21 October 2021

DÉJÀ VU


I popped into a charity shop this morning to donate some things and the young woman serving thanked me for wearing my mask.  She was wearing one herself as it was company policy for all staff to wear one.  Customers were advised to wear one but not obliged to do so and staff were not allowed to insist on it as since 19th July government guidance is that it's up to the discretion of each individual.  My observation is that it's mainly the older people still wearing masks and most people are going without.  


Everyone was wearing a mask at this vide grenier at Azay-sur-Cher on 5th September.

In France, at the time when we left four weeks ago to come back to the UK, the wearing of masks was still mandatory in shops and other public places including markets.  In Loches on market day there were gendarmes on patrol checking that everyone was wearing a mask and wearing it correctly, pointing out to people that it has to cover the nose as well as the mouth.  In restaurants we had to show our "pass sanitaire", a digital record of having both vaccinations, before being allowed to enter or even eat outside.  We felt very safe.

Back in the UK we feel nervous.  The graph above shows that the situation worsened here very soon after the easing of restrictions.

I heard a politician talking today on the radio, saying that numbers of infections appear lower in other countries because they aren't testing as many people.  That may or may not be true but the numbers of deaths presumably are more accurate and we are still at the top of the league table in Europe.  I get the feeling that in the UK the idea that we have to "live with the virus" has turned into an perception that a number of deaths is acceptable and, worse still, because it's still the old and vulnerable (and the unvaccinated) that are succumbing to the disease, that's fine.  As if these people don't really count.  Two plane crashes a week is what they amount to, at the moment.

I heard an expert in human behaviour relative to health issues putting a very good case for why wearing a mask, social distancing and hand washing are still the way out of this mess because vaccinated people still get the virus and still spread it.  It's just that if they're lucky they don't get very ill or die.  They just pass it on to those that will.

Are we taking bets on for how much longer the buffoon in number 10 will carry on pretending things are going well, that we are getting back to normal - and when he will suddenly decide to "follow the science", listen to the experts and restore sensible safety measures to being mandatory instead of advisory?

13 October 2021

BUILDING WORKS AND WOES



In 2020 we were only able to stay in France for eight weeks because of the pandemic.  (That's a fraction of how long we usually stay, twenty six weeks or thereabouts.)  One of the things we noticed early on in our eight weeks was a huge crack in the barn wall next to the door.  The wall was effectively falling outwards.  What this picture doesn't show is that on the inside, a massive beam that supports the barn roof and should have been sitting on this wall, was now almost resting on fresh air!

We approached the builder who had fixed our chimney the year before and he came along to take a look at it.  He rapidly fitted an acrow prop under the beam to support it and avert the potential catastrophe of the beam collapsing, possibly taking a huge chunk of the roof with it.  He also came up with an idea to fix it, saying he would start the work in October.  

That was last year but time went by, a devis (estimate) never arrived, the work never got started and we found ourselves looking for a new builder.  Local inquiries earlier this year revealed that all the builders for miles around were incredibly busy and booked up for months ahead, if not years.  However..............

We have friends in the village who are in the process of having their house renovated and, having learned of our building woes, invited their builder to take a look.  To our absolute joy he not only agreed to do the job but also to do it while we were there in the summer.  What a relief!  One of our worries about having it done in our absence was the security problem if the barn doors had to come off while nobody was living in the house.

He came up with a different plan to fix it - by taking down a large chunk of the defective wall, rebuilding it and rehanging the doors and work was to start in the middle of September.  Our friends had effectively agreed to  "lend" him to us for a while so that the job could be done before the end of our Schengen period.

The first job was to fit a few more acrow props and take the cracked wall down, stone by stone.


Then to start rebuilding it.


The old wall, probably three hundred years old, was constructed from stones held together with mud.  This should last several hundred years more!


With the wall rebuilt it was time to render over the underlying stones.  A technique called "pierre apparente" where some of the stone is left visible.


The hinges were reconnected with their new wall and the door rehung.


