19 May 2022

BLOGGER'S END?

For reasons I don’t understand, I can no longer access my blog, create a new post or read my reading list on my laptop, only on my iPad.

I haven’t been able to leave comments on other blogs using my iPad either for some time.

Anybody know what’s going on and how to fix it?

15 May 2022

A CATCH UP AND THAT'S ANOTHER WEEK GONE.

The lack of posts recently is in direct proportion to how busy I have been lately, managing Dad's needs from afar, mainly.  My brother stays in our UK house for half of each week in order to be on hand to deal with all the miscellaneous problems that arise and, of course, to visit him most days.

Monday.  Nick has been back in the UK for the last two weeks and Monday was his last full day there.

Having calculated that each return trip for both of us with the pets now costs around £750 we decided to travel back and forth individually by air which is much, much cheaper.  It also means that both houses are left empty for less time and we can spend more time with Dad overall, albeit only one of us at a time.  

On Monday afternoon Nick arrived at Dad's flat at 1.20 pm to remind him that he was going to get a phone call from the memory clinic.  This is the first step in assessing Dad's degree of dementia and ten minutes later the phone rang right on time.  The call lasted for over an hour and Nick described it as both hilarious and tragic.

Dad could count backwards from twenty but couldn't do simple sums.  For a man who was a talented  engineer and mathematician this is so sad.  He knew his date of birth and where he was born but didn't know where he lived, what day or even month it was.  He had a guess at February.  And so it went on.  

The interesting part is that when asked if he was happy and content he said yes.  If he had any problems he said no.  The nurse asked him about his health and well being and Dad reported no problems at all.  Nick intervened and explained about his medical issues and that he avoided any socialising or contact with other residents as much as possible, etc. etc.

This insight into his perspective on his own life was very illuminating.  Like the person told me a couple of weeks ago, they don't realise their quality of life is poor and could be better, it is what it is.

On Tuesday Nick travelled back to the UK.  As he was about to go through the barrier to check in all hell let loose and chaos ensued.  There was a bomb scare resulting from the discovery of an abandoned suitcase.

The whole airport was evacuated, planes were left circling for hours and not allowed to land.  Nick and hundreds of other passengers had to wait outside in the car park along with staff and flight crews while car loads of heavies arrived, armed police, ordinary police and, eventually, the bomb squad.

It was a false alarm.  Nick's flight was delayed but by only an hour and a half.  After picking him up from the airport we finally fell into bed at 1 am.

Wednesday morning, having had only a few hours sleep, we were up early.  ("At the crack of sparrow fart" as my mum would have said.)  Nick was playing golf and I had to get the cat to the vet in Loches for 8.30 am for a small procedure requiring a general anesthetic.  My plan was to meet a friend in town at 9.30 for coffee, then do some food shopping and maybe having a spot of lunch before collecting the cat "au debut de l'après-midi", which means as soon as the clinic reopens after their two hour lunch, at 2 pm.

Some things in France never change, it's all part of the charm of living here.


The vet scuppered my plans by telling me that I needed to bring a cheque to send with the biopsy to the lab.  

Rats!  The cheque book was back at the house, so instead of shopping I would have to drive all the way home and back again.  There are other things in France that never change either and one of them is cumbersome processes that they don't tell you about until the last minute.

On collecting the cat I was handed a parcel to take to the post office.  It seems it was up to me to post the biopsy tissue sample to the lab.  Oh, and the cheque wasn't needed after all.  The vet was proud to tell me that their internal processes had taken care of the payment.  I pay them and they pay the lab.  

Rats again!  I could have done my shopping and had a nice lunch after all.

Wednesday was a hot day, reaching 29°C in the afternoon.  On collecting the cat I set off home, deciding that I could call at the post office to post the biopsy to the lab on my way, the only problem being the heat.

The cat hates car journeys and makes a lot of noise, which becomes even louder if there is any other noise in the car, such as a radio, conversation, road noise, anything in fact, including the fan for the air conditioning.  Our journeys with the cat have to be done in total silence, the only person being allowed to make any noise at all being her and by jove she can do a lot of that.  

A cat still dopey from anesthetic can make a lot more noise than you would expect and this became even louder when the car's air conditioning came on.  She was clearly distressed so I had to turn it off.  We had to bake or I would die of earache and the cat would be distraught.  

