Ding Dong Bell, Puss Chat’s in the Well

Ding dong bell, Puss Chat’s in the Well

Life has been eventful as ever. Everything seems to take two, sometimes three times as long in France. Not that we are complaining about that – the slower pace of life is one of the things we love about our new life in France.

The life that we are so desperately trying to create, but are now fearing for because of the “B” word…. but I won’t say too much about that as I am still hoping that sense will prevail and we will look back on this stage as a nasty dream one day. Suffice to say that we are one of the 1.3 million people born in the UK who are living in Europe whose lives will be changed dramatically if “it” happens – and those changes will not be for the better.

Bertrand Russell quote
We do respect that a small majority voted to leave the UK but we still believe that this does not make it a good idea.

So, back to the slow pace of life. We’ve been plodding along trying to get the Garden House finished, but it is slow progress. For example, we had no nails to put the shingle roof tiles on, so Martin popped down to the village – sure that the little hardware store that seems to sell EVERYTHING would have them – but no! roof nails are one of the very few things that they do not sell. So, this meant a trip to our closest large shopping town – Montayral – which is about 40 minutes each way – at least it is the way I drive – Martin does it quicker and I’m sure there are plenty who do it even faster – however, at this time of great uncertainty we do not want to risk our licences. We have recently applied to exchange our UK licences for French ones – a process which we are told will now take up to one year – they are clearly expecting a large influx of applications.

A day’s shopping in Montayral really is a whole day out. We do some washing in the big machines, go to 2 or 3 different supermarkets, and then also go to whatever DIY shops sell the bits we need for the project in hand. We have had many, many disappointing trips where we have not been able to find what we have needed as we simply are not looking in the right places. But we are getting there – and when we reflect back on a year ago – when we were still making the mistake of going to the shops on Mondays (when many shops are closed) – or during the 2-hour lunch break – we can see that progress is being made. And then, as well as shopping we usually go for lunch – or as we did on our most recent shopping day – take a picnic down to the river and have lunch “al fresco”.

The two-hour lunch break is a thing we have come to love. For years now I have not worn a watch (apart from my Garmin which I use to track walks and runs) as I like the freedom this brings and have become pretty good at judging what time of day it is from where the sun is in the sky, or just how it feels. Now, the church bells tell us constantly throughout the day from 8 am. through to 9 pm chiming the number for the hour of the day, with one chime at the 30 minutes past. Often, we will be laying in bed on a weekend and hear the 8 am chime and sigh “nothing much to get up for let’s wait till the next one” – we love it. Hearing the bells keeps us from feeling isolated – we are not a million miles away from life, but we also love the fact that we are out of the village enough to have the space of the woods around us – we feel this is very much the best of both worlds. Someone said to me recently that when she moved out to France a neighbour said to her that if she ever was lost to just listen out for the bells and they would guide her back. What a lovely, reassuring thought that is.

Church Bells
About time to start getting dinner ready

So, the church bells help to keep us reminded of the time of day – that is, until lunch time. At 12 noon the bells chime twelve times – but then of course at 1230 pm it is just once, at 1 pm it is still just once – and again at 130 pm it is still just once. So, if you lose track after 12 noon it can be as late as 2 pm before you know for sure. At first, when we moved to France we did get a bit frustrated that if you forgot something for lunch you would have to go without, but now we have got used to the concept of “if you ain’t got it, you go without” and we just love that feeling of for that 2 hour period of losing touch with time – just knowing that it is simply “lunch time”.

Same as dinner time – which traditionally is 7 pm in France – which always seemed very late to us as we would usually eat around 530 pm/6 pm in the UK. But now, we tend to work until it starts to get dark, and I’ll have dinner ready for after that – around 7 pm at this time of the year. I feel we are much more in tune with our circadian rhythm since we have lived here. In the summer we were up and about much earlier – as soon as the sun came up – whereas throughout the winter we want to hibernate. We mostly sleep with the roof blinds open in the motor-home as we love to see the stars and the moon during the night. Although, with the amazingly bright super moon we had on 19th February we did find that we needed to shut the blind over for about 5 nights whilst it was coming up to full moon and just afterwards.

Full Moon 3
Luna Love

I’ve always been fascinated with the moon – ever since I was a little girl – I can remember being in the back seat of the car at night time watching it with awe. As I’ve got older, I have discovered how much my own body is guided by the lunar phases.

Being an energy worker – using Reiki and Crystals as part of my work as a Holistic Therapist, I have learned how to tune in the moon to exploit its power to enhance my work with these mediums. So, at full moon I was able to do some meditation work to help shift some negative energy and also cleanse my crystal collection to recharge them with positive energy. I’ve felt that life in the motor-home has taken its toll on me as an energy worker as the space is so limited, and there’s so much plastic! I just really do not like being surrounded by so much plastic and man-made toxic material. Apart from the obvious damage it is doing to the planet I find it creates a bad feeling in the air around me.

I adore the Garden House and how it’s made from pure wood, and most of the things we are putting in there are made from natural materials as well, including the beautiful Rose Wood cabinet that once belonged to my dad and step-mum….my most treasured item of furniture.  Of course, there are some exceptions to that – but the balance is much better I feel than in the motor-home. So, I’m feeling much more balanced in general and have felt more able to rid myself from some negative attachments that I had felt were holding me back.

Wooden furniture in the Garden House
It’s a work in progress but the first piece of furniture in just had to be “Dad’s Cabinet”. They bought it back from Singapore over 30 years ago. They gave it to me when they moved to France as they didn’t have room – so it is fitting that we have brought it over here.

Around the time of the full moon I felt inspired to give my Buddha a bit of a makeover. Originally my Buddha belonged to my late, lovely step dad Alan – but he had no room for it after they had moved so I asked if I could give Buddha a home. So, Buddha made the trip in the removal van over to France last May, but I was really unhappy about her (yes, my Buddha is feminine – although this type of Buddha is typically considered male – but I identify with it as a female Goddess) being in the storage barn when we have all our worldly goods. So, we brought her over to the land at the earliest opportunity. However, I hadn’t realised that life outside was not really her thing – and she soon became quite tatty. So, I had in my head to spray paint her – and had multiple DIY shop trips until I found the right colour – purple!!

