Are times like these the new normal?

Are times like these the new normal?

Another long gap between entries. It’s because for weeks I had the musings of a blog entry buzzing around in my head – but it was all rather negative – so I was trying to wait for some great news to write about – but came to the realisation that as far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned that might be some time yet.

It’s surreal – we get up every morning – it all seems normal. We look up at the sky – that all seems normal – and very beautiful blue skies and lovely sunny weather it is too. But just when you start to act like normal you get caught in that thought process – actually nothing is normal at all.

Just what is normal about not having the liberty to plan a trip to the UK to visit your family? We are in the 21st Century – we have the modes of transport to allow us to cross continents – for goodness sake some of us can even cross interplanetary boundaries with spaceships. But all because of a virus we cannot now simply book a channel tunnel crossing or hop on a plane and go and see the ones we love the most.

To be fair, we actually could go the UK if we wanted to right now – there is no requirement to quarantine at the moment, and there is also no lock down. But, our only practical means of getting there is to take the dogs and go in the motor-home. Only one person out of our entire family has the space to accommodate us on their driveway – so we would need to book campsites and the ones that we would normally use have bizarrely closed for the entire season – and the ones that are open are either chock-a-block full – or have a “no visiting” policy.

Camping in the Forest sites closed
We simply cannot understand why these sites are closed….there are no toilets or showers in some of them so no cleaning. The jobsworth mentality of some businesses astounds me at times. Meanwhile here in France our friends are up at 0500 to keep their campsite ticking over so we have it here for our tourism in the future. 

Normally we would find campsites close by to where people live and they would visit us at the campsite or we would hop on a bus or train with the dogs and go and visit them. For those of you who live in France you may not fully appreciate the lack of space in the UK – so for context – it is actually quite rare for someone to have space to park an 8-metre motor-home – and some roads you cannot even get down in a large vehicle.

Then there is the issue of meeting up with our family members who have been self-isolating and, in some cases, shielding for months on end. It’s no longer practical to arrange for large family gatherings where groups from different households will all come together under one roof.

So, our trip needs to be sufficiently long enough to enable us to meet up with everyone we want to see separately. And that’s no mean feat to plan. We are hoping that we might get our window of opportunity after the UK summer holidays – but being realistic we are acutely aware that at any time a lock-down or requirement to quarantine could be imposed which would scupper that. We also have the long awaited, much excitement provoking, installation of our heating system to work around.

I’ve dragged my office admin and teaching skills out of the compartment in which they have been long buried – and am putting them to good use – creating spreadsheets with people’s Post Codes and researching the closest campsites and pubs with motor home stopover facilities -and then, are these dog friendly?, do they sell food? and if so – do they do veggie options? etc.  I’ve got a notebook dedicated to it too, and have been setting family members homework to check out the quality of the beer at the suggested stopover points.

Note book
Here we go again!! We already started plans for June which were scuppered – now we are planning again – knowing that anything can change at any moment. But we will not give up trying!!

We’ve become acutely aware of the longevity of time since we last saw some of the people. Martin’s mum has never been out here to visit, and it’s now 17 months since we visited the UK so the same since we saw her. 12 months since I have seen my mum, and the same since we saw Martin’s son’s and grandson.

And in thinking about that cold, stark fact – that is when it hits me and makes me think – this is just not normal. Yes, I know people emigrate to Australia and never see their family again – or maybe just once every five or ten years. And that is the choice they made when they made that move.

But we made a choice to move one measly little country away – over a 25-mile expanse of water. But it might as well have been to Australia now that Flybe went bust and the Southampton to Bergerac flight route has been lost, and all this Covid-19 shit fest!

My mum mentioned the other day the stuff that I left behind in her cupboards – and she said to me – “how come there is a bag of your toiletries and make up here”? And I remembered – that’s the bag that I left behind so if I needed to pop back for a quick visit for any reason (her illness, a problem with the kids – etc.) they I could do so, quickly, cheaply and simply – with just hand baggage – and use those toiletries. It’s remembering that which reminds me that this scenario will not be possible now – the days of spontaneous, impromptu flying visits are gone.

Then I think – well, hopefully this is just for now – surely it will all get better in time? But that is very uncertain too.

I secretly hope that one day soon we will look back on 2020 and say

“wow!! That was some shit – thank goodness it is all over”.

But I fear it might be more like

“2020 – that was the year all this shit started”

and that our lives will still be similar to how they are now. Maybe even more restricted.

We are facing the prospect of having to wear masks all the time outdoors. Parts of France are already having to do this – the number of places is increasing daily. Hopefully here in rural SW France it won’t be necessary – with all this space – but with the tourist season well under way, if I am to be realistic, I need to accept that the day we are told it’s our turn will come at some point.

Masks outside
Will our village be next? We are surrounded by green dots. 

I’m still not sure what scares me more – seeing “gendarmes” at our Saturday markets or the prospect of being blind as my mask steams up my sunglasses as I walk along (I can’t be without sunglasses as I am hypersensitive to sunlight)

Gendarmes at the market
Yes I know I’m a big baby – but I still really can’t get used to seeing armed police in such normal settings as a small village Saturday vegetable market. But they are very friendly!! 

But the reason that humans have survived so far on this planet is our ability to cope with change and to evolve. Our ability to change to suit our environment and to make the best of whatever challenges we are facing will help to carry us through this dilemma – and the next…and the next.

Back in January we had a clear plan as to what order we were going to complete the house in. It’s such a long time ago and that plan has changed so much – I cannot even remember what order we were going to do it in. But that doesn’t matter – because when you are faced with a lock down preventing you getting supplies for one element – you simply focus on what you can get – and continue with that to the best of your ability. Flexibility is key to survival in these circumstances.

List of jobs to be done
Shopping for building materials in France is a challenge to say the least. The shop we get our doors from is an hour and a half each way – and the stuff is never all in stock. 3 trips so far!!! 

One thing we have been quite keen to do with our house build is to source our materials from France where possible, or at least from Europe. We found out the hard (and expensive) way of what might happen if we had stuff from over that 25 mile stretch of water back last year when we had a mad panic to get the TEK panels shipped over before Brexit in case we were clobbered with import duties. Initially we thought we were buying a European product but when a factory closed down the panels were sent from Europe to the UK – then cut there – and then shipped back. Not quite what we had in mind when we set out a vision of a low carbon footprint!!

We also believe firmly in supporting the economy in which we live as that is where our future will be. It makes sense to us to buy as local as possible – from as small scale and personal as shopping for vegetables in our own village – right up to big purchases such as tiles, wood, and such like.

Market shopping
When you can get beautiful veg like this on your doorstep why would you drive nearly an hour to go to a big supermarket? And the eggs are local laid from a lovely lady who rescues hens. 

So, for us – it was never a quick fix of pop back to the UK with a van and pick up a load of cheap paint and maybe a B&Q kitchen – and our search for products which are local where possible, European where not, and represent good value, and staying power – has cost us a lot of time. We are indeed slower than the average house builders that’s for sure.

Our tiles are a perfect example of this. For months and months, we were fixated on Travertine tiles – a lot of the Travertine sold in France comes from Italy and if not there, then Turkey – that was OK as still European. So, we went round loads of suppliers – but for some reason we just were not convinced. We had the occasional glance at ceramic tiles in shops – but I could never decide on whether to go for grey tones – or beige tones. We wanted to do the entire ground floor as one entity so the colour scheme would need to be suitable to blend with living space, bathroom and bedroom. And I couldn’t get my head around needing to go for greyish tones in the bedroom area.

