Poppies

Poppies

 

This blog entry has been mooching around my head for a while now, but I was finding it too emotionally painful to write down until now – so here goes.

During May there is an abundance of poppies – growing everywhere we look – in the fields and tracks around the village we live in. So, every walk, every drive we take, it’s hard to not ponder on the meaning that they have to us.

Poppies in the grave yard 2

For many of us, poppies are associated with death, especially as they are worn in the UK on Remembrance Sunday to honour the war dead that gave their lives for us. Summed up in this beautiful poem by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place, and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below

For me though, as well that as that symbolic reminder of the sacrifices made by those brave men, poppies also have a sweet, sentimental meaning for me.

When I was a little girl, and my maternal grandparents were both still an important part of my life, I could not say the word Grandpa or Granddad, so to make it easier they got me to say “Pop” which then became “Poppy”. So I spent the precious few years I had with him in my life calling him Poppy. Then even after he  died when I was four, I still carried on using Poppy and so did my mum and my nan  when they talked about him to me.

Poppies against a wall

So, the sight of poppies has always stirred up very fond memories of a time when I know I was happy and loved, as sadly my childhood did become very unhappy after those first early years, which means I struggle to recall happy memories at a later stage. But that’s a story that’s not for now – maybe another time.

Because of this, poppies can stir up very happy emotions in me – of a Granddad that I barely knew, but even so was an important part of my life.

But, they can also bring up real sadness in me too.

Rewind to April 2013 – my Dad was dying – we knew that – it was just a matter of how long he had  left. But then we had the shocking and terrible news that Ann also had cancer – also Stage 4. So, our visits over to Kent stepped up a notch. Having a life to lead in Hampshire – school for Sian, college for Ryan, work for Martin, and teaching for me, this was a case of spending as much time as humanly possible travelling to Kent on a Friday evening, making memories with Dad in his last weeks, and now also trying to take in this awful news about Ann.

What I remember most about those times was “The Triangle” between where James’ house in Margate, Quex camp-site that we stayed in Birchington, and Wayside mobile home site in Minster which was where Dad and Ann had ended up living once their France dreams were quashed by cancer.

The Triangle

So, at any given time we could be driving either over to James’s house from the campsite, or over to see Dad at Minster, or going to see Ann at the hospital which was just around the corner from James’s house. As you can see it’s actually more of a circle than a triangle – but at the time it felt like a  triangle – and still does.

The trip between the camp-site and Dad’s took us through a lovely little village called Acol – which we always thought sounded very French, with it’s lovely banks of poppies swaying in the wind. So, during much of these journeys I would just be sitting quietly, as the passenger, thinking, feeling sad, looking at the poppies and thinking how very tragic it was that dad would not be going back to France…..most likely not ever, definitely not to live, but probably not even to visit. Even when we were not in Kent, the poppies played a part. For the first time I noticed poppies at the side of the road on my running route, so every morning as I ran past the poppies, I thought of all this constant sadness, but also it encouraged me to keep going, keep running, keep trying and to be glad that I have a body that works, and that I could run, and that I should keep running to make up for the fact that some people no longer could. This thought spurred me on to do some fairly epic (for me at least) fund-raising attempts for Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK including my first and only Half Marathon Half Marathon Medal

It was a surreal time in our lives, and as we played out the nightmare we were in, we honestly believed that once this was over, we could get back to normal.

But, no, life had more for us that just that sad episode. The poppy season two years down the line brought the loss of my step-dad at the end of May – so many poppies around that year too – there always is – I just didn’t notice it so much before.

And then, tragically the following May our young nephew lost his battle with cancer. In our messed up, upside-down-and-back-to-front family dynamic it has meant that through time and over time we have not only lost the people who died – but also some associated relationships have suffered the consequences – our inability to forgive a dad who failed his son, ex in-laws who find it painful to keep links with past family, a son who didn’t even try to do the right thing by his dying father. All those and more – people lost from our lives – they call it the ripple effect of death. More like a tidal wave in our case it seems.

