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”
Our house building project is just like putting a huge jigsaw puzzle together. All parts are necessary for the finished item, and each part slots together with the others.
However, as all the parts are coming from different trades people and companies it is not always a smooth process.
Much of our time is taken up trying to solve puzzles – and work out the solutions to problems.
For example, the small matter of our colour scheme for our house. We want our overall internal colour scheme to be oak coloured wood with clean white or cream painted plaster walls – nice and simple. We have had the issue of windows to consider for ages. Most new build houses in France will go for aluminium frames – light weight, and maintenance free. We can see why people would choose it; however, we didn’t want the modern look of metal on the exterior and really, really wanted wood.
The next best thing would be ‘alu/bois’ – metal on the outside but wood inside. We went with this option for ages – but then eventually realised that because French windows and doors always open inwards, each time our doors or windows were open, we would be bringing metal into our interior décor and we really want wood. So, we made a final decision on wood inside and outside and have stuck with that.
The next consideration was the shade of wood to choose. In an ideal world we would have had natural oak, but we are already at the limits of our budget and we had to decide on a mid-range price – so the wood decided on was ‘Bois Exotique’ – which is good quality, very hard wearing – but unfortunately a reddish tone. This was not really what we wanted for our overall colour, but as with most things we are willing to compromise. So, we had settled on the medium colour stain on that wood and were due to go for a ‘rendezvous’ with the window guy early in November to finalise our choices. But we received a phone call saying they were still waiting on some samples and needed to delay. They said that their manufacture was actually working on a process that would change the colour of the ‘Bois Exotique’ so we would have some other colours to chose from.
Suddenly it seemed that all the recent delays were turning out to be very fortuitous as we might get a colour closer to what we really wan. Sure enough, after two visits (the first one they had a good colour but it was a little too yellow) we were really pleased, and very impressed to see that they had come up with a perfect colour!! We were aiming for the colour of our existing oak furniture and as you can see from the picture – they have achieved it!! So, as I say – all those delays have paid off!! What a patient, considerate and professional ‘artisan’ he is to be going to all that trouble to help us achieve what we really want. I honestly cannot imagine going to an English double glazing company and having the same service.
Even so, it sometimes seems as if we take two steps forward and one step back. One of those times was last week when our scheduled electrician/plumber visited us, not with a quote for the underfloor heating as we were hoping for, but to inform us that due to health problems he is unable to do our work for us. That was one of those moments when we honestly felt as if the world was slipping away from under our feet. But, a multitude of phone calls and chats later, we have realised that, with some help from a number of people, we can in fact do the electrical and the plumbing work ourselves (as long as we have it signed off by a Certified Electrician). So, the silver lining there is that we will save money, and probably some time as well as we can work to our own timescale instead of waiting for the French tradesmen to return back to work after the Christmas break. It hopefully won’t be too long now before we are no longer living in this little 17 m² box and we can go back to enjoying it as a holiday vehicle.
Meanwhile, the puss chats have been making themselves very much at home. It’s been getting colder though, so we were getting a bit worried about how well they would fare outside – we are certain they do not sleep in the ruin. They go there to get their dry food from the automatic feeder – but they do not hang around there – most probably as this was the area they were held captive in their early days with us.
First of all, we set up a little cardboard box shelter under the table on the Garden House terrace. After all, my daughter Sian spent the night in a cardboard box as part of her fundraising venture (more about that in a minute). But, with a few really cold nights we worried that they would be too cold, so we bought a really cute little cat house.
To begin with they were just really suspicious – possibly thinking it was a trap – but after we dismantled it and took the plastic flaps off the front – leaving an open door – they have taken to it and now have their own little Cat Shack!! Beats “Living in a box” I’m sure.
So, back to the cardboard box that Sian spent the night in.
She is one in a million my daughter – she really is. Most 20 (approaching 21) year old people I know would want to spend their birthday weekend on the town – getting drunk and partying. But Sian decided to take part in a fundraising event called the Big Sleep Easy. This involves making a tent out of cardboard boxes and spending the night in it.
Martin and I undertook this challenge in 2015 so we know how hard it is – and we of course had each other to snuggle up to even though I woke up at 0600 to the sensation of a man trying to move my feet out of a puddle.
But Sian was on her own. She said she shivered so much she was awake all night. What a way to spend your birthday weekend!! She really is a very selfless person, and I am very proud of her. If you did want to pop on to her fundraising page to find out more it is here
Sometimes the decisions we have to make because we are living over here – away from our family in the UK – can be quite difficult. And the decision to not return to the UK for Sian’s 21st Birthday was one of those tough ones to make. But, at the time she was beginning to make plans for how to spend her birthday we were still thinking the UK could be crashing out of the EU with no deal in place – so we could not risk going back with the dogs and getting stuck over there with the house build – so we decided that Sian would come out in December for a late birthday and an early Christmas – and by the time Brexit didn’t happen she had already made her plans so we stuck with the plan to not go back.
Which again – turned out to be a bit of a silver lining as I ended up having a hospital appointment on her birthday – and long, story short – will need another procedure under General Anaesthetic – but the surgeon agreed that this could wait until after Christmas. I seem to have been injured or unwell more often that fit and healthy since coming to France – but I suspect that it is my age and not anything to do with living in France. The French health care system takes a much more “let’s get it done” approach that the UK’s “let’s wait and see” approach I feel. Which I have mixed feelings about – but that’s mostly as I am so scared of General Anaesthetics.
So, my baby girl turned 21 without me being there to see it happen, and indeed I can’t believe that 21 years have passed since she was a teeny-weeny little bubba with cute little fat rolls on her back which made her look like a Sharpei puppy. She may now be officially an adult – but she will always be my baby to me. That’s the thing about being a mum.
She has brought a smile to my face every single one of those days, and made me really proud so many times.