So, on a lovely sunny afternoon just after the full moon I transformed by Buddha from her previous black and gold to a very bright shade of purple, and I love the end result!! So much so, that a few days later the concept of my new business came to me and I have decided to change my business name to “Purple Buddha Holistic Therapies” and she will now be the figure head at the Garden House – which in time will become my treatment room. I just need to sort out a sink and the all-important, afore mentioned – toilet situation. So, it’s exciting times – I am hoping to start doing some meaningful work in April or May. The Super Moon really has been a great time of change of vibration for me.

Purple Buddha
Here “she” is…under the cover of the terrace of course so no more damage to her I hope.

There was some sad news in the last few weeks. I mentioned in the last blog entry that I was really excited that we would soon be adopting a couple of barn cats. Well, it seems the time is not quite right for us to be taking on any new fur friends at the moment. The cat rescue place was lucky enough to re-home ALL 10 of the barn cats to one single home, and had just four cats left which are all very feral and avoid ALL human contact. So, after discussion between us and the cat rescue we all agreed that we would be better suited owners of some cats that could be barn cats but still have the potential for human interaction – I think my messages to Valerie gave the game away that I wanted “Puss Chats” rather than “Mouse Catchers” – I was asking “do they have names”,what do they like to eat” sort of questions – which clearly told her that I was a bit of a softy!! Never mind, as disappointing as it is that “Puss Chat’s in the well”  – or rather “down the pan” it’s all for a reason and the right Chats or Chatons will come along at the right time.

Ironically, ever since our hopes were dashed – our neighbouring “semi wild” cats belonging to the Portuguese lady – have been showing their cute little faces a lot more, and venturing right up to the motor-home – especially at night time when the nose of them scrapping between each other can be added to “Captain Twit-Face” the owl, and the Rooster who doesn’t know he is supposed to stop at night.

White Cat
This one I have nick-named Blanche – all the animals around here have nick names even though I don’t own them!

 

 

 

Put it in perspective

Put it in perspective

It’s been three weeks since my last entry and I have to say that having our little garden house has made a world of difference to our quality of living standards.

Who would think that living in a shed could be so satisfying? If you had sat me down a year ago and told me that I would be nothing short of ecstatic to have a shed to live in during the daytime I would probably have told you that you are mad!! Or sworn!! Or probably both to be honest.

Indeed, I am sure that there are people who are amongst our group of family, friends and acquaintances, both this side and the other side of the English Channel, who must think that we are a bit strange for being so pleased. And there have been a few quizzical looks, and some slightly sarcastic sounding comments about shed parties, but we have just ignored that and been content in our happy little bubble!

Of course, it is all down to perspective isn’t it?

When you are living in a lovely house somewhere, and someone says to you “here you are – a 17m² shed – put some furniture in it and away you go” well, I suppose that idea isn’t very appealing really. But when you have been living in a cramped, increasingly untidier motor home – suddenly the prospect of doubling your living space overnight is a very exciting prospect indeed!! And as such we have been treating our new space just like home – making it a cosy little space, adding some little touches – putting proper spot lights up, buying a bed settee, and most important of all – creating a Gin Den!!

Now, I’m a bit of a light weight where it comes to drinking alcohol as I don’t drink regularly or often (which yes I know is strange in France) so when I do it tends to go straight to my head. Especially with the large measures which are often poured by friends (my mind is now thinking back to the time when Bernard poured me a G&T which I am convinced was not Gin at all – probably rocket fuel – and was at the very least a quadruple measure – and hey ho!! I was pissed before 4.30pm in the afternoon).

But I digress from the Gin Den……

So, I am partial to a nice G&T and like the boutique gins that are widely available in the UK but no so much in France – so I have been collecting bottles – but not using them up – and when I finally got around to putting all the gin bottles in one place – I counted up no fewer than 13 bottles of different brands of Gin!! I just need an excuse for a party now to get some help in drinking them. gin den

Which leads to a dilemma – we now have a little space in which to entertain – which is exciting – but of course we don’t really have toilet facilities for guests. Back in the Autumn we did attempt to erect a toilet tent for when we had a large gathering – but reports back stated it was not a particularly pleasant experience. So, we are mulling this one over as to how we can overcome this – as being a sociable butterfly I really do want to start offering some return invitations to all the people who have been so kind and generous in inviting us over for coffees, meals, over night stays, shower use, washing machine use and so on.

Anyone who has ever been in a caravan or motor home will instantly understand why these toilet facilities are not suitable to offer up for guests. But, for those of you who are not sure…I might expand on this in more detail one day – but for now, please just know that what goes in has to be emptied out by my dear husband. And as much as he loves all our friends – he doesn’t want to know what you had for dinner last night…if you catch my drift. So, if anyone has any ideas for installing a civilised toilet system as an en-suite to a garden room, but without a sewerage system in place – answers on a post card please.

On the house planning side of things not much has happened of late – we are still waiting for some reports to come back before we can submit the house plans. We have had some site plans sent over for us to review but we were not happy with the perspective that the position of the house gave us. So, we’ve had a bit of too-ing and fro-ing between us and the architect. From his perspective he needs to get our house in the plot with the best orientation to utilise the solar power and also to be able to turn cars around without the need to reverse (apparently that’s a French thing) but from our perspective we (especially me) need to satisfy ourselves that we will get the view that we want from our bed – without cricking our neck!! So, we have been out on the land – looking this way and that way – gauging the necessary angle to get the right perspective!! Hopefully we will get there soon, in the grand scheme of things it is better to spend a bit of extra time to get the right result. .

As Duffy says “It’s been a long and uphill journey…getting to where I am today…..it’s been real tough and I’m still learning, that working hard’s the only way ….Put it in Perspective”

Click here to play Put it in Perspective

We have both been busy, me with painting the garden room with wood treatment as we are very keen to get the wood protected before the weather changes for the better – as it is in a very sunny spot so would not take long to get sun damaged if we don’t treat it – so that’s a must for finishing soon.