Then we discovered the colour “griege” – as you might expect it is the perfect blend of grey and beige!! The moment I spotted the tiles (that are now in place on our floor) in the shop (that I had been to many times before and somehow missed) I fell in love!! I could instantly see them in our house!! Months and months of time spent in pondering loads of different options with Travertine – to decide in 30 seconds that ceramic tiles were the way to go after all.

Tile order
Every corner of our house has a pile like this

Unfortunately, as is nearly always the way in France – the tiles needed to be ordered in – and although the guy in the shop said 2 weeks – it was in actual fact nearly 2 months before they finally came in. They are Italian – and the Italian’s are even slower at delivering than the French it seems (if that is indeed possible).

I know that two years ago I would have been furious if I had ordered 2.5€K worth of tiles and been told I would have to wait for 2 months to get them. But, such have we already adapted to our new normal in France we accepted the delay with a shrug, and a laugh – it’s just the way it is. “C’est la vie”.

Tiling
We have a long way to go before they are finished but we love them and the wait was worth it

Life in France – and Covid-19 – have taught us the art of patience like nothing else ever before. And flexibility, with a large helping of resilience too!

And we keep focusing on what we have done – rather than what we haven’t. For instance we now have hot water in our bedroom – only a temporary sink which was bought from a Facebook forum – but it will do for now and when we have finished our “proper bathrooms” we will install it in the Garden House which will in time become a little eco-studio to let out on AirBnB and HomeAway and also my Treatment Room.

Hot water in our bedroom
I actually really like this “petite” wash stand – but it’s the wrong colour for both of our bathrooms. 

Another thing that has really helped us both is our Yoga practice and also Reiki. During the lock down period I completed my Reiki Masters Teacher Training and became a Reiki Master – and Martin was my first Reiki Level One student. So now we both have that tool in our boxes to help guide our lives. It really does help us to focus on the here and now, to be in the present moment, and to live our lives kindly and compassionately.

Mandala Beads
Just like my own Reiki Master gave me a Mandala Bead String when I done my Reiki Level One – I got Martin to make his own one which will help him learn the chakras and Reiki precepts. 

So yes, we will have to wait until the time is right (and safe) to return to the UK to visit our family (and collect the items in storage at various family members houses), and in the meantime we just need to adapt to that and embrace the positives about that situation. And of course, we will look forward to getting our treasured possessions – like our wedding present cut glass wine glasses – and I’m sure my mum will be glad to get her cupboard space back.

We are blessed to live in such a time that technology allows us to see each other face to face in the present moment – stuff like Skype and Facebook messenger allow us to celebrate birthdays, have family get-togethers, and even go on “virtual mum and daughter shopping trips “ as I found out the other day.

My daughter Sian is about to embark on an UNPAID NHS placement for 30 weeks (yes, she is a bloody hero – it’s quite one thing to be paid to work in the institution that us Brits hail as our national treasure – but as the poor student nurses have found out – that institution doesn’t quite reciprocate that care to the very people who make it. I’ve had my day of working “with” the NHS – not “for” it thank goodness and have seen first-hand how broken it is becoming) – and she needed to get some new clothes to fit better into their dress code. So off she went to the shops – and she sent me a message on the way back to say she had been very successful, bought loads of things and would I like a video call when she got home so she could show me everything. Yes of course!! I would love that – that’s the next best thing to actually going out shopping with her – and I do so miss the times we would go off to Bournemouth for a girly weekend – for a theatre show, a waffle and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and then endless traipsing around the shops. She said she was stopping off for a coffee on the way back so would call me when home.

So, she video called me and gave me a lovely fashion parade – modelling all the things she had bought – asking my opinion and advice – what would be the best one for her first day, was the white one a bit too much – should she take it back – all the things that a mum and daughter would do on a shopping trip. And of course – me being a mum wanted to treat her to something – so I asked what each item had cost, and made a note of what I thought was her favourite item – and thanks to our brilliant technology – at the same time as chatting away to her I was able to do a quick bank transfer for the cost of the gorgeous Burgundy Blazer and added a couple of quid for her coffee too!! Just like a mum slipping a few notes in her daughter’s pocket when they are out.

Burgundy Blazer
I can’t wait to see her in the Burgundy Blazer

Simple things like that help me to feel that I can still be a “proper mum” to my baby girl (who ain’t a baby no more) in these crazy times.

Healthy cakesMy weekly Skype calls with both kids together are often the highlight of my week – sometimes Sian is busy getting ready for work (she’s a carer so works a lot at weekends – and night’s too) so she will stay on for half hour or so, and then Ryan will stay on chatting for a while afterwards – and we talk about all sorts of things – last week he was giving me some healthy eating tips on how to get more protein in (always difficult for vegetarians and my solution is often to put a pecan nut on top of a cake ha ha) and teaching me a few Japanese words. His trip to Japan probably won’t happen next year now – but instead of moaning about it he is simply saying “well another year will mean I am even better at speaking Japanese”.

I know all (well most if not all) mums are immensely proud of their kids – but I really do burst with pride over both of mine – they are intelligent, caring, polite, and both very resilient. Oh, and clever – both of them – very clever!!

And let’s not forget the dad’s too – I know that Martin misses his boys enormously – and he will probably kill me for saying so – but the only time I have seen tears in his eyes over the past few months was when we realised we were on the one year anniversary point since we both saw them. He’s extremely relieved that they have both remained in work throughout the pandemic and like me, enjoys the video calls to keep in touch. And finding little things that represent a connection when we unpack boxes are enough to bring a smile to his face after the tears].

Tour de France mug
Ironically the day that I found this in a box Adam was also using his one in the UK. It’s now Martin’s favourite mug and in constant use when it’s not being washed up. Simple things really help to keep the connections going. 

So, is this the “new normal?” – does our future now involve keeping family relationships together with modern technology, learning the art of patience to a far greater extent, and acceptance that the universe not only doesn’t revolve around us it is also changing very dramatically and very quickly?

The hardest thing I find to accept is that our plans for the purpose of this house have been put under threat.

Initially we intended to throw everything we had into this building project to create a home that was big enough for us two to live all the time, that for all four of our children would be a holiday home, a safe haven, a place to come to relax, and (hopefully) distant into the future, when we are no longer – a place that they would inherit together that would be a part shared holiday home for them all. A place that over the next 1, 2 or even 3 decades they would have come to enjoy and visit often – a second home to them. We thought that Brexit might shake that plan up a little but over time that would settle down, but now Covid-19 seems to be the biggest threat to that. But there is really little point in worrying about that – as all we can do is life in the present moment and see it for what it is today.

Is this the new normal? I hope not, but if it is – we will all adapt to it – and the most important thing is that we will survive and thrive.

In the words of the Foo Fighter’s excellent (but not well known) track “Normal” (B side of Times Like These).

Normal – Foo Fighters

But I won’t give up when I want it enough
No I won’t give up
Anything, anyway, anyone, anyday
Cause I figured it out
Here and the now takes me day by day

Will you come out tonight
Will you back down, will you put up a fight
Turn me around and make everything right
Make me normal from now on

 

I love the A side of that track too – but even more so I love the Pandemic version which was released by a multi-star cast in April for the BBC Radio 1 Stay Home Live Lounge. It’s worth a watch – even if just to see Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighter’s drummer) playing a Lava Lamp!!

list of people in the Times like these video

 

Pandemic Version of Times like These

 

Material Girl

Material Girl

Rewind to Spring 2018. I spent most of April sorting out our lifelong possessions trying de-clutter in readiness for our new life in France. We wanted to take only stuff that we felt would suit our new house (although we didn’t know what style that house even would be), and also stuff that we really loved.

