July 21, 2015

A QUICK DASH

events

Dashing here, dashing there, we seem to be doing a lot of dashing about lately.  Nick dashed back to the UK on the aeroplane to join me in the UK and to see his mum.  After she died we both dashed back to France to see how the staircase had turned out, retrieve Daisy from the cattery and spend a short week there. 

As we were driving south on the almost deserted French motorways I was thinking that life had resumed a far too hectic pace, much like it used to be when we were both working.  We would usually dash to our little house in the village for a quick one week break in the middle of July, before the English schools broke up for the holidays and the tourists started to arrive.  We loved having that week’s holiday every year and a week seemed to last much longer than it does now.  We would make each day count and return home to normal life and to work refreshed, revitalised, warmed by the sun and full of lovely food and wine.

This time a short week seemed like no time at all and it whizzed by in a blur of activity.  We picked our first tomatoes.  Lovely, sweet fragrant tomatoes, big ones and tiny ones.  It seemed like a miracle, to be picking our own tomatoes in early July, grown outdoors, without the aid of a greenhouse.

The weather was hot, getting hotter every day.

events2

events3

On 13th July, the eve of Bastille Day, we went to Le Petit-Pressigny to join in the fun and celebrations there.  There was a huge crowd in the marquee, lovely food, music and excellent fireworks.

events4

On 14th July it was another lovely hot and sunny day, we had a barbecue at home in the evening before driving into the village to see another set of fireworks.  The warm weather had brought out the crowds and it was all very jolly.  It felt odd not to be able to simply wander up the hill towards the château and fall into bed, the murmur of laughter and music in the village square finally dying out in the early hours.

events5

In the middle of the week, on a very hot day, the farmer arrived to harvest the wheat in the fields that surround us.  I had been dreading this day, wondering how dusty and noisy it would be.  It turned out to be very little trouble at all.  Keeping the doors and windows shut all day to keep out the dust was no hardship at all as it also kept out the heat.  At 4pm it was 37°C, too hot for us to be working outdoors in the garden so we retired to the cool of the sitting room, sipping iced water.  I wondered how the farmer could stand it, out there for hours in end in the baking heat.  By nightfall he had more or less finished apart from a thin strip at the opposite end of the furthest field from us.

events6

It was getting hotter with each day and we found that by opening all the doors and windows first thing in the morning and putting on all the fans we could let some of the heat escape from upstairs and cool the rooms down a bit before the temperatures soared again.  Daisy took advantage of the open windows to explore the roof. 

events9

She climbed onto the very top and meowed, giving us the impression that she didn’t know how to get down.  We coaxed her along the roof towards the little terrace above the barn and rescued her.  Ten minutes later she was up there again so we decided to leave her to it.  She was back in the house in no time.  All we had to do was stand outside the front door and rattle the tin of Dreamies.  She will always come for the promise of a few Dreamies!

On Thursday we collected our friend Gaynor from the station in Tours.  The outside temperature on our dashboard display got to 39°C.  Thank goodness for modern cars and air conditioning.  I sometimes wonder how people managed before air conditioned cars were the norm, although I was illogically slightly disappointed not to see it reach 40°, just so that I could say I had. 

events7

With Gaynor installed chez nous to keep an eye on Lulu and Daisy for a few days we set off back to England on Saturday to be in good time for the funeral on Monday.  There were miles and miles of traffic jams going south on the motorway around Tours.  The holiday season had obviously begun big style and although it was a good deal cooler on Saturday morning, a pleasant 25°C, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for all those people sitting in traffic for what looked like it could be hours – not a good start to their holiday. 

events8

Having no dog or cat with us we decided to take the long route home, via Portsmouth.  The recent shenanigans at Calais had closed the tunnel and the port quite frequently and we didn’t want to risk being stuck and not getting back for the funeral. The journey to the ferry at Caen is a good two hours shorter than to the tunnel at Calais, which was nice.  The weather was very pleasant indeed, at Ouisterham there were sailing boats bobbing about in the sunshine.

We used to prefer this crossing and used it regularly in our motorcycle touring days.  After a hard slog to the port a five hour rest and a nice meal on board was very welcome.  However, we had somehow forgotten that in those days we used to break the journey with an overnight stay either in a hotel on the French side, or by sailing overnight.  This time we did it all in one go and it took sixteen hours from door to door.  The boat was delayed by an hour in leaving the port and we had also forgotten that once it has docked it then takes another hour to get out of Portsmouth – unloading the cars takes a long time then everyone has to queue up for passport control which itself can take up to an hour.  We finally fell into bed at 2.30am.

