwkkkkkk – this stuff smells funny!

I had a strict medication regime for him so he wouldn’t forget to take his 5 different medications, and I also insisted that he inhale weird smelling steam and take lots of Vitamin C tablets – but it worked. He’s back on his feet now, and there’s plenty for him to be getting on with. I had to have emergency lessons in how to empty our cassette toilet – normally a “blue job” but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Pink rubber gloves
Come a little closer! Nurse Sharon needs to check something out!

Against our builder’s advice (again ignoring that wagging dog) we have moved a small, temporary kitchen into the house where we now prepare and cook lunch and dinner. There’s no running water, and the electric is from an extension lead from the temporary supply. The weather has been lovely lately, and since 3rd February we have been able to sit out on our ‘terrasse’ in the sun eating lunch on most days – I can’t remember ever doing that in the UK.

Lunch on Le Terrasse
Homemade beans on toast – Martin’s favourite

In the evenings it is lovely to sit and watch the sun come down whilst we are eating dinner, and then the village starts to light up. It gets cold once the dark comes so after that it’s a quick retreat to the motor home to keep warm.

Dinner inside the house as the sun comes down and the village lights up
We love the reassurance of the village lights in the Winter…in the Summer you have no idea the village is just half a mile away from here

Having an extra building has its challenges of course – for me, most of my day is now spent trudging between the Garden House (dishwasher and washing machine, the food storage area) the motor home and the House. I clocked up 20, 000 steps on my Bella Beat just through doing that the other day. It’s good exercise though – and being very sloped it’s good for the bum and leg muscles – so for now I won’t be needing to do Body Pump.

BellaBeat 20k steps
I wonder if slope climbing could catch on as a Group Exercise idea?

With a bit of luck, I might be able to shift a bit of weight, especially as my January De-tox was an epic fail. Long story short, despite being told that my colonoscopy was all clear, I received a letter telling me that I have three problems that need treatment. So, until I had seen the consultant and found out what treatment I need I felt it best to not make too many dietary changes just in case that was contributing to the problems. So, it seems I have diverticulosis, a Helicobacter Pylori infection, and Chronic Gastritis. The treatment for this here in France is slightly more aggressive than the UK in that they go straight in with “Quadruple Therapy” which is a 2nd Line Treatment approach in the UK (i.e. they do it if the First Line Approach doesn’t work. It’s a cocktail of drugs for 10 days – 2 very strong antibiotics, a proton-pump inhibitor, and bismuth). As much as I hate antibiotics as they wreak havoc with my body, I just want to get back in control of my health, it feels as if for too long it has been out of my own jurisdiction – first of all with my knee injury preventing me from exercising, and then with the appendicitis and subsequent gut problems. So, I’m going to give it a bloody good go at eradicating the H-Pylori. It’s a 93% success rate for people who stick the regime, don’t drink alcohol and follow the low-fat diet regime throughout the treatment. I only want to take the horrible drugs once so I will be a good patient and stick with it. After the treatment I wait a month, then do a breath test and will be told whether or not it has worked. I also aim to follow the recommended dietary regime to help prevent a further H-Pylori infection occurring. It’s mostly the same as what I have been eating for the past few years on my veganish/vegetarian diet anyway but there is always room for improvement. But it’s important to remember that Chronic Gastritis caused by Helicobacter Pylori is not caused by a poor diet – chances are this has been lurking in my gut since 2008 since I had amoebic dysentery in Kenya (not a pleasant experience).

Good news is though, that since the colonoscopy I seem to have got back to normal, and that odd pain in my tummy has gone I think – which makes me even more convinced it was a kink in my pipe work. The consultant said that the colonoscopy process probably did give me a thorough flush through. So, hopefully this old dog will get back to wagging her own tail soon.

Talking of which! Luka once won a competition at a dog show for the waggiest tail! I had to stand there and wag my bum to get him to start wagging though – which might be why he won to be honest.

Luka the Waggiest Dog
This was actually Luka’s certificate for 2nd Prize for the Most Handsome Boy – how could he have been beaten?

