January 28, 2017

WISHING I WAS IN FRANCE

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Apologies to my friend Martine who writes a blog with a similar name as the title of this post, but there is simply no better way to describe the way I feel at the moment. 

We had thought originally that once we came back to the UK for Christmas, we might well stay until the end of February, or the middle of the month at the earliest, returning to France once Spring was just around the corner and we could see the end of winter.  Last year we intended the same but, once my dad had moved to stay with his friend who lives further south, where they rarely have any snow, there seemed little point in us kicking around in our little rabbit hutch sized house in England when we could be getting on with stuff in the house in France, whatever the weather.

This year feels different because I feel we are stuck here.  Both of us would really like to up sticks and set off back to France but we really have to stay until Nick has finished his rehabilitation course at the hospital.

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Feeling stuck and that we have no choice is unsettling.  I thought I would console myself with looking through old photos, possibly having a bit of a tidy up of my huge photo files.  In the years when we had the little holiday house in the village this would cheer me up no end, remind me of how lucky we were and give me something positive to look forward to.  This time I find it simply increases the longing.

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Without a doubt I now feel that France is where we live and that the UK is where we run to when there is a problem to deal with, family illness and for the occasional holiday.  We are making progress with the paperwork that will get us our carte vitale and now of course I wish above all that we had bitten the bullet and done this much sooner, instead of dithering, or is it swithering?  If we had our carte vitale by now we could be in France for Nick’s treatment and not stuck anywhere we don’t want to be.

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Living in two countries is a very strange business.  Once we are back in the UK we soon settle back into the old routines, battling with the manic traffic, turning a blind eye to the filthy roadsides and litter, turning a deaf ear to the bad language and noise, not noticing the rudeness of people and the crowds.  The differences between the two countries seem so startling when we first arrive at either home but we soon slip into the two ways of life.

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All these photos were taken in the last week of January and first of February last year.  What a great time we had.  The bright but cold winter weather was wonderful, the crazy lunch in the village hall was huge fun and we enjoyed ourselves.  Here in the UK we are just……….waiting.

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We never tire of one of our favourite towns, Chinon.  On a cold winter’s day last year it was beautiful, as always, possibly even more beautiful than when there are crowds of tourist.  There were really only locals out and about on the Sunday that we took these photos.

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One of the most difficult things about looking back through my photos is that it reminds me of losing Lulu and how much we miss her.  We took hundreds of photos of her every year and it’s impossible to avoid them.

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Getting used to visiting our old haunts without her is very hard.  We are no closer to taking a decision on whether we will have another dog if ever.

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We have taken many pictures of the statue of the famous monk, Rabelais, over the years, in hot sunshine, pouring rain, all weathers, all months of the year.  What would he have have done in our situation?

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Poor Lulu.  Looking back at photos of her I try to look for any sign of when she first became ill.  There were clues, in her eating and drinking habits I think, but we really had no idea of what was looming.  I would never want another dog to go through what she suffered, nor indeed us. 

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In the series of photos in this file the weather suddenly changed.  The bright sunny weather ended and the rain came, followed by terrible flooding.  I wouldn’t want to see that again either.  But I still would rather be there than here, whatever the weather.

January 26, 2017

A BURNS SUPPER AND A CONUNDRUM

Burns supper1

Last night was Burns Night and for the first time ever I went to a Burns Supper.  I was very much in need of the entertainment as my life seems to have been completely dominated by illness this last few weeks.  On top of Nick’s problems, I developed a stinking cold and then my dad had a slight stroke.  So with Nick back home, back to driving and doing well on his rehabilitation course, I was dragging myself back to the hospital again every day with a gruesome cold and feeling completely drained.  It never rains but what it pours. 

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Dad is doing fine, having apparently had a minor subdural haematoma and is back home and even back to driving himself at the time of writing this.  Please let this be the end of all our troubles.

Burns supper 9

Anyway, I never thought I would grateful to Robbie Burns for coming to the rescue, but the evening was indeed just what I needed and great fun.  It was fairly low key compared to many Burns Suppers held up and down the country I’m sure but it was just right for us.  I’m not sure we could cope with too much excitement at the moment.

