May 31, 2014

THE AGE OF STEAM

Steam trains have always fascinated me, which is lucky considering the number of Sundays and Bank Holidays we spent visiting steam railways up and down the country as a family.  My dad was very much into steam and in fact has built several his own steam engines in his garden shed.  Models of course!

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So on Bank Holiday Monday, after our trip to the Well Dressings, we headed off through the Derbyshire villages to somewhere where we knew we would be able to get a cup of tea - the buffet car on platform two of the railway station at Wirksworth.

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Unlike in France, dogs are rarely allowed in restaurants and cafés in the UK, so we took our steaming mugs of tea and sheltered from the drizzly rain on the platform.

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The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway is one of the many railway societies up and down the country run by volunteers and donations.  It operates a mainly tourist service along a few miles of line between Wirksworth and Duffield which is very popular.  You can read all about it here.

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When I was a little girl in the 1950’s we often travelled by steam train, regularly getting the bus to Cromford station and then the train to Derby for a day out shopping.  When my dad was in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm the steam train from Cromford would be the first stage in very long journeys by rail to Scotland or Northern Ireland to the Naval base.  We lived in the “married quarters” near to the base.

The railway station at Cromford was also a favourite destination for me and my male cousins to go on our bicycles in the school holidays, messing about on the platform and standing on the footbridge as the trains came and went, tolerated by the station manager, so long as we didn’t get in the way.

In my twenties I was a member of the Middleton Railway Society near Leeds and actually got to ride the footplate and assist in driving shunting engines – as close as I would ever get to driving a steam engine by myself!

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So it was on platform one at Wirksworth that I had to go and “spend a penny”.  Otherwise known as “going to the ladies”.  The original ladies loo would often be engaged and a queue would form at busy times hence the notice you saw the little notice fixed to the old post box - “extra ladies are available round the corner”.

Bon weekend !!

May 28, 2014

WHAT TO DO ON A WET BANK HOLIDAY IN DERBYSHIRE

Having found ourselves at home in Derbyshire instead of in France, we were faced with the ancient conundrum of what to do for entertainment on Bank Holiday Monday.

There is usually plenty going on and the weather’s usually terrible, so whatever is going on is often more or less weather proof.  The inhabitants of Derbyshire are pretty used to making the most of bad weather by now.  The weekend so far had been grey, cold, damp and miserable but on Bank Holiday Monday morning the sun was shining and it was quite pleasant.  So Nick went fishing and I took Lulu for a nice long walk then made a quiche.  A few spots of rain brought Nick home for his lunch.

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On his way back from the river Nick had spotted a poster advertising the well dressings at the nearby village of Brackenfield, so after lunch we set off there, thinking that if it started to rain properly again it was not too far from home.

There’s usually a cup of tea and a piece of cake available in the village hall at these events too.

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I have been visiting the local well dressings in Derbyshire since I was old enough to sit in a pushchair.  In the 1950’s there were very few and they were quite an event.  My dad would load me into the sidecar of his motorcycle and with my mum riding pillion the three of us would purr along the country lanes to Youlgreave or Tissington for a day out to see the well dressings.  On arrival at our destination my dad would lift me out of the sidecar and put their helmets, gloves and scarves inside so they didn’t have to carry them round.  There was no lock and they would still be there when we got back – something which you certainly couldn’t gamble on nowadays.

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Well dressing is a tradition which occurs in Derbyshire and other counties of the UK every summer.  Traditionally the sites of the village wells were dressed with flowers to give thanks for an ample supply of pure water.  You can read about it in Wikipedia here.  Each village will have a theme to their well dressings and in Brackenfield it was gardening.

When I was a little girl it was just a continuation of the tradition in a few Derbyshire villages.  Now they are everywhere in the county and it’s very much a tourist thing.  Derbyshire is now a popular holiday area and you can see the full calendar of well dressings, and a video of how it’s done, on the Peak District website here.

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There are many similarities between Derbyshire and the area where we live in France, which may be why we felt at home in Le Grand-Pressigny straight away.  Whatever the event on a Sunday in France, be it a brocante or fête of some kind, there will nearly always be a display of old cars and tractors.  At the old car and tractor events there will usually be a brocante.

