Back to the Roaring Twenties

Back to the Roaring Twenties

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

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

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

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

Gifts from Sian collage

 

 

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

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

 

Practice Christmas Dinner

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

 

Bubbles

 

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

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

 

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

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

Ryan by Polar Bear

 

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

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

Tombola collage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Martin and Ryan at the Vin Chaud

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Oliebollen and cheese and pineapple hedgehog

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

So here we are!

Back to the Roaring Twenties!

Happy New Decade to everyone!

Cheers!

Kwak duck kwak

 

 

 

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!!!