May 31, 2013

SMOKE RINGS

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Now this is something you don’t see every day.  Oversized smoke rings drifting skywards in the village square.

smoke rings3 smoke rings4  smoke rings6 And this was the culprit.

Yes, those lovely people from the old car and tractor society had been out for a run and returned to line up in the sunshine for us all to admire.  This green one was left with the single cylinder engine running and was bobbing up and down merrily all by itself, producing smoke rings as the engine turned over.

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There were other examples of ancient tractors on display.  Two of them were driven by ladies.  Now there’s an idea, now that I have so much time on my hands…………

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It was nice to see the sun last weekend – we’re keeping our fingers crossed for this coming one, too.

May 30, 2013

HOW TIME FLIES

It is now exactly a week since I embarked upon the new adventure.  Being retired.  A lot has happened since then. 

We had an awful journey to France, largely because we chose to travel at the wrong time.  The Friday before a bank holiday is not a good time and we knew we were asking for trouble but had no idea how bad it would be.

cakefest9j A double rainbow on the M1 in Nottinghamshire.

My experience of Eurotunnel reminds me of the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  (I didn’t know who wrote the famous line until I just looked it up!)  “When she was good she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.”

Suffice it to say that the motorways were incredibly busy as we got further south on our way to Folkestone, and the driving really hard work around London.  The last thing we needed when we got to Eurotunnel was a THREE HOUR DELAY !!  This seems to have come about purely because of the volume of traffic.  The thing I find baffling is when they know how many people are booked onto trains, how does it come as a surprise when they all turn up?

I could rant for ages about where I think they are going wrong but I’m sure there are people much cleverer than me looking into it as we speak.  The upshot was that by the time they got us checked in the trains were running every hour instead of every ten minutes or so, and we arrived at our hotel in Calais at 5am French time – in fact we were checking into the hotel to get a few hours’ sleep at the same time as other people were checking out to set off on the next leg of their journey.

cakefest9k Hardly any traffic on the French side of the channel on Saturday morning.  Most of it had UK number plates.

As usual, driving on the French side of the English Channel was a breeze.  The traffic was light and well behaved – most of the cars and caravans in the north had UK number plates and lots of bicycles strapped to the back.

cakefest9 And then there were ten!

All our troubles melted away once we set foot through the door of our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny.  On Sunday we went to a “brocante” at Port-de-Piles near Descartes and I swooped upon this set of crockery.  A large cake plate and eleven small plates, perfect for serving cakes at a party.  And that’s just what I was going to have – a party in France to celebrate my freedom from the drudgery of work.

The plates were described as a “complete service” – the fact that there were only eleven plates means that it had once been a set of twelve where one had got broken – but for only four euros it was still a bargain.  Then I found one was cracked so in the end there were only ten !!

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The programme for our party was:

3pm – cakes and wine

5.30pm – apéros (apéritifs and nibbles)

7pm (or thereabouts) barbecue (food and more wine) (weather depending)

For the afternoon session I made, from top left, raspberry and lemon mini muffins, rustic apricot tart, lemon drizzle cake, coffee, almond and blackcurrant cake, chocolate Guinness cake and coconut macaroons.  If you click on the picture you will find a link to the recipe I used (some modified slightly).   A beautiful strawberry and rhubarb tart was also provided by Walt.

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We were incredibly lucky with the weather.  Not only did we have very little rain, but the sun actually came out and for all the afternoon and most of the evening we were able to sit outside.  We had planned the menu so that we could barbecue if the weather was good but cook it all indoors if it was raining.  We were very pleased to be able to barbecue outdoors after all.

It quite took me by surprise that so many people brought me lovely presents.  There were flowers, plants for the garden, chocolates, numerous bottles of  wine and a beautiful set of Portmeirion cake forks.  Our guests obviously know me rather too well !!

I was far too busy organising the food, chatting and generally thoroughly enjoying myself to take any photos of the “do”, but it was a very special day for me.  There were a few notable absences – it was impossible to time the party for a day when I could invite everyone I would have loved to have been there – but those people will be feeling the warmth of my friendship some time soon I hope.  It was lovely to see all those who were able to drop in, whether for just a few minutes until the bitter end.  One of the greatest joys of having found our little home in France is the number of friends we have also made and it was lovely to have so many of them around to help me celebrate.

