Great Expectations (and Lessons Learned)

Great Expectations and Lessons Learned

I cannot believe how much time has slipped away since my last blog entry – and indeed how quickly that time has flown.

We left VduP on 16th December, heading off to Bruges Christmas Markets, and then onwards towards the UK to spend Christmas with our families. Before we left, we had one last little job to do before driving off in Marsha (our Motorhome) and that was to make a very special delivery of our little Christmas tree (now redundant) to a house up the hill where a few days later it would be used by an English family who are newly incoming to VduP. Delivery of Christmas Tree.jpgThis is recycling at it’s best in my opinion – we had no need for the tree anymore as I drew the line at driving 1000km with it strapped to the back of the motorhome – although the Christmas Wreath that I had made did make the same journey unscathed in the pocket of the bike rack cover!! I knew that this was the correct purpose for that pocket and nothing at all to do with the stowage of the rear warning sign! Christmas Wreath on bike rack holder.jpgKatie’s family on the other hand had a good use for the tree as they were coming over to spend their first Christmas in their new home and it would save them having to go out for a last-minute Christmas Tree hunt.

 

 

 

 

So, with the relocation of the Christmas Tree and then the realisation that the motorhome had sunk a little into the temporary hardstanding and was a bit grounded, and also precariously close to the decking – it was a bit of a challenge to get away to say the least – but away we did get, full of excitement and anticipation for a full filled Christmas. See the video of our getaway here.

I was a bit sniffly on the first leg of our journey with what has turned out to be the 2nd cold of 3 that I have had in the last month!! I honestly thought that living in France would help to built a bit of resilience towards the common cold germs – but it would seem the contrary. But thankfully, a few days of relaxing in the passenger seat with a box of tissues done the trick and by the time we reached Bruges I was feeling much better and ready for an evening of shopping and a wonderful Chinese meal. I had already sought out a restaurant located right by the vets which we needed to take Luka and Lillie to for their pet passport checks. I’d been looking forward to a Chinese meal for ages, as it is very hard to find in SW Rural France, and I was hopeful that we would easily find a lovely vegetarian feast as A) Chinese is always a good option for veggies and B) the restaurant FB page said it had vegetarian options. So, we drove over to the vets, then over to the restaurant – popped our heads in and asked if the doggos could come in – “yes” she said, “as long as they don’t eat me” – so we went in, got seated, and she brought the menu. Despite a full 5 minutes scouring of the menu – I could find nothing vegetarian except one side dish. So, I asked her “do you have anything vegetarian?” – Expecting, hoping that she would say “yes any of the dishes can be done as veggie”. But no, she just said “you can have the water chestnuts stir fry” (€15 for a side dish) “and rice” (another €9). Hmmm I said to Martin – that’s not really the exciting meal I had in mind – shall we go and look for somewhere else? So, embarrassing as it was to get up, with the two doggos in tow, we apologised and left…still hungry! I’m still not really sure why we apologised – after all – she was the one whose menu said “vegetarian options”. But it just goes to show how our expectations, still even after living in France for 8 months now, we still expect, hope that we will get a decent veggie meal out. So, after a fraught drive around the ring road a few times and realising the motorhome was not the best vehicle to be seeking out random restaurant choices – we admitted defeat and went back to the campsite and then walked into Bruges. We were able to persuade a snack bar owner that the dogs would behave themselves (which of course they did) and we had a right old combination – a “melange” even – of snack bar stuff – a veggie burger, some fries with garlic mayo, and some deep-fried rice balls. All washed down with two bottles (small of course) of their finest red wine. Not quite the Asian feast I had allowed my mind to promise myself – but it was yummy all the same. We then carried on into the Bruges to see the Christmas lights and found a lovely little bar to enjoy a cup of green tea before walking back to hit the sack for the night. Christmas Lights.jpg

Our next day was spent in Bruges doing much more of the things we had intended to do – shop, shop and more shop!! Beer, cheese, chocolate, stollen, you name it – we got it!! After all we have a motorhome to fill up with goodies to take back to share!! We ate warm waffles with ice cream even though it was freezing cold, we drank in some culture in the form of the famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Horseman.jpgWe walked for miles and miles – around the markets, around the squares – looking up at the beautiful architecture, and when it started to get cold and dark we spied across a canal a brewery which looked very inviting and so we went in and drank a “Beer Flight”! beer flightThis was great fun, and once we had filled up with lots of Belgium beer (which in our opinion is THE best in the world – sorry France) we went for a curry which more than made up for the disaster of the previous evening. Everything was wonderful – the service, the food, and the friendly staff!! How had we never spotted this place during our previous trips to Bruges? Ah well, that would be as it has only just opened……so, if you are ever in Bruges and fancy an Indian pop along and say Martin and Sharon sent you – Curry Palace and Tandoor, Hoogstraat. Indian Spices.jpg

Then on towards the UK, bulging at the seams with goodies. First stop was Ampfield where we had one night at the campsite and caught up with my mum, my dentist (ouch a filling and ouch lots of money), Adam, Owen and Hannah, and Ruth and John. That night I drank a lot of gin!! I know that because I was tipsy enough to participate in a short play put on by the Mummers and also because I cleared the bar out of the Bathtub Gin and have the empty bottle to prove it. Bathtub Gin.jpg

Next stop was the New Forest where we were to be spending the next 8 days in a Studio Barn. The accommodation was perfect for two people, but a challenge for the family antics that we had planned – and in hindsight I suppose it wasn’t at all realistic to have expected to have entertained a variety of family groups, for a variety of different family gatherings. But I did manage to knock up a rather good vegetarian full Christmas Roast Dinner in a teeny-weeny little holiday kitchenette area dabbing over the christmas dinner and perhaps more importantly we all survived!! However, the cold bugs struck again and one by one the Rees-Williams and extended family was struck down by the lurgy.

