Have your cake and eat it too

When we lived in the UK, we participated in many monthly health awareness raising events. Partly because my (last) job was a Cancer Information Specialist working within the Library Service – so was aware of just about every health campaign that exists. In fact, it was during one of these that I ended up becoming vegan for a year or so. I took part in Veganuary in January 2017 – but found it very hard so resorted back to eating a bit of cheese, but then dabbled with veganism for the following year or so, before moving out to France and finding that I really struggled without all the “meat replacements” that are readily available in the UK (I can eat Quorn but this doesn’t seem to have made it to France yet, but not Seitan which is available, and can only tolerate small amounts of Tofu). So, I conceded that sticking with vegetarian was the way to go henceforth. At least I tried!!

This year Martin and I done our usual January detox in which we attempt to recover from the excesses of Christmas. It’s funny how we always say we will “treat ourselves” by eating cakes, chocolate and our body weight in cheese, but then we end up feeling really ill afterwards – fat, bloated and in my case awful skin rashes. It’s hardly “treating” ourselves.

We aimed to cut out alcohol, meat and fish, wheat, dairy and sugar. Loosely following Carol Vorderman’s Detox for Life.

We managed the alcohol part absolutely no problem at all – neither of us drink much anymore, and obviously being vegetarian the meat was not a problem, we had only been eating occasional fish, so that didn’t bother us either. The wheat was not too bad – I have discovered red lentil and chickpea pasta which I love – and it doesn’t bloat me out like regular pasta does. But I could not manage to stop eating my favourite bread.

However, dairy was a big problem – out of all the dairy products it is only cheese and yogurt that I can manage to eat. I am lactose intolerant – and they both have some of the lactose removed in the process. I heave at the mere thought of drinking cow’s milk – I cannot stand the stuff, and as much as I like cream, any more than a tablespoon really upsets my tummy.

But I love cheese – all types – so I didn’t manage to cut back on this at all.

However, the really big shock was mine (and Martin’s) complete inability to cut back on sugar!

It seems that the bad habits of the past few years of Pain au Raisin, cookies and cakes (both at friends’ houses and also since I was lucky enough to get a fantastic Kenwood Food Mixer, I have been venturing into cake making myself) have crept up on us and we realised we were both suffering from quite bad sugar addictions.

Having a family history of Type 2 Diabetes (Mum and Uncle Peter were both borderline and managed well through diet alone) and knowing damn well that when I lived in the UK my blood glucose levels were high up within the pre-diabetes brackets – I know only too well that I can’t afford to let this become too much of a problem. I’ve been in denial for the past few years – struggling with weight gain – mostly around my tummy – all the classic signs of insulin resistance – middle aged spread, daily headaches, carb withdrawals, grumpiness after eating carb heavy meals, carb cravings, constantly hungry.

On top of all these things I am trying to eradicate Helicobacter Pylori and the resulting gastritis and sugar is a big no, no for this, and hyperglycaemia increases the risk of cancer in people with H Pylori – so in short, sugar will stop me clearing it – AND if I don’t clear it sugar will increase my chances of gastric cancer.

And, apparently Covid-19 raises your blood glucose – so if you have issues with high blood glucose and were to catch Covid-19 then this could be an issue.

Martin also acknowledged that he had a big problem with sugar too – not with weight gain – he’s as skinny as a pogo stick but he finds it impossible to say no to sweet things and cake, and he also gets very grumpy after eating sugary things – often resulting in the two of us having silly arguments just because we were having sugar crashes!!

So, we decided that we would both participate in Sugar Free February – a national campaign that in the UK is organised by Cancer Research UK. We decided that we would both do it as it’s easier to resist temptation if we are both saying no to sweet treats.

Martin is the one with a sweeter tooth than me – I will only eat it if it’s there and put in front of me – whereas Martin will go out of this way to seek out cakes!! So, it was only fair that I at least tried to make some sugar free cakes and treats. I also planned all our meals to include foods with naturally occurring sugars to help him cope with his sugar cravings.

In the aftermath of our “not very successful” January detox and the lead up to Sugar Free February – we discussed my “pre-diabetes” and decided it would be a good idea to get a Blood Glucose Monitor Testing Kit. One of the big challenges for me living in France is not really knowing how I can get routine health checks conducted – and I am a bit fearful that if I have some blood tests done to check for diabetes my readings will be high enough that the (over exuberant at times) French doctors will simply put me on metformin  and then it will be a vicious circle of being on a drug that makes you fat, and a condition that gets worse when you are fat. I’m much keener to manage any health issues with diet than medication having watched family members being prescribed drug after drug to the extent that no-one really knew which ones were for the issue and which ones were for the side effects.

So, we embarked on Sugar Free February in very good spirits. On the second day I had an awful headache which I know from experience would be a sugar withdrawal headache – this was explained to me very well by a wonderful GP that I had in the UK – she drew me a chart once which I still have!!

It explained how, even though I was sticking strictly to a diet throughout the week because when the weekend arrived and I “treated myself” my body wasn’t able to get into fat burning mode and my sugar levels were all over the place – lots of sugar over the weekend and then no sugar from Monday – by Wednesday I would have a sugar withdrawal headache. Even though I understood this – I could never quite manage to grasp the concept of having to stick to a healthy eating plan ALL OF THE TIME!!

Once my Blood Sugar monitor arrived it all suddenly became quite serious – my initial results were very high – way into the pre-diabetes range which meant that although it started out as a light hearted month long restraining from sugar it now seems like more of a long- term thing.

Reassuringly, after a few days I noticed the readings coming down – and soon they settled into mostly the normal range with the occasional higher reading in the morning – which I have since learnt is referred to as the Dawn Phenomenon the strange occurrence where even though you go to bed with a low reading and don’t eat during the night – your body still continues to make blood glucose and in turn insulin and if your body is funny (like mine) it doesn’t know what to do with it so it raises the blood sugar level.

There have been so many benefits to giving up sugar – it has quite simply been life changing and I am so happy about it!!

Firstly, I am so reassured to know that I can get my readings into a normal range – this means I am less scared of catching Covid-19. The issue with Covid-19 and high blood glucose is that if I were to have un-stable high blood pressure, and then caught Covid-19 which raises it even further then the result could be catastrophic – that’s not a risk I am willing to take when there is something I can do about it.

Secondly, and possibly the most life-changing aspect is no more headaches!! I have gone from having daily headaches – every single day of my life I would have a fuzzy head – which on at least 2 days a week would be a full-blown thumping head that would make me feel sick, light sensitive, and very, very tired – ALL GONE!!!! I have had 3 headaches to date since stopping eating sugar! One (already mentioned) on the 2nd day as the sugar left my body. One on a day when I ate too many carbs the day before. One on a day when I had a bit of a cold threatening to take hold. But all of these have been much less severe!! I am so happy.

I also have much less fuzzy head, much more clarity……

the line from Fergie’s song Big Girls Don’t Cry

keeps going round my head

“Clarity…..peace…….serenity”

It’s amazing!! I feel lighter – like a huge weight is lifted from my shoulders. My brain feels sharper! I feel happier!

My weight has changed – I’ve been struggling so much with my weight since peri-menopause and have been in full menopause for 7 years now – and despite my best efforts I struggle to lose even a tiny bit of weight and if I did lose it – any “misdemeanour” would result in putting twice as much back on. I’ve lost 5 kilos so far and have been eating really well. Not starving myself at all. But eating different things. Obviously, all added sugar is out – that was the whole point of Sugar Free February – but also, I have cut back on carbs significantly. Not to the extremes of a keto diet (I’ve been there, done that and it’s brutal) but really focusing on keeping my carb intake to no more than 35% of my daily diet and a maximum of 125gms of carbs a day. It’s been hard as I have needed to track the carbs on an app (I use Cronometer) which is time consuming and a bit tedious – but it won’t be forever, just until I find the magic number that keeps my blood glucose stable, my weight going in the right direction, but also a sustainable diet that I can enjoy and stick to.

There is no way I can follow a diet of lettuce leaves – this girl likes her food!! In fact, I like all aspects of food – shopping for it, preparing it, and cooking it. Cooking is one of my biggest and most enjoyable past times – I show love towards people by cooking for them – and I simply cannot imagine eating the same old boring stuff every day. So, this is a major consideration to take into account.

Because my weight has gone down my BMI has dropped too – and I’m now in a much heathier range. Still overweight but closer to normal than I was. For the record I don’t much like the terminology used for BMI but it is what it is – and it’s as good a tool as any to measure if my body size is going up or down. My concern was that with a BMI of over 28 I was at increased risk of Covid-19 but now it is lower and that is quite reassuring.

