Are times like these the new normal?

Are times like these the new normal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I fear it might be more like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normal – Foo Fighters

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

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

 

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

list of people in the Times like these video

 

Pandemic Version of Times like These

 

Material Girl

Material Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trifle dish now a fruit bowl

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

White jug love affair

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

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

Dorchester ashtray

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

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

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

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

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

Broken spoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Le grand jeune packet

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

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

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

Perrin and Rowe box

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

Taps in the right place but not plumbed in

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

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

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

Sea view camping spot

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

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

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

The Fisherman’s Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

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

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

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

“And then what?”

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

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

Don’t Stand so Close to Me

Feature photo

Don’t stand so close to me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funeral flowers

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

and nice little touches

Teeny scythe brooch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We isolate ourselves

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

Respect me…respect my distance

Love me…love my mask

Your 4 metre socially distanced square or mine?

Who knows what the next funky catchphrase will be?

Mask

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Pressure

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

Hazmet massage

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Holiday

Holiday

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

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

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

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

Click here to watch my little video

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

Paw Prints

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

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

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

Pitch next to stable door

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

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

Chickpea pasta salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!

 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

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

Safe at home

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

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

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

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

Saturday market

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

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

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

Creams waffle

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

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

Socially distanced hug

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

Co-vidiot

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

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

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

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

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

Garfield

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

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

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

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

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

Fosse installation 2

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

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

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

I want to be a tree

tree

I want to be a tree

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

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

Attestation

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

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

coronavirus

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

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

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

reiki spot

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

Looking out my window

What do I see?

A world full of people

All looking at me

Most of them got headache

It’s no place to be

 Few of them are happy

How can’t you see why?

I want to be a tree

I want to be a tree

From the very beginning

Of history

Man’s not seen the wood

For the trees

Now they’re all busy planning

World War Three

We are all invited

So, can’t you see why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby, don’t try to shade it

Beauty is naked

Baby, life’s what you make…

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

“Let Go of Worry”.

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

Relaxed dogs

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

woodland walk

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

 

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

 

advice-from-a-tree

 

The Crappy Side of Life

The Crappy Side of Life

 

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

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

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

Floor Plan of motorhome

So…our little motor home bathroom consists of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Shower

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

What actually happened was this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Toilet Operational Panel

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

I called out to Ryan

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

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

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

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

Sexy foot cover

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

 

 

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

Endoscope mouth bit

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Gin FODMAP

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

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

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

 

 

Back to the Roaring Twenties

Back to the Roaring Twenties

We had a lovely Christmas…a really, really lovely Christmas. One of the best in many ways – although it was the first one ever that I have not seen my daughter Sian at all on Christmas Day which was strange.

However, Sian did come out for a pre-Christmas visit which was a combination of a late 21st Birthday Celebration for her, and an early Christmas for all of us. We showed her the house – which at that stage was just the walls and the roof – no window or doors – and of course lots of scaffolding for her to climb on!Sian climbing scaffolding

Then we took her off to Sarlat for 4 days where we stayed at an Airbnb just a 10-minute walk from where the lovely little Sarlat Christmas Market was held.

We had a day for each of the celebrations – one for Sian’s 21st birthday where we took her out and bought her a Pandora. She loved how much French I was able to say in the shop – I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised myself – it’s amazing how much harder I try when I am trying to show off!

Gifts from Sian collage

 

 

We had a day for my belated birthday too – where Sian gave me two lovely gifts that she had brought over from England for me – a super candle handmade by her lovely friend Ash (who I have a huge soft spot for), and a hilarious shopping bag! I can’t wait to show it off at the Saturday market in Villefranche – I think it will raise a few laughs!!

Check out  Ash’s Etsy Shop for his other products. I love mine and will definitely order some for when I am popping back to the UK in June.

 

Practice Christmas Dinner

Also, we had a lovely early Christmas Day – with gifts from Sian that she had bought for us at the Christmas Market. I cooked a Christmas Dinner – vegetarian of course. We started off with a Cheese Fondue for a starter as Sian had wanted to try fondue when we went to Switzerland last January but we didn’t get the chance. It was lovely – so good that I decided to do it again for our real Christmas Dinner. Then we had nut roast with all the traditional English accompaniments – thanks to Sian who snuck packets of stuffing mix and Yorkshire pudding batter in her hand luggage.