I think that is it fair to say that all my great expectations of a family Christmas filled with long, crisp, frosty walks in the beautiful surrounding New Forest, back for steaming hot bowls of Baileys Hot Chocolate as we listened to the joyous sounds of family laughter were a little unrealistic to say the least. Well, when you put a large group of people who live entirely separate and different lives together – throw in copious amounts of alcohol for good measure, and just for a bit of added spice let’s all feel like complete shit with the flu – you tell me…did we do well to survive it at all? On the naughty list.jpg– let me tell you I wasn’t the only one on the naughty list by the end of it!

So, Christmas came and went as it does, and we headed back towards France in time for the New Year. By this time cold number 2 for me had taken full hold and all I could do was splutter and sneeze, and hope that I wasn’t infecting too many people. Lemsip just wasn’t cutting it, so I progressed to Day and Night Nurse – forgetting my complete hypersensitivity to any medication – so the effect of the Night Nurse was lingering well past the usual 12 hours, rendering me comatose until 4pm in the afternoon. Martin said it was the quietest trip we have EVER done! Cheeky Martin!!

We arrived back in VduP in time to celebrate the arrival of 2019 with our friends Jan and Frieda, Carole and Bernard, Carol, Craig and Wendy, and Tony and Tess. Luka and Lillie were welcomed too and enjoyed a lovely evening snuggled up with Rosa – a proper black Labrador Fest!black lab fest

Fantastic food, lots and lots of gin and prosecco, music, singing and dancing!! Followed by the hangover from hell!! Will I ever learn how much is too much where Gin is concerned? No, probably not…do any of us?

New Years Day was spent quietly and simply, just picking at some leftovers from the previous night, and popping down to the pub with the dogs to offload some of the copious amounts of chocolate we had brought in Belgium on to the bar for everyone to enjoy!! And lots of reflection, on the way that our Great Expectations for Christmas had actually led to disheartenment, and disappointment. We have both already changed so much in the 8 months since we have lived here, but life for other people has remained the same, or moved in different directions. It’s a period of great adjustment for us, as we begin to explore our new roles within relationships…..no longer the parent, child, or friend in the way we used to be to other people, as now we are not in their lives every day in the same way. And simultaneously we are forming new relationships, with new people, in this new country, this new life we are now in. And sometimes that feels a little scary…

We have not had the chance to settle back into normal life in VduP as almost straight away we came away on a house-sitting assignment. 2 doggos and 4 chickens – and a Perigordian house which is very beautiful but oh so cold. So cold that it is warmer outside than in. Ceilings that go so far up into the cavernous roof space, stone walls that quite literally hold the freezing cold temperatures in day and night, despite Martin performing his best ever fire building skills. So cold that a thermal vest, a thermal long-sleeved top, a fleece and a gilet are still not enough to feel warm enough to sit and type….and this is the reason this blog is so late!! That and the fact that Cold Number 3 is currently in all it’s full blown glory!

But, in spite of feeling a little more than just a bit miserable we are still able to see the lessons in this. It’s definitely confirming to us that the way forward for our house is DEFINITELY the eco build way. Yes, we will have a high ceiling – but we will also have effective insultation. Yes, we will have tiled floors, but underneath those tiles will be an underfloor heating system. And most importantly we will have a proper covered wood store so that the wood we burn will not be damp!!  But, on a positive note, the chance to use a full-sized kitchen has been wonderful and I have been batch cooking to fill our teeny little motorhome freezer so that when we get back to VduP we can get cracking on with the mammoth task of building a garden house so that we can have a bit of extra space to get cosy!! I think the week in the cold Perigordian house will provide good practice for living in a 45mm thick garden house – and who knows it may even prove to be warmer! And perhaps the biggest blessing of all is that we are really looking forward to getting back into life in the motorhome instead of dreading it after having a house for a week – and I never thought I would say that!!!

 

Deux Petite Canards

 

Deux petite canards

It’s been another busy week in this 24/7 city that never sleeps ha ha!! Who would have thought that life in a sleepy little village in rural South West France could offer so much in the way of entertainment during the winter months?

I touched on the Birthday Drinks Bar Crawl in my last blog mentioning that we had been out until the unearthly hour of 2am drinking, and that I had a hangover the next day. To be honest I thought that would probably be my last night out this side of Christmas.

But no!! Or should I say “mais non”? This week has seen lots of adventures and late nights. Firstly, we went to celebrate Carol’s birthday at Carole and Bernard’s house on Monday evening where they made us a lovely vegetarian curry, and lots of gin and tonic and red wine was drunk. That was a lovely evening – and very good to see Bernard looking so well after his recent spell in hospital.

Then Tuesday evening we went to play pool – which wasn’t a late night as such, nor a drunken one as by then I had decided to make a concerted start to my December “Pre-tox” in preparation for January’s “De-tox” (for me this means eating no meat (easy as I am a veggie), no wheat, no dairy, and no processed food, and no alcohol for the whole of January. In December I plan to do a “light” version of this which means following the plan for any day which is not a special occasion – so as to avoid it getting in the way of the party season. Anyway, my “boisson de choix” on Tuesday was “Thé Vert Menthe”. I played one game with Peter which was not my finest hour, but then when my second game came around with a bit of coaching from my trainer “Mr Traynor” I managed to surprise myself and everyone else in the back room of “Café de la Poste” by getting a few balls down in one go!! It was my closest game ever…well at least in this decade (I used to play quite well for a girl in my misspent youth). I got down to 1 ball but I still lost!! Peter won 10 games in a row that night – he was on fire!! Sharon playing pool

On Wednesday I decided that now my knee is feeling much better it is about time I started to join Martin on the evening dog walks down to the village. In our former life in Chandlers Ford we used to walk each evening in December after dinner and count how many houses had their Christmas Lights on. Although the houses with lights on are few and far between, the village in itself has some really awesome lights – which we think must be funded and organised by the commune, and are really quite lovely to see. Starting at the end by the Rugby Club bar there are lights which are sort of in the shape of a tree but not quite tree shape – which I have nicknamed Christmas Pile – as it’s reminiscent of a pile – although a pile of what I do not know. Christmas Pile

We can actually see Christmas Pile from our small deck outside the motorhome up on the land and it is very reassuring and comforting to see how close we actually are to civilisation now that the Winter is drawing in.

