Are times like these the new normal?

Are times like these the new normal?

Another long gap between entries. It’s because for weeks I had the musings of a blog entry buzzing around in my head – but it was all rather negative – so I was trying to wait for some great news to write about – but came to the realisation that as far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned that might be some time yet.

It’s surreal – we get up every morning – it all seems normal. We look up at the sky – that all seems normal – and very beautiful blue skies and lovely sunny weather it is too. But just when you start to act like normal you get caught in that thought process – actually nothing is normal at all.

Just what is normal about not having the liberty to plan a trip to the UK to visit your family? We are in the 21st Century – we have the modes of transport to allow us to cross continents – for goodness sake some of us can even cross interplanetary boundaries with spaceships. But all because of a virus we cannot now simply book a channel tunnel crossing or hop on a plane and go and see the ones we love the most.

To be fair, we actually could go the UK if we wanted to right now – there is no requirement to quarantine at the moment, and there is also no lock down. But, our only practical means of getting there is to take the dogs and go in the motor-home. Only one person out of our entire family has the space to accommodate us on their driveway – so we would need to book campsites and the ones that we would normally use have bizarrely closed for the entire season – and the ones that are open are either chock-a-block full – or have a “no visiting” policy.

Camping in the Forest sites closed
We simply cannot understand why these sites are closed….there are no toilets or showers in some of them so no cleaning. The jobsworth mentality of some businesses astounds me at times. Meanwhile here in France our friends are up at 0500 to keep their campsite ticking over so we have it here for our tourism in the future. 

Normally we would find campsites close by to where people live and they would visit us at the campsite or we would hop on a bus or train with the dogs and go and visit them. For those of you who live in France you may not fully appreciate the lack of space in the UK – so for context – it is actually quite rare for someone to have space to park an 8-metre motor-home – and some roads you cannot even get down in a large vehicle.

Then there is the issue of meeting up with our family members who have been self-isolating and, in some cases, shielding for months on end. It’s no longer practical to arrange for large family gatherings where groups from different households will all come together under one roof.

So, our trip needs to be sufficiently long enough to enable us to meet up with everyone we want to see separately. And that’s no mean feat to plan. We are hoping that we might get our window of opportunity after the UK summer holidays – but being realistic we are acutely aware that at any time a lock-down or requirement to quarantine could be imposed which would scupper that. We also have the long awaited, much excitement provoking, installation of our heating system to work around.

I’ve dragged my office admin and teaching skills out of the compartment in which they have been long buried – and am putting them to good use – creating spreadsheets with people’s Post Codes and researching the closest campsites and pubs with motor home stopover facilities -and then, are these dog friendly?, do they sell food? and if so – do they do veggie options? etc.  I’ve got a notebook dedicated to it too, and have been setting family members homework to check out the quality of the beer at the suggested stopover points.

Note book
Here we go again!! We already started plans for June which were scuppered – now we are planning again – knowing that anything can change at any moment. But we will not give up trying!!

We’ve become acutely aware of the longevity of time since we last saw some of the people. Martin’s mum has never been out here to visit, and it’s now 17 months since we visited the UK so the same since we saw her. 12 months since I have seen my mum, and the same since we saw Martin’s son’s and grandson.

And in thinking about that cold, stark fact – that is when it hits me and makes me think – this is just not normal. Yes, I know people emigrate to Australia and never see their family again – or maybe just once every five or ten years. And that is the choice they made when they made that move.

But we made a choice to move one measly little country away – over a 25-mile expanse of water. But it might as well have been to Australia now that Flybe went bust and the Southampton to Bergerac flight route has been lost, and all this Covid-19 shit fest!

My mum mentioned the other day the stuff that I left behind in her cupboards – and she said to me – “how come there is a bag of your toiletries and make up here”? And I remembered – that’s the bag that I left behind so if I needed to pop back for a quick visit for any reason (her illness, a problem with the kids – etc.) they I could do so, quickly, cheaply and simply – with just hand baggage – and use those toiletries. It’s remembering that which reminds me that this scenario will not be possible now – the days of spontaneous, impromptu flying visits are gone.

Then I think – well, hopefully this is just for now – surely it will all get better in time? But that is very uncertain too.

I secretly hope that one day soon we will look back on 2020 and say

“wow!! That was some shit – thank goodness it is all over”.

But I fear it might be more like

“2020 – that was the year all this shit started”

and that our lives will still be similar to how they are now. Maybe even more restricted.

We are facing the prospect of having to wear masks all the time outdoors. Parts of France are already having to do this – the number of places is increasing daily. Hopefully here in rural SW France it won’t be necessary – with all this space – but with the tourist season well under way, if I am to be realistic, I need to accept that the day we are told it’s our turn will come at some point.

Masks outside
Will our village be next? We are surrounded by green dots. 

I’m still not sure what scares me more – seeing “gendarmes” at our Saturday markets or the prospect of being blind as my mask steams up my sunglasses as I walk along (I can’t be without sunglasses as I am hypersensitive to sunlight)

Gendarmes at the market
Yes I know I’m a big baby – but I still really can’t get used to seeing armed police in such normal settings as a small village Saturday vegetable market. But they are very friendly!! 

But the reason that humans have survived so far on this planet is our ability to cope with change and to evolve. Our ability to change to suit our environment and to make the best of whatever challenges we are facing will help to carry us through this dilemma – and the next…and the next.

Back in January we had a clear plan as to what order we were going to complete the house in. It’s such a long time ago and that plan has changed so much – I cannot even remember what order we were going to do it in. But that doesn’t matter – because when you are faced with a lock down preventing you getting supplies for one element – you simply focus on what you can get – and continue with that to the best of your ability. Flexibility is key to survival in these circumstances.

List of jobs to be done
Shopping for building materials in France is a challenge to say the least. The shop we get our doors from is an hour and a half each way – and the stuff is never all in stock. 3 trips so far!!! 

One thing we have been quite keen to do with our house build is to source our materials from France where possible, or at least from Europe. We found out the hard (and expensive) way of what might happen if we had stuff from over that 25 mile stretch of water back last year when we had a mad panic to get the TEK panels shipped over before Brexit in case we were clobbered with import duties. Initially we thought we were buying a European product but when a factory closed down the panels were sent from Europe to the UK – then cut there – and then shipped back. Not quite what we had in mind when we set out a vision of a low carbon footprint!!

We also believe firmly in supporting the economy in which we live as that is where our future will be. It makes sense to us to buy as local as possible – from as small scale and personal as shopping for vegetables in our own village – right up to big purchases such as tiles, wood, and such like.

Market shopping
When you can get beautiful veg like this on your doorstep why would you drive nearly an hour to go to a big supermarket? And the eggs are local laid from a lovely lady who rescues hens. 

So, for us – it was never a quick fix of pop back to the UK with a van and pick up a load of cheap paint and maybe a B&Q kitchen – and our search for products which are local where possible, European where not, and represent good value, and staying power – has cost us a lot of time. We are indeed slower than the average house builders that’s for sure.