But since we have had Lillie his title of the “dog with the waggiest tail” has come under threat – Lillie does not just wag her tail – she wags her whole body! She has the funniest little, wiggly walk that I have ever seen on a dog. Bless her! She is such a funny character, always making us laugh. The other day the pair of them jumped into the lake so when we got back, they had to be hosed down and then had their “smoking jackets” put on them to dry off. We nipped out for a short while and when we came back to the motorhome this is the sight we were greeted with  (click the link to view the video)Lille had wriggled around so much she got her paw stuck in her dressing gown! She’s still wagging like crazy though!! Daft doggy!

 

The Crappy Side of Life

The Crappy Side of Life

 

With the amount of house sits we have done over the past 19 months I have felt qualified to write, not just a blog, but a whole book, maybe even a series, on the toilet habits of Villefranche du Perigord and surrounding areas! Combined with the house sits and the occasional borrowing of bathrooms to take a shower, I have sat my ‘petite derrier’ on more than my fair share of toilets.

It was on one of said house sits that I had my first bout of serious gastric illness since being in France – which was truly awful! Being that ill away from my own home felt wrong in so many ways. Sitting on a loo, clutching a bucket in my arms being sick at the same time is something that us humans very much prefer to do in the comfort of our own surroundings. Even when those usual surroundings are a tiny motor home bathroom.

I’d like to set the record straight at this point as to what exactly our motor home bathroom constitutes – as, is often the case with village life, we sometimes hear aspects of our life repeated back to us by one of the many village gossips – and often with lots of arms and legs on!! So, we’ve had the odd strange conversation and realised that people have put two and two together, come up with eleventy f***ing billion, and then added their own thoughts to that. It’s become apparent that some people thought we didn’t have a shower at all! Whilst others thought maybe we were lacking a toilet altogether. It’s partly our own fault of course as I have always made a bit of a thing over saying “it’s hard for us to invite people over for a meal as we don’t have proper toilet facilities”. I guess that has conjured up all sorts of imaginings!!

Floor Plan of motorhome

So…our little motor home bathroom consists of:

A cassette toilet – in which you do what you need to do, and then, being a ‘blue job’ Martin gets to take the cassette down to the village ‘aire’ and use the toilet disposal point there to empty it in to. We have two cassettes – an ‘heir and a spare’ so to speak (seeing as the Royal Family is quite topical at the moment). One of them is in the toilet at all times, and the other one is stored under the van. And no! To answer any questions that may be pondering!! We do not empty it in the bushes – and neither do we poop in the woods!

We’re not keen on guests using that toilet as it always feels

a) a bit awkward as when you open the flap you can see what the last person done down there, and

b) a massive imposition on Martin to empty other people’s pee and poop (and I am sure as hell not doing it).

But we do now have a ‘dry toilet’ in the Garden House – which is going to be moved soon into the main house after after such a time that we have water plumbed into the house

A small sink – which drains in to the waste water tank which is emptied out into the hedgerow (we use Eco friendly toiletries). The pipe work for the sink is a bit on the narrow side which means we have to be very careful what we use in it – for example toothpaste clogs it up, so Martin is forever dismantling the plumbing and unblocking it, and I can’t use my favourite facial scrub as it contains oil – if I want this I have to rinse using a bowl and throw straight in the hedge – otherwise the oil would sit at the bottom of the waste water tank and solidify!

A small shower cubicle – which is teeny, tiny and very enclosed – you can barely turn around in it. It also has a lift out floor section which needs to be removed when using the shower, and we also store a few bits and pieces in the shower when not being used. We used to have only about 3 minutes of hot water – but now, due to a brilliant new thermostat that Martin fitted we have a boost control. So, the drill for the water is, 15 minutes before you want a shower you turn the boost on (heating can’t be on at the same time so the motor home starts to get a little cold). Take out floor section, remove stored items. Hoover (yes, I said hoover!!) shower cubicle as two moulting black Labradors manage to get hair everywhere – including under the removable floor. When ready to shower put heating back on and boost off. Get in shower. Water on, wet hair, water off. Shampoo on hair. Shaving foam on legs (if doing, and also remembering that too much shaving foam will clog the waste water tank but I cannot have hairy legs so need to do this) – shave legs very quickly. Water on, rinse hair and legs – water off. Conditioner on hair, soap out, soap body, shave arm pits. Water on, rinse hair, rinse soap off, water off. If water still feels nice and hot and I have time I then use shower gel and a further rinse…until water is starting to get cold. Get out and dry off – motor home should be nice and warm again by now. Then wipe out shower – also needs a proper dry off so the motor home doesn’t get damp – and resemble the shower cubicle, return floor section and items that are stored on the floor. This whole process takes about 30 minutes of my life each day! Not at all like the luxury of having a proper installed shower in your home bathroom. But it does its job.

