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 

 

 

Ding Dong Bell, Puss Chat’s in the Well

Ding dong bell, Puss Chat’s in the Well

Life has been eventful as ever. Everything seems to take two, sometimes three times as long in France. Not that we are complaining about that – the slower pace of life is one of the things we love about our new life in France.

The life that we are so desperately trying to create, but are now fearing for because of the “B” word…. but I won’t say too much about that as I am still hoping that sense will prevail and we will look back on this stage as a nasty dream one day. Suffice to say that we are one of the 1.3 million people born in the UK who are living in Europe whose lives will be changed dramatically if “it” happens – and those changes will not be for the better.

Bertrand Russell quote
We do respect that a small majority voted to leave the UK but we still believe that this does not make it a good idea.

So, back to the slow pace of life. We’ve been plodding along trying to get the Garden House finished, but it is slow progress. For example, we had no nails to put the shingle roof tiles on, so Martin popped down to the village – sure that the little hardware store that seems to sell EVERYTHING would have them – but no! roof nails are one of the very few things that they do not sell. So, this meant a trip to our closest large shopping town – Montayral – which is about 40 minutes each way – at least it is the way I drive – Martin does it quicker and I’m sure there are plenty who do it even faster – however, at this time of great uncertainty we do not want to risk our licences. We have recently applied to exchange our UK licences for French ones – a process which we are told will now take up to one year – they are clearly expecting a large influx of applications.

A day’s shopping in Montayral really is a whole day out. We do some washing in the big machines, go to 2 or 3 different supermarkets, and then also go to whatever DIY shops sell the bits we need for the project in hand. We have had many, many disappointing trips where we have not been able to find what we have needed as we simply are not looking in the right places. But we are getting there – and when we reflect back on a year ago – when we were still making the mistake of going to the shops on Mondays (when many shops are closed) – or during the 2-hour lunch break – we can see that progress is being made. And then, as well as shopping we usually go for lunch – or as we did on our most recent shopping day – take a picnic down to the river and have lunch “al fresco”.

The two-hour lunch break is a thing we have come to love. For years now I have not worn a watch (apart from my Garmin which I use to track walks and runs) as I like the freedom this brings and have become pretty good at judging what time of day it is from where the sun is in the sky, or just how it feels. Now, the church bells tell us constantly throughout the day from 8 am. through to 9 pm chiming the number for the hour of the day, with one chime at the 30 minutes past. Often, we will be laying in bed on a weekend and hear the 8 am chime and sigh “nothing much to get up for let’s wait till the next one” – we love it. Hearing the bells keeps us from feeling isolated – we are not a million miles away from life, but we also love the fact that we are out of the village enough to have the space of the woods around us – we feel this is very much the best of both worlds. Someone said to me recently that when she moved out to France a neighbour said to her that if she ever was lost to just listen out for the bells and they would guide her back. What a lovely, reassuring thought that is.

Church Bells
About time to start getting dinner ready

So, the church bells help to keep us reminded of the time of day – that is, until lunch time. At 12 noon the bells chime twelve times – but then of course at 1230 pm it is just once, at 1 pm it is still just once – and again at 130 pm it is still just once. So, if you lose track after 12 noon it can be as late as 2 pm before you know for sure. At first, when we moved to France we did get a bit frustrated that if you forgot something for lunch you would have to go without, but now we have got used to the concept of “if you ain’t got it, you go without” and we just love that feeling of for that 2 hour period of losing touch with time – just knowing that it is simply “lunch time”.

Same as dinner time – which traditionally is 7 pm in France – which always seemed very late to us as we would usually eat around 530 pm/6 pm in the UK. But now, we tend to work until it starts to get dark, and I’ll have dinner ready for after that – around 7 pm at this time of the year. I feel we are much more in tune with our circadian rhythm since we have lived here. In the summer we were up and about much earlier – as soon as the sun came up – whereas throughout the winter we want to hibernate. We mostly sleep with the roof blinds open in the motor-home as we love to see the stars and the moon during the night. Although, with the amazingly bright super moon we had on 19th February we did find that we needed to shut the blind over for about 5 nights whilst it was coming up to full moon and just afterwards.

