26 March 2020

THE NEW NORMAL?


It was such a beautiful spring day yesterday that it was hard to believe that anything could possibly be wrong beyond the boundaries of our little bungalow. Yet it was strangely quiet. We sat outside with our tea after lunch and remarked upon how few planes were passing over these days. Then suddenly three came at once. Once they had passed over, nothing for hours.  Only a week or two ago an empty sky never happened.

It's all very surreal. Many people have said they feel it's like a bad dream and that's exactly it. I feel as if one day soon I will wake up and find the world has gone back to normal, that I can pop to the shop for a lettuce because we have run out and I fancy salad for lunch. That I can nip into my favourite charity shop while I'm out to see if any irresistible china has been donated. That we can set off for a drive in the countryside after lunch and maybe stop for a cup of tea and a scone in a teashop somewhere.


As we can't do any of those things (food shopping is allowed but It seems wrong to mix with other people just for a lettuce) I decided to get on with a project. I bought this little telephone table some time ago, in a charity shop here. It's exactly the same as one I bought in a French brocante shop a while ago and painted a cream colour.  This one fits a corner here perfectly and I have been meaning to paint it all winter so I got it out and made a start.

Another odd thing is that I almost quite like living like this.  If it wasn't for the underlying anxiety and feeling that some kind of Armageddon is out there, I quite like making do with what we have in and making our own entertainment.  Not rushing about to the shops or to meet up with people is strangely calming, although I'm grateful for all the ways and means we can keep in touch nowadays.  It reminds me of how things were in my childhood, when making do and staying home was the norm.  We didn't have a car so meeting up with friends and family involved a trip on the bus.  We didn't have a phone either so to ring someone we had a five minute walk to the nearest phone box.

This post is a bit of an experiment as I haven't been able to post using my iPad before. I've changed my settings according to advice from Ken so let's see if this works too.

24 March 2020

LOCKDOWN

 
It was bound to happen.
 
I have read about what is happening in France and been wondering how long it would take for our government to stop tinkering around the edges of the problem and do something similar.
 
It's said to be because too many people just don't like being told what to do, don't take things seriously, think it doesn't apply to them, think they can get away with it and, worst of all, don't care about others.  (Why else would we need speed cameras and speed bumps.)  Personally I think it was going to happen anyway and maybe it should have happened sooner.  You can't trust the public to do the right thing any more, that ship sailed long ago.  You have to make them do it.
 
To me it seemed ludicrous that some of us were doing as we were told, maintaining a safe distance, staying home, looking after ourselves and our vulnerable ones, when others were behaving as if nothing had changed, spreading the disease as they bumped along with each other in their little bubble of denial or ignorance.  Let's hope that enough of them now tow the line in order to make a difference.
 
I'm trying to stay positive.  As long as we can stay well we can find a way to make the most of the confinement.  There's always stuff to clean, other stuff to paint and, of course, recipes to try.  I now seem to have plenty of time for all of it.
 
 
 
We're luckier than many.  The sun is shining and we have a nice little garden to sit in and enjoy the flowers.  Now that the rain has stopped we can at last take Hugo for walks on foot in the woods that surround us instead of having to drive to somewhere where the paths are not ankle deep in mud.
 
 
We have a corner shop nearby where we can get essentials and the rhubarb patch is thriving.
 
Today I'm going to retrieve my dad from his lady friend's house and install him back in his bungalow in solitary confinement.  It's a three hour round trip on the M1.  Nick has gone shopping for supplies for his next few days.  I'll fill his fridge with them and put the heating back on before I set off on the journey south.  I have been rehearsing in my head what to say if I get stopped anywhere and challenged as to why I am on the road and not at home, like I'm supposed to be.  What a state of affairs.  I shall be glad when he's safely home in front of his TV and we can all relax.  Sort of.
 
Keep well and keep safe.

21 March 2020

TODAY'S THE DAY.


This is the view of the château at the beginning of one of our favourite walks with Hugo, taken this time last year.  Today is the day we should have been setting off for France.  I feel immensely sad that we are still in the UK. 
 
The worst part is not knowing how the next few months will pan out.  On the one hand we have our prime minister declaring that we'll have this thing beat in twelve weeks and on the other hand health experts saying that we could be hunkered down (I hate using the word lockdown) for a year or more.
Some say that the PM's delay in the closing of schools, pubs, restaurants and other measures will cost us dear in lives.  Others say that most of the people who have died, and will die, having contracted the disease, would have died anyway in the very near future, mostly the elderly and frail.  It's just that having them die all in a short space of time is too much of a burden for the NHS and could cost the lives of others - an NHS that can barely cope with demand in normal times. 
 
I hate being in a situation where I have no control over my own destiny.  Especially when control is being wielded by Boris Johnson and his cronies, who have a history of not heeding experts in order to follow their own agenda.
 