So, these rather basic facilities are one of the reasons that we volunteered to do house sits – especially last year before we had the Garden House. It was so nice to have toilets that flushed, showers that didn’t need to be assembled, and sinks that don’t get blocked up when you use too much toothpaste.

But even so, I still wanted my own little bathroom when I was poorly.

I’ve already written about my terrible bout of gastric illness that was part of the build up to appendicitis in my previous blog  Thank Goodness for Yoga Pants. Since then I haven’t been right, so after discussion with my Gastroenterologist it was decided that I must have an endoscopy AND a colonoscopy – or as I refer to it fondly ‘a double ender’. Much to my dismay the surgeon would only do this under General Anaesthetic which, initially I refused point blank – but then after gentle persuasion I did reluctantly agree to.

People often ask me why I blog – and for me it is a really simple issue. Some people like to keep themselves to themselves and be very private – and nosy people ponder about what they are doing and often fill the gaps in their knowledge with half-truths – or sometimes even out and out lies. And some people like to be in control of who knows what about their lives. And I fall in to that category. I have no issue with people knowing any aspect of my life (apart from the really private stuff) as long as their version of it is accurate. However, as I’ve said – I do get really annoyed when I hear aspects of my life re-told back to me by a person who was not privy to the first conversation, with the facts not quite right. Living in a small community does mean, and we fully accept this, that essentially you can fart at one end of Villefranche and they will hear it in Loubejac!! That’s village life for you, as Number One Very Tall Step-Son has recently discovered back in the UK. He moved house recently and went out over Christmas to introduce himself and they already knew who he was, where he lived and who he lived there with. It’s the first time for him that he’s lived in such a small community and I think he was quite amused by it.

I also feel that it can be helpful to share experiences with other people. It can reduce isolation if people realise other people have similar problems, and I also think it is fair, and kind to share information (although I understand that for some people it is that they feel that knowledge is power and they fear giving up that power). My way is right for me – and their way is right for them – we are all different!

So, even though it is a bit yukky – I’m going to share a bit about my experience of my ‘double ender’ in the hope that it might reassure someone in the future if they face having this. Maybe even someone out there is just about to go through this right now – I hope this might help them.

As it happens – the fear was worse that the procedure – that’s for sure. I have a lot of health anxieties so there were a lot of things to worry about for me.

One anxiety was the General Anaesthetic. I understand that this is a procedure that thousands of people go through each and every day and survive. But, back in 2012, in a private hospital (yeah, you’d like to think you would get better treatment hey?) I regained consciousness after a General Anaesthetic to the vision of a doctor about to use the paddles on me! I asked what was going on and they said “you are alright now” but then they told me they had to give me drugs (Glycopyrolate) because my heart rate was dangerously low – 32 beats per minute.

Glycopyrrolate
In other words they needed to give it to me to make my heart start beating properly again. They should have given it to me before my operation, and they should have kept me first on the list as a) I am allergic to latex and b) I have a history of excessive gastric secretions when fasting – but they ignored this information and put me at the end of the list

So, for me, having a General Anaesthetic is a very scary thing indeed – in particular as when I queried what happened, all the hospital staff closed ranks and went all shifty! So, I know something was not right but never really got to the bottom of it. So these days, no amount of people telling me it is nothing, not that bad, just a simple procedure, nothing to worry about, is going to stop me worrying and indeed – I challenge anyone who has ever awoken to the “paddles” to not be worried about going under.