The nicest thing about the weight loss is that it is fat in the right places that is going. Martin rolled over the other morning for a cuddle and said “it’s feels nice – it’s less of a splodge” I know most women would punch him for that – but that’s Martin!! My body fat percentage has also dropped – it’s still quite high but at least it is moving in the right direction.

Talking of Martin – he’s happy – he’s still getting cake – although I keep threatening to cut the supply if he won’t cut back on how many peanuts he is eating!!

He’s working so hard on the house that there is no way I could deny him his cake – I fear he would mutiny if I did, down tools and go on strike!

So, I’ve been using my Kenwood Mixer to knock up some recipes that I have found on the Internet.

One of my Knit and Knatter ladies is on a Keto diet so I thought it would be nice to make some keto cakes to take round for that so that she could have something. But unfortunately, the combination of coconut flour and artificial sweetener is not to everyone’s taste so it seemed a pointless task.

But using the principles of Keto – I have tweaked a few recipes and come up with a few sweet treats that Martin really likes, and I can still eat in small quantities so we can enjoy an afternoon tea together – sometimes in the form of a picnic on one of our Sunday afternoon drives to one of the stunningly beautiful surrounding areas we are blessed with around here.

So, we are having our cake and eating it – so to speak. And very glad that we are able to do this. It’s about balance, I guess. Some people will see a 5kg weight loss in six weeks as not very much – but for me it’s about all aspects – a healthy diet, varied food, making sure that I get ALL the nutrients that I need it, and keeping my sweet toothed husband happy (so he keeps on working).

I’ve heard a lot said about Meghan and Harry in the last few days – some of which is along the lines of she wanted her cake and to eat it too – that she should have known what she was marrying in to, that she couldn’t expect her life to be normal etc.

I’ve watched the trolls out in force on the social media, the comments on news reports, people’s posts on Facebook and once again I am shocked by the hostility that people can feel towards someone they have never met, do not know apart from what the (racist) UK Tabloids allow them to see.

Being in France and not having “normal” TV just yet (we only have Netflix and the Internet) I have not yet seen the full interview – but I have seen online the short clips from it – the salient points – and I honestly think I’m watching a different interview to that of some of the people who hate her so much.

I see a couple who are clearly in love, and in support of each other. I see two people who are guarded about what they say, knowing how damaging it could be – but equally wanting to speak their truth.

I’m a blogger – I know how sometimes people don’t really understand why I would want my “dirty laundry” aired in public – and I know WHY I feel compelled to share aspects of my life that maybe some would consider too private. I can’t pretend to know why Harry and Meghan did the interview, but I would hazard a guess that it was for similar reasons to me.

I do it because I have a story to tell, a voice that needs to be heard, and in a world where people don’t always take the time to find out why we are who we are, why we behave the way we do, I would prefer that my story is told by me, myself and I – and no-one else.

I think Harry and Meghan did try to speak their truth quietly and privately – but when their cries for help were not heard, with the UK Gutter Press and public turned against them – they probably felt they had no other options.

We all have our story to be heard, we all have our challenges that we need people to understand.

Yes, the Queen is a remarkable woman who has devoted her life for nearly 70 years to the United Kingdom and 15 of the Commonwealth realms. But that doesn’t mean that every unfortunate woman (or man) who marries into the Royal Family will find it easy to fit in. It’s not as if they (the Royal Family – the House of Windsor – The Firm – The Institution – call it what you may) make it easy is it? Diana was never accepted, Camilla was initially outright rejected, Fergie wasn’t liked.

Meghan pointed out that palace employees will lie to cover up things to protect some members of the Royal Family – but failed to protect her.

I’ve seen it written that Meghan is out to destroy the Royal Family with her lies! Not so, you only have to look at Prince Philips’ track record (he pursued the Queen when he was 18 and she was 13 – in today’s standards that would make national news as grooming). He doesn’t need Meghan to run him down – there are a multitude of his misdemeanours over the years on the Internet including terrible misogyny and racism.

It seems like people will see the side of the story that they want to see. Based on their own feelings about the person, also how they are influenced by other people in their life, by the newspapers they read, the news channel they watch. Those who don’t like Meghan will probably never see it from her point of view even if it is blindingly obvious to someone else.

All I know is, Harry lost his mother at 12 years old. In a “normal” family there is no way on earth that a 12-year-old child would be made to walk behind his mother’s coffin with the lights of the cameras from the worldwide press flashing all around him, with more people that he had ever seen in his entire life watching from the side-lines, and knowing that the world watch watching through their TV screens.

Harry has seen reports about his mother suffering bulimia through her unhappiness with her life in the Royal Family

Harry has read reports that his “ginger hair” is an indicator that Charles is not his father – and then we wonder why he would be unhappy with an issue being made about his baby’s skin colour? Meghan is an American woman. In American it is a huge issue to discuss the race of a child – culturally that alone explains why she would be so offended. And please, anyone who might suggest that if she comes to live in the UK she must adopt those ways – that in itself is racism….can you not see that? Failure to accept a person’s cultural background is racism. A person moving to another country must accept that things might be different but that doesn’t happen overnight and things that are an inherent part of their make-up don’t just dissipate on the plane over. We know that from moving to France. We will always be British. We were raised British. We accept the cultural differences in France but sometimes those differences bewilder us. We understand that because we have lived in another country. People who never live in another country to that in which they are born really should not pretend to try to understand how it is for someone who is trying to do just that – let alone do it in the most famous of Royal Families.

Sadly, Archie and the new baby girl will be able to access and read FOREVER all the horrible things that have been written about them and their parents before they were EVEN BORN

And maybe even worse – the people writing these awful comments about Meghan – don’t they realise that Meghan won’t read this – but their own families will. So, if they have a family member who ever felt suicidal that person will know just who they cannot go to for support!!!

So, back to Harry. A family that inflicts that on a child can’t have their “cake and eat it” – you can’t have it both ways. If you cause that level of distress to a child then how can you expect them to not have mental health issues further down the line???? And it is shocking that Meghan was not given access to appropriate Mental Health support. Suicidal thoughts need professional intervention, not a little chat with your new brother and sister-in-law who clearly have got a better grasp on the stiff upper lip that is required for their life – lucky them!!!

Maybe this is the Royal Family’s karma?

Maybe this scandal will be the force for change that is needed?

Maybe finally the Royal Family will realise that without resorting back to incest (yes as recently as up until the first World War they were all marrying their cousins) the only way for them to procreate will be to welcome new partners with open arms – no matter what their skin colour, their nationality and to help and support them in understanding the role they must play

I have to say, I quite agree with Hilary Mantel who likened the royal family to pandas

“expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment”

“But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at” he wrote later in 2013. “Some people find them endearing, some pity them for their precarious situation, everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage”.

Harry has found his escape. He would have gone quietly I am sure, if he had been allowed to by the British Press. In the absence of any human decency from the press he done the only thing he could do.

He stuck up for himself, and his wife – who he clearly loves – against bullies.

I admire him. I would want my husband to do the same. Who wouldn’t?

November the 28th

November the 28th

“November the 28th…..November the 28th” – that’s what little 3-year-old me used to charge around chanting whenever anyone asked me when my birthday was.

We ran a Bed and Breakfast (Chambre D’Hote to our French friends) – well, actually my mum helped my nan to run hers after her and my dad split up and my grandad had died. So, there was lots of guests asking little me that question. It’s one of my favourite childhood memories – growing up being reminded of how cute I was chanting those words, and also “pretend talking” into the old, black telephone hand set – not properly able to speak but making all the right noises.

I used to gabble away quite happily to myself

I’ve touched on the fact before that we have a bit of a disjointed family – over the years there were some feuds which resulted in my mum and my uncle not speaking to each other for a long time. But back in August 2019 I got in touch with him (thanks to good old Facebook) – and we kept in contact since then. One of the first things he said to me that as he approached 70, realising the clock is ticking away, he regretted the missed years with me and Steve (my brother) and he hoped that we might meet up on a happier note. And, of course he said he remembered me running around Nan’s bungalow on the eve of my birthday singing November the 28th and thought it was really cute.

We clicked straight away, and had some lovely messages between each other for a few months, and then out of blue – on my birthday – November the 28th – Uncle Peter phoned me up as a surprise! It made my day – it was so lovely to speak to the Uncle that I had not seen since my late teens – and barely knew. After that first phone call we kept in touch regularly – he loved reading this blog, and of course because he had been a house builder through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, he was always so interested in how the house building was coming on. And always very helpful and supportive.