It was held in a very old hotel in Matlock, one dating back to the early days of coaching inns.  When I was young it was called The Old English and had a bit of a reputation for being rather a dive.  I haven’t been in it for probably forty years or more and during that time it has been through several incarnations, possibly even being closed for a while I think.  Anyway, it is now known as The Remarkable Hare and the new owners are doing a great job of putting on a programme of musical evenings and other entertainment, having done the place up and turned it into a very pleasant place in a rustic sort of way.

Burns supper

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For our first course we chose cullen skink, a soup made from cream and smoked fish.  Absolutely delicious it was too.  After that the Haggis was piped in and addressed in the traditional fashion by a local gent who allegedly goes by the name of Hamish McGregor.  Personally I didn’t believe that for a minute but he did indeed have a wonderful Scottish accent which lent authenticity to the mystery of the almost unintelligible verse. 

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We had the traditional dish of haggis, neeps and tatties for main course – no choice was offered and none was necessary or expected.  Personally I enjoy haggis and remember buying and cooking it for the very first time in my little bedsit in Leeds in the 70’s.  I bought it from the food hall of Lewis’s in Leeds, which was on the lower ground floor of their building and was old fashioned in the extreme with a black and white tiled floor.  It’s funny the things you remember especially when food brings it all back.

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Before the dessert of cranachan, Mr McGregor read out another poem by Robbie Burns called “To a mouse”.  I had quite forgotten that Scottish is almost a foreign language.  I used to live in Scotland, for a couple of years, as a youngster.  My parents told me that I had trouble understanding Scottish in the local school and that when we returned to Derbyshire and I went to school here, the other kids had difficulty understanding me as I spoke with a Scottish accent.

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Burns supper6

After dessert there was singing, ending up with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne in the original version as written by the baird himself. 

We had a wonderful time.  Well done to the Remarkable Hare for pitching the whole evening just right and I’m sure we’ll be going back for more of their food and special evenings.

Burns supper8

Now for something completely different.  A conundrum.  These wineglasses had been for sale in a local charity shop since before Christmas.  I looked at them several times but if anything is certain, one thing we do not need is more wine glasses.  But in the end I weakened and could resist them no longer. At £2 for four of them it was hardly a big deal, space to keep them is more of a problem.  BUT……what does the logo “GENETE” mean?  It’s presumably some kind of drink and a bit of Googling suggests a mixture of champagne perry and gin but nothing specific.  Also possibly dating back to the 1960’s .

The only champagne perry I have ever heard of is Babycham, which seems, as far as I know, uniquely sold in the UK, especially in the 60’s and 70’s.  Because the glasses have the logo “Genete” I think that suggests a ready made apéritif or cocktail of some kind, rather than one you would mix yourself.

If anyone has any idea what Genete is or was, I would love to hear about it!

January 21, 2017

A CAMERA TEST

When my bag was stolen in Barcelona the thing I missed the most was my camera.  It was a Panasonic Lumix DMC FX-33.

The story behind this camera is – skip this bit if you like – Nick bought himself a new pocket digital camera many years ago and it was great – a Panasonic Lumix FX-30.  I admired it and realised it was infinitely better than the one I was using (a Samsung which was definitely from the early days of small digital cameras).  Then, one day when he was on his lunch break, he spotted a very similar camera in the Panasonic shop window in Sheffield which was half price in the sale and bought it for me.  It was an FX-33 and the newer version of his FX-30 and not only that, it was pink!  I was over the moon and it had taken zillions of really good pictures ever since.  Until some toe rag decided to steal my bag last September.

I used to take a lot of pictures and without my camera I felt completely lost, as if part of me was missing so it was inevitable that it would not be long before I tried to replace it.  You can’t buy the same thing any more and at that time there were none for sale on EBay so we went hunting for a new one.  A lot of the reasonably priced similar style of cameras seemed very flimsy and too light weight for me so we plumped for this one.  A Panasonic Lumix SZ-10.  At 140€ it was about the same as Nick paid in £ for the old FX-33 and about as much as I was happy to pay for a camera to do the kind of photography that I do.

SZ10

Within a very short time I was disappointed with it.  Compared with my old FX-33 it was sluggish, the pictures were grainy and the colours poor.  It was nowhere near as good as my old one and I was not enjoying using it.  I played around with the settings but none seemed any better and the sluggishness of the zoom and the shutter were really annoying.  It was impossible to snap away as spontaneously with this camera as with my old one as by the time I’d set the zoom and it had decided it was ready to take the picture, the subject had moved and the moment was lost.