 

Bubbles

 

We enjoyed walking down to the Christmas Market every day and just having a walk around, watching the ice skaters, drinking ‘Vin Chaud’  (Hot Wine, which I have to say is so much nicer than the Mulled Wine we get in the UK Christmas Markets – although it is pretty much the same thing I suppose – the wine is probably better quality).

Of course, we had to sample the crepes and ‘gaufres’ (waffles) as well – really yummy.

 

It was a really good few days – and so lovely to see her. Of course, it all went too fast and before I knew it is was time to take her to Bergerac airport and say goodbye again!!Sian with Polar Bear

I always feel sad to say goodbye – but of course – just a few days later we were back to collect Ryan from the airport.

Ryan by Polar Bear

 

By this time, we had windows and doors installed into our house and most of the roof tiles were on – so it really was a proper house to show him. We even had a temporary staircase thanks to our lovely Dutch friends who have loaned us a spare one (who knew that there are actually people out there who have a spare staircase in their wood store?).Martin holding the stair case.jpg

We received a mystery phone call in the afternoon on Christmas Eve which turned out to be the man from Le Vie Clair (the organic shop in Prayssac) where we had bought 3 tombola tickets for the princely sum of 3€ back in Mid-December. Martin struggled in French but managed to establish that we had won a prize. So, we managed to get from Bergerac to Prayssac in time to make it before they closed at 5pm, thinking we had maybe won a gift set of organic shampoo or something. However, when we arrived at the shop we were taken off to the ‘Maire’ (the Mayor’s office) and there on the floor were a number of huge crates stuffed full of goodies. I clocked a rather nice tea set comprising of a tea pot, 2 cups and saucers and a selection of tea. I secretly hoped that my prize would be this, but I could see that there were lots of lovely goodies so I knew I would be pleased with whatever I was presented with. The man checked my ticket and pointed to one of the crates (the one with the tea set) – “oh good” I thought “I get to pick my own prize” ready to dive in and grab the tea set. “Mais non – c’est tout” he said! “Tout?” I said!! “Really? All of it”? “Oui” he said “Tout”. Oh my goodness – I had won ALL OF THE CONTENTS OF ONE OF THE CRATES! I was stunned – and so was Martin!! And so was Ryan when he realised he had to help Martin carry the crate to the car! And so were the dogs when they realised they had to be squidged in the boot with the huge crate!

Tombola collage

Never in all my life have I won such a wonderful prize! The crate was stuffed full, and inside there was an envelope containing vouchers for some of the local shops – over 130€ worth of vouchers. We spent the evening looking through the contents and decided what to do with the things. There were children’s toys so I asked Adam which bits to save for Max to play with when he visits and decided to offer the remainder to our neighbours. There was a selection of ‘Foie Gras’ (liver from a duck fattened by force-feeding) – which is of no use to a vegetarian – so we decided to take that to Carole and Bernard’s on Christmas Day as we know he enjoys it. There was wine, whiskey, chocolates, the tea set I had coveted, a Dolce Gusto coffee maker – just loads of lovely things. It was as if Santa Claus had come down our new chimney! (Although we actually haven’t got a chimney as have not chosen a wood burner yet).

Determined to spend Christmas Day in our new house no matter what state it was in we had already discussed with (negotiated, or maybe even bribed) Ryan to spend 2 nights in the Garden House so that we could spend the time “at home” before we went away to another Airbnb. So, he slept on the little “clik-clak” (bed settee), with our new “en-suite toilettes seches”(dry toilet) to use, and surprisingly no grumbles!

Gin and TonicWe had set up a temporary dinner table – consisting of two trestles with two planks of 2m x 0.4m wood – which made a perfect size table. We had also lugged up our garden room kitchen trolleys so had a pretty good temporary kitchen set up – actually in the correct place of where the “real” kitchen will go.

