The tail wagging the dog

The tail wagging the dog

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).

The new stone slabs

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.

Why can't we come out to play
Why can’t we come out to play?

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.

Tail wagging the dog

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.

Mud, mud and more mud
I can’t even leave my own home without walking boots on these days

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!

Martin steaming
Ewwwkkkkkk – this stuff smells funny!

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.

Pink rubber gloves
Come a little closer! Nurse Sharon needs to check something out!

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.

Lunch on Le Terrasse
Homemade beans on toast – Martin’s favourite

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.

Dinner inside the house as the sun comes down and the village lights up
We love the reassurance of the village lights in the Winter…in the Summer you have no idea the village is just half a mile away from here

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.

BellaBeat 20k steps
I wonder if slope climbing could catch on as a Group Exercise idea?

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.

Luka the Waggiest Dog
This was actually Luka’s certificate for 2nd Prize for the Most Handsome Boy – how could he have been beaten?

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!

 

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

 

 

 

Our House (in the middle of our street)

Our House (in the middle of our street)

 

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”.

Monday building

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!

Tuesday buildingOn 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.

Puss chats drive the manitou

 

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.

 

Truck 2So, 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.

Our House in the middle of our streetBy 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

Our House (in the middle of our street) (click to play track)

Thank Goodness for Yoga Pants

Thank Goodness for Yoga Pants

 

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.

What biscuits shall I get in

 

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.

Chantier Interdit signBefore 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

 

Doggos at Fleurance LakeSo, 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.

 

Lake with bridge at Fleurance

Jazz in MarciacOur 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’).

Marciac music paving slabs.jpg

 

Lourdes

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.

 

Pot bellied pig 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!

 

Huge Lady of LourdesThere 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Our lady of lourdes in the Grotto

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.

 

Love, Joy, Peace and LightIn 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.

 

 

 

Gavarnie riverNext 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.

 

 

Martin via ferrataWe 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).

Gavarnie flowers

I love Lourdes #2After 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.Doggos in Lourdes Lac

View from our pitchWe 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.

Bikes at Biscarrosse

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).

Sunset over Biscarrosse

Marsha pitched up along the bank of the River Dordogne at Castillon-la-Bataille

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.

Sunset over the River Dordoge at Castillon-la-Bataille

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 universal language of kindness is a warm smileThe 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.

Appendular abscessThe 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.

But life is too short to think of the “what ifs”. We need to think of the “what is”….”what is happening right now”, “what is needed right now”. And the answer to that is that our life is happening…..our building work has started at last. I’ve spent the first part of my convalescence watching a digger winding it’s neck like a serpent looking for some prey  and a cement mixer spewing what looks like glossy cake mix into the ground where the rest of our goddam lives are going to be based on!! And that is FREAKING AWESOME!!

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

 

Thank goodness I’m alive

 

 

Pardon my French

Pardon my French

Warning – a lot of swear words

 Living in France without speaking fluent French does have its challenges. When we moved over here in May 2018 my French language was limited to what I could remember from school days – pretty much “le chien est dans le jardin” and “le chat est sur la table”, which to be honest probably is never going to be of any use….although now the Puss Chats are getting more confident the phase “le chat est sur la chaise” is now a commonly used exclamation!

Puss Chats
Zoe on the garden bench – Zena on the deck – not sure they really are semi feral!

For a number of reasons, we have not yet taken formal French lessons.

Firstly due to the ‘imminent disaster that is known as Brexit’ we bid a slightly more hasty retreat from the UK that we might otherwise have done. So, although our initial plans were to have taken classes for a year before moving we actually didn’t get the opportunity.

Secondly, our living circumstances have meant that popping out for a few hours to a class once or twice a week is not practical as living in a motorhome with two doggos as part of the package means that essentially where we go the doggos must go too.

And thirdly, when we did meet a local woman who offers French lessons the first impression made of her teaching style was not great. I greeted her in French (as I always do when meeting a French speaking person) and she immediately picked me up on my grammar. Fair enough if that had been during a lesson, but without asking her for a critique of my French skills it seemed a bit harsh. Up until now I have both avoided taking up her offer of French lessons and also resisted the urge to comment on her mistakes that she makes on her Facebook posts. If she wants to offer prices instead of prizes that’s entirely her business!

