November 15, 2014

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION

cat flap3

Having got Daisy back safe and sound from the neighbour and back to full health we then had to think hard about her future.  I was very worried that if she remained an outdoor cat he could steal her again.

So she became an indoor cat with outdoor options.

We took her to the vet and got her all the regular vaccinations plus a rabies vaccination and an identity chip, so that we could bring her home to the UK when we returned for a long spell.

The rabies vaccination was not done soon enough to bring her with us this time so we were faced with having to leave her in France for two weeks.  Our friends Tim and Pauline had offered to cat sit – to call regularly and keep her company, play with her, make sure she’s ok and keep the cat feeder topped up. 

We felt very strongly that she would be less vulnerable to the neighbour’s uninvited attention if she could get into the house where it was safe and warm whenever she liked, rather than having to find shelter in the draughty barn.  We needed a cat flap!

cat flap5

The problem was, where to fit one?  All the doors into the house are made of full length glass, something we’re very pleased with as it makes the most of what light comes into the house at the front - as a typical longère there are no windows at the back and the front is currently shaded by an overly large lime tree.  Whilst it is possible to fit a cat flap into an existing glass door (I enquired once we got back to the UK) we hadn’t got the time to get that organised in France before we came away.

cat flap

So we improvised!

Tim and Pauline loaned us their spare cat flap and Tim made a wooden insert that fits the utility room window.  We constructed a cat ladder from a pile of logs and with a bit of encouragement Daisy soon learned how to go in and out. 

cat flap2

By which I mean that she learned how to climb in very quickly, because we started to keep her bed and food inside, but needed a little more coaxing to get the hang of going out.  We took the magnet off the closing mechanism as the door seemed quite hard for a kitten to push, and that helped.

The going out through the cat flap learning process was assisted by Lulu.  We were in the habit of giving Lulu her dinner outside the front door – she prefers to dine al fresco – and a race soon developed between the dog and cat as to who could get to it first.  Daisy would shoot out of the cat flap and down the ladder and we would sneakily open the door to make sure Lulu got there just ahead of her!

cat flap6

For the last two weeks Tim and Pauline have been keeping us up to date with her progress and sending photos.  She is thriving without us, it seems!  She has grown, her eyes have turned a gorgeous green, she is keeping the mouse population down and enjoys playing with the kitchen sponge and teatowel.  Which tells me that it didn’t take her long to work out how to get onto the kitchen worktops via the spiral staircase and the top of the fridge.  She’s a clever and fearless little thing.

  cat flap4 I knew that three-seater sofa would come in handy!

So we’ll soon be back in France and are looking forward to seeing how she’s got on without us.  Pretty good, I suspect!

Bon weekend !!

November 11, 2014

THE MISSING JUMPER

So the BT engineer finally came and seemed to know what he was doing.  He used his fancy equipment to work out that our line was totally dead and that the fault was a very short distance away, at a nearby junction box, only a few hundred metres from the house.  (635 metres to be precise!)  Of he trotted to see what was wrong and returned in a short time saying that the problem was a missing jumper.  This is something fairly crucial that had been removed in error or by accident when some other work was being carried out.  Without it we had no telephone line.  He replaced the jumper and hey presto, the phone and internet were working again.

The whole process took less than an hour once we had someone sensible to talk to.  I don’t know whether to be happy or cross, but at least normal service has been restored.  If BT could have sent this bloke to sort the job out straight away we could have been saved from a lot of angst and aggravation, not to mention inconvenience.

November 7, 2014

REFLECTIONS ON TECHNOLOGY AND SERVICE

We are currently in the UK for a short visit, the main purpose of which was to bring my dad back home after his stay with us in October.

When Nick came to fetch him on 16th October he found that our phone and internet weren't working. A call to BT (thank goodness for mobile phones) revealed "a fault at the exchange" and he was told they would send an engineer to check it out in five days' time - not much use to him as he was only staying home for two days!

We arrived back home on 2nd November to find we still had no phone or internet.  Another call to BT revealed the same "fault at the exchange", but only after they tried to blame our equipment or internal wiring. We have no wiring. The line comes into the house and our phone plugs straight into the socket - the one that was installed by BT only four months ago.    We also checked it out using an old fashioned phone that doesn't require an electricity supply - one that we keep for emergency use such as in a power cut. That doesn't work either, suggesting a fault with the line.  BT said they would send an engineer to the exchange on 6th November - a wait of another four days.