Martin has had the interesting task of starting to clear out the ruin in preparation for our fur family to get bigger. We are hoping to adopt a couple of barn cats which will be semi-wild and can live in the sheltered part of the ruin. But first, there is about 100 years’ worth of rubbish to remove – and that’s not just the load of old stuff my dad and step-mum put in there – there is disintegrated render which is just powder, rotten tree trunks, mulchy leaves, tiles, stones, bricks…. you name it – we have it. Oh, and cobwebs that are straight out of Arachnophobia III……. shudder! pile of rubble in ruin

It has been all I can bear to stand gingerly by the door and watch poor Martin shovel up spade after spade of shit into a wheelbarrow and then go through the painstaking task of sorting it out into piles of tiles, stones and then rubbish. wheelbarrow

We are keeping the stones as we hope to use them in the dry-stone walling around the edge of the raised terrace of our house, and we think the tiles might make a nice mosaic path somewhere – not sure where yet – but it will definitely need to be a mosaic as the majority of them are broken.

It would appear that dad placed old cupboards on top of the really old rubble before putting their carefully wrapped bundles of belongings on top of that, so the stuff underneath is really, really old. Martin became quite preoccupied with the question “I wonder where the owner’s poop is” as he was shovelling the stuff up. There’s no sign of a bathroom anywhere – but we think we may have sussed out where the original cooking area might have been. Martin also discovered hanging from a beam a tiny, very old key! We have no idea what it’s for – it’s not either of the doors.

Old key

It’s all very exciting as it unfolds, but also very poignant think that my dad’s dreams ended here in this ruin. At some point in time they packaged up their belongings to store here – knowing he was very ill, but at that time not realising they would NEVER return here to complete their dreams. There are really well packaged and labelled up parcels of stuff – which as of yet I have not been in the right frame of mind to even start unpeeling to reveal the contents – but that will come – soon, I think. But there are also piles and piles of damaged items – bags that have begun to decompose once exposed to the sunlight and boxes crushed under the weight of the floor that collapsed in when at some point a huge tree trunk fell straight through the roof!!tree through ruin roof

 

So much stuff damaged – and to think that this was once their life.

The saddest image for me was the sight of dad’s old brown working shoes peeking through a damaged black bin bag.shoe

His shoes that he would have packed away – hoping to return soon to pick up where he left off. And that breaks my heart in some ways, but equally I know that Martin and I would not be living our life here in this way if his dream had not come to an end. So I suppose, again, it all depends on which perspective you look at this from – is it the sad tragedy – or is it the amazing opportunity!!

I know which perspective I prefer to look from.

 

 

Happy (Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof)

Happy (Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof)

 

Huge progress has been made since my last blog entry. We got stuck straight into mini house building – with Martin completing the raised deck really quickly and then between us we put up the garden house over a period of a few days. The hardest part was sorting out all the pieces of the jigsaw and deciding which bits to start with. This was made harder than in needed to be as we convinced ourselves that we needed a piece that didn’t actually exist so went through the whole pile of bits to get to the bottom and of course no such bit – a bit of a tense moment – but then the penny dropped and we realised we were looking for something that didn’t exist!! What a relief that was.

The pieces slot together like a puzzle – and actually for the most part was very simple to do. garden hut at the beginning

I loved banging the slats in with my mallet and taking all my stress out of the wood! sharon banging with the mallet 2 The only part that was physically too hard for the two of us to do as I was not strong enough to help Martin lift was the two apex bits of the roof – so Pierre our neighbour came over to help with these whilst I supervised!!

I have to say that the construction of this garden house has made me feel happier than other aspect of this house building project for absolutely ages – so much so that we were compelled to shoot this very silly lip sync video to demonstrate our happiness

Another highlight of the last week was visit from our English friend Thea who came to stay for one night on her way toward Spain in her Bongo called Beryl the Purple Peril. We got to meet her lovely doggie Bertie and showed them both all the sites of VduP, including the Tuesday evening Pool at Café De La Poste. It was really lovely to have her here to stay – we get really excited when people visit us and say how much they love our plot, and our plans – and just “get” what we are trying to achieve here.  We had a lovely evening with her – she introduced me to Ginger Gin and we both very much hope that this will be the first of many visits from her and Bertie.bertie in beryl

Dare I mention Brexit and the stress it is causing us and many other ex-pats who live here? Well, without getting political there are so many things flying around at the moment about whether we will be able to travel with pets, or indeed travel at all for that matter – so we have made the decision to get both dogs under the French Pet Passport scheme – which meant another rabies vaccination and a big bill, and then also we decided that we would start the procedure to exchange our UK Driving Licences for French ones whilst we are still able to do a straight swap. All stuff which we didn’t anticipate having to do quite so quickly and to be honest without Brexit might never have needed to. But needs must – and it feels a bit like we are being pushed to the edge of the parapet at a rate of knots that is quite scary. But we know that if we were to be stuck one side of the channel – it is this side that we want to be stuck!! We love it here, we love our life in France, we love spending time with our new friends, and we love the gateway it provides to the rest of Europe, and talking of parapets – we are prepared to stick our heads well above the parapet and make sure that through whatever madness Brexit brings – our children will still have some choices available to live in a European country that may not be available to others.

It’s hard to not dwell on such negativity – but we do try to remain focussed on what we are doing here in France and as long as we are pushing forward in the right direction that is the most important thing.

Talking of which – we had a major breakthrough this week – not only have we erected our garden house – we now have electricity!! Real, proper – turn on an off ‘able electricity!! Like the old Creature Comforts ad!creature comfortsWhat an amazing thing. Now anyone who has ever done a bit of basic psychology will be able to tell you that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that humans need their basic needs of food, shelter and comfort to be met before they can progress higher up that hierarchy!! Living with no running water for the first 3 months, and 12v battery power only for 8 months had indeed at times made us feel that our basic needs were being somewhat compromised. So of course, the moment that electricity was switched on our moods were immediately elevated to absolute elation!! Oh, what a feeling – it is really quite wonderful to know that we have a little garden house which has electricity and once we get a few bits and pieces out of storage we will have some home comforts (and some heating) and we can hunker down and get cosy in our Little Hygge Hut. heart lamp

Can’t wait to celebrate the completion of the Hygge Hut with a Gin and Tonic Party!