One of those proud times popped up on my Facebook memories recently – when she was awarded the Livvy Brooker Award at her senior school. That was the year that she lost her friend Livvy to cancer, and then she lost her step-dad to Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and her 11 year old cousin had his cancer return as well. All that to deal with on top of losing her grandad and her step-nan to cancer just over a year before. Her school recognised what she was facing and presented her this award for Courage, Determination and Endeavour. I was so proud of her that night – I thought my heart would burst.
I am truly blessed with two wonderful adult children (yes, my son Ryan has as many amazing attributes as Sian does – but it’s her special time at her the moment) and I do miss them so much. But, the beauty of modern technology means that we can keep in touch by messenger and video calls. It’s not quite the same – but it sure beats the methods on offer to me when I was travelling in my early twenties and away from home (letters by snail mail, saving up my pennies to make the odd phone call to my mother, and posting parcels of photo albums home so she could see the places I had been to). These days it’s almost like being together when you can do a Facebook video call.
I can’t wait until we have a proper house here and even though it seems like we have waited forever, I still find it hard to believe that it will finally start to be assembled this week – with luck on Thursday which will be my birthday – and that would be the most wonderful birthday present in the world. It will still be like living in a box for some time though before it becomes a fully liveable home. But at least the next stage will be fun choosing interior décor and a new kitchen and bathroom.
The next time I do a blog there might just be another house peeking out from behind some of these tall trees up on the hill.
One of the things I love about France is that Armistice Day is always observed on 11th November – no matter what day of the week it falls on (instead of how the UK now does it on the closest Sunday to the date). For me, it seems more poignant to be remembering those who sacrificed their lives on the exact anniversary of when the Armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France.
I’ve always tried my best to attend something local on Armistice Day and this year was no different – as with last year we popped down to our village square and listened to the service in French, with the children reading out the names of the war dead, the small choir singing, and the band playing the Sonnerie aux Morts (the French equivalent to The Last Post). Click here to listen. Listening to the choir reminded me that I had completely forgotten the vow that I had made to the Maire last year – which was to learn the words to La Marseillaise. I had made an attempt last year when I joined the choir (for just one week) but since then it had been all forgotten. Just in case he asked me about it I had a phrase ready in my memory bank “Désolé j’ai oublié“. But luckily, he had also forgotten!
It seems that life is just too busy and a lot of things get forgotten – and how strange it seems that a whole year has gone by since the last Armistice Day and the Autumn Fair that takes part on the same day.
But it is good to remember on days like this, that no matter which country we originate from, our men and women, and also horses and dogs, gave their lives so that we could have the freedoms we enjoy today. At the beginning of the Second World War, many countries opted to change the name of Armistice Day to Remembrance Day, but France still calls it by its original name. It has also become a day to remember the war dead of ALL wars, and I do find myself thinking about those who lost their lives in the Second World War, and also in all the troubles that we have had since – Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Syria – to name but a few.
Being in an area of France where there are lots of reminders of the role of the French Resistance in the Second World War means there is a constant reminder of the war time troubles in this part of Europe too. In fact, I read just this week about Yvette Lundy the “Grande Dame of Epernay” who died aged 103 recently. To find out more about what role this amazing woman played in helping Jews flee occupied France click here
In our village there is a street called Rue de La Resistance and just 6 miles away in Fraysinnet-de-Gelat there is a war memorial remembering the atrocities that occurred here on May 21st 1944.
In this small village, that now has just 360 inhabitants, members of the French Resistance shot and killed one German officer. The payback for this single death lasted hours – 15 hostages were taken and assassinated by the SS. Ten of these were young males and five were young women ALL from one-child families. This was a deliberate attempt to prevent any further family line of descent. When you consider the impact that this must have had on this village, you can begin to fully empathise with this nation on the sensitivities of war. It is humbling for me as a Brit to stop, and reflect that it was not just our country that suffered the war.
The monument which stands outside the church has a stone plaque bearing the names of the victims. It also has a wooden sign saying “Barbarie Nazie” which covers the original wording which was “Barbarie Allemande”– changed in the name of international “rapprochement”. Hopefully, in a similar way our European neighbours will recognise that us, the individuals in all this Brexit malarkey are not personally responsible for the actions of our truly appalling Government at this point in history. We can but hope!
As well as attending the Memorial Ceremony, we also selected Commemoration as the topic for discussion at this week’s French/English Conversation Group. This was only the second session so the group is still a work in progress, but each session Beatrice prepares some fun activities in French for the English speakers, and I prepare some fun activities in English for the French speakers. This session I prepared a Word Search containing words associated with Commemoration in both English and French, and also a piece on Dame Vera Lynn in both French and English. Another Dame that has reached a ripe old age and is still going – now 102.
As nerve wracking as it is for me to read out text in French to an audience, I still find it is a good way for me to learn more of the language. My nemesis is dates – I really cannot get my head around the different way that the French use the number system and sadly all those weeks spent last year playing French Bingo seem to have been wiped straight from my memory.
One thing that always springs to mind for me when Armistice Day approaches is the impact that the battle field had on the survivors of war. Facebook is full of emotive posters that remind us of what they went through, and the sacrifices that were made, and in recent times we are so much more aware of terms like Combat Stress Reaction, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The “signature injury” of the First World War was “shell shock” which was used to describe, amongst other symptoms, the “thousand-yard stare” that many soldiers returned home with.
My Great Grandmother lost her first husband to the First World War. His best friend returned home from war, and they became close and she later married him – but the lovely man he had been when they were all pre-war friends was lost due to “shell shock” and sadly she had a very unhappy life with him. So, I guess you can say she lost two husbands to the same war.
If that had been now, he would have been able to get some help, and at least people would have understood, and there would have been some support for her. But back then…he was just a nasty man who became violent and aggressive – with no real understanding of how or why.
Thank goodness that these days we have that understanding of the damage that a battle field can cause a person for the rest of their lives. However, I feel that there is now a new gaping chasm in our modern-day knowledge of the impact of trauma – one that is finally being acknowledged
That is the impact of abuse on a person. We now know that childhood trauma is one of the many causes of Complex-PTSD. (CPTSD)And no wonder – being in a house full of raging parents, not knowing when you are going to be under attack is very similar to living in on a battle field.
