29 November 2021


Exactly a week ago today (22nd November) we were sitting in our Derbyshire garden in pleasant sunshine, admiring the plants that were still in flower.  It was a mild 13°C.

Just a few days later it snowed.  Today (29th November) it barely reached 3°C.

Snow in November is not unusual in Derbyshire.  Typically we would get a significant fall of snow in late November then another in mid December.  The snow doesn't usually hang around for too long as temperatures go up and down and we haven't had a true white Christmas here for decades.

I thought it might be interesting to go back through my photos over the last ten years and see where we were and what the weather was doing at the end of each November.

November 2020.  We were stuck in the UK in lockdown, some friends were staying in our house in France where the weather was gorgeous.  They sent us this picture to prove it.

November 2019.  Pre-covid.  Our last normal year.  We returned to France for the last week of November to put the garden and house to bed for the winter.  It was cold but mostly sunny.

November 2018.  Our last week in France for the year and we had deep frosts.

November 2017.  We had moved house in the UK and were in the process of having a new kitchen.  The weather was bitterly cold, it snowed or rained constantly.  It was a miserable time.

November 2016.  This was our "annus horribilis".  Our beloved dog Lulu had died young in the summer, I had had my handbag stolen on holiday in Barcelona, the UK had voted to leave the EU and, although the weather in France was beautiful in late November, a few days after this picture was taken, Nick had his heart attack.

November 2015.  We were getting to grips with the reality of our new house in France.  The weather was cold but bright and sunny and we had new wood burning stoves installed.

November 2014.  We had been in our new French house for two months.  The weather was gorgeous all through the autumn and we ate outdoors most days.  Lulu loved it there.

November 2013.  One of our favourite walks in Derbyshire, any time of year.  I had retired.  Nick was still working but we were formulating ideas for a future life in France.

November 2012.  The weather turned, as it so often does at this time of year, from pleasant to simply awful in a matter of days.

The winter of 2012-13 was a really bad winter.  Heavy snowfalls one after the other.  Having to fight my way to work in it, over and over again, became more than I could bear so in the February I decided enough was enough.  I handed in my notice and gave up work for good three months later.  Having worked flat out for forty years I found I didn't miss it at all!

November 2011.

So here we are, exactly ten years ago.  A cold and frosty month, snow on the hills just a short distance away.  At this time we were both still working, we had a small holiday home in France and no idea what the next ten years would bring.

12 November 2021


Our house is completely surrounded by fields.

All the fields right next to the house are owned by a farmer who lives in the next village.  The set of fields next to them are owned by two other different farmers.  They all tackle the harvest at slightly different times, the furthest to the east being the first and ours being the last.  This means that we usually have a bit of a warning when it's about to happen chez nous.

This is something we need to know!

We need to know because it makes a lot of mess!  The first time it happened we were out and got home to find everything covered in a thick coating of dust and chaff.  Fortunately the weather is often quite breezy where we live and the wind will soon blow the worst of it away.  Unfortunately we found out the hard way how much dust it creates inside the house if we leave any windows open.  

On 1st August this year we heard the tell-tale rumble of our farmer's old and trusty combine harvester in the distance.  He always begins with the fields furthest from our house.  That gave us time to whizz round closing doors and windows and stacking garden furniture and other bits and pieces in the barn.  If you have ever wondered how long it takes to clean up chairs and tables and remove dust and straw from candle holders and tealights just ask!

By the time he approached the back of the house everything was put away in readiness and Daisy was ensconced on the highest shelf in the wardrobe!    

The machine makes an unbelievable amount of noise as it rattles past the back of the house within a few feet of our ancient walls, although I suspect it's also the vibration that makes Daisy go into hiding.  Hugo isn't usually bothered too much but we keep him indoors, as an eyeful of the horrible dust or chaff would not do him any good at all.

