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)

This house is built on a foundation of love

This house is built on a foundation of love

 

“This house is built

On a foundation of love

This house is built

On a foundation of love

Our toys are in the attic baby

Pictures on the wall

We can see our memories

From the days past in the mirror

Down the hall, oh yeah

Our love will survive in our own little paradise

So inspired, so inspired

Palatial it may not be

But it’s a home and a castle to me

A dream from a magazine

And we’ll never give it up ‘cause

This house is built

On a foundation of love

This house is built

On a foundation of love”

Diana Ross

To hear the track click here

This past two weeks has seen the long awaiting start of our building work – and what an exciting time it is. We’ve now been living in the motor-home for 17 months with the exception of a few short periods of respite when we have done house sits. And to be honest, sometimes it has felt that it’s taken it’s toll.

We’ve stretched our relationship to it’s limits in our 17 square metres, and yes, there have been some humdingers of arguments, usually over silly stuff because we are quite simply on top of each other.

But we’ve got through all that, and now, more than ever, I know why. It’s because we have a rock-solid foundation of love that we are building our life upon.

And in all the time we have been together, at no other time in our relationship have I seen that more apparently than in the past 3 weeks. My wonderful husband has helped me get back to fighting fit through the start of the illness (when we thought it was a tummy bug) then through the operation, and now the ongoing recovery at home.

Being ill in a motor-home is not easy. This will have been the third bout of vomiting illness that I have had since living in the van and I can honestly say this presents challenges that living in a normal house does not. For one, as anyone who has ever used a chemical toilet will tell you, you really don’t want sick going into that compartment. Even worse if it were to go down the sink into the waste water container. So, it’s  buckets for the top end, whilst perched on the loo for the bottom end!! Not nice, and all within a tiny space, with very little privacy. And my darling husband comforted me all the way through it, attending to every little thing that I needed.

We were travelling home from the holiday the day it started – and the journey that should have taken just over an hour took 5 hours as I kept needing to stop to get the bucket – and he did not moan once…just rubbed my back and done everything he could to make me comfortable.

Doggos in the car parkDuring my short stay in hospital he came in to keep me company as much as he could, and even brought the dogs in so when I was back on my feet I could meet up with them in the car-park to give them a cuddle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, during the early days post hospital discharge….when my body was trying to get itself back to normal. Because I rarely take any medication as I prefer to use natural remedies where possible it means I am very sensitive to everything, so any drugs that go into my body really do wreak havoc. This meant that the pain killers and the anaesthetic stopped my bowels working, the gas they pumped me up with gave me the most awful tummy pain.

And then, it all started moving in the right direction, but of course my body wasn’t moving how it should be. So, every part of what I would describe as my normal activities of daily living – were buggered.  I needed so much help, and I really hate asking for help, but my lovely husband just done whatever was needed – in such a lovely way, with lots of laughs along the way. I completely trust Martin to look after me, he would never say or do anything to make me feel bad for any of the things that I needed him to help me with. Poor bloke never expected to have to shave my legs, but that’s only the half of it! But no-one will ever hear about any of that from him as he is just not the sort of person to make someone feel small when they are already feeling vulnerable.

My problems post-op  had initially been general weakness, and a complete inability to bend to pick things up and reach the lower half of my body (because the incisions were right across my stomach making bending really hard). But once my staples came out that improved quickly and Wednesday was my first day able to do my shower all by myself and I was very proud!!

Dutch ovenI like to be in control of my health, and also have worked as a health information specialist, so I feel confident to use reliable web sources to look up symptoms and side effects of medications (but I know where to look to avoid getting the horror stories)  I honestly had some fascinating Google searches including finding out that “It is possible to kill someone with farts” (read article here ) and that a “Dutch oven” is the act of pulling the bed covers over someone and farting!! Who knew???

 

 

 

 

I’m back on cooking duties now too. Luckily, I only fancied very bland food in the early days, because Martin is not the best of cooks (he is the first to admit that – this is not me being mean), but he managed to get me fed every day whilst I couldn’t cook, and he washed up. But I’m glad that I am back to cooking as we can start having some more adventurous food again.

