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:-
After the craziness of the past few months, living on a building site, we have tried to settle down to the next phase of our life here in France.
It’s taking a while as we have not had much of a normal routine for probably the best part of 2 years now. Even whilst still in England, we were finishing up our jobs, Martin starting the wind down at work, and me starting to wind up my small business – so we didn’t have the structure that a morning routine brings for some time before moving to France, and of course once we had moved out here we were finding our feet, planning all sorts of things and then eventually having the initial stages of the building project to sort out. So, as I have previously alluded to – our lives have not really felt our own for a while. Not the fault of any one thing, or person – it just is that way.
Subsequently, we have struggled to get back into some sort of semblance of normal life. And when I say normal life, I honestly do struggle to identify what normal life is!! It’s been such a long time.
I started to reflect on all the things I used to do (when I had a house) that used to help me to start my day in a positive way, and it became really quite scary to admit to myself that I have left slip so many of my little rituals that used to help me get on to the right path each morning.
Anyone who knows me, will know that I am spiritual rather than religious. I don’t believe in a God per se, but I do believe that I have a guiding force that helps me (when I ask) to live my life in the best way possible. But, on reflection I realised that I had let so much of my daily ritual go by the by that I was feeling out of touch with my spiritual practice. And also, my self-care routine has wound down to pretty much zilch. I have been spending no time at all looking after myself in either a physical, or an emotional, or a spiritual way. And that, I feel has now manifested as the ill-health that I have experienced for the past year or so. The word disease actually is formulated from dis-ease – which when you look at it like that no wonder with all the dis-EASE in my life my health has suffered. It has frustrated me so much that when I left England I was fit, and healthy, I had a healthy BMI range, I could pump a really decent amount of iron at the gym, I could cycle for hours, could run 8km easily. And now, I cannot run at all, I struggle to walk 5km, I cannot walk down stairs properly, and my weight has sky rocketed.
With my recent health problems and trips to hospital I have of course reflected on why I might have become so ill. And can only conclude that it is a combination of two things.
Firstly, my diet became very unhealthy after moving to France (partly my own fault as I found the French bread, cheese and pastries too tempting, but also partly because eating out is so limited as a vegetarian).
And secondly, the stress levels that we have been under. The Brexit process has been incredibly stressful for us both, and this, on top of the life adjustments of living in a different country to our children, leaving work, reduction in income, pressures to learn a new language, all whilst living in a motorhome.
So, I have had to take a good, hard look at myself and reflect on how I can remedy this as the problem is clearly not going to resolve.
Having underlying health anxieties, and a huge mistrust of doctors and hospitals in general, alongside a very enquiring mind, and a lot of confidence in my research abilities, I was never going to just take the prescription from the hospital doctor without doing my own investigations and I am so glad that I didn’t. The Quadruple Therapy treatment for the Helicobacter Pylori bacterial infection was, to say the least grim. Had I followed it to the doctor’s instructions it would have been unbearable. Luckily, I found an online support group through which I found loads of ways to make the side effects of the treatment more bearable. Simple things like drinking loads and loads of water, avoiding all dairy foods, leaving 6 hours between dosages of medication (which was different as there was four dosages a day so it went like this – breakfast and morning meds at 0700, lunch and mid-day meds at 1230, dinner and evening meds at 1800 and then snack and late night meds at 2300 as I just couldn’t quite manage to stay up until midnight. Then when I woke in the middle of the night, I would have to take my probiotics as they needed to be without food and not within 3 hours of the antibiotics.
The side effects that I got were stomach cramps, a severe headache, black poop, tearfulness, anxiety, dizziness, feeling faint, vertigo, problems with my eyes, tinnitus, acid reflux, a horrible taste in my mouth, and breathlessness. Luckily the 10 days went by soon enough, but what they don’t tell you at the hospital is that the treatment strips your gut lining out completely, so you are left with the Chronic Gastritis and no good gut flora to help with the symptoms of that. So, I am now starting with a very raw, very sore stomach which needs to heal. And that process could take anything from 3 months to forever to take place. So, obviously I am going to do as much as I can to help that process. Which means, a lot of research in to the optimum diet for Chronic Gastritis, along with some supplements, and a change in lifestyle that will support the healing of my gut.