The funeral was yesterday.  Funerals are supposed to mean closure, a release, a chance to get back to normal and get on with life, a new life without the person who has passed away.  I always feel slightly raw and unsettled for a while afterwards.  So we are dashing back to France today, spending the evening with friends in Dover to break the journey, which is, I must say, becoming harder every time we do it. 

We’ll be back chez nous by tea time tomorrow and are looking forward to a good long spell of feeling settled.  Enjoying the house and planning the garden.  Nick will go fishing.  I will do some baking.  We’ll get the motorcycles out and do a bit of touring.  We’ll walk the dog and play with the cat.  And we’ll enjoy our own home grown tomatoes.

July 10, 2015

R.I.P.

Nick's mum

Nick’s mum passed away yesterday evening at 8pm.  She was ninety one years old and this photo shows her on her 90th birthday.

Nick’s dad was a vicar and she was devoted to him and his work.  He died ten years ago and she will be buried with him in the village where they have lived since he retired.

My thoughts are with Nick, his sisters, and the family and friends who supported his mum during the last few years and will miss her.

July 8, 2015

LOST IN TRANSLATION

When we bought the house last September we thought we would replace the metal spiral staircase sooner rather than later.  Carrying anything up or down it is tricky and I have nearly come a cropper many times already.  Lulu took one look at it and didn’t even attempt to get upstairs.  I think the open treads probably put her off.

staircase

Back in October we spotted a young man with a stall at the “Art et lard” event in Le Petit-Pressigny.  He is a local carpenter specialising in roofs and staircases so in December we invited him to come and give us a quote for a new staircase made of oak.  It would have been very convenient for it to have been fitted in March when the spiral staircase had to be removed for the new floor to be put down.  Unfortunately it wasn’t ready then so we had to have the old staircase put back again (at a cost of course).

staircase2

We managed to pin him down to an approximate date for the new staircase to be fitted – the beginning to the middle of June.  The sooner the better for us.

By the beginning of June there was no sign of him so we chased him up and he said he would start on 15th June.  We enquired whether we would need to move out for a day or two if there was going to be no access to the bedrooms and he said no, it would only take a day to fit so we wouldn’t be without stairs overnight.

On 15th June we assumed he had started work on the components in his workshop and we looked forward to the new staircase probably being installed at the end of the week…….on the Thursday evening he came to take the measurements and said he would be in touch “la semaine prochaine”.

“La semaine prochaine”  translates as “next week” in my book but it actually seems to mean some time in the next few weeks – if you’re lucky.  We chased him again and he gave us a date of Wednesday 1st July.  We groaned.  This was after we had planned to go back to the UK for two weeks and with Nick’s mum very ill it was more important than usual that we made the trip. 

We anguished over what to do and after a long conversation with Nick’s eldest sister we decided that I would come back to the UK with Lulu while Nick stayed on to see the installation of the new staircase, flying home the following weekend.  We already had Daisy booked into a cattery so off she went.

We are quite used to leaving workmen with a key to get on with some jobs in our absence, especially things that were done under the supervision of Alex and Nicole, but somehow we felt that with something as unique, personal and expensive as a staircase one of us needed to be around, to answer questions at least.

Wednesday 1st came and went with no sign of the staircase.  After several phone calls the young man promised to deliver it on Thursday afternoon.  Or Friday at the latest.  With Nick’s mum becoming more ill with each day, it began to look like he had wasted his time staying behind and might not get home in time.

Nothing happened on Thursday afternoon.  On Friday morning the assistant (“the lad”) turned up to take the old staircase down – not a job to be tackled single handed.  Between the two of them, Nick and the lad, they managed to dismantle it and store it in the barn.  On Friday afternoon the young man delivered the new staircase, carefully laid the parts on the kitchen floor and went, promising to start work on fitting it on Monday. So no staircase for the whole weekend, just a ladder to get upstairs.

Nick left him a key and flew home on Saturday.  His flight home was booked for Saturday afternoon so he had no option but to leave the staircase to be installed in our absence, which was exactly what we were hoping to avoid.  But with Nick’s mum being very poorly, he wanted to get home to see her.  The doctors were saying that she might not survive beyond the weekend.

Nick visited his mum in hospital on Sunday and later that day she slipped into unconsciousness.  She is hanging on but the doctors think it won’t be long before we lose her.

staircase1

The carpenter has fitted the new staircase and emailed some pictures.  It looks beautiful in the photos and as far as we can tell he has done a good job. 

When we bought the house the previous owners gave us a folder of photos showing how the house had been renovated and our new staircase looks remarkably like the one that was taken out and replaced with the metal one, except much more sturdy.

staircase4

Nick’s mum is still deeply unconscious and he and his sisters have said their goodbyes.

We will be going back to France this weekend as planned, the end of what was to be a two week holiday here in the UK.  We will be coming back again soon for a funeral. 

Life can be so topsy turvy at times.