It was a bit nippy as 5 of the windows and doors have not yet been finished properly – long story cut short is that the ‘Charpentier’ (carpenter) was not happy to fit the windows on to the TEK panel wood as it will be exposed to the weather (and therefore in time rot the windows and doors), so the ‘macon’ (builder) is returning in January to install stone slabs. So, although we lugged bits of spare TEK panel to cover the gaps it was still very drafty.

But, with our little paraffin heater on, and jackets and hats for the coldest parts of the day – it was actually quite comfortable – and just so lovely to be spending our very first Christmas in France (we went back to the UK last year) in our new home! Sat at our make shift table, with 1 of our four human children, 2 of our 4 fur babies in with us, and 2 prowling around outside trying to find a way in through the gaps!

Dinner was a slow affair – working between 3 kitchens in 3 different locations is a challenge I have to say. Some of the stuff was being cooked in the motor home oven, some in the house on the induction hob and in the air fryer, and Martin had to keep going back down to the Garden House to grab things I had forgotten! But it was really chilled and relaxing. We had Face time calls with Henry and Chloe (our nephew and niece) and with Adam, Owen and our Grandson Max.

Fondue starterWe had Cheese Fondue for our starter again! Only this time we over done it and had too much – then didn’t want our main course until 5pm. Then we were so stuffed we didn’t want desert!!

 

 

All in all, it was just a lovely, relaxed day. We walked down to the village when it got dark to walk off some of the dinner and also to see if we could see the lights in the house from the car-park! We could!

Martin and I had some lovely, and very thoughtful gifts from Ryan, but decided to not exchange gifts between ourselves this year – after all we feel just like big kids with our new house to play with. We are however going to treat ourselves to a new battery drill each in the New Year – a smaller “girly” one for me – so that I can play my part in the work that comes next!

Then it was off to Perigeux for 3 days with Ryan – to another Airbnb. This one was also just a short walk from the Christmas Market – so we enjoyed a few trips down to try out some different Christmas treats – ‘Flammkuchen’ (Alsace Pizza), Frites, Bubble Waffles – all very yummy. Not to mention more ‘Vin Chaud’!!

Martin and Ryan at the Vin Chaud

This market had two stalls that sold this so we could have a bar crawl if we wanted.

 

keyring.jpgWe did actually treat each other to a small gift each at this Christmas Market in the form of a keyring each, made from a very fascinating material – Tagua – which is commonly known as Vegetable Ivory. We are always interested in using sustainable materials when possible and I was really intrigued by this small business – in both the products and their ethos. They pay a fair wage to the women in Ecuador who make the items and support children from the poorest families in the village with financial scholarship. We each chose a keyring to put our new house keys on – symbolising that the house in indeed our present to each other!! The company is called Nodova if you want to have a look for yourself.

Indian takeaway orderWe also discovered an Indian restaurant which was extremely exciting for me!! I really do miss a good Indian takeaway. So of course, we did indulge in this, and it was very nice. Mind you, the Madras strength was no-where near as spicy as a UK one would have been – although it was authentic Indian food it was clearly cooked to suit the delicate French palates. I can’t wait to get my kitchen at home up and running so I can cook up a Veggie Indian Feast for some friends! Being a foodie I am always most motivated to improve my French in any way that involves food – hence the list written partly in French for practice.

 

As with Sian’s visit, it was all over so fast and then we were taking Ryan back to the airport. I got tearful in the Departure Lounge and needed to hide away in the toilets so he didn’t see me. But once in the car it really hit me and I was a blubbering wreck for half the journey home. It’s so hard to say goodbye to your kids when you don’t even know when you will see them next. Then I started Martin off too and even he was getting a bit emotional as he misses his boys too – and little Max – his grandson. We both miss all of them…a lot. But it was lovely to see them all, in some way on Christmas Day whether that was in person, or through technology – and even in this adorable Christmas Card that popped into our letter box!! Max christmas card

So, in order to stop that feeling of uncertainty we decided to start making firm arrangements for a trip back to the UK this coming year! At least now we should know where we stand with Brexit and as long as we leave with a withdrawal agreement and a transition period then the coming year should be OK to travel (we hope). So, we hope to go for a few weeks in June – and are planning with the key people as to when they are available. It’s like a military operation – I’ve had to start up a spreadsheet on my laptop!!