So, I’ve been introspecting a lot on what I can do to help myself. One thing I used to find helpful was the use of Essential Oils. I used to have oils for just about everything you could imagine, so I have dug them out and have put together a little Essential Oil routine for myself. The concept of ingesting Essential Oils is a very controversial one in the UK, but it seems not so much so in France as they sell little neutral tablets that you can put a few drops of oil on to and swallow. I used Peppermint Oil in this way after my Appendectomy and it was the only thing that worked for dispersing the gas from the surgery, so I am a big fan of this. But in the past I always used to ingest by diluting in water and always used Certified Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils. I’m a bit nervous about doing this at the moment as my stomach is still very raw – so I have made myself some oil rub for my stomach containing peppermint and lemongrass oils in a coconut oil base and am using it topically for the time being – but when I feel my stomach is ready for it I will start ingesting the oils.
So, my little daily routine is:
After my yoga stretching routine I put 3 drops of a motivating blend called Citrus Bliss on my feet (the soles of the feet allow the Essential Oils to enter the system very quickly) and then I put 3 drops of a blend called Balance on to my wrists and inhale 3 counts in, and exhale 6 counts – 7 times. This is to ground me.
Then when I’m getting dressed, I use the stomach rub.
If I feel stressed during the day, I use a bit more Balance on my wrists and inhale.
At bedtime I use the stomach rub, and put 3 drops of a blend called Serenity on the soles of my feet and spray my pillows with Lavender spray.
I’ve slept so much better since doing this. And in the morning the combination of my yoga stretching, 1:2 breathing, and the oils really motivates me.
After my morning Essential Oils routine, I do my Reiki Precepts. This is the equivalent of someone saying their morning prayers. I thank my spirit guides for the gift of Reiki and ask for their love and support with helping me to use Reiki in my life for the greater good of the universe. Although I am qualified to Level Three in Reiki I have not been working as a Reiki Practitioner since being in France as our living arrangements have not been conducive to this, and also my ill health has meant my energy has been low. But I know that this will come soon, when the time is right. The 5 Reiki Precepts that I say are:
Just for today I will let go of worry
Just for today I will let go of anger
Just for today I will count my many blessings
Just for today I will live my life authentically, and speak my truth
Just for today I will be compassionate to all living beings, including myself
I then think about how I will spend the next 24 hours, and set intentions of how I will fill the time that I have been given.
These rituals have really helped me to start to get back on track (and now, in hindsight I regret so much letting these simple things slip as I can see how much they help – but we cannot go back and fix the past – just be in the present).
As well as looking at my self-help rituals I have also been looking at what I can be putting in my body to support my gut healing. Turmeric has come up time and time again, so I have looked at ways of getting plenty of this in to me. First, I tried the way that a friend told me – which was to add turmeric to some oil, along with black pepper and just swallow it. But I found that too difficult – I was loath to use too much oil (all those calories) so without much oil it was just an awful powdery mouthful and it made me feel sick. Then I remembered being told about Golden Milk by another friend – so I started making this in the evenings. It was a bit weird to begin with but now I really enjoy it as part of my bedtime routine – but I always brush my teeth straight after it as the Turmeric makes everything yellow.
The way I make it is; one cup of almond milk, ½ teaspoons of turmeric, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, ½ teaspoon of ginger, 1 teaspoon of coconut oil, some black pepper and a good slurp of agave syrup (to make it vegan) or honey (if not vegan). Warm it up in a pan, then sit quietly, sipping and contemplating. It’s very relaxing.
Matcha Tea is something that both me and Martin used to really enjoy when we were in the UK. So much so that we treated ourselves to some fancy Matcha bowls and the whisk, and a really good quality Ceremonial Blend matcha tea. Martin was always better at whisking the Matcha tea to get a nice froth on it – so this was his job. So, over the past few weeks we have reintroduced this little ritual in to our day and our afternoon tea break is a Matcha Break – with Martin doing his Guru bit and whisking it up. I always feel really energised after drinking Matcha and it’s an added bonus that it is good at fighting Helicobacter Pylori.
I had been getting quite confused about stomach acid and lemon juice and had avoided lemon juice as it is acid. But apparently lemon juice turns alkaline in the stomach so it can be good for gastritis. So, I found another way of getting turmeric in to me in the form of lemon and turmeric water in the morning.