Full Moon 3
Luna Love

I’ve always been fascinated with the moon – ever since I was a little girl – I can remember being in the back seat of the car at night time watching it with awe. As I’ve got older, I have discovered how much my own body is guided by the lunar phases.

Being an energy worker – using Reiki and Crystals as part of my work as a Holistic Therapist, I have learned how to tune in the moon to exploit its power to enhance my work with these mediums. So, at full moon I was able to do some meditation work to help shift some negative energy and also cleanse my crystal collection to recharge them with positive energy. I’ve felt that life in the motor-home has taken its toll on me as an energy worker as the space is so limited, and there’s so much plastic! I just really do not like being surrounded by so much plastic and man-made toxic material. Apart from the obvious damage it is doing to the planet I find it creates a bad feeling in the air around me.

I adore the Garden House and how it’s made from pure wood, and most of the things we are putting in there are made from natural materials as well, including the beautiful Rose Wood cabinet that once belonged to my dad and step-mum….my most treasured item of furniture.  Of course, there are some exceptions to that – but the balance is much better I feel than in the motor-home. So, I’m feeling much more balanced in general and have felt more able to rid myself from some negative attachments that I had felt were holding me back.

Wooden furniture in the Garden House
It’s a work in progress but the first piece of furniture in just had to be “Dad’s Cabinet”. They bought it back from Singapore over 30 years ago. They gave it to me when they moved to France as they didn’t have room – so it is fitting that we have brought it over here.

Around the time of the full moon I felt inspired to give my Buddha a bit of a makeover. Originally my Buddha belonged to my late, lovely step dad Alan – but he had no room for it after they had moved so I asked if I could give Buddha a home. So, Buddha made the trip in the removal van over to France last May, but I was really unhappy about her (yes, my Buddha is feminine – although this type of Buddha is typically considered male – but I identify with it as a female Goddess) being in the storage barn when we have all our worldly goods. So, we brought her over to the land at the earliest opportunity. However, I hadn’t realised that life outside was not really her thing – and she soon became quite tatty. So, I had in my head to spray paint her – and had multiple DIY shop trips until I found the right colour – purple!!

So, on a lovely sunny afternoon just after the full moon I transformed by Buddha from her previous black and gold to a very bright shade of purple, and I love the end result!! So much so, that a few days later the concept of my new business came to me and I have decided to change my business name to “Purple Buddha Holistic Therapies” and she will now be the figure head at the Garden House – which in time will become my treatment room. I just need to sort out a sink and the all-important, afore mentioned – toilet situation. So, it’s exciting times – I am hoping to start doing some meaningful work in April or May. The Super Moon really has been a great time of change of vibration for me.

Purple Buddha
Here “she” is…under the cover of the terrace of course so no more damage to her I hope.

There was some sad news in the last few weeks. I mentioned in the last blog entry that I was really excited that we would soon be adopting a couple of barn cats. Well, it seems the time is not quite right for us to be taking on any new fur friends at the moment. The cat rescue place was lucky enough to re-home ALL 10 of the barn cats to one single home, and had just four cats left which are all very feral and avoid ALL human contact. So, after discussion between us and the cat rescue we all agreed that we would be better suited owners of some cats that could be barn cats but still have the potential for human interaction – I think my messages to Valerie gave the game away that I wanted “Puss Chats” rather than “Mouse Catchers” – I was asking “do they have names”,what do they like to eat” sort of questions – which clearly told her that I was a bit of a softy!! Never mind, as disappointing as it is that “Puss Chat’s in the well”  – or rather “down the pan” it’s all for a reason and the right Chats or Chatons will come along at the right time.

Ironically, ever since our hopes were dashed – our neighbouring “semi wild” cats belonging to the Portuguese lady – have been showing their cute little faces a lot more, and venturing right up to the motor-home – especially at night time when the nose of them scrapping between each other can be added to “Captain Twit-Face” the owl, and the Rooster who doesn’t know he is supposed to stop at night.