These circumstances mean the development of our French skills has been slow. Martin seems to be picking it up quicker than me – I have a theory that this may be because his head is emptier than mine to begin with – as I always seem to have eleventy f***ing billion thoughts running through my brain. But even though slow we have been pleasantly surprised and quite proud of how much we have picked up despite the challenges our current life style presents.

So, when we were recently on holiday in Provence we were stunned, and quite frankly very disappointed when the first of what turned into a series of comments arose – all of which challenged our right to live in France whilst not speaking fluent French. Stunned because it’s not really happened up until now, and disappointed as the only reason we can conclude for this is that the first of the comments coincided with the clown that is now in charge of the UK – Boris Johnson – making a rather arrogant statement demanding that all immigrants to the UK pass an English test.  

The first occasion was at the campsite we stayed at in Aups.  Martin checked in with the French owner, speaking mainly in French, but clarifying a few points in English. When he gave our French address the guy said “you live in France but you do not speak French?”. We were so gob smacked we didn’t even respond other than to say we get by with day to day stuff but anything a little more technical is harder.

Then, I had an emergency visit to the doctor – also in Aups – as I had a breast lump – every woman dreads this so I just went straight off as quickly as I could armed with Google Translate to refer to if I had any difficulties.

Google Translate for Doctors Appointment
Thankfully it was just as a cyst as I had expected 

 I managed most of the appointment in French, with a little English, and it was all fine and she was very friendly and helpful, but when we were discussing me needing to follow up with my own doctor and I said we lived in Villefranche du Perigord she said the same “you live in France but don’t speak French?”. Again, I explained that we are OK with the basics but anything medical of importance I felt was better to be safe (after all – if I got my “gauche” muddled with “droite” I could have ended up “sans sein”).

The next occurrence was at the Motor home Dealership we visited on our way back home to get a habitation check done on Marsha (our motor home). The guy there said a similar thing.  By now it was getting to much of a frequent occurrence to be mere coincidence – we are absolutely convinced that it is a reaction from the French to the stupidity of our country of birth’s attitude to the rest of the world. And an understandable reaction!!

What is the world coming to when people’s worth to an economy is determined by them speaking a particular language? Or their right to reside in a country of their choice? Or their right to be treated with a little respect and understanding? Shame on you Boris! And shame on the people who can’t empathise enough to realise that this clown isn’t speaking for us! 

We had two further incidents, one which was just so bat shit crazy that I still cannot get my head around it – but to suffice it involved someone saying that I should fuck off and go away because I would never fit in (because of my lack of French amongst other completely unrealistic demands), and the other one involving a Dutch guest at the local campsite saying that by now all too familiar phrase “you live in France but you do not speak French?”….it seems the TV coverage of BoJo also reached Holland …..and Belgium.

We do our best, and will continue to do our best – but it’s not always easy once you are past 50. When I was learning French at school I couldn’t see into the future and know that I would be living in France some 35 years later – hell, I couldn’t even see myself surviving my 20’s let alone becoming an old person!! Unfortunately in England we did not have compulsory language lessons, unlike the rest of Europe which is taught a second language. I’m not saying I agree with that – but it sure is not my fault that it’s the way it is.

Martin and I are not the type of people to move to a new country and act as if the people that have lived there all their live have to change to suit us – not at all! We fully embrace all that is French, the language, the culture, the food (not all of it – we are veggies of course), and even though we don’t like all of it – we appreciate and respect all of it. So, we were really upset that it would seem that the political craziness of the UK is now infecting our life in this manner. People that have no desire to explore outside the comfort of the town they were born in, no wish to travel into Europe and maybe set down roots there, and some that have a crazy belief that the British Empire still exists as a construct – all these and more – they will not be affected by this political madness – it is us, those who have chosen a life on the continent of Europe that are affected by it on a daily basis. It makes me really upset, and it is a very sensitive subject for us now.

Even our own family members have twitched those nerves – yeah I know – who needs an Internet Troll when you have a family member who texts you to say they were surprised you hadn’t learned enough French to deal with a mammogram and an ultrasound scan at a hospital. My response to the person’s comment of “you must try to learn more French – I thought you would have been good at it” was “Well, I think even if we had been having French lessons I would have been hard pushed to gain the vocabulary to deal with an appointment at the radiotherapy department. What lesson would that have been I wonder? Lesson 5? Sharon gets a breast lump?”

