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)

Pardon my French

Pardon my French

Warning – a lot of swear words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loubejac Night Market
14 of us at Loubejac Night Market 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Fingers Up
Encule cette merde

 

 

 

 

Lillie of the Back Alley and the Rosa between Two Thorns

Lillie of the Back Alley and the Rosa between Two Thorns

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

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

Rosa between two thorns
The Rosa between Two Thorns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Save all your bisous for me

Save all your Bisous for me

One huge cultural difference between the French and the English is the kissing thing. By the kissing thing I mean the practice of kissing EVERYONE upon greeting them.

We have watched in amusement whilst a French person enters a café and kisses everyone in there that they know….two kisses – one on each cheek. From what we have been told a Rendevous (meeting) in France can take some considerable time as everyone must kiss everyone else…it’s just the way it is.

We don’t mind the kissing thing at all, and have picked this habit up rather well, I think. We kiss our friends and neighbours every time we seem them. We have also learned that the Dutch like to give three kisses instead of the usual two – greedy Dutch eh? So, we try to remember the difference when kissing Jan and Frieda, or Paul and Laura in comparison with Beatrice and Bruno.

Most of our English friends also do the kissing on greeting thing, although one of them told me that she actually avoided coming down to the village for a long time when they first moved over here as she really didn’t like it at all, and still isn’t really comfortable with it. Fair enough….it is indeed very different. In England we barely say hello to people we don’t know very well, let along kiss them.

But it would seem that the rules of kissing, much like the rules of the French language, are not always cut and dried. Much like the rule of the final consonant in a word is not pronounced….not never, just not mostly, and on which occasion it is pronounced is a bit of a mystery – even to the French. It just “is that way….I do not know or maybe it is “je ne sais quoi”? Who knows? I am still very much learning. Apparently there is a general rule that if a French word end in C,R, F or L the final letter is pronounced, but if it ends with another letter it is silent. But that rule doesn’t apply to B, K or Q…..which are hardly ever used, so it’s OK but…..confused? Yes, me too!! You see the problem?

Some of the French men we know always kiss us when we meet…sometimes a little too friendly…in which case I have started to say “oh you are Dutch? Or just cheeky”? Obviously in a friendly, smiley way. I think sometimes some of them like that us English don’t really know the “rules” and take advantage of that…. but in a nice way of course!! All good fun!

But, being a novice as I am – I am still learning what is, and is not socially acceptable on the French Kissing front!!

I sort of understood that the transition from saying “Bonjour and a hand shake” to “Bonjour and a kiss” is made when two people become friends rather than strangers. So, as the local shop keepers and café owners are becoming friendlier, and chattier as the months go by some of them now kiss on greeting as well as the always smiling and friendly “Bonjour”.

What I didn’t realise though is the timing of the transition also has a “rule”.

So, a week or so ago I went into our local grocery store and the owner as always very happy and smiling bid me “Bonjour” and this time he shook my hand. Which seemed quite formal. So, with a huge smile….I went in for the kill, and gave him two great big smackeroos – one on each cheek. “Bonjour” I said “now we are friends we can kiss!” It was very funny!! He looked a little stunned, and then promptly went around to every other lady in the shop and gave them big huge kisses too!! I’m not sure exactly what he said in French….but I caught the word “Femme” which is wife…so I like to think he was probably having a bit of a laugh along the lines of “when the cat’s away the mice will play” – or whatever the French equivalent of that might be!! There were lots of giggles in the shop. But, a bit of a “faux pas” on my behalf.

So….I consulted my lady friends at the lunch I hosted this week. And learned a bit more about the rule of kissing. It would seem that it is the French who decide when the transition is made….so I may have been a bit forward!! Never mind!! It was all in good fun. I don’t mind at all giving the French a bit of a laugh with my antics.

Ladies Lunch

The other week – in the same shop – I accidentally fired an onion across the counter at the afore mentioned man’s wife and we had a bit of a laugh about how I was a trouble maker, maybe in the Gilet Jaunes, and also that she thought maybe I was using it to play pool with.

onion_368That’s when I realised that I’ve probably begun to get a bit of a reputation about my pool playing as the only reason she would know that is if her husband told her he’s seen me in the bar playing pool with Bernard etc. on a Tuesday night. The mind boggles when I imagine what he might have told her about the kissing “incident”. I really don’t mind gaining a reputation for being friendly though…far better than the opposite.

Pool playing

I was really touched this week when two of my lady friends told me that they only knew so many people in the village due to me, and I realised how important it is for all of us to have that connection with other people. Martin and I are fast approaching our 1 year anniversary of moving out here, and when I look back I realise that we were just a little bit mad to have made that move…we didn’t really know anyone here, and it was only the connection with my Dad and Step-Mum that caused us to find ourselves here in Villefranche-du-Perigord. And because of the lovely friendship they had with Carole and Bernard here, we had the beginnings of a network of friends to build that base on…. the foundations of our new life. For a sociable person like me, it has been so important to develop relationships that I can call “friendships” – after all, we are in a small community here, and how on earth could we cope in isolation? So, for me, it has been vital to build and nurture those friendships and so to know that I have helped other people to do the same is a very rewarding feeling.

I think that at some kind of level I am doing what I used to be good at with my previous line of work…organising events…..I always knew that skill set would come in handy, but I have no desire to ever go back to the rat race of my working life in England before I re-trained as a Holistic Therapist.

Dog Walk.jpg

So, here I find myself in the lucky position of not needing to (or even to be honest being able to) pursue full time work, and being able to keep my mind active with the challenges of a house build project, organising group walks, ladies lunches, knit and natter (who would have thought) and bar crawls. Learning the rules along the way…making mistakes, learning from them (mostly), learning new skills – patience and tolerance (which for me was always a challenge) and using old skills in ways I would never have dreamed of.

Life here in rural South West France is not always easy….but it is almost always fun!

 

The Tangled Tapestry of Life

The Tattered Tapestry of Life

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

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

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

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

Tangled Tapestry of Life

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

plat du joub

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

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

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

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

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

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