14 August 2020

A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOCKDOWN, SOME GREEN THINGS AND SOME NEWS.

 
This burnt out tractor and baling machine is in a field on the road between Le Grand-Pressigny and Le Petit-Pressigny and has probably been there for some time.  I don't know yet what caused the tractor to burn out but I dare say the thing itself produced quite a bit of heat.  Frightening for the person driving it I expect.
 
 
The heatwave began this time last week, Friday 7th being the hottest day at 39°C, give or take.  On the 8th there were a few storm clouds gathering as I took Hugo on one of our favourite walks around the château early in the morning.  Even by 8am the temperature was in the mid 20's. 

 
It was 30°C in our bedroom for several nights, despite having our little portable aircon machine going.  That makes it hard to sleep and we gradually became more and more exhausted (and crabby) as the days wore on.  It wears you down, that kind of heat, if you're not used to it.  As the days went by we felt we were in a different kind of lockdown, unable to go anywhere or do anything due to the debilitating heat and were confined to the cool ground floor rooms of our house.  Even hanging out some washing was a hugely exhausting task, especially as within minutes it was dry and I was taking it back in again.
 
One day on our early morning walk I took pictures of various green things ripening around the village.  They're a sure sign that the summer is nearing its end, which is sad for us as we only just got here.
 
I wonder if you can put a name to all of them.  The last one is easy.





 
This grey thing is our late friend Barrie's old car.  It was quite new when he died in 2015 but it has barely moved since then.  For a while it stood in the tiny driveway next to his front door which was no doubt a nuisance for his neighbours.  Having to manoeuvre around a car that's permanently in the way must be annoying.  After about four years it appeared in the street just above his house, having been somehow moved out of the way.  After another year it now sits, flat tyre and a few scrapes, further up the road and more out of the way.
 
Every time I look at it as it reminds me of Barrie and what a lovely person he was.  I feel sad that he's no longer with us yet happy to have known him.  Also baffled why a virtually new car should be simply left unwanted for such a long time.
 
There is news on the sheltered housing front for my dad.
I was getting nowhere because the council housing dept would not visit him (or presumably any other applicants) to do the assessments necessary to get the process started.  The young man at Social Services told me they were waiting for the go ahead from "higher up".  So I decided to take the bull by the horns and contact those "higher up" to find out if anything could be done.  I wrote to my MP, thinking he would be the person to ask, having his finger on the pulse of government and all that.  It took a few letters and a few false starts but hey presto - a phone call was received and the assessment was done this week.  Hallelujah!!
 
My brother sat in on it, all three of them on my dad's rickety dining chairs in the back yard, next to the rubbish bins.  It was outside for Covid safety and next to the bins because that's where it was in the shade.  We still have no idea if he will be offered a flat at all or when but they are going to view an empty one next week, just so he can see what they are like should he be lucky enough to get one.  What a palaver.  Still, at least it's a start and there are empty flats available.  More than usual apparently.
 
As for us, well, we are now faced with having to spend two weeks in quarantine when we go back to the UK.  So if my dad is offered a flat in the near future and I go back to organise his move, it will take me three weeks instead of the one I anticipated.  Two of which will be spent doing nothing while I quarantine. 
Then, as the foreign office official advice has once more been changed to "essential travel only" to France it seems unlikely that I will be able to return to France once he's safely installed with the few possessions he wants to take with him.  Unless, that is, fetching back your cat and dog (and husband, but I will gloss over that) qualifies as essential travel.
 
2020 was such a nice, round, promising number but we will not forget it or ever want to revisit it.  What a bloody awful year this has been.

6 August 2020

A BUSY TIME SO FAR

 
Two weeks ago today we arrived chez nous.  The weather has been beautiful and we have spent a lot of time relaxing and immersing ourselves in the peace and quiet.
 
 
We have also been out and about and met up with friends in a way that not many months ago seemed not possible, and in fact there were times when we wondered if we would ever do it again.  Coming from a place that is all consumed by the coronavirus, one way or another, to one where everything is so much more relaxed has taken some getting used to.  When I say "relaxed" I don't mean careless.  We have been impressed how people here have managed to enjoy themselves without taking risks.