Poppies are also associated with dreams –considered to be sacred to Morpheus the Greek God of dreams. All I know is that those days were so incredibly sad as we witnessed the dreams of one very lovely, very ordinary couple get shattered into a billion pieces.

Solo poppy

 

So, here we are…now in France – making our very best efforts to create our own dreams. Dreams that sometimes feel as fragile as the roots of those poppies, and are equally as amazing in the way that they seem to be rising up in a jungle of a wilderness – just like the poppies seem to be able to grow just about anywhere – on steep banks, and in ditches at the side of the road. Even next to spiders webs.

Poppies and spiders webs

 

It’s still a constant worry to us that our own dreams will be shattered – not this time due to ill health hopefully – but through the political mess that the UK has found itself in. It hurts to the core when people who seem to have no real concept or understanding of what their actions are doing to our dreams say such utter nonsense like “it’s only scaremongering” or “it will be alright”. They have no idea what it feels like to know we are only just 2 steps away from being homeless. If they did understand it, surely they would not keep saying those things – but perhaps they want to hurt us for daring to want a different life for ourselves. We have nothing (in terms of property or material things)  in the UK and if this all goes horribly wrong for us we will not be able to live in the something we have in France.

Like the poppies we are trying to put down our roots – in a place where those roots don’t quite belong – but even so we want to get those roots firmly planted – we want to live here – in France, in our crazy little corner of this sweet little village, the fields surrounding which now look so reminiscent of that lovely village Acol we used to drive though. In the same way that the impact of death has rippled out and added to the loss in our lives, so has the division in our country of birth. We find it sad that people who we once loved seem so alien to our own beliefs and we feel scared for the future of both the country we were born in and the country we now live in…resulting in more loss of friends and relationships.

 

We hope that we can be as resilient as those poppies in the wind  and just say “damn you Brexit and all those who follow you! We will grow where we want to grow and we will be strong”.

Apparently to dream of poppies suggests that you are about to meet a new, younger love – or that it is time to move on. I really don’t think Martin is under any threat of me trading him in for a younger model (who would put up with me) so I’m taking it that it is time for us to both move on, and leave the past hurt behind, give up on relationships that are too difficult to continue to fight for, and forge this new life for ourselves in  our own (Poppy) Field of Dreams.

 

 

 

Lillie of the Back Alley and the Rosa between Two Thorns

Lillie of the Back Alley and the Rosa between Two Thorns

We’ve been on a 2 and a bit week long house-sit which has given us a bit of a reprieve from our cramped living situation (although that has improved drastically, I have to say with the Garden House). We were looking after our friends’ lovely house in Loubejac – which is just a few minutes away from home, which included also looking after the lovely Rosa.

Rosa has become great friends with Luka and Lillie since they spent New Year’s Eve together and I have been going out for walks with Rosa and her human mummy – Frieda on a weekly basis. She is a lovely girl – Labrador with a bit of Rottweiler in her – and she has the sweetest nature. She lost her doggy brother just before Christmas so I like to think that Luka and Lillie have become her surrogate doggy family. They certainly get on well.

Rosa between two thorns
The Rosa between Two Thorns

We had lovely daily 5km walks together in Loubejac – through the woods and around the lake. Rosa is very independent and likes to go off quite a distance in front, and I am a bit of a worry mummy especially when it comes to other people’s fur babies – so the woods were alive with the sound of “Rosa!! Rosa!!!” every morning – about 0830!! Rosa’s mummy is Dutch so I tried to mimic her intonation and sound as Dutch as possible. Eventually I realised after a few days that food was going to do it, and I taught Rosa that if she came back first time, she would get a small treat!! Our two dogs loved this game as they also benefited!!