Surgeons Using Defibrillator
The paddles are what they use to restart your heart with electric shock and if that’s never happened to a person then quite frankly they do not know what they are talking about!

Another anxiety was the face mask for the oxygen. In the UK you can have a choice between a mouth piece and a mask that goes over your nose and mouth. I’m very claustrophobic and due to a traumatic experience in my teens I have a fear of face masks – which strangely manifested for the first time when in Australia back in the 80’s when I f***ed up an amazing opportunity to go snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef! I was on a boat trip to one of the Islands and the plan was to all go down the ladder on the side of the boat and spend the afternoon snorkelling. I went down the ladder, slid into the water, all OK – then put my face under water and completely freaked out! It was something to do with the combination of the odd way of breathing through a snorkel and the coral looking as if it was really close and the fish!! Ewkkk the fish – all scaly and….well,…… fishy! Anyway, I was near hysterical – and spent the afternoon on the beach of the island whilst everyone else snorkelled. That fear has stayed with me all my life! During the birth of my first (live born) child I buggered up my chance to have a natural childbirth because I couldn’t tolerate the gas and air through a face mask and they neither could or would offer it through a mouth piece. I’ve managed to put my ‘big girl pants’ on a bit more since then and have snorkelled in Mexico and the Canaries, and I had my second child’s placenta manually removed (yes another gruesome story) under gas and air but with a mouth-piece – but I still am very uneasy about having something over my face especially when it is not on my terms.

 

And then, of course – there was the fear of what they would find. The best way I describe the ongoing sensation that was causing the concern was as if I had a kink in my colon. As if the bit of my colon that is by my appendix was kinked like a hose pipe when the water comes out but really slowly (only for the colon it would be poop).

Colon kink location
The yellow circle shows where I thought I might have had a kink – the little worm is an appendix. I don’t have this anymore.

As well as that feeling I had not been right in the ‘toilet department’ since the day of my appendectomy. So, I was thinking all sorts – maybe a giant polyp right by the appendix, or they had injured me during the operation. Then of course I started to think that they might find other things as well. With a life-long (well since mid-teens) history of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a family history of Bowel Cancer (my dad’s brother and sister both died from it) I felt certain that if they dug around, they would probably find something. And that’s always a concern to me, as through my years of work in cancer support, I have learnt only too well that there is a tendency over-diagnose and over-treat some types of cancer these days. Diagnosis of early stage cancers that would never kill a person result in body parts missing and treatments that produce worse long-term side-effects that the cancer ever would.

 

I was also very anxious about the Bowel Preparation medicine. It’s a very strong laxative that results in very fast, explosive diarrhoea to clean out the colon so it is clear from them to see. Many years ago, I had a similar medication which I somehow took incorrectly and made myself extremely ill – so just the thought of doing this was making me nervous. Also, the whole thing about having “explosive diarrhoea” and possible sickness in the motor home bathroom was very worrying – given as I have mentioned above – it doesn’t all just flush away!

And even before I got to the Bowel Preparation stage there was the small matter of a 5 day “No Residue Diet” which clearly was not written with vegetarians in mind. No vegetables or fruit AT ALL. No beans, lentils, chickpeas!! As much lean meat as I wanted – well thanks very much – but no thanks. Hard cheeses, eggs, fish – all OK – but all problematic in their own different ways for me – cheese I love it…but it doesn’t love me – I am lactose intolerant which is why I don’t drink milk, or eat cream. I can tolerate cheese in small amounts – but as I found out after my cheese fest at Christmas when I eat too much I come out in hives!! I had just got rid of the awful itchy rash from the “Christmas Cheese Coma” and now faced it all over again.

Hives
With a skin rash like this there is no way I will be getting a bikini body by Summer

Eggs – again I love, but can only eat 3 or 4 a week or I get ‘egg bound’ and with the object of getting cleared out this seemed a bit pointless. And fish!! Oh dear – the ethical dilemma of knowing that I am only really prepared to eat fish in small amounts occasionally and then – only large fish such as cod or tuna (based on the minimal lives per meal rationale). Butter in small quantities….yes but  on what? Bread was not allowed – only the little toast like bread crackers (why these are allowed but not real bread I do not understand). White rice and pasta were allowed. But again? With what? So, I was spending a lot of time worrying about what I would eat and how it would affect me.

