March 18, 2017

SOME THINGS CHANGE, SOME STAY THE SAME

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I returned to France in mid February, unbelievably a month ago already.  Nick stayed behind to complete his rehabilitation programme at the hospital and followed two weeks later.  Now that we are back we are trying to rediscover normal. 

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During the last month the weather has been mixed.  Horrible grey days, drizzle, tremendous winds, and also some sunshine to lift our spirits.  One of the reasons for my early return was to check on the house.  There was some damage after storm Doris a few weeks ago and since then more in the last high winds.  All has now been sorted, thankfully.

On one of the recent bright and sunny days we took a familiar walk around the village and the route around the château that we used to do almost daily with Lulu.  I still find these walks painful.  I can visualise her trotting along ahead of us, enjoying being off the lead, stopping for a good sniff here and there.  It will be some time yet before the joy of remembering her will overcome the sadness of being cheated out of having her with us for more years. 

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It is incredibly coming up to ten years since we set foot in the village for the first time.  The little house below the château where we used to live looks pretty much the same as when we left it.  The house below has new owners and has had a lot of work done to improve it, turning it from a scruffy dump of a place into a smart town house.  I wonder if we would have got on with our new neighbours.  Rumour has it that it’s a holiday home and I wonder if there will be a lot of noise when they are in residence.  One of the great joys of our little house was its peace and quiet, despite being in the middle of the village.

Further up the hill the two cottages where the very old couple lived are now shuttered up and seemingly empty.  Someone said that both of them were now in an old people’s home.  I shall miss seeing them pottering around and seeing their bright geraniums on the window sills.

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This view of the château is one I never tire of.  It hasn’t changed much recently, except that the electricity pylon has now gone, all the cables having been buried underground. 

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The château itself hasn’t changed much, not since it was reinvented and reopened several years ago.  Displays and events come and go but it remains a beautiful, tranquil place, with lovely views over the village.

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Walking back down to the village from the track behind the château the view is exactly the same as it has been for the last ten years.  I love it from either direction.  Going up there is the promise of a lovely walk where we’re unlikely to see another soul.  Going back down there is the promise of a glass of something in the bar in the village, always something to look forward to.

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The village evolves gradually all the time.  The florist was closed for a while and we were so pleased when it reopened a couple of years ago.  Now we are sad to hear it is closing at the end of the month and the shop will be empty again.  I imagine it must be hard to make a living from selling flowers and plants in a small village.

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One of the two bars has been closed since mid December.  There are new owners who are apparently taking over in mid April.  It will be nice to see it open for business instead of shut up with whitewashed windows.  Especially in the summer it will be good to see happy people enjoying the sunshine at its tables outside.

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We have come to a decision, of sorts, about our house.  We had changes planned for this year, mainly upstairs.  A new ensuite bathroom in the main bedroom, decorating, lowering of ceilings and air conditioning.  But we’re putting all of that on hold until we find out exactly what the outcome of the French elections will be and, of course, that awful word, Brexit.  If we find that living in France more or less full time is no longer an option or what we want, there seems little point in spending money improving what would become a second home again, especially considering that we are unlikely to recoup that money if we decide to sell the house and move back to a smaller one for holidays only.  It’s money we could use to buy a better house in the UK if the tables are turned and we end up spending most of our time back there.  This is not something we would want but we think it’s best not to tempt fate.

My carte vitale has still not arrived, five months after I applied for it, so we’re still faced with the prospect of returning regularly to the UK for health care and so on.  Our dream of living permanently in France is not looking as realistic as it did this time last year, which is when we made the decision that that’s what we would like to do.  Which just goes to show, you never know what’s around the corner and planning something is one thing, actually achieving it is another thing entirely.

Bon weekend !!

February 15, 2017

A YORKSHIRE WEEKEND PART TWO

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Day two of our long weekend on the Yorkshire coast dawned bright and chilly.  From our hotel room on the second floor we had a fantastic view of Scarborough castle. 