One evening I was chatting away to him saying we had no idea how we were going to get the plaster board up on the high ceiling, and said that we had been told there was a tool you could get to help hold it up, but we had no idea what it was called, what it looked like, and didn’t have enough French to work it out. We were chatting away and suddenly he said he had searched for the tool, told me what it was in English (Plasterboard Fixers) and in French (Fixateurs de Plaques de Plater) and then I was able to find it on Amazon France.

He just knew the answers to all those little niggly questions. Time after time I would say we were worried about how long everything was taking – and he only ever said positive, supportive things – like how hard Martin is working, and how good it all looks – he loved getting photos from me about the various stages.

For a few months we were having a couple of phone calls a month, with messages in between, and we were hoping to get over to the UK in June 2020 and finally meet up with him.

But in Feb Uncle Peter went down with a nasty illness which lingered for some time, and meant that he wasn’t as able to have the long phone calls quite so often. He used to tease me that I talked so much that even just listening to me exhausted him. We went to once a month phone calls which I really looked forward to and enjoyed so much. He was so easy to talk to, always really positive and encouraging.

Of course, by now we were all going through the pandemic and travel plans became doubtful, and very sadly we missed the window of opportunity to return to the UK to visit. We used to talk about how lovely it would be when we could finally meet up, and we could see each other again, and meet his wife Linda, and his three children – my cousins – 2 of which I have never met, and the other one, not since she was a little girl.

I wrote in a previous blog about his incredible generosity in sending us out the fabulous taps, which are going to take pride of place when we finally have our kitchen in place.

I am so glad and grateful to have those taps now.

Uncle Peter was ill in March but didn’t say anything – I had a hunch something was wrong so phoned and Linda said he was in hospital. I sent him a card and a little bar of chocolate and you honestly would have thought I had sent him the Crown Jewels – he was so pleased. Another time I came across a typed transcription of a letter that my Great Grandma (his nan) had written so I sent it to him and it made him so happy. It was so lovely doing little things like that for him – he was really a lovely, lovely uncle.

We both felt sad that Martin and I were unable to make it back to his 70th birthday party in August – but accepted that the Covid-19 situation made travel too risky and hoped and believed that we would get more chances later on.

November the 28th came around again – and Uncle Peter had sent me a humorous card, which when I opened it up – out popped three packets of seeds – 2 poppies and 1 sunflowers – with a note saying we hope you might have space for a small Dorset garden. What a lovely idea!

He sent me a message on the morning of my birthday

I used to say to him that he was my favourite Uncle – to which he would laugh and say “I’m your only Uncle” – but I did actually have Uncles on my Dad’s side. To be honest though – if I’d had a million Uncles, he would still be my favourite – we just clicked!

Then on the evening of my birthday we spoke on the phone – we had a lovely chat and I told him all about my crazy lockdown birthday – and we had a laugh and a joke.

Mid December I had few messages but he had gone very quiet, which I noticed – but knowing that everyone was really feeling low about Christmas in lockdown – we were feeling that ourselves – so I was not overly concerned.

On Christmas Day morning – we took the dogs out early and as we walked past the church, I felt compelled to go in and light a candle.

When we checked the time of this photo we realised that my visit to the church was the same time that he was dying

At the time I was not sure why. Then further on during the walk, I said to Martin “I’m worried about Uncle Peter – I think he is ill and maybe not saying anything as he never wants to worry people”. Martin asked if I was going to phone him, but I said – not phone as it’s Christmas Day and I don’t know what plans they have – but I will send a message later on.

Which I did – that evening I sent a simple Christmas message and within seconds the phone went – I answered Happy Christmas thinking it would be him phoning rather than messaging (he was not a big fan of messages) but it was Linda – with the devastating news that Uncle Peter had died that morning!

The lovely Uncle that I had become so fond of, now I will never get to meet up with him again. All I could say was that I am so, so, sorry for all of them, and sad for me, and then sat stunned.

The last month has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster – I had to tell my mum that her brother had died, and my brother, that his uncle had died – neither of them had been in contact with him at all – so there were all the emotions that go along with that. But there have been so many positives too – getting in contact with my cousins – family that I never had in my life up until now. Me and mum have finally come to realise (I think her – certainly me) that life is too short and unpredictable to keep having falling outs between each other. I feel closer to her and my brother Steve as a result of this and that can only be a good thing.

This is the 6th death I have experienced since the start of the first lockdown. One friend’s daughter’s child (born at 24 weeks – did not survive), a friend’s partner to suicide, my Uncle George (my dad’s sister’s husband), my dad’s 92-year-old friend, my cousin in Wales, and now my Uncle. 6 funerals under the most bizarre circumstances – all causing way more suffering that necessary, and all in some way indirectly caused by COVID-19 – but only one of them had actually had COVID-19.

When will this pandemic end? I can’t help feeling angry at people who are being selfish – as surely, if people had done what was necessary at the beginning back in March 2020 then it would all be over by now? Yet all we see is people having what appear to be unnecessary trips. I suppose the trouble is, everyone thinks that their reasons for travel are important and valid. All I know is this – Martin and I made lots of sacrifices last year and it has resulted in me losing the opportunity to see my Uncle who I now will never be able to see, but also I haven’t seen my son since December 2019, or my daughter since March 2020, my mum since July 2019….the list goes on. We made those sacrifices whilst others didn’t (and still are not) and it is hard sometimes to not feel that we wish we had been a bit more self-centred.

I’m so grateful that I have some wonderful friends here in France. Usually, I reach out and lean on people when I need a bit of help, but when I am really, really upset I withdraw and go into my own little bubble and avoid people. My two lovely knit and knatter friends noticed that I was struggling and have been wonderful – it is hard to reach out to people when you are usually the one who tries to help others when they are feeling down.  But they saw through the excuses and persevered and have helped me spring back.

It was my Uncle’s funeral on 20th January, and obviously I could not travel back to the UK for it. So, me and Martin followed the Order of Service as best as we could to the timings, we thought that they would be. We read the bible readings, listened to the 3 wonderful pieces of music, including one I had never heard before “Home Thoughts from Abroad” by Clifford T Ward – which I now love and will always now associate with Uncle Peter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9G0ENZJLI8

We also read out loud the poems and his eulogy. As always, when “at” a funeral you reflect on your own mortality and think about what your own life means and how you would like to be remembered. I know from what I remember as a child growing up, from what my mum has told me, and what Uncle Peter has told me himself – he was not an angel by any stretch of the imagination, he lived life to the full, he made and lost his fortune on more than one occasion, and he could be very stubborn – but deep down he had a very sensitive side – and I have seen that side of him over the 17 months he had been back in my life.

Uncle Peter made his fortune and lost it on more than one occasion. He liked fast cars, fast boats, and married 6 times. All expensive habits!!!

His death will leave a huge hole in my heart, although he was actually too young to have been a dad to me – he was a bit like a father figure, older brother, and good friend all rolled in to one. He gave out sound and sensible advice, in a no-nonsense manner. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said.

The day after he died, I chose a crystal to work with him as part of my morning Reiki practice. I was drawn to a piece of Leopard Jasper – perhaps in part because he was a Leo star sign – but also as it is a good stone for connection with animal totems. So, I attuned the Leopard Jasper to connect with Uncle Peter. So now, each morning I have a little chat with him – and ask him for advice on how to get this dammed house finished!! I think it’s working as Martin seems to making good progress. And I think our “requests” to Uncle Peter – or prayers if you like, have been answered as when our lovely Dutch friends Jan and Frieda realised how overwhelmed we have been feeling about getting started on the plaster boarding up high on the sloping ceiling they offered to help – and we are both absolutely thrilled (and very grateful) that last weekend Jan helped Martin to get the plasterboard up using some borrowed scaffolding (from a friend of Jans’s) and a really, useful machine that lifts the plasterboard up and holds it in place whilst it is screwed in place – a much, more technical version of what Uncle Peter had helped us to discover previously!!

Thank goodness for great friends

And looking back I can see that it was nearly a year ago that we had that conversation with him – so a whole year we have been worried about how on earth we would get up so high – of course we have had other stuff to worry about and to get done first – the various lockdowns, curfews etc. have dictated the order in which we got stuff down in a manner that we could not possibly have anticipated back then. But we’ve got there – and I know he would have been the first to have congratulated us on that.

The crystals over my heart chakra are increasing in number – rose quartz for my inner child work, the chakra necklace for connection with my mum, the tiger eye for work I do with my daughter, and now the leopard jasper for connection with my uncle. That’s a lot of work each day!!!

I really do believe that the Reiki helps me at so many levels. My mum sent me a little chakra necklace on my birthday and I began to use it on my heart chakra each day to connect with her and ask for healing in our relationship – and sure enough we began to re-build those bridges, and even more so since Uncle Peter has died.