There was more of a problem at the post office.  There is absolutely no shade in the car park there, so I had no choice but to take the cat basket into the post office with me.  Nobody batted an eyelid at the woman carrying a cat into the post office to hand over a parcel.  The assistant looked at the address on the parcel, gave me a sympathetic look and wished me "bon courage".  I didn't know how to say in French that the biopsy wasn't for me, it was for the cat.

The afternoon ended well.  News came that Dad's care is to be transferred to the on site care team where he lives, which will be a huge improvement and relief to us all.  Well, to me, Nick and my brother, the only three people who look after his needs.  

The care from the external care agency we have been using is shambolic and disorganised and we will be glad to see the back of them.  Getting his care moved has taken a good deal of pushing and shoving which at last has paid off.

Last weekend Nick and my brother installed a spy camera in Dad's flat after one or two strange inexplicable things had happened.

Wednesday evening I peeked at the spy camera about 10 pm.  We were bushed and ready to go to bed by then.  Dad was up and dressed and having his breakfast - it was 9 pm UK time.  The camera revealed that he had gone to bed about 5pm and got up again, presumably thinking it was morning.  His understanding of time, along with so many things, has left him.

I phoned him.

"Hello Dad, what are you up to?"

"I'm having my breakfast."

"Well it's nine o'clock in the evening not morning.  You should be in bed."

We saw on camera that he put the phone down on me, went back to the table, finished his bran flakes then shuffled off to bed, turning out the lights as he left the room. 

Thursday, Friday and Saturday whizzed by in a blur of activity, most of which trivial and not worthy of a mention here.  Except that keeping Daisy indoors has been a major challenge.  She soon recovered from the anesthetic and was not impressed by having to wear the cone.  This is essential if she is not to scratch the wound where the biopsy was taken but it has already been modified - a bit cut out so she can actually eat and drink from her bowl and a large split resulting from her crashing into furniture with some force now held together with sticky tape.

Today is Sunday and for some this is considered to be the last day of the previous week, for others the first day of the next week.  Daisy seems resigned to her confinement and is accepting the cone stoically if somewhat grudgingly, her repertoire of black looks cast in our direction in full use.  It will be a miracle if we get through the next week until the stitches come out unscathed.

Then, once the vet knows what the lump is, we then have to decide whether or not to have it removed which means going through the whole process all over again....

That's it for now..........

12 April 2022

UPS AND DOWNS

We had a lovely day out on Saturday.  Lunch in one of our favourite restaurants in Chinon with friends followed by wine tasting at one of our favourite wineries on their open weekend.



Tulips by the river in Chinon.

I was driving, Nick was doing the tasting, and with a carful of people my mobile was in my bag in the boot of the car, nestled amongst coats and wine boxes.  

Consequently I didn’t hear it ring just after 6pm French time. There was no voicemail message.

When we got home there was also a missed call on the landline from my brother at 6.20pm.

This way through the winery.

I phoned the number on my mobile and left a message to say I was returning their call.  It was the care agency's out of hours service.  I failed to connect but moments later I received a text.  "We have spoken to your brother and all is sorted."

This had all the hallmarks of a problem or emergency to do with Dad's teatime visit from the carer.  The one hour time difference meant this was all happening at 5pm UK time.  Alarm bells started ringing.

I spoke to my brother.

It seems that when the carer doing the teatime visit attempted to gain entry to the building using the security phone that calls Dad's flat, there was no answer.  Because he didn’t answer she couldn’t get in.

There are only a small number of reasons why Dad would not respond to a call on the security phone.  He could be out, which is very unlikely, or he could be in the bathroom, which is possible, or he could be unable to get to the phone because he is ill, unconscious or dead.  Or he could have gone to bed and been fast asleep.

There are other ways that a carer can gain access if the resident does not respond to the security phone.  To get into the building they can use the "call manager" button on the external keypad so that the onsite team who are there 24/7 can let them in.  Or they can use the security code for the keypad, which all the care agencies have.

Instead, the carer on Saturday teatime opted for flagging down a passing resident to let her in but then when she finally got upstairs to Dad's flat there was also no answer when she rang the door bell.  She phoned the agency for help and spoke to the person handling the out of hours service.