Once Christmas was over, and no more visitors we had some work to get done on the house. Whilst the scaffolding is still in situ and no builders to navigate around the really tall supporting pillars needed to be painted with a clear, wood protector – a bit like PVA glue. As Martin is the one brave enough to go into the crawl space (which I hyperventilate just thinking about), and he is not so keen on heights (whereas I, like Sian, jump at the opportunity to climb just about anything), it was a no-brainer. Martin would go under – and I would go up. So, we spent a lovely sunny afternoon with him looking like a starring role in “Return to the Planet of the Apes” drilling the first of the holes through which our electricity cables will enter the house from, and meanwhile I was swinging like a monkey through the trees on the scaffolding – happy as anything sitting there painting the posts.He went under and I went up

And then, after that it was time to get ready to see in the New Year – our second one in France. Last year we celebrated this at Jan and Frieda’s house and I remember saying “next year we can do it at our house”. But of course, our house was not in a ready enough state to host a NYE Party. So, luckily Jan and Frieda offered to host it again! There were 14 of us in total – of various nationalities – French, Dutch, Belgian and English. For the food we had decided beforehand that it would be fun to bring along food that was traditional to our own countries. I struggled to think of something that was typically English that was also vegetarian – but then came up with the idea of Mini Vegetarian Cornish Pasties – you can’t get much more traditional than a Cornish Pasty can you? The motorhome is not best equipped for baking but I managed to make about 20 of the little things in small batches!! I also done a Cheese and Pineapple Hedgehog because I doubt very much if anyone English over the age of 40 had a childhood without having one of these at a party! We also went over to Prayssac to spend some of our Tombola prize vouchers which included one for a “Delicieux Plateau de Fromages” which came out so huge we decided to take that to the party as well to share with our friends!Delicieux plateau de fromage

Jan and Frieda made ‘Oliebollen’ (Dutch Doughnuts) and ‘Appelflappen’ (Dutch Apple Fritters) – sorry but I cannot help but laugh when I say those two words, especially together!! These are delicious, beautifully oily, naughty treats that are only allowed once a year (on New Year’s Eve) or sometimes at fun fairs. Frieda bought me a packet mix back which I am going to be naughty and go against tradition and make for our housewarming party though!

Oliebollen and cheese and pineapple hedgehog

‘And Sylviane not only brought along, but demonstrated the tradition of the ‘Galettes des Rois’ – which is a cake traditionally eaten on 6th January to celebrate the kings visiting the baby Jesus. Sylviane needed the youngest person at the party (thankfully not me – it was Craig) to hide under the table and choose the person to get each slice of cake in the order it was cut. The cake contains a small ceramic object – the person who gets the object becomes the king (or the queen) for the year! So, Craig was under the table. Sylviane was cutting the cake – and Craig was banging the table and calling out the name for the person to take the cake. It was all good fun! The winner of the ceramic object (a turtle) was a Dutch lady – Jacqueline – who was very excited to win it! I was just glad I hadn’t broken any teeth on the damn thing – it was a bit like the French Bingo – wanting to not win!! I mean – who thought of putting hard, ceramic objects in a cake!! The French have some strange traditions!! Shortly afterwards, Sylviane called out that she also had a ceramic turtle! There were two in our cake!! I like to think of turtles as being a sign of good luck and health – so I hope that the turtles bring them both all the best in the coming year – and that next year they return on New Years Eve to tell us all about their year as Queen (as the French tradition says to do).

As with all fun evenings the time went very fast and before we knew it the clock was ticking towards midnight…..then on with the Dutch television to watch the fireworks and the countdown to 2020!! As we all wished each other Happy New Year some bright spark (now who was it? Oh yes it was me!) suddenly realised we were going back to the Twenties and shouted that out! To which Carole decided to become a flapper girl and give us a bit of Charleston! Watch the video here

 

What a lovely start to the New Year! A really good mix of nationalities, sharing different cultures, different traditions – all very good fun! We have made some lovely friends here in France – and we treasure them as much as we treasure our beloved family back in the UK.