White Cat
This one I have nick-named Blanche – all the animals around here have nick names even though I don’t own them!

 

 

 

Happy (Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof)

Happy (Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof)

 

Huge progress has been made since my last blog entry. We got stuck straight into mini house building – with Martin completing the raised deck really quickly and then between us we put up the garden house over a period of a few days. The hardest part was sorting out all the pieces of the jigsaw and deciding which bits to start with. This was made harder than in needed to be as we convinced ourselves that we needed a piece that didn’t actually exist so went through the whole pile of bits to get to the bottom and of course no such bit – a bit of a tense moment – but then the penny dropped and we realised we were looking for something that didn’t exist!! What a relief that was.

The pieces slot together like a puzzle – and actually for the most part was very simple to do. garden hut at the beginning

I loved banging the slats in with my mallet and taking all my stress out of the wood! sharon banging with the mallet 2 The only part that was physically too hard for the two of us to do as I was not strong enough to help Martin lift was the two apex bits of the roof – so Pierre our neighbour came over to help with these whilst I supervised!!

I have to say that the construction of this garden house has made me feel happier than other aspect of this house building project for absolutely ages – so much so that we were compelled to shoot this very silly lip sync video to demonstrate our happiness

Another highlight of the last week was visit from our English friend Thea who came to stay for one night on her way toward Spain in her Bongo called Beryl the Purple Peril. We got to meet her lovely doggie Bertie and showed them both all the sites of VduP, including the Tuesday evening Pool at Café De La Poste. It was really lovely to have her here to stay – we get really excited when people visit us and say how much they love our plot, and our plans – and just “get” what we are trying to achieve here.  We had a lovely evening with her – she introduced me to Ginger Gin and we both very much hope that this will be the first of many visits from her and Bertie.bertie in beryl

Dare I mention Brexit and the stress it is causing us and many other ex-pats who live here? Well, without getting political there are so many things flying around at the moment about whether we will be able to travel with pets, or indeed travel at all for that matter – so we have made the decision to get both dogs under the French Pet Passport scheme – which meant another rabies vaccination and a big bill, and then also we decided that we would start the procedure to exchange our UK Driving Licences for French ones whilst we are still able to do a straight swap. All stuff which we didn’t anticipate having to do quite so quickly and to be honest without Brexit might never have needed to. But needs must – and it feels a bit like we are being pushed to the edge of the parapet at a rate of knots that is quite scary. But we know that if we were to be stuck one side of the channel – it is this side that we want to be stuck!! We love it here, we love our life in France, we love spending time with our new friends, and we love the gateway it provides to the rest of Europe, and talking of parapets – we are prepared to stick our heads well above the parapet and make sure that through whatever madness Brexit brings – our children will still have some choices available to live in a European country that may not be available to others.

It’s hard to not dwell on such negativity – but we do try to remain focussed on what we are doing here in France and as long as we are pushing forward in the right direction that is the most important thing.

Talking of which – we had a major breakthrough this week – not only have we erected our garden house – we now have electricity!! Real, proper – turn on an off ‘able electricity!! Like the old Creature Comforts ad!creature comfortsWhat an amazing thing. Now anyone who has ever done a bit of basic psychology will be able to tell you that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that humans need their basic needs of food, shelter and comfort to be met before they can progress higher up that hierarchy!! Living with no running water for the first 3 months, and 12v battery power only for 8 months had indeed at times made us feel that our basic needs were being somewhat compromised. So of course, the moment that electricity was switched on our moods were immediately elevated to absolute elation!! Oh, what a feeling – it is really quite wonderful to know that we have a little garden house which has electricity and once we get a few bits and pieces out of storage we will have some home comforts (and some heating) and we can hunker down and get cosy in our Little Hygge Hut. heart lamp

Can’t wait to celebrate the completion of the Hygge Hut with a Gin and Tonic Party!

 

N.B Hygge – pronounced Hoo Ga – is a Scandinavian word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality.

 

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!!!

 

When in Rome……or Venice

When in Rome………………or Venice

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

My top tips for visiting Venice would be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

If I had a hammer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Old style religious singing

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

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

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

 

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

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