Then as you walk through the high street there are lights on the Halle, and over the arches of the Hotel du Commerce, in the windows of most, if not all of the businesses as you walk down towards the end. Christmas Lights collage

It all finishes up at the Mairie which has a rather spectacular Christmas Rocket and a Blue Tree. I love it!! The whole walk takes us about 45 minutes if we stretch it out and pause to look at any new lights each evening. It’s great entertainment for us – they say that the best things in life are free and it certainly gives us some fun to look at them. Christmas Rocket and Blue Tree

During this walk we passed the hall where the choir meet – and yes, I did say that maybe we would go back, and then Martin said he would go back even if I didn’t, but actually as we listened to them practicing inside and it was the same “O Salutarius” as before we realised that the choir probably is not for us!! Never mind – we gave it a try but it was not to be!

Thursday heralded the arrival of the replacement doors for the garden house at last!! This means that we can finally crack on and get the raised deck for this, and then the actual garden house erected. And not a moment too soon!! As always, a week or so away does us good but then when we return to this life in the motorhome it doesn’t take long before we feel the strain placed on us through life inside a 21m² home. Two large wet and muddy dogs contribute to a, let’s say “difficult” situation, and tempers sometimes get a little fraught!! Occasionally, an ill-timed comment can lead to a furious exchange of words. For example, Martin discovered that to say the words “why didn’t you bring that in before you started cooking” to an extremely stressed woman who was attempting to cook up a lovely, healthy, nutritionally balanced meal from scratch, with fresh vegetables in approximately 12 inches in total of food preparation space – was not the best thing to say!! He was reminded in no un-certain terms that he would travel far and wide to discover another woman prepared to live in these conditions AND deliver 3 meals from scratch a day and that if he preferred to live in a yurt and eat out of tins he was welcome to try that out…..or something similar…there may have been a few extra words…I can’t quite remember!! Anyway, we won’t dwell on that and are friends again, and he has been working hard on getting the deck done since. This is what we are hoping it will look like when complete, and hopefully this will bring us some reprieve in the way of extra space (and dare I say it the chance to not be in the same room as each other all the time). Garden house

Friday was “cinema date night” for us. We went to watch French film Grande Bain in the village. It’s amusing to say the least that back in the UK we were spoilt with the choice of no fewer than 10 films which each ran a few times a day for many weeks – yet we rarely went to the cinema. Yet here in VduP we get excited when it comes around – the monthly film!! In French, no English sub-titles – just our own imaginations to work out what is going on. This one was quite easy – very similar to The Full Monty but involving a group of fairly lost, middle aged French men who formed a synchronised swimming team! It was very funny and definitely had some “laugh out loud” moments in spite of the language difficulties. And in any case, the cinema is warm and dry, and has comfy seats and enough space to stretch our legs out comfortably!!

And then to conclude our very full week of entertainment, whilst strolling around the village on Saturday morning after popping down to see what all the fuss was about for the Telethon (a fundraising event) and seeing the Pompiers doing a charity car wash and having a guided tour round a fire engine, Fire Engine we bumped in to Beatrice and Bruno who invited us to the Bingo that evening. Now, during the Bar Crawl when I was, let’s say a little tipsy, I had a conversation with Beatrice about the possibility of becoming her Bingo caller at the campsite next season…so this seemed the perfect opportunity to find out more about French Bingo. So, we said we would love to go!!

Beatrice said doors open at 7pm but Bingo starts at 9pm, so we arranged to meet them there about 8pm. We figured that if it started at 9pm we would be finished by 1100. We got settled down, had a cup of tea and a crepe, and a chat with Beatrice and Bruno whilst we waited. The French system involves buying Bingo cards as it does in the UK, but instead of marking the numbers with a pen you re-use your card – and cover the numbers with counters. The regular Bingo goers all have a fancy magnetic counter holder, but we had to borrow some counters from Beatrice and Bruno from their campsite game.Counter holder

Like the UK though the players often have a lucky charm to touch to bring them luck. There was a lady at another table with a little Buddha, and the French lady next to me had a little duck. I told Beatrice that in the UK I might have had a lucky pen, but as we didn’t need pens that would not be the case. I quietly wondered if now might be the time to consider my knickers to be “lucky pants” but once I found out what some of the prizes would be, I changed my mind and decided that tonight it would be the taking part that would be important and not the winning!!