My mum never fails to amaze me – she can be the sweetest person in the universe at times. One evening I was chatting to her on the phone and she said “I’ve just done a bank transfer to Sian for her new flat gift and noticed you have 2 bank accounts – which one do you use?” She is all innocent and I just start explaining how one is for “this” and one is for “that”. We carry on talking and I’m saying that we are planning to get some bits for our kitchen soon and then a few minutes later she says “oh, I’ve just popped a bit of money in your account – buy a few bits for your kitchen from me”. At this stage of the game – with us pretty much running out of budget for all but the most essential of items – this honestly meant so much!! I’m such a soppy old thing I know – but to have a few cupboards that are from my mum in our brand-new kitchen will mean so much to me – they will be called mum’s cupboards. I also want to use some of that money to buy the sink – as, with Peter having given us the taps I feel in some way that they will be reunited with her funding the sink to go with it. When I told her that she was delighted and said “yes it will be a Nunn sink as your grandad was a plumber”. So that all seems really appropriate and a lovely way to bring them into our lives together. There was 7 years between them so it is no wonder that they clashed growing up – but they did love each other at one time, and despite their differences I think it is right that they end up together in our house.

Seeing this photo drives home the age gap. Not so long after this time mum was a young woman with an annoying little brother when she started dating my dad.

Their situation reminds me of the song “Shame” by Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams – especially the first two lines

Shame

Robbie WilliamsGary Barlow

Well, there’s three versions of this story mine and yours
And then the truth
Now we can put it down to circumstance, our childhood, then our youth
Out of some sentimental gain I wanted you to feel my pain,
But it came back return to sender
I read your mind and tried to call,
My tears could fill the Albert Hall,
Is this the sound of sweet surrender?

What a shame we never listened
I told you through the television
And all that went away was the price we paid
People spend a lifetime this way
Oh what a shame.

So, I got busy throwing everybody underneath the bus, oh
And with your poster 30 foot high at the back of Toys-R-Us
I wrote a letter in my mind,
But the words were so unkind,
About a man I can’t remember
I don’t recall the reasons why,
I must have meant them…

The final poem that was read at Uncle Peter’s funeral was

“He is Gone” by David Harkins

You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

I really like the message that this poem sends – that we all leave a legacy, a world that is different even in small ways for our having been in it (it’s up to us whether that difference is a positive or negative one) and that we all have a choice as to whether we focus on the past or live in the present.

And as Uncle Peter would say “Just keep on keeping on – even if it’s hard”

Where there’s a Will there’s a way!

Where there’s a Will there’s a way!

As always, our life in France is a balance of highs and lows, and of course we’ve had some ups and downs since my last blog entry!

Like a lot of people who make the move, we have left some wonderful people behind, who we miss enormously, constantly missing them on a daily basis – our children mostly of course – but some brilliant friends and family too. But equally, again like a lot of people – we left behind some tricky, difficult relationships, and some of those have sadly deteriorated further since we chose to live our lives in France.

I’m a firm believer though that people will always find their “tribe” – those people who are meant to be in their lives and those who are not meant to be in their lives will leave it somehow.

I spend a lot of time pondering my relationship with my dad, not least because our house stands of the land where his house should have been – if his dreams had come true. It was his sad departure from this world that afforded me and Martin the opportunity to buy James (half-brother) and Stephen (brother) out of their share of the land, and then to create our own dreams here.

When things go wrong, I sometimes left myself believe it is Dad’s way of saying “oi! What are you doing there?!” from beyond the grave. Sometimes there is even a feeling that he might not have wanted me and Martin to be here – maybe he would have preferred it if James and Nic had chosen to make this move – but equally I know that this is something James and Nic do not want to do at this stage of their lives – they are much younger than us and working full time. So, it makes me happy to know that we have created a home here that (once the world has reverted back to normal) will be a place that they can come to for holidays with Henry and Chloe (our nephew and niece) and be reminded of Dad and Ann’s dreams whilst they are here. And also, the rest of our family and those good friends who have stuck by us will also be able to come and spend time with us too.

I feel so strongly about this land, and the house being in our family FOREVER (so that the lives of Dad and Ann are honoured) that our recent findings about French succession law, inheritance tax, and joint property ownership nearly broke my heart.

It’s only now that it is being resolved that I can put into words just how close we came to feeling we had made the biggest mistake of our lives.

So, our plans are that when one of us dies, the other one will continue to live here. And then when that second one dies the four children (2 each) will inherit the house and it will become a holiday home for them to share. After having hopefully spent years coming out here to spend time with us on holidays, they will have by then become very fond of this house and the area and probably made holiday friends out here too. Ideally none of them will ever want to or need to sell it so it can stay in the family forever and their children will in turn enjoy it – and be told that the land once belonged to their great granddad Dave, and that Grandad Gruffalo (Martin’s nickname) and Nanny Sharon were the crazy people who built the lovely house.

When we actually looked into it, we realised that our Wills would be tricky and would be needed to be written carefully, using our legal right to have UK Succession Law applied to it. This is because in France the default position is that the spouse only inherits 25% and the children inherit the rest – and by having an “usufruct” the surviving spouse has the lifelong right to life in the house. This was not ideal – but we felt that would be acceptable.

Then we looked at French inheritance tax – this is brutal – if step children inherit anything at all they pay 60% tax on their share!! Yikes! That would basically result in them needing to force a sale – thus ruining the dream for everyone else – and (although we would be dead by then) our wishes would not be carried out.

It then got even worse – we realised that, whilst in the UK our property was jointly owned – here in France, because the land was in my name (as when I had bought James and Stephen out it had been done that way) this meant that Martin owned absolutely nothing!! Not the land – but more importantly – not the house either.

That in itself was bad enough – but on a day to day basis that just meant that our arguments would always be interesting and I would simply yell at him “Oi you!! Get orff my land”. But the grim reality was that if I die – Martin would inherit nothing – my kids would inherit the house – Martin would cease to have the right to live there and his kids would be disinherited!!

Now, I am fully aware that there are some parents who would think nothing of disinheriting their step-kids, or even their own children, grandchildren, cousins and so on – but not me!! I really don’t have much time at all for people who do that to their own family – although I know of a few people who have done this – often over really petty things too. But I think it says more about them as a person that it does about their relatives to be honest if even from the grave, they wish to hurt people.

So, this really weighed heavy on my mind – although I have to say Martin really took it in his stride. I was often laying awake at night imagining all sorts of horrible scenarios – whilst he was peacefully snoring beside me.

We had a number of frantic conversations at our “Notaire’s office” with lovely Candice – with me trying my very best in “Franglais” to explain that this was “tres tres importante” and I was “tres tres worried that je suis mort et Martin would be homeless”. Candice assured me that I would not die with the cheerful optimism that only a young person can possibly have in a global pandemic. She said that it was possible to remedy the situation but that it would (obviously) cost money to do so.

Then the shock came – the cost would be a percentage of the house value!! But Candace didn’t know what percentage it would be. We said (hopefully) “hundreds not thousands???” – she shrugged, looked awkward – and we knew in that moment – this was going to have been a monumental cock up on our part!!

We had to have the house formally valued – which thankfully was done on the current, unfinished state of the house rather that what it will be worth one day (if we ever complete it!!). I have never known a house valuation to have been quite so focussed on getting the value down as much as possible – although judging by the way the “immobiliere” and his colleague took it in their stride they were used to this sort of thing. Probably because there are so many harsh, horrible rules about inheritance in France – some of these laws go back to Napoleonic times so no wonder!

With the valuation completed, it was just the appointment to be made for the legal deeds for the gifting to be done. The reassurance from Candice that we could get an urgent appointment did however, as is always the case in France, quickly turn into frustration when we realised that “urgent” meant – ONE WHOLE MONTH away.

We spent the next week or so worrying ourselves sick – trying to work out from various websites what the percentage might be – and in doing so thinking all sorts – maybe 20,000€ – we felt sick.

We confided in good friends who were of the view that the Notaire probably made it sound as if it would be huge amounts of money so that when it was only (ONLY!!) a few thousand or so – we would be grateful and relieved.

I insisted on having conversations with all four of the kids, in the off chance that should the worst happen and I did die, they would understand that this had not been our intention. All four of them were fantastic!! They all shrugged it off and said “you haven’t done this deliberately”. Thank goodness that we have such lovely children, and that they are relatively comfortable and mature enough to deal with having conversations about not so nice topics.