 

Shower

 

And to make things even worse, the French infection control procedures involve patients taking not just one, but two showers in an Iodine Hair and Body Wash – one the evening before and one in the morning. My fear was that the iodine would stain the very porous material that the shower is made of and it would be very difficult with such little water to keep flushing it away and even so then – it’s doing in to the waste water tank.

 

 

 

 

 

So, all things considered I was very anxious about the whole thing – both the preparation, the operation and the findings.

What actually happened was this:

The 5 day “no residue diet” was, as expected, difficult. I ate pretty much the same thing each day. Breakfast was 2 eggs and 3 bits of bread shaped cracker – ‘Biscottes” they are called in France. As predicted – bunged me up. Lunch each day was cooked white pasta, strained with half a tin of tuna stirred in to it. Ok the first time but after 5 days – I never want to see another can of tuna again. It resembled cat food and stank the motorhome out. Yes, I suppose I could have prepared it in the house but we have made a commitment to having a totally meat and fish free home from Day One. Dinner was white rice with a piece of steamed cod. White and white!! Not a good colour combination for a meal. Bland, boring, monotonous, and full of guilt! I ate 10 portions of fish in 5 days – way more that I felt was a reasonable compromise on my stance as a vegetarian (for animal welfare reasons) which was to eat it occasional when there were no other options. In between meal snacks were the ‘biscottes’ with cheese on. And of course – large and regular quantities of cheese meant the hives came back and I was left feeling itchy, bloated, uncomfortable. I also felt annoyed when I read that the UK version of the same diet included ‘well cooked vegetables’ which makes me think that it is pure laziness on the part of the French medical profession to include vegetables as they are probably taking the easy option and rather than explaining to the French (who mostly do not understand the concept of steaming vegetables without cooking them in butter or adding lardons to them) that they can only have plain, over cooked vegetables – they just say none at all. I did of course not dare say this to the French surgeon as I am certain he would have just told me to go and have the procedure in England!!

Bowel Preparation – this was an interesting experience. I was to mix 2 sachets of Colopeg into 2 litres of water and drink this over a 2-hour period on Sunday evening. And then repeat this process on the Monday morning. I researched this a lot on the Internet and through forums discovered that the knack is to get your mixed solution nice and cold – easier to drink that way. Also, to stock up on nappy cream as your ‘toosh’ is going to get sore – yowch! Other advice was to make sure you don’t go more than a few feet from a bathroom, and stock up on moist toilet paper. I found a young woman’s blog about her three colonoscopies just before I started to drink my first bottle so I spent two hours reading this whilst sipping my solution. It was not bad at all – it tasted like ‘Hepa Water’ only a stronger taste – a bit like salt water – not as unpleasant as I expected. But the quantity!! It feels as if your stomach will burst. I had a routine going – 250 ml every 15 minutes which was achievable if I kept focused and on it – but you couldn’t do anything other than drink constantly to get it all down.

It started to work about an hour and half in to it and at that stage I honestly thought it was a piece of cake – a gentle process. I guess in all honesty I did realise that it could not possibly have been that simple – so far there was no way I had pooped out 5 days’ worth of eggs! I had a peaceful evening and then the first of the two showers with Betadine Iodine that I was to have. Yes, the iodine did stain the shower cubicle a bit but with a bit of elbow grease Martin has sorted that out.

But then,  for some reason as soon as I wanted to go to bed about 11pm the nature of the beast turned – and then I found out what the ‘explosive’ part of the description really meant. Explosive and noisy!! Noises that I have never heard come from a bathroom before – and I think Martin not either!! Luckily, we have a good sense of humour where bodily functions are concerned. Thankfully the explosive stage only lasted for an hour or so and after about 15 times up and down on to the bed off the bed into the toilet, rinse and repeat – I did manage to get a few hours light sleep – but let’s just say – I would not have trusted a fart that night – so it was a very light sleep indeed.