Nick did a fantastic job with the cooking, producing a huge amount of stuff on our little barbecue as well as a very popular chicken curry (to a Hairy Bikers recipe which you can see here.)  Gaynor brought a platter of salad that was a work of art in itself, and other guests, large and small, chipped in with the serving of food and the washing up. I was also thrilled and rather proud that we could fit eighteen adults, four children and two dogs into our tiny house all at the same time and have somewhere for most of them to sit and a plate, fork and a glass each.  I do however apologise that in the end I was so “tired and emotional” that I completely forgot to serve the cheese !!

May 21, 2013

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

Tomorrow will be my last day of work.

Five thirty in the afternoon will see me out of the little room where I have worked for the last 29½ years and heading for freedom as fast as I can go. 

I am very much looking forward to no longer feeling I am on one of these…….

……and having time to do a lot more of this…….

Everyone says that I will soon wonder how I ever had the time to go to work !!

May 19, 2013

HOPING FOR BETTER WEATHER

When we were in Le Grand-Pressigny for two weeks at Easter the weather was not good.  After a few days of sunshine and a little warmth to lure us into a false sense of security, the weather turned decidedly chilly and then very wet.

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However, when you have a dog you just have to go for regular walks, especially when you’re on holiday and the dog knows that there are good long walks to be had.  If only we can muster the energy and enthusiasm !!  This is helped along a bit by some determined nudging and pawing, not to mention grumbling and squeaking from Miss Lulu !!

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One of our favourite places to walk is beside the lake at Le Louroux, just a few kilometres north of Ligueil.  It was a grey and chilly afternoon but we togged up in our warm clothes and off we set.

When we got there we found that there was no water in the lake!  Apparently draining the lake every few years is part of the routine management of the eco system.  The bed of the lake had become a large beach, which Lulu enjoyed – lots of new smells to sniff.

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There were tons of these empty mollusc shells, presumably a kind of fresh water mussel.  The emptying of the lake had not been good for them but would be quite a feast for the birds I expect.

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The signs of spring were only just emerging, everything seemed much further behind than at previous Easter holidays.  By now it was getting towards the middle of April.

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The rain held off that afternoon and we all enjoyed the exercise.  We are hoping to find everything much greener when we arrive again soon for our late spring holiday.

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One of the nice things about our little of corner of France is that litter is not much of a problem compared to here in Derbyshire.  Even though this is a popular place for visitors, to come for a walk, to do a spot of birdwatching, or a picnic, there is very little rubbish.  The only litter we noticed that day was a discarded shopping list!

Jambon, toastinettes, chicken rillettes, chips (crisps), cheese and gateaux ….. it looks like someone was shopping for a party.  I only hope they dropped the list after they had been to the shops - unless they had a good memory !!

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On the day we set off back home to England the sun came out and the temperature soared – we had 26°C as we sat on our little terrace eating our last lunch before we hit the road.  We are very much hoping for more of the same when we go back again, very soon !!

Have a good week !!

May 15, 2013

DID YOU SEE IT?

Image for Episode 1

The drama series “The Village” was on TV recently and unfortunately I missed half of it.  I remembered to record episode 5 and watched some of the earlier ones on BBC iPlayer before it became unavailable.

The story is about a family living in Derbyshire and begins in 1914, just before the beginning of the First World War.  Imagine Downton Abbey, but rather more gritty and raw.

We see the younger son, Burt, being caned by his teacher at school for writing with his left hand.

We see the older son, Jo, returning from the war on leave and suffering badly from shell shock, being dragged away by the military police to be dealt with severely for being a deserter when he failed to report back for duty.

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We see the father John spending what little money they had in the village pub and taking his misery and inadequacy out on his wife and children.

The series appealed to me initially because it is set in Derbyshire.  In fact it takes place in a different part of the county from where I live, in the most rugged and, although beautiful, most unforgiving part of the Peak District where the winters are very hard.  They were even harder then.

The thing that really caught my imagination is that if you exchanged agriculture for mining the story could almost be that of my father’s family. 

My father’s grandfather was a miner and regularly spent what little money they had in the pub and went home drunk to his wife and children.  The three eldest sons joined up as soon as war was declared in 1914, a way to escape the abuse at home.  Sam and Enoch enlisted for the army and paraded through the village to brass bands and people waving them off as they set out on their journey to France, just like in the TV programme.

Enoch was 17 and survived two weeks.  Sam was 34 and survived two years.  George ran away from home and lied about his age in order to join the navy and survived the war completely – he was my grandfather. 