My method is this: when husband wakes up ask him to boil some water, put ½ teaspoon of turmeric into a glass cup, cut a lemon in half and take a thin slice of one half. Squeeze the juice of a half a lemon into the glass, add the boiled water, Stir, put the lemon slice in and hand the glass to sleepy wife!! It’s lovely, and I sit in bed for a few moments sipping this before thinking about starting to do my yoga stretching. He is a good husband; as my friend Frieda said the other day – he is “sent from God”as is her husband Jan.
About 5 minutes after my lemon water I take my probiotics tablet and also a Broccoli Sprouts capsule. These sprouts are apparently very effective in eradicating Helicobacter Pylori so I have invested in these to hopefully eradicate any that are still lurking and also prevent any future occurrence.
One thing I have learnt with all this research is that these bacteria are stubborn little bastards and have become resistant to antibiotics, and with the treatment being so horrible I really do not want to have to go through it again. But equally I know that I must do whatever it takes as if left unresolved the Gastritis will lead to stomach ulcers, which then can lead to stomach cancer, which terrifies me of course!
The gut healing diet is going to be challenging. Avoid dairy, avoid gluten. So that’s all the amazing French cheeses and bread out for starters. Avoid starchy vegetables. Don’t go too mad on beans and lentils. Avoid sugar. Avoid alcohol. Is life worth living??? So far, I’ve not been able to stick to it completely, but I have cut back significantly. Breakfast has been eggs, with home made lentil loaf. Lunch – soup or leftovers from dinner.
Dinner is some form of beans, or chickpeas or lentils, with either gluten free pasta, or brown rice, and vegetables – so Veg Chilli, or Curry, or Pasta Bolognese – that sort of thing is easy and pretty much what we have all the time but I now need to think tasty rather than spicy. So, the main meals are covered – but it’s the in-betweens that is the problem. I’ve always had problems with bloating if I get hungry, which I now know is a symptom of both H Pylori infection and gastritis. When there is nothing in my tummy the little buggers start getting hungry and gnaw at my stomach mucus lining! Charming!! So, it’s best to not get hungry – which means in between meal snacks. Trouble is, the rule is to not eat fruit on its own – you need to have it with protein and fat at the same time. So, I’m struggling for ideas, although I have discovered buckwheat pancakes (taste lovely but don’t look so great. I’ll get there – I always do manage to rise to a challenge when it comes to eating – I love cooking so now that I have my new range cooker to play with I will soon be conjuring up healthy snacks that are Gastritis friendly. In order to support this, I know that my best chance of success will be to meal plan – another routine to get in to again. I used to do it every week – have a whole week’s meals planned out.
It does all seem like a bit of a flaff at times – but I know ultimately, I need to do this. I really do need to put my health first, and although it will undoubtedly be an inconvenience at times as eating out will be very difficult, I do need to be kind to myself.
I think about that Reiki Precept a lot these days – it was always the one that really hit me straight in the heart – I would say “be kind to every living being” and then have a nagging voice coming back saying “yeah, what about those ones you eat”. And that was ultimately what prompted me to become vegetarian. I felt as if I was being untrue to those Reiki Precepts. But of course, in the same way that different people interpret the bible teaching differently, different people interpret the Reiki Precepts differently. Some people will interpret that as being mindful about what they eat, honouring and respecting the animal, others will take it as to not harm at all, and others will read that as not causing any harm other than eating it at the end of its life. We are all different, and ultimately none of us are righter, or more wrong that the next person. We each need to be able to go to bed at night and feel comfortable that whatever actions we have taken in that day make us the best version of us that we can be (or not….as the case may be).
I humbly accept that not everything I do in any given 24 hour period is all kind, but I do feel that I try hard to be kind to people when I can be, and I’m always kind to animals, but I also now realise that I have to be much kinder to myself. My default setting is to beat myself up and that has been due to past abuse, and so I need to learn to be kind to myself. I’ve also had to learn over the past few years that sometimes in order to be kind to myself I have needed to let go of people who have constantly provoked anger and anxiety within me – it’s one thing trying to accept that they may have a different point of view, but when they show no regard to my feelings it is kinder to myself to simply let go and let them be who they want to be without them harming me. A friend once said to me that people only stay in our lives as long as they are meant to be there. Looking back I was very hurt when she appeared to drop me as if I was a piece of shit on her shoe, I had no idea what I had done wrong – but I now realise that for her, I was no longer a person that had a place in her bubble. It’s true – there are people now gone from my life who I never could have imagined ever not being part of my bubble….but they have made way for the people who are meant to me in my life right now – here in this moment in time. One of life’s lessons that I have learnt is that we should not chase people, if it is hard to form a relationship with a person despite a lot of effort and goodwill, they are not meant to be in your life and that is OK.