I know how it feels to be left in doubt as to the motivation and reasons for being left out of a parents Will and feel it is really important that these things are explained properly, as there is nothing worse than hearing a false reason from a person who has no idea of the reasons but just wants to play mind f***ery with you. In my mind the reason that my brother and I were not in our Dad’s will was quite simply that after divorcing my mother many, many years before and leaving her with a property, and then him being remarried to Ann for over 40 years – it made perfect sense that he would leave it to Ann, and then in turn she would leave it to James. But, a particularly malicious person decided that they would tell me that it was all done to spite me, which obviously hurt a lot. But I still choose to believe my version of events and in any case, now we have found out just how complicated it is to leave non-blood relatives any property in France no wonder they tried to do it so that James would inherit it from Ann. They made the (wrong) assumption that Dad would die first, then Ann – but of course she sadly died before him. I completely respect their wishes – but, I do sometimes wish that Dad had spoken to me about it – which takes me back to my own need to have absolutely everything crystal clear with our own four children. No way would I ever want any single one of them feeling that way.

We insisted on a breakdown of costs as soon as possible as by this time I wasn’t sleeping properly over it – and as predicted by my lovely friend – it wasn’t so bad – yes, it was an amount that we could have well done without- but some of the costs would be entailed anyway – and the extra bit on the increased value from the land to the unfinished house will be a lesson learned by us for the future. My kitchen (if I ever get one) will be a daily reminder of how many mistakes we have made on this house building project. What was once a huge budget for a dream, luxury kitchen has now become the most basic of kitchen cupboards (but at least I had the sense to ringfence my range cooker which is safely installed in the temporary kitchen).

So, the appointment was on Friday and it went fairly smoothly. It was all in French which was very difficult, but we managed – a far cry from when me and James sat with the Notaire to do the original exchange of ownership back in 2017. Anyway – it’s all done now – the house and the land is in both names – and the Wills are in hand, and are going to be sorted out this week. Thank goodness for that!!

I realise that talking about Wills is something that some people just don’t like to do – it means facing their own mortality which is something that us humans just don’t like to accept I suppose. But I’ve always felt it to be healthy to talk about wishes for what happens to us when the time comes – in all aspects. I think this is largely due to the sort of work I have done. I have been involved with all sorts of things surrounding death, bereavement, anticipatory grief (that terrible time when you know someone will die but they haven’t died yet) because of work and also because I ran a support group back in the UK called Living with Dying. I also wanted to do the training as a Death Doula/Soul Midwife (like a midwife but even of babies entering this world – people leaving this world) and for a time I toyed with becoming a Funeral Celebrant.

I think that a funeral is the perfect opportunity to take a true 360 degree look at a person’s life – with partners, family members, and friends standing up and saying a few words, sharing stories about the person no longer with us. It must be wonderful to be a recently passed person standing witness at their own funeral and hearing how loved they are and hearing people laugh about their lives. But of course, that is more of a Celebration of Life than a traditional funeral service – but I know which I would want for myself – the party that I never got to attend.

We sadly had another funeral recently, although unlike our neighbour who sadly took his own life and was young, this one was a much older person who had been lucky enough to have a long, long life.

Both funerals made me reflect (again as they also do) how I would want the end of my life to be handled, and my funeral wishes. Martin has known for a long time that there is a folder on my lap top which gives full and explicit details about songs, flowers etc. But more than that – how I would want to be treated as I approach the end. I think an ideal death would be to be surrounded my loved ones, hearing their voices, listening to my favourite music, at home in my own bed, and when the time was right – being allowed to slip peacefully away with Martin, and my children holding my hand.

Me and Martin have made a pact that we will do our upmost to avoid a lonely, impersonal, prolonged death for each other.

We are also going to look into the French equivalent of an LPA (Lasting Power of Attorney) so that we can make sure that any wishes we each have concerning medical care are adhered to. This is especially important in these times of a Global Pandemic – with so many people being admitted to hospital ALONE and then being placed on a ventilator.

Although it must be difficult to feel that you are giving up your medical decisions to a partner or a family member in my view that is far preferable to giving up that control to a medical professional who has no idea of what my preferences would be. So, I’ll take my chances that Martin (or Ryan or Sian) won’t try to have me put in a nursing home – I’m sure they won’t!!  And in any case, I have made my daughter promise me all sorts of things – smuggling me out of dementia homes in France if necessary!!! And I am absolutely confident that they will make sure that I get a proper send off in the form of a Celebration of Life that was about ME, and my wonderful relationships and funny stories, the songs I loved and why I loved them, and my favourite food……and that they will ask my friends who knew me before they were in my life to share stories about me with them so they get the whole story of my life – that’s what I believe a funeral should be about!  

People get so isolated through anticipatory grief, and bereavement because people can’t handle talking about it – so I have always been determined to not be “that friend” who crosses the street to avoid talking to someone. I pride myself on being the sort of friend who is prepared to listen to anything without judgement, and without bringing my own agenda. I’m hoping that once this Covid-19 shit-fest is over I might be able to get more involved with Cancer Support France as a volunteer and I contacted the President of the Dordogne branch recently. It will be good to use some of the skills that I have acquired in the past and put them to good use. And who knows – maybe one day I will do that training to be a Death Doula – or a Funeral Celebrant.

So, back to some of these tricky relationships. The ones we have let go have been mostly so called “friends” who showed no empathy with us in all the issues and challenges we have been facing since making the decision to live in France – especially surrounding the uncertainty of whether we could stay or not. It’s been hard to get a balance between telling people how it is (“you are always making me feel guilty for voting to Leave”) or concentrating on the positives (“they are always bragging about living in France)”. You just can’t win with some people – and it is people like that who it is far healthier to simply let go – they don’t “get you” or understand what you are hoping for in life anymore – and that’s fine. And of course, it’s not just past relationships from people in the UK that are tricky – just because over here we are all migrants doesn’t necessarily mean that we will find relationships with others always run smooth. In fact, some of the worst offenders have been fellow expats – some of which gloat over those who are just finding their feet, or are jealous because they are new people around who may be having the fun that they once had when they were a little younger. Of course, we try with all the people we meet – but some of them you just can’t gel with no matter how hard you try. C’est la vie!!

There have been so many times over the past 2 and a half years where we have been so, so frightened that we have spent our life savings on a house that we would not be permitted to stay in – and the people who have understood that have stuck by us, egged us on, supported us when we have felt wobbly, and most importantly not belittled or down-played our worries. Thank goodness for great friends who are prepared to listen– they save us a fortune in therapy!!

But this week we finally got some respite from our worries about residency. Back in September last year we made our online applications for Residency Cards – but shortly afterwards, due to the Withdrawal Agreement being settled, the French Government closed down that application system saying they would be waiting until more details before opening again. So…. another period of uncertainty came upon us. Then the opening was delayed from July – but eventually finally got opened in October. True to their word the French Government did indeed process the applications that had been made in that short window back last year – so we were one of the first to be contacted. We needed to submit a little further information about our business activity and income which we need really quickly and then we were invited to an appointment in Perigueux – the capital city of Dordogne – to have our fingerprints taken and submit a photograph.

When the announcement was made that we were going back in lockdown we did fear that our appointments might be cancelled – but luckily everything went to plan and we went off to Perigueux on Wednesday.

Photo credit: Erick Orgibet – our lovely French friend

We left plenty of time for the 1 hour 20 minute journey in case we were stopped by the “gendarmes” (which we weren’t), or could not find parking (which we did) or if we simply couldn’t find our way – but with the ingenious and humorous signage that the people at the Prefecture put up all the way along the roads this was not a problem either!!

The appointment went very smoothly (all in French) and we were told that our cards will be posted out in about “one month – possibly two” (which is standard for France). We will get 5-year cards initially and then at that point we will get permanent ones.

So, all that remains to say is this:

To those people who have listened, and heard our stresses and worries and have stood by us, supported us, egged us on, gave us your shoulders when we needed to cry – thank you so much – without your love, support and friendship we would probably have given up a long time ago.

To those people who have laughed and mocked us when we were scared for our futures, or just not wanted to hear our concerns, or pretended it was not happening to us (only the other thousands of Brits making the mass exodus to the continent) – thank you too – it was better for us to have seen your true colours before we were given the opportunity to include you in this new life – you don’t deserve to be part of it – thank you for the lesson in life that you have provided us with:-

Those who made the bold move to live in another country before the EU Referendum were brave, resilient, it is not for the feint hearted at the best of times. This choice requires flexibility, a spirit of adventure and personal sacrifice.

Those of us who made that move during the Brexit shit-fest are all of the above – plus a little crazy, very stubborn, and perhaps at times a little bit pissed off with some people.

But, as all of us have shown: –

“Where there is a will – there is a way”.

Sharon and Martin – Happy and Legal (if a little skint) French Residents

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.