Of course, there are many types of traumatic events that can cause CPTSD, not just childhood abuse, but also ongoing domestic violence, repeatedly witnessing violence, being forced to become a sex worker, kidnapping, slavery. And a person is more likely to develop CPSTD if the trauma was experienced at a young age, or if it lasted for a long time, or if it was from a person close to them, and if there were multiple traumas.
So, what I am saying is that, whilst in no way meaning to downplay the issues that soldiers may experience, there are also hundreds of thousands of people who are experiencing lifelong emotional issues that have occurred as a result of traumas they experienced at an earlier stage of their lives.
I’ve always been a great advocate of promoting openness about mental health issues. After all, our mind is a part of us in the same way that our legs are – so why be fine with saying we have a broken leg, but ashamed to admit that we have a ‘broken mind?’.
I feel that people very quickly become isolated when they feel that no-one will understand their problems, and that as a society we are still not very good at allowing someone to express their mental health concerns.
Many years ago, I became aware that my own childhood trauma had a massive impact on me, when a male boss approached me suddenly and unexpected from slightly behind me and I flinched badly – so badly that the poor bloke looked at me, with tears in his eyes and said “oh my goodness my love, what has happened to you?”. I could have sat down and told him about my childhood, how years of a violent stepfather had done this to me, but I just shuffled away feeling awkward and embarrassed. But back then I didn’t fully make the connection that the trauma I suffered meant I was on ‘high alert’ to danger, always expecting to be under attack, and my young brain had interpreted the childhood abuse as a deep rooted belief that if I was not safe as a child, in my family home, with my parents to look after me, then I would never be safe.
Even now, I don’t fully understand the trigger responses to this – but thankfully because CPSTD is now recognised as something that not only soldiers suffer from, then there is help and support out there for me to access, and for those around me to help to understand why, my sometimes completely emotionally ‘out of control’ responses, don’t mean I don’t love them. It means that I have been triggered by something which causes a feeling of being under attack, and my response is to counter attack. It’s all very complex – hence the term “Complex” PTSD. My flashbacks are different to the visual ones that soldiers may experience – mine are emotional ones, although I did once have a visual flashback of a train coming down a road in the New Forest not long after my ex-boyfriend’s 17-year old nephew had been killed in a train/car crash. (The flashback was a very scary experience for both me, and my passenger, and also part of the reason I never drive in the dark – but a different story for another day).
My understanding of my own personal situation also means that I can now understand how the responses of other people are not always what they seem to be. I can spot a ‘thousand-yard stare’ at a hundred paces. I have a person in my life, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago, but I am certain that he also has CPSTD – as a result of his own childhood traumas. The stare that I always thought was some sort of intense, crazy person look – I now realise is more likely the dissociation caused by CPTSD.
So, at this time of remembrance for the men, women, and animals that gave or changed their lives forever so that we have a life to live, let us also not forget that things are not always what they seem.
No one ever knows what battles a person is fighting in their own mind.
No one ever knows what demons keep a person awake at night.
We all get up in the morning and live to fight another day (until of course the day we die) and we owe it to each other to be kind to each other.
Maybe instead of judging a person for dealing with their problems in a way that we might not necessarily do so ourselves, we should try to respect that they are doing the best they can, with what they have, in the only way that they know how. And acknowledge that sometimes they were not given the best start in life to gain the best tools for the job, or that something else happened to them along the way which changed how they see the world.
We might not have the insight, or the empathy, or the skills to fully understand that person – but we are all born with a heart, and it is good to use that part of our body to connect with all our fellow human beings.
The builders returned last Monday – thank goodness – I was getting worried that they had been put off coming due to the lack of biscuits!! Despite me promising Philippe that I would keep them well stocked up with biscuits, and sending Martin out whilst I was in hospital to get supplies of biscuits, it had come to my attention that not only had Martin NOT actually given them biscuits, he had also EATEN ALL OF THE BISCUITS that he had bought. I was not impressed “no wonder they didn’t come last week” I snarled at him. “You’re obviously feeling better” Martin said “you’ll getting all grumpy again”.
But the builders did turn up on Monday morning – and done a great day’s work on Monday despite no biscuits, and the wall of the concrete foundations soon started to take shape.
Anyway, we went off shopping on Monday afternoon and stocked up on biscuits – which I told Martin he was NOT TO EAT!
On Tuesday morning it was hammering down with rain – I said to Martin “I bet they won’t come today – it’s awful weather – and no biscuits yesterday either – they must think we are awful”. Anyway, they did turn up and Martin made them all coffee with a lovely plate of biscuits in the morning and again in the afternoon – hopefully they will forgive us now!! Joking aside – they are a lovely bunch of young guys. I commented to Philippe when he came to check things out about how friendly and pleasant, they are. He seemed very surprised and said “of course they are – they have to be”. I said it’s not always the case sadly. Poor guys though – it rained all day from the moment they arrived to just after they packed up for the day – then the sun came out and it was a lovely evening. By the end of the day on Wednesday the external wall was nearly complete – it’s fascinating to see it now – you can get a much better idea of the size of the space we will have.
Watch this little video in which I give a guided tour of our foundations including Luka’s epic fail in leaping into the abyss.
On Thursday Philippe came over with his little manitou (digger) that he had agreed to lend us so that on Friday we could use it to manoeuvre the large TEK panels when they are delivered.
The delivery of the TEK panels has been a bit of a sore point for us. In an ideal world we would have had these delivered to our site the day before Tom our builder is ready to put them up and build our house for us. Part of the appeal of having a TEK panel house was the absence of construction materials in situ, which for a small site like ours really was a strong appeal.
However, good old Brexit put a spanner in the works for us in that department. Although the timber used is European, it goes to the UK to be cut in a factory there. Once upon a time there was a factory in Europe but that closed down. So, the cut panels are shipped out from the UK.