Musing over the fun of the night before on New Year’s Day I said to Martin – Bernard must be going into the Twenties for the second time in his life! And yes, we realised that as he was born in 1929 he is indeed hitting the Roaring Twenties for the second time – and that is a very special thing – there’s not many around who can say that.

 

Despite all that is going on in the world at the moment 2020 has a good feel to it. Let’s hope it will be the year that brings some peace for us all. We can only but hope can’t we?

So here we are!

Back to the Roaring Twenties!

Happy New Decade to everyone!

Cheers!

Kwak duck kwak

 

 

 

Buggery Bollocks

Buggery Bollocks

Just a short entry today, but I need to get my thoughts on today’s election results off my chest before they whirl around in my head and make it explode!

Finally, after living in an uncertain limbo land since June 2016 it would appear that we now know where we stand.

Despite my heart telling me that as the referendum was based on lies and uncertainty, if there was ever to be a chance to put that to the test, the majority of people living in the UK would seize that opportunity, I now know I was wrong. There is a clear majority that want Brexit – apparently at any cost!

The country that I grew up in and lived entirely in for the first 21 years of my life is not the place I thought it was. The country that Martin served 14 years of his life to defend is not the place he thought it was either.

I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively throughout my life and have visited countries world-wide, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and Europe – both on holidays and as an independent traveller. I’ve met people from different cultures, fallen in love with people from different cultures, and embraced aspects of different cultures with both arms. I’ve also been lucky enough to work for a London based charity and given the opportunity to work and travel in the city as a result of that – and I honestly believed that London accurately reflected the positive feelings towards diversity that the rest of that little island felt in their hearts (by the little island I mean the UK – I can no longer call it ‘our’ island – I feel it is no longer ‘my’ island).  But it seems outside London there is little value on diversity.

I do not fear difference! I do not fear the person talking in a different accent! I do not fear a different colour of skin.

  • Differences are good – they are what teach us about the world, the whole world – not just your little bubble.
  • When a person tells you that they love you in a different accent it is sweet, and sexy, and exciting – and there is no more reason to fear someone asking you the time in a different accent than that.
  • Different skin colours are simply a result of different levels of melanin for sun protection – no more, no less.

Yet, it seems as if ever since that dreaded 2016 referendum, the lid is off the genie’s lamp, and immigration seems to be on the table for people to express fear and hatred towards.

And not just immigration! Homophobia! Now it seems to be OK to express negatively towards people who align to a different sexual orientation.

It’s like going back to the 1970s…..but, just like then – I have no problem with anyone from any sexual orientation, I have always have had friends who are gay, bi, pan or non-binary. I haven’t changed in my attitudes over time (or if I have, maybe it is to become even more keen to support the rights of the people who feel oppressed) but it seems that it is now acceptable to once again (just like the “bad old days”) openly say to a gay man – “Oh I had better not bend over”.

It’s all so wrong. The hate has been simmering under the surface for so many years.

And now those who:

feel that hate

no longer feel the need to supress that hate

and Brexit was the green light to express that hate.

I honestly believed that this General Election would wipe the Tories out, that Labour and the Lib Dems would form a coalition Government – and then go for a People’s Vote to decide on a deal or to revoke Article 50. But I don’t think that is necessary anymore – the people have spoken – they have given the Tories a massive majority, and Labour’s worst defeat since 1935 – and in my opinion it is no coincidence that this marks the era of the rising of the Far Right within Europe.

Jacob Rees Mogg

 

History now seems to be repeating itself – it seems we haven’t learned anything.

 

 

 

 

So, whether people have voted Conservative because they voted to Leave the EU and want Brexit done, or whether they voted to Remain but have just got so frustrated and want it all over, the fact is they have voted for Brexit to happen.

why fear a socialist government

 

What becomes of us all now?  For you in the UK – maybe the selling of the NHS to Trump, and even more reliance on food banks. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Why fear a more sharing Government….a socialist Government even?

