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)

Thank Goodness for Yoga Pants

Thank Goodness for Yoga Pants

 

Again, such a long time since my last blog entry. So much has happened it’s unbelievable.

In early September we finally got all the pieces of the jigsaw to come together, the ‘maçon’ (builder) instructed to do the foundations and later the ‘fosse septique’ (septic tank), and of course the builder to construct the house and erect the roof. Also, the ‘menuisier’ (carpenter) to do the windows, and an ‘echafauder’ (scaffolder) to supply the scaffold to enable all of them to put it together.

What biscuits shall I get in

 

We had a meeting at our Garden House to discuss all the finer points, and agree a starting date. At the end of the meeting I said to Philippe “I have one more important question to ask”. He looked a bit worried, probably thinking I was about to drop a spanner into the works. “When you start, how many men will you have here at any one time?”. He said, one to begin with, then maybe three some of the other times – was that OK? “Yes, of course I said – I just wanted to know what biscuits to get in for them”.

 

 

 

We agreed that Martin and I would take a bit of a break and do some travelling whilst awaiting the start date, and said that we would be no more than one day away should the opportunity arise to start earlier and we were happy to come back. But we felt that rather than hang around impatiently waiting it would be good to get some mountain air in the Pyrenees and then maybe even some sea air on the Atlantic Coast after that. It would be good to refresh our energy and come back with batteries fully charged, ready to oversee the building work and get cracking on with some other work on what is now known as the “lower levels”. Our land consists of a flat(ish) higher level which is where the house will go, and then lower levels – the left of the lower level is where our shed is, and the right of the lower level is where our garden house is. We can do whatever we want to around the garden house as it is not in the way of the building, but the left-hand bit might be where the ‘fosse septique’ will go – so we cannot do anything there for the time being.

Chantier Interdit signBefore we went off, we warned our neighbours that the building work was soon to start which meant that they would no longer be able to cut across the top of our plot as a short cut towards the village. Unfortunately for them, when we moved over here, they had been benefiting from the unoccupied plot as a short cut for quite some time, so we were reasonable and said that until the start of the building they could continue. It’s actually illegal in France (I’m sure it probably is in the UK) for the public to enter a building site – so it’s in everyone’s best interests that they cease to allow their two children – one of which is still only three – to cross a plot of land where there is to be a gaping 1.4 metre hole ready to swallow him up – goodness that doesn’t even bear thinking about does it? There’s a place further up the track that they could cut through if they still wish to cross over that way in the future, although why anyone would want to walk at an elevated height directly in front of their neighbour’s bathroom window is a mystery to me

 

Doggos at Fleurance LakeSo, off ‘en vacances’ we went – heading first of all towards the Pyrenees. We stopped off at a lovely village called Fleurance on our first night where there was a beautiful lake to walk around on the way into the village.

 

Lake with bridge at Fleurance

Jazz in MarciacOur next little gem to discover was Marciac which is apparently famous for it’s annual Jazz Festival. We were too late to see that – but everywhere in the town there was an obvious nod towards this, including the fascinating paving slabs with music score. There was also a gorgeous lake which we cycled around (‘sans chiens’) and also walked around (‘avec chiens’).

Marciac music paving slabs.jpg

 

Lourdes

Now, although I more “spiritual” than religious (I believe that we are all connected together as part of the universe) I really wanted to visit Lourdes to see for myself the sanctuary that attracts six million visitors each year. So our next stop was here.

 

Pot bellied pig We stayed at a lovely campsite within a 30-minute downhill walk of the sanctuary with its own little mini farm with the cutest ever pot-bellied pig! I was in my element grunting at him – I’m sure the farm was intended for the kids I guess but hey ho!

 

Huge Lady of LourdesThere are no dogs permitted within the sanctuary we walked down into Lourdes and found a tea shop for Martin to wait with the doggos (and I’m sure a sticky bun was part of his plan) while I mooched around the sanctuary. I loved it, from the moment I walked in and saw the huge statue of Our Lady of Lourdes which is quite overwhelming, it felt really peaceful.

 

 

 

 

 

Our lady of lourdes in the Grotto

I walked through the Grotto of Massabielle which is where Bernadette had the apparitions, and although it’s not my own particular religious belief I felt compelled to reach out and touch the stone chamber, as if somehow this was going to connect me to her. Then I went to one of the taps and poured some of the Lourdes water – rubbing it over my hands, arms and necks, and I cried. I don’t know why I cried – but I just found it very spiritual at some level. Then I had a lovely, slow peaceful walk around – looking at the candles burning, watching the ripples of the River Gave de Pau that runs through the sanctuary, feeling very calm and introspective.