So, we feel like we have been getting a hard time of late. But, there is some fun with it all too – Beatrice at the campsite is wonderful – if she gave French lessons officially I would be first in the queue – she has the patience of a saint – but there is no saint like quality to her when she is teaching me the naughty swear words in French – although she says she doesn’t know many of them!! Strangely these words seem to stick in my head better than some of the other more useful words do. I certainly seem to have more motivation to remember and use them anyway.

There was an incredibly grumpy old woman at the commune swimming pool recently. I was in one cubicle, and Martin was in the one next to me (they are unisex changing rooms) and as always, I was taking a while, having long hair etc. I could hear her muttering, and she banged on the door, obviously getting impatient. Martin finished a bit ahead of me so she went in that cubicle after him and I could hear her muttering “merde” under her breath.

Intrigued I asked Beatrice what it meant – “shit” she said. So, in that session I remembered that I knew the word “encule” (fuck) from school days (no wonder my French teacher bound me with gaffer tape) and also an Italian word “stronzo” (asshole) from an Italian/Australian boyfriend. This led to a discussion about the correct finger positioning to demonstrate the number 2 in French. Martin had stuck up two fingers for a number 2, and then quickly changed it to a more polite finger gesture. Beatrice asked “why did you change your hands”? So, he explained and this led to an amusing discussion the origin of the 2 finger “fuck off” gesture which apparently, some say originates from the French v English Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Year’s War. The myth is that the French had threatened to cut off the index and the middle fingers of any archers they captured. The V was the sign that the English longbowmen made to the French to show they still had them.

It seems now that the French are now saying this to the British and I can’t say I blame them to be honest. I wish that the so-called leaders of our country of birth would show a bit more consideration for the impact that their tactlessness has on all of us.

It’s hard to know for sure if the grumpiness is due to the political tensions or just the general grumpiness that temperatures in the high 30’s bring at this time of year. As well as everyone being too hot, too busy, too grumpy to do very much, France comes to a standstill in August and it is impossible to progress any of our building project at this time of year. However, fortunately, by the skin of our teeth we were able to arrange a “rendezvous” with the company we have selected to supply and fit our windows and doors on the very last working day before their summer break. So, the good news on that front is that we are on the work schedule for the foundations being done in October, then the house being erected in November and hopefully the roof and windows going on which will give us a water-tight building by Christmas. We live in hope! All we have to do ourselves in August is decide what colour we want the window frames – and amazingly as well as being kind enough to squeeze us in for the RDV on the last working day – the lovely people at the window company also loaned us their samples board for the summer break – I was honestly only joking when I asked if I could take it!!

Sample Board
Favourite is the top one but that is out of our budget – we need to choose from the 4th one down and below

We were able to show 12 of our UK based family and friends our progress so far as well as the local night markets when they came out to celebrate Martin’s 60th Birthday and our 10th Wedding Anniversary in July. 

Loubejac Night Market
14 of us at Loubejac Night Market 

 

It’s hard for anyone to grasp just how much we have achieved in the time we have been here without seeing it from the very beginning, and the only person out of this group other than us to have seen it when it was 8 foot giant brambles is James who helped me do the dead hedge in October 2018. So, we left said dead hedge for him to see to help him get his bearings – but as soon as he had gone back to the UK that has come down as our next stage is to clear the whole of the top level, and then move down to the second level.

Dead Hedge coming down
Hard to believe that 18 months ago this was 8 foot high brambles, the shed didn’t exist, the stone wall was not yet discovered – we are now just seeing the first tufts of real grass start to grow – all tamed by hard, manual work – no weed killer, no machinery other than a strimmer 

It’s magical to us, seeing it all unfold before our eyes. We can only imagine at the moment what our view from the mezzanine will be as so far no one has been up that high. It’s both exciting and daunting at the same time this adventure we are on but we are in it together, and renewing our Marriage Vows on our 10th Anniversary has strengthened our resolve.

Garden Arch Sharon and Martin
We planted a Garden Arch with red roses to remember the red roses in my wedding bouquet and white jasmin to symbolise our love, and were gifted plants by our friends which we have planted to symbolise us putting down roots in our new home. 