So, it was a massive de-clutter. An exercise that I remember doing mostly on my own as Martin was first of all, still busy with his job – by this time he was still going in to provide a handover to the poor bugger who was taking over, and then once he left he needed to go “oop North” to get some essential work done on the Motor home – which was to be our home for the next 8-12 months (we thought back then – not realising it would actually be closer to 2 whole years).

I wish I had known more about Maria Kondo back then – I could have done with her system of how to get rid of clutter – but I did what I could – really thinking about the value of each item. And by value I don’t just mean the financial value (although that did come into the equation to some extent as we were paying a lot of money to ship our possessions over to France – they needed to be worth it).

I needed to decide if things had an emotional connection to me – was it a gift from a person who I loved? Orr an item that I had purchased that I found beautiful or useful, and was it going to look right in our house?

Most of the process was done with a great deal of consideration and was well organised. I created inventories of what box each thing was in, and some of the more valuable smaller items were taken to my mother’s house for better safe-keeping rather than run the risk of being damaged. However, as with most house moves – the last few days were disorganised chaos – and some of the boxes at the end were badly packed, not properly labelled and not inventoried. I’m not pointing any fingers – but he who is responsible for the chaos knows he was in the wrong and has been reminded many a time since!!!

Hopefully the ‘motor home weighing police’ are not reading this blog, but I suspect that we travelled down to South West France very much over loaded with a lot of the last-minute stuff that really ought to have gone in the lorry 3 days beforehand – but the chaos prevented.

So, we arrived in South West France 2 and a bit years ago with a basic wardrobe each, and sensible items only – with the rest of our wordly goods having either been sold, given away, or packed away and put into storage.

Over the last year we have brought stuff out of storage – but it’s always been larger bits – a few pieces of furniture to furnish our Garden House that we put up last year, and the seasonal change of clothes. The Christmas decorations box came out in December 2018 and was put back in January 2019, then came out again last Christmas – but by then we had the shell of a house so we kept it out.

But, apart from furniture we have been very disciplined in not getting too much stuff inside the house, as it is still a building site – a work in progress – and to clutter it too much would be madness.

However, with lock down easing and us starting to entertain small groups of friends again. In the UK you are calling this a “bubble” now – well, for us it’s the same thing I suppose – we have our small friend group who we survived lock down through Skype calls with, now we are having real life get togethers.Jam Jar Aperos

 

The first time we hosted the Happy Hour, I had to do ‘Aperos‘ for 8 people in Jam Jars – as all my best china is still in storage – it didn’t matter though – we are all good friends and not concerned about who has matching china – just each other’s company! And Gin!! Of course – always Gin!

But once lock down was lifted and we could go back to storage to start bringing a few bits back to sparsely furnish our new home I was tempted and so allowed myself to bring just 2 boxes of china.

Bearing in mind we have lived without ALL of this stuff for over 2 years. We’ve made do with the very basic equipment that has lived in the motor home – and bought a few more cheap coffee mugs for when we had the builders over. There were a few items that I had actually missed for fleeting moments over that time span – but mostly it was all forgotten.

So, last weekend in the morning we went to get some bits and pieces, and in the afternoon, whilst Martin was out……….. I opened the boxes.

I thought it would take about 20 minutes to go through the boxes and sort out what things would be useful now, and which would be better being re-packed for use later on.

But my heart had different plans. Every item that came out of the box stirred up something in me. Some sort of memory, or a feeling or an emotion.

The salad bowl that I clearly recall buying – I wondered how I had ever had a life in which I thought nothing of spending a ridiculous (crude) amount of money on a bowl to eat salad from. Without any thought to it. Back in the days when it happened we were both working in such well paid jobs that we thought nothing of spending money on a whim – but I do really love the salad bowl still….I just may be too frightened to use it ever ha ha!! It felt as if I was looking back, observing a life that I now feel so disconnected with. I would never dream of (or want to) spend money in that way now. But, back then I would do it without any thought.

Trifle dish now a fruit bowl

Then there was the giant trifle bowl – the memories of Trifle Wars – a game concocted for a charity fundraiser that I organised for Macmillan Cancer Support – all came flooding back. And then of course the “mini” trifle bowls that were actually big enough as giant trifle bowls for most people! My days of trifles are long over – so now it is a bowl for lemons and limes – always in plentiful supply in our house – not just for the gin and tonic – also my ayurvedic “yellow drink” that my darling hubby makes me every morning!

White jug love affair

I laughed at my new cupboard full of milk and cream jugs – all white – all different sizes, and it amused me that we don’t really need them as we don’t drink either milk or cream nowadays, and rarely have gravy either  – but I still love them. I’ll use them for water and remember when an afternoon in M&S would result in spending the equivalent of a week’s wages (in those days term’s – more likely 2 months money in today’s terms).

My little egg cups raised a smile too – just a few days previously I had been thinking I would really love to have boiled eggs for breakfast – but our plastic motor home ones are so big that any other than ostrich eggs would disappear so far down they get stuck so need padding out with paper towel to use. And it’s funny that every time I have boiled eggs that are too small for my egg cups I think of my mother in law -there’s a humorous story in my memory bank somewhere).

Dorchester ashtray

And my little Dorchester Hotel canapes dish – that drunkenly showing off to my work colleagues at a fancy Charity event we were all at I pinched it and then used it as an ashtray for the next few years. That came out too – and stirred up so many emotions and memories – I still remember popping it in my handbag like a trophy, and everyone laughing. I wouldn’t dream of doing it now – but then I wouldn’t be sat in the Dorchester Hotel in a “Joseph Ribkoff” cocktail dress either would I? It will never be used as an ashtray again (those days are long gone for me) – but I think it will be reinstated as an olive dish so I can tell the tale to people who I am sure will be shocked that I was ever “that sort of person”. I’m shocked myself!!

Looking back, I can’t remember when I began to change – when I started to see the life I was living as some sort of a hamster wheel hell – out to work to earn enough money to pay the mortgage on an over-priced house that we used to escape from at every opportunity, earn money to pay for childcare and then for holidays to compensate to my poor kids for the guilty feelings that I had for putting them in childcare – spending a fortune on clothes for work to “fit in” with a corporate crowd of people in a work environment that I never felt at ease in – and then maybe worse – changing jobs to find that the suits I had spent a small fortune on for the old job were of no use to the trendy, casual London office environment and another small fortune to get jeans that had the right rips in the right place on the knees. My this time my Joseph Ribkoff dress didn’t fit me – but it would have been better placed that the expensive suits I had shelled out on for the previous job.

As I say, I don’t know when I STARTED to feel that way – but by the time my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer I was definitely in a place where I really took stock and worked out that no amount of material belongings will ever take the place of a person. And no matter what a person has – they can’t take any of it when they leave this earth. And I learned the hard way – that even working for a cancer charity – when your loyalty is suddenly with your family – those corporate bosses don’t give a flying fig about you. Unable to manage a yo yo life of managing family life, visiting a dying father (and step mother), a house that didn’t clean itself, AND a demanding job that required loads of travelling and being away from home – I chose to put my family first and opted for a huge loss of income and instead of visiting Marks and Spencer to buy more white jugs my trips to there were limited to the little service stations branches to buy Dad the little tubs of Welsh Rarebit that he had a fancy for when he had lost his appetite for everything else.

So, why the strong feelings connected to my material possessions if I am no longer a material girl?

