March 30, 2013

ANOTHER CRISIS AVERTED

The snow that caused havoc in the UK still lingers. The bitterly cold wind whipped it into huge snowdrifts in places where I have never seen snowdrifts before in the 28 years that I have lived in the same house. Thousands of new lambs have perished in Derbyshire in the snow because the farmers could not get to them. It’s a terrible and heartbreaking story.

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I did however manage to get Lulu trimmed.  The lady that does it took pity on us and squeezed her in one evening.  I fetched her from the lady’s house at 10pm two days before we came to France.

It’s 23 weeks since we left our little French house last October.  This has been the longest time ever between visits and that combined with the horrendous winter we have had we were so looking forward to the trip.  We were up at 4am on Good Friday, on the road by 4.30 and the journey to Folkestone was easy. 

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Although it was very cold, barely above freezing, the weather was fine and the traffic light and behaving itself.  All the nutters seemed to have taken the day off.  We crossed the Dartford bridge about 7am and arrived at Eurotunnel about 8.00, just as it was beginning to snow again.

That was when things went pear-shaped.

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We were almost two hours early for our train so at the check-in I asked if there might be any chance of getting on an earlier train.  The young man looked at my booking reference and told me I was at the wrong terminal.

Thinking it was an odd thing to say I asked him where the other terminal was.  He told me I should have been at Calais.  I had somehow booked the trip the wrong way round.

I stared in horror at the booking confirmation I had printed out and it definitely said “Friday 29th March – Calais to Folkestone”.  I had looked at this piece of paper many times and goodness only knows how I managed not to notice it.

Nick and I stared at each other in dismay and disbelief.  The young man told us to go to the Customer Services desk and see what could be done.  I was not very hopeful that anything useful could be done at all.  I knew the shuttle was very busy.  Easter is always a busy weekend but to add to that thousands more people than usual were leaving the country in search of better weather and the reports of industrial action at the Calais ferry port had meant the tunnel was pretty much fully booked.

The lady at Customer Services confirmed my fears.  There were no spaces at all in the high carriages on Friday and the best she could offer us was 11.30 on Saturday morning.  Unless, that is, we could unpack the topbox in the snow, somehow get it and all its contents in the car along with Lulu and then there might be a chance……..we thought about it for a moment but it was impossible.

I struggled to hold back my tears as we accepted our fate.  The thought of driving all the way home and back again the next day was too awful to contemplate.  The alternative was to try to find somewhere to stay for the night that would accept dogs and then mooch about miserably until bedtime.

She printed out a new booking form for the next day and then said “I have some good news.  This booking is for tomorrow but you’re going today.”

She gave us a hanger with the letter J on it and off we went. 

We were puzzled but so grateful.  We quickly worked out that she had taken pity on us and decided to just squeeze us onto a train.  There were so many people travelling that day and the trains were all delayed partly because of the congestion and also because of an earlier breakdown.  They were just filling up the trains and sending them off as fast as possible and little attention was being paid to who was in the right time slot - so it was possible for her just to shove us into the queue. 

We had another two hours to wait until letter J was due to leave but I have never been so pleased to get onto a train !!

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It was fine and sunny when we arrived in France and temperatures reached an almost tropical 8°C.  Sadly this did not last and not long after we crossed the Pont de Brotonne near Rouen it became much colder and started to rain, making the driving very hard work.

We got to Le Grand-Pressigny about 7.30pm, three hours later than we had expected but we were just so glad to be there at all.  We unpacked a few essentials from the car and topbox, put the heaters on, gave Lulu some dinner and went straight down to the restaurant in the village where we had arranged to meet friends who had also just arrived.

It’s been a horrible, long winter, we have been away from the place for far too long, the journey was ghastly but the only thing that matters is…….we’re here !!

HAPPY EASTER !!

March 23, 2013

SNOWED IN !!

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The view from our front window at 10am this morning.  Nick shovelled a path to the gate so he could take Lulu for a walk.  There was no point in clearing the whole drive – we’re not going anywhere in this !!