There is a key safe by the front door for the flat so that if Dad doesn't answer or let them in they can get in.  I gave the code for it to the agency when his care package was first arranged.

So the care agency have all of this information yet the carer on the day didn't have it.  A second text from the person on duty confirmed that she didn't have the codes in her paperwork either and therefore couldn't pass it on to the carer.  So she phoned me then my brother instead. She was "sorry for the inconvenience".

If you look out of your window, you will see a puff of smoke in the distance.  It will be the steam coming out of my ears.

All of this shows that, no matter how hard you try, systems that depend on other people doing their jobs properly will fail.

We might be in the middle of France, but there is no escape from the aggravation and worry that comes with looking after the needs of a very old person.  Even when you think things are going well, other people will inevitably let you down.

Luckily, on this occasion, my brother had not yet left our house, where he is living several days a week, to go home which is over an hour's drive away.  He popped round to the flat to find the carer had already left Dad's front door where she could get no reply and was on her way to her next client.  

Dad was fast asleep in bed.  It was 5.20pm, he'd had no tea and was blissfully snoring through all the drama.

This morning, I have spoken to the care agency and let them know that I am more than disappointed with the service.  They had all the information on file to allow the carer to get into Dad's flat and check he was ok, but the carer didn’t.  He could have been in need of an ambulance or dead.  FFS the carer didn't even have the gumption (or training) to pull one of the dozens of emergency cords that are all over the place either.  That would have alerted the 24/7 onsite team and they could have let her into the flat.

I feel duty bound to look for another care agency.  They might turn out to be no better but I don't see why I should reward this bunch of incompetents with my continued custom.  There have been too many mistakes and this is the one that could have been crucial.

31 March 2022

FUNNY WEATHER

 


We went to Loches for a garage visit yesterday teatime, did a spot of shopping and called for a pizza at our favourite troglodyte restaurant.  I took this picture of the sun setting above the clouds over Ciran on the way home.

Our back garden in the UK this morning*.

Incredibly, earlier in the week snow was forecast for here tomorrow.  That forecast has been moderated to freezing temperatures overnight rising to 5°C during the day.

Last weekend we were basking in 23° and having our first bbq of the year!

*My brother is currently staying in our house in the UK for much of the week while ever we're away so that he can be nearer to my dad to keep an eye on him.  His house is 60 miles away, a motorway journey that can vary in time from one to three hours depending on volume of traffic and, more than anything, diversions for road works and crashes.  Such is route planning in the UK.  

Our house is normally a five minute drive from Dad's flat.  When the road becomes blocked by traffic we have discovered ways around it, often a detour of several miles that can take much longer but better than just sitting in a queue.

Interestingly, my brother said the other day that he now understands why we grumble so much about the traffic in Derbyshire.  Apparently he used to think we were exaggerating, but now that he is living there for most of the week he gets it.  Living on the outskirts of a heavily populated area with a major motorway going through the middle of it is a recipe for travel misery.  Every time there is a crash traffic gets diverted right through the outer small towns and villages, through the middle of the main town and out through the smaller towns and villages on the other side, causing huge traffic jams and choked roads everywhere as people try to find other ways to get where they're going.  Much of this motorway is "smart motorway", where the hard shoulder has been sacrificed to create a fourth lane to ease the congestion.  They are death traps and we feel we are taking our life in our hands every time we use one.  Most of the fatal crashes involving breakdowns occur on these motorways and they're still being built.

What's also being built is thousands of new houses on huge housing estates all around the outskirts of the town.  Thousands of acres of farmland are being developed and as these houses gradually become occupied it's already noticeable that all the roads in the area are getting busier and busier and the system fails completely when there is a problem such as a road blocked by a breakdown.  It only takes the road to be blocked in one direction because of a broken down bus or lorry for traffic flow to come to a stop and cause chaos.  Frustration causes angry drivers to drive badly and more accidents follow.

The road outside our French house has been busy this morning.  At least four cars and a tractor have passed in the last half hour!  And we're expecting the bin lorry any minute now!

17 March 2022

GRUESOME!

On Sunday we left home in the UK at 4.45am and arrived chez nous in France just after 6pm, a straightforward journey of just over twelve hours.  We even stopped for a burger and chips at Burger King in Yvetot on the way.