Nowadays, I get so much pleasure out of the connection that an item gives me with a person. Every day I touch and use things that connect me to a person. My Tibetan Singing Bowl that my son Ryan brought me – every morning I use that in my Reiki routine.

Broken spoon

My little ceramic spoons that I use to measure out spices in virtually every evening meal I cook – my daughter Sian bought me those. The other week when one of them dropped to the floor when I was drying up and broke into two pieces – I cried as if my heart would break – as I feel such a strong connection with Sian through the spoon. Luckily Martin knows exactly how my mind works with these sorts of things – so as soon as he got home he made it his priority to carefully glue the pieces together so I have a mended spoon.

Everywhere I look in our house there are things that make me feel a connection to people I love in some way. Even the white Marks and Spencer jugs – connect me to my dad because it reminds me of the Welsh Rarebit.

Recently my Uncle Peter made us a very kind and generous offer for something for our house – he had a spare set of kitchen taps going (as a person does – much like our friend Jan just happened to have that spare staircase in his garage). He asked me if we would like them. I said yes, that would be lovely – it would be wonderful to have something gifted from him in our house – and he joked that if they dripped at night, they would be a constant reminder of him!!

So, after checking that we could overcome the UK to French “differences in opinion of the plumbing systems” Uncle Peter got his neighbour to pop the taps in the post to us.

This is probably the best point to mention that these are no ordinary set of taps – they are in actual fact a very beautiful set of taps by ‘Perrin and Rowe’ – and should we have decided to buy ourselves a set of these we probably wouldn’t be able to afford the kitchen to put them in to.

When a week passed and the parcel had not arrived, I began to feel a bit concerned – the postal situation in both countries is a bit haphazard at the moment – but at this point I was not too worried. I told Uncle Peter they had not arrived he said “you won’t miss the parcel – it’s quite big and bright yellow”.

But when another few days went past I did begin to get really worried. I imagined that maybe a French postal worker somewhere in France was currently the flavour of the month with his wife as he showed her these beautiful shiny new taps that he was about to fit in her kitchen.

As part of my ongoing Reiki practice and training I have been practising the art of ‘manifestation’ – asking the Universe to grant you something for your highest and greatest good. Ordinarily I would not ask for anything material in this way as I feel uncomfortable with that – but in these circumstances it felt OK to be asking that the taps arrived safely. I sat on my mat, as I do, having a bit of a conversation – part in my head and part out loud, asking the Universe to make sure that the taps would arrive safely to me, that I wouldn’t want to begrudge the said French Postal Worker of the chance to impress his wife with his findings, but that I really wanted these taps so that I would have something tangible to connect me with my Uncle. Now, there’s a long story that could be told here – but I will say the short version. I’ve not seen my Uncle for many years – family fall outs when I was much much younger meant that “if she didn’t see him, then I didn’t seem him either”. So, it has only been in recent months that we have re-kindled our family relationship. And he’s been very poorly and in hospital, and with the lock down situation being so crazy I really don’t know when I will get to see him, so all of this suddenly became really important.

So there I was – asking for the taps to arrive safely – making sure the Universe realised I wasn’t being selfish or greedy (they are REALLY good quality and very indulgent taps) but it is the connection with my Uncle that is important. All my Dad’s side of that older generation have now gone – even the in laws on that side with my Uncle George only just recently dying – so all I have left of that generation now is my mother and my Uncle Peter. And being a sensitive and sentimental little soul as I am – that is all so important to me.

So….later that day – just after lunch – Martin was out for the day and I was here alone. I suddenly saw the little yellow post van – ordinarily the Post Lady turns round at the bottom of our track and pops the letters in the box…but this day she drove up the track.

I ran out the house excitedly saying “le grand jeune packet”“oui” she said – opening the back of her van. And out it came – bright yellow!!

Le grand jeune packet

“Ooh la la” I said. It’s funny as it doesn’t take long living in France before we started saying this!

She probably thought I was a little mad as I was clearly very excited. I said “merci, merci” about a hundred times to her. She said “votre maison is tres jolie”. They all love it – the police when they came the other week said the same.

So, there I was with the parcel – feeling very excited and grateful that they had arrived. As I opened the parcel I was like a kid on my birthday.

Perrin and Rowe box

I couldn’t wait to open the taps up, and then tell Martin they had come, and then straight away phone Uncle Peter. He was laughing at me recalling how I had been saying that the taps should come to me, that they were not for someone else – like a mantra – and he said it reminded him of when I was a little girl – charging around chanting “November the 28th” when anyone asked me my birthday. And that’s just how I felt – like a little kid who had been given the best present ever. But still, not excited over the acquisition of a lovely material item – but excited and thrilled that I have the taps that are going to remind me on my Uncle Peter every time I use them – even if they do drip at night (which I hope they don’t as we sleep on the mezzanine directly over the kitchen area!!

Taps in the right place but not plumbed in

Obviously we won’t put them in our temporary kitchen –  but hopefully it won’t be too long before the taps are fitted into our permanent kitchen. We have made some progress in this direction. Our recent tile shopping trip was successful and I managed to find the perfect tiles within about 30 seconds of being in the shop – quite how I couldn’t find them on our previous trip to the same shop remains a mystery – perhaps I was looking for something different back then. But this time it was very easy. We have 103 square metres of them on order – or at least we thing they are on order – it’s always hard to tell in France – we are going to phone them up on Monday to make sure.

Now the tiles are chosen the rest is finally coming together. We have decided on a smart black shower to go with the black slate shower tray. We’ve also overcome the issue we had with the toilet being in the wrong place by 1cm!!

We’ve found doors we like – all we need to do now is work out how to order them.

Sea view camping spot

And, after 2 days solid in IKEA in Bordeaux (yes seriously – two days – we stayed overnight at the docks in the motor home with our favourite “mock sea view apartment outlook”, I finally decided ten minutes after getting home that I don’t want the grey kitchen anymore – I want black instead – but no matter – we had not ordered anything so again, we now just need to navigate our way around the ordering system.

So, it seems that whether I like it or not – at the moment I am very much a material girl – there is so much needing to be ordered – and so much money to spend. But I am hoping that because we are taking such a long time in making the decisions we will only be making though purchases once – no mistakes – we can’t afford to.

The life we have chosen for ourselves is hopefully in the long term going to be one that is very simple. It’s not been particularly simple to get to this point, but we hope that our investment in a house that is so well insulated the fuel bills should be tiny will mean that our outgoings will be so small that our modest income will be more than enough – and we can live the life of the fisherman in the Fisherman’s Tale – a Buddhist story that was the catalyst for this change in lifestyle – the point when we decided to stop chasing our tails trying to earn enough to support a lifestyle that we didn’t enjoy to the extent that we needed even more money to try to escape it at weekends.

The Fisherman’s Tale

One summer, many years ago, a banker was vacationing in a small village on the coast. He saw a fisherman in a small boat by the pier with a handful of fish that he had just caught. The business man asked him how long it took him to catch the fish, and the man said he was out on the water for only a couple of hours.

“So why didn’t you stay out there longer to catch more fish?” asked the businessman.

The fisherman said he catches just enough to feed his family every day, and then he comes back.

“But it’s only 2pm! said the banker. “What do you do with the rest of your time?”.

The fisherman smiled and said “Well, I sleep late every day, then fish a little, go home, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, then stroll into the village each evening with my wife, relax, play the guitar with our friends, laugh and sing late into the night. I have a full and wonderful life”.