The tail wagging the dog

The tail wagging the dog

At what point can you say a house is finished? When the exterior walls are up and the roof is on? When the interior walls are finished? When the furniture is in place? When the garden is perfectly manicured? Or…quite simply when you can honestly say that your heart is totally and utterly 100% in it? When you start calling it home!

We reached a few milestones in January. Firstly, when the ‘macon’ (one of the various types of builders) returned and installed some lovely stone slabs underneath the doors (filling the gaps that we had lived with over the Christmas period by shoving spare pieces of TEK panel in front of).

The new stone slabs

This stopped most of the draught and also stopped the cats entering when we weren’t looking – although on one occasion we inadvertently moved a piece of TEK panel and a cat got in – we had fun chasing her round and evicting her. Once the house was air-tight it felt more as if it were a complete house, but still having builders around on most days putting the ‘bardage’ (cladding) on meant that it was still noisy and quite intrusive at times.

Cue my little story about one of the workers. I’m never one to name names, so I will just refer to him as “C – the cock wielding Charpentier”. It’s fair to say he was not my favourite. All the other workers that we had over an entire 4-month period were lovely – polite, courteous, friendly, chatty – but “C” only had two volumes – ‘Thunderous and Ear Splitting’. When other, more responsible workers were around he was merely Thunderous – very loud, but you could still hear yourself think. But, once the responsible grown-ups were off-site his noise levels increased to such a pitch that he sounded like a crazed, wild-man, screeching and yelling. It was never clear if he was laughing insanely, or really angry at something. On the afternoons that I was home alone and Martin was out I just retreated to the motor home and pretended to not be around. But far worse than his noise level was his habit of taking phone calls and a piss at the same time. The first time I witnessed this was when I ventured around the back of the house and saw him up on a pile of wood, coat swinging from side to side – his left hand was holding his phone – into which he was screeching at some poor bugger, and his right hand was aiming his urine all over our compost heap (that compost will only be used for flowers – not vegetables I promise you). I found the first occurrence quite amusing to be honest and that’s when I gave him his nick-name – but to be honest – walking round corners and bumping into him with his hands down his trousers did become quite tedious. His little doggy took after his master – although he was a sweet little thing, he was very male dominant and cocked his leg all over the place – fair enough that’s what doggies do – but I drew the line when I caught him cocking his leg all over our motor home cover! He pooped all over the place too – much to our annoyance as, up until now our two dogs have never pooped on our land, but this was a green light to them and they broke the rules and also began to poop and pee anyway they felt like. So back to basic training for our two. After a couple of months of this we were honestly feeling like our own home had been taken over by the cock wielding Charpentier who was now setting the tone of the day to his own tune, and his little doggie who was running riot whilst our own two were spending their days in solitary confinement in the motorhome.

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

His work was very good – and that was his saving grace – had it been shoddy we would have waved him ‘au revoir’ very quickly.

Many moons ago, in a galaxy far, far away – I lived another life, in a strange country called Britain, and made my living by working for a large organisation whose head office was in London. We had a saying about those who ran the organisation – “it’s like the tail wagging the dog”. In other words, those who are in charge really don’t know what the people who are having the do the job really need to do their work, and have no clue about what the users of the service actually need.

Tail wagging the dog

That was a very, frustrating working situation. Many times, in the past 4 months I have felt like that with this house building project. It seems like those who supposed to be offering a service to us have had a disproportionate amount of control in our lives. For example, had we not stuck to our guns and insisted on staying up here, next to our land (albeit on the commune track) rather than going now to the ‘camping car aire’  for what we were told would be “just a few weeks” we would have been stuck down there for 4 months (with me recovering from an operation too). So, that little saying has been forefront to my mind a lot. After wasting a lot of time researching and fretting over the order to get the ‘chappe’ laid (that’s the screed that will be laid over our underfloor heating pipes) all because the builder wanted to get the air tightness test done as quickly as possible, we decided enough was enough and we were going to take back control and do things in the order that we feel is right – albeit maybe not the order that some people might feel is best – but everyone has an opinion and not everyone can be right can they? So, we decided to stop letting the “tail wag the dog”.

So, I suppose for me, that feeling of the ‘house’ being complete, and becoming ‘home’ really started when the scaffolding came down, and we knew that was it…..no more builders, no more “cock wielding Charpentier’s”, no more living on the track like “not so posh-pikeys”. Now, for the most part it is just us two cracking on with it. There’s still absolutely loads of work to do. And the house is by no means finished – but now, for the most part – it will be us doing the work, and we only have ourselves to answer too. No more feeling as if we are in the way, no more having to be up, dressed and out walking the dogs to be back by “silly o’clock” in the mornings to unlock for the builders, no more endless vans driving up and down the track making mud, mud and more mud.

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

Martin came down with the dreaded “man-flu” and was wiped out of action for a while. In actual fact it was worse than man-flu and I felt a bit mean when he was sent for a chest x-ray and blood tests and then found out he had a lung infection. Thankfully nothing more than “just an infection” though. Neither of us said at the time of course, but both of us secretly feared that the x-ray would show the dreaded black dots that no-one ever wants to find out they have. My thoughts went frequently back to my Dad during this time – how he had a persistent cough for over a year that he ignored. Here in the land of “just get on with it” I can now understand why he maybe didn’t go to the doctors when he should have done, and of course when he did finally go – it was too late. But we didn’t have anything of that gargantuan proportion to worry about thank goodness. Martin didn’t enjoy being my patient though – Nurse Sharon was too bossy!

Martin steaming
Ewwwkkkkkk – this stuff smells funny!

I had a strict medication regime for him so he wouldn’t forget to take his 5 different medications, and I also insisted that he inhale weird smelling steam and take lots of Vitamin C tablets – but it worked. He’s back on his feet now, and there’s plenty for him to be getting on with. I had to have emergency lessons in how to empty our cassette toilet – normally a “blue job” but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

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

Against our builder’s advice (again ignoring that wagging dog) we have moved a small, temporary kitchen into the house where we now prepare and cook lunch and dinner. There’s no running water, and the electric is from an extension lead from the temporary supply. The weather has been lovely lately, and since 3rd February we have been able to sit out on our ‘terrasse’ in the sun eating lunch on most days – I can’t remember ever doing that in the UK.

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

In the evenings it is lovely to sit and watch the sun come down whilst we are eating dinner, and then the village starts to light up. It gets cold once the dark comes so after that it’s a quick retreat to the motor home to keep warm.

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

Having an extra building has its challenges of course – for me, most of my day is now spent trudging between the Garden House (dishwasher and washing machine, the food storage area) the motor home and the House. I clocked up 20, 000 steps on my Bella Beat just through doing that the other day. It’s good exercise though – and being very sloped it’s good for the bum and leg muscles – so for now I won’t be needing to do Body Pump.

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

With a bit of luck, I might be able to shift a bit of weight, especially as my January De-tox was an epic fail. Long story short, despite being told that my colonoscopy was all clear, I received a letter telling me that I have three problems that need treatment. So, until I had seen the consultant and found out what treatment I need I felt it best to not make too many dietary changes just in case that was contributing to the problems. So, it seems I have diverticulosis, a Helicobacter Pylori infection, and Chronic Gastritis. The treatment for this here in France is slightly more aggressive than the UK in that they go straight in with “Quadruple Therapy” which is a 2nd Line Treatment approach in the UK (i.e. they do it if the First Line Approach doesn’t work. It’s a cocktail of drugs for 10 days – 2 very strong antibiotics, a proton-pump inhibitor, and bismuth). As much as I hate antibiotics as they wreak havoc with my body, I just want to get back in control of my health, it feels as if for too long it has been out of my own jurisdiction – first of all with my knee injury preventing me from exercising, and then with the appendicitis and subsequent gut problems. So, I’m going to give it a bloody good go at eradicating the H-Pylori. It’s a 93% success rate for people who stick the regime, don’t drink alcohol and follow the low-fat diet regime throughout the treatment. I only want to take the horrible drugs once so I will be a good patient and stick with it. After the treatment I wait a month, then do a breath test and will be told whether or not it has worked. I also aim to follow the recommended dietary regime to help prevent a further H-Pylori infection occurring. It’s mostly the same as what I have been eating for the past few years on my veganish/vegetarian diet anyway but there is always room for improvement. But it’s important to remember that Chronic Gastritis caused by Helicobacter Pylori is not caused by a poor diet – chances are this has been lurking in my gut since 2008 since I had amoebic dysentery in Kenya (not a pleasant experience).

Good news is though, that since the colonoscopy I seem to have got back to normal, and that odd pain in my tummy has gone I think – which makes me even more convinced it was a kink in my pipe work. The consultant said that the colonoscopy process probably did give me a thorough flush through. So, hopefully this old dog will get back to wagging her own tail soon.

