21 October 2021
13 October 2021
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.
30 September 2021
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Latecomers were seated at extra tables under the trees where they too remained nice and dry to enjoy their picnic.
9 July 2021
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
25 June 2021
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
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.
17 June 2021
Vet appointment for Hugo booked, to get his Animal Health Certificate, timing critical as it has to be dated within a ten day slot before travelling - tick.
Covid tests appointments booked , timing very critical, as they have to be done within 48 hours before travelling - tick.
Documents printed out and compiled - Covid vaccination records, French Engagements sur l'honneur, Eurotunnel Declarations - tick.
Travel insurance policy to cover 90 days and amber listed countries organised - tick.
Care and support put in place for Dad while we're away - tick.
Order dog food to be delivered chez nous as we're not allowed to take any into France.
Rearrange UK house insurance to cover for 90 days' absence.
Print out travel insurance policy and put EHICs in travel folder.
Order number plates for the car and trailer for taking a different car.
Write an inventory of items we're taking with us, the max allowable value being 300€ each.
Amount of time taken so far in organising all the above, hours and hours. Days in fact. Much of it is over and above what was required PB and BC (pre-Brexit and before Covid).
It will be worth every second once we're there.