In the small village of Brackenfield as well as the well dressings there was also a display of old tractors, and a craft fair in the school hall.

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And of course there were the old cars to admire.  I rather fancied on of these.

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In the church there was a flower festival.  The arrangements were breathtakingly beautiful and the church was heaving with people. 

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In the churchyard there was an extra well dressing next to the war memorial.  The memorial has very few names on it, because Brackenfield is only a very small village, but like so many other small Derbyshire villages it lost most of its young men during the war.

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As we walked back towards the village hall in hope of a cup of tea and a slice of cake a few drops of rain began to fall.  By the time we got there the hall was full of people sheltering from the rain and all the tables were all taken.  So we decided to head off to somewhere else where we knew we could get a cuppa.

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However that will have to do for now, as I’m running out of steam…..more in the next post !!

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Except that if anyone knows the name of this plant with its lovely yellow bobbles of flowers I would love to know.  It was in someone’s garden in Brackenfield and I quite fancy having one in my new garden – eventually.

Update – it’s a buddleja globosa.  Many thanks to my Aunty Sylvia who phoned to tell me.  And I didn’t even know she reads my blog!

May 26, 2014

A DAY OUT IN DERBYSHIRE

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Spending Spring Bank Holiday at home for the first time in years has been a revelation.  Apart from the weather.  It rained, as it always used to when we did spend the weekend here.

More later.

May 23, 2014

ONE MAN’S RUBBISH….

The Spring Bank Holiday has arrived and we will be spending it at home for the first time in twenty years.

Usually it’s the first opportunity in every year for a full week’s holiday and we’re more than ready for it.  This year we fully expected to be moving house and in fact went to sign all our documents at the solicitor’s office last Monday, just in case.  But no, some people in the chain are not ready.

And so another week goes by, then another…..

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We continue the process of sorting and packing.  Boxfuls of our stuff have been taken to the local charity shops – clothes we haven’t worn for years, books we will never read again, gadgets and gizmos that we no longer use.  We took some of our cast offs to France with us at Easter and put them on our stall at the village vide grenier.

We shared three tables with our friends Gail and Chris, Elizabeth and her daughter Jane.  At 7am the weather did not look promising and by noon it was chucking it down, so we packed up and went for lunch instead, as did most of the other stall holders.  Even so, we somehow managed to sell over 90€ worth of stuff, all unwanted items of dubious value. 

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It was fascinating to see what sold and what was left.  The tasty antique bits and bobs mostly went – the binoculars, and old compass, a horn penny whistle, a pair of old rimless spectacles in their original case.  Also some of our pottery items - plant holders and a large owl ornament with the wing glued back on in two places.  We sold most of our unwanted DVD’s, a box of meccano bits and a box of old motorcycle rally patches and badges.  We sold most things for one or two euros but it added up.

Back home we have found it difficult to know how to dispose of some of our stuff.  We found a full box of thirty six unused one pint beer glasses on a shelf in the garage and have no idea how it got there.  I gave half a dozen or so to various friends, family and neighbours, also the bloke who came to fix the bay window roof.  He seemed very pleased with them.  I was pleased to get rid of them.

Also in the garage we discovered an old casement clock lying on its back on a shelf.  I remember buying this clock from an antique shop near to Bamburgh Castle in May 1972, for £26.  Once I got it home I didn’t really like it and it has never been on display in this house.  By now it was in a desperately poor condition, the paint on the face had peeled off and clogged up the inside of the clock, bits of its frame were broken off and the key and pendulum were missing.  I looked at it and had no idea of its value or what to do with it – if it was worth repairing to sell it and how to go about doing that.  I didn’t think it was fair to dump that kind of thing on a charity shop but it was too good to just take to the tip.

So I printed out a sign which said “restoration project, free, help yourself”, sellotaped it to the front of the clock and propped it up by the gate on the grass verge.  Ten minutes later it was gone!