Just before 9pm the very lovely Vicky announced the Bingo would soon start and the balls were placed into the dispenser. All went quiet…eyes down…. you could hear a pin drop. The numbers were announced one at a time …in French of course!! Beatrice and I soon worked out a system that would not only help me improve my understanding of French numbers, but would also ensure that I did not miss any. I listened to the number…attempted to work out what it was, clarify with Beatrice and then she would place her counter after I placed mine. So, each time a number was called I would say, quietly…what I thought was the number in English. I hoped I was not distracting the French lady next to me but she didn’t seem to be annoyed. We had a lot of giggles during the games, and I discovered that I have some serious mental blocks with certain numbers – including 84 – which is quatre-vingt-quatre – I was convinced that this was 88 each time – which raised a laugh and Bruno’s eyebrows!! Both Martin and I found the way that Vicky said the number ten – Dix, Cinq et Cinq (10, 5 and 5) to be hilarious and couldn’t really understand why, until Beatrice explained that Dix sounds a lot like Six (6) and then we really cracked up laughing when Vicky announced Six, Trois et Trois (6, 3 and 3). But, on a serious note, my improvement from the first game to the last game was about 200%. The French lady next to me actually commented to Beatrice about how well I had improved from the start to the finish. It was a great way to get my head around the number system, which I have to say is a little weird. I mean 1 to 10 makes perfect sense, 11 to 19 is reasonable, 20 to 69 is very straight forward, but then… 70 is 60,10, 60,11, etc. And then it gets really weird – 80 is 4, 20…how weird is that? Then 90 is 4, 20, 10. Martin made this observation to Bruno who smiled, raised his eyebrows and then laughed and said “yeah… Five Ty – right”. We all laughed – there are flaws in both languages.

There were so many games!! We started at 9pm and had a 15-minute break about 1030pm, at this point I thought the Bingo had finished and we then moved on to the Basket (tombola) but no, there were even more games of Bingo following on from this. I will say this for the French system – you certainly get your money’s worth. We paid €5 for 6 cards each and played these over and over again – the reusable cards are a great idea!!

So, the aforementioned prizes. Unlike the UK which often has cash prizes, in France the prizes are food, wine, or objects. In this case…. for many of the games the prize was either “Foie Gras” or Ducks. Not just any old duck – proper, legs akimbo, little feet poking out of its wrapper – ready to cook duck. So, this found me switching between a silent mantra of “oooh chocolate – let me win” to “please, no, not the duck”.

Martin actually had a “sweat on” for a line. A “sweat on” is where you are down to one number. He was waiting for the number 22 which as any English person will know is “two little ducks”. Ironically, the prize for this round was indeed “deux petite canards” which thankfully Martin did not win.

Later, as we were leaving, happy and laughing at 1230AM, we saw the “canards” leaving the building in a most unceremonious way over the shoulders of Laurent who was carrying them out for the lady who won them.

Early night for us tonight I think!!

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

When in Rome……or Venice

When in Rome………………or Venice

So, it was my birthday last week and to celebrate this fact we went to Venice for a few days which was really exciting.

I’ve always dreamt of visiting Venice – in fact I would love to go to all of the main Italian cities and eat my way around the whole of Italy. Three years ago when I was doing my Alphabet of Adventures for my 50th year on this planet I had hoped to do “V for Venice”, but if the truth be told we essentially ran out of funds to indulge in this pursuit so I ended up squeezing in a cheeky “V for Via Ferrata” when I done my “Z for Zugspitze” but that is another story to be told some day.

When our friends Tony and Tess told us recently, they were flying to Venice and the flights were really reasonable, we decided to look in to this – and were pleasantly surprised. We booked return tickets with Volotea for just 88€ and the hotel was just 50€ a night including breakfast – so we figured that this would certainly be a cheaper option than to drive over in the motor-home. The only snag with this was of course The Doggos! We would need to leave our precious fur babies behind. Obviously in the future we will be able to do what we have been doing but in reverse – I.E get house sitters to come over and look after them – but we didn’t think the prospect of staying in our motor-home would appeal much to people, so we didn’t even attempt that option. Instead we booked Luka and Lillie into a Doggy Hotel about an hour away. Doggos go on holiday

Our trip was amazing – we absolutely loved Venice – and clocked up a whopping 40 miles of walking in just 4 days (hence the less than traditional use of a bidet). All of in within the city of Venice and a few surrounding islands. The weather was stunning! Warm enough to go without a jacket for the first few days, then a bit nippier but still dry and bright. There are precisely 391 bridges in Venice and I reckon we managed to walk over most of them – some multiple times! Many of the bridges overlook Gondolas with hopeful Gondoliers waiting to get a fare! At 80€ a shot they weren’t successful in tempting us though!Gondolos 2

We don’t much like organised tours so we opted for looking up the walking tours on the Internet and simply using Google Maps to go and find the iconic sites within Venice. I’m sure we missed a few sites but the things we did see include St Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, The Rialto Bridge, The Bridge of Sighs and lots and lots of pizza restaurants!Veggie Pizza

 

One of my highlights of the trip was spotting this awesome piece of graffiti which Sian had already found in her earlier trip to Venice in the summer!!Graffiti

 

We also visited the Islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. We did actually opt to do the organised boat trip for this – which on reflection was a mistake – we felt like a herd of sheep disembarking the boat straight into a glass blowing display and then held to ransom in the shop afterwards – we did escape though and found a quiet little shop where I bought the cutest little Murano glass Xmas tree. Perfect for our motorhome!Glass blowing demo

We found the Venetians either really friendly – or the polar opposite – really quite rude. There does not seem to be any mid ground. Many seemed to feel that customers were in the way, but we just ignored them and focused on the friendlier experiences – such as the delightful young lady who served us in what turned out to be our favourite restaurant Taverna San Troversa. Great gnocci, and pizza and then a really divine chocolate and pistachio cheese cake to finish it off!Chocolate and Pistachio cheese cake

My top tips for visiting Venice would be:

  • Be aware that there are two prices for a coffee – one for standing up and one for sitting down – and there can be 3€ or 4€ difference between the two
  • Check if your hotel has a kettle in the room – ours didn’t – and also the bar was not open nearly often enough so every time we fancied a cuppa it meant venturing out – which got costly. Next time we would take a travel kettle
  • Public toilets are in the most popular spots but cost anything between 1.50€ and 2.50€ but there are nice toilets in a shopping centre called Fondaco dei Tedeschi – free to use, otherwise it’s an endless cycle of go to a café to use the toilet – pay 9€ for 2 drinks and then when that drink wants to depart – repeat process!!
  • Check the small print for cover charges at restaurants – this can vary between 1€ and 2.50€ per person – and then they also add 12.5% service charge as obligatory. It all adds up.