The banker scoffed at the young man. “Well, I’m a businessman from New York! Let me tell you what you should do instead of wasting your life like this! You should catch more fish to sell to others, and then buy a bigger boat with the money you make so you can catch even more fish!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

The banker’s eyes got all big as he enthusiastically explained. “You can then buy a whole fleet of fishing boats, run a business, and make a ton of money!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman again, and the banker threw his hands in the air and said “You’d be worth a million! You can then leave this small town, move to the city, and manage your enterprise from there!”

“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman. “Fifteen to twenty years” replied the banker.

“And then what?”

The banker laughed and said “That’s the best part. You can then sell your business, move to a small village, sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take naps in the afternoon, go for an evening stroll with your wife after dinner, relax, sing, and play guitar with your friends. You would have a full and wonderful life!”

The fisherman smiled at the banker, quietly gathered his catch, and walked away.

Holiday

Holiday

After our busy 10 days having the ‘fosse septique’ installed we were delighted that, with a bit of a tweak to our plans, we were able to get work on our underfloor heating system and floor installation moving forward as well.

Our Plan A for the underfloor heating had gone a bit pear shaped when a) the supplier who had our money and our goods was unable to deliver due to the lockdown and b) the person who had originally been going to help us lay the pipework turned out to be somewhat unreliable. This meant that a significant amount of money’s worth of insulation and pipework was sitting somewhere in Bergerac and we were unable to get it and they were unable to deliver it, and even if we did yet it, we were not sure if we would be able to even lay it. The supplier had made a mistake with the first plan, and he refused to re-do the plan without further payment, so we were a bit wary of trying to adapt the plan without a plan so to speak.

We had the idea of asking the man who was booked in to put the ‘chape’ over the top of the pipework if he was able to help us out with laying the insulation and the pipes – and it turned out he could. And even better he was happy to collect the pipework from the supplier in Bergerac!! What a fortuitous stroke of luck! And it really does go to show that it is always worth reaching out and asking for help!

So, a few days later and we had the insulation, the pipe work for the underfloor heating and the concrete floor laid on top – glistening like icing on a cake!! I love watching concrete being laid – it fascinates me, and I wonder if I ever grow up maybe I could get a job like that! Fancy being paid to wiggle a paddle around in a pool of gloopy cement wearing waders!! What a job!

Click here to watch my little video

The floor cannot be walked on for 3 days, so we cannot go into the house – at least not in the traditional manner, but we moved our temporary staircase to outside on the ‘terrasse’ so we can nip up to get anything we have forgotten as long as we don’t let any flies in!! We already spotted one dead in the floor this afternoon!! That’s not as bad as if one of the cats got in – can you imagine seeing a cat struggling to wade through the cement trying to escape! Mind you, when one of the daft buggers done that on our foundations, she didn’t get stuck – she just left some really cute paw prints – which we have enjoyed seeing everyday up until now – we will miss those!

Paw Prints

Resigned to sleeping in the motorhome for at least 4 nights we decided “f*** lockdown” let’s go on holiday!!! So, we hopped into Marsha and let her take us somewhere lovely.

Our holiday location is lovely!! Very picturesque – overlooking a lovely field that reminds us of Wales with it’s stone walls.

We are pitched up on hardstanding, with water and electric hook up. The lady of the house says ordinarily we could use her family bathroom straight through the stable door next to where we are pitched – but sadly it’s out of action due to the lockdown meaning bathroom supplies are not easily available. Never mind – we have everything we need here in our little home on wheels!!

Pitch next to stable door

It’s a shame about the weather as after nearly three weeks of sunshine it’s now turned rainy – but it’s still warm, and in between showers there is a lovely little woodland walk to take the doggos on.

In fact, on one of those walks we spotted a little place called the Garden House where the proprietor does wonderful vegetarian and vegan meals – who would think in rural South West France you could find a lovely vegan salad like this for lunch!! How lovely – we booked a table for two and plan to return most days we are here!

Chickpea pasta salad

I’ve been singing the song “Holiday” by Madonna in my head for the past few days and pondering….I don’t think she was actually writing about a holiday as such. I think the song is a metaphor for a better world for us to live in. Back in the early 1980’s (when this song was released) the world was a very troubled place – we nearly had world war 3 happen due to a fault in the Soviet Union’s ballistic missile early warning system!! Madonna talks about turning the world around, bringing back all those happy days, and also “let love shine, and we will find a way to come together, make things better”.

“Holiday”
If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice

Everybody spread the word
We’re gonna have a celebration
All across the world
In every nation
It’s time for the good times
Forget about the bad times, oh yeah
One day to come together
To release the pressure
We need a holiday

You can turn this world around
And bring back all of those happy days
Put your troubles down
It’s time to celebrate
Let love shine
And we will find
A way to come together
And make things better
We need a holiday

I think it was a call to action! And one that is now so very appropriate once again! If there has ever been a time for all across the world/in every nation to come together it is now! All over the world our leaders are trying to work out what to do next! China and the USA want things back to “normal” (what even is that?) and here in France, Macron is saying that this unthinkable situation has the ability to remake capitalism and that we need to take this opportunity to invent something new because that is all we can do. Meanwhile in the UK, now that Boris has stared death in the face Covid-19 is now suddenly very scary and he is frightened to lift lockdown even though just a few weeks ago he said that it was OK if some old people died whilst gaining herd immunity. Is that the sign of a narcissistic psychopath? Or just a human being?

We found out today that one of the two boulangeries in our village has closed down. The owner cited the reason as it being impossible to be accepted in the village despite being here for 2 years, as she was not originally from here. That’s just such an awful thing – and sadly it’s not the first time we have heard this. It’s certainly not just the English or Dutch “incomers” who have noticed that – we know of French people from other parts of France who have struggled to integrate. And it’s not just this village – the lovely lady who gave us loads of crates from the vineyard where she works in Duravel told her she was moving back to Nantes as she was simply not accepted in Duravel and had been unable to make friends.

Surely, now is the time to “come together” and help to upkeep anyone who is prepared to support our village. All businesses are going to struggle enormously during and after Covid-19 and for some time to come – so we should each be mindful of that. With only one boulangerie in the village now we will not have bread, pastries or cakes on their day off or during their holiday periods. We have always tried to spread our support equally amongst all the shops, bars, cafes and restaurants in the village – appreciating all of them. Naturally it’s been easier to support some more than others, as being vegetarian our choices in some of the food places has been limited and some have been very unyielding in their approach to offering veggie alternatives – but we have done what we can, and spread our money (and love) amongst all of them. We truly hope that we do not see any more closures.

So, back to our little holiday. We love this little spot that we have found! It’s perfect to relax, we are undisturbed by people, close enough to a village to get bread and vital supplies, but far enough away to have a sense of being in the middle of no-where. And of course! We haven’t really gone away!! We have just had a staycation!! We’ve been here all the time – at home! Safe at home!!

Every day I reflect on the many things I am blessed with – and the beautiful surroundings that our stunning house is situated in is always high up on that list. We never intended to build this house for just us, we also had a need to share it – with family and friends, maybe also paying guests too, the odd passing motor homer from one of our many forums, and I really hope it’s not too long before we can welcome people to our little slice of paradise….but meanwhile we feel blessed that we can have our little holiday right here.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!

 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

Day 25 of Covid-19 lockdown, and no end of sight. Yet it all seems strangely surreal. There is no resistance on my part. I am happy to be safe at home, and I do not see it as being locked up at home.

Safe at home

But….we are lucky, and we know it. We have a vast amount of space to call our home so we do not feel the same confinement as perhaps someone living in a small apartment in Toulouse might do.