Nick got home safe and sound yesterday.  There was no sign of snow on his journey from Heathrow until he got to the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border.  The taxi driver was carrying sleeping bags, flasks of hot coffee, snow shovels and an MOD ration pack just in case.  The taxi company also has a Land Rover Freelander on standby to do rescues. 

Luckily none of them were needed and the trip took 3½ hours, which is just one hour longer than normal.  He arrived at the house just before more snow began to fall.

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The view of our back garden at 10am this morning.

We probably have about twelve inches of snow so far and it’s still coming down, a fine wet kind of snow which is being blown almost horizontally and sticking to walls and windows. 

The only good thing about it is – I couldn’t get to work today and it’s porridge again for breakfast !!

Bon weekend !!

March 22, 2013

THE JOYS OF SPRING

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I was awake at 3.30 am this morning.  It had just started to snow and I received a text from Nick to say his plane was just taking off from Bangalore.  The forecast for the rest of the day and the weekend is awful.  Heavy snow alternating with light snow all the way through until Sunday morning.  So which ever way you look at it, getting back from Heathrow by taxi is not going to be much fun.  It’s 150 miles and 2½-3 hours in good weather but today – who knows.

That’s if the taxi can get out of Derbyshire to go and fetch him.  Getting back by train might be an option – still not much fun after an eleven hour flight considering he was up at what was 4am for him to get to the airport.  But then getting from the station to our house might not be possible either.  The safest thing might be for him to find a hotel near the airport for the night and try again tomorrow.

Worried about whether or not he would make it home today I couldn’t get back to sleep so caught up on a few blogs.  That’s why some people will have had comments from me on their blogs at a peculiar time of day night.

So much for the joys of spring.

it’s only a week until we set off for France for our Easter break and I remember that I felt exactly the same last year as I do now.  Tired out and washed out by what seems to be an endless winter and desperately in need of some warmth, sunshine and time off.  Although last year we had had a really nice warm March to cheer us up.  No such luck this year.

When you have a nice house with central heating, a newish car that starts when you want it to and a freezer full of food, it’s difficult to imagine why winter should be such a trial.  Knowing that others may be worse off and I therefore don’t have the right to feel exhausted somehow doesn’t help.

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One of the casualties of the weather is Lulu’s visit to the coiffeuse this morning, which has had to be cancelled.  She hasn’t been trimmed for nine weeks so she is pretty woolly – she usually gets a trim every 5-6 weeks.  I delayed the rendezvous so that it would happen just before our holiday and she would look her best.  Compared with the pale and pasty pair of us she would look stunning.  In many ways I am glad I delayed it because March has been so cold that her woolly coat has been better for her.

The picture shows her adopting her standard position for paw rubbing and the solution we arrived at for the problem of her paddling in the wet after her paws had been dried.  One towel on the ground and one on the chair keep the freshly washed, dried and fluffed paws out of the puddles she made before the washing, drying and fluffing.

The picture was taken two weeks ago so her coat is even longer now and will be much, much longer still by the time we are half way through our holiday in France.  So if sometime over the Easter break you see two pale, worn out and weary people walking with something that looks like a giant fluffy ginger teddy bear instead of the smart and gorgeous standard poodle they usually have with them……it will be us !!

I hope the snow doesn’t ruin your weekend !!

March 19, 2013

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

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Roses at Chédigny.

Yesterday, when I was not working, the freezing fog that greeted me first thing in the morning degenerated into nasty, fine, freezing drizzle. Today, when I have to go to work, it is a beautiful, sunny, frosty morning. Which convinces me finally, if it were necessary, that I have made the right decision.

After forty years of missing out on the nice weather, enough is enough !!

Time to smell the roses.

March 18, 2013

WHEN WILL IT END?

Winter, that is.

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A château in the Loire Valley last summer.  And sunshine.

We have freezing fog in Derbyshire this morning.

So here we are, it’s the 18th March, the equinox is just around the corner, a quarter of the year is nearly gone and I can barely count on two hands the number of sunny days we have had so far this year.