It isn’t necessarily cheaper to eat the main meal at lunch time as is frequently the case in France and the UK. Most restaurants do a set menu which is good value and includes a Primi and Secondi (first dish then second dish) and usually a drink – sometimes a desert. However, we never did find one of these menus that gave a vegetarian option on both the Primi and Secondi – so we couldn’t take advantage of the good value deal. We did however find plenty of veggie pizzas, and some veggie pasta dishes – it just always annoys be that we spend the same money on one dish when people who will eat meat and fish get all the bargains!! Such is life I suppose!

However, we did find Venice’s only Vegan Restaurant – La Tecia Vegana – and went here on my birthday for a lovely meal. The food was lovely – and very reasonably priced – well worth a visit if you are veggie, vegan or just wanting to try something a bit different at a very reasonable price.Vegan meal

The hotel that we stayed at was the Belle Arti – fabulous location in Dorsodoro – really close to a choice of two Vaporetto stops. It was typical Venetian décor – and by that, I mean it was hard to enter the bedroom without sunglasses on!! We nicknamed our room “The Red Room” – and it really was “When Cindy took an LSD Trip” sort of loud! Red panel on the ceiling, red flock wall paper, different red pattern on the carpet, and yet a different on the bed spread. But we soon got used to it – and of course it was great to have some normal sized living space and a shower that we could run to our hearts content!!Martin waiting for Cindy

Whilst we were away the Geometre expert came to do the Topographique Report and we now have had the report back on that so hopefully we can now take the plans to the next stage. And we came back to find a letter all in French, which after a few struggles with Google Translate appears to be telling us that we can indeed erect our garden house where we want it as long as we keep the surrounding scrub cleared up to 50 metres away. So, lots more strimming for Martin to do!! He’ll be kept busy for the rest of his life with the strimmer around here – that’s for sure!

I had a lovely surprise birthday High Tea on Saturday afternoon as a treat from my friend Frieda. She took me to a local village called Goujenac where an English woman and her daughter do a monthly English style afternoon tea! It was really lovely and a total surprise of the very nicest kind. Our tea was served with a sparkler and everyone in the restaurant sang Happy Birthday to me.Afternoon Tea

Saturday night was our third (and biggest to date) bar crawl – 13 of us ventured out on a cold, damp December evening to tour around the 3 bars that remain open. We started at 6.30pm and the hardiest of us continued until 1.30 am! Needless to say, a light weight like me struggled with that the next day – and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was sick in the morning and needed to go back to bed in the afternoon!! 53 is clearly way to old to be drinking for that long!!

So, now it’s back to normal life!! Well as normal as our life ever is at the moment! We have a raised deck to put up, then a garden house – and all before we leave for the UK for Christmas.

 

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

If I had a hammer

It’s all go this week and very exciting!! Our architect has been working on the plans so our portfolio is nearly ready to go off to the planning – but we are still waiting for the Levels Survey to be completed. That will tell us how sloped the different parts of our land are so we know how high up the pilings need to be. Hopefully we will end up with a raised decked terrace which will lead right out into the woodland which will be our idea of paradise! We just can’t wait – but even if the plans were submitted tomorrow, we are still looking at it being next Autumn before a liveable house is in situ. So, we still have a long journey to go.

To make life a bit easier we have plans to erect a few out-buildings. Now, in France you need planning permission to put up anything over 5m². So, the first shed is a small one which falls under that size. In the short term it is for storage, but in the longer term it will be a potting shed as it is where our vegetable garden will be. How exciting to be thinking about growing our own vegetables!!

We went for dinner with friends twice this week and had two lovely vegetarian meals cooked for us. Such a treat to be cooked for, and also to be able to sit in the comfort of their homes and have some space, and lovely company and chat too!! The meal that Frieda made was all with veggies from her own garden and it just really excites me to think I will be able to do that soon!! Fresh home-grown veggies really do taste so much better, and of course it will be wonderful to eat whatever is in season.

Back in the UK one of my lovely friends has set up a Facebook page called One Pledge and is urging people to make just one pledge to do something that will help the planet. My pledge is to eat locally grown produce as much as possible and to reject vegetables that are wrapped in plastic in the supermarkets. So, just think how much help my own veggie garden will be with that!! Why not click on to her page and make your own pledge?

So, the shed has been assembled during this week. All of our land is sloping – the top bit where the house will be not so much so, but once you get down a level then it becomes very steep – so Martin had to first construct a small deck to get something flat enough to put it on. Here’s a little video of him working. Even Lillie helped out (well her idea of helping of course). Lillie helping to build the shed

Our neighbour Pierre has also been busy working on their house and garden, so all week long there has been a symphony orchestra of power drills and hammers between Martin and Pierre. When one of them stops, you can hear the other. A bit like bird call to each other

But, it’s lovely to hear the sounds of productivity!! And to see our plans, hopes and dreams finally taking shape. I know this will sound very trite, but when we stood out on the little deck this evening, with the little shed finally finished, and we saw this huge, beautiful red squirrel charging up and down a tree – really close to us – and it all felt a little bit overwhelming – in a good way – but I just had a little tear of happiness as it really is all starting to come together.finished shed

So much wildlife here – in fact, we are seeing so many birds of prey out on each walk or drive that we do I said to Martin the other day “do you think they will end up like elephants”? He laughed and said “hope not”. This is a standing joke between us, (Sian and Ryan may also remember too). When we went to Kenya in 2009 and were lucky enough to go on a 2-day safari in Tsavo East we saw so many amazing animals – zebras, lions, giraffes – and ELEPHANTS!! Lots and lots of elephants. The first few times we were “wow”, but after two days were “oh it’s only elephants” and we just couldn’t believe that in just two days we were anything less than totally amazed by seeing elephants.