Our tiles are a perfect example of this. For months and months, we were fixated on Travertine tiles – a lot of the Travertine sold in France comes from Italy and if not there, then Turkey – that was OK as still European. So, we went round loads of suppliers – but for some reason we just were not convinced. We had the occasional glance at ceramic tiles in shops – but I could never decide on whether to go for grey tones – or beige tones. We wanted to do the entire ground floor as one entity so the colour scheme would need to be suitable to blend with living space, bathroom and bedroom. And I couldn’t get my head around needing to go for greyish tones in the bedroom area.

Then we discovered the colour “griege” – as you might expect it is the perfect blend of grey and beige!! The moment I spotted the tiles (that are now in place on our floor) in the shop (that I had been to many times before and somehow missed) I fell in love!! I could instantly see them in our house!! Months and months of time spent in pondering loads of different options with Travertine – to decide in 30 seconds that ceramic tiles were the way to go after all.

Tile order
Every corner of our house has a pile like this

Unfortunately, as is nearly always the way in France – the tiles needed to be ordered in – and although the guy in the shop said 2 weeks – it was in actual fact nearly 2 months before they finally came in. They are Italian – and the Italian’s are even slower at delivering than the French it seems (if that is indeed possible).

I know that two years ago I would have been furious if I had ordered 2.5€K worth of tiles and been told I would have to wait for 2 months to get them. But, such have we already adapted to our new normal in France we accepted the delay with a shrug, and a laugh – it’s just the way it is. “C’est la vie”.

Tiling
We have a long way to go before they are finished but we love them and the wait was worth it

Life in France – and Covid-19 – have taught us the art of patience like nothing else ever before. And flexibility, with a large helping of resilience too!

And we keep focusing on what we have done – rather than what we haven’t. For instance we now have hot water in our bedroom – only a temporary sink which was bought from a Facebook forum – but it will do for now and when we have finished our “proper bathrooms” we will install it in the Garden House which will in time become a little eco-studio to let out on AirBnB and HomeAway and also my Treatment Room.

Hot water in our bedroom
I actually really like this “petite” wash stand – but it’s the wrong colour for both of our bathrooms. 

Another thing that has really helped us both is our Yoga practice and also Reiki. During the lock down period I completed my Reiki Masters Teacher Training and became a Reiki Master – and Martin was my first Reiki Level One student. So now we both have that tool in our boxes to help guide our lives. It really does help us to focus on the here and now, to be in the present moment, and to live our lives kindly and compassionately.

Mandala Beads
Just like my own Reiki Master gave me a Mandala Bead String when I done my Reiki Level One – I got Martin to make his own one which will help him learn the chakras and Reiki precepts. 

So yes, we will have to wait until the time is right (and safe) to return to the UK to visit our family (and collect the items in storage at various family members houses), and in the meantime we just need to adapt to that and embrace the positives about that situation. And of course, we will look forward to getting our treasured possessions – like our wedding present cut glass wine glasses – and I’m sure my mum will be glad to get her cupboard space back.

We are blessed to live in such a time that technology allows us to see each other face to face in the present moment – stuff like Skype and Facebook messenger allow us to celebrate birthdays, have family get-togethers, and even go on “virtual mum and daughter shopping trips “ as I found out the other day.

My daughter Sian is about to embark on an UNPAID NHS placement for 30 weeks (yes, she is a bloody hero – it’s quite one thing to be paid to work in the institution that us Brits hail as our national treasure – but as the poor student nurses have found out – that institution doesn’t quite reciprocate that care to the very people who make it. I’ve had my day of working “with” the NHS – not “for” it thank goodness and have seen first-hand how broken it is becoming) – and she needed to get some new clothes to fit better into their dress code. So off she went to the shops – and she sent me a message on the way back to say she had been very successful, bought loads of things and would I like a video call when she got home so she could show me everything. Yes of course!! I would love that – that’s the next best thing to actually going out shopping with her – and I do so miss the times we would go off to Bournemouth for a girly weekend – for a theatre show, a waffle and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and then endless traipsing around the shops. She said she was stopping off for a coffee on the way back so would call me when home.

So, she video called me and gave me a lovely fashion parade – modelling all the things she had bought – asking my opinion and advice – what would be the best one for her first day, was the white one a bit too much – should she take it back – all the things that a mum and daughter would do on a shopping trip. And of course – me being a mum wanted to treat her to something – so I asked what each item had cost, and made a note of what I thought was her favourite item – and thanks to our brilliant technology – at the same time as chatting away to her I was able to do a quick bank transfer for the cost of the gorgeous Burgundy Blazer and added a couple of quid for her coffee too!! Just like a mum slipping a few notes in her daughter’s pocket when they are out.

Burgundy Blazer
I can’t wait to see her in the Burgundy Blazer

Simple things like that help me to feel that I can still be a “proper mum” to my baby girl (who ain’t a baby no more) in these crazy times.

Healthy cakesMy weekly Skype calls with both kids together are often the highlight of my week – sometimes Sian is busy getting ready for work (she’s a carer so works a lot at weekends – and night’s too) so she will stay on for half hour or so, and then Ryan will stay on chatting for a while afterwards – and we talk about all sorts of things – last week he was giving me some healthy eating tips on how to get more protein in (always difficult for vegetarians and my solution is often to put a pecan nut on top of a cake ha ha) and teaching me a few Japanese words. His trip to Japan probably won’t happen next year now – but instead of moaning about it he is simply saying “well another year will mean I am even better at speaking Japanese”.

I know all (well most if not all) mums are immensely proud of their kids – but I really do burst with pride over both of mine – they are intelligent, caring, polite, and both very resilient. Oh, and clever – both of them – very clever!!

And let’s not forget the dad’s too – I know that Martin misses his boys enormously – and he will probably kill me for saying so – but the only time I have seen tears in his eyes over the past few months was when we realised we were on the one year anniversary point since we both saw them. He’s extremely relieved that they have both remained in work throughout the pandemic and like me, enjoys the video calls to keep in touch. And finding little things that represent a connection when we unpack boxes are enough to bring a smile to his face after the tears].

Tour de France mug
Ironically the day that I found this in a box Adam was also using his one in the UK. It’s now Martin’s favourite mug and in constant use when it’s not being washed up. Simple things really help to keep the connections going. 

So, is this the “new normal?” – does our future now involve keeping family relationships together with modern technology, learning the art of patience to a far greater extent, and acceptance that the universe not only doesn’t revolve around us it is also changing very dramatically and very quickly?

The hardest thing I find to accept is that our plans for the purpose of this house have been put under threat.

Initially we intended to throw everything we had into this building project to create a home that was big enough for us two to live all the time, that for all four of our children would be a holiday home, a safe haven, a place to come to relax, and (hopefully) distant into the future, when we are no longer – a place that they would inherit together that would be a part shared holiday home for them all. A place that over the next 1, 2 or even 3 decades they would have come to enjoy and visit often – a second home to them. We thought that Brexit might shake that plan up a little but over time that would settle down, but now Covid-19 seems to be the biggest threat to that. But there is really little point in worrying about that – as all we can do is life in the present moment and see it for what it is today.

Is this the new normal? I hope not, but if it is – we will all adapt to it – and the most important thing is that we will survive and thrive.

In the words of the Foo Fighter’s excellent (but not well known) track “Normal” (B side of Times Like These).