Having forked out a what I thought was enough to pay for a camera I was really unhappy and reluctant to tell Nick how I felt.  But one day sure enough, I blurted it out.  He decided to do something about it, and before long found a used FX-33 for sale on EBay.

FX33

It was the same camera as my old one but black like his, not pink.  And only £13 including postage.  So I bought it.  It’s got a few scratches and dents but appears to work perfectly.

Of course, a girl can never have too much pink so I went looking on EBay myself and found a used pink FX-30.

FX30

For £50 I got the camera, two chargers, several sd cards, the original instructions and CD, a case and other bits and pieces.  It has barely a scratch on it, in fact it’s probably in better condition than my old one was when it was stolen and  I am over the moon again.  OK, it’s not exactly the same as my old camera, being the slightly earlier model like Nick’s but it’s great.

Here’s a picture test:

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Two pictures taken with my new pink FX-30 (the same model as Nick’s camera).

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The same pictures taken with my new FX-33 (the same model as my old camera).

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The same pictures taken with the brand new SZ-10.

The three pairs of photos were taken with the cameras in the same auto iso setting, which, being lazy and not knowing much about how to use a camera, is the setting I nearly always used.  These pictures were taken in good light but the difference is infinitely more noticeable in slightly poorer light which is when I often take photos. 

If you’re thinking that you can’t tell any difference try these two:

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A picture taken with my old FX-33 last year.

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A picture taken on the same position in identical lighting (after dark with just the kitchen lights on) and with the camera settings with my new SZ-10.

Obviously these last two pictures were not of the same object but the washed out colours and slightly fuzzy effect of the SZ-10 shows up I think.  Plus when you take into account the extra few moments it takes for the zoom to react and the shutter to open, I think I can say that the SZ-10 is a great disappointment.

So now that I have gone from owning one camera to three I’m a lucky girl.  I might put the SZ-10 for sale on EBay myself just to get rid of it, as I can’t see me using it again.  What a shame.

January 14, 2017

A LUCKY ESCAPE

wild boar

Living in the middle of a field can sometimes be interesting, especially when it’s deep in the French countryside and there is plenty of wildlife about.  The driver of the car in this picture had a very close encounter with a wild boar and a lucky escape.

This all happened the weekend before we set off back to the UK for Christmas.  It was after dark and as I was walking up the drive towards the car port I became aware of car headlights and voices just along the road from our gate.  There is very little traffic along our road but voices are not that unusual as passing neighbours sometimes stop their cars for a chat in the road.

As I pulled out of the drive I looked to my right and realised that one pair of car headlights was one above the other not side by side.  This could only mean one thing.  Something very wrong.

I reversed smartly back into the drive and fetched Nick and we both went to investigate.  The blue car was at that time on its side in the ditch, the driver was a middle aged lady who had been hauled out of it by a passing neighbour and his son. 

It appears that she was driving past our house (in the opposite direction to the way the car was now facing) and as she rounded the slight bend a wild boar stepped into the road in front of her.  She braked and swerved, causing the car to hit the opposite side of the ditch and it then spun round and ended up on its side with the driver’s door underneath.  She was very lucky that the passing neighbour turned up only five minutes later.  From inside our house we had no idea that a crash had happened as we heard and saw nothing at all.  She could easily have been there for hours as apparently she is slightly disabled and was totally unable to get out of the car without help.

The lady was remarkably calm about it.  She was a bit battered and bruised but otherwise not seriously hurt, in spite of having had to be dragged over the seats and out of the back door of her car.  The neighbour had already called for the help of another neighbour who soon arrived with his tractor, hauled the car back onto its wheels and pushed it out of the way on the grass verge.  After that, the neighbours disappeared and we took the lady home to the other side of Le Grand-Pressigny in our car.  Her car was badly damaged and was towed away two days later.

We knew that wild boar were around near our house.  A visitor had seen a family of them in the field at the side early one morning in the summer and we had seen footprints for ourselves.  Nick had seen them a few kilometres further along the lane, sauntering across the road in front of him at dusk, although that was many months ago.  I found it fascinating that this one was crossing the road right by our house but that I had never, ever seen one myself.