We decided to be ruthless with our collection of LP records.  Nick sorted them into alphabetical order to make it easier and out of a hundred and fifty  we picked out about thirty to keep.  The rest we put into a big box, took them to an antique shop in Alfreton and the owner gave us £20 for them.

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When we were deciding which ones to let go I hesitated over my collection of blues LP’s.  I probably haven’t listened to them for over thirty years but they were a big part of my life at one time.  In my early teens, when my friends were all dancing to Herman’s Hermits and Manfred Mann, I somehow got interested in the blues.  I fished out eight records to keep and twice very nearly put them back in the box.  Once we got back from the antique shop with our £20, I decided to put all eight up for auction on Ebay as a collection, starting at 99p.  They sold for £83.

The biggest task has been sorting out the garage.  Nick has finally sifted through all his tools, bits of wood, tins of paint, the camping gear, old motorcycle parts, car spares and all the other rammel, and we have made numerous visits to the tip.  Last week we strapped an old engine hoist – a kind of tripod constructed from metal poles the size of scaffolding – to the roof of the car along with an broken metal shelf unit and set off to the tip for our second visit of the day.  We parked up next to a man who was unloading sacks of garden waste from a trailer and his eyes widened when we started to take the stuff off the roof.

“Would you mind if I had that?” he said, pointing to the hoist.  “It might come in handy.” 

One man’s rubbish…….another man’s treasure!

Have a great bank holiday weekend!

May 12, 2014

STILL WAITING

So we’re still here, in the same house, the one with the estate agent’s sign outside, announcing to the whole world that we are “SOLD”.

It’s ten weeks since we accepted the offer on the house.  There are boxes of our belongings all over the house, some labelled “FR” and some “UK”.  We can’t be absolutely sure that we’ve got it right, that we won’t end up with some things in the wrong country, but we’re almost past caring.  We just want to get it over with.

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Our buyers lured us into a false sense of security by saying it could all be done in 6-8 weeks as they had their buyer all lined up, a cash buyer with no house to sell. 

Three weeks later they “changed buyers” according to the agent, accepting a higher offer for their house and ending up with a chain of four below them.  That means we are now in a chain of five and all the ducks have to be lined up in a row before anything can happen.

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Still, as far as we know, it’s now all going to plan, if rather slowly.  Our original calculations predicted that we might be moving at Easter but instead we were able to go to France for nearly two whole weeks, which was a really nice surprise.

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The boulangerie had a giant chocolate chicken that they were raffling off at 2€ a ticket.  We lashed out on a couple of tickets but didn’t win.  There were lots of other delicious Easter goodies on offer too.

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In Loches there was a country and western festival, combined rather strangely with an exhibition of house refurbishing companies.  We know that the French love country music and cowboy culture but it was very odd to be looking at displays of new log burners, windows and kitchen units in a marquee with line dancing and lasso demonstrations going on outside !!

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The exhibition was very useful and we noted a few contacts for when we finally find a larger house in France that we like.  House hunting is however on the back burner for the time being.

We just wait and wait.  The removal company is booked – or at least alerted to the fact that we want them to move us.  As soon as we exchange contracts they will fetch the boxes and furniture labelled FR and put them all into store.  A few days later they will fetch the rest of our stuff and move it to our new house here.  Apparently it’s perfectly normal for them to only get a few days’ notice that it’s time to move.

Having bought one house already in France, we now realise how daft the UK system is.  A price is agreed but nothing is signed until the last minute, after both sides have spent a lot of money on solicitors and search and survey fees.  If either side then changes their mind, there is no obligation to honour the agreement as nothing has been signed and no deposit paid.  There is no penalty for backing out of the deal other than the loss of the solicitor’s fees.

In France the offer is legal and binding once the CDV is signed.  Both parties are committed except for agreed conditions.  Which is much better than worrying about whether or not the buyer has seen another house they like better and are about to withdraw their offer after nearly three months!

We probably won’t go back to France until the UK move is completed and the “FR” stuff is safely stored – we just don’t know when that will be.  It’s the first time in all the seven years that we’ve owned the house in Le Grand-Pressigny that we haven’t had our next visit already planned.