Actually, we have probably had more than that but when I am at work it could be doing anything outside.  It’s usually sunny when I’m at work and horrible on my days off.  That has been the pattern so far this year and this is one of the main reasons why I am looking forward so much to retiring……….I just need some sunshine !!  Or at least not to have to go to work on the rare occasions when the sun is shining.

The forecast for the next few days is grim.  Very cold and more of the dreaded white stuff.  Nick is currently in India where it is 38°C and sunny (of course, what else would it be).

My theory is that this is why time flies.  During the first two months of the year I feel as if my life is on hold, just enduring the dark nights and the bad weather.  March is nearly always a huge disappointment and life remains on hold until Easter.

Still, I have only 11 days before our next trip to France and only 11 weeks left to work.  If you count the holidays and the fact that I only work three days per week (the sunny ones), that’s only 24 more days to be spent at work.  23½ by tomorrow lunchtime.  Not that I’m counting !!

Have a good week !!

March 14, 2013

REVENGE CAN BE FUN

I think I can see where she’s coming from !!

(Thanks to Alex for this.)

March 12, 2013

HOW DO YOU TAKE YOUR PORRIDGE?

We take ours with snow !!

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Whenever it is snowy or very cold outside we always have porridge for breakfast. There’s something comforting and nurturing about a lovely bowl of porridge, with slightly indulgent additions, that makes us feel better and sustains us until lunchtime.

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It’s probably an instinct, or something we are programmed to do, having been fed porridge as youngsters, to keep us going through the lessons in cold classrooms until dinnertime (which is actually lunch time but at school it was always called dinner, not lunch, at noon).

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Porridge for two people:

1 mug porridge oats

1½ mugs milk

1 mug water

Put the above into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for anything from five to twenty minutes, depending on how busy you are, how thick you like your porridge and whether or not you forget it’s on the stove while you’re putting you woolly socks on.

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Add more milk or water to thin it a bit if necessary.  If too much of it is stuck to the bottom of the pan, start all over again and say nothing.  Lulu will help to destroy the evidence !!

Serve hot with brown sugar, golden syrup, honey, squeezy Carnation milk, apple compote, ordinary milk or whatever takes your fancy.  Also with mug of hot steaming coffee (or tea).

How do you like yours ??

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March 10, 2013

WEATHER TALK

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I took this picture exactly one year ago today, Sunday 11th March 2012.

We had been to London for our big day out on Saturday (to see Vincent and Flavia in Midnight Tango) and on Sunday the weather was glorious.  We had lunch outside in the sunshine.  (I rustled up a quiche from what we had in the fridge.)

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This is how the weather is today, Sunday 10th March 2013.

So on exactly the same day, one year later, the temperature is colder by about 20°Centigrade.

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Which sums up the one reason why I can’t get excited about snowdrops.  When the snowdrops are in flower there is always the chance of snow !!

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So while everyone is getting excited and waxing lyrical about the snowdrops in their gardens, I almost ignore the clumps in our garden……….give me tulips any day.

When the tulips are in full bloom the winter is well behind us. 

Although here in Derbyshire I have known snow well into April or even May, but that’s just about as often as eating lunch al fresco in the middle of March !!

Have a nice Sunday and of course, Happy Mother’s Day !!

March 8, 2013

A SLIGHT WOBBLE AND A STORY

I did have a slight wobble just before I handed in my resignation at work, wondering if it was the right thing to do.  But it was only a brief one and I had made up my mind.

Pauline commented that I would miss my colleagues but not the daily commute and that is true.  The first person at work that I told of my decision was a lady I am very fond of.  She joined the company sixteen years ago and whilst I never see her outside of work, the days that we work together are much nicer than the days when she is not in and I will miss her. 

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Coffee time in the village square in Le Grand-Pressigny.

I knew that once that letter was in the hands of my boss there would be no turning back and in fact plans to replace me are well under way already, as they need to be to provide continuity in the company.  That’s it, my working life is coming to an end.