There’s a lot of talk in past weeks about being kind, since the tragic death of Caroline Flack. Her story resonated with me so much, on many different levels, but in particular two reasons.
Firstly, I can’t help but think that the incident she was being prosecuted for was a domestic argument that just simply got out of control and led to an accident. Who can honestly say, hand on heart that they have never acted in a way that was out of control when having an argument with a partner? In this case I feel that she was a troubled woman with a need for help for her mental health issues – not a demon. Have we as a society really been reduced to a culture of attacking people who actually need help? I knew of a young woman once who hanged herself – she went to friends begging for help and no-one would take her in as she had her big dog with her. I often wondered if she would still be here now if her friends had put themselves in her position and just been a bit kinder, more flexible and opened up their homes to a poor woman in distress with her beloved dog.
Secondly, the CPS did not need to pursue the case. Her partner withdrew the allegations. The CPS could have and should have dropped the case, yet they allowed it to continue. Many years ago, a man attempted to rape me. This was a traumatic experience enough, yet by the time the police caught up with him some 9 months later I had begun to put my life back together and wanted to just move on and put it all behind me. The CPS however would not drop the case and forced me to take the witness stand. I was made out to be all sorts of things in that court room. I was victim shamed, called a liar, and told it was my fault. All so they could get an extra month on his sentence (he had assaulted a police officer on a separate occasion – undoubtedly the main reason they were so keen to prosecute him). The CPS didn’t care about how I felt about pushing those charges, and in my case, it caused me a significant amount of trauma. In Caroline’s case I believe it cost her life.
So many lessons to be learned from tragic events like these. We all need to be kind, to each other, but most of all to ourselves. An act of kindness often costs us nothing at all. It can be as simple as a hug to someone in distress.
We don’t have to have the answers to other people’s problems – it is enough to just say “I have no idea how that feels but I can see you are upset – can I just be with you?”
And to ourselves – just a few minutes a day to spend taking care of ourselves, putting the right stuff in, or doing something to alleviate some of the stresses, maybe just saying “enough is enough” and giving up on an unhealthy relationship (pressing that Unfollow or Unfriend button can be oh so cathartic), finding healthy rituals to soothe ourselves – whatever it takes …..just “Be Kind”……for your sake, for our sake, and for Caroline.
One final ritual that I always take comfort from is the marking of the birthdays of our special loved ones who are no longer with us. I usually mark my Dad’s birthday in August by eating cheese….in particular Roquefort cheese as that was his favourite. And on my Step Mum’s birthday in February I marked the occasion by planting up a lovely Meleze Planter with mauve and yellow flowers. Mauve was her favourite colour. I found it very therapeutic to plant them using the top soil dug out to create the space for the foundations of our house, from what was once “their land” and to give it pride of place on the “terrasse” of our house hoping that she is looking down and approving of what we have created here. I am always mindful that it is a sad fact that it was the devastating and abrupt end of their dreams that has afforded Martin and I the opportunity to fulfil our own dreams out here on “this little piece of land”. And for me, this simple little ritual helps me to feel that I am respecting, and honouring their dreams, and them, for giving us ours.
At what point can you say a house is finished? When the exterior walls are up and the roof is on? When the interior walls are finished? When the furniture is in place? When the garden is perfectly manicured? Or…quite simply when you can honestly say that your heart is totally and utterly 100% in it? When you start calling it home!
We reached a few milestones in January. Firstly, when the ‘macon’ (one of the various types of builders) returned and installed some lovely stone slabs underneath the doors (filling the gaps that we had lived with over the Christmas period by shoving spare pieces of TEK panel in front of).
This stopped most of the draught and also stopped the cats entering when we weren’t looking – although on one occasion we inadvertently moved a piece of TEK panel and a cat got in – we had fun chasing her round and evicting her. Once the house was air-tight it felt more as if it were a complete house, but still having builders around on most days putting the ‘bardage’ (cladding) on meant that it was still noisy and quite intrusive at times.
