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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poppies

Poppies

 

This blog entry has been mooching around my head for a while now, but I was finding it too emotionally painful to write down until now – so here goes.

During May there is an abundance of poppies – growing everywhere we look – in the fields and tracks around the village we live in. So, every walk, every drive we take, it’s hard to not ponder on the meaning that they have to us.

Poppies in the grave yard 2

For many of us, poppies are associated with death, especially as they are worn in the UK on Remembrance Sunday to honour the war dead that gave their lives for us. Summed up in this beautiful poem by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place, and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below

For me though, as well that as that symbolic reminder of the sacrifices made by those brave men, poppies also have a sweet, sentimental meaning for me.

When I was a little girl, and my maternal grandparents were both still an important part of my life, I could not say the word Grandpa or Granddad, so to make it easier they got me to say “Pop” which then became “Poppy”. So I spent the precious few years I had with him in my life calling him Poppy. Then even after he  died when I was four, I still carried on using Poppy and so did my mum and my nan  when they talked about him to me.

Poppies against a wall

So, the sight of poppies has always stirred up very fond memories of a time when I know I was happy and loved, as sadly my childhood did become very unhappy after those first early years, which means I struggle to recall happy memories at a later stage. But that’s a story that’s not for now – maybe another time.

Because of this, poppies can stir up very happy emotions in me – of a Granddad that I barely knew, but even so was an important part of my life.

But, they can also bring up real sadness in me too.

Rewind to April 2013 – my Dad was dying – we knew that – it was just a matter of how long he had  left. But then we had the shocking and terrible news that Ann also had cancer – also Stage 4. So, our visits over to Kent stepped up a notch. Having a life to lead in Hampshire – school for Sian, college for Ryan, work for Martin, and teaching for me, this was a case of spending as much time as humanly possible travelling to Kent on a Friday evening, making memories with Dad in his last weeks, and now also trying to take in this awful news about Ann.

What I remember most about those times was “The Triangle” between where James’ house in Margate, Quex camp-site that we stayed in Birchington, and Wayside mobile home site in Minster which was where Dad and Ann had ended up living once their France dreams were quashed by cancer.

The Triangle

So, at any given time we could be driving either over to James’s house from the campsite, or over to see Dad at Minster, or going to see Ann at the hospital which was just around the corner from James’s house. As you can see it’s actually more of a circle than a triangle – but at the time it felt like a  triangle – and still does.

The trip between the camp-site and Dad’s took us through a lovely little village called Acol – which we always thought sounded very French, with it’s lovely banks of poppies swaying in the wind. So, during much of these journeys I would just be sitting quietly, as the passenger, thinking, feeling sad, looking at the poppies and thinking how very tragic it was that dad would not be going back to France…..most likely not ever, definitely not to live, but probably not even to visit. Even when we were not in Kent, the poppies played a part. For the first time I noticed poppies at the side of the road on my running route, so every morning as I ran past the poppies, I thought of all this constant sadness, but also it encouraged me to keep going, keep running, keep trying and to be glad that I have a body that works, and that I could run, and that I should keep running to make up for the fact that some people no longer could. This thought spurred me on to do some fairly epic (for me at least) fund-raising attempts for Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK including my first and only Half Marathon Half Marathon Medal

It was a surreal time in our lives, and as we played out the nightmare we were in, we honestly believed that once this was over, we could get back to normal.

But, no, life had more for us that just that sad episode. The poppy season two years down the line brought the loss of my step-dad at the end of May – so many poppies around that year too – there always is – I just didn’t notice it so much before.

And then, tragically the following May our young nephew lost his battle with cancer. In our messed up, upside-down-and-back-to-front family dynamic it has meant that through time and over time we have not only lost the people who died – but also some associated relationships have suffered the consequences – our inability to forgive a dad who failed his son, ex in-laws who find it painful to keep links with past family, a son who didn’t even try to do the right thing by his dying father. All those and more – people lost from our lives – they call it the ripple effect of death. More like a tidal wave in our case it seems.

Poppies are also associated with dreams –considered to be sacred to Morpheus the Greek God of dreams. All I know is that those days were so incredibly sad as we witnessed the dreams of one very lovely, very ordinary couple get shattered into a billion pieces.

Solo poppy

 

So, here we are…now in France – making our very best efforts to create our own dreams. Dreams that sometimes feel as fragile as the roots of those poppies, and are equally as amazing in the way that they seem to be rising up in a jungle of a wilderness – just like the poppies seem to be able to grow just about anywhere – on steep banks, and in ditches at the side of the road. Even next to spiders webs.

Poppies and spiders webs

 

It’s still a constant worry to us that our own dreams will be shattered – not this time due to ill health hopefully – but through the political mess that the UK has found itself in. It hurts to the core when people who seem to have no real concept or understanding of what their actions are doing to our dreams say such utter nonsense like “it’s only scaremongering” or “it will be alright”. They have no idea what it feels like to know we are only just 2 steps away from being homeless. If they did understand it, surely they would not keep saying those things – but perhaps they want to hurt us for daring to want a different life for ourselves. We have nothing (in terms of property or material things)  in the UK and if this all goes horribly wrong for us we will not be able to live in the something we have in France.

Like the poppies we are trying to put down our roots – in a place where those roots don’t quite belong – but even so we want to get those roots firmly planted – we want to live here – in France, in our crazy little corner of this sweet little village, the fields surrounding which now look so reminiscent of that lovely village Acol we used to drive though. In the same way that the impact of death has rippled out and added to the loss in our lives, so has the division in our country of birth. We find it sad that people who we once loved seem so alien to our own beliefs and we feel scared for the future of both the country we were born in and the country we now live in…resulting in more loss of friends and relationships.

 

We hope that we can be as resilient as those poppies in the wind  and just say “damn you Brexit and all those who follow you! We will grow where we want to grow and we will be strong”.

Apparently to dream of poppies suggests that you are about to meet a new, younger love – or that it is time to move on. I really don’t think Martin is under any threat of me trading him in for a younger model (who would put up with me) so I’m taking it that it is time for us to both move on, and leave the past hurt behind, give up on relationships that are too difficult to continue to fight for, and forge this new life for ourselves in  our own (Poppy) Field of Dreams.