My attempt to sound Dutch reminded me of when we previously done a house sit for a Dutch vet who had two dogs usually, but on one occasion he said there would be three dogs to mind and would that be OK. “Yes of course” we said – if you have 4 dogs you might as well have 5 – “not a problem”. We assumed that the third dog was also his. He has an unusual living situation in that his wife lives and works in Holland, and he lives and works in France – so we thought the third dog was maybe one that lived with her in Holland. Not our place to ask. So, when out walking with the 5 doggos we were calling the third one back in our usual English voices and it would listen to us, so we tried the Dutch sounded voice – but still….it didn’t seem to respond much. We just figured that the extra dog was of a stubborn disposition. It didn’t matter – she came back in her own time!! It wasn’t until the Dutch vet and his wife came back that we realised the extra dog belonged to a French friend – so if we had spoken in French commands “Ici” and “Asseoir” then she might have taken better notice.

Back to beautiful Rosa though – she really was a delight to look after – and our dogs enjoyed the comfort of stretching out on their beds – all three of them in a row. Rosa has a very lovely, luxurious bed which Lillie appears to have coveted from the word go. When Rosa goes to her bed, she has this sweet habit of walking around on it to squidge the beans down in just the right place, and sometimes she does this for quite some time before the bed is just right. On one occasion Lillie very cheekily decided to lay on Rosa’s bed instead of her own. Rosa approached – we watched – would she growl Lillie to move off of her bed? No, she looked at Lillie – looked at the empty bed – looked back at Lillie – looked at Luka in his bed – looked at us – then went and climbed on Lillie’s bed…..she moved around – desperately trying to squidge the beans to the right place – but of course – different bed – not the same beans – not the same effect. Rosa looked again at Lillie…now looking quite sheepish – in her bed, and gave a big HUFF before settling down with a thud on Lillie’s bed.

We decided this wasn’t really fair so we resorted to distraction by way of food and got them all off, given a treat – and laughed as we watched Rosa make a quick getaway to HER bed. Talk about Goldilocks and her beds. At least they mostly stayed on their beds though – can you imagine three large dogs on the kitchen floor? Doggos on the kitchen floor

So, we are back in the village – although I am doing night time doggy sitting duties for my little foxy friend Kobie – more about that in a minute. Our morning walks are once again around the hills of VduP. One morning earlier this week we were coming down the track into the village when we spotted a familiar silhouette and recognised Bruno with the lovely little Bendy who has been mentioned in a  previous blog – named in the B year according to French tradition. As we approached Bruno, I did notice that Lille had something in her mouth but thought it was a bit of dried grass so did not take too much notice. Of course, Martin soon started talking in French to Bruno about cycling so we quickly became distracted from silly little Lillie. After at least 3 or 4 minutes though Martin suddenly exclaimed “Lillie! You disgusting little dog” and I saw him kick something into the bushes at the side of the track. He then told me that what she had been proudly marching along with in her sweet little butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth was nothing less than a USED TAMPON!!

Ewwwkkkkk!! I don’t know what I find more disgusting – that Lillie picked it up, or that some wayward young lady saw fit to remove said item during a moment of young lust up the track!! Still, we are all young once I suppose!!

So, Lillie now has yet another nickname – this time it’s Lillie of the Back Alley!! Very appropriate as May is the time of year for Lily of the Valley to be prolific everyway! In fact, 1st May is a public holiday in France often known as La Fete du Muguet (Lily of the Valley). It is a tradition on this day to offer a sprig of Lily of the Valley to loved ones, and in the week leading up to May Day you can buy bunches of this fragrant Spring flower in every florist and most supermarkets. So, in Lillie’s defence – maybe she was offering her daddy what she thought was a bunch of Lily of the Valley, or maybe even she is so clever that she knows that Lily of the Valley is poisonous to dogs – she is still a disgusting little dog though.

However, I fear that I may also be gaining a reputation in the village as a lady of the Back Alley. You see, the house where I am sleeping at night time, and also popping in for short periods during the day is in a typical narrow cobbled stone road.

Ancien VduP
The house overlooks this part of the street – a typical French cobble stone road

And I only have one set of keys for the front door. So, at night time when Martin leaves me for the night I come down – often in my PJS – to lock up behind him so if anyone was to see him leaving it may look as if I am a lady of the night. Coupled with my very lazy habit of when he comes around – instead of going down to let him in (it’s a three-story house) I open the windows on the middle floor and throw the keys down!! I wonder what the neighbours think!!