On Monday we were invited to join a group of friends for a walk around the lake at the leisure park at St Cyr.  It's about an hour from home and when we set off to meet them it was literally pouring with rain.  Which was rather inconvenient as I discovered that I literally have no coat or mac of any kind here!  I do have a lightweight kind of summer trenchcoat that has been left here, like all my summer clothes, for years.  But it was nowhere to be found.  It seems I must have taken it home with me last winter but goodness only knows why.


However, I needn't have worried as by the time we got to St Cyr the sun was shining and in fact it was perfect weather for a walk, sunny but not too hot.  Everyone kept their distance, drifting from one set of friends to another whilst staying safe.  There was much to catch up on.


It's about 5km around the lake.  We began with coffee at the little café and strolled along in a very relaxed but careful socially distanced way, what a joy it was to be part of a group of friends again.  It hardly seems five minutes ago that we were on our own, day after day, not meeting up with anyone else at all.  Then came the "bubble" rule where we could meet up with my brother who had been self isolating, all by himself.  How odd it was at the time, yet so much of a relief, to be able to sit in the garden with him for lunch.  On separate tables. 

How different it is here.

 
I can't believe we have lived in this area for so long and never been to this parc before! 

 
After our walk we had lunch at the golf club restaurant which overlooks the park, the lake and the golf course.  We had the set menu du jour, which was reasonably priced and fairly ordinary but the regular menu looked very promising and we will certainly go back another day.  We are grateful to our friends for including us and introducing us to the place.

 
Feeling so much more relaxed about things, we organised a lunch party for some of our friends.  All were English (or Welsh!) people who were finally allowed to be at their holiday homes in France, several months late, and in some cases which a huge gardening task to do. 
All were feeling a bit awkward about things, concerned that locals and friends who live here full time might not welcome their presence.  It's understandable that people might not feel ecstatic about the arrival of visitors from a country with the highest death toll in Europe.

 
We made every effort we could to make everyone feel comfortable about getting together but remaining safe, keeping our distance, hand gel everywhere, individual towels for the bathroom and so on.  No wandering around at the table or queueing at the buffet table.  Everyone was very careful, considerate and understanding. 
 
I have mentioned before what an asset the picnic area is.  The day was forecast to be very warm, reaching the mid thirties by late afternoon, but we were very comfortable in the shade.  This year we have erected a "sail" at the end of the shelter which ensures shade at the farthest end all day.  A further addition of an extra umbrella or two meant that nobody at the table had to be in the sunshine and food on the buffet table stayed cool and fresh.  Our guests each brought a delicious contribution to the lunch and we had a fabulous time, catching up and enjoying good food and wine.  In traditional French style, the long and lazy lunch finished about 5pm!
 

 
Later in the evening we went into the village to celebrate the reopening of one of the bars.
 
This bar has been through several incarnations since we arrived here in 2007.  Then it was called the Jean Bart, a very traditional village bar with fabulous woodwork inside (the bar itself and the staircase), a beautiful old tiled floor and - an outside very old style toilet.  I will let you use your imagination on that but let's just say that sitting was not an option!
 
The owner retired and it was bought by a Spanish couple who ran it successfully as a bar and began a new tradition by serving snacks.  It was a great asset to the village but they moved on.  My understanding is that French employment law somehow made it impossible for them to carry on but I might have mis remembered that.   
 
Two years ago it was taken over by a lady called Lisa who renamed it "Chez L".  She ran it successfully as a bistro, serving the community as a bar and a very welcome addition to the restaurant selection in the village.  In fact in the summer it was buzzing and the food was very good at a very good price. 
 
Somewhere along the line things went wrong and at the end of last year the bar closed again.  Friends posted photos of the equipment and furniture being sold by auction on the outside a few months ago.  A sad loss for the village.


Anyway, it has reopened and will again be serving food.  Hoorah!
 
We went to the opening night but we didn't stay for long.  The local trio "I don't know" were playing to a huge crowd of people outside and whilst it was great to see the place buzzing again and to know that the village has one of its great assets back in business...…...we were spooked.
There were too many people there for us.  The adherence to social distancing and wearing of masks seemed very loose and we felt nervous about it.  Having survived without catching the virus so far it seemed to us that you just never know where it lurks and this situation rang alarm bells for us.  We hate how the virus has made us feel about things but this was not the right time yet for us to drop our guard.
 