Our French is coming along a little bit too. In order to help with this, we have joined the French choir – and both went along nervously on Wednesday. Much to our bemusement the first song we practised was not even French!! It was a 16th Century religious hymn in Latin – O Salutaris. It was my idea of a nightmare:

1) Old style religious singing

2) I didn’t have the first clue what I was singing which always makes me feel uncomfortable and

3) My vocal range is just not cut out for that sort of song anyway

I shifted around, muttering the odd sounds, and feeling very out of my depth for the longest time, vowing to only stay until the end so as to not offend anyone and to ensure that Carol did not lose the Brownie points that she was sure to have gleaned by taking not one, but two new victims – sorry recruits!! However, after that things did improve and we practised some much more uplifting songs which I enjoyed a bit more – and Martin enjoyed a lot! So, we know have the situation in which Martin really does want to go back and I’m not so sure. I did end up really liking the song “Je Suis Un Homme” despite really not being very happy when Carol told me one of the lines was “I am the king of pigs” – I really do object to such speciest lyrics – but when I found the lyrics on You Tube it actually is “I am the King of Pricks”. Hmmm?? I’m not sure to be honest – which is worst to be King of? Pigs or Pricks? You tell me!! screen shot king of pricks

 

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

 

 

 

Fifty shades of ……Autumn

Fifty shades of…………Autumn

Everywhere I look at the moment there is colour! Stunning, beautiful shades of green, yellow, rust, ruby….and it seems that every time I open my mouth to speak, I am saying “isn’t it beautiful”, “look at those colours”, “aren’t we lucky to live here”. And we are…. very blessed. It is a truly beautiful time of the year in rural South West France. The leaves are still on the trees – just, and they have changed in to a wonderful carpet of muted shades of autumn…simply stunning.

I’ve always loved Autumn – it is my favourite time of the year. I like the way that the earth is getting back what it needs to regenerate itself – a bit like Doctor Who!! Some people see it as a sad time of year as nature is dying, but no, I see it as the necessary process required for rebirth. It’s a great time for us humans to hunker down, snuggle up during the darker, colder evenings…and give ourselves whatever it is we need. Whether that be a good rest after the craziness of the summer, or simply just time to take stock and work out what it is we need…not want, but truly need.

For me and Martin the colder evenings have been spent poring over house plans – tweaking ideas from draft plans 2 and 3, and having video calls with our architect, Rob, and now at last we have reached final draft stage and have the layout of our dream home. Side elevationFinally, we can begin to dream about where next year will take us, and the life we will be able to live in our new home.

The colder evenings have also brought lots of concern about our well-being in our life in the motorhome and we have had lots of kind offers of hot showers, a place to sit and do some work, the use of a washing machine, and invitations round to dinner. We are truly blessed with some lovely friends here. We were even offered the use of a house to stay in over Christmas by our neighbours but we are actually going to be back in the UK for Christmas – but even so – it was very kind of them to offer. It reminded me actually of when we first arrived here in our February trip and put up an event shelter in the snow. They had thought that we were camping and would freeze to death so they had discussed amongst their selves and decided that we could have Alice’s pigeonnierre to sleep in and she would move in to the main house. So kind, and yet at that stage we had not done one single little favour for them. We have been really moved by the kindness of people who are not returning favours that have been done for them – these are genuine acts of kindness – and we honestly cannot wait until the time when we can return those offers of dinner, and when people’s showers blow up, we will be the first to invite them over to use ours. Such a lovely sense of community there is over here. Our neighbours have an abundance of rocket and chard at the moment, so last night’s dinner for us was a rocket salad with calendula petals from the bounty we came away with when we nipped over, and tonight’s dinner was sweet potato, peanut and chard stew made with the chard she gave us. Rocket and calendula salad with goats cheese toastsThat’s another aspect of life over here that I really love – the eating of fresh, seasonal veggies. Essentially if you cannot get it in the local shops, its not in season so you cannot have it. This is making us much more in tune with the seasons, with nature and more in touch with where our food is coming from. For us, being veggies, we no longer really think about the food chain as such, but it does still apply to us in that we are not only reducing our carbon foot print by eating seasonal stuff – it must be so much better for us – it’s not travelled far – literally only a few metres in the case of the rocket and chard, and often no chemicals and no crappy processing methods.

So, all in all the Autumn is proving to be a happy time for me!! I’ve been feeling much more upbeat and it has really helped that I’ve been able to get out doing some decent walks again.

Sharon and doggos by lake.jpg

I now have a couple of ladies who I have been walking with and it’s good to have a chat, put the world to rights, and generally enjoy this beautiful weather and scenery we have been getting. I had to giggle one morning last week, when my friend was making drinks for the two of us, and also her hubby who was outside working. She got a large silver whistle and gave a very loud and shrill blast on it to call him in!! He obediently came in for his tea, and I laughed with them about what I good idea that was and how well trained he is. My friend explained it stops the need for shouting out. Great idea I thought…. I’m always shrieking for Martin when he is busy down past the stone wall on our land.

When I got back home to Martin later on, I put the kettle on and when the drinks were ready, I spotted the dog whistles hanging by the door. Giggling I gave a large, long blast on one. And, sure enough – ten seconds later, a bemused looking Martin popped his head up from over the wall. I congratulated him on coming when called and joked he would make a good slave for me, and maybe I should now consider myself to be a dominatrix. To which he told me to get stuffed in no uncertain terms. Boring……..after all there are all these long evenings in the motorhome!!!