We decided that after breakfast we would go to Whitby, a few miles up the coast.  The temperature barely rose above 1°C all the way there and there was a thin mist hanging over the fields, creating magical views of the countryside.

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Whitby turned out to be a magical place, everything that Scarborough wasn’t.  It was fairly quiet when we arrived but it was soon bustling with visitors.

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The mist lifted, the sun came out, and we strolled around the town and along the promenade, taking in the sights and the sea air.

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There was some interesting sights to be seen.  Lots of people with dogs, plenty of birds and – people in fancy dress.  There seemed to be some kind of theme going on, a nineteenth century theme perhaps, almost Dracula meets Charles Dickens, meets Heath Robinson, meets Pirates of Penzance, meets American Civil War.  We couldn’t quite figure it out but there didn’t seem to be a particular event anywhere, just lots of people wandering around in costume, quite nonchalantly, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

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I could understand the Dracula connection, Whitby being the place where the story was conceived.  But the other stuff – the false hands, flying goggles, buckled boots and undertaker’s hats – I had no idea what that was all about.  And the costumes were not cheap fancy dress shop rubbish either, they were quality outfits, well fitting and well made.

It was all very good natured.  Nobody was taking that much notice, as if this happens all the time in Whitby.  I was cautious of taking photos but sneaked a few as people passed by.

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However, I couldn’t resist asking this chap if I could take his picture.  I have no idea how his get-up fitted into the scheme of things, but he looked pretty cool I thought.  Dracula meets biker/pirate perhaps?  Or it could have been his usual Sunday best for an afternoon stroll with his little dog!

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We had a bite to eat in a small coffee shop in a side street – a toasted brie and cranberry sandwich for Nick and two slices of Yorkshire tea loaf with Wensleydale cheese for me.  The custom of eating cheese with fruit cake in Yorkshire is something I had forgotten about but I can highly recommend it.

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After lunch we emerged from the coffee shop to continue with our walk and almost immediately came across a fabulous sight – no, not the harbour, the boats or the lighthouse above, but a couple with not just one but three standard poodles.  All black and all male.  My heart missed a beat.

We had a good long chat with the owners and it was lovely to ruffle the curly heads and be leaned on again – by the dogs not the owners, of course!  Afterwards  Nick and I had a long talk about the possibility of having another dog ourselves.  We had wondered about getting a different breed this time but we’ll have to see.  For me, having shared my life with a succession of standard poodles almost continuously for more than thirty years, I simply can’t imagine having anything else. 

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We liked Whitby.  Nick had been there several times before but I had only been once, many years ago, and I can’t remember a thing about it.  It’s hard to say exactly why it’s so much better than Scarborough.  It’s smaller and more compact and there was no bad behaviour, no bad language to be heard, less litter and the shops, cafés and other attractions were somehow less tacky.

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We left around mid afternoon so that we could get back to Scarborough in daylight, maybe have a walk around the other side of the bay, give it a second chance and hopefully spot somewhere to eat without having to drive the car.

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We avoided the crowded Scarborough sea front this time and ventured elsewhere, but even the Grand Hotel was a disappointment.  Definitely not grand any more, the structure still imposing but the interior scruffy and uninviting.  There were no white tablecloths and sparkling wineglasses in the restaurant, and the menu was more holiday camp than fine dining.

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Scarborough is in fact a strange place.  The beach is beautiful and there are nice parks, but all the other seaside attractions seem very downmarket, half price this and bargain that, which in my experience they rarely are, they’re just cheap.  We had the distinct impression that the town of Scarborough had definitely seen better days.

Yet there are still large swathes of nice looking, neat and well kept hotels and guest houses.  So where do all the people who stay in these nice places go when they’re there?  We found a Turkish restaurant that was within walking distance in a nice area and we had a lovely meal there, although we were the only customers. 

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On the Monday morning we had another chance to see the magnificent view from our hotel room before we set off back to Derbyshire.  We travelled via two old market towns, Pickering where we explored the secondhand and antique shops, and Malton, where we had an excellent pub lunch. 