 

N.B Hygge – pronounced Hoo Ga – is a Scandinavian word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality.

 

Great Expectations (and Lessons Learned)

Great Expectations and Lessons Learned

I cannot believe how much time has slipped away since my last blog entry – and indeed how quickly that time has flown.

We left VduP on 16th December, heading off to Bruges Christmas Markets, and then onwards towards the UK to spend Christmas with our families. Before we left, we had one last little job to do before driving off in Marsha (our Motorhome) and that was to make a very special delivery of our little Christmas tree (now redundant) to a house up the hill where a few days later it would be used by an English family who are newly incoming to VduP. Delivery of Christmas Tree.jpgThis is recycling at it’s best in my opinion – we had no need for the tree anymore as I drew the line at driving 1000km with it strapped to the back of the motorhome – although the Christmas Wreath that I had made did make the same journey unscathed in the pocket of the bike rack cover!! I knew that this was the correct purpose for that pocket and nothing at all to do with the stowage of the rear warning sign! Christmas Wreath on bike rack holder.jpgKatie’s family on the other hand had a good use for the tree as they were coming over to spend their first Christmas in their new home and it would save them having to go out for a last-minute Christmas Tree hunt.

 

 

 

 

So, with the relocation of the Christmas Tree and then the realisation that the motorhome had sunk a little into the temporary hardstanding and was a bit grounded, and also precariously close to the decking – it was a bit of a challenge to get away to say the least – but away we did get, full of excitement and anticipation for a full filled Christmas. See the video of our getaway here.

I was a bit sniffly on the first leg of our journey with what has turned out to be the 2nd cold of 3 that I have had in the last month!! I honestly thought that living in France would help to built a bit of resilience towards the common cold germs – but it would seem the contrary. But thankfully, a few days of relaxing in the passenger seat with a box of tissues done the trick and by the time we reached Bruges I was feeling much better and ready for an evening of shopping and a wonderful Chinese meal. I had already sought out a restaurant located right by the vets which we needed to take Luka and Lillie to for their pet passport checks. I’d been looking forward to a Chinese meal for ages, as it is very hard to find in SW Rural France, and I was hopeful that we would easily find a lovely vegetarian feast as A) Chinese is always a good option for veggies and B) the restaurant FB page said it had vegetarian options. So, we drove over to the vets, then over to the restaurant – popped our heads in and asked if the doggos could come in – “yes” she said, “as long as they don’t eat me” – so we went in, got seated, and she brought the menu. Despite a full 5 minutes scouring of the menu – I could find nothing vegetarian except one side dish. So, I asked her “do you have anything vegetarian?” – Expecting, hoping that she would say “yes any of the dishes can be done as veggie”. But no, she just said “you can have the water chestnuts stir fry” (€15 for a side dish) “and rice” (another €9). Hmmm I said to Martin – that’s not really the exciting meal I had in mind – shall we go and look for somewhere else? So, embarrassing as it was to get up, with the two doggos in tow, we apologised and left…still hungry! I’m still not really sure why we apologised – after all – she was the one whose menu said “vegetarian options”. But it just goes to show how our expectations, still even after living in France for 8 months now, we still expect, hope that we will get a decent veggie meal out. So, after a fraught drive around the ring road a few times and realising the motorhome was not the best vehicle to be seeking out random restaurant choices – we admitted defeat and went back to the campsite and then walked into Bruges. We were able to persuade a snack bar owner that the dogs would behave themselves (which of course they did) and we had a right old combination – a “melange” even – of snack bar stuff – a veggie burger, some fries with garlic mayo, and some deep-fried rice balls. All washed down with two bottles (small of course) of their finest red wine. Not quite the Asian feast I had allowed my mind to promise myself – but it was yummy all the same. We then carried on into the Bruges to see the Christmas lights and found a lovely little bar to enjoy a cup of green tea before walking back to hit the sack for the night. Christmas Lights.jpg

Our next day was spent in Bruges doing much more of the things we had intended to do – shop, shop and more shop!! Beer, cheese, chocolate, stollen, you name it – we got it!! After all we have a motorhome to fill up with goodies to take back to share!! We ate warm waffles with ice cream even though it was freezing cold, we drank in some culture in the form of the famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Horseman.jpgWe walked for miles and miles – around the markets, around the squares – looking up at the beautiful architecture, and when it started to get cold and dark we spied across a canal a brewery which looked very inviting and so we went in and drank a “Beer Flight”! beer flightThis was great fun, and once we had filled up with lots of Belgium beer (which in our opinion is THE best in the world – sorry France) we went for a curry which more than made up for the disaster of the previous evening. Everything was wonderful – the service, the food, and the friendly staff!! How had we never spotted this place during our previous trips to Bruges? Ah well, that would be as it has only just opened……so, if you are ever in Bruges and fancy an Indian pop along and say Martin and Sharon sent you – Curry Palace and Tandoor, Hoogstraat. Indian Spices.jpg

Then on towards the UK, bulging at the seams with goodies. First stop was Ampfield where we had one night at the campsite and caught up with my mum, my dentist (ouch a filling and ouch lots of money), Adam, Owen and Hannah, and Ruth and John. That night I drank a lot of gin!! I know that because I was tipsy enough to participate in a short play put on by the Mummers and also because I cleared the bar out of the Bathtub Gin and have the empty bottle to prove it. Bathtub Gin.jpg

Next stop was the New Forest where we were to be spending the next 8 days in a Studio Barn. The accommodation was perfect for two people, but a challenge for the family antics that we had planned – and in hindsight I suppose it wasn’t at all realistic to have expected to have entertained a variety of family groups, for a variety of different family gatherings. But I did manage to knock up a rather good vegetarian full Christmas Roast Dinner in a teeny-weeny little holiday kitchenette area dabbing over the christmas dinner and perhaps more importantly we all survived!! However, the cold bugs struck again and one by one the Rees-Williams and extended family was struck down by the lurgy.