By mid afternoon on 6th November we still had no phone. Another call to BT revealed that an engineer had been to the exchange and found no fault..........the previous day! So we were no further forward and they hadn't had the courtesy to inform us of the outcome.

I admire Nick for his calm and patience. I suppose decades of getting to the bottom of problems and getting the most out of people when they have failed to come up to scratch must be good training for dealing with a large company whose systems and processes for resolving problems are hopeless. Plus the fact that the person you have to speak to at the call centre is doing his or her best but probably doesn't give a toss or is already thoroughly demoralised. I would have found it very hard not to lose my rag.

We now apparently need an engineer to come and check it out at the house, which will be - in another four days.

This leads me to reflect on the current state of service and technology. The technology is fantastic but the service is awful. How did that come about? Why is it that these days the customer has to do not only his own quality control but also his own project management when things go wrong?

You can't actually get to deal face to face or even talk to someone who really seems to care or whose job depends on getting things done right.  Maybe that's the problem - large companies have great ways of getting your business through marketing but nobody takes any pride in doing a good job, whether it's the person in the call centre dealing with angry and frustrated customers, or the people who devise the processes for resolving problems. They seem to think that a refund of  a month's charge for the lack of service should make us happy.

However, Nick opened his iPad to find that we are connected after all using BT Wifi - and presumably the service of one of our neighbours. So at least we have the ability to check emails if not use the phone. If I pop round to my dad's house, log on to his internet and download the right app on my own iPad, I shall be able to do the same............

Meanwhile, we await the next instalment in the saga of getting our phone line fixed. At the current rate of four day intervals between each step in the process, and having to do our own project management, we'll be very lucky indeed if it's fixed by the time we go back to France!

October 22, 2014

AN AMBITION ACHIEVED

lawnmower

Today is a BIG DAY for Nick.

One of the main criteria when looking for a bigger house in France was that it had a garden big enough to require a sit-on mower!

lawnmower2

On Monday Nick cut the grass using the ancient heap of a petrol mower left behind for us by the previous owners.  It was kind of them to leave it but it was hard work to use.  After an hour of heaving the thing around Nick had sore wrists, a sore back and I had sore ears!

So we hopped it over to Loches in search of a new one.  We ordered it from Bricomarché and early this morning they delivered it!

A rather nice young man brought it in a truck and trailer and gave Nick full instructions on how to use it.  Great service.

lawnmower3

A happy Nick with his new boy’s toy!

lawnmower4

Checking it has an engine – with the help of my dad!

October 17, 2014

THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING CAT SOLVED – SHE’S BACK!

Daisy3

I am delighted to report that Daisy is back home!

The bizarre thing is that she neither left nor came back of her own accord.  She was effectively abducted and then returned.

Our nearest neighbour is one of life’s tragic cases, with severe learning difficulties, an awkward posture and a tottering gait. He ended up by himself when both his parents died prematurely, one being killed when a car struck his mobylette and the other dying of some illness.  Apparently he is not really able to look after himself and survives on a daily visit from a carer and the French equivalent of “meals on wheels”.  His is however quite fit and walks for miles every day, with his little dog.  The previous owners of our house allowed him into the garden quite frequently and gave him food and cast off clothes plus treats for the dog.

We encountered him a few times when we visited the house before the previous owners moved out.  As soon as our car turned up he would walk along the lane with the dog to see what was going on and if the gate was open he would come into the garden.  The previous owners were keen to point out that he is “quite harmless” but they never let him into the house.

Communication with him is virtually impossible as he doesn’t talk, just grunts and shouts.  He sometimes seems to be trying to form words in a way that makes me wonder if he might also be deaf.  The vendors used to speak and gesticulate at him in a mixture of French and English in the way that you might talk to a dog, and he would just grunt back, giving no clue as to whether or not he had understood what has been said.  I have no idea how old he is – he could be anything from thirty to fifty.  He looks rough, unkempt and dirty, always dressed in a random selection of ill-fitting clothes, almost like a tramp.  The previous owners told us they only once called at his house and it was in such a state that they had no wish to ever go again.  We decided that as we would inevitably need to keep the gate shut because of Lulu we would probably not be troubled by him. 

I think that by now you can probably guess what happened to Daisy – but read on if you want to know the full story …….