Prior to me being ill we had been discussing our diet, and had started to consider eating fish again, probably just when out, for a number of reasons. We both, but me in particular, struggle to get enough protein in without overdoing the carbs, and that’s had a derogatory effect on my weight. I had put on 2 stone since moving to France – and not all caused by the ‘Pain au Raisin’ (although I suspect they played a very bit part). When eating out, often the only option is pizza and it just makes me feel heavy and sluggish, all that cheese and ALL THOSE CALORIES! So, we considered that fish might be a good way of getting some lean protein in our diet without overloading the carbs. Fish was the last thing we stopped eating, so it’s only a few years since eating it. It probably seems strange to some people that we make a decision on what to eat together – because of course – if Martin wanted to eat meat he can do so; I don’t tell him what he can and can’t eat. But we have tended to change our diets over the years together. For one, it makes it easier – we don’t have to worry about two lots of cooking. So, we tend to discuss any changes for ages and ages before finally reaching a decision, and this time these discussions included what type of fish we would eat (aiming for fewer animal lives lost per meal so big fish like cod) and whether we would eat fish at home or just when out, or round at friend’s houses. Would we eat it when we just fancied it, or only when there was no other option? It’s fair to say we were still struggling with this decision when I became ill.

Fish and ChipsWe had eaten fish once whilst on holiday – cod and chips at a campsite – and really enjoyed it, so we knew there would be no “yuk” factor, but still wondering if we should find other ways and stick to being vegetarian. I was also feeling that I needed to be looking at my diet as a whole, feeling heavy and sluggish for ages, carrying an extra 2 stone, no chance of ever running again on my knackered knee, especially being so heavy.

Anyway, when I became ill, I really reflected on this and came to the conclusion that I need to look after my own health needs first and foremost, and if that means eating fish then that’s what it means. I was having a chat with a family member about it, and she said “What will you be called if you don’t eat fish” …..Martin and I replied in unision “SHARON”.  In that moment I think we both realised that we are fed up with the labels……we’ve had a hard time about being vegetarian for ages now, and of course to the “vegans of the world” we are the worst kind – far, far worse than meat eaters. So, I made a conscious decision there and then – I left ALL the vegan groups I had been in, with the exception of one “veganish” group. France is just not like the UK – you can’t pop to the shops and get a vegan wrap made from some “fake meat” for lunch – it’s all about plant based food – which means carbs after carbs after carbs which for me – with my apple shaped – is diabetes just waiting to happen.

So…fish is back on the menu!! On occasion, not every day, and probably only when we are out. Or not!! It will be what it will be. And I’m still just called “Sharon”. Not “Sharon the vegetarian”, or “Sharon the pescatarian”, or “Sharon the vegan”. Just Sharon…..maybe “Sharon the animal lover”….that’s a label I don’t mind at all.

So, back to the building work. The cement was poured into the trenches a week ago last Friday and has now set. The builders were due back on Thursday, but one of them is off sick so they will resume work on Monday (we hope).  My main concern was that whilst the cement was still wet, on of our four fur babies would fall in, and maybe not get out again. The doggos were easy to prevent this happening to, as we just keep them close to us when we take them out for a walk. But the puss chats were more of a worry as they are free roaming. So each morning I was checking to make sure there was no cat shaped impression in the trenches. Thankfully they managed to avoid that. But we had to laugh, when yesterday a cat appeared at the Garden House.  Zoe was already there – as soon as she hears us she appears – she either wants food or a neck rub (no way is that cat semi feral – she’ll be in our house before we are I reckon) but this other cat looked familiar – it was the shape and size of Zena, the scowl on the face looked like Zena, and the characteristic movements were of Zena – but it was the wrong colour!! Much too grey for Zena!

Zena the statue catCloser inspection revealed that it was indeed Zena – totally covered in what looked like cement dust!! A ghostly apparition!! Goodness knows what she’s been up to – but we saw her again today and she appears back to her normal colour and no harm done – she must have sheltered from the rain as I would imagine if she had got wet she would now be a statue.

 

 

 

 

 

We were due to have an appointment with the ‘menuisier’ to make a final decision on the shade of wood we want for our windows and doors. However, by some fortuitous stroke of luck the appointment was postponed until 8th November – the reason being is that they didn’t get the samples to show us. And the reason for that is that the supplier is trialling a stain that will make the ‘bois exotique’ appear closer to a natural oak colour! So, it’s fantastic that we may be able to have that colour option available to us, as if we had the budget our first choice would have been natural oak – but at 30% extra cost for that on an already huge bill, the cost was too prohibitive.

The ‘bardage’ (cladding) will be larch which we can stain to any shade, but we will probably stick with quite light and close to oak. So, our windows will hopefully be a similar shade. This will be quite unique in France as the French seem to really love their contrasts. But our house will be unique in all aspects anyway.