Martin catching keys
Ooh La La – the lady of the night throws the keys down to her next male visitor 

 

 

Save all your bisous for me

Save all your Bisous for me

One huge cultural difference between the French and the English is the kissing thing. By the kissing thing I mean the practice of kissing EVERYONE upon greeting them.

We have watched in amusement whilst a French person enters a café and kisses everyone in there that they know….two kisses – one on each cheek. From what we have been told a Rendevous (meeting) in France can take some considerable time as everyone must kiss everyone else…it’s just the way it is.

We don’t mind the kissing thing at all, and have picked this habit up rather well, I think. We kiss our friends and neighbours every time we seem them. We have also learned that the Dutch like to give three kisses instead of the usual two – greedy Dutch eh? So, we try to remember the difference when kissing Jan and Frieda, or Paul and Laura in comparison with Beatrice and Bruno.

Most of our English friends also do the kissing on greeting thing, although one of them told me that she actually avoided coming down to the village for a long time when they first moved over here as she really didn’t like it at all, and still isn’t really comfortable with it. Fair enough….it is indeed very different. In England we barely say hello to people we don’t know very well, let along kiss them.

But it would seem that the rules of kissing, much like the rules of the French language, are not always cut and dried. Much like the rule of the final consonant in a word is not pronounced….not never, just not mostly, and on which occasion it is pronounced is a bit of a mystery – even to the French. It just “is that way….I do not know or maybe it is “je ne sais quoi”? Who knows? I am still very much learning. Apparently there is a general rule that if a French word end in C,R, F or L the final letter is pronounced, but if it ends with another letter it is silent. But that rule doesn’t apply to B, K or Q…..which are hardly ever used, so it’s OK but…..confused? Yes, me too!! You see the problem?

Some of the French men we know always kiss us when we meet…sometimes a little too friendly…in which case I have started to say “oh you are Dutch? Or just cheeky”? Obviously in a friendly, smiley way. I think sometimes some of them like that us English don’t really know the “rules” and take advantage of that…. but in a nice way of course!! All good fun!

But, being a novice as I am – I am still learning what is, and is not socially acceptable on the French Kissing front!!

I sort of understood that the transition from saying “Bonjour and a hand shake” to “Bonjour and a kiss” is made when two people become friends rather than strangers. So, as the local shop keepers and café owners are becoming friendlier, and chattier as the months go by some of them now kiss on greeting as well as the always smiling and friendly “Bonjour”.

What I didn’t realise though is the timing of the transition also has a “rule”.

So, a week or so ago I went into our local grocery store and the owner as always very happy and smiling bid me “Bonjour” and this time he shook my hand. Which seemed quite formal. So, with a huge smile….I went in for the kill, and gave him two great big smackeroos – one on each cheek. “Bonjour” I said “now we are friends we can kiss!” It was very funny!! He looked a little stunned, and then promptly went around to every other lady in the shop and gave them big huge kisses too!! I’m not sure exactly what he said in French….but I caught the word “Femme” which is wife…so I like to think he was probably having a bit of a laugh along the lines of “when the cat’s away the mice will play” – or whatever the French equivalent of that might be!! There were lots of giggles in the shop. But, a bit of a “faux pas” on my behalf.

So….I consulted my lady friends at the lunch I hosted this week. And learned a bit more about the rule of kissing. It would seem that it is the French who decide when the transition is made….so I may have been a bit forward!! Never mind!! It was all in good fun. I don’t mind at all giving the French a bit of a laugh with my antics.

Ladies Lunch

The other week – in the same shop – I accidentally fired an onion across the counter at the afore mentioned man’s wife and we had a bit of a laugh about how I was a trouble maker, maybe in the Gilet Jaunes, and also that she thought maybe I was using it to play pool with.

onion_368That’s when I realised that I’ve probably begun to get a bit of a reputation about my pool playing as the only reason she would know that is if her husband told her he’s seen me in the bar playing pool with Bernard etc. on a Tuesday night. The mind boggles when I imagine what he might have told her about the kissing “incident”. I really don’t mind gaining a reputation for being friendly though…far better than the opposite.