In the morning I still didn’t feel empty – and indeed once I started on the morning’s 2 litres of solution, I found that a) it worked much quicker and b) you are not done until there is no colour to what is coming out (The term “I just shat clear water” featured at this stage).  In doing my research I found out that some people have colons that take longer to clear than others, and during the course of the 16 hours from start to finish that I really am one of those people with a ‘long, and tortuous colon’. 16 hours to clear out a colon with a strong, strong laxative! No wonder I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome!

Next was the rather disconcerting matter of getting to the hospital – an hour away – without pooping myself. We dropped the dogs around to our friends Jan and Frieda for them to have a lovely play date with their gorgeous Rosa.

The Three Doggo Amigos
The Three Doggo Amigos – always so lovely to see them playing together – they get on so well.

Shortly after getting back in the car I said to Martin that I regretted not using their toilet. We stopped at a village on the way only to find the toilets locked up for the winter. Bugger! Bum checks tighter than a nut cracker I managed to hold in that dangerous feeling fart until we got to Leclerc in Montayral – about the half way point. Martin dropped me right by the door and I shuffled in like a penguin. At the toilets there was a youngish woman standing by the doorway and a woman in one of the cubicles. I went in the other one and peed – I could hear everything the other woman was doing so knew she would hear me – and the noise of the explosive diarrhoea earlier that morning had reduced me and Martin to hysterical giggling – so I was really not sure how I was going to deal with this. “Oh well” I thought “Just let it go – you can’t help it” so I did. Next thing the woman by the door has rushed over to the door outside the adjacent cubicle and is calling in to her mother (or whoever she was) – saying “are you OK” (I think – it was in French) and it was then I realised that she thought it was her mother making the awful noise. I made a quick retreat, smiled awkwardly and scarpered off quickly!!

 

Honestly, I really don’t have much luck with public toilets. I’ve been locked in them more than once – including my most recent nightmare when we visited Perigeux over Christmas. I absolutely hate the French public toilets that have the automatic locking doors, but when a girl needs to go she needs to go. So, we’d gone into the station in the hope that there was a toilet…but it was on the platform so I went off on my own to find it. To my horror it was one of ‘those’ toilets – so I’m already a bit stressed. It was engaged. Luckily Ryan followed me out as he also needed to go – leaving just Martin with the dogs in the station café. The woman in the toilet took ages….and I was getting anxious. I was imagining that she was stuck in the toilet cubicle (such is my fear of these toilets). When eventually she came out, I was in such a heightened level of anxiety that I barely noticed the order of events and jumped in the door before it could close and decapitate me. I pressed the button to lock the door, and then done what I needed to do. And then I pressed the button to unlock the door – it changed colour but nothing happened! The door did not open!! Just as I had feared I had got locked in the toilet! Heart racing, I hit the button again. It turned red (locked) – so I banged it a bit hard (back to green). Still the door didn’t open. My heart is now pumping like crazy. I felt myself get hot….and panic starts to set in. I called through the door to Ryan “The door won’t open”. He suggested taking a photo of the panel and then send it to him – he probably thought my French was so bad I couldn’t understand the instructions.

Toilet Operational Panel

But it wasn’t that – it was that the door wasn’t sliding open. By now I was panicking really badly, sweating, trying to not over react but imagining that I will be stuck here for hours whilst they get the ‘pompiers’ (the fire brigade) to rescue me. I had flash backs to the time that the automatic toilet on the Southampton Central to London Waterloo train opened when I was sat on the toilet (yes, I told you – I have not had good luck with public toilets) and reflected that this situation was worse, in that I was trapped – back then only merely embarrassed.

I called out to Ryan

“Please go and get Martin and ask him to bring a member of station staff with him”.

Off he went, then a few minutes later a female voice – telling me which buttons to press. Obviously due to my stress I now have ZERO French language….so I’m trying to say I am pressing the buttons. She then tells me to push the door. So, I give the door a bloody huge heave ho, expecting that I need to put my full body weight against it to un-jam it – or whatever has happened to break it.