 

Some days we fear the worst that we might be prevented from achieving our dreams, and some days we are sensitive to the “perceived” negativity of those comments about our lack of French. But mostly, we just soldier on and say “encule cette merde” (fuck that shit) we will get there – and we will say here. This is our home now, we have the will to learn more French, and the staying power to not let the “tetes de merde” (shit heads) get us down, and to anyone (English, French or otherwise) who tries to suggest that we do not have an equal right to integrate and become part of this local community we say

 

Fingers Up
Encule cette merde

 

 

 

 

Poppies

Poppies

 

This blog entry has been mooching around my head for a while now, but I was finding it too emotionally painful to write down until now – so here goes.

During May there is an abundance of poppies – growing everywhere we look – in the fields and tracks around the village we live in. So, every walk, every drive we take, it’s hard to not ponder on the meaning that they have to us.

Poppies in the grave yard 2

For many of us, poppies are associated with death, especially as they are worn in the UK on Remembrance Sunday to honour the war dead that gave their lives for us. Summed up in this beautiful poem by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place, and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below

For me though, as well that as that symbolic reminder of the sacrifices made by those brave men, poppies also have a sweet, sentimental meaning for me.

When I was a little girl, and my maternal grandparents were both still an important part of my life, I could not say the word Grandpa or Granddad, so to make it easier they got me to say “Pop” which then became “Poppy”. So I spent the precious few years I had with him in my life calling him Poppy. Then even after he  died when I was four, I still carried on using Poppy and so did my mum and my nan  when they talked about him to me.

Poppies against a wall

So, the sight of poppies has always stirred up very fond memories of a time when I know I was happy and loved, as sadly my childhood did become very unhappy after those first early years, which means I struggle to recall happy memories at a later stage. But that’s a story that’s not for now – maybe another time.

Because of this, poppies can stir up very happy emotions in me – of a Granddad that I barely knew, but even so was an important part of my life.

But, they can also bring up real sadness in me too.

Rewind to April 2013 – my Dad was dying – we knew that – it was just a matter of how long he had  left. But then we had the shocking and terrible news that Ann also had cancer – also Stage 4. So, our visits over to Kent stepped up a notch. Having a life to lead in Hampshire – school for Sian, college for Ryan, work for Martin, and teaching for me, this was a case of spending as much time as humanly possible travelling to Kent on a Friday evening, making memories with Dad in his last weeks, and now also trying to take in this awful news about Ann.

What I remember most about those times was “The Triangle” between where James’ house in Margate, Quex camp-site that we stayed in Birchington, and Wayside mobile home site in Minster which was where Dad and Ann had ended up living once their France dreams were quashed by cancer.

The Triangle

So, at any given time we could be driving either over to James’s house from the campsite, or over to see Dad at Minster, or going to see Ann at the hospital which was just around the corner from James’s house. As you can see it’s actually more of a circle than a triangle – but at the time it felt like a  triangle – and still does.

The trip between the camp-site and Dad’s took us through a lovely little village called Acol – which we always thought sounded very French, with it’s lovely banks of poppies swaying in the wind. So, during much of these journeys I would just be sitting quietly, as the passenger, thinking, feeling sad, looking at the poppies and thinking how very tragic it was that dad would not be going back to France…..most likely not ever, definitely not to live, but probably not even to visit. Even when we were not in Kent, the poppies played a part. For the first time I noticed poppies at the side of the road on my running route, so every morning as I ran past the poppies, I thought of all this constant sadness, but also it encouraged me to keep going, keep running, keep trying and to be glad that I have a body that works, and that I could run, and that I should keep running to make up for the fact that some people no longer could. This thought spurred me on to do some fairly epic (for me at least) fund-raising attempts for Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK including my first and only Half Marathon Half Marathon Medal

It was a surreal time in our lives, and as we played out the nightmare we were in, we honestly believed that once this was over, we could get back to normal.

But, no, life had more for us that just that sad episode. The poppy season two years down the line brought the loss of my step-dad at the end of May – so many poppies around that year too – there always is – I just didn’t notice it so much before.