 

 

 

 

But, those of us who are living in EU countries? Will we be able to stay? Or will our host country put in high income demands that we cannot meet? Or will the locals hate us so much for what the UK Government has said and done that our lives are made unhappy?

What about those people who live in the UK who are from an EU country? Will they be able to stay? Will they meet the points-based system requirement? Will they want to stay when people shout at them on the bus to “go home”. What if their home is the UK and has been for such a long time they would not even know where to go home to?

What about the couples where one is a UK citizen and one is an EU citizen? Where will they live? Do they have to divorce? What about their children? Where do they belong?

Did any of you who voted for Brexit think about these people? Did you care about these people when you decided you wanted your Fish and Chips in newspaper again? (which incidentally is not an EU rule it is a UK rule!!). Or when you decided you wanted it back how it was in the 1970’s?

 

It's going to be alright - my Auntie told me so

 

 

 

How about those of you who sit on the fence when it comes to your friends, family, workmates, and acquaintances when they express fear for the future? Do you think your words “I’m sure it will all be alright” helps them sleep at night? The Windrush scandal ought to tell us that this will not help at all as that wasn’t “alright” was it?

 

 

 

 

Now that it is clear that Brexit will take place it is likely that a lot of these people will be experiencing thoughts of despair, loss of hope, and maybe even suicide. Please check in with these people and make sure they are OK. Please don’t just tell them it will all be OK. Because it isn’t OK, hasn’t been OK for all of us to be living in limbo for so long, being used as pawn pieces, knowing that we are an inconvenience to the Brexit process that people would rather didn’t exist.

If you want to really help out your friends/family you could lobby your MP to ask them to ensure that the rights of both UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK are looked after in this process. Did you know that the British Embassy advises us to contact the MP in our last known constituency to help us, but most of these MPs don’t want to know? Mine didn’t!! He just shirked his responsibility and told us to “enjoy our new lives in France”. He doesn’t really have an obligation to serve non-constituents – but if you, as a UK resident were to email your local MP, they do have a duty. You could quite simply email your MP and say “I voted to leave but even so I have a friend/family member who lives in France and I am concerned about their future – what will you, as my MP be doing to protect their rights?”. It’s a simple thing that really could make a big difference.

Solidarity with EU citizens

 

Or you could pop something like this up on your Facebook page – let them know you are with them – part of the solution not part of the problem.

 

 

These are dark days for the United Kingdom and its relationship with the European Union – now is not the time to sit on the fence and say nothing.

I am so thankful that I have adult children who are not sitting on the fence. Somewhere along the line, whether through my influence or of their own doing, they are both prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and have their voices heard about voting, about their outrage, and about their expectations that the Tory Government will now be held to account and deliver their manifesto. I am grateful and very proud.

We have been so grateful to the few friends and family from the UK that have shown us constant support throughout this process, by acknowledging when our Facebook posts have revealed a fear or concern, and when we have wanted to talk about our worries.

Sadly, we also, like many others have lost “friends” who have turned against us because we dared to be different and move to France at a time of great uncertainty.

SilenceAnd, the in-betweeners – those who have said nothing, we have noticed your quiet absence, lack of support, unwillingness to engage in conversation, changing of subjects, ignoring our pleas for help. Yes, we have noticed and it does hurt. And like Mariella (in the poster , you are now just turning into people who didn’t stick up for us).

 

 

But, a person only needs so many friends, and we know who is batting for our corner, those who have been “with us” since the onset, and new friends here in France who, to be honest have become in so many ways our main source of support, as it them who share our concerns willingly – some of them are Brits “in it with us” and others are sympathetic French and Dutch people who realise what a tough time it is for us. We are so grateful for them.

But, back to the state of the UK. It is disappointing that the country of our birth no longer resembles what we once thought it was. But we will take the results “on the chin” with a “stiff upper lip”, and accept our fate.

But, I will campaign until the day I die for the right to be treated fairly as a person who has paid into the UK tax system since the age of 15, and Martin will simply not accept any nonsense that his pension he has worked bloody hard for all his life cannot be administered as the UK banks want to close our bank accounts down.