When we bought the house we understood that the fields were owned by the commune and that they might sell us a strip of land around the perimeter.  It turned out that the land is actually owned by our friendly farmer, right up to the hedge and walls themselves.   As it happens he leaves a wide pathway uncultivated around the house itself so that we have constant access to our walls and boundary.

We did ask if he might be willing to sell us a strip but he replied that for legal reasons he was unable to do so.  It's a mixed blessing.  It would have been nice to have a bit of space between us and the crops but more land would mean more work in looking after it.  Luckily the number of days per year when we have to batten down the hatches and take cover doesn't amount to very many and we have learned to live with it.  The peace and quiet that comes from being surrounded by farmland is wonderful and so many of the houses that we looked at before we bought this one had noisy neighbours and outdoor dogs that were constantly barking.

All the farmers seem to plant the same crop, alternating between wheat and rape every year.  This year was slightly different, some of the further fields being planted with sunflowers, a joy to behold.  

Bon weekend !!

10 November 2021


There was plenty of colour in the garden when we arrived in France on 30th June, a welcome surprise after such a long absence.

It's early November and, back in the UK, we are roughly half way through the twelve weeks that we have to be out of the Schengen area.

It's now almost dark by five o'clock in the afternoon, the trees in the wood behind our UK house are a riot of golden colours, we have had our flu jabs and our covid boosters.  Autumn is well set in and winter is lurking around the corner.  Nick has put the garden to bed, Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night are behind us and we have Christmas to look forward to.  Also two birthdays this week.

The house chez nous was surrounded by endless fields of sunflowers.

We both had a nasty reaction to our covid boosters.  For twenty four hours we were feeling washed out and shivery with aches and pains very similar to a dose of the flu.  It's the first time either of us has had any symptoms following our flu or covid vaccinations.  The jabs earlier in the year were Astra Zenica and the boosters were Pfizer.

This summer was definitely the year of the sunflower.

We have been kept busy since we got back to the UK and those six weeks have flown by.  Reoganising some things for my dad has taken up a lot of time.  We are in the process of moving him to a different  GP practice.  

It's fairly windy chez nous, good for drying the washing.  We rarely have to use the tumble drier.

Two years ago when Dad had to give up driving because of his eyesight he moved to a practice much nearer to his home, the theory being that he could get there on his scooter if necessary.  He was very happy with the service there and we were so impressed that we also registered at the same place.

Arriving in France at the start of July was too late to grow any of our own veg.  As always we received gifts from friends who had surplus courgettes!  We made a courgette and potato gratin and Nigella's pasta with courgettes with some of them.

After he moved into his assisted living apartment last October I called at the practice to notify them of his change of address and was told that he could no longer go there because he was now out of their catchment area.  I therefore had to choose between the two surgeries nearer to his flat.  The one that I knew was best was not allowing patients into the practice during lockdown - they were having to queue outside in all weathers.  So I felt we had to use the other one.  How bad can it be, I thought.

Although the weather was mixed we ate outdoors most of the time through the summer.

Well, the service has been terrible, they have messed up every single thing they have done for him, and the last straw was a couple of weeks ago when they changed their telephone system.  It took me two days of hanging on the redial button and about fifty phone calls to make him an appointment for a routine review.  I went to the surgery to try to make the appointment in person and there was a notice on the door saying that patients were not allowed inside to do this and they must phone in.  (I also took a letter asking if they realised how bad the new phone system was but the letter box was nailed shut.)  Goodness only knows what I would done if he had actually been ill and no wonder the emergency departments and ambulance services are inundated with people needing non-urgent treatment.  How can you blame people if they are ill and can't get a GP appointment?

 The garden was in a quite good state when we arrived.

So I'm moving him to the other one in town, where patients are now no longer made to queue outside - they are allowed inside the building into their warm and spacious waiting room - and the phone was answered after only two rings.  

The little garden centre in Descartes still had some plants for sale and they were at knock-down prices.

It's Dad's birthday today.  He's 93.  
It's also Nick's tomorrow.  He will be 67.  Where did the years go?