My father’s grandmother died aged 47 after years of abuse and malnutrition, having lost two sons in the war and one having run away to the navy.  Her two youngest children were taken into care after she died because their father was incapable of looking after them.  The youngest, Lillian, spent her whole life in an institution.

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Although it was obviously fiction I think the story was pretty true to how life was for ordinary folk at that time, certainly if the stories my father tells are anything to go by.  When people are grumbling about how hard life is nowadays I can’t help thinking they have no concept of real hardship or even real hard work.

I shall have to wait until the series is repeated or buy the DVD to find out what happened in the end.  Was Jo shot for being a deserter?  Many seriously traumatised young men, who went to war totally unprepared for the horrors that awaited them, were shot because they were “cowards”.  How things have changed, thankfully.

May 9, 2013

FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS.

Last weekend the weather was sublime.  We had sunshine for several days in a row and not only that, at a Bank Holiday, too, so that for once we were actually able to enjoy it.  After the winter we’ve had, we were certainly ready for it.

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Only six weeks ago we had a foot of snow on our garden.  Then last weekend – whoosh – summer arrived!

Or at least, the weather was as good as it gets in summer in Derbyshire.  The sun shone and the temperatures reached a heady 23°C.  We made the most of it, barbecued twice, took the dog for long walks and spent lots of time in the garden.  In the space of barely three weeks the garden has been transformed from a dull mass of dead plants into something vibrant and sparkling.  The grass has shot up, the daffodils have greeted the sunshine by waving merrily in the breeze, the primulas are glorious and we have a few tulips about to open.  It’s as if everything is rushing through spring as fast as possible to get to summer and make up for lost time.

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Then today, we have strong winds, rain and it’s decidedly chilly.  Ridiculous.  In fact when I took Lulu up to the field this afternoon I was wearing my winter dog-walking anorak – the waterproof one with a hood and mud on it from previous walks – and after five minutes I was pleased to find a pair of gloves in the pocket.

That’s the thing about May.  We get a few nice warm days, everybody gets excited and fetches the garden furniture out, then the evil weather comes back just to remind us that we were only dreaming.  Dreaming that summer had come early !!

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But at least it was nice while it was nice, if you see what I mean and we definitely made the most of it.  After all, in six weeks time we have the longest day and after that, the nights start drawing in !!

Changing the subject, I have been at home today, on a day when I would normally be at work.  It’s a good job too.  I heard an unfamiliar rattling noise on the other side of our back door and looked out to see part of the roof of our car port about to take off in the strong wind.  I was able to stop it lifting off, temporarily at least, by putting a couple of bricks on top of it.  If I had been at work as usual I would no doubt have come home to find no roof on the car port and who knows what other damage.

Anyway, the cause of my being at home is a “bad back”.  Only those who have bad backs will understand what a nuisance it can be and, at worst, a life-changing miserable affliction.  Mine is an old problem resulting from the day I was determined not to fall off my motorcycle but, like other back sufferers, I have come to know my own back and understand what it can and can’t do and how to manage it.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the afore-mentioned gardening is the culprit but this is not so.  The cause is the new equipment installed at work about eighteen months ago.  In order to use it I often have to stand and twist and bend awkwardly around it to do my job and I always knew that sooner or later it would catch me out.  It happened one day last week – I felt the twinge.  I struggled in to work the next day then over the weekend my back settled down, but just one day at work this week was enough to do it.  I always knew it was a problem just waiting to happen.  I woke up at 4am with pain shooting across my lower back and that nasty sciatic pain down both legs.

It’s not serious.  After two days of rest and gentle exercise it has settled down again and I am not in work again until Saturday, then for only half a day, which should be fine.  By the time I have a full day to work things should be back to normal.

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Two weeks from today will be the first day of my retirement.  I am looking forward very much to not having to use awkward equipment that I would not have chosen myself, to not worrying about whether I can justify having a day or two off sick when I am not actually dying, to being at home more often when disasters are about to occur and being able to stop them, to occasionally finishing the ironing before I start the next lot of washing.  And of course, to spending more time walking Lulu and in our little house in France, just because I can! 

Things are hectic.  Apart from being incredibly busy at work now that word has got around that I am leaving, there are jobs in the garden that just have to be done before it’s too late and blogging time is short so bear with me…..I only have to go to work six more times……..

Bon weekend !!