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

 

 

Our House (in the middle of our street)

Our House (in the middle of our street)

 

The builders returned last Monday – thank goodness – I was getting worried that they had been put off coming due to the lack of biscuits!! Despite me promising Philippe that I would keep them well stocked up with biscuits, and sending Martin out whilst I was in hospital to get supplies of biscuits, it had come to my attention that not only had Martin NOT actually given them biscuits, he had also EATEN ALL OF THE BISCUITS that he had bought. I was not impressed “no wonder they didn’t come last week” I snarled at him. “You’re obviously feeling better” Martin said “you’ll getting all grumpy again”.

Monday building

But the builders did turn up on Monday morning – and done a great day’s work on Monday despite no biscuits, and the wall of the concrete foundations soon started to take shape.

 

 

Anyway, we went off shopping on Monday afternoon and stocked up on biscuits – which I told Martin he was NOT TO EAT!

Tuesday buildingOn Tuesday morning it was hammering down with rain – I said to Martin “I bet they won’t come today – it’s awful weather – and no biscuits yesterday either – they must think we are awful”. Anyway, they did turn up and Martin made them all coffee with a lovely plate of biscuits in the morning and again in the afternoon – hopefully they will forgive us now!! Joking aside – they are a lovely bunch of young guys. I commented to Philippe when he came to check things out about how friendly and pleasant, they are. He seemed very surprised and said “of course they are – they have to be”. I said it’s not always the case sadly. Poor guys though – it rained all day from the moment they arrived to just after they packed up for the day – then the sun came out and it was a lovely evening. By the end of the day on Wednesday the external wall was nearly complete – it’s fascinating to see it now – you can get a much better idea of the size of the space we will have.

Watch this little video in which I give a guided tour of our foundations including Luka’s epic fail in leaping into the abyss.

Puss chats drive the manitou

 

On Thursday Philippe came over with his little manitou (digger) that he had agreed to lend us so that on Friday we could use it to manoeuvre the large TEK panels when they are delivered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The delivery of the TEK panels has been a bit of a sore point for us. In an ideal world we would have had these delivered to our site the day before Tom our builder is ready to put them up and build our house for us. Part of the appeal of having a TEK panel house was the absence of construction materials in situ, which for a small site like ours really was a strong appeal.

However, good old Brexit put a spanner in the works for us in that department. Although the timber used is European, it goes to the UK to be cut in a factory there. Once upon a time there was a factory in Europe but that closed down. So, the cut panels are shipped out from the UK.

With Boris so hell bent on crashing out of the EU with a No Deal the risk for us was that if we left it until after Brexit to ship them out, we might incur Export charges (which don’t exist now but might do in the case of a No Deal) and maybe even Import charges as well. Something like a 20% tax which was not budgeted for would have completely ruined us – so we simply could not run the risk of that happening. So, we had to make the decision to have the TEK panels shipped out earlier than necessary.

 

Truck 2So, the rather large lorry arrived on Friday with it’s very important cargo. It was absolutely torrential rain all morning. I wasn’t feeling great but tried by best for a while to show willing and watch the lorry struggle to get up our track (it couldn’t) and to offer words of encouragement to the driver, and to Martin, Tom and Denis – who between them done about 13 loads on the little Manitou! Watch the video of Denis delivering the TEK panels.

By this time, I had retreated to the Garden House to dry my hair. Perhaps revenge for me skiving off, but when I picked up the towel that had been hanging on my bamboo ladder for a while a huge spider literally leapt off it!! I thank my lucky stars that it leapt off before I wiped my face and hair with it as I am certain I would have had a heart attack.

Our House in the middle of our streetBy lunch time our house (well at least part of it – there is more to come soon) was in situ on our land.

 

 

 

 

 

When people tell us we are worrying too much, or unnecessarily about Brexit I have to say I find it rather condescending as they have NO CONCEPT WHATSOEVER of what the prospect of a massive Export Charge might do to a build budget and neither do they have to live with their house, on it’s side, laying in the middle of their land. No longer can we park our motor-home where we used to, and no longer can we walk round to our compost heap without crawling over a pile of rocks.