Normal – Foo Fighters

But I won’t give up when I want it enough
No I won’t give up
Anything, anyway, anyone, anyday
Cause I figured it out
Here and the now takes me day by day

Will you come out tonight
Will you back down, will you put up a fight
Turn me around and make everything right
Make me normal from now on

 

I love the A side of that track too – but even more so I love the Pandemic version which was released by a multi-star cast in April for the BBC Radio 1 Stay Home Live Lounge. It’s worth a watch – even if just to see Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighter’s drummer) playing a Lava Lamp!!

list of people in the Times like these video

 

Pandemic Version of Times like These

 

Material Girl

Material Girl

Rewind to Spring 2018. I spent most of April sorting out our lifelong possessions trying de-clutter in readiness for our new life in France. We wanted to take only stuff that we felt would suit our new house (although we didn’t know what style that house even would be), and also stuff that we really loved.

So, it was a massive de-clutter. An exercise that I remember doing mostly on my own as Martin was first of all, still busy with his job – by this time he was still going in to provide a handover to the poor bugger who was taking over, and then once he left he needed to go “oop North” to get some essential work done on the Motor home – which was to be our home for the next 8-12 months (we thought back then – not realising it would actually be closer to 2 whole years).

I wish I had known more about Maria Kondo back then – I could have done with her system of how to get rid of clutter – but I did what I could – really thinking about the value of each item. And by value I don’t just mean the financial value (although that did come into the equation to some extent as we were paying a lot of money to ship our possessions over to France – they needed to be worth it).

I needed to decide if things had an emotional connection to me – was it a gift from a person who I loved? Orr an item that I had purchased that I found beautiful or useful, and was it going to look right in our house?

Most of the process was done with a great deal of consideration and was well organised. I created inventories of what box each thing was in, and some of the more valuable smaller items were taken to my mother’s house for better safe-keeping rather than run the risk of being damaged. However, as with most house moves – the last few days were disorganised chaos – and some of the boxes at the end were badly packed, not properly labelled and not inventoried. I’m not pointing any fingers – but he who is responsible for the chaos knows he was in the wrong and has been reminded many a time since!!!

Hopefully the ‘motor home weighing police’ are not reading this blog, but I suspect that we travelled down to South West France very much over loaded with a lot of the last-minute stuff that really ought to have gone in the lorry 3 days beforehand – but the chaos prevented.

So, we arrived in South West France 2 and a bit years ago with a basic wardrobe each, and sensible items only – with the rest of our wordly goods having either been sold, given away, or packed away and put into storage.

Over the last year we have brought stuff out of storage – but it’s always been larger bits – a few pieces of furniture to furnish our Garden House that we put up last year, and the seasonal change of clothes. The Christmas decorations box came out in December 2018 and was put back in January 2019, then came out again last Christmas – but by then we had the shell of a house so we kept it out.

But, apart from furniture we have been very disciplined in not getting too much stuff inside the house, as it is still a building site – a work in progress – and to clutter it too much would be madness.

However, with lock down easing and us starting to entertain small groups of friends again. In the UK you are calling this a “bubble” now – well, for us it’s the same thing I suppose – we have our small friend group who we survived lock down through Skype calls with, now we are having real life get togethers.Jam Jar Aperos

 

The first time we hosted the Happy Hour, I had to do ‘Aperos‘ for 8 people in Jam Jars – as all my best china is still in storage – it didn’t matter though – we are all good friends and not concerned about who has matching china – just each other’s company! And Gin!! Of course – always Gin!

But once lock down was lifted and we could go back to storage to start bringing a few bits back to sparsely furnish our new home I was tempted and so allowed myself to bring just 2 boxes of china.

Bearing in mind we have lived without ALL of this stuff for over 2 years. We’ve made do with the very basic equipment that has lived in the motor home – and bought a few more cheap coffee mugs for when we had the builders over. There were a few items that I had actually missed for fleeting moments over that time span – but mostly it was all forgotten.

So, last weekend in the morning we went to get some bits and pieces, and in the afternoon, whilst Martin was out……….. I opened the boxes.

I thought it would take about 20 minutes to go through the boxes and sort out what things would be useful now, and which would be better being re-packed for use later on.

But my heart had different plans. Every item that came out of the box stirred up something in me. Some sort of memory, or a feeling or an emotion.

The salad bowl that I clearly recall buying – I wondered how I had ever had a life in which I thought nothing of spending a ridiculous (crude) amount of money on a bowl to eat salad from. Without any thought to it. Back in the days when it happened we were both working in such well paid jobs that we thought nothing of spending money on a whim – but I do really love the salad bowl still….I just may be too frightened to use it ever ha ha!! It felt as if I was looking back, observing a life that I now feel so disconnected with. I would never dream of (or want to) spend money in that way now. But, back then I would do it without any thought.

Trifle dish now a fruit bowl

Then there was the giant trifle bowl – the memories of Trifle Wars – a game concocted for a charity fundraiser that I organised for Macmillan Cancer Support – all came flooding back. And then of course the “mini” trifle bowls that were actually big enough as giant trifle bowls for most people! My days of trifles are long over – so now it is a bowl for lemons and limes – always in plentiful supply in our house – not just for the gin and tonic – also my ayurvedic “yellow drink” that my darling hubby makes me every morning!

White jug love affair

I laughed at my new cupboard full of milk and cream jugs – all white – all different sizes, and it amused me that we don’t really need them as we don’t drink either milk or cream nowadays, and rarely have gravy either  – but I still love them. I’ll use them for water and remember when an afternoon in M&S would result in spending the equivalent of a week’s wages (in those days term’s – more likely 2 months money in today’s terms).

My little egg cups raised a smile too – just a few days previously I had been thinking I would really love to have boiled eggs for breakfast – but our plastic motor home ones are so big that any other than ostrich eggs would disappear so far down they get stuck so need padding out with paper towel to use. And it’s funny that every time I have boiled eggs that are too small for my egg cups I think of my mother in law -there’s a humorous story in my memory bank somewhere).

Dorchester ashtray

And my little Dorchester Hotel canapes dish – that drunkenly showing off to my work colleagues at a fancy Charity event we were all at I pinched it and then used it as an ashtray for the next few years. That came out too – and stirred up so many emotions and memories – I still remember popping it in my handbag like a trophy, and everyone laughing. I wouldn’t dream of doing it now – but then I wouldn’t be sat in the Dorchester Hotel in a “Joseph Ribkoff” cocktail dress either would I? It will never be used as an ashtray again (those days are long gone for me) – but I think it will be reinstated as an olive dish so I can tell the tale to people who I am sure will be shocked that I was ever “that sort of person”. I’m shocked myself!!

Looking back, I can’t remember when I began to change – when I started to see the life I was living as some sort of a hamster wheel hell – out to work to earn enough money to pay the mortgage on an over-priced house that we used to escape from at every opportunity, earn money to pay for childcare and then for holidays to compensate to my poor kids for the guilty feelings that I had for putting them in childcare – spending a fortune on clothes for work to “fit in” with a corporate crowd of people in a work environment that I never felt at ease in – and then maybe worse – changing jobs to find that the suits I had spent a small fortune on for the old job were of no use to the trendy, casual London office environment and another small fortune to get jeans that had the right rips in the right place on the knees. My this time my Joseph Ribkoff dress didn’t fit me – but it would have been better placed that the expensive suits I had shelled out on for the previous job.