On the day she disappeared she had followed us to the gate, as she always did – she followed us everywhere. I picked her up and took her back nearer to the house, shut the gate and left her playing at chasing leaves under the lime tree.  As we drove away from the house we waved to the neighbour as he walked along the road with his little dog.  When we got back to the house an hour later there was no sign of her.

The weather had been glorious for weeks and later that afternoon it changed and became thoroughly foul.  We searched all over for Daisy and gradually the awful realisation that she was gone crept up on us.  All along I found it hard to believe that a young kitten would wander off by herself when there is nowhere else to go – we are surrounded by fields and at the time they had only just been ploughed and were just massive clods of earth and mud.  Why would a small kitten, who never normally went beyond the gate, as far as we know, suddenly decide to take off over mountains of mud?  There was plenty to explore and entertain her at home in the barns, not to mention food and a cosy bed.

It crossed my mind that she might have made it to the neighbour’s property and could be sheltering somewhere, but it’s so far away that I discounted the idea.  If a small cat was half way there when it started to rain surely she would come home rather than go further away – unless she was lost.

We searched the ditches all around the house for miles, looking for evidence that she might have been hit by a car.  Then it occurred to me that she might have ventured into the electrician’s van and hidden – he was here on the morning she disappeared – and ended up jumping out the next time he parked with the van doors open, which could be anywhere.  But we had all looked in the van for her before he left, and there was no sign.

I resolved to try to catch a word with the neighbour’s carer by flagging down her car next time I saw her - had identified a car that called regularly but not always at the same time of day and assumed it was hers.  Two days ago I was out hanging some washing and noticed the car so the three of us, including Lulu, loitered by the end of his lane and waited for her.

We waved at her and for a moment thought she wasn’t going to stop but thankfully she pulled onto the grass verge and got out of the car.  We introduced ourselves as the new neighbours and she said she had no idea the house had changed hands.  Her client had told her about a dog and she assumed the previous owners had got a dog, not that there were new owners.  This makes me wonder if the previous owners didn’t tell the neighbour they were going, or maybe they did and he didn’t understand.  He seemed to visit most days so they would certainly have had the opportunity to try.

She told us a lot about him, much of which we already knew, and came across as a really nice, caring, dependable person, thoroughly concerned for his welfare.  He should really be in a care home but refuses to go, hence the visits from the carer and the meal deliveries.

As the conversation drew to a close I asked about the cat.  I said we had lost our cat and wondered if she had seen one around his house and that I was worried that she might have accidentally been shut in a barn.  She said “she’s on his bed”.

He had told her that he “found the cat” outside our house and took her home.  The carer, having no idea there were new neighbours next door, concluded that he had picked up an abandoned cat and thought no more about it.  He had kept her indoors and not let her outside at all.

At first I thought she was not going to help us to get Daisy back - she said he would be very upset if the cat went away.  I said “but she’s our cat”.  We must have both looked distraught as she seemed to suddenly change her mind and said she would bring the cat back to us the next day.  She would tell him that the cat had disappeared.  She even reached into the back of the car and gave us a box of cat food she had bought for her.

She was true to her word and Daisy arrived the next day, bewildered and confused, with chronic diarrhoea and riddled with fleas.  Luckily she still remembered how to use a litter tray.

The carer said she had told the neighbour that the cat was ours but she had no idea whether or not he had understood.  Which makes me feel less bad about not venturing down to the house myself days ago to ask after her – if the carer, who probably knows him better than anyone – can’t make him understand, what chance would I have? 

I have no idea what his real motives were.  Did he really not know there were new neighbours next door?  We had waved to him every time we passed each other in the lane and when he came up to the gate, although we never let him in.  Lulu dutifully barked at him every time he passed by.  Did he really think Daisy was an abandoned cat – apparently its common for people to take unwanted kittens a long way from home and leave them to fend for themselves – or did he simply like the look of her and decided he’d take her for himself?  She certainly didn’t look like a stray cat – she was plump, clean and friendly – I imagine that most people would have simply thought that the neighbours had got a new cat, not that she was a stray – she was at the entrance to our drive, not at his door begging for food.

The really upsetting part is that he would have had to be very determined to take her.  When ever we picked Daisy up she would wriggle furiously and was difficult to hold on to.  He must have held on really tight or trapped her inside his jacket.  The carer said he had kept her indoors all the time, and something in the way she said it made me immediately think it was so that she couldn’t make her way home, or to prevent us from finding her.  We will never know.