I think that is it fair to say that all my great expectations of a family Christmas filled with long, crisp, frosty walks in the beautiful surrounding New Forest, back for steaming hot bowls of Baileys Hot Chocolate as we listened to the joyous sounds of family laughter were a little unrealistic to say the least. Well, when you put a large group of people who live entirely separate and different lives together – throw in copious amounts of alcohol for good measure, and just for a bit of added spice let’s all feel like complete shit with the flu – you tell me…did we do well to survive it at all? On the naughty list.jpg– let me tell you I wasn’t the only one on the naughty list by the end of it!

So, Christmas came and went as it does, and we headed back towards France in time for the New Year. By this time cold number 2 for me had taken full hold and all I could do was splutter and sneeze, and hope that I wasn’t infecting too many people. Lemsip just wasn’t cutting it, so I progressed to Day and Night Nurse – forgetting my complete hypersensitivity to any medication – so the effect of the Night Nurse was lingering well past the usual 12 hours, rendering me comatose until 4pm in the afternoon. Martin said it was the quietest trip we have EVER done! Cheeky Martin!!

We arrived back in VduP in time to celebrate the arrival of 2019 with our friends Jan and Frieda, Carole and Bernard, Carol, Craig and Wendy, and Tony and Tess. Luka and Lillie were welcomed too and enjoyed a lovely evening snuggled up with Rosa – a proper black Labrador Fest!black lab fest

Fantastic food, lots and lots of gin and prosecco, music, singing and dancing!! Followed by the hangover from hell!! Will I ever learn how much is too much where Gin is concerned? No, probably not…do any of us?

New Years Day was spent quietly and simply, just picking at some leftovers from the previous night, and popping down to the pub with the dogs to offload some of the copious amounts of chocolate we had brought in Belgium on to the bar for everyone to enjoy!! And lots of reflection, on the way that our Great Expectations for Christmas had actually led to disheartenment, and disappointment. We have both already changed so much in the 8 months since we have lived here, but life for other people has remained the same, or moved in different directions. It’s a period of great adjustment for us, as we begin to explore our new roles within relationships…..no longer the parent, child, or friend in the way we used to be to other people, as now we are not in their lives every day in the same way. And simultaneously we are forming new relationships, with new people, in this new country, this new life we are now in. And sometimes that feels a little scary…

We have not had the chance to settle back into normal life in VduP as almost straight away we came away on a house-sitting assignment. 2 doggos and 4 chickens – and a Perigordian house which is very beautiful but oh so cold. So cold that it is warmer outside than in. Ceilings that go so far up into the cavernous roof space, stone walls that quite literally hold the freezing cold temperatures in day and night, despite Martin performing his best ever fire building skills. So cold that a thermal vest, a thermal long-sleeved top, a fleece and a gilet are still not enough to feel warm enough to sit and type….and this is the reason this blog is so late!! That and the fact that Cold Number 3 is currently in all it’s full blown glory!

But, in spite of feeling a little more than just a bit miserable we are still able to see the lessons in this. It’s definitely confirming to us that the way forward for our house is DEFINITELY the eco build way. Yes, we will have a high ceiling – but we will also have effective insultation. Yes, we will have tiled floors, but underneath those tiles will be an underfloor heating system. And most importantly we will have a proper covered wood store so that the wood we burn will not be damp!!  But, on a positive note, the chance to use a full-sized kitchen has been wonderful and I have been batch cooking to fill our teeny little motorhome freezer so that when we get back to VduP we can get cracking on with the mammoth task of building a garden house so that we can have a bit of extra space to get cosy!! I think the week in the cold Perigordian house will provide good practice for living in a 45mm thick garden house – and who knows it may even prove to be warmer! And perhaps the biggest blessing of all is that we are really looking forward to getting back into life in the motorhome instead of dreading it after having a house for a week – and I never thought I would say that!!!

 

Deux Petite Canards

 

Deux petite canards

It’s been another busy week in this 24/7 city that never sleeps ha ha!! Who would have thought that life in a sleepy little village in rural South West France could offer so much in the way of entertainment during the winter months?

I touched on the Birthday Drinks Bar Crawl in my last blog mentioning that we had been out until the unearthly hour of 2am drinking, and that I had a hangover the next day. To be honest I thought that would probably be my last night out this side of Christmas.

But no!! Or should I say “mais non”? This week has seen lots of adventures and late nights. Firstly, we went to celebrate Carol’s birthday at Carole and Bernard’s house on Monday evening where they made us a lovely vegetarian curry, and lots of gin and tonic and red wine was drunk. That was a lovely evening – and very good to see Bernard looking so well after his recent spell in hospital.

Then Tuesday evening we went to play pool – which wasn’t a late night as such, nor a drunken one as by then I had decided to make a concerted start to my December “Pre-tox” in preparation for January’s “De-tox” (for me this means eating no meat (easy as I am a veggie), no wheat, no dairy, and no processed food, and no alcohol for the whole of January. In December I plan to do a “light” version of this which means following the plan for any day which is not a special occasion – so as to avoid it getting in the way of the party season. Anyway, my “boisson de choix” on Tuesday was “Thé Vert Menthe”. I played one game with Peter which was not my finest hour, but then when my second game came around with a bit of coaching from my trainer “Mr Traynor” I managed to surprise myself and everyone else in the back room of “Café de la Poste” by getting a few balls down in one go!! It was my closest game ever…well at least in this decade (I used to play quite well for a girl in my misspent youth). I got down to 1 ball but I still lost!! Peter won 10 games in a row that night – he was on fire!! Sharon playing pool

On Wednesday I decided that now my knee is feeling much better it is about time I started to join Martin on the evening dog walks down to the village. In our former life in Chandlers Ford we used to walk each evening in December after dinner and count how many houses had their Christmas Lights on. Although the houses with lights on are few and far between, the village in itself has some really awesome lights – which we think must be funded and organised by the commune, and are really quite lovely to see. Starting at the end by the Rugby Club bar there are lights which are sort of in the shape of a tree but not quite tree shape – which I have nicknamed Christmas Pile – as it’s reminiscent of a pile – although a pile of what I do not know. Christmas Pile

We can actually see Christmas Pile from our small deck outside the motorhome up on the land and it is very reassuring and comforting to see how close we actually are to civilisation now that the Winter is drawing in.