With Boris so hell bent on crashing out of the EU with a No Deal the risk for us was that if we left it until after Brexit to ship them out, we might incur Export charges (which don’t exist now but might do in the case of a No Deal) and maybe even Import charges as well. Something like a 20% tax which was not budgeted for would have completely ruined us – so we simply could not run the risk of that happening. So, we had to make the decision to have the TEK panels shipped out earlier than necessary.
So, the rather large lorry arrived on Friday with it’s very important cargo. It was absolutely torrential rain all morning. I wasn’t feeling great but tried by best for a while to show willing and watch the lorry struggle to get up our track (it couldn’t) and to offer words of encouragement to the driver, and to Martin, Tom and Denis – who between them done about 13 loads on the little Manitou! Watch the video of Denis delivering the TEK panels.
By this time, I had retreated to the Garden House to dry my hair. Perhaps revenge for me skiving off, but when I picked up the towel that had been hanging on my bamboo ladder for a while a huge spider literally leapt off it!! I thank my lucky stars that it leapt off before I wiped my face and hair with it as I am certain I would have had a heart attack.
By lunch time our house (well at least part of it – there is more to come soon) was in situ on our land.
When people tell us we are worrying too much, or unnecessarily about Brexit I have to say I find it rather condescending as they have NO CONCEPT WHATSOEVER of what the prospect of a massive Export Charge might do to a build budget and neither do they have to live with their house, on it’s side, laying in the middle of their land. No longer can we park our motor-home where we used to, and no longer can we walk round to our compost heap without crawling over a pile of rocks.
However, we are thrilled to bits to have our house here! Albeit laying on its side looking rather strange!! It’s a visual reminder and reassurance that we are getting closer and closer all the time to realising our dreams.
Like the Madness song that I loved so much when I was young, and dreams of moving to France, and semi retiring were light years away
This past two weeks has seen the long awaiting start of our building work – and what an exciting time it is. We’ve now been living in the motor-home for 17 months with the exception of a few short periods of respite when we have done house sits. And to be honest, sometimes it has felt that it’s taken it’s toll.
We’ve stretched our relationship to it’s limits in our 17 square metres, and yes, there have been some humdingers of arguments, usually over silly stuff because we are quite simply on top of each other.
But we’ve got through all that, and now, more than ever, I know why. It’s because we have a rock-solid foundation of love that we are building our life upon.
And in all the time we have been together, at no other time in our relationship have I seen that more apparently than in the past 3 weeks. My wonderful husband has helped me get back to fighting fit through the start of the illness (when we thought it was a tummy bug) then through the operation, and now the ongoing recovery at home.
Being ill in a motor-home is not easy. This will have been the third bout of vomiting illness that I have had since living in the van and I can honestly say this presents challenges that living in a normal house does not. For one, as anyone who has ever used a chemical toilet will tell you, you really don’t want sick going into that compartment. Even worse if it were to go down the sink into the waste water container. So, it’s buckets for the top end, whilst perched on the loo for the bottom end!! Not nice, and all within a tiny space, with very little privacy. And my darling husband comforted me all the way through it, attending to every little thing that I needed.
We were travelling home from the holiday the day it started – and the journey that should have taken just over an hour took 5 hours as I kept needing to stop to get the bucket – and he did not moan once…just rubbed my back and done everything he could to make me comfortable.
During my short stay in hospital he came in to keep me company as much as he could, and even brought the dogs in so when I was back on my feet I could meet up with them in the car-park to give them a cuddle.
And then, during the early days post hospital discharge….when my body was trying to get itself back to normal. Because I rarely take any medication as I prefer to use natural remedies where possible it means I am very sensitive to everything, so any drugs that go into my body really do wreak havoc. This meant that the pain killers and the anaesthetic stopped my bowels working, the gas they pumped me up with gave me the most awful tummy pain.
And then, it all started moving in the right direction, but of course my body wasn’t moving how it should be. So, every part of what I would describe as my normal activities of daily living – were buggered. I needed so much help, and I really hate asking for help, but my lovely husband just done whatever was needed – in such a lovely way, with lots of laughs along the way. I completely trust Martin to look after me, he would never say or do anything to make me feel bad for any of the things that I needed him to help me with. Poor bloke never expected to have to shave my legs, but that’s only the half of it! But no-one will ever hear about any of that from him as he is just not the sort of person to make someone feel small when they are already feeling vulnerable.
My problems post-op had initially been general weakness, and a complete inability to bend to pick things up and reach the lower half of my body (because the incisions were right across my stomach making bending really hard). But once my staples came out that improved quickly and Wednesday was my first day able to do my shower all by myself and I was very proud!!
I like to be in control of my health, and also have worked as a health information specialist, so I feel confident to use reliable web sources to look up symptoms and side effects of medications (but I know where to look to avoid getting the horror stories) I honestly had some fascinating Google searches including finding out that “It is possible to kill someone with farts” (read article here ) and that a “Dutch oven” is the act of pulling the bed covers over someone and farting!! Who knew???
I’m back on cooking duties now too. Luckily, I only fancied very bland food in the early days, because Martin is not the best of cooks (he is the first to admit that – this is not me being mean), but he managed to get me fed every day whilst I couldn’t cook, and he washed up. But I’m glad that I am back to cooking as we can start having some more adventurous food again.