As I say, I don’t know when I STARTED to feel that way – but by the time my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer I was definitely in a place where I really took stock and worked out that no amount of material belongings will ever take the place of a person. And no matter what a person has – they can’t take any of it when they leave this earth. And I learned the hard way – that even working for a cancer charity – when your loyalty is suddenly with your family – those corporate bosses don’t give a flying fig about you. Unable to manage a yo yo life of managing family life, visiting a dying father (and step mother), a house that didn’t clean itself, AND a demanding job that required loads of travelling and being away from home – I chose to put my family first and opted for a huge loss of income and instead of visiting Marks and Spencer to buy more white jugs my trips to there were limited to the little service stations branches to buy Dad the little tubs of Welsh Rarebit that he had a fancy for when he had lost his appetite for everything else.

So, why the strong feelings connected to my material possessions if I am no longer a material girl?

Nowadays, I get so much pleasure out of the connection that an item gives me with a person. Every day I touch and use things that connect me to a person. My Tibetan Singing Bowl that my son Ryan brought me – every morning I use that in my Reiki routine.

Broken spoon

My little ceramic spoons that I use to measure out spices in virtually every evening meal I cook – my daughter Sian bought me those. The other week when one of them dropped to the floor when I was drying up and broke into two pieces – I cried as if my heart would break – as I feel such a strong connection with Sian through the spoon. Luckily Martin knows exactly how my mind works with these sorts of things – so as soon as he got home he made it his priority to carefully glue the pieces together so I have a mended spoon.

Everywhere I look in our house there are things that make me feel a connection to people I love in some way. Even the white Marks and Spencer jugs – connect me to my dad because it reminds me of the Welsh Rarebit.

Recently my Uncle Peter made us a very kind and generous offer for something for our house – he had a spare set of kitchen taps going (as a person does – much like our friend Jan just happened to have that spare staircase in his garage). He asked me if we would like them. I said yes, that would be lovely – it would be wonderful to have something gifted from him in our house – and he joked that if they dripped at night, they would be a constant reminder of him!!

So, after checking that we could overcome the UK to French “differences in opinion of the plumbing systems” Uncle Peter got his neighbour to pop the taps in the post to us.

This is probably the best point to mention that these are no ordinary set of taps – they are in actual fact a very beautiful set of taps by ‘Perrin and Rowe’ – and should we have decided to buy ourselves a set of these we probably wouldn’t be able to afford the kitchen to put them in to.

When a week passed and the parcel had not arrived, I began to feel a bit concerned – the postal situation in both countries is a bit haphazard at the moment – but at this point I was not too worried. I told Uncle Peter they had not arrived he said “you won’t miss the parcel – it’s quite big and bright yellow”.

But when another few days went past I did begin to get really worried. I imagined that maybe a French postal worker somewhere in France was currently the flavour of the month with his wife as he showed her these beautiful shiny new taps that he was about to fit in her kitchen.

As part of my ongoing Reiki practice and training I have been practising the art of ‘manifestation’ – asking the Universe to grant you something for your highest and greatest good. Ordinarily I would not ask for anything material in this way as I feel uncomfortable with that – but in these circumstances it felt OK to be asking that the taps arrived safely. I sat on my mat, as I do, having a bit of a conversation – part in my head and part out loud, asking the Universe to make sure that the taps would arrive safely to me, that I wouldn’t want to begrudge the said French Postal Worker of the chance to impress his wife with his findings, but that I really wanted these taps so that I would have something tangible to connect me with my Uncle. Now, there’s a long story that could be told here – but I will say the short version. I’ve not seen my Uncle for many years – family fall outs when I was much much younger meant that “if she didn’t see him, then I didn’t seem him either”. So, it has only been in recent months that we have re-kindled our family relationship. And he’s been very poorly and in hospital, and with the lock down situation being so crazy I really don’t know when I will get to see him, so all of this suddenly became really important.

So there I was – asking for the taps to arrive safely – making sure the Universe realised I wasn’t being selfish or greedy (they are REALLY good quality and very indulgent taps) but it is the connection with my Uncle that is important. All my Dad’s side of that older generation have now gone – even the in laws on that side with my Uncle George only just recently dying – so all I have left of that generation now is my mother and my Uncle Peter. And being a sensitive and sentimental little soul as I am – that is all so important to me.

So….later that day – just after lunch – Martin was out for the day and I was here alone. I suddenly saw the little yellow post van – ordinarily the Post Lady turns round at the bottom of our track and pops the letters in the box…but this day she drove up the track.

I ran out the house excitedly saying “le grand jeune packet”“oui” she said – opening the back of her van. And out it came – bright yellow!!

Le grand jeune packet

“Ooh la la” I said. It’s funny as it doesn’t take long living in France before we started saying this!

She probably thought I was a little mad as I was clearly very excited. I said “merci, merci” about a hundred times to her. She said “votre maison is tres jolie”. They all love it – the police when they came the other week said the same.

So, there I was with the parcel – feeling very excited and grateful that they had arrived. As I opened the parcel I was like a kid on my birthday.

Perrin and Rowe box

I couldn’t wait to open the taps up, and then tell Martin they had come, and then straight away phone Uncle Peter. He was laughing at me recalling how I had been saying that the taps should come to me, that they were not for someone else – like a mantra – and he said it reminded him of when I was a little girl – charging around chanting “November the 28th” when anyone asked me my birthday. And that’s just how I felt – like a little kid who had been given the best present ever. But still, not excited over the acquisition of a lovely material item – but excited and thrilled that I have the taps that are going to remind me on my Uncle Peter every time I use them – even if they do drip at night (which I hope they don’t as we sleep on the mezzanine directly over the kitchen area!!

Taps in the right place but not plumbed in

Obviously we won’t put them in our temporary kitchen –  but hopefully it won’t be too long before the taps are fitted into our permanent kitchen. We have made some progress in this direction. Our recent tile shopping trip was successful and I managed to find the perfect tiles within about 30 seconds of being in the shop – quite how I couldn’t find them on our previous trip to the same shop remains a mystery – perhaps I was looking for something different back then. But this time it was very easy. We have 103 square metres of them on order – or at least we thing they are on order – it’s always hard to tell in France – we are going to phone them up on Monday to make sure.

Now the tiles are chosen the rest is finally coming together. We have decided on a smart black shower to go with the black slate shower tray. We’ve also overcome the issue we had with the toilet being in the wrong place by 1cm!!

We’ve found doors we like – all we need to do now is work out how to order them.

Sea view camping spot

And, after 2 days solid in IKEA in Bordeaux (yes seriously – two days – we stayed overnight at the docks in the motor home with our favourite “mock sea view apartment outlook”, I finally decided ten minutes after getting home that I don’t want the grey kitchen anymore – I want black instead – but no matter – we had not ordered anything so again, we now just need to navigate our way around the ordering system.

So, it seems that whether I like it or not – at the moment I am very much a material girl – there is so much needing to be ordered – and so much money to spend. But I am hoping that because we are taking such a long time in making the decisions we will only be making though purchases once – no mistakes – we can’t afford to.