Pool playing

I was really touched this week when two of my lady friends told me that they only knew so many people in the village due to me, and I realised how important it is for all of us to have that connection with other people. Martin and I are fast approaching our 1 year anniversary of moving out here, and when I look back I realise that we were just a little bit mad to have made that move…we didn’t really know anyone here, and it was only the connection with my Dad and Step-Mum that caused us to find ourselves here in Villefranche-du-Perigord. And because of the lovely friendship they had with Carole and Bernard here, we had the beginnings of a network of friends to build that base on…. the foundations of our new life. For a sociable person like me, it has been so important to develop relationships that I can call “friendships” – after all, we are in a small community here, and how on earth could we cope in isolation? So, for me, it has been vital to build and nurture those friendships and so to know that I have helped other people to do the same is a very rewarding feeling.

I think that at some kind of level I am doing what I used to be good at with my previous line of work…organising events…..I always knew that skill set would come in handy, but I have no desire to ever go back to the rat race of my working life in England before I re-trained as a Holistic Therapist.

Dog Walk.jpg

So, here I find myself in the lucky position of not needing to (or even to be honest being able to) pursue full time work, and being able to keep my mind active with the challenges of a house build project, organising group walks, ladies lunches, knit and natter (who would have thought) and bar crawls. Learning the rules along the way…making mistakes, learning from them (mostly), learning new skills – patience and tolerance (which for me was always a challenge) and using old skills in ways I would never have dreamed of.

Life here in rural South West France is not always easy….but it is almost always fun!

 

The Tangled Tapestry of Life

The Tattered Tapestry of Life

Funny how life just cannot be simply placed into boxes isn’t it? Our plans have felt in limbo of late – as we await the outcome of the Brexit process – not really knowing how we will be affected by it until the exit from the EU finally happens – or not as the case may be.

It’s been an uncomfortable feeling to say the least, and very difficult to keep pushing forwards – when we don’t really know what direction forwards is.

This was very clearly illustrated during our recent visit back to the UK. It was my son’s 25th birthday a week before Brexit and my mum’s birthday the week after. So, we needed to make the difficult decision to plan our travel back to France before the Brexit day came – just in case the travel chaos predicted did indeed ensue, and also just to be doubly sure that if there was any requirement to be resident in France before that day we would definitely be here!! So, tough decisions – visit for Ryan’s birthday but not mum’s birthday or Mother’s Day – but we could not run the risk.

Once back in the UK we done the rounds – visiting family. Of course, every conversation started with “how are your house plans going” and the standard response right now is “yeah, good thanks…. apart from Brexit”. And then the inevitable “why? What difference will it make?” and the necessity to explain how we were still unsure if we can remain in France – as there had been no clarity about changes in residency rules etc. And also, sometimes that mere statement was met with “oh no, not Brexit – we don’t want to hear any more about Brexit” which of course is ever so slightly an understatement where we are concerned as “yes please – we too would NEVER EVER want to talk about Brexit EVER again thank you very much”.

Tangled Tapestry of Life

But such is Tattered Tapestry of Life that every thing is interwoven and each strand of our life seems right now to be firmly attached to that blasted Brexit!! Decisions are hard to make – do we spend any more money – or do we wait? Could we bear to live in the motor-home another year and wait and see – or would that just push us over the edge? On one hand our life in France might seem idyllic, but turn that tapestry over and you’ll see on the other side – the frayed edges, the bits that aren’t quite coming together – the messy bits.