Life goes on. Yet it is not the same life we had just 25 days ago. Our daily routine has changed. We get up early – knowing that if we fall in to the trap of treating every day as a Bank Holiday we will lose the momentum on life. So, the alarm goes off, and Martin rises and makes me my morning drinks. Coffee to wake me up, and lemon and turmeric water to keep my respiratory system and gut healthy. I am terrified of getting this virus – my immune system is potentially still compromised and I have no way of knowing how much – still too scared to venture over to the Medical Laboratory to get my H.Pylori breath test done. Also, the gastritis can take such a long time to clear up, I have to assume that it is still there. I still have pain in my stomach, and on occasion if stressed or if I have eaten the wrong thing, I get severe pain – so I think it is a fair assumption to make.

Then my daily yoga and Reiki routine starts – with the gift of extra time I know spend about an hour on this each morning. With only myself and Martin for face to face communication I have found that now confronted with myself, I do a lot of soul-searching, and, much like when I went half way around the world as a young woman to “find myself” I am….well, I suppose “re-finding myself”. I’m not afraid to confront myself, but I find myself wondering how that process is for people who are always keeping busy and distracted to avoid dealing with themselves?

For me it’s an interesting occupation. I think a lot these days about my part in the universe, and the things that I personally have done to contribute to the state that the earth is in. Now that we cannot take all those things for granted it is easy to see that we didn’t need to take our huge, gas guzzler pick-up truck to the big shops 25km away once a week. One big shop once a month would have sufficed. We have always used our local shops and really value them…but we could use them more, and the market – the lovely Portuguese lady who served me each week and gave me a ‘petite cours de Francais in our interaction – why didn’t we buy more vegetables from her instead of the meagre few because we had been to Lidl the day before? She is now the only stall holder permitted to trade at our market – now scarily supervised by the ‘gendamerie’.

Saturday market

Then there are the flights for short weekends. I now feel ashamed that since we have lived out here as well as numerous longer trips, I have had two weekend trips by plane – one to Venice, and one to Geneva. It feels very indulgent and extravagant now to have made such a stomping huge carbon footprint for a few days away. And selfish! At the time it didn’t feel selfish – the Geneva trip was to spend precious time with my daughter – and boy do I wish I could spend time with her now – and my son. But now, with all flights grounded, Flybe completely out of business, and the future very uncertain, I think I would honestly be happy if I could have just one visit a year to see all of my family. It’s unthinkable and unbearable to imagine never seeing them again….and if I allow my mind to wander down that path, I start to lose my ability to breath as panic and overwhelm take hold….and so I don’t. I cling to the hope that once this is all over, the world will be a brighter place that enables us to travel oversees – just in a less selfish manner.  But meanwhile, we are all discovering just how many things we can manage to do using social media and technology.

Between Martin and his brother, they have brought his mum into the 21st Century and we enjoyed an hour long What’s App video call with her this week, giving her a virtual tour of the house. She has never been out here, and maybe now never will, but at least she has now seen it.

March was my son’s birthday and we managed a Facebook video birthday party of sorts!! It went a little pear shaped when his surprise Birthday Cake arrived and he inadvertently sent it away, and my mum couldn’t get connected – but we were still able to connect with each other on his special day.

Creams waffle

By the time it was my mum’s birthday in April we had practised often enough for us to have a successful Skype party – of course it is not the same as a real face to face party…but the feeling of warmth was still there.

Hugs are now done from a safe distance – over the Internet – and we are all sending each other virtual hugs, and encouraging memes. I love these…so much so that I accumulate them and save them in a folder so I always have one ready to send back when I get one – or if a friend or family seems in need. So much so that my daughter asked me the other day if I had a stash when within 30 seconds of her expressing an emotion, I had sent her an “appropriate” poster. I have noticed though the grumpy brigade is out in force and I have seen a few people moaning about getting these. Who could hold it against someone for sending them their thoughts in a message? What they might not realise is that the sender might be reaching out to someone as they need a hug (virtual of course). With all this time on our hands are we really so self-centred that we don’t have time to look at a little picture on Facebook?

Socially distanced hug

Even Martin and I are careful with our hugs. We have to be…..he is the one who is going to the shops so when he comes back I am very insistent that he washes his hands carefully to avoid passing anything on to me. Woe betide him if he forgets. And he felt the “wrath of Sharon” the other day when someone (who shall remain nameless) called to collect a borrowed item.

Co-vidiot

We assumed that the said person would realise that in lockdown we needed to keep a safe distance apart, yet the “Co-vidiot” (yes that really is a term now) actually followed Martin into our house even when Martin said “hang on – stay there” and then he actually clapped me on the back…before then attempting to elbow bump me!!

I restrained myself from knocking him straight off the ‘terrasse’ (there is still no balustrade there) and bit my tongue until after he had gone. But then the tears and the fear came. What if…..what if he had it…what if he passed it on….so we both stripped off – clothes into the washing machine, and triple scrubbing of the hands for both of us. And a very polite (much more polite than deserved) text to say that he must respect the social distancing if he should need to return again. It’s at times like this when we realise that we do not all place the same level of seriousness on the situation in hand. And that, in itself is scary.

Every aspect of our life seems dominated by Covid-19. After I do my Yoga and Reiki we have breakfast, then Martin gets stuck into some drilling or something and I do an online exercise class. I am determined to keep my fitness levels up as much as possible, because

a) when I emerge from lockdown I would like a summer ready body and

b) I have read that a high percentage of people who have died from Covid-19 had a high BMI and mine is sneaking in to the danger zone at 28.9 Interestingly, if I was 5 foot 9 inches I would be a healthy BMI so actually I think I should just find ways of getting taller. As Garfield once said “I am not fat, I’m under tall”.

Garfield

In the afternoon I have been trying to do a bit of gardening, which I find very therapeutic, or something useful outdoors – one afternoon I helped Martin move a huge pile of wood – and was glad that I had been doing some weight training beforehand.

And then in the evenings after dinner I have been working on my Ayurveda Diploma. So far, I have submitted three modules for assessment, so am hoping that I will have achieved this qualification before the end of lock down so that I can use it in my Holistic Therapy Practice when I can work again!! It’s fascinating to learn about and as well as using the principles on myself I know I can reach out to other people and help them by using this too.

Then it’s bedtime and my little night-time routine of my Golden Milk to help boost my immunity (Ayurvedic) and essential oils on my feet to help me sleep.

With the lockdown situation our work on the house came to an abrupt halt, which has meant that we both have had to practice the art of patience quite a lot lately. So, as Martin and I are learning that gift I thought I would teach the doggos some patience too – see the video for how good they are.

But saying that, we did have some brilliant progress on our house build this week. After being told that the installation of our ‘fosse septique’ was delayed due to the lockdown, we then had problems with the motorhome water pump, so, fearful that we could end up with no water at all, I wrote an appeal to SPANC (the authority responsible for sanitation). Long story short – they agreed that the work could star,t and start it did – this Monday. So, we are now very, very close to having running water into the house, and an appropriate way of removing the water from the house…and maybe even a flushing toilet – if only Martin can find one!!

Fosse installation 2

Meanwhile – we have our dry toilet, and I never thought I would ever say this but….there is nothing quite like a compost toilet….I might just keep it!! Just for me!!

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!!

It's Life Jim, but not as we know it

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

 

 

 

Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

Suggested track to play whilst reading – Rachel Platten – Overwhelmed – click here to play

Lyrics are at the end of the blog

My birthday was on Thursday 28th November. We had known for sometime that this was the likely day for the house construction to start, which although was a delay on the original plans, I quite liked the concept of, as what more could a girl want for her birthday than the beginnings of a new house?