We’ve managed to pin down Bertrand who is doing our plumbing and electrics and that all seems to be going in the right direction.  He has a friend who does underfloor heating so we hope to get a quote from him for that  soon. One of the things I am most looking forward to in our house is that Luka and Lillie will have a lovely warm floor to lay on. They loved the underfloor heating at our house sits in Limeuil. And after nearly 2 years in the motor-home they will be very deserving of that.

 

CulotteI’ve been spending my convalescence period doing some really constructive preparation for a new venture that I am helping lovely Beatrice from the camping site with. We are setting up a French/English Conversation Group, once a fortnight on Sunday afternoons. I’ve been busy preparing some activities – one of which is flash cards with pictures of body parts the French word – I needed to get the English words to go alongside the French. I had such a giggle when I looked up the English word for ,’culotte’ which should have been pants, or knickers – but it came up as ‘cheeky’. Very appropriate for the sweet little pair of knickers on the Flash card.

It’s keeping me busy and occupied which is great for distraction for the final remnants of pain that are lingering around, and I’ve now been able to stop taking pain killers which is great. My tummy is still a bit sore, but I have to say, I feel that some of this at least is self-inflicted – for my tummy has been getting fatter and fatter for the last year, so I think that the surgeon probably had to cut through quite a lot of fat to get to my appendix, so I am sure the healing time takes a bit longer in that situation.

A pound of fatSo, I have vowed to lose the weight that I have gained since moving to France. I’m half a stone down already, and no matter how long it takes I will get the rest off as it really is no fun being a fat, fifty something year old woman. I’ve always been an emotional eater (stems from a traumatic childhood where meal times were overly dramatic, and food was always an issue) so I have some “issues” to overcome, but I am taking a mindful approach to eating, and starting to see my body as something that needs healthy fuel to help it work, rather than a garbage bin to fill up with anything edible that is put in front of it.

Martin certainly isn’t complaining – he always loves whatever is put in front of him, and even though every dinner is now being served up with a side order of greens, I think he’s just glad that I am back on track and back in the kitchen!!

Eat your greens.jpg
Eat your Greens

If there is a silver lining to my spell of illness (and there always is a silver lining isn’t there) it is that I’ve slowed down so much that I am really noticing everything around me, and taking the time to be present in the moment instead of charging around at a rapid rate of knots. And, it’s really lovely to see, as if from a new pair of eyes, how beautiful our surroundings are, and appreciate how lucky we are, to be alive and living in this lovely place with each other, and to be laying those foundations, together, which will last forever.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Put it in perspective

Put it in perspective

It’s been three weeks since my last entry and I have to say that having our little garden house has made a world of difference to our quality of living standards.

Who would think that living in a shed could be so satisfying? If you had sat me down a year ago and told me that I would be nothing short of ecstatic to have a shed to live in during the daytime I would probably have told you that you are mad!! Or sworn!! Or probably both to be honest.

Indeed, I am sure that there are people who are amongst our group of family, friends and acquaintances, both this side and the other side of the English Channel, who must think that we are a bit strange for being so pleased. And there have been a few quizzical looks, and some slightly sarcastic sounding comments about shed parties, but we have just ignored that and been content in our happy little bubble!

Of course, it is all down to perspective isn’t it?

When you are living in a lovely house somewhere, and someone says to you “here you are – a 17m² shed – put some furniture in it and away you go” well, I suppose that idea isn’t very appealing really. But when you have been living in a cramped, increasingly untidier motor home – suddenly the prospect of doubling your living space overnight is a very exciting prospect indeed!! And as such we have been treating our new space just like home – making it a cosy little space, adding some little touches – putting proper spot lights up, buying a bed settee, and most important of all – creating a Gin Den!!

Now, I’m a bit of a light weight where it comes to drinking alcohol as I don’t drink regularly or often (which yes I know is strange in France) so when I do it tends to go straight to my head. Especially with the large measures which are often poured by friends (my mind is now thinking back to the time when Bernard poured me a G&T which I am convinced was not Gin at all – probably rocket fuel – and was at the very least a quadruple measure – and hey ho!! I was pissed before 4.30pm in the afternoon).

But I digress from the Gin Den……

So, I am partial to a nice G&T and like the boutique gins that are widely available in the UK but no so much in France – so I have been collecting bottles – but not using them up – and when I finally got around to putting all the gin bottles in one place – I counted up no fewer than 13 bottles of different brands of Gin!! I just need an excuse for a party now to get some help in drinking them. gin den

Which leads to a dilemma – we now have a little space in which to entertain – which is exciting – but of course we don’t really have toilet facilities for guests. Back in the Autumn we did attempt to erect a toilet tent for when we had a large gathering – but reports back stated it was not a particularly pleasant experience. So, we are mulling this one over as to how we can overcome this – as being a sociable butterfly I really do want to start offering some return invitations to all the people who have been so kind and generous in inviting us over for coffees, meals, over night stays, shower use, washing machine use and so on.