The life we have chosen for ourselves is hopefully in the long term going to be one that is very simple. It’s not been particularly simple to get to this point, but we hope that our investment in a house that is so well insulated the fuel bills should be tiny will mean that our outgoings will be so small that our modest income will be more than enough – and we can live the life of the fisherman in the Fisherman’s Tale – a Buddhist story that was the catalyst for this change in lifestyle – the point when we decided to stop chasing our tails trying to earn enough to support a lifestyle that we didn’t enjoy to the extent that we needed even more money to try to escape it at weekends.

The Fisherman’s Tale

One summer, many years ago, a banker was vacationing in a small village on the coast. He saw a fisherman in a small boat by the pier with a handful of fish that he had just caught. The business man asked him how long it took him to catch the fish, and the man said he was out on the water for only a couple of hours.

“So why didn’t you stay out there longer to catch more fish?” asked the businessman.

The fisherman said he catches just enough to feed his family every day, and then he comes back.

“But it’s only 2pm! said the banker. “What do you do with the rest of your time?”.

The fisherman smiled and said “Well, I sleep late every day, then fish a little, go home, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, then stroll into the village each evening with my wife, relax, play the guitar with our friends, laugh and sing late into the night. I have a full and wonderful life”.

The banker scoffed at the young man. “Well, I’m a businessman from New York! Let me tell you what you should do instead of wasting your life like this! You should catch more fish to sell to others, and then buy a bigger boat with the money you make so you can catch even more fish!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

The banker’s eyes got all big as he enthusiastically explained. “You can then buy a whole fleet of fishing boats, run a business, and make a ton of money!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman again, and the banker threw his hands in the air and said “You’d be worth a million! You can then leave this small town, move to the city, and manage your enterprise from there!”

“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman. “Fifteen to twenty years” replied the banker.

“And then what?”

The banker laughed and said “That’s the best part. You can then sell your business, move to a small village, sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take naps in the afternoon, go for an evening stroll with your wife after dinner, relax, sing, and play guitar with your friends. You would have a full and wonderful life!”

The fisherman smiled at the banker, quietly gathered his catch, and walked away.

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

 

 

 

Living in a box

Living in a box

Our house building project is just like putting a huge jigsaw puzzle together. All parts are necessary for the finished item, and each part slots together with the others.

However, as all the parts are coming from different trades people and companies it is not always a smooth process.

Much of our time is taken up trying to solve puzzles – and work out the solutions to problems.

For example, the small matter of our colour scheme for our house. We want our overall internal colour scheme to be oak coloured wood with clean white or cream painted plaster walls – nice and simple. We have had the issue of windows to consider for ages. Most new build houses in France will go for aluminium frames – light weight, and maintenance free. We can see why people would choose it; however, we didn’t want the modern look of metal on the exterior and really, really wanted wood.

The next best thing would be ‘alu/bois’ – metal on the outside but wood inside. We went with this option for ages – but then eventually realised that because French windows and doors always open inwards, each time our doors or windows were open, we would be bringing metal into our interior décor and we really want wood. So, we made a final decision on wood inside and outside and have stuck with that.

The next consideration was the shade of wood to choose. In an ideal world we would have had natural oak, but we are already at the limits of our budget and we had to decide on a mid-range price – so the wood decided on was ‘Bois Exotique’ – which is good quality, very hard wearing – but unfortunately a reddish tone. This was not really what we wanted for our overall colour, but as with most things we are willing to compromise. So, we had settled on the medium colour stain on that wood and were due to go for a ‘rendezvous’ with the window guy early in November to finalise our choices. But we received a phone call saying they were still waiting on some samples and needed to delay. They said that their manufacture was actually working on a process that would change the colour of the ‘Bois Exotique’ so we would have some other colours to chose from.

Window colour match

Suddenly it seemed that all the recent delays were turning out to be very fortuitous as we might get a colour closer to what we really wan. Sure enough, after two visits (the first one they had a good colour but it was a little too yellow) we were really pleased, and very impressed to see that they had come up with a perfect colour!! We were aiming for the colour of our existing oak furniture and as you can see from the picture – they have achieved it!! So, as I say – all those delays have paid off!! What a patient, considerate and professional ‘artisan’ he is to be going to all that trouble to help us achieve what we really want. I honestly cannot imagine going to an English double glazing company and having the same service.

 

Even so, it sometimes seems as if we take two steps forward and one step back. One of those times was last week when our scheduled electrician/plumber visited us, not with a quote for the underfloor heating as we were hoping for, but to inform us that due to health problems he is unable to do our work for us. That was one of those moments when we honestly felt as if the world was slipping away from under our feet. But, a multitude of phone calls and chats later, we have realised that, with some help from a number of people, we can in fact do the electrical and the plumbing work ourselves (as long as we have it signed off by a Certified Electrician). So, the silver lining there is that we will save money, and probably some time as well as we can work to our own timescale instead of waiting for the French tradesmen to return back to work after the Christmas break. It hopefully won’t be too long now before we are no longer living in this little 17 m² box and we can go back to enjoying it as a holiday vehicle.

Meanwhile, the puss chats have been making themselves very much at home. It’s been getting colder though, so we were getting a bit worried about how well they would fare outside – we are certain they do not sleep in the ruin. They go there to get their dry food from the automatic feeder – but they do not hang around there – most probably as this was the area they were held captive in their early days with us.

First of all, we set up a little cardboard box shelter under the table on the Garden House terrace. After all, my daughter Sian spent the night in a cardboard box as part of her fundraising venture (more about that in a minute). But, with a few really cold nights we worried that they would be too cold, so we bought a really cute little cat house.

Puss chats in the box

 

To begin with they were just really suspicious – possibly thinking it was a trap – but after we dismantled it and took the plastic flaps off the front – leaving an open door – they have taken to it and now have their own little Cat Shack!! Beats “Living in a box” I’m sure.

 

 

 

 

 

So, back to the cardboard box that Sian spent the night in.

She is one in a million my daughter – she really is. Most 20 (approaching 21) year old people I know would want to spend their birthday weekend on the town – getting drunk and partying. But Sian decided to take part in a fundraising event called the Big Sleep Easy. This involves making a tent out of cardboard boxes and spending the night in it.

Sharon in a box

 

Martin and I undertook this challenge in 2015 so we know how hard it is – and we of course had each other to snuggle up to even though I woke up at 0600 to the sensation of a man trying to move my feet out of a puddle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Sian was on her own. She said she shivered so much she was awake all night. What a way to spend your birthday weekend!! She really is a very selfless person, and I am very proud of her. If you did want to pop on to her fundraising page to find out more it is here

Sian in a box.jpg

Sometimes the decisions we have to make because we are living over here – away from our family in the UK – can be quite difficult. And the decision to not return to the UK for Sian’s 21st Birthday was one of those tough ones to make. But, at the time she was beginning to make plans for how to spend her birthday we were still thinking the UK could be crashing out of the EU with no deal in place – so we could not risk going back with the dogs and getting stuck over there with the house build – so we decided that Sian would come out in December for a late birthday and an early Christmas – and by the time Brexit didn’t happen she had already made her plans so we stuck with the plan to not go back.