As it turns out, the house was not all I did get for my birthday – I got to order a brand new range cooker and a ‘réfrigérateur/congélateur multi-portes’ (like an American one but with four doors it is called French style) ready to come in the new year.

Range and Fridge

It was Black Friday on my birthday so we got a good price of course!! Every little saving counts at this stage of the game as, like most people doing a house build project, we have found that things have often cost much more than anticipated and some things that we have had to pay for we had no prior knowledge even of their existence!!

I also asked Martin for a Kenwood Food Mixer for my birthday present!! Now normally Martin would not dare to buy a woman a kitchen appliance as a gift for fear of having said gift thrown at his head – but I did expressly ask for this item. It’s one of those lovely ones that sits on a counter and waits for a cake mixture to be poured into it! I’ve never been much into baking as I prefer the imaginative, haphazard, throw all the things together than I can indulge in when making a curry for example, where as baking a cake requires following a recipe. I’m looking forward to trying out new skills when we finally get into our house though!

So, Day One of the TEK panel construction was Thursday 28th November and somewhat unbelievably yesterday afternoon on Tuesday 10th December – just 9 working days after the start – the final roof panel was put in place – and voila!! The very basic shell of our house is complete! I’ve put together a 2 minute video showing the process which to view you just click here

We think it’s amazing how quickly it has gone up.

Last night we climbed the very steep step ladder up on to the mezzanine floor to look at the night time view that I have only been able to dream about for the past 2 and a half years! When we first came back to this little piece of land in July 2017 and make that first decision to continue where my Dad left off, to build our own dreams on this plot of land – all I really knew was that I wanted some part of the building to be high. That concept has remained constant – but the plans have changed!

 

This was about house idea number 3
I just can’t imagine La Niche looking like this now – but it was what we wanted for a little while

First of all it was a flat single storey house with a ‘living roof terrace’, then a ‘Périgordien style tower’, and then we met our architect Rob who, after listening to me prattling on about how we only had the budget for one floor but in my dreams I really wanted a high-up reading loft, somehow stole what was in my head all along and came back a few weeks later with it all on paper!!

So last night – to stand up there – a good few feet away from the edge of the mezzanine balcony (bearing in mind there is no safety railing) and see for the first time, the village lights, the bare Winter branches, framed perfectly in the triangular shape of the roof apex – there are no words to describe it other than completely OVERWHELMED!! It is so beautiful!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
This tree with it’s ‘propriété privée’ sign is always going to be very special to me

The oak tree which I so desperately want to preserve as it is one of the things here that really truly connects me to my Dad as every time I see it I remember how it is only really by remembering the photos that he showed us that confirmed we were in the right place when we came back – that oak tree is perfectly framed in the view from the mezzanine.

Like children we excitedly went from window to window looking at the views we will get, noticing how the Velux roof window will give us the perfect stargazing view especially when the lights are fully out.

For 20 months since moving out to France and living in a motor home for all this time the thing that has kept us going is this moment when we finally have our house built!! And I just found it totally overwhelming. I think it is because everything else has taken so, so long, and this part was so incredibly quick. Just 9 days to build a shell.

Of course, there is still a lot more to do. The tiles need to go on the roof, and the ‘bardage’ (cladding) needs to go on the outside of the walls.

We were hoping that the windows would also be in before Christmas. But unfortunately, the window guy came this morning and feels that we need to make some adjustments to the bottom of the openings to avoid water settling underneath the wooden frames. So, this will mean the ‘maçon’ returning to put some concrete in – then that will have to set before he can fit the windows.

That’s a huge disappointment – and when the news was first broken it did feel quite overwhelming – but we then sat back and reflected and concluded that it is only so disappointing because we had our hearts set on having the watertight shell by Christmas – and it will all, I am sure, come together very soon.

We need to wait until Friday for another meeting between the window guy, the maçon and Martin to determine what needs to be done and when it can be done – so it feels a bit flat at the moment – but nothing insurmountable.

If our journey so far has taught us nothing else it has certainly taught us that patience is indeed a virtue and it is needed in large doses on a very regular frequency in our new life in France.

The other aspect of life that I am finding quite overwhelming at the moment is the General Election looming and of course the hate filled echo chambers start to rise up again on social media. Fake news is everywhere – you read something and feel a sense of outrage, and then shortly afterwards you read something else that claims that was fake news. Best to not react to anything until it’s been fact checked.

Whopper on the side of a bus

We didn’t dare rely on the postal votes that we are entitled to (having lived in the UK within the past 15 years) as we have been told by numerous people who were over here during the 2016 referendum that the cards failed to turn up in the post – rendering them unable to vote. So, we sought out a Proxy voter in the area we last lived in who is prepared to cast our votes for our chosen party at our old polling station.

I’m so glad that we decided to do the Proxy voting as all but two of my birthday cards sent by family and friends in the UK went missing – arriving far later than they should have done, and in one case not at all! And now, it’s been revealed that many people are once again saying their Postal Voting Cards did not turn up either at all – or in time to cast their vote. The democracy in the UK at the present time is an absolute shambles!

So, tomorrow – someone will go to our old polling station and casts votes on our behalf. We hope that our votes will help to wipe the smile off the face of the smug Conservative MP who not that awfully long ago refused to help us when I begged him to raise the plight of UK citizens living in the EU within Parliament. To this day he has never so much as sympathised with our situation – all he done was to send a reply telling us to enjoy our new life in France!

letter from Steve Brine
Remainer turn coat Steve Brine…a significant proportion of his constituency was Remain, so was he, but the day after the Referendum he turned completely. A career politician!!

Well! We will enjoy our new life in France if we are able to after Brexit, and if it is his choice to only ever holiday in Cornwall over and over and over again…..well….I do feel quite sorry for the Brits who have never explored further afield and seen what the rest of Europe has to offer! A lack of travel does seem to make people somewhat narrow minded.

It’s stuff like this that makes me feel overwhelmed – that feeling of “stop the world I want to get off”, but last night it felt so good to feel overwhelmed simply from the feeling that we have finally turned the next page in our story.

We now have a shell…it ought to have been watertight by Christmas but probably won’t be.

But it has a roof, it has walls, and it has a heart! And now that it is assembled and upright, we can start to feel her personality (yes, she is feminine – I always knew she would be) and we can start to see how she will start to materialise.

Her name is ‘La Niche’ and we love her already! I will tell you how we came to name her in a future blog.

It’s overwhelming…but exciting, and a little bit scary. And we can’t wait!

Rachel Platten – Overwhelmed – click here to play

“We make patterns out of stars
And we whisper little prayers
To be somewhere that we’re not
And if we’re good it will take us there”

“But then the light comes through the dark
And our questions fall apart
It’s just the beating of our hearts and the still of the midnight air”

“And I get so overwhelmed till it’s hard to tell
What I’m thinking”

“We get down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We get down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
‘Cause the more that you give the more that comes back around”

“So we hide away our hurts
And put bandaids on our fears
And we lie to all our friends
Move along there’s no problems here
But then the orchestra will start
And the violins appear
And a simple little melody has us fighting tears”

“And I get so overwhelmed till it’s hard to tell
What I’m thinking”

“We get down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We get down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
Cuz the more that you give the more that comes back around”

“But the hardest part is the way things are
And how quickly fingers will bleed
And the grace we need is not in magazines,
It’s just space, in between, when we breathe”

“I am down down down I feel sorry for myself
And I get down down down and I need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
Cuz the more that we give, the more that comes back”

“Down down down
We feel sorry for ourselves
We’re down down down
We all need somebody’s help
Let’s get loud loud loud till there’s love and nothing else
‘Cause the more that you give the more that comes back around”

 

 

 

Living in a box

Living in a box

Our house building project is just like putting a huge jigsaw puzzle together. All parts are necessary for the finished item, and each part slots together with the others.

