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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:-
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!!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!!
I always feel sad to say goodbye – but of course – just a few days later we were back to collect Ryan from the airport.
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?).
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!
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!
We 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.
We 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’!!
This market had two stalls that sold this so we could have a bar crawl if we wanted.
We 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.
We 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!!
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.
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!
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!
‘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?
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 expressthat 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
And, 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)
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
“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”
One of the things I love about France is that Armistice Day is always observed on 11th November – no matter what day of the week it falls on (instead of how the UK now does it on the closest Sunday to the date). For me, it seems more poignant to be remembering those who sacrificed their lives on the exact anniversary of when the Armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France.
I’ve always tried my best to attend something local on Armistice Day and this year was no different – as with last year we popped down to our village square and listened to the service in French, with the children reading out the names of the war dead, the small choir singing, and the band playing the Sonnerie aux Morts (the French equivalent to The Last Post). Click here to listen. Listening to the choir reminded me that I had completely forgotten the vow that I had made to the Maire last year – which was to learn the words to La Marseillaise. I had made an attempt last year when I joined the choir (for just one week) but since then it had been all forgotten. Just in case he asked me about it I had a phrase ready in my memory bank “Désolé j’ai oublié“. But luckily, he had also forgotten!
It seems that life is just too busy and a lot of things get forgotten – and how strange it seems that a whole year has gone by since the last Armistice Day and the Autumn Fair that takes part on the same day.
But it is good to remember on days like this, that no matter which country we originate from, our men and women, and also horses and dogs, gave their lives so that we could have the freedoms we enjoy today. At the beginning of the Second World War, many countries opted to change the name of Armistice Day to Remembrance Day, but France still calls it by its original name. It has also become a day to remember the war dead of ALL wars, and I do find myself thinking about those who lost their lives in the Second World War, and also in all the troubles that we have had since – Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Syria – to name but a few.
Being in an area of France where there are lots of reminders of the role of the French Resistance in the Second World War means there is a constant reminder of the war time troubles in this part of Europe too. In fact, I read just this week about Yvette Lundy the “Grande Dame of Epernay” who died aged 103 recently. To find out more about what role this amazing woman played in helping Jews flee occupied France click here
In our village there is a street called Rue de La Resistance and just 6 miles away in Fraysinnet-de-Gelat there is a war memorial remembering the atrocities that occurred here on May 21st 1944.
In this small village, that now has just 360 inhabitants, members of the French Resistance shot and killed one German officer. The payback for this single death lasted hours – 15 hostages were taken and assassinated by the SS. Ten of these were young males and five were young women ALL from one-child families. This was a deliberate attempt to prevent any further family line of descent. When you consider the impact that this must have had on this village, you can begin to fully empathise with this nation on the sensitivities of war. It is humbling for me as a Brit to stop, and reflect that it was not just our country that suffered the war.
The monument which stands outside the church has a stone plaque bearing the names of the victims. It also has a wooden sign saying “Barbarie Nazie” which covers the original wording which was “Barbarie Allemande”– changed in the name of international “rapprochement”. Hopefully, in a similar way our European neighbours will recognise that us, the individuals in all this Brexit malarkey are not personally responsible for the actions of our truly appalling Government at this point in history. We can but hope!
As well as attending the Memorial Ceremony, we also selected Commemoration as the topic for discussion at this week’s French/English Conversation Group. This was only the second session so the group is still a work in progress, but each session Beatrice prepares some fun activities in French for the English speakers, and I prepare some fun activities in English for the French speakers. This session I prepared a Word Search containing words associated with Commemoration in both English and French, and also a piece on Dame Vera Lynn in both French and English. Another Dame that has reached a ripe old age and is still going – now 102.
As nerve wracking as it is for me to read out text in French to an audience, I still find it is a good way for me to learn more of the language. My nemesis is dates – I really cannot get my head around the different way that the French use the number system and sadly all those weeks spent last year playing French Bingo seem to have been wiped straight from my memory.
One thing that always springs to mind for me when Armistice Day approaches is the impact that the battle field had on the survivors of war. Facebook is full of emotive posters that remind us of what they went through, and the sacrifices that were made, and in recent times we are so much more aware of terms like Combat Stress Reaction, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The “signature injury” of the First World War was “shell shock” which was used to describe, amongst other symptoms, the “thousand-yard stare” that many soldiers returned home with.
My Great Grandmother lost her first husband to the First World War. His best friend returned home from war, and they became close and she later married him – but the lovely man he had been when they were all pre-war friends was lost due to “shell shock” and sadly she had a very unhappy life with him. So, I guess you can say she lost two husbands to the same war.
If that had been now, he would have been able to get some help, and at least people would have understood, and there would have been some support for her. But back then…he was just a nasty man who became violent and aggressive – with no real understanding of how or why.