We plan to go back to France soon after Christmas or maybe New Year for a couple of weeks.  We will be able to finish putting the garden there to bed for the winter, clearing up the piles of leaves and getting them to the tip and generally making sure the house is as winter proof as it can be.  Only another six weeks or so to go and we can't wait !!


Changing the subject.  Nick and I, and most of the people I know, would have been sacked if they had been using their workplace and work computers for their other job.  Especially if the other job was to defend someone against an investigation by our employers.  Someone I know was sacked because he sent jokes to a friend on his work computer, it was the company rules.  It seems that every week a member of our corrupt and incompetent government is caught out doing something that is totally unacceptable and would be a sacking offence for ordinary citizens.  How low can they go?

2 November 2021


A relaxed evening chez nous in July.

In early September Dad's lady friend came to stay with him for a week.  We were in France so my brother dealt with all their shopping needs but life was made easier because they could eat lunch together in the ground floor restaurant.  Getting Dad to eat enough has been a challenge so knowing he gets a cooked meal for lunch every day is reassuring.

The "Royal Visit" was a great success. Dad perked up and was a lot more alert, some of which we attribute to his eating more snacks but also to having someone to talk to him all day (he doesn't talk back much).

Dad no longer handles his own money and I now pay the restaurant proprietor, Sharon, by bank transfer online.  After the departure of the lady friend Sharon sent me a text with the bill to settle up.  She also told me that Dad now has a "pudding* and a cuppa*" every day which so far we haven't been paying for.  That's good news I thought, a pudding every day will help to stop the weight loss and extra fluid is a bonus.  I went into online banking, adjusted the four weekly payment to include the puddings and the drinks in future, and settled up for the puddings and drinks supplied so far, sending Sharon a text with my detailed calculations.

Three weeks later Sharon sent a text to say Dad no longer has a pudding.  It's as we thought, he ate one every day that week in September to please his lady friend!  I did the complicated sums and adjusted the next standing order online for his restaurant bill to include the "pudding overpayment".  I sent a text to Sharon explaining in detail how I had arrived at the amounts paid.

Shortly after that Dad told us he never has a cup of tea with his lunch.  I questioned him closely.  He's sure they never bring him one, he never gets offered one and he never asks for one.  He said he doesn't want one.  Dreading an awkward conversation with Sharon and the palaver of working out the sums again I checked with him several times. 

My brother was due to visit him last Sunday and eat with him in the restaurant.  He was going to observe the routine and clarify the situation regarding the supply of drinks.  Unfortunately Dad forgot he was coming, went down early for his lunch and was back in his flat by the time my brother arrived!

So, I questioned Dad one more time.  I timed my phone call for when he would be back in his flat straight after his lunch.  Did he have a cup of tea?  Does he ever have a cup of tea?  Do they offer him a cup of tea?  The answer to all three questions was no.  At £1 a cup it doesn't sound much but it mounts up and I feel it needs to be right.  The implication that we were being charged for something that they were actually not supplying niggles me.  Harrumph.

I composed a difficult text to Sharon, deciding to write off the overpayment but make future payments correct.  Having done that I settled down in front of my laptop to do some Dad related paperwork.  Five minutes later the phone rang, Nick answered it and it was Dad.  "I've been thinking about the cups of tea."

My ears pricked up and I had a sense of dread.  "They do give me a cup of coffee every day instead."

Nick found me crumpled in front of the computer, head in hands.  What on earth was I going to say to Sharon without looking like a neurotic and a complete idiot.  Going to my phone to compose an excruciatingly embarrassing apology I noticed that luckily, I had forgotten to press "send".  

*For anyone who is confused, a pudding is a dessert.  Other terms for it include "afters", "sweet" and simply "pud".  A "cuppa" is the word normally used for for a cup (or mug) of tea.  A cup of coffee would normally be referred to as "a coffee".