Law of Attraction And the door opens! Easily! Very easily! As guess what? It wasn’t a sliding door after all – it was a push door! Oh dear! With my fear of the door jamming I had totally failed to notice how the door operated and had made it happen!! That’s the Law of Attraction for you!! I was so embarrassed! The station lady was lovely!! All smiles and a bit taken aback when I threw my arms around her and thanked her for saving me!

Anyway, I have digressed – so let’s get back to the trip to the hospital. This was a smooth process – we checked in and were taken to my private room (it’s a state hospital but I was given the option of paying 35€ for a private room which given the stories about the gas releasing was in my mind worth every penny). A lovely young nurse called Margot was looking after me. I spoke a bit of French, she spoke a bit of English, and in between we used Google translate. She was pleasant, helpful and made me feel very reassured. She was also very interested in my Daith piercing – asking me lots of questions about where she could get one done. She has a Helix piercing. It was good to chat about silly shit like that – helped me to relax.

Sexy foot cover

This time I knew which parts of the ‘uniform’ to put on which body parts – last time I mistakenly put a foot cover on my head (thinking that I had three different size head covers to choose from). Not longer after getting prepped up a male porter came to get me and I was down in the anaesthetic room by just before 1pm. The lovely nurse there was chatting away – a bit of English with my little bit of French – and I mentioned to her how scared I was of the face mask – and bless her – she went over to a cupboard and came back with a nose tube and said “I can’t promise, you might be able to have this instead and we can ask” – when Caroline the (also lovely) anaesthetic nurse came over she said that was fine. She kept saying to me “I promise you, I will look after you – we are in this together”. She was so lovely!

 

 

Then I was wheeled through. The only really scary part was when they showed me the piece of plastic that goes into my mouth to let the tube in and I became worried that I was going to be awake for the endoscopy.

Endoscope mouth bit

It was got lost in translation and Caroline thought my pointing was me saying I needed to eat before I had the tube – ha ha! But then she realised what I was saying and reassured me I would not feel anything. They put the piece of plastic in my mouth which felt really odd but then the anaesthetic came and I went to sleep.

Then I woke up in the recovery room and came around – felt that all my body parts were still intact. I felt fine and also no sore throat. No pain anywhere and no apparent signs of a partial bowel reconstruction. I checked the time – just about 2pm which reassured me that I had not been out long enough for anything major to have occurred. Then they took me back up to my room about 2.30pm. I had a few sips of water – sneakily as I know they won’t give you anything for at least an hour. About 3.30pm Margot came in to ask me what drink I wanted and said I would get some bread, butter and jam. I said to her “Good! En Anglais je mange un cheval” (I could eat a horse) she laughed and said “En Francais je mange un hogg” (I eat a pig). We had a laugh, and me and Martin discussed afterwards how we are not so much dissimilar as alike – and what a shame that Britain is fast becoming a country that wants to disengage from the rest of Europe.

 

I enjoyed my bread and jam, watched a few episodes of ER with French dubbing (hilarious) and then it was time to speak to the surgeon to see how it had all gone – and despite my fears that something awful would be found he said that there is no problem, no injury, no polyps, no cancer. So, now I know that the problems I have are not anything structural to do with my bowel.

 

So, the next stage is to work out what it is that I am putting in to my system that is causing the problems – i.e. look at diet. And also, what is the strange pain at the appendix site? If it is not anything wrong with my colon – it could simply be healing, it could be that the internal staples are a little too tight – but it would certainly seem that whatever it is, it is not anything bad to worry about.

Back to the drawing board. For the rest of January, I am going to continue where I left of with my detox and then in February after a few days break I am going to go on to the Low FODMAP elimination diet to see if I can work out what (if any) food triggers can be identified. This is quite a daunting prospect for a vegetarian as lentils and chickpeas are pretty much off limits – but the good news is that gin is Low FODMAP!

Gin FODMAP

My gut (pardon the pun) feel is that the lack of exercise that occurred firstly when I knackered my knee, and then after my appendectomy has contributed to a sluggish system which with my “long and tortuous colon” has simply aggravated problems.

But for now, I’m happy that it’s all over and again very thankful for the French health care system which has started to restore a little faith in the medical profession.

So, yes, there is a “Crappy Side of Life” but all in all – Life is Good!