 

Love, Joy, Peace and LightIn stark contrast I found the commercial side of Lourdes vulgar if I am to be honest. Within the sanctuary itself not so much so, there is no fee to pay to go in. But outside those gates – it is like Brighton Rock!! Tourist tatt in the extreme. Every shop sells gawdy rosary beads, candles, and plastic bottles to fill up with Lourdes water. We bought nothing – apart from later that day a stunning, hand made glass wall hanging that sung to me from its place on the wall of a quiet little artisan’s workshop and told me to take it home with me.

 

 

 

Gavarnie riverNext we went off into the mountains to Garvanie. Much more our cup of tea – much more us! Quiet, peace, tranquillity – and of course stunning 360 degree views of mountains all around us.

 

 

Martin via ferrataWe stayed at a small, quiet campsite with stunning walks just moments away and had a lovely 2 days here. Martin took me out for a “gentle” 6km walk into the town centre which actually turned out to be quite an epic adventure, very challenging for me as I’ve not done any climbing for ages and although it was only a short climb up, at the point when we realised that they only way to complete the walk was to tackle a short via ferrata with a metal chain, I was wondering if the lady at the campsite had really meant it when she said the walk is fine ‘avec chiens’. Poor Martin had to do the via ferrata 5 times there and back. Once to recce it, once to take me over safely, once to take Lillie over and then again with Luka, and back again to get the bags and come over himself. It was certainly an experience! Shortly after the little via ferrata we came across a little abseil – again with a chain. This was much more my cup of tea – always happy to abseil!! And the dogs of course took that in their stride and just charged down full pelt. However, by the time we got into the town I’d decided that I would prefer to walk back the road way rather than to tackle the reverse route – smart move I think even though the road is far from ideal for walking with two dogs (narrow, no pavements and only a barrier between us and a big drop in places).

Gavarnie flowers

I love Lourdes #2After Gavarnie we decided to return to Lourdes but this time to stay by the lake and to enjoy a more tranquil aspect of the area. The dogs loved it here as they could have a splash around in the lake. Earlier in the season you can hire canoes and paddle boards but it was all closed – so we made a firm resolution that we would buy our own canoe so we can in future really make the most of the quiet month of September whilst the tourists have all gone home, but the weather is still good enough and the water still warm enough to enjoy some water based fun.Doggos in Lourdes Lac

View from our pitchWe then decided to head towards the Atlantic Coast as I had a bee in my bonnet about getting the sea air, but instead we stumbled across another gem of a place called Biscarosse. It is right on the shore of the Lac de Sanguinet-Cazaux, one of the largest and newest lakes in Europe. Here we were able to pitch up right on the sandy shores of the lake underneath the pine trees – absolutely magical.

Bikes at Biscarrosse

We planned to stay for two nights and ended up staying four, and to be honest we only left then because a really noisy family had arrived at a chalet across the road which disturbed our peace and quiet. This place was really amazing. The weather was beautiful, all we had to do was to unpack our lounger chairs and sit and look at the sun dancing on the ripples – for endless hours. We swam with the dogs, cycled to the nearest bar, and just totally chilled out for a few days. But all good things come to an end and as I say the noisy family spoiled it all (they turned out to be a private owner who are known to the campsite for nuisance – so we will avoid that spot when we return in the future).

Sunset over Biscarrosse

Marsha pitched up along the bank of the River Dordogne at Castillon-la-Bataille

So, our final two nights were spent at Castillon-la-Bataille – a lovely campsite on the banks of the River Dordogne but the town was a bit of a dump to be honest. There would seem to be some connection to Lawrence of Arabia – but we never did get around to looking in to this. The campsite even had canoes to hire where we could have got a lift further up the Dordogne River and canoed back, but sadly the noise of torrential rain woke us up in the morning which put paid to that idea. However, now that we know, what we did not know back then – this was probably a blessing in disguise.

Sunset over the River Dordoge at Castillon-la-Bataille

To sum it up, we enjoyed a final relaxing day before heading back home. We had had a couple of lovely weeks, relaxing, chilling, laughing, reflecting, and charging our batteries ready for the beginning of our house build. We were relaxed, and ready for taking on this next part of the adventure, but my damn body had other plans.

On the Sunday I had made some “enhanced” scrambled egg for brunch. Enhanced in, as the French way of adding Crème Fraiche to the eggs – a delight that I have only just recently discovered. The Crème Fraiche may have been a little past it’s best – although the dates were still good, or it may have been that it is just too rich for my diet, but after eating it I had a bit of a tummy ache – and Martin did too – so we thought maybe it was slightly off. But nothing untoward happened.

