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.

15 July 2021

SHAME


Well it turned out that we needn't have worried about our booking for the picnic.  Just as I thought, my email had been received and we were booked.  However, it was raining steadily as we drove there and I was thinking that this is not ideal weather for a picnic!  Such a shame, I thought.  But once again, I need not have worried.  The proprietors had put several picnic tables under a huge marquee and even though it rained on and off all the way through we were able to enjoy our lunch and not get even slightly damp.


Latecomers were seated at extra tables under the trees where they too remained nice and dry to enjoy their picnic.


We took quiches, cold meats and salads but the barbecue was well used by other diners.



The weather has been very iffy since we arrived.  It was apparently also a little too "English" for most of June and so far has continued in the same cool and showery vein in July.  That's a shame for those who enjoy the heat of summer but I confess that it's been perfect for us.  We knew there would be a lot of remedial work to do in the house and garden after so long away and, much as we were desperate to get here, had not been looking forward to tackling the jobs in the blistering heat we often get in July.
 


The unusual weather has produced some lovely skies, clouds and sunsets.




Another unusual thing is that we made a positive decision to watch the football match - the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy.  It must be fifty years since I watched footy on the telly, having no interest in the game whatsoever, but as it seemed to be a big deal we thought we might as well. Afterwards I wished we hadn't.

It’s a shame that having got so far the England team lost on a penalty shootout but my main emotion afterwards was one of actual shame.  The England team had done us, the nation, proud, but as for the English "fans" who broke down barriers to get into the stadium without tickets, those who booed the Italian National Anthem, booed and intimidated black players, shone laser pens into the faces of Italian players and, afterwards, posted vile racist comments on social media, made me feel ashamed to be British.  Not for the first time in recent years.  How did we come to this?  I looked at the crestfallen faces of our two future kings and queen, who were watching from their stand, and wondered what on earth they thought of the mob in front of them.  Were their thoughts just sad for the home side beaten by the curse of the penalty shootout, or for the shameful behaviour of so many of their future subjects?

9 July 2021

THE BAD, THE GOOD AND THE MAYBE.

 


There are, inevitably, problems with the house due to our prolonged absence.  One is that mice have been busy making a mess of our big sofa.

It's an Ikea sofa, at least ten years old but fortunately a design that they still make.  That means we can still get new loose covers for it.  The offending mouse seems to have gone for anything vaguely velvety - the loose covers, velvet cushions and the slightly woolly chain-stitch embroidery on a throw that Nick brought back from India many moons ago.  Everything can be replaced except for the throw but I reckon I can repair that, patching the holes and refreshing my chain-stitch skills.

We knew that the electric gates had stopped working as our gardening friends who keep an eye on the place had secured it with a chain and padlock several months ago.  Nick's first task was to fix it and get it working the day after we arrived.

Other than that, there is plenty of cleaning to do.  We hadn't exactly been model housekeepers during the eight weeks chez nous last year, preferring instead to enjoy ourselves.  That, followed by our unexpected rapid exit due to the Covid situation on both sides of the channel, has resulted in a build up of grime, plus the usual crop of dead insects and gritty dust that falls from the unplastered stone walls.  Our friends that stayed in the house for a while last autumn had very kindly been in and hoovered up the carpet of dead flies that otherwise would have greeted our arrival, but there are still corpses lurking on the shelves and in the corners - added to daily now we are in residence.

Our gardening friends have done a great job of keeping the grass cut and the hedges trimmed but the flower beds are, as we expected, in need of some TLC.  We are grateful that the weather is, for many, disappointingly English, being cool and showery - much better for tackling the cleaning and gardening jobs than the usual heat of July.

While Nick was busy repairing the gate, I did our big shop at the supermarket, bearing in mind that we are no longer allowed to bring much of the food that we usually do, and that usually keeps us going for a couple of days.  I spent enough in SuperU to qualify for a free gift - a set of a small paring knife, cheese knife and vegetable peeler.  They're quite good quality too, if a rather lurid colour!


We have a lot of work to do to bring the house up to scratch but we don't intend to skimp on the fun side of things.  While we're here, however long that might be, we fully intend to get out and about as much as we can and just before we came an email arrived from this vineyard.  It's an invitation to a picnic where you can have a free winetasting and then lunch.  It's a "bring your own food" kind of event where they provide the tables, chairs, wine and BBQ for the use of.  We've done this before at another vineyard and it was great fun.

To book our places we simply had to reply to the email, so I did.  Since then we've heard nothing.  This is not an uncommon scenario in France!  Does the lack of response mean we're booked and needn't worry about it?  Or that they didn't get the email?  It's hard to tell!  Maybe we'll turn up on Saturday and find our table reserved or maybe we'll find it isn't - the question is, can I resist the temptation to be very English and phone up to check?  In which case I'll either be met with an indignant "of course you're booked - you sent the email!" or I'll have to hope they can fit us in!

7 July 2021

WE MADE IT!

 


On this day last week we were on the road, on our way south through France, although having already been in a huge traffic jam on the M1.  A one-hour delay in a twelve mile queue in Bedfordshire resulting from an accident occurring earlier in the day.