However, we are thrilled to bits to have our house here! Albeit laying on its side looking rather strange!! It’s a visual reminder and reassurance that we are getting closer and closer all the time to realising our dreams.

Like the Madness song that I loved so much when I was young, and dreams of moving to France, and semi retiring were light years away

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

This house is built on a foundation of love

This house is built on a foundation of love

 

“This house is built

On a foundation of love

This house is built

On a foundation of love

Our toys are in the attic baby

Pictures on the wall

We can see our memories

From the days past in the mirror

Down the hall, oh yeah

Our love will survive in our own little paradise

So inspired, so inspired

Palatial it may not be

But it’s a home and a castle to me

A dream from a magazine

And we’ll never give it up ‘cause

This house is built

On a foundation of love

This house is built

On a foundation of love”

Diana Ross

To hear the track click here

This past two weeks has seen the long awaiting start of our building work – and what an exciting time it is. We’ve now been living in the motor-home for 17 months with the exception of a few short periods of respite when we have done house sits. And to be honest, sometimes it has felt that it’s taken it’s toll.

We’ve stretched our relationship to it’s limits in our 17 square metres, and yes, there have been some humdingers of arguments, usually over silly stuff because we are quite simply on top of each other.

But we’ve got through all that, and now, more than ever, I know why. It’s because we have a rock-solid foundation of love that we are building our life upon.

And in all the time we have been together, at no other time in our relationship have I seen that more apparently than in the past 3 weeks. My wonderful husband has helped me get back to fighting fit through the start of the illness (when we thought it was a tummy bug) then through the operation, and now the ongoing recovery at home.

Being ill in a motor-home is not easy. This will have been the third bout of vomiting illness that I have had since living in the van and I can honestly say this presents challenges that living in a normal house does not. For one, as anyone who has ever used a chemical toilet will tell you, you really don’t want sick going into that compartment. Even worse if it were to go down the sink into the waste water container. So, it’s  buckets for the top end, whilst perched on the loo for the bottom end!! Not nice, and all within a tiny space, with very little privacy. And my darling husband comforted me all the way through it, attending to every little thing that I needed.

We were travelling home from the holiday the day it started – and the journey that should have taken just over an hour took 5 hours as I kept needing to stop to get the bucket – and he did not moan once…just rubbed my back and done everything he could to make me comfortable.

Doggos in the car parkDuring my short stay in hospital he came in to keep me company as much as he could, and even brought the dogs in so when I was back on my feet I could meet up with them in the car-park to give them a cuddle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, during the early days post hospital discharge….when my body was trying to get itself back to normal. Because I rarely take any medication as I prefer to use natural remedies where possible it means I am very sensitive to everything, so any drugs that go into my body really do wreak havoc. This meant that the pain killers and the anaesthetic stopped my bowels working, the gas they pumped me up with gave me the most awful tummy pain.

And then, it all started moving in the right direction, but of course my body wasn’t moving how it should be. So, every part of what I would describe as my normal activities of daily living – were buggered.  I needed so much help, and I really hate asking for help, but my lovely husband just done whatever was needed – in such a lovely way, with lots of laughs along the way. I completely trust Martin to look after me, he would never say or do anything to make me feel bad for any of the things that I needed him to help me with. Poor bloke never expected to have to shave my legs, but that’s only the half of it! But no-one will ever hear about any of that from him as he is just not the sort of person to make someone feel small when they are already feeling vulnerable.

My problems post-op  had initially been general weakness, and a complete inability to bend to pick things up and reach the lower half of my body (because the incisions were right across my stomach making bending really hard). But once my staples came out that improved quickly and Wednesday was my first day able to do my shower all by myself and I was very proud!!