Et voilà !!

The work finished less than two days before we travelled back to the UK.  Our plans for closing up the house and barns for the winter in a relaxed and careful way turned again a huge scramble, but it was a small price to pay for knowing that the wall is repaired.  It looks like a project for next year will be to get some new barn doors as the ones that came with the house will not last much longer, but for now the place is at least secure.  And the roof will not fall in!

30 September 2021

JUST RESTING

 

The boulangerie in Angles-sur-l'Anglin at night.


We are back in the UK.  Our Schengen allowance of 90 days has been and gone and we will be here until our next Schengen period clocks over in another 90 days.  There is much unpacking, sorting and catching up to do as we settle back into our English life.  The 90 days we spent in France already seem like a dream.  It's a different world and there's much to tell.


17 September 2021

A BIRTHDAY PARTY

 


A few days ago I had a party chez nous.

Over the years I have been invited to numerous parties of various kinds in France and have been very envious of those people with summer birthdays.  Mine is just before Christmas.

I'm sure that anyone who has a birthday at around that time will agree with me that it's a rubbish time of year for it.  The nearer to Christmas you get, the more other people are preoccupied with the shopping and the office parties.  Then there's the weather to contend with.  I remember that for my fortieth I booked a themed restaurant for twenty people for a rock and roll kind of evening and only about six turned up.  The rest couldn't get there due to the thick fog.  And don't start me on the "joint present" - the ultimate disappointment for any kid unfortunate enough to be born in the second half of December.   

These days if we celebrate by going out to eat we will usually be knee deep in tinsel and surrounded by groups of people getting sloshed at the boss's expense.  The menu would usually be the Christmas menu of turkey and sprouts (a choice of salmon if you're lucky) and the music "seasonal".


So this year I thought that if it's good enough for Her Majesty, it's good enough for me and decided to have an "official" birthday and a party three months early - while the sun was still shining and it was still light at four o'clock in the afternoon!

So last weekend, as I turned 69¾, I had my own little birthday party in the garden.  The weather was perfect - warm and sunny but not too hot.  Friends loaned us a pair of gazebos to house the buffet table and the bar.  Bunting was strung up, music was played and we had a thoroughly good time.  After dark the deer entertained us with their calls to each other from one bit of the surrounding forest to another, the foxes joined in and, as people drifted away, I thought this had been the best party I had ever been to in my whole life.

4 September 2021

A GOOD MOUSER

When we arrived chez nous after ten months' absence unwanted visitors had moved in. Mice had eaten the covers on our sofa and there were mouse droppings in the cupboard under the sink and the water tank cupboard. Our cat Daisy is, thankfully, a good mouser.

One morning soon after our arrival she was to be found camped out in the living room, motionless and staring at the corner behind the sideboard, a sure sign that that's where she last saw a mouse. Nick gathered his mouse catching kit which consists of an old towel and a long pair of plastic tweezers (actually a pair of food tongs that came with a cheap set of kitchen tools and prove invaluable for grabbing a mouse. I can reassure you that this is now their only purpose!).  The sideboard had to be moved which meant it had to be emptied first, a huge task in itself.  (Goodness only knows why we kept some of the stuff that was in it so it was an opportunity for a good clear out.)  While Nick and Daisy, on their knees and poised for action, were bearing down on the offending mouse a second one fell down from the beam above and narrowly missed landing on his head. The fact that none of us screamed shows how blasée we have become in dealing with our unwanted guests.

Daisy's efficiency at catching mice does have its disadvantages though. Every other night she will bring one into the house and upstairs to the bedroom as a trophy or present.  The other night she exceeded her hunting target by bringing us two presents. The first she let go and chased around the room for a bit while we nonchalantly pretended to be asleep. Thankfully she caught it again but we then had the pleasure of listening to her eat it, head first and with a sound not unlike someone chomping their way through a bag of crisps.  The fact that I can even write about this without a shudder tells how used we have become to the presence of mice in our house.