We wish the new owners every success and will certainly be there before long to enjoy a drink and a meal when there are fewer people milling around.  Having been in France for two weeks we feel much more relaxed but are not quite ready yet for the big crowds.
For more pictures see Jim's post here.

2 August 2020

A MASK FOR ALL OCCASIONS

 
I saw this mask in a shop and thought what a cute kitten nose so I bought it.
When I opened it out and put it on......not quite what I expected!
Masques are de rigueur here!

31 July 2020

CHEZ NOUS AT LAST



We have now been chez nous for over a week.  That time has flown by so quickly, where did it go?

Getting here was straightforward enough.  We had the car packed and were ready to leave by 7pm.
Earlier in the day I had looked at the Eurotunnel website and discovered that there were spaces for tall vehicles (car plus top box) on the 3am crossing.  We were booked on the 5.20am with a four hour drive to get there.  Unfortunately the only way to change our booking was by phone and the line was permanently engaged until 5pm when it changed to an answerphone message to say the office was closed. 
We considered risking it, setting off straight away, and getting there in time to be put on that 3am train but the thought of being turned down and having to wait two hours in the car park put us off.  Not to mention the £150 excess they said they were charging for passengers arriving way too early! 
This is because when the tunnel is busy the car park fills up quickly and there is nowhere to put extra cars.  A lot of people do this routinely, arriving early purely in the hope that they will get an earlier train, regardless of what time they have booked.  This is fine when the tunnel is quiet but clogs up the car park when it's very busy and the trains are full.  The extra charge was an attempt to deter people from chancing it.
Which is unfortunate for people like us who always have to set off from home several hours early to allow enough extra journey time to make sure we are still in with a chance of catching our train if there are road works, crashes and other hold ups on the motorways.  If there are none and the drive is easy we arrive early and frequently get put on an earlier train if there are spaces available.  


Instead we went to bed for a few hours, setting the alarm for 11pm.  The traffic on the motorway seemed more or less normal, mostly lorries with a smattering of cars.  There were several sets of road closures and diversions for road works but nothing too major and we arrived just right for use of the loos before boarding the train.  It was all well organised and we felt safe and happy with things so far.  When we checked in there seemed to be very few other cars around but they soon came streaming in.  Even at that early hour in the morning, the train was full.

The journey down through France was a breeze, just like it usually is.  Hugo and Daisy travelled well, Daisy having given up her operatic rendition once we got to France.  Our theory is that she gets distressed by road noise in the UK, some surfaces making a lot of tyre noise.  As soon as we got to France she settled down and we didn't hear a peep out of her (or an aria) until we arrived at home.



What a joy it is to be back.  Our gardening friends have done a fantastic job of keeping the grass and hedges cut, something that would have otherwise taken us a whole week to tackle ourselves.  As predicted there is very little colour in the garden.  Most of our flowering plants are either dead or gone over by now which is rather sad.  It's interesting to see what has survived well with a minimum of watering and TLC - a few dahlias in the area that gets some shade and the climbing roses.  Also a few spindly flowering sage and straggly geraniums in pots from last year, stored in the barn over the winter.



Our friends had also hoovered up dead flies and cobwebs inside the house, which was a great help.  There is still plenty of cleaning to do.  I remember taking the decision not to clean too thoroughly before we left at the end of November last year, thinking I might as well leave it and do a full spring clean when we got back.  That's something I now regret as arriving to a house that needs a good clean and been left for the critters to inhabit undisturbed for an extra four months is somewhat depressing to deal with.  Especially in the heat of July and August.  I was overjoyed to find that the oven was beautifully clean - I had forgotten that I'd done it last autumn but how pleased I am about that!


If we were going to spend most of the summer in the UK we wouldn't have chosen to do it when everything was closed.  Equally we wouldn't normally have chosen to arrive in France during the hottest months either but we're here now and so glad we are.  Rumblings from the UK about a second wave, second lockdown and so on are somewhat alarming but we're taking each day as it comes and enjoying every moment.  We plan to stay for several weeks but the government might have other ideas about that.

14 July 2020

ANNOYING.


Two things that have really started to irritate me about the virus.