We were doing a house sit for a few days this week, and I spotted in the pile of books in the bedroom that infamous grey cover…Yes!! Fifty Shades of Grey….”Martin! Maybe we could get the dog whistle out again??” “What do you mean no chance ha ha” …oh well, we’ll just have to settle on the hot tub again!!

Fifty shades of grey maybe not….but the view from that hot tub was certainly Fifty Shades of Autumn!!

View from hot tub

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Vive La Difference! But….we have more in common than that divides us

Vive La Difference….but, we have far more in common than that divides us

100 years ago, the guns silenced, marking the end of the First World War. Today, in a sleepy little village in South West Rural France about 150 people from various countries marked that occasion in a manner not dissimilar to other events held elsewhere in Europe.Memorial procession

Confusingly for me, although the church bells rang out #ATouteVolee at 1100the chatter did not stop, and the hustle and bustle of the Autumn Fayre continued. As Martin and I walked up the high street he persisted in talking about something until I snapped “are you NOT going to observe a minute’s silence?”. He hadn’t realised it was 1100. We both noted that it was strange, but we figured the silence would take place at the start of the memorial event at 1130. But it did bother me….all my life I have stopped and taken that minute’s silence at 1100. So, I asked people “why not silence at 1100” and the answer was simply that, typically in France the memorial services are at 1100 but here in rural South West France there are other events going on so people are needed at more than one event, so the events are sometimes staggered. Notably, the Bastille Celebrations that should be on 14th July take place in Villefranche du Perigord on 13th July so as to not compete with the larger, neighbouring events.

Ah, so that answered my nagging question. Another difference was the lack of poppies, which of course are a Royal British Legion thing -intended to raise money for that particular cause. So the poppies were few and far between, and none to be sold in the preceding weeks of course. I did spot a few blue poppy shape stickers, which on research afterwards I realised are Bleuet de France – the French version of Poppies.Bleuet de France

I still wore my perpetual bling crystal poppy brooch that I bought years ago – considering at the time that the cost of this would be my donation to the RBL for many, many years, but now actually in hindsight it is a good thing to have so I can mark 11th November in the way that I like to.

The memorial service was lovely – all in French of course, and I listened intently to see if I could pick up more of what was said that I had been able to during the one in May….a little bit more I think. Most poignant was the reading of the names of “Nos Morts” by a couple of young children – who proudly read aloud the names of those who had given their lives in the 1st and 2nd World Wars. I had a few tears with the emotion of it – just as I always have done on previous occasions. We are always reminded of the sacrifices made – no matter where we are in the world – on days like this.Nos Morts

After the main service we went over to “La Salle de Reunion” where the choir sang a song in French – it may have been a popular song – I do not know, it was not familiar, but it was lovely to listen to. Then the choir sang the British National Anthem – which made me stand tall and proud and I sang, albeit very quietly and awkwardly under my breath, feeling a bit out of place. Then, this was followed by La Marseillaise – the French National Anthem which then made me feel a little embarrassed that I do not know as single word of this iconic song!! So, I vowed to learn it by the next memorial event. In saying this to my friend who is in the choir, a conversation then arose by the end of which I had agreed to give the choir a go!! Oh dear – what have they let themselves in for? Still, this will be a good opportunity to learn some French, and integrate with some new people which is so important in such a small community.

What really struck me with this event is that there was maybe 150 people there – which represents quite a significant proportion of the local population. All those people turning out to show respect to the people who laid down their lives so we could stand here today. By comparison, the last Armistice Day I attended was in 2016, in Southampton – a huge city with a population of 254,000, and yet there were only about 20 people turned out at 1100 to stand in the rain and mark their respects. Admittedly, that was during a week day and not all employers would allow staff to just take their tea break outside – but at the time I was a bit of a rebel and just done my own thing anyway!!

I may have been feeling a particular need to show respect that year as it was the year that I finally went to visit the grave of my Great Grandad Hubert Doe in his final resting place at Cabaret Rouge Cemetery near Arras. His death in the 1st World War was what I now believe to be the trigger point for a whole load of weird family dynamics that subsequently occurred in our family. His death broke my Great Nan Louisa’s heart, and of course my Nan Winifred lost her dad as a young girl. Louisa then went on to marry a friend of his – Alfred Coggin. He had lots of issues from the war – probably shell shock, and became a not-so-nice step dad to Winifred and then later a dad to Stanley. We don’t think that he was much missed after he died in the 1930’s. Then Stanley grew up and joined the Royal Air Force and within a few flights was lost on a bombing raid to Mannheim May 19th 1942. StanleyThe loss of first Hubert, then Alfred and then Stanley to Louisa and Winifred caused them to view boys as more precious than girls, which then in turn led to my own mum Patricia feeling less important than her brother as they grew up. Then even me as I grew up wondering why my brother could get away with so much more than I could. Of course, back in those days with the great British stiff upper lip, neither my Great Nan, or my Nan spoke about feelings which would have meant that all this strange stuff was never interpreted for what it was, just feelings of inadequacy were felt with no associated rationale. It’s only in recent years when me and Martin with our curiosity in war time history and my need to unpick and understand every complex reasoning behind behaviour, that we have perhaps unravelled the root cause of our own rich tapestry of crazy family life! We also came across this very poignant audio clip  when digging up wartime history – it’s the sound of the bomber that Great Uncle Stanley made his last flight in – leaving the UK. It’s hard to not wonder what our family would have been like had that plane not been shot down that night. But we ALL have this shared history – every single one of us has someone in our past who was affected by those wars – and that has shaped who we are – whether for good or bad, and whether we like it or not.

It’s things like this that make me truly believe that we should not live our lives from behind a filter and we should open up and share our vulnerabilities and ask for help when needed – after all we are all human, and surely none of us sail through life without any assistance at all – even if that help is just the occasional wind behind our sails – encouraging us to continue forward – or maybe choose another course.