Thank goodness that these days we have that understanding of the damage that a battle field can cause a person for the rest of their lives. However, I feel that there is now a new gaping chasm in our modern-day knowledge of the impact of trauma – one that is finally being acknowledged
That is the impact of abuse on a person. We now know that childhood trauma is one of the many causes of Complex-PTSD. (CPTSD)And no wonder – being in a house full of raging parents, not knowing when you are going to be under attack is very similar to living in on a battle field.
Of course, there are many types of traumatic events that can cause CPTSD, not just childhood abuse, but also ongoing domestic violence, repeatedly witnessing violence, being forced to become a sex worker, kidnapping, slavery. And a person is more likely to develop CPSTD if the trauma was experienced at a young age, or if it lasted for a long time, or if it was from a person close to them, and if there were multiple traumas.
So, what I am saying is that, whilst in no way meaning to downplay the issues that soldiers may experience, there are also hundreds of thousands of people who are experiencing lifelong emotional issues that have occurred as a result of traumas they experienced at an earlier stage of their lives.
I’ve always been a great advocate of promoting openness about mental health issues. After all, our mind is a part of us in the same way that our legs are – so why be fine with saying we have a broken leg, but ashamed to admit that we have a ‘broken mind?’.
I feel that people very quickly become isolated when they feel that no-one will understand their problems, and that as a society we are still not very good at allowing someone to express their mental health concerns.
Many years ago, I became aware that my own childhood trauma had a massive impact on me, when a male boss approached me suddenly and unexpected from slightly behind me and I flinched badly – so badly that the poor bloke looked at me, with tears in his eyes and said “oh my goodness my love, what has happened to you?”. I could have sat down and told him about my childhood, how years of a violent stepfather had done this to me, but I just shuffled away feeling awkward and embarrassed. But back then I didn’t fully make the connection that the trauma I suffered meant I was on ‘high alert’ to danger, always expecting to be under attack, and my young brain had interpreted the childhood abuse as a deep rooted belief that if I was not safe as a child, in my family home, with my parents to look after me, then I would never be safe.
Even now, I don’t fully understand the trigger responses to this – but thankfully because CPSTD is now recognised as something that not only soldiers suffer from, then there is help and support out there for me to access, and for those around me to help to understand why, my sometimes completely emotionally ‘out of control’ responses, don’t mean I don’t love them. It means that I have been triggered by something which causes a feeling of being under attack, and my response is to counter attack. It’s all very complex – hence the term “Complex” PTSD. My flashbacks are different to the visual ones that soldiers may experience – mine are emotional ones, although I did once have a visual flashback of a train coming down a road in the New Forest not long after my ex-boyfriend’s 17-year old nephew had been killed in a train/car crash. (The flashback was a very scary experience for both me, and my passenger, and also part of the reason I never drive in the dark – but a different story for another day).
My understanding of my own personal situation also means that I can now understand how the responses of other people are not always what they seem to be. I can spot a ‘thousand-yard stare’ at a hundred paces. I have a person in my life, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago, but I am certain that he also has CPSTD – as a result of his own childhood traumas. The stare that I always thought was some sort of intense, crazy person look – I now realise is more likely the dissociation caused by CPTSD.
So, at this time of remembrance for the men, women, and animals that gave or changed their lives forever so that we have a life to live, let us also not forget that things are not always what they seem.
No one ever knows what battles a person is fighting in their own mind.
No one ever knows what demons keep a person awake at night.
We all get up in the morning and live to fight another day (until of course the day we die) and we owe it to each other to be kind to each other.
Maybe instead of judging a person for dealing with their problems in a way that we might not necessarily do so ourselves, we should try to respect that they are doing the best they can, with what they have, in the only way that they know how. And acknowledge that sometimes they were not given the best start in life to gain the best tools for the job, or that something else happened to them along the way which changed how they see the world.
We might not have the insight, or the empathy, or the skills to fully understand that person – but we are all born with a heart, and it is good to use that part of our body to connect with all our fellow human beings.
As always, it’s been an eventful week or so. The builders have been here most days continuing with the foundations work and the base that our house will go on to is now a huge slab. A few days to dry off and it will make a lovely dance floor!
It’s been fascinating to watch and we are loving the opportunity to see our house from the very beginning – we will have intimate knowledge of every nook and cranny from the bottom up.
Everyone visiting has commented on how neat the brick work is, which is something we have also been very, very impressed with. When you consider that this is just the foundations and the pointing will not even be on show when the area around the base is filled back in. We obviously have made a good choice for our ‘maçonnerie’ (BRONDEL Freres). Although there has been a little bit of apparent bickering between him and our electrician/plumber – neither of whom have wanted to take responsibility for drilling the holes for the water and electricity pipes. This has been ongoing for a few weeks now and on Wednesday morning I said in no uncertain terms “this has got to be resolved”. And, lo and behold, it was, and a slightly miffed looking electrician/plumber skulked off saying reluctantly he would do it. It always amuses me to see any French people having a discussion as you never can tell if they are having a full-blown argument or just getting really passionate. But, I don’t think either of them realised how lucky they are that I didn’t fully get involved in the discussion as I certainly was not going to be giving up without a fight – there is absolutely no point in having a foundation slab built and then a house on top of it if we are not going to have any water or electricity so I was not going to let that one drop.