Then as you walk through the high street there are lights on the Halle, and over the arches of the Hotel du Commerce, in the windows of most, if not all of the businesses as you walk down towards the end. Christmas Lights collage

It all finishes up at the Mairie which has a rather spectacular Christmas Rocket and a Blue Tree. I love it!! The whole walk takes us about 45 minutes if we stretch it out and pause to look at any new lights each evening. It’s great entertainment for us – they say that the best things in life are free and it certainly gives us some fun to look at them. Christmas Rocket and Blue Tree

During this walk we passed the hall where the choir meet – and yes, I did say that maybe we would go back, and then Martin said he would go back even if I didn’t, but actually as we listened to them practicing inside and it was the same “O Salutarius” as before we realised that the choir probably is not for us!! Never mind – we gave it a try but it was not to be!

Thursday heralded the arrival of the replacement doors for the garden house at last!! This means that we can finally crack on and get the raised deck for this, and then the actual garden house erected. And not a moment too soon!! As always, a week or so away does us good but then when we return to this life in the motorhome it doesn’t take long before we feel the strain placed on us through life inside a 21m² home. Two large wet and muddy dogs contribute to a, let’s say “difficult” situation, and tempers sometimes get a little fraught!! Occasionally, an ill-timed comment can lead to a furious exchange of words. For example, Martin discovered that to say the words “why didn’t you bring that in before you started cooking” to an extremely stressed woman who was attempting to cook up a lovely, healthy, nutritionally balanced meal from scratch, with fresh vegetables in approximately 12 inches in total of food preparation space – was not the best thing to say!! He was reminded in no un-certain terms that he would travel far and wide to discover another woman prepared to live in these conditions AND deliver 3 meals from scratch a day and that if he preferred to live in a yurt and eat out of tins he was welcome to try that out…..or something similar…there may have been a few extra words…I can’t quite remember!! Anyway, we won’t dwell on that and are friends again, and he has been working hard on getting the deck done since. This is what we are hoping it will look like when complete, and hopefully this will bring us some reprieve in the way of extra space (and dare I say it the chance to not be in the same room as each other all the time). Garden house

Friday was “cinema date night” for us. We went to watch French film Grande Bain in the village. It’s amusing to say the least that back in the UK we were spoilt with the choice of no fewer than 10 films which each ran a few times a day for many weeks – yet we rarely went to the cinema. Yet here in VduP we get excited when it comes around – the monthly film!! In French, no English sub-titles – just our own imaginations to work out what is going on. This one was quite easy – very similar to The Full Monty but involving a group of fairly lost, middle aged French men who formed a synchronised swimming team! It was very funny and definitely had some “laugh out loud” moments in spite of the language difficulties. And in any case, the cinema is warm and dry, and has comfy seats and enough space to stretch our legs out comfortably!!

And then to conclude our very full week of entertainment, whilst strolling around the village on Saturday morning after popping down to see what all the fuss was about for the Telethon (a fundraising event) and seeing the Pompiers doing a charity car wash and having a guided tour round a fire engine, Fire Engine we bumped in to Beatrice and Bruno who invited us to the Bingo that evening. Now, during the Bar Crawl when I was, let’s say a little tipsy, I had a conversation with Beatrice about the possibility of becoming her Bingo caller at the campsite next season…so this seemed the perfect opportunity to find out more about French Bingo. So, we said we would love to go!!

Beatrice said doors open at 7pm but Bingo starts at 9pm, so we arranged to meet them there about 8pm. We figured that if it started at 9pm we would be finished by 1100. We got settled down, had a cup of tea and a crepe, and a chat with Beatrice and Bruno whilst we waited. The French system involves buying Bingo cards as it does in the UK, but instead of marking the numbers with a pen you re-use your card – and cover the numbers with counters. The regular Bingo goers all have a fancy magnetic counter holder, but we had to borrow some counters from Beatrice and Bruno from their campsite game.Counter holder

Like the UK though the players often have a lucky charm to touch to bring them luck. There was a lady at another table with a little Buddha, and the French lady next to me had a little duck. I told Beatrice that in the UK I might have had a lucky pen, but as we didn’t need pens that would not be the case. I quietly wondered if now might be the time to consider my knickers to be “lucky pants” but once I found out what some of the prizes would be, I changed my mind and decided that tonight it would be the taking part that would be important and not the winning!!

Just before 9pm the very lovely Vicky announced the Bingo would soon start and the balls were placed into the dispenser. All went quiet…eyes down…. you could hear a pin drop. The numbers were announced one at a time …in French of course!! Beatrice and I soon worked out a system that would not only help me improve my understanding of French numbers, but would also ensure that I did not miss any. I listened to the number…attempted to work out what it was, clarify with Beatrice and then she would place her counter after I placed mine. So, each time a number was called I would say, quietly…what I thought was the number in English. I hoped I was not distracting the French lady next to me but she didn’t seem to be annoyed. We had a lot of giggles during the games, and I discovered that I have some serious mental blocks with certain numbers – including 84 – which is quatre-vingt-quatre – I was convinced that this was 88 each time – which raised a laugh and Bruno’s eyebrows!! Both Martin and I found the way that Vicky said the number ten – Dix, Cinq et Cinq (10, 5 and 5) to be hilarious and couldn’t really understand why, until Beatrice explained that Dix sounds a lot like Six (6) and then we really cracked up laughing when Vicky announced Six, Trois et Trois (6, 3 and 3). But, on a serious note, my improvement from the first game to the last game was about 200%. The French lady next to me actually commented to Beatrice about how well I had improved from the start to the finish. It was a great way to get my head around the number system, which I have to say is a little weird. I mean 1 to 10 makes perfect sense, 11 to 19 is reasonable, 20 to 69 is very straight forward, but then… 70 is 60,10, 60,11, etc. And then it gets really weird – 80 is 4, 20…how weird is that? Then 90 is 4, 20, 10. Martin made this observation to Bruno who smiled, raised his eyebrows and then laughed and said “yeah… Five Ty – right”. We all laughed – there are flaws in both languages.