Prior to me being ill we had been discussing our diet, and had started to consider eating fish again, probably just when out, for a number of reasons. We both, but me in particular, struggle to get enough protein in without overdoing the carbs, and that’s had a derogatory effect on my weight. I had put on 2 stone since moving to France – and not all caused by the ‘Pain au Raisin’ (although I suspect they played a very bit part). When eating out, often the only option is pizza and it just makes me feel heavy and sluggish, all that cheese and ALL THOSE CALORIES! So, we considered that fish might be a good way of getting some lean protein in our diet without overloading the carbs. Fish was the last thing we stopped eating, so it’s only a few years since eating it. It probably seems strange to some people that we make a decision on what to eat together – because of course – if Martin wanted to eat meat he can do so; I don’t tell him what he can and can’t eat. But we have tended to change our diets over the years together. For one, it makes it easier – we don’t have to worry about two lots of cooking. So, we tend to discuss any changes for ages and ages before finally reaching a decision, and this time these discussions included what type of fish we would eat (aiming for fewer animal lives lost per meal so big fish like cod) and whether we would eat fish at home or just when out, or round at friend’s houses. Would we eat it when we just fancied it, or only when there was no other option? It’s fair to say we were still struggling with this decision when I became ill.
We had eaten fish once whilst on holiday – cod and chips at a campsite – and really enjoyed it, so we knew there would be no “yuk” factor, but still wondering if we should find other ways and stick to being vegetarian. I was also feeling that I needed to be looking at my diet as a whole, feeling heavy and sluggish for ages, carrying an extra 2 stone, no chance of ever running again on my knackered knee, especially being so heavy.
Anyway, when I became ill, I really reflected on this and came to the conclusion that I need to look after my own health needs first and foremost, and if that means eating fish then that’s what it means. I was having a chat with a family member about it, and she said “What will you be called if you don’t eat fish” …..Martin and I replied in unision “SHARON”. In that moment I think we both realised that we are fed up with the labels……we’ve had a hard time about being vegetarian for ages now, and of course to the “vegans of the world” we are the worst kind – far, far worse than meat eaters. So, I made a conscious decision there and then – I left ALL the vegan groups I had been in, with the exception of one “veganish” group. France is just not like the UK – you can’t pop to the shops and get a vegan wrap made from some “fake meat” for lunch – it’s all about plant based food – which means carbs after carbs after carbs which for me – with my apple shaped – is diabetes just waiting to happen.
So…fish is back on the menu!! On occasion, not every day, and probably only when we are out. Or not!! It will be what it will be. And I’m still just called “Sharon”. Not “Sharon the vegetarian”, or “Sharon the pescatarian”, or “Sharon the vegan”. Just Sharon…..maybe “Sharon the animal lover”….that’s a label I don’t mind at all.
So, back to the building work. The cement was poured into the trenches a week ago last Friday and has now set. The builders were due back on Thursday, but one of them is off sick so they will resume work on Monday (we hope). My main concern was that whilst the cement was still wet, on of our four fur babies would fall in, and maybe not get out again. The doggos were easy to prevent this happening to, as we just keep them close to us when we take them out for a walk. But the puss chats were more of a worry as they are free roaming. So each morning I was checking to make sure there was no cat shaped impression in the trenches. Thankfully they managed to avoid that. But we had to laugh, when yesterday a cat appeared at the Garden House. Zoe was already there – as soon as she hears us she appears – she either wants food or a neck rub (no way is that cat semi feral – she’ll be in our house before we are I reckon) but this other cat looked familiar – it was the shape and size of Zena, the scowl on the face looked like Zena, and the characteristic movements were of Zena – but it was the wrong colour!! Much too grey for Zena!
Closer inspection revealed that it was indeed Zena – totally covered in what looked like cement dust!! A ghostly apparition!! Goodness knows what she’s been up to – but we saw her again today and she appears back to her normal colour and no harm done – she must have sheltered from the rain as I would imagine if she had got wet she would now be a statue.
We were due to have an appointment with the ‘menuisier’ to make a final decision on the shade of wood we want for our windows and doors. However, by some fortuitous stroke of luck the appointment was postponed until 8th November – the reason being is that they didn’t get the samples to show us. And the reason for that is that the supplier is trialling a stain that will make the ‘bois exotique’ appear closer to a natural oak colour! So, it’s fantastic that we may be able to have that colour option available to us, as if we had the budget our first choice would have been natural oak – but at 30% extra cost for that on an already huge bill, the cost was too prohibitive.
The ‘bardage’ (cladding) will be larch which we can stain to any shade, but we will probably stick with quite light and close to oak. So, our windows will hopefully be a similar shade. This will be quite unique in France as the French seem to really love their contrasts. But our house will be unique in all aspects anyway.
We’ve managed to pin down Bertrand who is doing our plumbing and electrics and that all seems to be going in the right direction. He has a friend who does underfloor heating so we hope to get a quote from him for that soon. One of the things I am most looking forward to in our house is that Luka and Lillie will have a lovely warm floor to lay on. They loved the underfloor heating at our house sits in Limeuil. And after nearly 2 years in the motor-home they will be very deserving of that.
I’ve been spending my convalescence period doing some really constructive preparation for a new venture that I am helping lovely Beatrice from the camping site with. We are setting up a French/English Conversation Group, once a fortnight on Sunday afternoons. I’ve been busy preparing some activities – one of which is flash cards with pictures of body parts the French word – I needed to get the English words to go alongside the French. I had such a giggle when I looked up the English word for ,’culotte’ which should have been pants, or knickers – but it came up as ‘cheeky’. Very appropriate for the sweet little pair of knickers on the Flash card.
It’s keeping me busy and occupied which is great for distraction for the final remnants of pain that are lingering around, and I’ve now been able to stop taking pain killers which is great. My tummy is still a bit sore, but I have to say, I feel that some of this at least is self-inflicted – for my tummy has been getting fatter and fatter for the last year, so I think that the surgeon probably had to cut through quite a lot of fat to get to my appendix, so I am sure the healing time takes a bit longer in that situation.
So, I have vowed to lose the weight that I have gained since moving to France. I’m half a stone down already, and no matter how long it takes I will get the rest off as it really is no fun being a fat, fifty something year old woman. I’ve always been an emotional eater (stems from a traumatic childhood where meal times were overly dramatic, and food was always an issue) so I have some “issues” to overcome, but I am taking a mindful approach to eating, and starting to see my body as something that needs healthy fuel to help it work, rather than a garbage bin to fill up with anything edible that is put in front of it.