It was hard to be back in the UK and not become very involved in the political side of things. The tension was tangible in every situation. I’m not an overly political person unless it’s something that I feel very strongly about. I got very fired up and passionate when Margaret Thatcher was running for Prime Minister although I was only 13 at the time – because I thought it was fantastic that we could be having a female leader of the country. I also became a Poll Tax Protester in 1990 when I felt totally outraged at the introduction of the Community Charge especially as our private landlord still wanted to charge us rates so we were paying twice. I rebelled, went on the march and refused to pay, then got fined, and refused to pay the fine….in fact I went right up to the stage where I received a court summons in 1993 and being pregnant with my first child decided that I did not want to run the risk of a 60-day prison sentence so reluctantly paid it. And now, of course I feel very passionately about what is happening to the country of my birth, no longer my home but still full of people that I love and I fear for their futures as well as our own. So afraid of my own deep feelings of upset that I will display passion and anger far easier than tears – as I fear that if the tears start, they won’t stop – so I become very vocal in my frustrations and just want to do whatever I can to make people realise what this sorry situation is doing to our lives. I’m really proud of some of the stuff that myself and a few hundred other people were able to achieve through the power of social media – we lobbied, and petitioned, and generally made nuisances of ourselves – but raised awareness within Parliament and got them to listen.

Guido FawkesPoor Margaret who created the petition received death threats and had to shut down her social media accounts, so we offer support and friendship to this amazing woman who stuck her neck above the parapet for us all when she pops up periodically incognito in our Facebook group. She’s braver than me as I had the opportunity to give a newspaper article but lost my nerve as I was getting enough “hate” as it was just from my small-scale socialmedia protesting.

 

 

 

Before we had left for the UK Martin and I had a fun hour or so at the camp-site with our friends Beatrice and Bruno, having a cup of tea, admiring their lovely refurbished restaurant and generally talking about all sorts of things. I was actually saying to them about how I was a bit of a rebel in my younger years and we were having a bit of a giggle about the time when me and my brother used his Walkie Talkies to plant high up in a tree across the road from our house, then as unsuspecting passers by were walking past we would make the tree “talk”. It was so funny to watch people looking around as we said “hello” and then “I’m the talking tree”. Beatrice told us that in French they have the same toy Walkie Talkie – but they call them “Talkie Walkies” which made us all chuckle, and ponder if that might be because the French talk more than walk – or walk more than talk – but it’s actually because the words don’t really translate properly – can you imagine a toy called “Parlez Marche” – not quite the same ring is it?

plat du joub

We also had a giggle at the new sign they were making for the Brasserie – there were not enough letters in the pack to complete the words so they were doctoring some of the letters – to hilarious effect!! I told Bruno I would look forward very much to my Plat du Joub!! In all honestly though I am looking forward to going there for a Plat du Jour as they are adding a vegan option to their menu which will be fantastic!!

So, it’s good that in between the stress and the worry we can still have a laugh and a giggle and enjoy our lovely life in France. We have made, and continue to make lovely friends out here – of all nationalities – French, Belgium, Dutch, American, Canadian, Australian and English. All of which are totally understanding of our current dilemma and sympathetic – although probably (like us to be honest) wondering what on earth is going on with British politics.

We had a few lovely days playing tourist on the way back down towards home – stopping off at one of our favourite places – St Vallery sur Somme – it’s always so good to be by the sea and blow the cobwebs out. We spotted this super cute little mini farm consisting of a sheep and some chickens which actually brought on a few tears for me as it’s all I have ever dreamed off – to have a few animals to look after and have our own little mini farm – so I really hope that these dreams can still be realised.mini farm

When we got back Mademoiselle Postie had visited and there was lots of mail to open. My new T-shirt which sums up how I feel about life right now, the next stage of Martin’s health care card, my driving licence application rejected due to Brexit – grrrr, and some fantastic news – our Planning Consent for our house – much quicker that expected!! So, that is very exciting and gives us hope that we can move this project into the next stage. T-shirt

March 29th came and went without the dreaded Brexit, with a new possible date of 12th April looming. So, we will be watching any movement in the House of Commons this coming week, and following my new heroes John Bercow and Donald Tusk with interest, and keeping everything crossed that the outcomes will be favourable towards us.

Message to The DoctorOn a just in case basis I did feel it may be appropriate to ask the Universe for a little extra help in the form of The Doctor – well I can hope, can’t I?

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!!!