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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pardon my French

Pardon my French

Warning – a lot of swear words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loubejac Night Market
14 of us at Loubejac Night Market 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Fingers Up
Encule cette merde