Martin certainly isn’t complaining – he always loves whatever is put in front of him, and even though every dinner is now being served up with a side order of greens, I think he’s just glad that I am back on track and back in the kitchen!!
If there is a silver lining to my spell of illness (and there always is a silver lining isn’t there) it is that I’ve slowed down so much that I am really noticing everything around me, and taking the time to be present in the moment instead of charging around at a rapid rate of knots. And, it’s really lovely to see, as if from a new pair of eyes, how beautiful our surroundings are, and appreciate how lucky we are, to be alive and living in this lovely place with each other, and to be laying those foundations, together, which will last forever.
Again, such a long time since my last blog entry. So much has happened it’s unbelievable.
In early September we finally got all the pieces of the jigsaw to come together, the ‘maçon’ (builder) instructed to do the foundations and later the ‘fosse septique’ (septic tank), and of course the builder to construct the house and erect the roof. Also, the ‘menuisier’ (carpenter) to do the windows, and an ‘echafauder’ (scaffolder) to supply the scaffold to enable all of them to put it together.
We had a meeting at our Garden House to discuss all the finer points, and agree a starting date. At the end of the meeting I said to Philippe “I have one more important question to ask”. He looked a bit worried, probably thinking I was about to drop a spanner into the works. “When you start, how many men will you have here at any one time?”. He said, one to begin with, then maybe three some of the other times – was that OK? “Yes, of course I said – I just wanted to know what biscuits to get in for them”.
We agreed that Martin and I would take a bit of a break and do some travelling whilst awaiting the start date, and said that we would be no more than one day away should the opportunity arise to start earlier and we were happy to come back. But we felt that rather than hang around impatiently waiting it would be good to get some mountain air in the Pyrenees and then maybe even some sea air on the Atlantic Coast after that. It would be good to refresh our energy and come back with batteries fully charged, ready to oversee the building work and get cracking on with some other work on what is now known as the “lower levels”. Our land consists of a flat(ish) higher level which is where the house will go, and then lower levels – the left of the lower level is where our shed is, and the right of the lower level is where our garden house is. We can do whatever we want to around the garden house as it is not in the way of the building, but the left-hand bit might be where the ‘fosse septique’ will go – so we cannot do anything there for the time being.
Before we went off, we warned our neighbours that the building work was soon to start which meant that they would no longer be able to cut across the top of our plot as a short cut towards the village. Unfortunately for them, when we moved over here, they had been benefiting from the unoccupied plot as a short cut for quite some time, so we were reasonable and said that until the start of the building they could continue. It’s actually illegal in France (I’m sure it probably is in the UK) for the public to enter a building site – so it’s in everyone’s best interests that they cease to allow their two children – one of which is still only three – to cross a plot of land where there is to be a gaping 1.4 metre hole ready to swallow him up – goodness that doesn’t even bear thinking about does it? There’s a place further up the track that they could cut through if they still wish to cross over that way in the future, although why anyone would want to walk at an elevated height directly in front of their neighbour’s bathroom window is a mystery to me
So, off ‘en vacances’ we went – heading first of all towards the Pyrenees. We stopped off at a lovely village called Fleurance on our first night where there was a beautiful lake to walk around on the way into the village.
Our next little gem to discover was Marciac which is apparently famous for it’s annual Jazz Festival. We were too late to see that – but everywhere in the town there was an obvious nod towards this, including the fascinating paving slabs with music score. There was also a gorgeous lake which we cycled around (‘sans chiens’) and also walked around (‘avec chiens’).
Now, although I more “spiritual” than religious (I believe that we are all connected together as part of the universe) I really wanted to visit Lourdes to see for myself the sanctuary that attracts six million visitors each year. So our next stop was here.
We stayed at a lovely campsite within a 30-minute downhill walk of the sanctuary with its own little mini farm with the cutest ever pot-bellied pig! I was in my element grunting at him – I’m sure the farm was intended for the kids I guess but hey ho!
There are no dogs permitted within the sanctuary we walked down into Lourdes and found a tea shop for Martin to wait with the doggos (and I’m sure a sticky bun was part of his plan) while I mooched around the sanctuary. I loved it, from the moment I walked in and saw the huge statue of Our Lady of Lourdes which is quite overwhelming, it felt really peaceful.
I walked through the Grotto of Massabielle which is where Bernadette had the apparitions, and although it’s not my own particular religious belief I felt compelled to reach out and touch the stone chamber, as if somehow this was going to connect me to her. Then I went to one of the taps and poured some of the Lourdes water – rubbing it over my hands, arms and necks, and I cried. I don’t know why I cried – but I just found it very spiritual at some level. Then I had a lovely, slow peaceful walk around – looking at the candles burning, watching the ripples of the River Gave de Pau that runs through the sanctuary, feeling very calm and introspective.
In stark contrast I found the commercial side of Lourdes vulgar if I am to be honest. Within the sanctuary itself not so much so, there is no fee to pay to go in. But outside those gates – it is like Brighton Rock!! Tourist tatt in the extreme. Every shop sells gawdy rosary beads, candles, and plastic bottles to fill up with Lourdes water. We bought nothing – apart from later that day a stunning, hand made glass wall hanging that sung to me from its place on the wall of a quiet little artisan’s workshop and told me to take it home with me.
Next we went off into the mountains to Garvanie. Much more our cup of tea – much more us! Quiet, peace, tranquillity – and of course stunning 360 degree views of mountains all around us.
