The tail wagging the dog

The tail wagging the dog

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

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

The new stone slabs

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

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

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

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

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

Tail wagging the dog

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

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

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

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

Martin steaming
Ewwwkkkkkk – this stuff smells funny!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Back to the Roaring Twenties

Back to the Roaring Twenties

We had a lovely Christmas…a really, really lovely Christmas. One of the best in many ways – although it was the first one ever that I have not seen my daughter Sian at all on Christmas Day which was strange.

However, Sian did come out for a pre-Christmas visit which was a combination of a late 21st Birthday Celebration for her, and an early Christmas for all of us. We showed her the house – which at that stage was just the walls and the roof – no window or doors – and of course lots of scaffolding for her to climb on!Sian climbing scaffolding

Then we took her off to Sarlat for 4 days where we stayed at an Airbnb just a 10-minute walk from where the lovely little Sarlat Christmas Market was held.

We had a day for each of the celebrations – one for Sian’s 21st birthday where we took her out and bought her a Pandora. She loved how much French I was able to say in the shop – I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised myself – it’s amazing how much harder I try when I am trying to show off!

Gifts from Sian collage

 

 

We had a day for my belated birthday too – where Sian gave me two lovely gifts that she had brought over from England for me – a super candle handmade by her lovely friend Ash (who I have a huge soft spot for), and a hilarious shopping bag! I can’t wait to show it off at the Saturday market in Villefranche – I think it will raise a few laughs!!

Check out  Ash’s Etsy Shop for his other products. I love mine and will definitely order some for when I am popping back to the UK in June.

 

Practice Christmas Dinner

Also, we had a lovely early Christmas Day – with gifts from Sian that she had bought for us at the Christmas Market. I cooked a Christmas Dinner – vegetarian of course. We started off with a Cheese Fondue for a starter as Sian had wanted to try fondue when we went to Switzerland last January but we didn’t get the chance. It was lovely – so good that I decided to do it again for our real Christmas Dinner. Then we had nut roast with all the traditional English accompaniments – thanks to Sian who snuck packets of stuffing mix and Yorkshire pudding batter in her hand luggage.

 

Bubbles

 

We enjoyed walking down to the Christmas Market every day and just having a walk around, watching the ice skaters, drinking ‘Vin Chaud’  (Hot Wine, which I have to say is so much nicer than the Mulled Wine we get in the UK Christmas Markets – although it is pretty much the same thing I suppose – the wine is probably better quality).

Of course, we had to sample the crepes and ‘gaufres’ (waffles) as well – really yummy.

 

It was a really good few days – and so lovely to see her. Of course, it all went too fast and before I knew it is was time to take her to Bergerac airport and say goodbye again!!Sian with Polar Bear

I always feel sad to say goodbye – but of course – just a few days later we were back to collect Ryan from the airport.

Ryan by Polar Bear

 

By this time, we had windows and doors installed into our house and most of the roof tiles were on – so it really was a proper house to show him. We even had a temporary staircase thanks to our lovely Dutch friends who have loaned us a spare one (who knew that there are actually people out there who have a spare staircase in their wood store?).Martin holding the stair case.jpg

We received a mystery phone call in the afternoon on Christmas Eve which turned out to be the man from Le Vie Clair (the organic shop in Prayssac) where we had bought 3 tombola tickets for the princely sum of 3€ back in Mid-December. Martin struggled in French but managed to establish that we had won a prize. So, we managed to get from Bergerac to Prayssac in time to make it before they closed at 5pm, thinking we had maybe won a gift set of organic shampoo or something. However, when we arrived at the shop we were taken off to the ‘Maire’ (the Mayor’s office) and there on the floor were a number of huge crates stuffed full of goodies. I clocked a rather nice tea set comprising of a tea pot, 2 cups and saucers and a selection of tea. I secretly hoped that my prize would be this, but I could see that there were lots of lovely goodies so I knew I would be pleased with whatever I was presented with. The man checked my ticket and pointed to one of the crates (the one with the tea set) – “oh good” I thought “I get to pick my own prize” ready to dive in and grab the tea set. “Mais non – c’est tout” he said! “Tout?” I said!! “Really? All of it”? “Oui” he said “Tout”. Oh my goodness – I had won ALL OF THE CONTENTS OF ONE OF THE CRATES! I was stunned – and so was Martin!! And so was Ryan when he realised he had to help Martin carry the crate to the car! And so were the dogs when they realised they had to be squidged in the boot with the huge crate!

Tombola collage

Never in all my life have I won such a wonderful prize! The crate was stuffed full, and inside there was an envelope containing vouchers for some of the local shops – over 130€ worth of vouchers. We spent the evening looking through the contents and decided what to do with the things. There were children’s toys so I asked Adam which bits to save for Max to play with when he visits and decided to offer the remainder to our neighbours. There was a selection of ‘Foie Gras’ (liver from a duck fattened by force-feeding) – which is of no use to a vegetarian – so we decided to take that to Carole and Bernard’s on Christmas Day as we know he enjoys it. There was wine, whiskey, chocolates, the tea set I had coveted, a Dolce Gusto coffee maker – just loads of lovely things. It was as if Santa Claus had come down our new chimney! (Although we actually haven’t got a chimney as have not chosen a wood burner yet).