She then went out and fetched us another one. We were woken by the sound of her chasing it round the room for a while but drifted off to sleep again when all went quiet. We assumed that this mouse had met the same fate as the first and were surprised to see Daisy in a typical position of vigil at seven o'clock the next morning, staring at the blanket box.  The hunting kit of towel and tweezers was fetched again (we now keep it handy in the bedroom) and the hunt was on. This little blighter led us a merry dance and took some catching.  Nick sustained a hunting injury - a graze to the knee as he hurled himself to the ground and lunged with his tweezers. He missed. 

Twenty minutes later, the bedroom looking like a war zone with furniture all over the place, the mouse was caught and ejected from the house. Daisy had by then lost interest and wandered off to enjoy more reliable fodder from her bowl of kibble. A different chomping noise, thankfully, and one that has never caused me to cringe!

3 August 2021

THE SUPERMARKET RUN

I wrote this as a guest post for Tom's blog so posting it here as well seems a bit like cheating, although not really as it's a subject I already had in mind.


I have occasionally been asked why we bother to have a house in rural France.  When we’re constantly patching up a crumbling old building, grappling with doing it in a different language and there is no handy B&Q around the corner, I sometimes wonder why myself.  Especially this year when we have had to jump through so many hoops to get here.  I was pondering this very thing on the way to the supermarket in Descartes the other day.


Back home in the UK our nearest supermarket is three miles away.  It can take between five and forty five minutes to get there, depending on such things as time of day, how many sets of temporary traffic lights there are, or whether or not there has been a crash on the M1 and traffic diverted through the town (which happens more often than you might think).  The run is rarely stress free, involving regular near misses with other drivers, navigating the speed bumps and avoiding the sunken manholes and potholes.  We go past two huge building sites where hundreds of new houses are going up which will soon be occupied and pouring even more cars onto the already frantic road.  We go alongside grass verges choked full of litter (including those disgusting plastic bottles full of urine tossed out of vans and lorries), into a scruffy little town where Tesco has seen off most of the other local shops except for the charity shops and a hardware store.  Metal buckets are seemingly not big sellers in Tesco. 


From our house in France the nearest supermarket is eleven km away.  It usually takes twenty minutes to get there, very rarely more, and if we encounter more than six other vehicles going either way the road seems unusually busy.  At this time of year the run takes us along smooth and winding roads flanked by fields of endless sunflowers and the grass verges are pristine.  We hardly ever  see any litter, potholes are scarce and the only likely hold up is getting stuck behind the occasional combine harvester.  Or sometimes having to wait for a little family of deer or wild boar to cross the road.  We have on a couple of occasions had to stop to shoo a few sheep or a donkey back into their field.


On the way there we drive through sleepy hamlets of old and crumbling buildings very similar to ours and pass three ancient châteaux, one of which by driving alongside its moat. When we get to town we pick up bread from the boulangerie before heading for the supermarket.  Ponder no more, I thought.

Mind you, we have to get there well before 12.30 when they close for two hours for lunch – this is in France, after all! 

22 July 2021

OLD STUFF, NEW PASSPORT.

We have been busy, busy since we arrived chez nous.  A good amount of cleaning, tidying, gardening and generally trying to get the house into a state that we are happy to live with.  Which doesn't mean Ideal Home perfection but a level of lived-in comfort without the grit and grime.

The monthly dealer's brocante at Chinon.

We have also been out and about a bit, dining out with friends or just ourselves, shopping and - joy of joys - to a couple of brocantes.  Never in a million years, had you asked me twenty years ago, would I have cited going to a flea market as a highlight of my life!  It is of course much more than that.  A sign that some things are getting back to normal, that here in France at least we can enjoy normal everyday pursuits almost as if we were BC (before covid) but in a safe and sensible way.  Almost everyone was wearing a mask.  Goodness only knows how the situation will pan out in the UK now that the looney incumbent of No.10 has thrown caution to the wind, and divided the nation even more than ever before.

An antique foot warming stool.  We didn't buy it!