Talking of which! Luka once won a competition at a dog show for the waggiest tail! I had to stand there and wag my bum to get him to start wagging though – which might be why he won to be honest.

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

But since we have had Lillie his title of the “dog with the waggiest tail” has come under threat – Lillie does not just wag her tail – she wags her whole body! She has the funniest little, wiggly walk that I have ever seen on a dog. Bless her! She is such a funny character, always making us laugh. The other day the pair of them jumped into the lake so when we got back, they had to be hosed down and then had their “smoking jackets” put on them to dry off. We nipped out for a short while and when we came back to the motorhome this is the sight we were greeted with  (click the link to view the video)Lille had wriggled around so much she got her paw stuck in her dressing gown! She’s still wagging like crazy though!! Daft doggy!

 

Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

Suggested track to play whilst reading – Rachel Platten – Overwhelmed – click here to play

Lyrics are at the end of the blog

My birthday was on Thursday 28th November. We had known for sometime that this was the likely day for the house construction to start, which although was a delay on the original plans, I quite liked the concept of, as what more could a girl want for her birthday than the beginnings of a new house?

As it turns out, the house was not all I did get for my birthday – I got to order a brand new range cooker and a ‘réfrigérateur/congélateur multi-portes’ (like an American one but with four doors it is called French style) ready to come in the new year.

Range and Fridge

It was Black Friday on my birthday so we got a good price of course!! Every little saving counts at this stage of the game as, like most people doing a house build project, we have found that things have often cost much more than anticipated and some things that we have had to pay for we had no prior knowledge even of their existence!!

I also asked Martin for a Kenwood Food Mixer for my birthday present!! Now normally Martin would not dare to buy a woman a kitchen appliance as a gift for fear of having said gift thrown at his head – but I did expressly ask for this item. It’s one of those lovely ones that sits on a counter and waits for a cake mixture to be poured into it! I’ve never been much into baking as I prefer the imaginative, haphazard, throw all the things together than I can indulge in when making a curry for example, where as baking a cake requires following a recipe. I’m looking forward to trying out new skills when we finally get into our house though!

So, Day One of the TEK panel construction was Thursday 28th November and somewhat unbelievably yesterday afternoon on Tuesday 10th December – just 9 working days after the start – the final roof panel was put in place – and voila!! The very basic shell of our house is complete! I’ve put together a 2 minute video showing the process which to view you just click here

We think it’s amazing how quickly it has gone up.

Last night we climbed the very steep step ladder up on to the mezzanine floor to look at the night time view that I have only been able to dream about for the past 2 and a half years! When we first came back to this little piece of land in July 2017 and make that first decision to continue where my Dad left off, to build our own dreams on this plot of land – all I really knew was that I wanted some part of the building to be high. That concept has remained constant – but the plans have changed!

 

This was about house idea number 3
I just can’t imagine La Niche looking like this now – but it was what we wanted for a little while

First of all it was a flat single storey house with a ‘living roof terrace’, then a ‘Périgordien style tower’, and then we met our architect Rob who, after listening to me prattling on about how we only had the budget for one floor but in my dreams I really wanted a high-up reading loft, somehow stole what was in my head all along and came back a few weeks later with it all on paper!!

So last night – to stand up there – a good few feet away from the edge of the mezzanine balcony (bearing in mind there is no safety railing) and see for the first time, the village lights, the bare Winter branches, framed perfectly in the triangular shape of the roof apex – there are no words to describe it other than completely OVERWHELMED!! It is so beautiful!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
This tree with it’s ‘propriété privée’ sign is always going to be very special to me

The oak tree which I so desperately want to preserve as it is one of the things here that really truly connects me to my Dad as every time I see it I remember how it is only really by remembering the photos that he showed us that confirmed we were in the right place when we came back – that oak tree is perfectly framed in the view from the mezzanine.

Like children we excitedly went from window to window looking at the views we will get, noticing how the Velux roof window will give us the perfect stargazing view especially when the lights are fully out.

For 20 months since moving out to France and living in a motor home for all this time the thing that has kept us going is this moment when we finally have our house built!! And I just found it totally overwhelming. I think it is because everything else has taken so, so long, and this part was so incredibly quick. Just 9 days to build a shell.

Of course, there is still a lot more to do. The tiles need to go on the roof, and the ‘bardage’ (cladding) needs to go on the outside of the walls.

We were hoping that the windows would also be in before Christmas. But unfortunately, the window guy came this morning and feels that we need to make some adjustments to the bottom of the openings to avoid water settling underneath the wooden frames. So, this will mean the ‘maçon’ returning to put some concrete in – then that will have to set before he can fit the windows.

That’s a huge disappointment – and when the news was first broken it did feel quite overwhelming – but we then sat back and reflected and concluded that it is only so disappointing because we had our hearts set on having the watertight shell by Christmas – and it will all, I am sure, come together very soon.

We need to wait until Friday for another meeting between the window guy, the maçon and Martin to determine what needs to be done and when it can be done – so it feels a bit flat at the moment – but nothing insurmountable.

If our journey so far has taught us nothing else it has certainly taught us that patience is indeed a virtue and it is needed in large doses on a very regular frequency in our new life in France.

The other aspect of life that I am finding quite overwhelming at the moment is the General Election looming and of course the hate filled echo chambers start to rise up again on social media. Fake news is everywhere – you read something and feel a sense of outrage, and then shortly afterwards you read something else that claims that was fake news. Best to not react to anything until it’s been fact checked.

Whopper on the side of a bus

We didn’t dare rely on the postal votes that we are entitled to (having lived in the UK within the past 15 years) as we have been told by numerous people who were over here during the 2016 referendum that the cards failed to turn up in the post – rendering them unable to vote. So, we sought out a Proxy voter in the area we last lived in who is prepared to cast our votes for our chosen party at our old polling station.

I’m so glad that we decided to do the Proxy voting as all but two of my birthday cards sent by family and friends in the UK went missing – arriving far later than they should have done, and in one case not at all! And now, it’s been revealed that many people are once again saying their Postal Voting Cards did not turn up either at all – or in time to cast their vote. The democracy in the UK at the present time is an absolute shambles!

So, tomorrow – someone will go to our old polling station and casts votes on our behalf. We hope that our votes will help to wipe the smile off the face of the smug Conservative MP who not that awfully long ago refused to help us when I begged him to raise the plight of UK citizens living in the EU within Parliament. To this day he has never so much as sympathised with our situation – all he done was to send a reply telling us to enjoy our new life in France!

letter from Steve Brine
Remainer turn coat Steve Brine…a significant proportion of his constituency was Remain, so was he, but the day after the Referendum he turned completely. A career politician!!

Well! We will enjoy our new life in France if we are able to after Brexit, and if it is his choice to only ever holiday in Cornwall over and over and over again…..well….I do feel quite sorry for the Brits who have never explored further afield and seen what the rest of Europe has to offer! A lack of travel does seem to make people somewhat narrow minded.

It’s stuff like this that makes me feel overwhelmed – that feeling of “stop the world I want to get off”, but last night it felt so good to feel overwhelmed simply from the feeling that we have finally turned the next page in our story.

We now have a shell…it ought to have been watertight by Christmas but probably won’t be.

But it has a roof, it has walls, and it has a heart! And now that it is assembled and upright, we can start to feel her personality (yes, she is feminine – I always knew she would be) and we can start to see how she will start to materialise.

Her name is ‘La Niche’ and we love her already! I will tell you how we came to name her in a future blog.

It’s overwhelming…but exciting, and a little bit scary. And we can’t wait!

Rachel Platten – Overwhelmed – click here to play

“We make patterns out of stars
And we whisper little prayers
To be somewhere that we’re not
And if we’re good it will take us there”

“But then the light comes through the dark
And our questions fall apart
It’s just the beating of our hearts and the still of the midnight air”

“And I get so overwhelmed till it’s hard to tell
What I’m thinking”

“We get down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We get down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
‘Cause the more that you give the more that comes back around”

“So we hide away our hurts
And put bandaids on our fears
And we lie to all our friends
Move along there’s no problems here
But then the orchestra will start
And the violins appear
And a simple little melody has us fighting tears”

“And I get so overwhelmed till it’s hard to tell
What I’m thinking”

“We get down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We get down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
Cuz the more that you give the more that comes back around”

“But the hardest part is the way things are
And how quickly fingers will bleed
And the grace we need is not in magazines,
It’s just space, in between, when we breathe”

“I am down down down I feel sorry for myself
And I get down down down and I need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
Cuz the more that we give, the more that comes back”

“Down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We’re down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
‘Cause the more that you give the more that comes back around”

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lest we forget

 Lest we forget

One of the things I love about France is that Armistice Day is always observed on 11th November – no matter what day of the week it falls on (instead of how the UK now does it on the closest Sunday to the date). For me, it seems more poignant to be remembering those who sacrificed their lives on the exact anniversary of when the Armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France.