And that’s why I found myself doing something that I rarely do these days – sticking up for someone I don’t even know in real life on Facebook. This lady blogs about life as a mum, but unlike some of the perfect air-brushed yummy mummy bloggers, she tells it how it really is. And one of her posts had been a hilarious account of how she tried to get her boobs to fit in to a backless bra. A very unkind other mummy had really had a go at her for doing this, and in reading the resulting onslaught I felt compelled to express my own opinion which was quite simply “she is writing about HER life! And if you don’t like it then unfollow her blog, don’t read it”. And that is exactly how I feel. We all only have one life, and the way we life it will determine lots of things, including our own happiness, and if people don’t like us for living our “real, unfiltered life” what should we do? Pretend that our life is different, and more appealing to the people who don’t like us for our “real life”. Or, find people that do like us for living our own “real, unfiltered life”. For me it’s got to be the latter – I would get totally exhausted if I were to be living two life’s – it’s hard enough living one. And the people that like the way I live my life will enjoy being with me and want to spend time with me, and the people that don’t like it will drift away from my life. But, my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – will be lived – true to myself, real, and unfiltered. ( if you fancy following her she is blogging on Facebook as – Knee Deep in Life )

So, our new life in France is sometimes challenging, and sometimes in finding our way we express frustrations, and I suppose sometimes that might seem as if we might prefer to be living our old lives in the UK. But, that’s not the case – we love our lives in France – we love the simplicity of life – although sometimes it is that simplicity that drives us crazy, we love the natural beauty of the countryside – although the extremes of weather that allow that beauty are sometimes worth grumbling about in a typically British fashion, and we love the slow little village that we have chosen as home, that gets so sleepy in Winter that we have to resort to playing scrabble!! And the people that are all co-existing around us – many of them have been on the same journey, some of them are still wondering why they made that jump across the channel 11 years ago, some will feel that their lives are now truly French, and some will be one foot in the tunnel ready to hop back if Brexit hits the fan.

All of us humans are unique, but as the late, great Jo Cox (murdered MP) once said – “We have far more in common than that divides us” so I think we owe it to each other to embrace our differences and allow each other to be ourselves.

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Ghosts and ghouls, three legged beasties and things that go bump in the night

Ghosts and ghouls, and three-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night

There’s spooky stuff going on around here this week. Squash’s of all shapes and sizes are appearing everywhere Squash on chair and despite me always thinking the French didn’t really celebrate Halloween much there are definitely creepy things lurking in the shadows.

Even in the Boulangerie window there is a sweet little display of carved pumpkins Cute pumpkin display although this was not as sinister as the display in our favourite vegetarian restaurant in Monpazier – who knows what you can eat at the Blood Café sign but I doubt very much it was vegetarian.Blood Cafe Halloween is definitely not as big in France as in the UK or the states, but you can find trick and treat sweets in the shops. But….we did not actually see any trick or treating children on the evening itself so just as well that we didn’t stock up on sweets.

Halloween falls right in the middle of La Toussaint which is widely celebrated in France and is actually a public holiday! Yes, another day with the shops shut – but we are getting used to it. La Toussaint is celebrated on 1st November – it is Two Saints Day – a Christian celebration which remembers the dead. Traditionally chrysanthemums are taken to cemeteries to place on graves of loved ones, and these flowers are only associated with death in France – so not the best choice to take around to a neighbour!! Which luckily I didn’t but I did wonder why there were so many in the shops.Chrysanthemums

So, you can see why Halloween has not been too popular in France – for many people it seems as if it is overshadowing long standing traditions. And the French definitely do not like their traditions coming under threat – which is fair enough!!

Another tradition is of course the hunting season – or the Chasse as it is known. This is more of an institution than tradition and very much part of life in rural France. It’s a dilemma for me, as on the one hand I can see that it is very much part of French life. Also the wild boar (Sanglier) which are hunted would otherwise over-run the countryside. But on the other hand, I just hate anything to do with violence towards any living creature. So, it is fair to say that it is a part of life in France that I do my best to avoid. I’m actually really quite scared to go out walking in the country lanes – so I have taken to wearing neon orange walking top, socks and cap in the hope that if there are any hunters out on the prowl they will see me before they shoot!! Neon Orange Gear 2

This week we did actually see some hunters whilst out driving – two of them with one dog – and as we drove past I urged Martin to slow down “don’t hit the dog” then we saw a wild boar run across the road! Then it was “slow down there might be another” and quickly followed by “shit go faster they might be following with guns”. It’s all a bit too much for my nerves. Then I felt really sad for the Wild Boar and got a bit tearful. Then told myself “C’est la vie”. But I still wish it wasn’t. It’s not always easy being vegetarian and very sensitive in France, but “Je suis comme ca” – that’s the way I am. Wild Boar

 

We have seen lots of different wildlife over the last few weeks as well as that wild boar. Dead snakeWe saw a dead snake – well it might have been a snake skin – but definitely dead (I know that for sure as Lillie decided to roll in it – disgusting little dog that she is).

We also saw a fire salamander who has decided to make its home in our water supply box. Fire Salamander

Maybe it’s because of being spooked by Halloween and Toussaints, or maybe I’m just a bit jumpy because of the Chasse – but I’m also seeing things that are not actually there – for example this giant frog sitting on the edge of road suddenly appeared,Giant frog 2 And I’m certain that this Troll has been following me home from my walks.TrollAnd the other night I heard some banging outside the motor home but luckily when I looked out it was just Martin going “bump in the night”. Martin going bump in the night

And then finally….our second Bar Crawl took place this weekend. Great fun was had by all, but look at us!! You would not want to bump into us down a dark alley would you!! Bar Crawl

 

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.