Anyone who has ever been in a caravan or motor home will instantly understand why these toilet facilities are not suitable to offer up for guests. But, for those of you who are not sure…I might expand on this in more detail one day – but for now, please just know that what goes in has to be emptied out by my dear husband. And as much as he loves all our friends – he doesn’t want to know what you had for dinner last night…if you catch my drift. So, if anyone has any ideas for installing a civilised toilet system as an en-suite to a garden room, but without a sewerage system in place – answers on a post card please.

On the house planning side of things not much has happened of late – we are still waiting for some reports to come back before we can submit the house plans. We have had some site plans sent over for us to review but we were not happy with the perspective that the position of the house gave us. So, we’ve had a bit of too-ing and fro-ing between us and the architect. From his perspective he needs to get our house in the plot with the best orientation to utilise the solar power and also to be able to turn cars around without the need to reverse (apparently that’s a French thing) but from our perspective we (especially me) need to satisfy ourselves that we will get the view that we want from our bed – without cricking our neck!! So, we have been out on the land – looking this way and that way – gauging the necessary angle to get the right perspective!! Hopefully we will get there soon, in the grand scheme of things it is better to spend a bit of extra time to get the right result. .

As Duffy says “It’s been a long and uphill journey…getting to where I am today…..it’s been real tough and I’m still learning, that working hard’s the only way ….Put it in Perspective”

Click here to play Put it in Perspective

We have both been busy, me with painting the garden room with wood treatment as we are very keen to get the wood protected before the weather changes for the better – as it is in a very sunny spot so would not take long to get sun damaged if we don’t treat it – so that’s a must for finishing soon.

Martin has had the interesting task of starting to clear out the ruin in preparation for our fur family to get bigger. We are hoping to adopt a couple of barn cats which will be semi-wild and can live in the sheltered part of the ruin. But first, there is about 100 years’ worth of rubbish to remove – and that’s not just the load of old stuff my dad and step-mum put in there – there is disintegrated render which is just powder, rotten tree trunks, mulchy leaves, tiles, stones, bricks…. you name it – we have it. Oh, and cobwebs that are straight out of Arachnophobia III……. shudder! pile of rubble in ruin

It has been all I can bear to stand gingerly by the door and watch poor Martin shovel up spade after spade of shit into a wheelbarrow and then go through the painstaking task of sorting it out into piles of tiles, stones and then rubbish. wheelbarrow

We are keeping the stones as we hope to use them in the dry-stone walling around the edge of the raised terrace of our house, and we think the tiles might make a nice mosaic path somewhere – not sure where yet – but it will definitely need to be a mosaic as the majority of them are broken.

It would appear that dad placed old cupboards on top of the really old rubble before putting their carefully wrapped bundles of belongings on top of that, so the stuff underneath is really, really old. Martin became quite preoccupied with the question “I wonder where the owner’s poop is” as he was shovelling the stuff up. There’s no sign of a bathroom anywhere – but we think we may have sussed out where the original cooking area might have been. Martin also discovered hanging from a beam a tiny, very old key! We have no idea what it’s for – it’s not either of the doors.

Old key

It’s all very exciting as it unfolds, but also very poignant think that my dad’s dreams ended here in this ruin. At some point in time they packaged up their belongings to store here – knowing he was very ill, but at that time not realising they would NEVER return here to complete their dreams. There are really well packaged and labelled up parcels of stuff – which as of yet I have not been in the right frame of mind to even start unpeeling to reveal the contents – but that will come – soon, I think. But there are also piles and piles of damaged items – bags that have begun to decompose once exposed to the sunlight and boxes crushed under the weight of the floor that collapsed in when at some point a huge tree trunk fell straight through the roof!!tree through ruin roof

 

So much stuff damaged – and to think that this was once their life.

The saddest image for me was the sight of dad’s old brown working shoes peeking through a damaged black bin bag.shoe

His shoes that he would have packed away – hoping to return soon to pick up where he left off. And that breaks my heart in some ways, but equally I know that Martin and I would not be living our life here in this way if his dream had not come to an end. So I suppose, again, it all depends on which perspective you look at this from – is it the sad tragedy – or is it the amazing opportunity!!

I know which perspective I prefer to look from.