Sonnerie aux morts 2

I’ve always tried my best to attend something local on Armistice Day and this year was no different – as with last year we popped down to our village square and listened to the service in French, with the children reading out the names of the war dead, the small choir singing, and the band playing the Sonnerie aux Morts (the French equivalent to The Last Post). Click here to listen. Listening to the choir reminded me that I had completely forgotten the vow that I had made to the Maire last year – which was to learn the words to La Marseillaise. I had made an attempt last year when I joined the choir (for just one week) but since then it had been all forgotten. Just in case he asked me about it I had a phrase ready in my memory bank “Désolé j’ai oublié“. But luckily, he had also forgotten!

It seems that life is just too busy and a lot of things get forgotten – and how strange it seems that a whole year has gone by since the last Armistice Day and the Autumn Fair that takes part on the same day.

Animals of war

But it is good to remember on days like this, that no matter which country we originate from, our men and women, and also horses and dogs, gave their lives so that we could have the freedoms we enjoy today. At the beginning of the Second World War, many countries opted to change the name of Armistice Day to Remembrance Day, but France still calls it by its original name. It has also become a day to remember the war dead of ALL wars, and I do find myself thinking about those who lost their lives in the Second World War, and also in all the troubles that we have had since – Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Syria – to name but a few.

Being in an area of France where there are lots of reminders of the role of the French Resistance in the Second World War means there is a constant reminder of the war time troubles in this part of Europe too. In fact, I read just this week about Yvette Lundy the “Grande Dame of Epernay” who died aged 103 recently. To find out more about what role this amazing woman played in helping Jews flee occupied France click here

In our village there is a street called Rue de La Resistance and just 6 miles away in Fraysinnet-de-Gelat there is a war memorial remembering the atrocities that occurred here on May 21st 1944.

In this small village, that now has just 360 inhabitants, members of the French Resistance shot and killed one German officer. The payback for this single death lasted hours – 15 hostages were taken and assassinated by the SS. Ten of these were young males and five were young women ALL from one-child families. This was a deliberate attempt to prevent any further family line of descent. When you consider the impact that this must have had on this village, you can begin to fully empathise with this nation on the sensitivities of war. It is humbling for me as a Brit to stop, and reflect that it was not just our country that suffered the war.

 

FraysinnetThe monument which stands outside the church has a stone plaque bearing the names of the victims. It also has a wooden sign saying “Barbarie Nazie” which covers the original wording which was “Barbarie Allemande”– changed in the name of international “rapprochement”. Hopefully, in a similar way our European neighbours will recognise that us, the individuals in all this Brexit malarkey are not personally responsible for the actions of our truly appalling Government at this point in history. We can but hope!

Word Search

As well as attending the Memorial Ceremony, we also selected Commemoration as the topic for discussion at this week’s French/English Conversation Group. This was only the second session so the group is still a work in progress, but each session Beatrice prepares some fun activities in French for the English speakers, and I prepare some fun activities in English for the French speakers. This session I prepared a Word Search containing words associated with Commemoration in both English and French, and also a piece on Dame Vera Lynn in both French and English. Another Dame that has reached a ripe old age and is still going – now 102.

As nerve wracking as it is for me to read out text in French to an audience, I still find it is a good way for me to learn more of the language. My nemesis is dates – I really cannot get my head around the different way that the French use the number system and sadly all those weeks spent last year playing French Bingo seem to have been wiped straight from my memory.

combat stress disorder

One thing that always springs to mind for me when Armistice Day approaches is the impact that the battle field had on the survivors of war. Facebook is full of emotive posters that remind us of what they went through, and the sacrifices that were made, and in recent times we are so much more aware of terms like Combat Stress Reaction, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

thousand yard stare

 

The “signature injury” of the First World War was “shell shock” which was used to describe, amongst other symptoms, the “thousand-yard stare” that many soldiers returned home with.

 

 

 

My Great Grandmother lost her first husband to the First World War. His best friend returned home from war, and they became close and she later married him – but the lovely man he had been when they were all pre-war friends was lost due to “shell shock” and sadly she had a very unhappy life with him. So, I guess you can say she lost two husbands to the same war.

If that had been now, he would have been able to get some help, and at least people would have understood, and there would have been some support for her. But back then…he was just a nasty man who became violent and aggressive – with no real understanding of how or why.

 

Thank goodness that these days we have that understanding of the damage that a battle field can cause a person for the rest of their lives. However, I feel that there is now a new gaping chasm in our modern-day knowledge of the impact of trauma – one that is finally being acknowledged

That is the impact of abuse on a person. We now know that childhood trauma is one of the many causes of Complex-PTSD. (CPTSD)And no wonder – being in a house full of raging parents, not knowing when you are going to be under attack is very similar to living in on a battle field.

ptsd wordle

Of course, there are many types of traumatic events that can cause CPTSD, not just childhood abuse, but also ongoing domestic violence, repeatedly witnessing violence, being forced to become a sex worker, kidnapping, slavery. And a person is more likely to develop CPSTD if the trauma was experienced at a young age, or if it lasted for a long time, or if it was from a person close to them, and if there were multiple traumas.

So, what I am saying is that, whilst in no way meaning to downplay the issues that soldiers may experience, there are also hundreds of thousands of people who are experiencing lifelong emotional issues that have occurred as a result of traumas they experienced at an earlier stage of their lives.

I’ve always been a great advocate of promoting openness about mental health issues. After all, our mind is a part of us in the same way that our legs are – so why be fine with saying we have a broken leg, but ashamed to admit that we have a ‘broken mind?’.

I feel that people very quickly become isolated when they feel that no-one will understand their problems, and that as a society we are still not very good at allowing someone to express their mental health concerns.

Many years ago, I became aware that my own childhood trauma had a massive impact on me, when a male boss approached me suddenly and unexpected from slightly behind me and I flinched badly – so badly that the poor bloke looked at me, with tears in his eyes and said “oh my goodness my love, what has happened to you?”. I could have sat down and told him about my childhood, how years of a violent stepfather had done this to me, but I just shuffled away feeling awkward and embarrassed. But back then I didn’t fully make the connection that the trauma I suffered meant I was on ‘high alert’ to danger, always expecting to be under attack, and my young brain had interpreted the childhood abuse as a deep rooted belief that if I was not safe as a child, in my family home, with my parents to look after me, then I would never be safe.

Even now, I don’t fully understand the trigger responses to this – but thankfully because CPSTD is now recognised as something that not only soldiers suffer from, then there is help and support out there for me to access, and for those around me to help to understand why, my sometimes completely emotionally ‘out of control’ responses, don’t mean I don’t love them. It means that I have been triggered by something which causes a feeling of being under attack, and my response is to counter attack. It’s all very complex – hence the term “Complex” PTSD. My flashbacks are different to the visual ones that soldiers may experience – mine are emotional ones, although I did once have a visual flashback of a train coming down a road in the New Forest not long after my ex-boyfriend’s 17-year old nephew had been killed in a train/car crash. (The flashback was a very scary experience for both me, and my passenger, and also part of the reason I never drive in the dark – but a different story for another day).

My understanding of my own personal situation also means that I can now understand how the responses of other people are not always what they seem to be. I can spot a ‘thousand-yard stare’ at a hundred paces. I have a person in my life, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago, but I am certain that he also has CPSTD – as a result of his own childhood traumas. The stare that I always thought was some sort of intense, crazy person look – I now realise is more likely the dissociation caused by CPTSD.

So, at this time of remembrance for the men, women, and animals that gave or changed their lives forever so that we have a life to live, let us also not forget that things are not always what they seem.

No one ever knows what battles a person is fighting in their own mind.

No one ever knows what demons keep a person awake at night.

We all get up in the morning and live to fight another day (until of course the day we die) and we owe it to each other to be kind to each other.

Maybe instead of judging a person for dealing with their problems in a way that we might not necessarily do so ourselves, we should try to respect that they are doing the best they can, with what they have, in the only way that they know how. And acknowledge that sometimes they were not given the best start in life to gain the best tools for the job, or that something else happened to them along the way which changed how they see the world.

We might not have the insight, or the empathy, or the skills to fully understand that person – but we are all born with a heart, and it is good to use that part of our body to connect with all our fellow human beings.

 

Note:

If you or someone in your life is affected by CPTSD and want to find out more information this is a good place to start

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)