We stayed at a small, quiet campsite with stunning walks just moments away and had a lovely 2 days here. Martin took me out for a “gentle” 6km walk into the town centre which actually turned out to be quite an epic adventure, very challenging for me as I’ve not done any climbing for ages and although it was only a short climb up, at the point when we realised that they only way to complete the walk was to tackle a short via ferrata with a metal chain, I was wondering if the lady at the campsite had really meant it when she said the walk is fine ‘avec chiens’. Poor Martin had to do the via ferrata 5 times there and back. Once to recce it, once to take me over safely, once to take Lillie over and then again with Luka, and back again to get the bags and come over himself. It was certainly an experience! Shortly after the little via ferrata we came across a little abseil – again with a chain. This was much more my cup of tea – always happy to abseil!! And the dogs of course took that in their stride and just charged down full pelt. However, by the time we got into the town I’d decided that I would prefer to walk back the road way rather than to tackle the reverse route – smart move I think even though the road is far from ideal for walking with two dogs (narrow, no pavements and only a barrier between us and a big drop in places).
After Gavarnie we decided to return to Lourdes but this time to stay by the lake and to enjoy a more tranquil aspect of the area. The dogs loved it here as they could have a splash around in the lake. Earlier in the season you can hire canoes and paddle boards but it was all closed – so we made a firm resolution that we would buy our own canoe so we can in future really make the most of the quiet month of September whilst the tourists have all gone home, but the weather is still good enough and the water still warm enough to enjoy some water based fun.
We then decided to head towards the Atlantic Coast as I had a bee in my bonnet about getting the sea air, but instead we stumbled across another gem of a place called Biscarosse. It is right on the shore of the Lac de Sanguinet-Cazaux, one of the largest and newest lakes in Europe. Here we were able to pitch up right on the sandy shores of the lake underneath the pine trees – absolutely magical.
We planned to stay for two nights and ended up staying four, and to be honest we only left then because a really noisy family had arrived at a chalet across the road which disturbed our peace and quiet. This place was really amazing. The weather was beautiful, all we had to do was to unpack our lounger chairs and sit and look at the sun dancing on the ripples – for endless hours. We swam with the dogs, cycled to the nearest bar, and just totally chilled out for a few days. But all good things come to an end and as I say the noisy family spoiled it all (they turned out to be a private owner who are known to the campsite for nuisance – so we will avoid that spot when we return in the future).
So, our final two nights were spent at Castillon-la-Bataille – a lovely campsite on the banks of the River Dordogne but the town was a bit of a dump to be honest. There would seem to be some connection to Lawrence of Arabia – but we never did get around to looking in to this. The campsite even had canoes to hire where we could have got a lift further up the Dordogne River and canoed back, but sadly the noise of torrential rain woke us up in the morning which put paid to that idea. However, now that we know, what we did not know back then – this was probably a blessing in disguise.
To sum it up, we enjoyed a final relaxing day before heading back home. We had had a couple of lovely weeks, relaxing, chilling, laughing, reflecting, and charging our batteries ready for the beginning of our house build. We were relaxed, and ready for taking on this next part of the adventure, but my damn body had other plans.
On the Sunday I had made some “enhanced” scrambled egg for brunch. Enhanced in, as the French way of adding Crème Fraiche to the eggs – a delight that I have only just recently discovered. The Crème Fraiche may have been a little past it’s best – although the dates were still good, or it may have been that it is just too rich for my diet, but after eating it I had a bit of a tummy ache – and Martin did too – so we thought maybe it was slightly off. But nothing untoward happened.
Then on Monday we departed for home – via Bergerac to do some shopping. We had a bit of a naughty breakfast (Almond Croissant) and then lunch (bread with avocado) with no problems. However, shortly after lunch time on the Monday I became suddenly and violently ill. I’ll spare the really gory details but – both ends – frequently – from about 1pm on Monday – all the way home in the motorhome (causing a one and half hour trip to take 6 hours) – then all through the night, and again on Tuesday. I was besides myself in pain – dosed up to the eyeballs with Anadin Extra, clutching a hot water bottle to my belly and another resting on my back – curled up in foetal position, moving only to go and sit on the loo and dry heave over a bucket. On top of the belly ache I also had the mother of all headaches. I couldn’t eat anything – I had no appetite – which is a very rare occurrence, in fact I don’t recall a time in my life when I ever went off food before.
On Wednesday I had an idea to try Reiki. So, I got my piece of Mookaite and held it to my sacral chakra and done some really deep breathing whilst at the same time asking for some help. After a while I got a crystal-clear message in my head “it’s your appendix – you need to get it checked out”.
I had not even considered appendicitis and to be honest was certain that the pain was not low enough to be that as it was still all over the belly although there was pain in one specific area of the right hand side. But anyhow, it prompted me to consult Dr Google – who told me that every symptom I had could be appendicitis. Still convinced it was probably just a bug, but willing to err on the edge of caution, but unable to actually deal with writing around on the Doctors waiting room I asked Martin to go and see if a Dr would come out.
The French health care system really cannot be faulted in its efficiency. Long story short, my GP couldn’t come out but her colleague could and he actually followed Martin back from the surgery to the motorhome. Neither he, nor any of the other medical staff who have visited me since have batted an eyelid about coming out to the motorhome – it’s like they don’t have the same “stick up their arse” that some of the uptight British medical practitioners seem to have as part of their role. He examined me, prescribed some meds, told me it could be appendicitis but he was hoping not, and arranged for me to have a blood test the next morning.
The medications worked very quickly – this convinced me that all was going to be fine. The next morning, I felt a bit of a fraud having the nurse come to me to take blood as I would have been able to make it down to the village. I regained my appetite, starting eating a bit, and felt well enough to go and visit Carole and Bernard in the afternoon. I just had a dull ache in the lower right side of my belly – but put this down to 3 days of constant vomiting and dry retching.
So, you could have knocked me over with a feather when the Doctor phoned and said I needed to go straight to hospital. Two of my blood results were very concerning – one that should normally be < 5 was > 300. The instructions were that Martin was to take me to the surgery to get my blood tests, then home to get an overnight bad, then straight to Villeneuve hospital. (Note: they would send me in a taxi if I had no-one to drive me).