Cue my little story about one of the workers. I’m never one to name names, so I will just refer to him as “C – the cock wielding Charpentier”. It’s fair to say he was not my favourite. All the other workers that we had over an entire 4-month period were lovely – polite, courteous, friendly, chatty – but “C” only had two volumes – ‘Thunderous and Ear Splitting’. When other, more responsible workers were around he was merely Thunderous – very loud, but you could still hear yourself think. But, once the responsible grown-ups were off-site his noise levels increased to such a pitch that he sounded like a crazed, wild-man, screeching and yelling. It was never clear if he was laughing insanely, or really angry at something. On the afternoons that I was home alone and Martin was out I just retreated to the motor home and pretended to not be around. But far worse than his noise level was his habit of taking phone calls and a piss at the same time. The first time I witnessed this was when I ventured around the back of the house and saw him up on a pile of wood, coat swinging from side to side – his left hand was holding his phone – into which he was screeching at some poor bugger, and his right hand was aiming his urine all over our compost heap (that compost will only be used for flowers – not vegetables I promise you). I found the first occurrence quite amusing to be honest and that’s when I gave him his nick-name – but to be honest – walking round corners and bumping into him with his hands down his trousers did become quite tedious. His little doggy took after his master – although he was a sweet little thing, he was very male dominant and cocked his leg all over the place – fair enough that’s what doggies do – but I drew the line when I caught him cocking his leg all over our motor home cover! He pooped all over the place too – much to our annoyance as, up until now our two dogs have never pooped on our land, but this was a green light to them and they broke the rules and also began to poop and pee anyway they felt like. So back to basic training for our two. After a couple of months of this we were honestly feeling like our own home had been taken over by the cock wielding Charpentier who was now setting the tone of the day to his own tune, and his little doggie who was running riot whilst our own two were spending their days in solitary confinement in the motorhome.
His work was very good – and that was his saving grace – had it been shoddy we would have waved him ‘au revoir’ very quickly.
Many moons ago, in a galaxy far, far away – I lived another life, in a strange country called Britain, and made my living by working for a large organisation whose head office was in London. We had a saying about those who ran the organisation – “it’s like the tail wagging the dog”. In other words, those who are in charge really don’t know what the people who are having the do the job really need to do their work, and have no clue about what the users of the service actually need.
That was a very, frustrating working situation. Many times, in the past 4 months I have felt like that with this house building project. It seems like those who supposed to be offering a service to us have had a disproportionate amount of control in our lives. For example, had we not stuck to our guns and insisted on staying up here, next to our land (albeit on the commune track) rather than going now to the ‘camping car aire’ for what we were told would be “just a few weeks” we would have been stuck down there for 4 months (with me recovering from an operation too). So, that little saying has been forefront to my mind a lot. After wasting a lot of time researching and fretting over the order to get the ‘chappe’ laid (that’s the screed that will be laid over our underfloor heating pipes) all because the builder wanted to get the air tightness test done as quickly as possible, we decided enough was enough and we were going to take back control and do things in the order that we feel is right – albeit maybe not the order that some people might feel is best – but everyone has an opinion and not everyone can be right can they? So, we decided to stop letting the “tail wag the dog”.
So, I suppose for me, that feeling of the ‘house’ being complete, and becoming ‘home’ really started when the scaffolding came down, and we knew that was it…..no more builders, no more “cock wielding Charpentier’s”, no more living on the track like “not so posh-pikeys”. Now, for the most part it is just us two cracking on with it. There’s still absolutely loads of work to do. And the house is by no means finished – but now, for the most part – it will be us doing the work, and we only have ourselves to answer too. No more feeling as if we are in the way, no more having to be up, dressed and out walking the dogs to be back by “silly o’clock” in the mornings to unlock for the builders, no more endless vans driving up and down the track making mud, mud and more mud.
Martin came down with the dreaded “man-flu” and was wiped out of action for a while. In actual fact it was worse than man-flu and I felt a bit mean when he was sent for a chest x-ray and blood tests and then found out he had a lung infection. Thankfully nothing more than “just an infection” though. Neither of us said at the time of course, but both of us secretly feared that the x-ray would show the dreaded black dots that no-one ever wants to find out they have. My thoughts went frequently back to my Dad during this time – how he had a persistent cough for over a year that he ignored. Here in the land of “just get on with it” I can now understand why he maybe didn’t go to the doctors when he should have done, and of course when he did finally go – it was too late. But we didn’t have anything of that gargantuan proportion to worry about thank goodness. Martin didn’t enjoy being my patient though – Nurse Sharon was too bossy!