A nice bowl and a trinket box that I did buy.

This rusty old thing is bound to come in handy somewhere.

These knife rests were too cute to resist.  For me anyway!

The other thing that has been preoccupying us is getting Hugo his French passport.  What a nightmare that turned out to be.

We started using our current French vet practice about three years ago.  Apart from one time when he forgot to sign one entry in Hugo's passport we have been happy with the service.  On that occasion the person on Pet Check-in at Eurotunnel was feeling generous and decided to let us go through, although not without a certain amount of paperwork, head shaking, finger wagging and a stern warning not to let it happen again.  We were lucky that day.  So many times we have witnessed distraught travellers being denied boarding because of a similar error on the part of their vet.  One time we saw a young couple with two toddlers and two dogs, on their way from Germany to the UK for her father's funeral, being told they could not be allowed on the train because their vet had omitted to stamp one entry on one of the pet passports.  She was in tears, realising she would miss the funeral, and her husband even suggested abandoning the dog outside the port to fend for itself as a solution.  Awful.  I would like to think they found a convenient kenneling service in Calais for it but I don't like to dwell on it too much.

Having had a bit of a scare when it seems that France was nearly put on the UK's red list for travel last week, we decided that in order to be ready to make a rapid departure at short notice we should get the new passport sorted sooner rather than later.  The prospect of having to self isolate in a hotel room for ten days at huge expense was a non-starter.  At £1,700 each plus, presumably, the cost of boarding the pets who knows where, we had to avoid it without question.  We would have to be able to pack and leave quickly, taking any crossing we could get, and somehow getting a passport check for Hugo and our own Covid tests before we set off.

Anyway, we made our appointment with the vet and sensed early on that things were not going to go well.  He struggled with entering information on the I-Cad website, correctly and had to start all over again.  That part of the process completed, he then had to copy the details from the old passport into a brand new one and gave a shrug when he carelessly stamped two of the three entries with his rubber stamp upside down.  He finally handed us the document and was some hours before I felt I had the courage to check if he'd done it right.  He hadn't.

His handwriting was almost illegible in places and there were three major errors on the document.  On the page where a plastic film was fixed over it to prevent tampering with the entries, Hugo's identity chip number was hard to decipher and one of the 8’s looked distinctly like an 0.  I could imagine having an argument at Pet Check-in every time over that.  The other two errors, including writing in  Hugo's date of birth incorrectly, were reasons that I knew people had been refused boarding and during the whole process he never once checked Hugo's identichip to see if he had the right dog in front of him.  

We had no option but to take the passport back because this document would not get us back into the UK as it stood.  And of course the next day was the 14th July, a Bank Holiday, which gave us an extra day and two sleepless nights to worry about it.  Apart from any unpleasant confrontation there was a forty eight hour deadline to get documents and photocopies in the post to I-Cad, which meant by the next afternoon.

We all make mistakes at work.  What matters is how you deal with them.  If the vet had accepted the errors and suggested we start again, everyone could have been relaxed about it.  Instead he was as grumpy and ungracious as it was possible to be.  He argued the toss and attempted to alter all the mistakes, writing over the tamper proof film and, once he'd tampered with it, tried to fix a new film over the top. 

Desperate to get this done right, I was trying to explain in French as best I could how people were refused boarding on trains and ferries for even the smallest errors of detail.  A passport that had obviously been altered and tampered with was never going to be acceptable.  Luckily his assistant came to our rescue, had a brief word with him, and he changed tack.  He fished another new passport out of the drawer, ripped the vaccine stickers out of the first one and started all over again. Having finally, and more legibly, completed the thing, he stamped it the right way up this time, handed it to us and gestured towards the door.  As we left he tossed the other one, containing all our and Hugo's details, in the bin.  I can't think how it could have gone any worse.  

I felt very sorry for the little dog wearing a head cone and its mum waiting to see him after us, as he was definitely in a terrible mood.  We now have the precious passport, have scrutinised it over and over, and are looking for a new vet.