Daisy4

It took Lulu a few hours to get used to Daisy again but now they get along fine.  The fleas are gone, Daisy, Lulu and all the furniture being treated, along with our clothes and anything she came into contact with.  The upset tummy has settled down and Daisy is back to her usual self, following us everywhere and meowing constantly, getting into mischief.  I have rediscovered the joy of having a kitten climbing up your trouser leg as you try to peel potatoes!

So Daisy has gone from being a full-time outdoor cat to a full-time indoor cat for the time being.  We will keep her indoors for a few days then let her out and see what happens – we are very worried that if the neighbour spots her he will simply take her again.  Even if she is allowed outdoors we will certainly shut her in when we go out, just in case he walks by and she goes to him.  People who are “harmless” might not be violent or malicious but they might also not realise when they are doing wrong, especially if there’s nobody else at home to ask the right questions.  We will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Nothing is ever easy, is it?  We just wanted a cat to deal with the mice……

October 10, 2014

NEWS, GOOD AND BAD

The good news is that our furniture and other stuff was delivered safely from storage in the UK on Wednesday.  The two lads that came with the van did a fantastic and professional job.

Our house is now full of the furniture and belongings from two houses!

The bad news is that Daisy has disappeared.

She was last seen four days ago, skipping about on the grass, chasing leaves.  We went to the village late morning and one hour later when we got back there was no sign of her.

For the two weeks she spent with us the weather was glorious and then it became pretty foul just as she vanished. Friends reassured us that she would be sheltering safely somewhere and would soon come back.  As we are surrounded by huge clods of ploughed earth and the nearest neighbours are a long way away, it’s hard to see how a small kitten could be anywhere safe, and we have searched every inch of our property over and over again.  We wonder if she could have been taken by one of the hawks that circle endlessly over the fields that surround us.

In any case we have stopped hoping for the best as it’s just too upsetting to keep thinking about it.  I have had cats before that have gone missing and it always ended badly.

We all miss her, including Lulu who spends a lot of time each day looking for her.  They had become good friends.

Bon weekend!

October 4, 2014

SETTLING IN AND CHECKING IN

Daisy1 

So we are in our new house!  Time for me to check in say how we are getting on!

Having signed the compromis on 1st September we then did a flying visit back to the UK to take delivery of some new appliances there, which you can read about here.  Our visit was cut short when we found out that the completion on the French house was to be on 15th September – and we had barely started packing yet!

Gaynor

We rushed back to France on the 12th, hired a huge van on the 13th and, with a great deal of help from our friends, managed to be out of our little house and moved into our new one on time, leaving the old one nice and clean, too. Phew!

We are not exactly settled in yet, but things are moving on.   After less than three weeks in residence we have got our internet supply up and running, had satellite dishes and a new TV installed – luxury!  The plumber has got the central heating boiler and radiators going (after a bit of a struggle) and, again with the help of friends and their huge trailer, we have done several visits to the tip with the unwanted stuff left behind by the previous owners, who were in a great hurry to move out and didn’t have the time to do it themselves.  We have grappled with old appliances, given up and bought new ones.  Alex and Nicole have done a great job in starting to clear out many of the overgrown trees and shrubs on the boundary and make the place look more open and tidy.

A lengthy visit from a very nice man with a ponytail, shorts and sturdy boots resulted in a devis (estimate) for a new fosse (septic tank) and hope that work for that will begin in December – the one big and expensive job we knew we needed to get organised as soon as possible. 

Daisy2

We have also acquired a new member of the family – Daisy the kitten.  She’s just three months old and has joined us to deal with the large number of mice – the inevitable result of living very much in the country.  She and Lulu get on extremely well – much more about that later.

Next week is going to be chaotic. On Monday and Tuesday the electrician will be here to change our supply unit for a modern one, fit some more sockets in the kitchen and alter the switching arrangement of some of the lights.  At the same time the plumber will also be here to sweep the chimney, repair the flushing mechanism in the downstairs loo and make some alterations to the pipework under the sink to enable us to have a new tap.  Then our furniture arrives on Wednesday back from storage in the UK.  Somehow between now and then we need to make room for it all!

We have been so lucky with the weather, which has been unusually warm for the time of year and in between all the work we have managed to find some time to enjoy it properly – more about that later, too.

There will be plenty more to report as soon as I get a minute to upload the photos and write the post……in the meantime……

Bon weekend !!