I had a strict medication regime for him so he wouldn’t forget to take his 5 different medications, and I also insisted that he inhale weird smelling steam and take lots of Vitamin C tablets – but it worked. He’s back on his feet now, and there’s plenty for him to be getting on with. I had to have emergency lessons in how to empty our cassette toilet – normally a “blue job” but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Against our builder’s advice (again ignoring that wagging dog) we have moved a small, temporary kitchen into the house where we now prepare and cook lunch and dinner. There’s no running water, and the electric is from an extension lead from the temporary supply. The weather has been lovely lately, and since 3rd February we have been able to sit out on our ‘terrasse’ in the sun eating lunch on most days – I can’t remember ever doing that in the UK.
In the evenings it is lovely to sit and watch the sun come down whilst we are eating dinner, and then the village starts to light up. It gets cold once the dark comes so after that it’s a quick retreat to the motor home to keep warm.
Having an extra building has its challenges of course – for me, most of my day is now spent trudging between the Garden House (dishwasher and washing machine, the food storage area) the motor home and the House. I clocked up 20, 000 steps on my Bella Beat just through doing that the other day. It’s good exercise though – and being very sloped it’s good for the bum and leg muscles – so for now I won’t be needing to do Body Pump.
With a bit of luck, I might be able to shift a bit of weight, especially as my January De-tox was an epic fail. Long story short, despite being told that my colonoscopy was all clear, I received a letter telling me that I have three problems that need treatment. So, until I had seen the consultant and found out what treatment I need I felt it best to not make too many dietary changes just in case that was contributing to the problems. So, it seems I have diverticulosis, a Helicobacter Pylori infection, and Chronic Gastritis. The treatment for this here in France is slightly more aggressive than the UK in that they go straight in with “Quadruple Therapy” which is a 2nd Line Treatment approach in the UK (i.e. they do it if the First Line Approach doesn’t work. It’s a cocktail of drugs for 10 days – 2 very strong antibiotics, a proton-pump inhibitor, and bismuth). As much as I hate antibiotics as they wreak havoc with my body, I just want to get back in control of my health, it feels as if for too long it has been out of my own jurisdiction – first of all with my knee injury preventing me from exercising, and then with the appendicitis and subsequent gut problems. So, I’m going to give it a bloody good go at eradicating the H-Pylori. It’s a 93% success rate for people who stick the regime, don’t drink alcohol and follow the low-fat diet regime throughout the treatment. I only want to take the horrible drugs once so I will be a good patient and stick with it. After the treatment I wait a month, then do a breath test and will be told whether or not it has worked. I also aim to follow the recommended dietary regime to help prevent a further H-Pylori infection occurring. It’s mostly the same as what I have been eating for the past few years on my veganish/vegetarian diet anyway but there is always room for improvement. But it’s important to remember that Chronic Gastritis caused by Helicobacter Pylori is not caused by a poor diet – chances are this has been lurking in my gut since 2008 since I had amoebic dysentery in Kenya (not a pleasant experience).
Good news is though, that since the colonoscopy I seem to have got back to normal, and that odd pain in my tummy has gone I think – which makes me even more convinced it was a kink in my pipe work. The consultant said that the colonoscopy process probably did give me a thorough flush through. So, hopefully this old dog will get back to wagging her own tail soon.
Talking of which! Luka once won a competition at a dog show for the waggiest tail! I had to stand there and wag my bum to get him to start wagging though – which might be why he won to be honest.
But since we have had Lillie his title of the “dog with the waggiest tail” has come under threat – Lillie does not just wag her tail – she wags her whole body! She has the funniest little, wiggly walk that I have ever seen on a dog. Bless her! She is such a funny character, always making us laugh. The other day the pair of them jumped into the lake so when we got back, they had to be hosed down and then had their “smoking jackets” put on them to dry off. We nipped out for a short while and when we came back to the motorhome this is the sight we were greeted with (click the link to view the video)Lille had wriggled around so much she got her paw stuck in her dressing gown! She’s still wagging like crazy though!! Daft doggy!
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”