I have been thinking a lot about old age lately.  Trailing round old folks' homes to find a suitable place for my dad has made me ponder the merits (or not) of living so long.  My dad is 91 and has quite a good quality of life compared to many others of his age, but I think he's not really happy.  He just ticks along.  He's not really ill and not in great pain other than a few aches and pains.  He shovels down loads of pills and vitamins every day, some prescribed by his doctor and others bought from a catalogue.  A new issue inviting him to buy even more plops through his letterbox once a month and he duly writes a cheque and sends off for some.  When I find myself worrying about his diet and his eating out of date food, I try to remember that as long as he gets some calories, everything else to keep him going is coming out of a bottle of pills. 
 
He is anxious about not being able to look after his house any more and being easy prey for the traders and conmen who regularly knock on his door and persuade him to part with money for things he doesn't need.  He's fallen for their tricks several times.  Their wickedness in exploiting the elderly is shocking.  He also worries that he might fall and not be able to summon help.  This is why he wants to move to a safer environment.  We need to reduce the number of things he worries about so that he can enjoy life again. His world has shrunk to a path from the bedroom to the bathroom, the microwave and TV. 
 
We have shipped him off to his lady friend's house for a week or so.  She lives eighty miles away and now that he doesn't drive they only get to see each other when a member of either family is able to make the round trip.  We did wonder if it was wise with all that's going on but we felt that if they have to self isolate (as if they weren't isolated enough already) they may as well enjoy each other's company for a while.  When we fetch him back it's likely that the "lockdown" will be more stringent and he may not get to see her again for some time.  Maybe never, who knows.
 
It's the not knowing that I find so excruciatingly difficult to cope with.  This feels like war, waiting for the enemy to strike from who knows where or when.  I like to have things planned, things to look forward to.  Our house in France now takes the place of holidays and it's so frustrating to know that it's there, so near yet impossible to get to.
 
I took my life in my hands and went to the hairdressers the other day, thinking that this might be the last decent haircut I might get for some time.  The staff, mainly twenty and thirty somethings, did not seem overly worried about the pandemic.  There had been a few cancellations but otherwise it was business as usual amongst the young.
A few days later, with more of us older people being as careful as we possibly can, I observed a gaggle of youngsters, probably fourteen to sixteen year olds, bumping along together outside the corner shop.  There was no social distancing going on there.  With the economy on its knees and the shelves short of toilet paper and food, I wondered who was right.  Should we be panicking or not?  Should we be preparing for a siege while the young spread the disease around anyway? 
 
As a friend said recently, maybe it's something sent to kill off the old and frail so that the young ones can have a chance.  That's a chilling thought indeed.
 
Anyway, we have to pass the time somehow.  Wishing things were different never got anyone anywhere so we have decided to spend the enforced confinement in renovating our upstairs bathroom.  It's a job we meant to tackle over the winter but have been so preoccupied (mainly with my dad) that we never got started.  I reckon we'll be lucky to get to France before July if you trust BB (Bloody Boris)'s forecast, and possibly not even September.  So we dashed off to B&Q to get the bits (as many as we could think of) this week before they have to close as well.
 


Does every cloud have a silver lining?  I try to think that getting to see the garden flowers here that we normally miss and getting a big renovation job done is worth the sacrifice.  It isn't really, but what else could we do?

15 March 2020

GROUNDED

 
My picture was taken in early April last year.
 
We have got as far as we can with the first stage of getting my dad into sheltered housing.  The applications are in and now we just have to wait for visits from the housing people and social services for his "assessments". 
 
However, we have taken the decision that we will not be going to France, for a while at least.  We all know why.  We have tried gung-ho thinking but in the end, it's time to be sensible.
 
We have spent a couple of days spitting nails and gnashing teeth but in the end we have to stay here and make sure my dad is safe.  And ourselves of course.  It can't be helped.  Wishing things were different doesn't work.
 
There's allus summat!

8 March 2020

LEAVE OF ABSENCE.

 
Just as we were gearing up for our return to France my father has decided that he would like to go into sheltered housing.  This is something we knew we would have to deal with sooner or later and although the timing could have been better we're all pleased that he's made the decision.
It is uncharted territory for us and we'll be feeling our way through the quagmire of process and paperwork.  Our return is likely to be delayed and we might have to do some toing and froing across the channel until he is settled.  The blog will be on hold until life returns to normal.  Not that I can actually remember what normal is.

26 February 2020

CAT STUCK UP A TREE?

 
I like the way that I can tell when all of my photos were taken.  Thanks to my camera I know that on 14th May last year, at 5.35pm, we were enjoying an apéro in the evening sunshine when a lot of meowing started to come from somewhere about half way up our lime tree.
 
 

Click on the picture to enlarge and see exactly where the meowing was coming from.
 
Daisy is a very athletic cat and regularly goes up and down all of our trees almost effortlessly.  In fact most days you can find her climbing onto the roof of the house or barn, runnning along the highest beams, or swaying with the wind in the branches of the tallest trees.  It's quite amazing to see.  She runs up the tree trunk to about half way then climbs up with her claws the rest of the way to the top.
 