Which again – turned out to be a bit of a silver lining as I ended up having a hospital appointment on her birthday – and long, story short – will need another procedure under General Anaesthetic – but the surgeon agreed that this could wait until after Christmas. I seem to have been injured or unwell more often that fit and healthy since coming to France – but I suspect that it is my age and not anything to do with living in France. The French health care system takes a much more “let’s get it done” approach that the UK’s “let’s wait and see” approach I feel. Which I have mixed feelings about – but that’s mostly as I am so scared of General Anaesthetics.

So, my baby girl turned 21 without me being there to see it happen, and indeed I can’t believe that 21 years have passed since she was a teeny-weeny little bubba with cute little fat rolls on her back which made her look like a Sharpei puppy. She may now be officially an adult – but she will always be my baby to me. That’s the thing about being a mum.

Sian birthday collage

She has brought a smile to my face every single one of those days, and made me really proud so many times.

One of those proud times popped up on my Facebook memories recently – when she was awarded the Livvy Brooker Award at her senior school. That was the year that she lost her friend Livvy to cancer, and then she lost her step-dad to Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and her 11 year old cousin had his cancer return as well. All that to deal with on top of losing her grandad and her step-nan to cancer just over a year before. Her school recognised what she was facing and presented her this award for Courage, Determination and Endeavour. I was so proud of her that night – I thought my heart would burst.

Livvy Brooker award certificate

I am truly blessed with two wonderful adult children (yes, my son Ryan has as many amazing attributes as Sian does – but it’s her special time at her the moment) and I do miss them so much. But, the beauty of modern technology means that we can keep in touch by messenger and video calls. It’s not quite the same – but it sure beats the methods on offer to me when I was travelling in my early twenties and away from home (letters by snail mail, saving up my pennies to make the odd phone call to my mother, and posting parcels of photo albums home so she could see the places I had been to). These days it’s almost like being together when you can do a Facebook video call. 

I can’t wait until we have a proper house here and even though it seems like we have waited forever, I still find it hard to believe that it will finally start to be assembled this week – with luck on Thursday which will be my birthday – and that would be the most wonderful birthday present in the world. It will still be like living in a box for some time though before it becomes a fully liveable home. But at least the next stage will be fun choosing interior décor and a new kitchen and bathroom.

Houses peeping through the trees

The next time I do a blog there might just be another house peeking out from behind some of these tall trees up on the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t give in without a fight

Don’t give in without a fight

As always, it’s been an eventful week or so. The builders have been here most days continuing with the foundations work and the base that our house will go on to is now a huge slab. A few days to dry off and it will make a lovely dance floor!

Termite protected slab

It’s been fascinating to watch and we are loving the opportunity to see our house from the very beginning – we will have intimate knowledge of every nook and cranny from the bottom up.

Metal rods and concrete bricks

Everyone visiting has commented on how neat the brick work is, which is something we have also been very, very impressed with. When you consider that this is just the foundations and the pointing will not even be on show when the area around the base is filled back in. We obviously have made a good choice for our ‘maçonnerie’ (BRONDEL Freres). Although there has been a little bit of apparent bickering between him and our electrician/plumber – neither of whom have wanted to take responsibility for drilling the holes for the water and electricity pipes. This has been ongoing for a few weeks now and on Wednesday morning I said in no uncertain terms “this has got to be resolved”. And, lo and behold, it was, and a slightly miffed looking electrician/plumber skulked off saying reluctantly he would do it. It always amuses me to see any French people having a discussion as you never can tell if they are having a full-blown argument or just getting really passionate. But, I don’t think either of them realised how lucky they are that I didn’t fully get involved in the discussion as I certainly was not going to be giving up without a fight – there is absolutely no point in having a foundation slab built and then a house on top of it if we are not going to have any water or electricity so I was not going to let that one drop.

Matt up the split tree #2

The acacia that has given me so many sleepless nights of late was also not giving up without a fight. The tree in question was in close proximity to our Garden House and split suddenly a few weeks ago – the branch that split fell over in the direction of the Garden House but lodged itself in the branches of a tree just behind the “ugly ivy tree”. This was NOT my favourite tree, although it was the one that my hammock hung from this summer – but I was not keen on it – too much ivy, meaning too many insects and bugs lurking around.

South West France has had its fair share of awful weather the past few weeks, as has all of Europe, and we had 3 nights in a row with torrential rain, and thunder storms. Each night I would awaken to the sound of the thunder claps and then lay awake for hours expecting in the next thunderbolt to also hear the tell-tale crack of a huge branch crashing down on to the Garden House. Living in a 17 square metre motor-home with the luxury of another 17 square metres in the form of a Garden House does mean that we tend to hold a lot of reliance on both of our living spaces remaining intact for at least a little while longer, so it was very nerve wracking.

 

However, we were recommended a Tree Surgeon called Matt, and he came on Wednesday and expertly took down an acacia which had the potential to interfere with the house when it’s erected, and also dealt with the tricky split acacia. As you will see from the little video clip (click here to play) the acacia did not want to give in without a fight. Matt’s plan was to drop the “ugly ivy tree” (which I wanted down anyway) onto the split branch and bring it down. But, although the “ugly ivy tree” when felled did crash onto the split branch it just bounced back and stayed put. Next plan was to lop one of the other acacias which could have stayed for a while but we were going to get rid of in the longer term. So that one also was felled and attempted to knock the split branch…but again it stayed put. We joked and said that even with a thunder storm every night for 10 years it probably would have stayed put. But, with so much at stake we just could not have taken the chance.

 

Matt now had the split branch at the perfect angle to just chop and drop – straight through a gap – no damage to the garden house or to the ruin. He obviously really knows his stuff and it was very impressive and enjoyable to watch him at work.

 

Zoe puss chat was nowhere to be seen all morning on Wednesday, but Zena was prowling around with her permanent scowl on her face. She is definitely too nosey for her own good as when one of the last trees came down, she ran in the wrong direction and literally ran under a falling tree. I’m actually really glad I did not capture this on film as I don’t think my heart could have taken it. This is one of the perils I suppose of having semi-feral cats (hmmmm…. not sure how semi-feral they are – I’m still convinced they will be indoors before the year is out) but we just can’t catch them and keep them indoors for their own safety. But, all’s well that ends well and Zena used one of her many lives but clearly not the last one! And Zoe has been sighted since so she obviously wasn’t snoozing under a tree…. but after seeing her last night UP a tree we are now wondering if she thinks she is a lynx?

Zoe thinks she is a lynx

Talking of fights, and not giving up without one. We have been trying to avoid watching Brexit too much as it’s just downright depressing, but we were really pleased to see so many people representing our views on our behalf at the People’s March in London on 19th October. I honestly can’t thank those people enough for marching in protest against Brexit and to protect our rights.

I’ve felt many times over the past 18 months since moving out here that many people don’t understand what our rights are! Well, the way I see it is:

Our rights to be treated fairly as British Citizens who have paid our National Insurance from the age of 16 on the understanding that we would be looked after from the “Cradle to the Grave”.

Our rights to exercise our choice to transfer those rights to another European country and live out the remainder of our days living a life that we have dreamed of during our working life.

Our right to make personal sacrifices to enable those lifestyle choices without being used as pawns in what has become a vicious and callous game for extremists who have no idea what they are fighting for other than to have “won” and career politicians who are only interested in personal gain.