 

We will accept Brexit, fight for fairness, but we really want to say is

 

Buggery Bollocks to it all!!! (and shit – to make it sound gangster)

Bollocks to Brexit and shit

 

Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

Suggested track to play whilst reading – Rachel Platten – Overwhelmed – click here to play

Lyrics are at the end of the blog

My birthday was on Thursday 28th November. We had known for sometime that this was the likely day for the house construction to start, which although was a delay on the original plans, I quite liked the concept of, as what more could a girl want for her birthday than the beginnings of a new house?

As it turns out, the house was not all I did get for my birthday – I got to order a brand new range cooker and a ‘réfrigérateur/congélateur multi-portes’ (like an American one but with four doors it is called French style) ready to come in the new year.

Range and Fridge

It was Black Friday on my birthday so we got a good price of course!! Every little saving counts at this stage of the game as, like most people doing a house build project, we have found that things have often cost much more than anticipated and some things that we have had to pay for we had no prior knowledge even of their existence!!

I also asked Martin for a Kenwood Food Mixer for my birthday present!! Now normally Martin would not dare to buy a woman a kitchen appliance as a gift for fear of having said gift thrown at his head – but I did expressly ask for this item. It’s one of those lovely ones that sits on a counter and waits for a cake mixture to be poured into it! I’ve never been much into baking as I prefer the imaginative, haphazard, throw all the things together than I can indulge in when making a curry for example, where as baking a cake requires following a recipe. I’m looking forward to trying out new skills when we finally get into our house though!

So, Day One of the TEK panel construction was Thursday 28th November and somewhat unbelievably yesterday afternoon on Tuesday 10th December – just 9 working days after the start – the final roof panel was put in place – and voila!! The very basic shell of our house is complete! I’ve put together a 2 minute video showing the process which to view you just click here

We think it’s amazing how quickly it has gone up.

Last night we climbed the very steep step ladder up on to the mezzanine floor to look at the night time view that I have only been able to dream about for the past 2 and a half years! When we first came back to this little piece of land in July 2017 and make that first decision to continue where my Dad left off, to build our own dreams on this plot of land – all I really knew was that I wanted some part of the building to be high. That concept has remained constant – but the plans have changed!

 

This was about house idea number 3
I just can’t imagine La Niche looking like this now – but it was what we wanted for a little while

First of all it was a flat single storey house with a ‘living roof terrace’, then a ‘Périgordien style tower’, and then we met our architect Rob who, after listening to me prattling on about how we only had the budget for one floor but in my dreams I really wanted a high-up reading loft, somehow stole what was in my head all along and came back a few weeks later with it all on paper!!

So last night – to stand up there – a good few feet away from the edge of the mezzanine balcony (bearing in mind there is no safety railing) and see for the first time, the village lights, the bare Winter branches, framed perfectly in the triangular shape of the roof apex – there are no words to describe it other than completely OVERWHELMED!! It is so beautiful!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
This tree with it’s ‘propriété privée’ sign is always going to be very special to me

The oak tree which I so desperately want to preserve as it is one of the things here that really truly connects me to my Dad as every time I see it I remember how it is only really by remembering the photos that he showed us that confirmed we were in the right place when we came back – that oak tree is perfectly framed in the view from the mezzanine.

Like children we excitedly went from window to window looking at the views we will get, noticing how the Velux roof window will give us the perfect stargazing view especially when the lights are fully out.

For 20 months since moving out to France and living in a motor home for all this time the thing that has kept us going is this moment when we finally have our house built!! And I just found it totally overwhelming. I think it is because everything else has taken so, so long, and this part was so incredibly quick. Just 9 days to build a shell.

Of course, there is still a lot more to do. The tiles need to go on the roof, and the ‘bardage’ (cladding) needs to go on the outside of the walls.

We were hoping that the windows would also be in before Christmas. But unfortunately, the window guy came this morning and feels that we need to make some adjustments to the bottom of the openings to avoid water settling underneath the wooden frames. So, this will mean the ‘maçon’ returning to put some concrete in – then that will have to set before he can fit the windows.