Then on Monday we departed for home – via Bergerac to do some shopping. We had a bit of a naughty breakfast (Almond Croissant)  and then lunch (bread with avocado) with no problems. However, shortly after lunch time on the Monday I became suddenly and violently ill. I’ll spare the really gory details but – both ends – frequently – from about 1pm on Monday – all the way home in the motorhome (causing a one and half hour trip to take 6 hours) – then all through the night, and again on Tuesday. I was besides myself in pain – dosed up to the eyeballs with Anadin Extra, clutching a hot water bottle to my belly and another resting on my back – curled up in foetal position, moving only to go and sit on the loo and dry heave over a bucket. On top of the belly ache I also had the mother of all headaches. I couldn’t eat anything – I had no appetite – which is a very rare occurrence, in fact I don’t recall a time in my life when I ever went off food before.

 

On Wednesday I had an idea to try Reiki. So, I got my piece of Mookaite and held it to my sacral chakra and done some really deep breathing whilst at the same time asking for some help. After a while I got a crystal-clear message in my head “it’s your appendix – you need to get it checked out”.

I had not even considered appendicitis and to be honest was certain that the pain was not low enough to be that as it was still all over the belly although there was pain in one specific area of the right hand side. But anyhow, it prompted me to consult Dr Google – who told me that every symptom I had could be appendicitis. Still convinced it was probably just a bug, but willing to err on the edge of caution, but unable to actually deal with writing around on the Doctors waiting room I asked Martin to go and see if a Dr would come out.

The French health care system really cannot be faulted in its efficiency. Long story short, my GP couldn’t come out but her colleague could and he actually followed Martin back from the surgery to the motorhome. Neither he, nor any of the other medical staff who have visited me since have batted an eyelid about coming out to the motorhome – it’s like they don’t have the same “stick up their arse” that some of the uptight British medical practitioners seem to have as part of their role. He examined me, prescribed some meds, told me it could be appendicitis but he was hoping not, and arranged for me to have a blood test the next morning.

The medications worked very quickly – this convinced me that all was going to be fine. The next morning, I felt a bit of a fraud having the nurse come to me to take blood as I would have been able to make it down to the village. I regained my appetite, starting eating a bit, and felt well enough to go and visit Carole and Bernard in the afternoon. I just had a dull ache in the lower right side of my belly – but put this down to 3 days of constant vomiting and dry retching.

So, you could have knocked me over with a feather when the Doctor phoned and said I needed to go straight to hospital. Two of my blood results were very concerning – one that should normally be < 5 was > 300. The instructions were that Martin was to take me to the surgery to get my blood tests, then home to get an overnight bad, then straight to Villeneuve hospital. (Note: they would send me in a taxi if I had no-one to drive me).

I will be honest. I was pissed off. I felt much better, and I thought that the Doctor was probably just covering his arse, that some reading was high because at the time of the test I was ill but now I was better. I wanted to go home for my dinner, and I really didn’t want to be going to the hospital. But something stopped me and made me listen, and that something was the nagging feeling that every time I had held my Mookaite crystal over “the spot” and shut my eyes I had a very clear visual image of a bright red fire ball.

So, I went. And today, just over a week later, I am sitting here in my yoga pants because they are the only things that will fit me.

I was admitted via emergency. Had a whole heap of tests, an ECG because they though I was having a heart attack (my goodness I was so scared at this point – I thought I would die alone in an ER bay with Martin outside in the waiting room), more blood tests, and a CT scan with the funny “hot” fluid that made me feel like I was peeing my pants.

The two hours I spent alone in the assessment bay was truly terrifying. I had interpreted my blood test results in the car journey and knew that I was neutropenic (fighting infection) and that dangerously high reading was with C-Reactive Protein. My reading was 345 which is well in the danger zone!

I’m one of those people who, through years of working alongside health care services, and obviously we have our truly bloody awful track record of cancer within our family, am well aware that this is a cancer indicator, as well as an indicator of a soon to happen cardiac arrest, but also on a lesser scale it is also an infection indicator. So, in the course of that 2 hours I had frightened myself shitless that a)because they hooked me up on the ECG) I was having a heart attack and then b)after that didn’t seem to be happened then it must be cancer. In my head, right then at that time, alone in that bay I told myself that “this little piece of land” was jinxed and that as well as my dad dying from lung cancer after living here, and my step mum dying from ovarian cancer after living here, it was my turn and I would die of stomach cancer after living here. And I was blooded gutted to be honest. Because I have so much that I want to do here on this little piece of land – so I’m not quite finished yet Mr Cancer. When the surgeon came to me and told me that I had appendicitis I was just so damned relieved as it was by far the lesser of the evils.

I was operated on the next morning. The language barrier, as always, caused plenty of problems including my complete lack of understanding about which of the three hats I was supposed to put on my head for the surgery!! I thought my sterile surgery pack consisted of a gown, a sexy pair of pants and a CHOICE of THREE different sized hats. Wrong! It turns out that two of the hats were foot coverings – who knew? There was a bit of drama over the surgical stockings, and a very surreal moment when a nurse realised that I had not even been asked to sign consent for the operation!! (I eventually signed it left handed on the anaesthesia  table as my right hand had an electrode on it).