Our right to be treated AS FAVOURABLY as EU citizens in the UK not LESS FAVOURABLY (shame on you Britain – you once again show no back bone in your policies – are the UK migrants living in the EU now your way of meeting the welfare deficit?)

Our right to NOT BE FORGOTTEN!!!

Although those marchers were strangers to us, they were showing the UK, Europe and the whole World that we are not going to give in without a fight…even though it often feels that even some of our family and friends prefer to choose to pretend that this nightmare isn’t happening as they don’t want to feel uncomfortable by acknowledging it.

I hope that we are not part of the next Windrush Generation…it feels as if we might be if people leave us out in the cold.

Once again, I turn to musical lyrics to express my feelings, and this time the words of “Hey You” by Pink Floyd – (click here to play track) sum it up well for me.

 

“Hey You” – Pink Floyd

“Hey you

Out there in the cold, getting lonely, getting old

Can you feel me?

Hey you

Standing in the aisles with itchy feet and fading smiles

Can you feel me?

Hey you

Don’t help them to bury the light

Don’t give in without a fight”

 

So, I ask you…. any of you who might be reading this. If you are in the UK and have family or friends in Europe – don’t leave them out in the cold…. (getting lonely, getting old) – please help them fight that fight. No matter what your political views are, whether you support Brexit or not, none of us deserve to have our rights stripped away – please do what you can – whether that is to lobby your MP, or just simply listen to your family member or friend when they tell you they are worried, instead of dismissing their fears and just telling them it will all be alright. Our fight is real, and it is very scary at times.

But….we won’t give up without having that fight

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Tangled Tapestry of Life

The Tattered Tapestry of Life

Funny how life just cannot be simply placed into boxes isn’t it? Our plans have felt in limbo of late – as we await the outcome of the Brexit process – not really knowing how we will be affected by it until the exit from the EU finally happens – or not as the case may be.

It’s been an uncomfortable feeling to say the least, and very difficult to keep pushing forwards – when we don’t really know what direction forwards is.

This was very clearly illustrated during our recent visit back to the UK. It was my son’s 25th birthday a week before Brexit and my mum’s birthday the week after. So, we needed to make the difficult decision to plan our travel back to France before the Brexit day came – just in case the travel chaos predicted did indeed ensue, and also just to be doubly sure that if there was any requirement to be resident in France before that day we would definitely be here!! So, tough decisions – visit for Ryan’s birthday but not mum’s birthday or Mother’s Day – but we could not run the risk.

Once back in the UK we done the rounds – visiting family. Of course, every conversation started with “how are your house plans going” and the standard response right now is “yeah, good thanks…. apart from Brexit”. And then the inevitable “why? What difference will it make?” and the necessity to explain how we were still unsure if we can remain in France – as there had been no clarity about changes in residency rules etc. And also, sometimes that mere statement was met with “oh no, not Brexit – we don’t want to hear any more about Brexit” which of course is ever so slightly an understatement where we are concerned as “yes please – we too would NEVER EVER want to talk about Brexit EVER again thank you very much”.

Tangled Tapestry of Life

But such is Tattered Tapestry of Life that every thing is interwoven and each strand of our life seems right now to be firmly attached to that blasted Brexit!! Decisions are hard to make – do we spend any more money – or do we wait? Could we bear to live in the motor-home another year and wait and see – or would that just push us over the edge? On one hand our life in France might seem idyllic, but turn that tapestry over and you’ll see on the other side – the frayed edges, the bits that aren’t quite coming together – the messy bits.

It was hard to be back in the UK and not become very involved in the political side of things. The tension was tangible in every situation. I’m not an overly political person unless it’s something that I feel very strongly about. I got very fired up and passionate when Margaret Thatcher was running for Prime Minister although I was only 13 at the time – because I thought it was fantastic that we could be having a female leader of the country. I also became a Poll Tax Protester in 1990 when I felt totally outraged at the introduction of the Community Charge especially as our private landlord still wanted to charge us rates so we were paying twice. I rebelled, went on the march and refused to pay, then got fined, and refused to pay the fine….in fact I went right up to the stage where I received a court summons in 1993 and being pregnant with my first child decided that I did not want to run the risk of a 60-day prison sentence so reluctantly paid it. And now, of course I feel very passionately about what is happening to the country of my birth, no longer my home but still full of people that I love and I fear for their futures as well as our own. So afraid of my own deep feelings of upset that I will display passion and anger far easier than tears – as I fear that if the tears start, they won’t stop – so I become very vocal in my frustrations and just want to do whatever I can to make people realise what this sorry situation is doing to our lives. I’m really proud of some of the stuff that myself and a few hundred other people were able to achieve through the power of social media – we lobbied, and petitioned, and generally made nuisances of ourselves – but raised awareness within Parliament and got them to listen.

Guido FawkesPoor Margaret who created the petition received death threats and had to shut down her social media accounts, so we offer support and friendship to this amazing woman who stuck her neck above the parapet for us all when she pops up periodically incognito in our Facebook group. She’s braver than me as I had the opportunity to give a newspaper article but lost my nerve as I was getting enough “hate” as it was just from my small-scale socialmedia protesting.

 

 

 

Before we had left for the UK Martin and I had a fun hour or so at the camp-site with our friends Beatrice and Bruno, having a cup of tea, admiring their lovely refurbished restaurant and generally talking about all sorts of things. I was actually saying to them about how I was a bit of a rebel in my younger years and we were having a bit of a giggle about the time when me and my brother used his Walkie Talkies to plant high up in a tree across the road from our house, then as unsuspecting passers by were walking past we would make the tree “talk”. It was so funny to watch people looking around as we said “hello” and then “I’m the talking tree”. Beatrice told us that in French they have the same toy Walkie Talkie – but they call them “Talkie Walkies” which made us all chuckle, and ponder if that might be because the French talk more than walk – or walk more than talk – but it’s actually because the words don’t really translate properly – can you imagine a toy called “Parlez Marche” – not quite the same ring is it?

plat du joub

We also had a giggle at the new sign they were making for the Brasserie – there were not enough letters in the pack to complete the words so they were doctoring some of the letters – to hilarious effect!! I told Bruno I would look forward very much to my Plat du Joub!! In all honestly though I am looking forward to going there for a Plat du Jour as they are adding a vegan option to their menu which will be fantastic!!

So, it’s good that in between the stress and the worry we can still have a laugh and a giggle and enjoy our lovely life in France. We have made, and continue to make lovely friends out here – of all nationalities – French, Belgium, Dutch, American, Canadian, Australian and English. All of which are totally understanding of our current dilemma and sympathetic – although probably (like us to be honest) wondering what on earth is going on with British politics.

We had a few lovely days playing tourist on the way back down towards home – stopping off at one of our favourite places – St Vallery sur Somme – it’s always so good to be by the sea and blow the cobwebs out. We spotted this super cute little mini farm consisting of a sheep and some chickens which actually brought on a few tears for me as it’s all I have ever dreamed off – to have a few animals to look after and have our own little mini farm – so I really hope that these dreams can still be realised.mini farm

When we got back Mademoiselle Postie had visited and there was lots of mail to open. My new T-shirt which sums up how I feel about life right now, the next stage of Martin’s health care card, my driving licence application rejected due to Brexit – grrrr, and some fantastic news – our Planning Consent for our house – much quicker that expected!! So, that is very exciting and gives us hope that we can move this project into the next stage. T-shirt

March 29th came and went without the dreaded Brexit, with a new possible date of 12th April looming. So, we will be watching any movement in the House of Commons this coming week, and following my new heroes John Bercow and Donald Tusk with interest, and keeping everything crossed that the outcomes will be favourable towards us.