1. Yet another tv or radio interview where the speaker is at home and sounds like they've got their head inside a galvanised bucket.

2. Those telephone messages that say "due to coronavirus we're only answering calls from people much more important than you, so get lost".

What are yours ?

13 July 2020

WADING THROUGH THE QUAGMIRE

 
We are now busy making final preparations for our return to France.
 
We feel quite nervous about it.  Obviously there's the issue with the virus to contend with, to make sure we don't put ourselves at risk during any part of the journey.  There's also the situation when we get there - going into an environment where people are more relaxed about the lockdown because restrictions have been lifted further than in the UK.  France is further down the line than we are and whilst we're looking forward to life being a bit more like normal, it's also a slightly frightening prospect.  We're looking forward to being able to do more things but at the same time nervous about doing them.
 
How things change.  Until this year we would load up the car, hop on a train and travel between our homes in France and the UK without giving it a second thought.  This time it seems like much more of a big deal.  Routine has a lot to do with it and some of the old routines no longer apply.
 
We're also nervous about what sort of welcome we will get.  The way the pandemic has been  managed in the UK reflects on all its citizens.  The sense that we are coming from a country with a shocking death rate and a lot of new infections, is bound to make people concerned.  The two week voluntary quarantine for UK visitors to France has been removed, but this may actually have the opposite of the desired effect when it comes to local people feeling confident that Brits are not going to bring the virus with them and spread it.  There are bound to be people who would rather not be in our company, just in case.
 
As it happens, the way we live while we're in France is almost a kind of quarantine.  We don't often go beyond our own front gate except for shopping and to walk the dog.  A lot of the events that we would go to are not happening this year and we're so used to not meeting up with friends and frequenting the bars and restaurants this year that we won't be launching ourselves into a social whirl as soon as we arrive.  We can carry on as we are easily for another two weeks while we get the house and garden back in shape and see how the land lies.
 
 
We are no further forward in getting my dad moved to assisted housing.
 
The applications can't be processed because of the restriction on face to face meetings.  It seems that urgent visits to a vulnerable person's home can be done but routine ones can't.  That's why someone could visit him to install a fall monitor but nobody can do the assessments.  Although there are flats available the whole system has stalled.
 
My brother will visit as often as he can and will take time off work to be present if by some miracle an assessment is arranged for this side of Christmas.  However, by just happening - purely by chance - to say the right words in the right order, I have discovered that his GP practice has a person who will phone him once a week to make sure he's ok.  She will also arrange care visits of various kinds if he deteriorates further and needs them.  Finding that out and putting it in place will give a little peace of mind.
 
And so I find myself wading through the quagmire.  Friends with elderly parents who have been in this situation have told me before how hard it is to get information and get things done.  So many different organisations seem to deal with the elderly but there doesn't appear to be a one-stop source of information where you can get all of it at the start.  You come across little tit bits of it as you lurch from one stumbling block to another.  Just as you're about to bash your head against another brick wall someone will say "of course you could always get in touch with....." and another little chink of light glimmers at the end of what seems like a very very long tunnel.
 
What we really need is a flow chart.  One called "the bossy daughter's guide to getting help for your poor old dad". 

5 July 2020

EUROVISION

 
People are divided on whether or not they like the Eurovision Song Contest.  Plenty would never admit to watching it if pressed on the issue.  If you are a fan, or if you enjoy a good laugh and some nice music, I would highly recommend this film :  "Eurovision, the story of Fire Saga".
 
For the last few months we have been unable to cope with anything too taxing, emotionally or intellectually on the TV.  Just getting through a horrible time, staying out of trouble, keeping my dad safe and fed, worrying constantly about so many things, we have found ourselves seeking lightweight entertainment programmes on the box.  Having more or less worked our way through every episode of "Death in Paradise" from the very beginning on I-player, we were looking round for something to pass an evening and stumbled upon this film on Netflix.
 
Fire Saga are a couple of old friends in Iceland who write and perform songs and his lifelong ambition is to win the Eurovision Song Contest.  We all know how well Iceland usually do in the contest!  It's completely daft and very entertaining with a couple of lovely songs.  It even has Graham Norton and Pierce Brosnan in it.  Go on....watch it.....you know you want to !!