The acacia that has given me so many sleepless nights of late was also not giving up without a fight. The tree in question was in close proximity to our Garden House and split suddenly a few weeks ago – the branch that split fell over in the direction of the Garden House but lodged itself in the branches of a tree just behind the “ugly ivy tree”. This was NOT my favourite tree, although it was the one that my hammock hung from this summer – but I was not keen on it – too much ivy, meaning too many insects and bugs lurking around.
South West France has had its fair share of awful weather the past few weeks, as has all of Europe, and we had 3 nights in a row with torrential rain, and thunder storms. Each night I would awaken to the sound of the thunder claps and then lay awake for hours expecting in the next thunderbolt to also hear the tell-tale crack of a huge branch crashing down on to the Garden House. Living in a 17 square metre motor-home with the luxury of another 17 square metres in the form of a Garden House does mean that we tend to hold a lot of reliance on both of our living spaces remaining intact for at least a little while longer, so it was very nerve wracking.
However, we were recommended a Tree Surgeon called Matt, and he came on Wednesday and expertly took down an acacia which had the potential to interfere with the house when it’s erected, and also dealt with the tricky split acacia. As you will see from the little video clip (click here to play) the acacia did not want to give in without a fight. Matt’s plan was to drop the “ugly ivy tree” (which I wanted down anyway) onto the split branch and bring it down. But, although the “ugly ivy tree” when felled did crash onto the split branch it just bounced back and stayed put. Next plan was to lop one of the other acacias which could have stayed for a while but we were going to get rid of in the longer term. So that one also was felled and attempted to knock the split branch…but again it stayed put. We joked and said that even with a thunder storm every night for 10 years it probably would have stayed put. But, with so much at stake we just could not have taken the chance.
Matt now had the split branch at the perfect angle to just chop and drop – straight through a gap – no damage to the garden house or to the ruin. He obviously really knows his stuff and it was very impressive and enjoyable to watch him at work.
Zoe puss chat was nowhere to be seen all morning on Wednesday, but Zena was prowling around with her permanent scowl on her face. She is definitely too nosey for her own good as when one of the last trees came down, she ran in the wrong direction and literally ran under a falling tree. I’m actually really glad I did not capture this on film as I don’t think my heart could have taken it. This is one of the perils I suppose of having semi-feral cats (hmmmm…. not sure how semi-feral they are – I’m still convinced they will be indoors before the year is out) but we just can’t catch them and keep them indoors for their own safety. But, all’s well that ends well and Zena used one of her many lives but clearly not the last one! And Zoe has been sighted since so she obviously wasn’t snoozing under a tree…. but after seeing her last night UP a tree we are now wondering if she thinks she is a lynx?
Talking of fights, and not giving up without one. We have been trying to avoid watching Brexit too much as it’s just downright depressing, but we were really pleased to see so many people representing our views on our behalf at the People’s March in London on 19th October. I honestly can’t thank those people enough for marching in protest against Brexit and to protect our rights.
I’ve felt many times over the past 18 months since moving out here that many people don’t understand what our rights are! Well, the way I see it is:
Our rights to be treated fairly as British Citizens who have paid our National Insurance from the age of 16 on the understanding that we would be looked after from the “Cradle to the Grave”.
Our rights to exercise our choice to transfer those rights to another European country and live out the remainder of our days living a life that we have dreamed of during our working life.
Our right to make personal sacrifices to enable those lifestyle choices without being used as pawns in what has become a vicious and callous game for extremists who have no idea what they are fighting for other than to have “won” and career politicians who are only interested in personal gain.
Our right to be treated AS FAVOURABLY as EU citizens in the UK not LESS FAVOURABLY (shame on you Britain – you once again show no back bone in your policies – are the UK migrants living in the EU now your way of meeting the welfare deficit?)
Our right to NOT BE FORGOTTEN!!!
Although those marchers were strangers to us, they were showing the UK, Europe and the whole World that we are not going to give in without a fight…even though it often feels that even some of our family and friends prefer to choose to pretend that this nightmare isn’t happening as they don’t want to feel uncomfortable by acknowledging it.
I hope that we are not part of the next Windrush Generation…it feels as if we might be if people leave us out in the cold.
Out there in the cold, getting lonely, getting old
Can you feel me?
Standing in the aisles with itchy feet and fading smiles
Can you feel me?
Don’t help them to bury the light
Don’t give in without a fight”
So, I ask you…. any of you who might be reading this. If you are in the UK and have family or friends in Europe – don’t leave them out in the cold…. (getting lonely, getting old) – please help them fight that fight. No matter what your political views are, whether you support Brexit or not, none of us deserve to have our rights stripped away – please do what you can – whether that is to lobby your MP, or just simply listen to your family member or friend when they tell you they are worried, instead of dismissing their fears and just telling them it will all be alright. Our fight is real, and it is very scary at times.