Message to The DoctorOn a just in case basis I did feel it may be appropriate to ask the Universe for a little extra help in the form of The Doctor – well I can hope, can’t I?

Put it in perspective

Put it in perspective

It’s been three weeks since my last entry and I have to say that having our little garden house has made a world of difference to our quality of living standards.

Who would think that living in a shed could be so satisfying? If you had sat me down a year ago and told me that I would be nothing short of ecstatic to have a shed to live in during the daytime I would probably have told you that you are mad!! Or sworn!! Or probably both to be honest.

Indeed, I am sure that there are people who are amongst our group of family, friends and acquaintances, both this side and the other side of the English Channel, who must think that we are a bit strange for being so pleased. And there have been a few quizzical looks, and some slightly sarcastic sounding comments about shed parties, but we have just ignored that and been content in our happy little bubble!

Of course, it is all down to perspective isn’t it?

When you are living in a lovely house somewhere, and someone says to you “here you are – a 17m² shed – put some furniture in it and away you go” well, I suppose that idea isn’t very appealing really. But when you have been living in a cramped, increasingly untidier motor home – suddenly the prospect of doubling your living space overnight is a very exciting prospect indeed!! And as such we have been treating our new space just like home – making it a cosy little space, adding some little touches – putting proper spot lights up, buying a bed settee, and most important of all – creating a Gin Den!!

Now, I’m a bit of a light weight where it comes to drinking alcohol as I don’t drink regularly or often (which yes I know is strange in France) so when I do it tends to go straight to my head. Especially with the large measures which are often poured by friends (my mind is now thinking back to the time when Bernard poured me a G&T which I am convinced was not Gin at all – probably rocket fuel – and was at the very least a quadruple measure – and hey ho!! I was pissed before 4.30pm in the afternoon).

But I digress from the Gin Den……

So, I am partial to a nice G&T and like the boutique gins that are widely available in the UK but no so much in France – so I have been collecting bottles – but not using them up – and when I finally got around to putting all the gin bottles in one place – I counted up no fewer than 13 bottles of different brands of Gin!! I just need an excuse for a party now to get some help in drinking them. gin den

Which leads to a dilemma – we now have a little space in which to entertain – which is exciting – but of course we don’t really have toilet facilities for guests. Back in the Autumn we did attempt to erect a toilet tent for when we had a large gathering – but reports back stated it was not a particularly pleasant experience. So, we are mulling this one over as to how we can overcome this – as being a sociable butterfly I really do want to start offering some return invitations to all the people who have been so kind and generous in inviting us over for coffees, meals, over night stays, shower use, washing machine use and so on.

Anyone who has ever been in a caravan or motor home will instantly understand why these toilet facilities are not suitable to offer up for guests. But, for those of you who are not sure…I might expand on this in more detail one day – but for now, please just know that what goes in has to be emptied out by my dear husband. And as much as he loves all our friends – he doesn’t want to know what you had for dinner last night…if you catch my drift. So, if anyone has any ideas for installing a civilised toilet system as an en-suite to a garden room, but without a sewerage system in place – answers on a post card please.

On the house planning side of things not much has happened of late – we are still waiting for some reports to come back before we can submit the house plans. We have had some site plans sent over for us to review but we were not happy with the perspective that the position of the house gave us. So, we’ve had a bit of too-ing and fro-ing between us and the architect. From his perspective he needs to get our house in the plot with the best orientation to utilise the solar power and also to be able to turn cars around without the need to reverse (apparently that’s a French thing) but from our perspective we (especially me) need to satisfy ourselves that we will get the view that we want from our bed – without cricking our neck!! So, we have been out on the land – looking this way and that way – gauging the necessary angle to get the right perspective!! Hopefully we will get there soon, in the grand scheme of things it is better to spend a bit of extra time to get the right result. .

As Duffy says “It’s been a long and uphill journey…getting to where I am today…..it’s been real tough and I’m still learning, that working hard’s the only way ….Put it in Perspective”

Click here to play Put it in Perspective

We have both been busy, me with painting the garden room with wood treatment as we are very keen to get the wood protected before the weather changes for the better – as it is in a very sunny spot so would not take long to get sun damaged if we don’t treat it – so that’s a must for finishing soon.

Martin has had the interesting task of starting to clear out the ruin in preparation for our fur family to get bigger. We are hoping to adopt a couple of barn cats which will be semi-wild and can live in the sheltered part of the ruin. But first, there is about 100 years’ worth of rubbish to remove – and that’s not just the load of old stuff my dad and step-mum put in there – there is disintegrated render which is just powder, rotten tree trunks, mulchy leaves, tiles, stones, bricks…. you name it – we have it. Oh, and cobwebs that are straight out of Arachnophobia III……. shudder! pile of rubble in ruin

It has been all I can bear to stand gingerly by the door and watch poor Martin shovel up spade after spade of shit into a wheelbarrow and then go through the painstaking task of sorting it out into piles of tiles, stones and then rubbish. wheelbarrow

We are keeping the stones as we hope to use them in the dry-stone walling around the edge of the raised terrace of our house, and we think the tiles might make a nice mosaic path somewhere – not sure where yet – but it will definitely need to be a mosaic as the majority of them are broken.

It would appear that dad placed old cupboards on top of the really old rubble before putting their carefully wrapped bundles of belongings on top of that, so the stuff underneath is really, really old. Martin became quite preoccupied with the question “I wonder where the owner’s poop is” as he was shovelling the stuff up. There’s no sign of a bathroom anywhere – but we think we may have sussed out where the original cooking area might have been. Martin also discovered hanging from a beam a tiny, very old key! We have no idea what it’s for – it’s not either of the doors.

Old key

It’s all very exciting as it unfolds, but also very poignant think that my dad’s dreams ended here in this ruin. At some point in time they packaged up their belongings to store here – knowing he was very ill, but at that time not realising they would NEVER return here to complete their dreams. There are really well packaged and labelled up parcels of stuff – which as of yet I have not been in the right frame of mind to even start unpeeling to reveal the contents – but that will come – soon, I think. But there are also piles and piles of damaged items – bags that have begun to decompose once exposed to the sunlight and boxes crushed under the weight of the floor that collapsed in when at some point a huge tree trunk fell straight through the roof!!tree through ruin roof

 

So much stuff damaged – and to think that this was once their life.

The saddest image for me was the sight of dad’s old brown working shoes peeking through a damaged black bin bag.shoe

His shoes that he would have packed away – hoping to return soon to pick up where he left off. And that breaks my heart in some ways, but equally I know that Martin and I would not be living our life here in this way if his dream had not come to an end. So I suppose, again, it all depends on which perspective you look at this from – is it the sad tragedy – or is it the amazing opportunity!!

I know which perspective I prefer to look from.

 

 

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!!!