There were so many games!! We started at 9pm and had a 15-minute break about 1030pm, at this point I thought the Bingo had finished and we then moved on to the Basket (tombola) but no, there were even more games of Bingo following on from this. I will say this for the French system – you certainly get your money’s worth. We paid €5 for 6 cards each and played these over and over again – the reusable cards are a great idea!!

So, the aforementioned prizes. Unlike the UK which often has cash prizes, in France the prizes are food, wine, or objects. In this case…. for many of the games the prize was either “Foie Gras” or Ducks. Not just any old duck – proper, legs akimbo, little feet poking out of its wrapper – ready to cook duck. So, this found me switching between a silent mantra of “oooh chocolate – let me win” to “please, no, not the duck”.

Martin actually had a “sweat on” for a line. A “sweat on” is where you are down to one number. He was waiting for the number 22 which as any English person will know is “two little ducks”. Ironically, the prize for this round was indeed “deux petite canards” which thankfully Martin did not win.

Later, as we were leaving, happy and laughing at 1230AM, we saw the “canards” leaving the building in a most unceremonious way over the shoulders of Laurent who was carrying them out for the lady who won them.

Early night for us tonight I think!!

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

When in Rome……or Venice

When in Rome………………or Venice

So, it was my birthday last week and to celebrate this fact we went to Venice for a few days which was really exciting.

I’ve always dreamt of visiting Venice – in fact I would love to go to all of the main Italian cities and eat my way around the whole of Italy. Three years ago when I was doing my Alphabet of Adventures for my 50th year on this planet I had hoped to do “V for Venice”, but if the truth be told we essentially ran out of funds to indulge in this pursuit so I ended up squeezing in a cheeky “V for Via Ferrata” when I done my “Z for Zugspitze” but that is another story to be told some day.

When our friends Tony and Tess told us recently, they were flying to Venice and the flights were really reasonable, we decided to look in to this – and were pleasantly surprised. We booked return tickets with Volotea for just 88€ and the hotel was just 50€ a night including breakfast – so we figured that this would certainly be a cheaper option than to drive over in the motor-home. The only snag with this was of course The Doggos! We would need to leave our precious fur babies behind. Obviously in the future we will be able to do what we have been doing but in reverse – I.E get house sitters to come over and look after them – but we didn’t think the prospect of staying in our motor-home would appeal much to people, so we didn’t even attempt that option. Instead we booked Luka and Lillie into a Doggy Hotel about an hour away. Doggos go on holiday

Our trip was amazing – we absolutely loved Venice – and clocked up a whopping 40 miles of walking in just 4 days (hence the less than traditional use of a bidet). All of in within the city of Venice and a few surrounding islands. The weather was stunning! Warm enough to go without a jacket for the first few days, then a bit nippier but still dry and bright. There are precisely 391 bridges in Venice and I reckon we managed to walk over most of them – some multiple times! Many of the bridges overlook Gondolas with hopeful Gondoliers waiting to get a fare! At 80€ a shot they weren’t successful in tempting us though!Gondolos 2

We don’t much like organised tours so we opted for looking up the walking tours on the Internet and simply using Google Maps to go and find the iconic sites within Venice. I’m sure we missed a few sites but the things we did see include St Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, The Rialto Bridge, The Bridge of Sighs and lots and lots of pizza restaurants!Veggie Pizza

 

One of my highlights of the trip was spotting this awesome piece of graffiti which Sian had already found in her earlier trip to Venice in the summer!!Graffiti

 

We also visited the Islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. We did actually opt to do the organised boat trip for this – which on reflection was a mistake – we felt like a herd of sheep disembarking the boat straight into a glass blowing display and then held to ransom in the shop afterwards – we did escape though and found a quiet little shop where I bought the cutest little Murano glass Xmas tree. Perfect for our motorhome!Glass blowing demo

We found the Venetians either really friendly – or the polar opposite – really quite rude. There does not seem to be any mid ground. Many seemed to feel that customers were in the way, but we just ignored them and focused on the friendlier experiences – such as the delightful young lady who served us in what turned out to be our favourite restaurant Taverna San Troversa. Great gnocci, and pizza and then a really divine chocolate and pistachio cheese cake to finish it off!Chocolate and Pistachio cheese cake

My top tips for visiting Venice would be:

  • Be aware that there are two prices for a coffee – one for standing up and one for sitting down – and there can be 3€ or 4€ difference between the two
  • Check if your hotel has a kettle in the room – ours didn’t – and also the bar was not open nearly often enough so every time we fancied a cuppa it meant venturing out – which got costly. Next time we would take a travel kettle
  • Public toilets are in the most popular spots but cost anything between 1.50€ and 2.50€ but there are nice toilets in a shopping centre called Fondaco dei Tedeschi – free to use, otherwise it’s an endless cycle of go to a café to use the toilet – pay 9€ for 2 drinks and then when that drink wants to depart – repeat process!!
  • Check the small print for cover charges at restaurants – this can vary between 1€ and 2.50€ per person – and then they also add 12.5% service charge as obligatory. It all adds up.

It isn’t necessarily cheaper to eat the main meal at lunch time as is frequently the case in France and the UK. Most restaurants do a set menu which is good value and includes a Primi and Secondi (first dish then second dish) and usually a drink – sometimes a desert. However, we never did find one of these menus that gave a vegetarian option on both the Primi and Secondi – so we couldn’t take advantage of the good value deal. We did however find plenty of veggie pizzas, and some veggie pasta dishes – it just always annoys be that we spend the same money on one dish when people who will eat meat and fish get all the bargains!! Such is life I suppose!