And then, tragically the following May our young nephew lost his battle with cancer. In our messed up, upside-down-and-back-to-front family dynamic it has meant that through time and over time we have not only lost the people who died – but also some associated relationships have suffered the consequences – our inability to forgive a dad who failed his son, ex in-laws who find it painful to keep links with past family, a son who didn’t even try to do the right thing by his dying father. All those and more – people lost from our lives – they call it the ripple effect of death. More like a tidal wave in our case it seems.

Poppies are also associated with dreams –considered to be sacred to Morpheus the Greek God of dreams. All I know is that those days were so incredibly sad as we witnessed the dreams of one very lovely, very ordinary couple get shattered into a billion pieces.

Solo poppy

 

So, here we are…now in France – making our very best efforts to create our own dreams. Dreams that sometimes feel as fragile as the roots of those poppies, and are equally as amazing in the way that they seem to be rising up in a jungle of a wilderness – just like the poppies seem to be able to grow just about anywhere – on steep banks, and in ditches at the side of the road. Even next to spiders webs.

Poppies and spiders webs

 

It’s still a constant worry to us that our own dreams will be shattered – not this time due to ill health hopefully – but through the political mess that the UK has found itself in. It hurts to the core when people who seem to have no real concept or understanding of what their actions are doing to our dreams say such utter nonsense like “it’s only scaremongering” or “it will be alright”. They have no idea what it feels like to know we are only just 2 steps away from being homeless. If they did understand it, surely they would not keep saying those things – but perhaps they want to hurt us for daring to want a different life for ourselves. We have nothing (in terms of property or material things)  in the UK and if this all goes horribly wrong for us we will not be able to live in the something we have in France.

Like the poppies we are trying to put down our roots – in a place where those roots don’t quite belong – but even so we want to get those roots firmly planted – we want to live here – in France, in our crazy little corner of this sweet little village, the fields surrounding which now look so reminiscent of that lovely village Acol we used to drive though. In the same way that the impact of death has rippled out and added to the loss in our lives, so has the division in our country of birth. We find it sad that people who we once loved seem so alien to our own beliefs and we feel scared for the future of both the country we were born in and the country we now live in…resulting in more loss of friends and relationships.

 

We hope that we can be as resilient as those poppies in the wind  and just say “damn you Brexit and all those who follow you! We will grow where we want to grow and we will be strong”.

Apparently to dream of poppies suggests that you are about to meet a new, younger love – or that it is time to move on. I really don’t think Martin is under any threat of me trading him in for a younger model (who would put up with me) so I’m taking it that it is time for us to both move on, and leave the past hurt behind, give up on relationships that are too difficult to continue to fight for, and forge this new life for ourselves in  our own (Poppy) Field of Dreams.

 

 

 

Lillie of the Back Alley and the Rosa between Two Thorns

Lillie of the Back Alley and the Rosa between Two Thorns

We’ve been on a 2 and a bit week long house-sit which has given us a bit of a reprieve from our cramped living situation (although that has improved drastically, I have to say with the Garden House). We were looking after our friends’ lovely house in Loubejac – which is just a few minutes away from home, which included also looking after the lovely Rosa.

Rosa has become great friends with Luka and Lillie since they spent New Year’s Eve together and I have been going out for walks with Rosa and her human mummy – Frieda on a weekly basis. She is a lovely girl – Labrador with a bit of Rottweiler in her – and she has the sweetest nature. She lost her doggy brother just before Christmas so I like to think that Luka and Lillie have become her surrogate doggy family. They certainly get on well.

Rosa between two thorns
The Rosa between Two Thorns

We had lovely daily 5km walks together in Loubejac – through the woods and around the lake. Rosa is very independent and likes to go off quite a distance in front, and I am a bit of a worry mummy especially when it comes to other people’s fur babies – so the woods were alive with the sound of “Rosa!! Rosa!!!” every morning – about 0830!! Rosa’s mummy is Dutch so I tried to mimic her intonation and sound as Dutch as possible. Eventually I realised after a few days that food was going to do it, and I taught Rosa that if she came back first time, she would get a small treat!! Our two dogs loved this game as they also benefited!!