Determined to spend Christmas Day in our new house no matter what state it was in we had already discussed with (negotiated, or maybe even bribed) Ryan to spend 2 nights in the Garden House so that we could spend the time “at home” before we went away to another Airbnb. So, he slept on the little “clik-clak” (bed settee), with our new “en-suite toilettes seches”(dry toilet) to use, and surprisingly no grumbles!

Gin and TonicWe had set up a temporary dinner table – consisting of two trestles with two planks of 2m x 0.4m wood – which made a perfect size table. We had also lugged up our garden room kitchen trolleys so had a pretty good temporary kitchen set up – actually in the correct place of where the “real” kitchen will go.

It was a bit nippy as 5 of the windows and doors have not yet been finished properly – long story cut short is that the ‘Charpentier’ (carpenter) was not happy to fit the windows on to the TEK panel wood as it will be exposed to the weather (and therefore in time rot the windows and doors), so the ‘macon’ (builder) is returning in January to install stone slabs. So, although we lugged bits of spare TEK panel to cover the gaps it was still very drafty.

But, with our little paraffin heater on, and jackets and hats for the coldest parts of the day – it was actually quite comfortable – and just so lovely to be spending our very first Christmas in France (we went back to the UK last year) in our new home! Sat at our make shift table, with 1 of our four human children, 2 of our 4 fur babies in with us, and 2 prowling around outside trying to find a way in through the gaps!

Dinner was a slow affair – working between 3 kitchens in 3 different locations is a challenge I have to say. Some of the stuff was being cooked in the motor home oven, some in the house on the induction hob and in the air fryer, and Martin had to keep going back down to the Garden House to grab things I had forgotten! But it was really chilled and relaxing. We had Face time calls with Henry and Chloe (our nephew and niece) and with Adam, Owen and our Grandson Max.

Fondue starterWe had Cheese Fondue for our starter again! Only this time we over done it and had too much – then didn’t want our main course until 5pm. Then we were so stuffed we didn’t want desert!!

 

 

All in all, it was just a lovely, relaxed day. We walked down to the village when it got dark to walk off some of the dinner and also to see if we could see the lights in the house from the car-park! We could!

Martin and I had some lovely, and very thoughtful gifts from Ryan, but decided to not exchange gifts between ourselves this year – after all we feel just like big kids with our new house to play with. We are however going to treat ourselves to a new battery drill each in the New Year – a smaller “girly” one for me – so that I can play my part in the work that comes next!

Then it was off to Perigeux for 3 days with Ryan – to another Airbnb. This one was also just a short walk from the Christmas Market – so we enjoyed a few trips down to try out some different Christmas treats – ‘Flammkuchen’ (Alsace Pizza), Frites, Bubble Waffles – all very yummy. Not to mention more ‘Vin Chaud’!!

Martin and Ryan at the Vin Chaud

This market had two stalls that sold this so we could have a bar crawl if we wanted.

 

keyring.jpgWe did actually treat each other to a small gift each at this Christmas Market in the form of a keyring each, made from a very fascinating material – Tagua – which is commonly known as Vegetable Ivory. We are always interested in using sustainable materials when possible and I was really intrigued by this small business – in both the products and their ethos. They pay a fair wage to the women in Ecuador who make the items and support children from the poorest families in the village with financial scholarship. We each chose a keyring to put our new house keys on – symbolising that the house in indeed our present to each other!! The company is called Nodova if you want to have a look for yourself.

Indian takeaway orderWe also discovered an Indian restaurant which was extremely exciting for me!! I really do miss a good Indian takeaway. So of course, we did indulge in this, and it was very nice. Mind you, the Madras strength was no-where near as spicy as a UK one would have been – although it was authentic Indian food it was clearly cooked to suit the delicate French palates. I can’t wait to get my kitchen at home up and running so I can cook up a Veggie Indian Feast for some friends! Being a foodie I am always most motivated to improve my French in any way that involves food – hence the list written partly in French for practice.

 

As with Sian’s visit, it was all over so fast and then we were taking Ryan back to the airport. I got tearful in the Departure Lounge and needed to hide away in the toilets so he didn’t see me. But once in the car it really hit me and I was a blubbering wreck for half the journey home. It’s so hard to say goodbye to your kids when you don’t even know when you will see them next. Then I started Martin off too and even he was getting a bit emotional as he misses his boys too – and little Max – his grandson. We both miss all of them…a lot. But it was lovely to see them all, in some way on Christmas Day whether that was in person, or through technology – and even in this adorable Christmas Card that popped into our letter box!! Max christmas card

So, in order to stop that feeling of uncertainty we decided to start making firm arrangements for a trip back to the UK this coming year! At least now we should know where we stand with Brexit and as long as we leave with a withdrawal agreement and a transition period then the coming year should be OK to travel (we hope). So, we hope to go for a few weeks in June – and are planning with the key people as to when they are available. It’s like a military operation – I’ve had to start up a spreadsheet on my laptop!!