My job involves dealing with the general public and that is something that on the whole I will not miss at all.  In these days of political correctness I sometimes have to bite my tongue when people are really rude, ignorant and bad mannered.  I’m not very good at that and have nearly got into hot water a few times by opening my mouth and speaking my mind.  I don’t see why anyone should have to take rudeness from the general public but it’s just what you have to do to stay in a job sometimes.  To be fair, it doesn’t happen all that often but it’s definitely on the increase and one incident which occurred last year upset me a lot and that was the first time I thought I don’t love my job any more.

So there are some people I have to deal with that I will be very happy never to see again but yesterday I was reminded of one of the reasons why mostly I have loved my job.  It’s the stories people tell.

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Spring flowers in the park at Descartes.

A lady of 84 came in yesterday afternoon, let’s call her Mavis.  She comes from tough mining stock.  There are no mines in the area any more but there are lots of Mavis’s.  Sturdy, craggy-faced women whose hands are rough and grey from years of looking after their husbands and large families, keeping the coal fire going and stacking it by hand with the free coal allowance they still get even though their husbands died years ago.

As she was about to leave she said she was looking forward to her favourite grandson coming to see her.  She had to get back to stoke up the fire, it was such a miserable and grey day.  She added that she had brought him up after his mother’s accident and he’s forty now.

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The château at Le Grand-Pressigny.

I said something like, oh dear, was it a road accident?  Well it was, in a way.  When the lad was a baby Mavis was pushing him along the road in his pushchair with her daughter-in-law walking by her side when a car came round the bend too fast and hit them.  Mavis was slightly injured but the car knocked the young woman down and ran over her. The baby was unhurt but the car drove off without stopping.

I looked at Mavis in total amazement.  You never get over something like that and she had tears in her eyes.  I found it hard to believe that I had known this woman for nearly thirty years and never knew that about her. 

The driver was caught because a witness took a note of the registration number and he was banned for driving for eighteen months and fined £78.  I don’t know what that would be in today’s money, being as this happened forty years ago, but even if it was ten times as much it seems such an insignificant punishment for causing the young mother’s death – another cruel blow for Mavis and her family - having lost the daughter-in-law that she said she “worshipped” to then find that her life was worth so little.  Mavis said that when they saw him in court he couldn’t even be bothered to wear clean clothes and have a shave.

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The square in Chinon.

When I looked at my computer later in the day there was a news snippet on my home page with the title “man gets jail for laughing too loud in his own home.”  I didn’t want to read any further.  What a crazy world we live in. 

One of the very few things I will miss when I give up work is the stories, the sometimes funny, sometimes moving and often amazing stories that ordinary people have to tell about their lives.

Bon weekend !!

March 1, 2013

WHITE RABBITS AND A RED LETTER DAY

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Today the first thing I said when I woke up was “white rabbits”.

This is something my parents always did on the 1st March and I have carried on the tradition !!  It’s a silly thing but apparently it is supposed to bring you luck.

With February now behind us I feel that things are looking up.  Even if winter weather comes back to bite us for a while, at least spring is not so far away.

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And not only that, for me today is a red letter day.  This means a day of major significance involving a letter.

Today I handed in my notice at work and I will be retiring at the end of May.

This means I will have the summer months to relax or do the gardening, or all the little jobs that we just never have time to do.  There is also of course the chance that we might be able to spend more time in Le Grand-Pressigny.  Alex and Nicole have successfully installed telephone and internet for us so that Nick will be able to work “from home” – just imagine how good that will be for him, sitting on our little terrace overlooking the rooftops of the village while working at his computer.  And I will be able to ……. just enjoy being on holiday for longer than usual. 

That’s the theory, anyway !!

Instead of looking for photos of white rabbits and red letters to post with my announcement, I decided to use photos of some of the flowers that were in our little garden when we arrived chez nous last spring.  I just can’t wait to see them again and I absolutely can’t wait for the end of May.

Wish me luck !!