However, as all the parts are coming from different trades people and companies it is not always a smooth process.

Much of our time is taken up trying to solve puzzles – and work out the solutions to problems.

For example, the small matter of our colour scheme for our house. We want our overall internal colour scheme to be oak coloured wood with clean white or cream painted plaster walls – nice and simple. We have had the issue of windows to consider for ages. Most new build houses in France will go for aluminium frames – light weight, and maintenance free. We can see why people would choose it; however, we didn’t want the modern look of metal on the exterior and really, really wanted wood.

The next best thing would be ‘alu/bois’ – metal on the outside but wood inside. We went with this option for ages – but then eventually realised that because French windows and doors always open inwards, each time our doors or windows were open, we would be bringing metal into our interior décor and we really want wood. So, we made a final decision on wood inside and outside and have stuck with that.

The next consideration was the shade of wood to choose. In an ideal world we would have had natural oak, but we are already at the limits of our budget and we had to decide on a mid-range price – so the wood decided on was ‘Bois Exotique’ – which is good quality, very hard wearing – but unfortunately a reddish tone. This was not really what we wanted for our overall colour, but as with most things we are willing to compromise. So, we had settled on the medium colour stain on that wood and were due to go for a ‘rendezvous’ with the window guy early in November to finalise our choices. But we received a phone call saying they were still waiting on some samples and needed to delay. They said that their manufacture was actually working on a process that would change the colour of the ‘Bois Exotique’ so we would have some other colours to chose from.

Window colour match

Suddenly it seemed that all the recent delays were turning out to be very fortuitous as we might get a colour closer to what we really wan. Sure enough, after two visits (the first one they had a good colour but it was a little too yellow) we were really pleased, and very impressed to see that they had come up with a perfect colour!! We were aiming for the colour of our existing oak furniture and as you can see from the picture – they have achieved it!! So, as I say – all those delays have paid off!! What a patient, considerate and professional ‘artisan’ he is to be going to all that trouble to help us achieve what we really want. I honestly cannot imagine going to an English double glazing company and having the same service.

 

Even so, it sometimes seems as if we take two steps forward and one step back. One of those times was last week when our scheduled electrician/plumber visited us, not with a quote for the underfloor heating as we were hoping for, but to inform us that due to health problems he is unable to do our work for us. That was one of those moments when we honestly felt as if the world was slipping away from under our feet. But, a multitude of phone calls and chats later, we have realised that, with some help from a number of people, we can in fact do the electrical and the plumbing work ourselves (as long as we have it signed off by a Certified Electrician). So, the silver lining there is that we will save money, and probably some time as well as we can work to our own timescale instead of waiting for the French tradesmen to return back to work after the Christmas break. It hopefully won’t be too long now before we are no longer living in this little 17 m² box and we can go back to enjoying it as a holiday vehicle.

Meanwhile, the puss chats have been making themselves very much at home. It’s been getting colder though, so we were getting a bit worried about how well they would fare outside – we are certain they do not sleep in the ruin. They go there to get their dry food from the automatic feeder – but they do not hang around there – most probably as this was the area they were held captive in their early days with us.

First of all, we set up a little cardboard box shelter under the table on the Garden House terrace. After all, my daughter Sian spent the night in a cardboard box as part of her fundraising venture (more about that in a minute). But, with a few really cold nights we worried that they would be too cold, so we bought a really cute little cat house.

Puss chats in the box

 

To begin with they were just really suspicious – possibly thinking it was a trap – but after we dismantled it and took the plastic flaps off the front – leaving an open door – they have taken to it and now have their own little Cat Shack!! Beats “Living in a box” I’m sure.

 

 

 

 

 

So, back to the cardboard box that Sian spent the night in.

She is one in a million my daughter – she really is. Most 20 (approaching 21) year old people I know would want to spend their birthday weekend on the town – getting drunk and partying. But Sian decided to take part in a fundraising event called the Big Sleep Easy. This involves making a tent out of cardboard boxes and spending the night in it.

Sharon in a box

 

Martin and I undertook this challenge in 2015 so we know how hard it is – and we of course had each other to snuggle up to even though I woke up at 0600 to the sensation of a man trying to move my feet out of a puddle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Sian was on her own. She said she shivered so much she was awake all night. What a way to spend your birthday weekend!! She really is a very selfless person, and I am very proud of her. If you did want to pop on to her fundraising page to find out more it is here

Sian in a box.jpg

Sometimes the decisions we have to make because we are living over here – away from our family in the UK – can be quite difficult. And the decision to not return to the UK for Sian’s 21st Birthday was one of those tough ones to make. But, at the time she was beginning to make plans for how to spend her birthday we were still thinking the UK could be crashing out of the EU with no deal in place – so we could not risk going back with the dogs and getting stuck over there with the house build – so we decided that Sian would come out in December for a late birthday and an early Christmas – and by the time Brexit didn’t happen she had already made her plans so we stuck with the plan to not go back.

Which again – turned out to be a bit of a silver lining as I ended up having a hospital appointment on her birthday – and long, story short – will need another procedure under General Anaesthetic – but the surgeon agreed that this could wait until after Christmas. I seem to have been injured or unwell more often that fit and healthy since coming to France – but I suspect that it is my age and not anything to do with living in France. The French health care system takes a much more “let’s get it done” approach that the UK’s “let’s wait and see” approach I feel. Which I have mixed feelings about – but that’s mostly as I am so scared of General Anaesthetics.

So, my baby girl turned 21 without me being there to see it happen, and indeed I can’t believe that 21 years have passed since she was a teeny-weeny little bubba with cute little fat rolls on her back which made her look like a Sharpei puppy. She may now be officially an adult – but she will always be my baby to me. That’s the thing about being a mum.

Sian birthday collage

She has brought a smile to my face every single one of those days, and made me really proud so many times.

One of those proud times popped up on my Facebook memories recently – when she was awarded the Livvy Brooker Award at her senior school. That was the year that she lost her friend Livvy to cancer, and then she lost her step-dad to Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and her 11 year old cousin had his cancer return as well. All that to deal with on top of losing her grandad and her step-nan to cancer just over a year before. Her school recognised what she was facing and presented her this award for Courage, Determination and Endeavour. I was so proud of her that night – I thought my heart would burst.

Livvy Brooker award certificate

I am truly blessed with two wonderful adult children (yes, my son Ryan has as many amazing attributes as Sian does – but it’s her special time at her the moment) and I do miss them so much. But, the beauty of modern technology means that we can keep in touch by messenger and video calls. It’s not quite the same – but it sure beats the methods on offer to me when I was travelling in my early twenties and away from home (letters by snail mail, saving up my pennies to make the odd phone call to my mother, and posting parcels of photo albums home so she could see the places I had been to). These days it’s almost like being together when you can do a Facebook video call. 

I can’t wait until we have a proper house here and even though it seems like we have waited forever, I still find it hard to believe that it will finally start to be assembled this week – with luck on Thursday which will be my birthday – and that would be the most wonderful birthday present in the world. It will still be like living in a box for some time though before it becomes a fully liveable home. But at least the next stage will be fun choosing interior décor and a new kitchen and bathroom.

Houses peeping through the trees

The next time I do a blog there might just be another house peeking out from behind some of these tall trees up on the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)