Our last minute plans were not without drama.  Having decided to "make a run for it" and move our journey forwards by a whole week, the vet that was going to charge £65 for the AHC couldn't guarantee to get it ready in time.  So we threw caution to the wind and returned to our old vet who charges £158 for exactly the same thing.  There we had a full one-hour appointment and came away with the document, all ten pointless pages of it, fully completed, stamped with the practice's official stamp and signed by the vet multiple times on every page.  

Which should have been fine, but it almost wasn't.  I decided to read through the document, not that I knew what I was looking for, and spotted a blank space where it looked like there should be something written in.  So Nick took it back to the vet who apologised and filled in the missing detail.  A mistake that could have cost us our crossing.

The next day we attended Boots the Chemist in Derby for our Covid tests.  These had also been rearranged and for some totally inexplicable reason, Nick's order had gone through correctly but mine hadn't.  So there we were in Boots, me almost in tears, Nick all tested and me wrestling with a pharmacy counter assistant who was clearly clueless about what to do about it.  She didn't seem to be bothered either.  A queue of other attendees was forming behind us and eventually, one very anxious hour and the intervention of the store manager later, I also got my test.  One hour after that the negative result appeared in our emails.  Relief is barely the word to describe how we felt as we went home to finish loading the car, the roof box and trailer.

The next day we left home at 5.30 am knowing that one or two-hour hold-ups on Britain's busy motorways are commonplace and allowing 6 hours for what should normally be a four-hour journey.  After only one major delay we arrived at Eurotunnel and for once everything went smoothly, largely due to us having done the homework and got all our paperwork in order.  
At the initial check-in we were asked about pets on board, given a pet hanger (a boarding pass that hangs on the windscreen mirror so that staff can see your travel details) and directed to the pet check-in area.  There, Daisy was checked in on her French passport and Hugo on his AHC.  It took the young woman on the desk about five seconds to scan the £158 worth of his certificate.  She then booked us onto the first available train, gave us another hanger and directed us to go straight through to customs.

At the UK border we were asked for passports and the Eurotunnel health declaration form.  Then we queued up at the French border control about one hundred yards further on.  This has always existed but in previous years there was either nobody on duty or we were waived straight through.  This time, our passports, Covid test and vaccination certificates were all checked, our passports stamped and we were on our way.  Not a single person showed any interest in the contents of our car, roof box or trailer and I seriously regretted throwing the last of our ham sandwiches in the bin on the UK side of customs!

We were on a train one hour earlier than our booking and arrived in France early afternoon.  We got to our house in France at 8.30pm.  It had been a very long day after a few very stressful weeks but the minute we opened the front door - it felt like we had never been away.

Well, almost............

29 June 2021

ON THIS DAY

 


Not long now!

25 June 2021

ON TENTERHOOKS

 

This is the view if you are first onto the train at Eurotunnel.


Well, all is in place but we are on tenterhooks.

The PM has put Spain and the Beleriacs on the green list but left France on the amber.  This means that the hordes of people desperate for a foreign holiday can now jet off to Spain, Majorca or Ibiza without having to quarantine on their way home - which was pretty impractical to do if all you have is a fortnight off work, not to mention the cost of all the PCR tests.  We pensioners are better placed as ten days at home on our return is more or less what we have got used to.

This is good news for us.  In the short term, France being on the amber list (with the quarantine, palaver and expense of testing on return) is diverting thousands of holidaymakers from France to elsewhere and might just mean that Macron keeps the border open.  

With the Johnson variant running rife through the UK now (we might as well credit him with the Delta variant as his incompetence is why we got it), the leaders on the other side of the Channel Tunnel are getting twitchy about letting us in again.  If they get too twitchy the best we could hope for is that they might insist on a quarantine period as well as the vaccination record and Covid tests.  The worst case is that they close the borders to travellers from the UK but the prospect of fewer Brits travelling to or through France might calm things down.  Putting France on the green list some time in September would be handy, so that we wouldn't have to fork out for all those tests and quarantine on our return.  

For now, not knowing if we'll be able to go when we planned is just too much.  

At a push we could make a run for it while we can, as long as we could rearrange the Covid tests and the AHC appointment for Hugo at a suitable time, both of which could be tricky.  There might be a run on Eurotunnel bookings as everyone else does the same but we'll take any crossing at all.  Anything.  Anything not to spend the next two weeks worrying about whether things will change.  We just want to get there and get all this stuff behind us for a while.

19 June 2021

ON THIS DAY

 


19th June 2019
Looking at my photo album I see that my brother was over for a holiday and we visited Château de L'islette.


There is much to see and plenty of shade at Château de L'islette.


Hugo was looking forward to his second birthday.


Daisy was making the most of her newly built perches.

They make jumping down from the barn roof less tricky and the view is great.

That evening we ate outdoors as usual.



I made a cherry flan for dessert using cherries from our own tree.



The blog may go to sleep for a while.  Next post from France I hope - we will have been away for exactly ten months.
Until then, bon weekend and night, night!