However, we did find Venice’s only Vegan Restaurant – La Tecia Vegana – and went here on my birthday for a lovely meal. The food was lovely – and very reasonably priced – well worth a visit if you are veggie, vegan or just wanting to try something a bit different at a very reasonable price.Vegan meal

The hotel that we stayed at was the Belle Arti – fabulous location in Dorsodoro – really close to a choice of two Vaporetto stops. It was typical Venetian décor – and by that, I mean it was hard to enter the bedroom without sunglasses on!! We nicknamed our room “The Red Room” – and it really was “When Cindy took an LSD Trip” sort of loud! Red panel on the ceiling, red flock wall paper, different red pattern on the carpet, and yet a different on the bed spread. But we soon got used to it – and of course it was great to have some normal sized living space and a shower that we could run to our hearts content!!Martin waiting for Cindy

Whilst we were away the Geometre expert came to do the Topographique Report and we now have had the report back on that so hopefully we can now take the plans to the next stage. And we came back to find a letter all in French, which after a few struggles with Google Translate appears to be telling us that we can indeed erect our garden house where we want it as long as we keep the surrounding scrub cleared up to 50 metres away. So, lots more strimming for Martin to do!! He’ll be kept busy for the rest of his life with the strimmer around here – that’s for sure!

I had a lovely surprise birthday High Tea on Saturday afternoon as a treat from my friend Frieda. She took me to a local village called Goujenac where an English woman and her daughter do a monthly English style afternoon tea! It was really lovely and a total surprise of the very nicest kind. Our tea was served with a sparkler and everyone in the restaurant sang Happy Birthday to me.Afternoon Tea

Saturday night was our third (and biggest to date) bar crawl – 13 of us ventured out on a cold, damp December evening to tour around the 3 bars that remain open. We started at 6.30pm and the hardiest of us continued until 1.30 am! Needless to say, a light weight like me struggled with that the next day – and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was sick in the morning and needed to go back to bed in the afternoon!! 53 is clearly way to old to be drinking for that long!!

So, now it’s back to normal life!! Well as normal as our life ever is at the moment! We have a raised deck to put up, then a garden house – and all before we leave for the UK for Christmas.

 

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

If I had a hammer

It’s all go this week and very exciting!! Our architect has been working on the plans so our portfolio is nearly ready to go off to the planning – but we are still waiting for the Levels Survey to be completed. That will tell us how sloped the different parts of our land are so we know how high up the pilings need to be. Hopefully we will end up with a raised decked terrace which will lead right out into the woodland which will be our idea of paradise! We just can’t wait – but even if the plans were submitted tomorrow, we are still looking at it being next Autumn before a liveable house is in situ. So, we still have a long journey to go.

To make life a bit easier we have plans to erect a few out-buildings. Now, in France you need planning permission to put up anything over 5m². So, the first shed is a small one which falls under that size. In the short term it is for storage, but in the longer term it will be a potting shed as it is where our vegetable garden will be. How exciting to be thinking about growing our own vegetables!!

We went for dinner with friends twice this week and had two lovely vegetarian meals cooked for us. Such a treat to be cooked for, and also to be able to sit in the comfort of their homes and have some space, and lovely company and chat too!! The meal that Frieda made was all with veggies from her own garden and it just really excites me to think I will be able to do that soon!! Fresh home-grown veggies really do taste so much better, and of course it will be wonderful to eat whatever is in season.

Back in the UK one of my lovely friends has set up a Facebook page called One Pledge and is urging people to make just one pledge to do something that will help the planet. My pledge is to eat locally grown produce as much as possible and to reject vegetables that are wrapped in plastic in the supermarkets. So, just think how much help my own veggie garden will be with that!! Why not click on to her page and make your own pledge?

So, the shed has been assembled during this week. All of our land is sloping – the top bit where the house will be not so much so, but once you get down a level then it becomes very steep – so Martin had to first construct a small deck to get something flat enough to put it on. Here’s a little video of him working. Even Lillie helped out (well her idea of helping of course). Lillie helping to build the shed

Our neighbour Pierre has also been busy working on their house and garden, so all week long there has been a symphony orchestra of power drills and hammers between Martin and Pierre. When one of them stops, you can hear the other. A bit like bird call to each other

But, it’s lovely to hear the sounds of productivity!! And to see our plans, hopes and dreams finally taking shape. I know this will sound very trite, but when we stood out on the little deck this evening, with the little shed finally finished, and we saw this huge, beautiful red squirrel charging up and down a tree – really close to us – and it all felt a little bit overwhelming – in a good way – but I just had a little tear of happiness as it really is all starting to come together.finished shed

So much wildlife here – in fact, we are seeing so many birds of prey out on each walk or drive that we do I said to Martin the other day “do you think they will end up like elephants”? He laughed and said “hope not”. This is a standing joke between us, (Sian and Ryan may also remember too). When we went to Kenya in 2009 and were lucky enough to go on a 2-day safari in Tsavo East we saw so many amazing animals – zebras, lions, giraffes – and ELEPHANTS!! Lots and lots of elephants. The first few times we were “wow”, but after two days were “oh it’s only elephants” and we just couldn’t believe that in just two days we were anything less than totally amazed by seeing elephants.

Our French is coming along a little bit too. In order to help with this, we have joined the French choir – and both went along nervously on Wednesday. Much to our bemusement the first song we practised was not even French!! It was a 16th Century religious hymn in Latin – O Salutaris. It was my idea of a nightmare:

1) Old style religious singing

2) I didn’t have the first clue what I was singing which always makes me feel uncomfortable and

3) My vocal range is just not cut out for that sort of song anyway

I shifted around, muttering the odd sounds, and feeling very out of my depth for the longest time, vowing to only stay until the end so as to not offend anyone and to ensure that Carol did not lose the Brownie points that she was sure to have gleaned by taking not one, but two new victims – sorry recruits!! However, after that things did improve and we practised some much more uplifting songs which I enjoyed a bit more – and Martin enjoyed a lot! So, we know have the situation in which Martin really does want to go back and I’m not so sure. I did end up really liking the song “Je Suis Un Homme” despite really not being very happy when Carol told me one of the lines was “I am the king of pigs” – I really do object to such speciest lyrics – but when I found the lyrics on You Tube it actually is “I am the King of Pricks”. Hmmm?? I’m not sure to be honest – which is worst to be King of? Pigs or Pricks? You tell me!! screen shot king of pricks

 

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.