I will be honest. I was pissed off. I felt much better, and I thought that the Doctor was probably just covering his arse, that some reading was high because at the time of the test I was ill but now I was better. I wanted to go home for my dinner, and I really didn’t want to be going to the hospital. But something stopped me and made me listen, and that something was the nagging feeling that every time I had held my Mookaite crystal over “the spot” and shut my eyes I had a very clear visual image of a bright red fire ball.
So, I went. And today, just over a week later, I am sitting here in my yoga pants because they are the only things that will fit me.
I was admitted via emergency. Had a whole heap of tests, an ECG because they though I was having a heart attack (my goodness I was so scared at this point – I thought I would die alone in an ER bay with Martin outside in the waiting room), more blood tests, and a CT scan with the funny “hot” fluid that made me feel like I was peeing my pants.
The two hours I spent alone in the assessment bay was truly terrifying. I had interpreted my blood test results in the car journey and knew that I was neutropenic (fighting infection) and that dangerously high reading was with C-Reactive Protein. My reading was 345 which is well in the danger zone!
I’m one of those people who, through years of working alongside health care services, and obviously we have our truly bloody awful track record of cancer within our family, am well aware that this is a cancer indicator, as well as an indicator of a soon to happen cardiac arrest, but also on a lesser scale it is also an infection indicator. So, in the course of that 2 hours I had frightened myself shitless that a)because they hooked me up on the ECG) I was having a heart attack and then b)after that didn’t seem to be happened then it must be cancer. In my head, right then at that time, alone in that bay I told myself that “this little piece of land” was jinxed and that as well as my dad dying from lung cancer after living here, and my step mum dying from ovarian cancer after living here, it was my turn and I would die of stomach cancer after living here. And I was blooded gutted to be honest. Because I have so much that I want to do here on this little piece of land – so I’m not quite finished yet Mr Cancer. When the surgeon came to me and told me that I had appendicitis I was just so damned relieved as it was by far the lesser of the evils.
I was operated on the next morning. The language barrier, as always, caused plenty of problems including my complete lack of understanding about which of the three hats I was supposed to put on my head for the surgery!! I thought my sterile surgery pack consisted of a gown, a sexy pair of pants and a CHOICE of THREE different sized hats. Wrong! It turns out that two of the hats were foot coverings – who knew? There was a bit of drama over the surgical stockings, and a very surreal moment when a nurse realised that I had not even been asked to sign consent for the operation!! (I eventually signed it left handed on the anaesthesia table as my right hand had an electrode on it).
I was wheeled from the room down a lift and through a huge set of opening doors, and into what was like a lift chamber but wasn’t. Here I was met by staff from the “other side”. It was weird, the staff member taking me down had been a bit grumpy over the stockings, and had made me cry as I was in pain and she was very abrupt, and I’d kept saying “pardon, ma Française ce n’est pa tres bien” and she was getting agitated with me. But then going through to the other side it was as if a switch was flicked!
The first person to greet me was Vivian. I said my usual feeble “pardon…ma francais…blah blah!. But instead of getting wound up with me she smiled and said “that’s fine, I can speak a little English, would you like to speak English?” It made all the difference, and apart from that she was just bloody amazing anyway. I told her that “nous commencons a construire notre maison aujourd’hui” and that I was “tres tres” upset to be missing the first day. She asked if I would like some music on whilst I got sleepy, and then when I said yes please, she used her own phone to get my choice of chill music playing on my pillow. As the anaesthetic started to take effect she held my hand and started to do a guided meditation all about our house being finished and I was taking her to show it to her. She made me laugh, was happy and smiling, and made the last 30 minutes of my consciousness before going under a much less scary place than any of the preceding 14 hours had been. There should be move Vivian’s in this world. Yes, I should know more French – I’m constantly reminded of that – but at a time when every single French word I ever learnt falls out of my head from pure fear it’s good to remember that “the universal language of kindness is a smile”.
Then it was all over, and I was awake again – very glad to be back in the land of the living. The staff in recovery were all wonderful, and soon the time came to be wheeled back to the “other side”, the golden gates that led back into the real world. And quite surreally as soon as I was handed back other to the staff at the lift-lobby-that-wasn’t-a-lift the attitude changed. “Bonjour” I said “hello” she snapped! “Ca va” I said. “I am OK” she replied. Oh dear, I thought – one of these. I clearly irritated the staff by my Englishness. There was worse that evening, a staff member had a proper go at me about living in France and not speaking in French, which was both upsetting and distressing but also downright rude as when she said it to me, I had in actual fact been speaking in French. Not perfect French, mucked up, wrong way round grammatically incorrect French – but it didn’t warrant the hostility directed towards me. It upset me a lot, at a time when I was feeling very vulnerable, but I’m not going to have that experience as the takeaway from my hospital experience – that bitch can stay there – I’m going to take away the wonderful Vivian and her music and meditation, the beautiful and kind Nurse Elodie who was patient enough to encourage and help me whilst I was struggling with a bit of French, and took wonderful care of me, and the brilliant surgeon who might just have saved my life.
The surgeon told me that when he opened me up there was a large abscess and my appendix looked pretty ropey too – so he sorted it all out for me, and he said I was very lucky – it was all very close to bursting.
I feel lucky. If I had ignored that gut feeling I might have delayed going. But also, if it hadn’t have rained on the Sunday morning, we might have gone canoeing down the Dordogne and that maybe would have been the trigger a day early – it was obviously all getting ready to go – and that could have been a much trickier situation to get medical help from.
And yes, my stomach hurts, I already have IBS so the gas they pumped me with has made my stomach feel like a huge, tense, hard sponge that was being pinched between everything, and it felt as if it was full of spark plugs. And yes the first time I pooped I cried in relief to find that they hadn’t stitched my arsehole together…..but the spark plugs are losing their charge AND I have yoga pants so my stomach that is now eleventy fucking billion times bigger than it’s ever been before can be comfortable.
Thank goodness for yoga pants
Thank goodness for Vivian’s and Elodie’s, Doctors that know what they are doing, and for bloody brilliant surgeons