Once Christmas was over, and no more visitors we had some work to get done on the house. Whilst the scaffolding is still in situ and no builders to navigate around the really tall supporting pillars needed to be painted with a clear, wood protector – a bit like PVA glue. As Martin is the one brave enough to go into the crawl space (which I hyperventilate just thinking about), and he is not so keen on heights (whereas I, like Sian, jump at the opportunity to climb just about anything), it was a no-brainer. Martin would go under – and I would go up. So, we spent a lovely sunny afternoon with him looking like a starring role in “Return to the Planet of the Apes” drilling the first of the holes through which our electricity cables will enter the house from, and meanwhile I was swinging like a monkey through the trees on the scaffolding – happy as anything sitting there painting the posts.He went under and I went up

And then, after that it was time to get ready to see in the New Year – our second one in France. Last year we celebrated this at Jan and Frieda’s house and I remember saying “next year we can do it at our house”. But of course, our house was not in a ready enough state to host a NYE Party. So, luckily Jan and Frieda offered to host it again! There were 14 of us in total – of various nationalities – French, Dutch, Belgian and English. For the food we had decided beforehand that it would be fun to bring along food that was traditional to our own countries. I struggled to think of something that was typically English that was also vegetarian – but then came up with the idea of Mini Vegetarian Cornish Pasties – you can’t get much more traditional than a Cornish Pasty can you? The motorhome is not best equipped for baking but I managed to make about 20 of the little things in small batches!! I also done a Cheese and Pineapple Hedgehog because I doubt very much if anyone English over the age of 40 had a childhood without having one of these at a party! We also went over to Prayssac to spend some of our Tombola prize vouchers which included one for a “Delicieux Plateau de Fromages” which came out so huge we decided to take that to the party as well to share with our friends!Delicieux plateau de fromage

Jan and Frieda made ‘Oliebollen’ (Dutch Doughnuts) and ‘Appelflappen’ (Dutch Apple Fritters) – sorry but I cannot help but laugh when I say those two words, especially together!! These are delicious, beautifully oily, naughty treats that are only allowed once a year (on New Year’s Eve) or sometimes at fun fairs. Frieda bought me a packet mix back which I am going to be naughty and go against tradition and make for our housewarming party though!

Oliebollen and cheese and pineapple hedgehog

‘And Sylviane not only brought along, but demonstrated the tradition of the ‘Galettes des Rois’ – which is a cake traditionally eaten on 6th January to celebrate the kings visiting the baby Jesus. Sylviane needed the youngest person at the party (thankfully not me – it was Craig) to hide under the table and choose the person to get each slice of cake in the order it was cut. The cake contains a small ceramic object – the person who gets the object becomes the king (or the queen) for the year! So, Craig was under the table. Sylviane was cutting the cake – and Craig was banging the table and calling out the name for the person to take the cake. It was all good fun! The winner of the ceramic object (a turtle) was a Dutch lady – Jacqueline – who was very excited to win it! I was just glad I hadn’t broken any teeth on the damn thing – it was a bit like the French Bingo – wanting to not win!! I mean – who thought of putting hard, ceramic objects in a cake!! The French have some strange traditions!! Shortly afterwards, Sylviane called out that she also had a ceramic turtle! There were two in our cake!! I like to think of turtles as being a sign of good luck and health – so I hope that the turtles bring them both all the best in the coming year – and that next year they return on New Years Eve to tell us all about their year as Queen (as the French tradition says to do).

As with all fun evenings the time went very fast and before we knew it the clock was ticking towards midnight…..then on with the Dutch television to watch the fireworks and the countdown to 2020!! As we all wished each other Happy New Year some bright spark (now who was it? Oh yes it was me!) suddenly realised we were going back to the Twenties and shouted that out! To which Carole decided to become a flapper girl and give us a bit of Charleston! Watch the video here

 

What a lovely start to the New Year! A really good mix of nationalities, sharing different cultures, different traditions – all very good fun! We have made some lovely friends here in France – and we treasure them as much as we treasure our beloved family back in the UK.

Musing over the fun of the night before on New Year’s Day I said to Martin – Bernard must be going into the Twenties for the second time in his life! And yes, we realised that as he was born in 1929 he is indeed hitting the Roaring Twenties for the second time – and that is a very special thing – there’s not many around who can say that.

 

Despite all that is going on in the world at the moment 2020 has a good feel to it. Let’s hope it will be the year that brings some peace for us all. We can only but hope can’t we?

So here we are!

Back to the Roaring Twenties!

Happy New Decade to everyone!

Cheers!

Kwak duck kwak