We had had a grand weekend in Yorkshire.  It turns out that all the fancy dress was because there had been a “steampunk” event in Whitby the night before.  Whatever that is!

February 11, 2017

A YORKSHIRE WEEKEND

By last weekend all three of us were suffering badly from cabin fever.  Nick was fed up, I was feeling fidgety and the cat was literally climbing the walls.  One morning, whilst having our customary mug of tea in bed, we heard a rustling coming from the top of the wardrobe.  We looked up to see a holdall inching its way towards the edge and eventually plummet to the floor.  Little Daisy then peered over the edge and stared at it, looking very satisfied.

It was time for a change of scenery.  We booked Daisy into the cattery for three nights and with a bit of research decided to go to the seaside for the weekend.  To Scarborough in fact.

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We headed off on Saturday morning, in sunny but cold weather.  We chose our route so as to make the most of the Yorkshire coast and its culinary delights and stopped off at Filey for lunch.  We had scampi and chips in the nearest pub we fell into once parked and then went for a bit of a stroll to walk it off.  The scampi were utterly fresh and delicious and the chips were freshly made to order, home cooked chunky chips with the skin on.  Marvellous.

The beach at Filey was beautiful.  I can see why people go there for holidays.  There were lots of dogs having enormous fun chasing around on the sand, chasing each other, chasing balls or just chasing the waves.  The only problem with this is that it reminded me painfully of how much I miss Lulu.  We only took her to the beach once in her whole life and she loved it.

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We then got back in the car and set off for Scarborough and found our hotel.  It could easily have been Fawlty Towers.  It was old fashioned, spotlessly clean and two elderly ladies were just going out for an afternoon walk as we arrived and checked in.  The receptionist broke off from dealing with us to wave them off and remind them that dinner was at 6pm.  I expected Basil Fawlty to emerge from the back room any moment.

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Having settled in and unpacked, we went out for a walk ourselves in the late afternoon sunshine, to get our bearings and see if we could find somewhere nice to eat that evening.  The hotel was in a nice area with lots of other similar, old fashioned twentieth century hotels and guest houses.  The place had a rather home spun feel to it with home made signs and entertainment from a bygone era of seaside holidays.

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Unfortunately the charm of our surroundings didn’t last.  As we made our way towards the town centre and the promenade we passed streets of run down guest houses, presumably no longer filled with happy holiday makers but guests of an altogether completely different kind.  I suppose if you own a large guest house and the families desert the Yorkshire seaside for somewhere else then you can’t really be blamed for filling your rooms with anyone who can afford the rent, or whose rent is paid for by the state.  As we got nearer to the town I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable and rather disappointed.

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The promenade had a split personality.  The boats and lobster pots were there, looking charming and picturesque, but on the other side of the street were endless tourist shops, amusement arcades and fish and chip places, none of them looking very inviting.  There was a distinct decline in the language and manners of the folk parading around, kids screeching and misbehaving, parents berating them with foul language and small groups of yobs and yobettes competing with each other for who could be the loudest and most offensive.  Scarborough was turning out to be not what I expected at all.

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We headed back to the hotel without finding anywhere we thought we would like to eat.  There was an Italian restaurant that looked ok but we didn’t fancy parking the car nearby and even less walking there.  There was a bistro that could only offer us a table at 6pm.  So we decided to head out of town and try our luck further afield.

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We ended up in a pub in the next village and had a great, traditional pub meal.  It was presented in that classic way of really good pub food, hearty and tasty and not only that, because I commented on the quirkiness of the dish used to serve my prawn cocktail (one of my favourite all time starters), the chef sent one out for me to keep.  How good is that?!

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Back at the hotel, we took advantage of the bar and had a night cap – wine for Nick and hot chocolate accompanied by a glass of Tia Maria for me – something I hadn’t had to drink since probably the 1970’s but I couldn’t resist.  We looked at the pool and decided that we would avail ourselves of that tomorrow. 

Scarborough itself was a slight disappointment but Fawlty Towers was suiting us very well so far!