My attempt to sound Dutch reminded me of when we previously done a house sit for a Dutch vet who had two dogs usually, but on one occasion he said there would be three dogs to mind and would that be OK. “Yes of course” we said – if you have 4 dogs you might as well have 5 – “not a problem”. We assumed that the third dog was also his. He has an unusual living situation in that his wife lives and works in Holland, and he lives and works in France – so we thought the third dog was maybe one that lived with her in Holland. Not our place to ask. So, when out walking with the 5 doggos we were calling the third one back in our usual English voices and it would listen to us, so we tried the Dutch sounded voice – but still….it didn’t seem to respond much. We just figured that the extra dog was of a stubborn disposition. It didn’t matter – she came back in her own time!! It wasn’t until the Dutch vet and his wife came back that we realised the extra dog belonged to a French friend – so if we had spoken in French commands “Ici” and “Asseoir” then she might have taken better notice.

Back to beautiful Rosa though – she really was a delight to look after – and our dogs enjoyed the comfort of stretching out on their beds – all three of them in a row. Rosa has a very lovely, luxurious bed which Lillie appears to have coveted from the word go. When Rosa goes to her bed, she has this sweet habit of walking around on it to squidge the beans down in just the right place, and sometimes she does this for quite some time before the bed is just right. On one occasion Lillie very cheekily decided to lay on Rosa’s bed instead of her own. Rosa approached – we watched – would she growl Lillie to move off of her bed? No, she looked at Lillie – looked at the empty bed – looked back at Lillie – looked at Luka in his bed – looked at us – then went and climbed on Lillie’s bed…..she moved around – desperately trying to squidge the beans to the right place – but of course – different bed – not the same beans – not the same effect. Rosa looked again at Lillie…now looking quite sheepish – in her bed, and gave a big HUFF before settling down with a thud on Lillie’s bed.

We decided this wasn’t really fair so we resorted to distraction by way of food and got them all off, given a treat – and laughed as we watched Rosa make a quick getaway to HER bed. Talk about Goldilocks and her beds. At least they mostly stayed on their beds though – can you imagine three large dogs on the kitchen floor? Doggos on the kitchen floor

So, we are back in the village – although I am doing night time doggy sitting duties for my little foxy friend Kobie – more about that in a minute. Our morning walks are once again around the hills of VduP. One morning earlier this week we were coming down the track into the village when we spotted a familiar silhouette and recognised Bruno with the lovely little Bendy who has been mentioned in a  previous blog – named in the B year according to French tradition. As we approached Bruno, I did notice that Lille had something in her mouth but thought it was a bit of dried grass so did not take too much notice. Of course, Martin soon started talking in French to Bruno about cycling so we quickly became distracted from silly little Lillie. After at least 3 or 4 minutes though Martin suddenly exclaimed “Lillie! You disgusting little dog” and I saw him kick something into the bushes at the side of the track. He then told me that what she had been proudly marching along with in her sweet little butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth was nothing less than a USED TAMPON!!

Ewwwkkkkk!! I don’t know what I find more disgusting – that Lillie picked it up, or that some wayward young lady saw fit to remove said item during a moment of young lust up the track!! Still, we are all young once I suppose!!

So, Lillie now has yet another nickname – this time it’s Lillie of the Back Alley!! Very appropriate as May is the time of year for Lily of the Valley to be prolific everyway! In fact, 1st May is a public holiday in France often known as La Fete du Muguet (Lily of the Valley). It is a tradition on this day to offer a sprig of Lily of the Valley to loved ones, and in the week leading up to May Day you can buy bunches of this fragrant Spring flower in every florist and most supermarkets. So, in Lillie’s defence – maybe she was offering her daddy what she thought was a bunch of Lily of the Valley, or maybe even she is so clever that she knows that Lily of the Valley is poisonous to dogs – she is still a disgusting little dog though.

However, I fear that I may also be gaining a reputation in the village as a lady of the Back Alley. You see, the house where I am sleeping at night time, and also popping in for short periods during the day is in a typical narrow cobbled stone road.

Ancien VduP
The house overlooks this part of the street – a typical French cobble stone road

And I only have one set of keys for the front door. So, at night time when Martin leaves me for the night I come down – often in my PJS – to lock up behind him so if anyone was to see him leaving it may look as if I am a lady of the night. Coupled with my very lazy habit of when he comes around – instead of going down to let him in (it’s a three-story house) I open the windows on the middle floor and throw the keys down!! I wonder what the neighbours think!!

Martin catching keys
Ooh La La – the lady of the night throws the keys down to her next male visitor