 
So we were a bit perturbed to hear her making a fuss when perched up in the lime tree on this day.
 
 
Normally her descent consists of literally walking head first down the tree trunk until she is three or four feet off the ground, then jumping down.  Occasionally she will use her claws to let herself down backwards very slowly until she gets to the three or four foot point. Then she turns upside down and jumps to the ground all in one smooth action. 
The meowing made us wonder if there was a problem, a sore leg or poorly paw maybe, and she couldn't get down.  Nick and Hugo tried to coax her down and several times she made as if to jump into his arms then backed off.
 

 
So Nick put a ramp up against the tree and we waited for her to come down by herself.
 
 
We all waited and waited.  Several glasses of rosé passed and finally, after a few false starts, she started to back carefully down the ramp.
 
 
 
The process seemed to take an age but slowly and steadily, under the careful watch of Hugo, she made her descent.  Once she was about three feet from the ground she turned and jumped off.  That was at 6.18pm.
We don't know what the problem was.  She seemed fine when she was down, there were no injured paws and she was not off her Dreamies.  A couple of days later she was hurtling up and down the same tree like a true athlete and as if nothing had happened.
Daisy is an amazing cat, funny, clever and always a joy to have around.  Occasionally a mystery too.


19 February 2020

LES ORMES

 
Just over the hill from us, beyond Descartes, is the gorgeous château at Les Ormes.
 

We have visited before, the first time being a few years ago, during one of the patrimoine weekends that occur each September.  On that occasion, the entrance fee was minimal and the place was heaving with visitors.  Last year we went in the middle of June when my brother was staying with us and had the place virtually to ourselves.
 
 
When we arrived there was only one other car outside in the car park which was probably owned by a member of staff.  The place seemed completely deserted.  We stood around in the fabulous entrance hall for a few minutes, wondering what to do, until a man appeared from a doorway.  He took our money, pointed us in the direction of the salon and disappeared again.  We then didn't see another soul until we were about to leave.  A family of four turned up and once again the man emerged from a mystery doorway to take their money.
 


 
This is the kind of château visit that we like.  Free to roam by ourselves and better still, no other visitors to get in our way.  There are several lavishly appointed rooms to see on the ground floor.  Drop dead gorgeous yet cosy at the same time.
 

 
Mantlepieces are adorned with busts of previous owners, family members and other important people.
 

 
Even though the house was deserted, we were never far from the gaze of someone from days of yore keeping an eye on us.
 
 
The house is full of interesting doors, locks and windows.  For someone like me who is fascinated by such things it's pure delight. 
 
 
There is even a display of old knobs, locks and knockers from around the property.  The reflections from the glass case made it difficult to photograph but you get the idea.  Lovely!
 

 
And, not only that, but, joy of joy, it has two kitchens!  One a century or two newer than the other but still pretty ancient and therefore full of wonderful old equipment, the purpose of which can be debated for hours.
 

 
The kitchen is always a favourite part of any château visit for me.
 

 
All those lovely old pans, ancient pots and baskets.
 

 
I realise that life in these kitchens was probably pretty terrible for the people that worked there.   Hard graft, long hours and dangerous to boot.  Noisy too I expect.
 

 
Even something as mundane as a tap is fascinating.
 

 
There isn't much in terms of outdoor space to see at Les Ormes, especially compared to other châteaux a bit further away.  No elaborate gardens or ponds.  No tea room either.  But well worth setting aside a morning or afternoon for. 
 
Back here in the UK we find ourselves "orming about".  That's a north of England expression that means wandering aimlessly, killing time.  With February coming to an end and the worst of the winter hopefully behind us we can't wait to get back to France.  To the sunshine, the châteaux on our doorstep and the peace and quiet of country life.
 
It has been, yet again, a long and horrible winter here.  Rain upon rain and more rain.  A couple of weekends ago we had a deluge on a Sunday. The toilet and shower were gurgling, there was water gushing from our drains, a lake at the bottom of the garden and outside the front door.  The water was a couple of inches up the car wheels.  For more than a moment I wondered if we were in real trouble.  Luckily the rain stopped, the water drained away and all was well.  Many thousands of people in the UK have not been so lucky.  My heart goes out to them.  Dealing with the filth and stench that floodwater leaves behind must be heart-breaking, more so if your insurance company is tardy in responding to your claim.
 
Nick and I have both been ill this winter, nothing serious, just enough to make life difficult.  On top of that my dad has had to give up driving, something we all dreaded and that has taken a good deal of time for us to organise the changes in his life accordingly.  His car needed a lot of repair work in order to sell it for a decent price - it was alarming to find that he hadn't noticed that the brakes didn't work and that there was a loud clunk coming from somewhere with every bump in the road.  It's gone to a new owner now, fully repaired and a bargain for someone who needs an old car with low mileage and one careful owner. 
 
Maybe we all have to endure winter every year so that we can really appreciate Spring when it finally, thankfully comes along.