That’s a huge disappointment – and when the news was first broken it did feel quite overwhelming – but we then sat back and reflected and concluded that it is only so disappointing because we had our hearts set on having the watertight shell by Christmas – and it will all, I am sure, come together very soon.

We need to wait until Friday for another meeting between the window guy, the maçon and Martin to determine what needs to be done and when it can be done – so it feels a bit flat at the moment – but nothing insurmountable.

If our journey so far has taught us nothing else it has certainly taught us that patience is indeed a virtue and it is needed in large doses on a very regular frequency in our new life in France.

The other aspect of life that I am finding quite overwhelming at the moment is the General Election looming and of course the hate filled echo chambers start to rise up again on social media. Fake news is everywhere – you read something and feel a sense of outrage, and then shortly afterwards you read something else that claims that was fake news. Best to not react to anything until it’s been fact checked.

Whopper on the side of a bus

We didn’t dare rely on the postal votes that we are entitled to (having lived in the UK within the past 15 years) as we have been told by numerous people who were over here during the 2016 referendum that the cards failed to turn up in the post – rendering them unable to vote. So, we sought out a Proxy voter in the area we last lived in who is prepared to cast our votes for our chosen party at our old polling station.

I’m so glad that we decided to do the Proxy voting as all but two of my birthday cards sent by family and friends in the UK went missing – arriving far later than they should have done, and in one case not at all! And now, it’s been revealed that many people are once again saying their Postal Voting Cards did not turn up either at all – or in time to cast their vote. The democracy in the UK at the present time is an absolute shambles!

So, tomorrow – someone will go to our old polling station and casts votes on our behalf. We hope that our votes will help to wipe the smile off the face of the smug Conservative MP who not that awfully long ago refused to help us when I begged him to raise the plight of UK citizens living in the EU within Parliament. To this day he has never so much as sympathised with our situation – all he done was to send a reply telling us to enjoy our new life in France!

letter from Steve Brine
Remainer turn coat Steve Brine…a significant proportion of his constituency was Remain, so was he, but the day after the Referendum he turned completely. A career politician!!

Well! We will enjoy our new life in France if we are able to after Brexit, and if it is his choice to only ever holiday in Cornwall over and over and over again…..well….I do feel quite sorry for the Brits who have never explored further afield and seen what the rest of Europe has to offer! A lack of travel does seem to make people somewhat narrow minded.

It’s stuff like this that makes me feel overwhelmed – that feeling of “stop the world I want to get off”, but last night it felt so good to feel overwhelmed simply from the feeling that we have finally turned the next page in our story.

We now have a shell…it ought to have been watertight by Christmas but probably won’t be.

But it has a roof, it has walls, and it has a heart! And now that it is assembled and upright, we can start to feel her personality (yes, she is feminine – I always knew she would be) and we can start to see how she will start to materialise.

Her name is ‘La Niche’ and we love her already! I will tell you how we came to name her in a future blog.

It’s overwhelming…but exciting, and a little bit scary. And we can’t wait!

Rachel Platten – Overwhelmed – click here to play

“We make patterns out of stars
And we whisper little prayers
To be somewhere that we’re not
And if we’re good it will take us there”

“But then the light comes through the dark
And our questions fall apart
It’s just the beating of our hearts and the still of the midnight air”

“And I get so overwhelmed till it’s hard to tell
What I’m thinking”

“We get down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We get down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
‘Cause the more that you give the more that comes back around”

“So we hide away our hurts
And put bandaids on our fears
And we lie to all our friends
Move along there’s no problems here
But then the orchestra will start
And the violins appear
And a simple little melody has us fighting tears”

“And I get so overwhelmed till it’s hard to tell
What I’m thinking”

“We get down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We get down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
Cuz the more that you give the more that comes back around”

“But the hardest part is the way things are
And how quickly fingers will bleed
And the grace we need is not in magazines,
It’s just space, in between, when we breathe”

“I am down down down I feel sorry for myself
And I get down down down and I need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
Cuz the more that we give, the more that comes back”

“Down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We’re down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
‘Cause the more that you give the more that comes back around”