Then, as we drove north through France three days later on our way to Calais, we encountered another one.  We were on a stretch of fairly busy normal road (not motorway) in broad daylight and one stepped out from the forest.  It was just behind the car in front and fairly close to us.  It trotted swiftly across the road and disappeared into the forest on the other side.  Luckily we were far enough away that we could brake calmly and were in no real danger of hitting it.  Otherwise, who knows, we might have ended up in the ditch ourselves.  When faced with the choice of hitting a 200 kilo lump of solid muscle or a soft grassy bank, would one’s instincts make the right choice?

January 9, 2017

PAPERWORK AND ANOTHER WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY.

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Long before the referendum last June, we took the decision that we would like to live in France officially.  In other words, that we wanted to be able to spend most of our time there instead of sharing our time more equally between France and the UK, and to do it formally, so that we weren’t looking over our shoulder all the time, so that we could rest easy in our bed.

After a bit of dithering, we made the first step which was to get a document from the UK Pensions Dept. called an S1, which you can only get once you have moved to another EU country.  Under current arrangements this would enable me, as a UK pensioner, and Nick as my spouse, to apply for full access to the French health system rather than just emergency care as a visitor.  This comes in the form of a card called a Carte Vitale.  Once we have that we can then move our tax affairs to France and the job’s done.  Plenty of people told us this would be a long and difficult process and that dealing with French bureaucracy is a nightmare.

So, on 25th October we had an appointment at the social security office in Tours to make our application for my Carte Vitale.  We took with us every document we thought we might possibly need, including birth certificates and an EDF bill.  The young lady copied lots of them, declined others and created a dossier which would be sent with my application form to Nantes where it is all dealt with centrally, and told me I would get a paper version of my Carte Vitale, the French health card, in three weeks’ time.  The actual card would arrive a few weeks later.

Easy, we thought.  What was all the fuss about?

Weeks came and went and nothing arrived.  Then, a letter arrived dated 27th December – a full two months after our appointment – saying they needed copies of certain documents and not only that but official translations of other documents done by approved translators to go with my dossier.  We would not have received this letter at all but for the kindness of friends who had volunteered to check our French post box occasionally and forward stuff on to us here in the UK where we are now stuck until Nick completes his rehabilitation following his heart attack last month.

The really frustrating thing is that we had all those documents with us when we attended in October.  The young woman who dealt with us either didn’t know what she was doing, or didn’t care enough to get it right.  If she had pointed out the need for translations we could have got on with it and be two months further on than we are now.  I am tempted to wonder how a person can be doing a front desk job where he/she is dealing with the public in a process where he/she should know what the rules are and the person in front of them is entirely dependant on them getting it right - and yet get it so wrong.  Training perhaps.

So we are trying to work out how to get this done while we’re treading water in the UK rather than wait another two months before we return to France and can pick up the paper trail again.

The equally frustrating part is that in order to get my S1 and apply for my Carte Vitale I was required to tell the UK pensions people I had moved to France.  Which is absolutely fine but has resulted in my not receiving my UK Pensioners Winter Fuel Allowance of £200 as they ceased paying it to ex-pats this winter BUT they have sent me a letter (to France as that is where, as far as they are concerned, I now live) and a form called a Life Certificate which has to be filled in and certified by a solicitor (or a similar professional and will no doubt cost me more than a few quid) stating that I am still alive so that they will continue to pay me my UK pension.

So on the one hand I have moved to France but on the other I haven’t.  Yet.  I’m probably floating around somewhere in the English Channel.  All at sea is certainly how it seems at the moment.

It’s interesting that the UK pensions people seem to be much more on the ball than the French.  The UK system for letting me go seems much more efficient than the French process for letting me in.

Of course, we wouldn’t normally be in such a hurry but we feel that post referendum we have a window of opportunity to make this choice before “Brexit” (how I hate that ridiculous term) kicks in.  Not that anybody seems to know what the effect will be once it does kick in.  Blind leading the blind doesn’t begin to describe it.

So here we are in limbo, out of pocket already and immersed in the quagmire of French bureaucracy.  Everyone warned us that it wouldn’t be easy.  Some of them are the same people who warned us that when in Barcelona best not to let go of your bag.  Hey ho.