Dutch ovenI like to be in control of my health, and also have worked as a health information specialist, so I feel confident to use reliable web sources to look up symptoms and side effects of medications (but I know where to look to avoid getting the horror stories)  I honestly had some fascinating Google searches including finding out that “It is possible to kill someone with farts” (read article here ) and that a “Dutch oven” is the act of pulling the bed covers over someone and farting!! Who knew???

 

 

 

 

I’m back on cooking duties now too. Luckily, I only fancied very bland food in the early days, because Martin is not the best of cooks (he is the first to admit that – this is not me being mean), but he managed to get me fed every day whilst I couldn’t cook, and he washed up. But I’m glad that I am back to cooking as we can start having some more adventurous food again.

Prior to me being ill we had been discussing our diet, and had started to consider eating fish again, probably just when out, for a number of reasons. We both, but me in particular, struggle to get enough protein in without overdoing the carbs, and that’s had a derogatory effect on my weight. I had put on 2 stone since moving to France – and not all caused by the ‘Pain au Raisin’ (although I suspect they played a very bit part). When eating out, often the only option is pizza and it just makes me feel heavy and sluggish, all that cheese and ALL THOSE CALORIES! So, we considered that fish might be a good way of getting some lean protein in our diet without overloading the carbs. Fish was the last thing we stopped eating, so it’s only a few years since eating it. It probably seems strange to some people that we make a decision on what to eat together – because of course – if Martin wanted to eat meat he can do so; I don’t tell him what he can and can’t eat. But we have tended to change our diets over the years together. For one, it makes it easier – we don’t have to worry about two lots of cooking. So, we tend to discuss any changes for ages and ages before finally reaching a decision, and this time these discussions included what type of fish we would eat (aiming for fewer animal lives lost per meal so big fish like cod) and whether we would eat fish at home or just when out, or round at friend’s houses. Would we eat it when we just fancied it, or only when there was no other option? It’s fair to say we were still struggling with this decision when I became ill.

Fish and ChipsWe had eaten fish once whilst on holiday – cod and chips at a campsite – and really enjoyed it, so we knew there would be no “yuk” factor, but still wondering if we should find other ways and stick to being vegetarian. I was also feeling that I needed to be looking at my diet as a whole, feeling heavy and sluggish for ages, carrying an extra 2 stone, no chance of ever running again on my knackered knee, especially being so heavy.

Anyway, when I became ill, I really reflected on this and came to the conclusion that I need to look after my own health needs first and foremost, and if that means eating fish then that’s what it means. I was having a chat with a family member about it, and she said “What will you be called if you don’t eat fish” …..Martin and I replied in unision “SHARON”.  In that moment I think we both realised that we are fed up with the labels……we’ve had a hard time about being vegetarian for ages now, and of course to the “vegans of the world” we are the worst kind – far, far worse than meat eaters. So, I made a conscious decision there and then – I left ALL the vegan groups I had been in, with the exception of one “veganish” group. France is just not like the UK – you can’t pop to the shops and get a vegan wrap made from some “fake meat” for lunch – it’s all about plant based food – which means carbs after carbs after carbs which for me – with my apple shaped – is diabetes just waiting to happen.

So…fish is back on the menu!! On occasion, not every day, and probably only when we are out. Or not!! It will be what it will be. And I’m still just called “Sharon”. Not “Sharon the vegetarian”, or “Sharon the pescatarian”, or “Sharon the vegan”. Just Sharon…..maybe “Sharon the animal lover”….that’s a label I don’t mind at all.

So, back to the building work. The cement was poured into the trenches a week ago last Friday and has now set. The builders were due back on Thursday, but one of them is off sick so they will resume work on Monday (we hope).  My main concern was that whilst the cement was still wet, on of our four fur babies would fall in, and maybe not get out again. The doggos were easy to prevent this happening to, as we just keep them close to us when we take them out for a walk. But the puss chats were more of a worry as they are free roaming. So each morning I was checking to make sure there was no cat shaped impression in the trenches. Thankfully they managed to avoid that. But we had to laugh, when yesterday a cat appeared at the Garden House.  Zoe was already there – as soon as she hears us she appears – she either wants food or a neck rub (no way is that cat semi feral – she’ll be in our house before we are I reckon) but this other cat looked familiar – it was the shape and size of Zena, the scowl on the face looked like Zena, and the characteristic movements were of Zena – but it was the wrong colour!! Much too grey for Zena!