I was wheeled from the room down a lift and through a huge set of opening doors, and into what was like a lift chamber but wasn’t. Here I was met by staff from the “other side”. It was weird, the staff member taking me down had been a bit grumpy over the stockings, and had made me cry as I was in pain and she was very abrupt, and I’d kept saying “pardon, ma Française ce n’est pa  tres bien” and she was getting agitated with me. But then going through to the other side it was as if a switch was flicked!

 

The universal language of kindness is a warm smileThe first person to greet me was Vivian. I said my usual feeble “pardon…ma francais…blah blah!. But instead of getting wound up with me she smiled and said “that’s fine, I can speak a little English, would you like to speak English?” It made all the difference, and apart from that she was just bloody amazing anyway. I told her that “nous commencons a construire notre maison aujourd’hui” and that I was “tres tres” upset to be missing the first day. She asked if I would like some music on whilst I got sleepy, and then when I said yes please, she used her own phone to get my choice of chill music playing on my pillow. As the anaesthetic started to take effect she held my hand and started to do a guided meditation all about our house being finished and I was taking her to show it to her. She made me laugh, was happy and smiling, and made the last 30 minutes of my consciousness before going under a much less scary place than any of the preceding 14 hours had been. There should be move Vivian’s in this world. Yes, I should know more French – I’m constantly reminded of that – but at a time when every single French word I ever learnt falls out of my head from pure fear it’s good to remember that “the universal language of kindness is a smile”.         

Then it was all over, and I was awake again – very glad to be back in the land of the living. The staff in recovery were all wonderful, and soon the time came to be wheeled back to the “other side”, the golden gates that led back into the real world. And quite surreally as soon as I was handed back other to the staff at the lift-lobby-that-wasn’t-a-lift the attitude changed. “Bonjour” I said “hello” she snapped! “Ca va” I said. “I am OK” she replied. Oh dear, I thought – one of these. I clearly irritated the staff by my Englishness. There was worse that evening, a staff member had a proper go at me about living in France and not speaking in French, which was both upsetting and distressing but also downright rude as when she said it to me, I had in actual fact been speaking in French. Not perfect French, mucked up, wrong way round grammatically incorrect French – but it didn’t warrant the hostility directed towards me. It upset me a lot, at a time when I was feeling very vulnerable, but I’m not going to have that experience as the takeaway from my hospital experience – that bitch can stay there – I’m going to take away the wonderful Vivian and her music and meditation, the beautiful and kind Nurse Elodie who was patient enough to encourage and help me  whilst I was struggling with a bit of French, and took wonderful care of me, and the brilliant surgeon who might just have saved my life.

Appendular abscessThe surgeon told me that when he opened me up there was a large abscess and my appendix looked pretty ropey too – so he sorted it all out for me, and he said I was very lucky – it was all very close to bursting.

I feel lucky. If I had ignored that gut feeling I might have delayed going. But also, if it hadn’t have rained on the Sunday morning, we might have gone canoeing down the Dordogne and that maybe would have been the trigger a day early – it was obviously all getting ready to go – and that could have been a much trickier situation to get medical help from.

But life is too short to think of the “what ifs”. We need to think of the “what is”….”what is happening right now”, “what is needed right now”. And the answer to that is that our life is happening…..our building work has started at last. I’ve spent the first part of my convalescence watching a digger winding it’s neck like a serpent looking for some prey  and a cement mixer spewing what looks like glossy cake mix into the ground where the rest of our goddam lives are going to be based on!! And that is FREAKING AWESOME!!

And yes, my stomach hurts, I already have IBS so the gas they pumped me with has made my stomach feel like a huge, tense, hard sponge that was being pinched between everything, and it felt as if it was full of spark plugs. And yes the first time I pooped I cried in relief to find that they hadn’t stitched my arsehole together…..but the spark plugs are losing their charge AND I have yoga pants so my stomach that is now eleventy fucking billion times bigger than it’s ever been before can be comfortable.

 

Thank goodness for yoga pants

 

Thank goodness for Vivian’s and Elodie’s, Doctors that know what they are doing, and for bloody brilliant surgeons

 

Thank goodness I’m alive

 

 

Pardon my French

Pardon my French

Warning – a lot of swear words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loubejac Night Market
14 of us at Loubejac Night Market 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Fingers Up
Encule cette merde

 

 

 

 

Poppies

Poppies

 

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

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

Poppies in the grave yard 2

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

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place, and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below

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

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

Poppies against a wall

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

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

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

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

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

The Triangle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo poppy

 

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

Poppies and spiders webs

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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!