Zena the statue catCloser inspection revealed that it was indeed Zena – totally covered in what looked like cement dust!! A ghostly apparition!! Goodness knows what she’s been up to – but we saw her again today and she appears back to her normal colour and no harm done – she must have sheltered from the rain as I would imagine if she had got wet she would now be a statue.

 

 

 

 

 

We were due to have an appointment with the ‘menuisier’ to make a final decision on the shade of wood we want for our windows and doors. However, by some fortuitous stroke of luck the appointment was postponed until 8th November – the reason being is that they didn’t get the samples to show us. And the reason for that is that the supplier is trialling a stain that will make the ‘bois exotique’ appear closer to a natural oak colour! So, it’s fantastic that we may be able to have that colour option available to us, as if we had the budget our first choice would have been natural oak – but at 30% extra cost for that on an already huge bill, the cost was too prohibitive.

The ‘bardage’ (cladding) will be larch which we can stain to any shade, but we will probably stick with quite light and close to oak. So, our windows will hopefully be a similar shade. This will be quite unique in France as the French seem to really love their contrasts. But our house will be unique in all aspects anyway.

We’ve managed to pin down Bertrand who is doing our plumbing and electrics and that all seems to be going in the right direction.  He has a friend who does underfloor heating so we hope to get a quote from him for that  soon. One of the things I am most looking forward to in our house is that Luka and Lillie will have a lovely warm floor to lay on. They loved the underfloor heating at our house sits in Limeuil. And after nearly 2 years in the motor-home they will be very deserving of that.

 

CulotteI’ve been spending my convalescence period doing some really constructive preparation for a new venture that I am helping lovely Beatrice from the camping site with. We are setting up a French/English Conversation Group, once a fortnight on Sunday afternoons. I’ve been busy preparing some activities – one of which is flash cards with pictures of body parts the French word – I needed to get the English words to go alongside the French. I had such a giggle when I looked up the English word for ,’culotte’ which should have been pants, or knickers – but it came up as ‘cheeky’. Very appropriate for the sweet little pair of knickers on the Flash card.

It’s keeping me busy and occupied which is great for distraction for the final remnants of pain that are lingering around, and I’ve now been able to stop taking pain killers which is great. My tummy is still a bit sore, but I have to say, I feel that some of this at least is self-inflicted – for my tummy has been getting fatter and fatter for the last year, so I think that the surgeon probably had to cut through quite a lot of fat to get to my appendix, so I am sure the healing time takes a bit longer in that situation.

A pound of fatSo, I have vowed to lose the weight that I have gained since moving to France. I’m half a stone down already, and no matter how long it takes I will get the rest off as it really is no fun being a fat, fifty something year old woman. I’ve always been an emotional eater (stems from a traumatic childhood where meal times were overly dramatic, and food was always an issue) so I have some “issues” to overcome, but I am taking a mindful approach to eating, and starting to see my body as something that needs healthy fuel to help it work, rather than a garbage bin to fill up with anything edible that is put in front of it.

Martin certainly isn’t complaining – he always loves whatever is put in front of him, and even though every dinner is now being served up with a side order of greens, I think he’s just glad that I am back on track and back in the kitchen!!

Eat your greens.jpg
Eat your Greens

If there is a silver lining to my spell of illness (and there always is a silver lining isn’t there) it is that I’ve slowed down so much that I am really noticing everything around me, and taking the time to be present in the moment instead of charging around at a rapid rate of knots. And, it’s really lovely to see, as if from a new pair of eyes, how beautiful our surroundings are, and appreciate how lucky we are, to be alive and living in this lovely place with each other, and to be laying those foundations, together, which will last forever.