All seemed good when we arrived, the heating on and the house nice and warm.  Our house guardians had told us there was a problem with the basin tap in the ensuite so we were prepared for that.  What we weren't prepared for was this:



The living room had had an invasion of mice.  The little bar stewards had nibbled the covers on all three sofas and excavated a hole in a seat cushion to extract nesting material.  They had also eaten a path up both of a pair of curtains  and consumed a whole 5kg bag of Hugo's dog food.  We think that was probably the cause of the trouble, leaving plenty of food for them to eat.

After last year’s experience we had stored all the scatter cushions in big plastic crates so they were not damaged.  Unfortunately the mouse activity also included upstairs.  There were mouse droppings all over the house, two bedspreads had holes in them and they had attacked the duvet on the spare bed.

This was not the welcome we had been hoping for!

However, after the winter we had had we were not to be ground down by the activity of a few pesky mice!  More like an army of mice as it turns out, but we set to and hoovered up as much debris as we could, remade the bed with fresh linen just in case and retired for the night.

On Monday the weather was glorious so we sorted through the damage, washed everything we could and got it on the line to dry in the sunshine and light breeze.  We dusted, cleaned and hoovered everywhere until there was no trace of the invaders, Nick cut the grass while the weather was fine, and at half past four the elusive gardener turned up to discuss our gardening requirements.  We said that now we were here we could manage the grass and hedges ourselves so all we wanted him to do was trim the lime tree.  After he’d gone we dashed up to Loches to buy a new tap for the en-suite wash basin.

On Tuesday I went to Ikea in Tours to buy new covers for all three sofas while Nick fixed the tap and by Wednesday evening peace was restored in the house and all was calm!

Well, almost as there are a few places where evidence of the invasion still lurk but they will be dealt with by lunchtime today!

10 March 2022

GARDENING

With only three more sleeps to go we are in a more well prepared state than usual for our long drive to our house in France.

We have a very early start on Sunday, so early that it hardly seems worth going to bed on Saturday night.  Still, some rest will help to steel us for the road, even if we don't actually get any sleep.  We have to be at the tunnel in Folkestone by 9.20am to get our train.  That means leaving home at silly o'clock because, even though it's a Sunday, we still have to leave extra time for hold ups on the motorways - crashes or long diversions for road works.  In the past we have missed the train for both of those reasons.  With a bit of luck and a smooth journey we will arrive at the tunnel early and get on an earlier train.  

The photo above was taken in early spring three years ago and the lime tree is much bigger now.  It desperately needs trimming - pollarding.  There has been no sign of the new gardener.  We had asked him to do the tree plus a final cut of the grass and hedges last autumn.  We have periodically reminded him that the work needs doing and he has replied to say that the weather has been unsuitable.  Hmmmmm........  We were beginning to think that maybe he doesn't really want the job and that if it hasn't been done by the time we arrive we should look for someone else.  Then, out of the blue, he has arranged to come and discuss our requirements when we get back.  So we're meeting up with him the day after we arrive.

For the future we think that as long as we can get to France in early March each year, and do a late autumn visit to put the garden to bed, we can probably manage the garden without any help.  The tree is of course a different matter but at least it's only once every five years or so.


Our friend Susan told us that the fungus growing rather attractively on the tree is honey fungus which is bad news and will kill the tree eventually.  Sure enough I heard a Gardener's Question Time programme recently where this was one of the topics of discussion and it really is destructive to many plants in any garden.  Susan's advice was to plant another tree and get it going in readiness for the demise of the existing one and we think we know where we would put it.  The lime tree gives essential shade to the house during the hottest part of the year when it is in full leaf so we can't contemplate not having one at all, aside from the fact that it's such a beautiful thing.  So one of our first jobs will be to look into the planting of a new lime tree.  


As always we are leaving the UK just as the garden here begins to get some colour but we know that when we arrive in France there should already be plenty of daffodils in flower and the tulips not far behind them.  We have missed all that for two years and this time we are really looking forward to it.

Reading Susan's post about hares today (see here) has reminded me that another of the many, many things we're looking forward to is leaning over the back fence with our binoculars to see the antics of the wildlife.  There will no doubt be hares, deer, foxes and, if we're very lucky, wild boar.  Add to that the owls, the swallows and the bat formation team in our own garden that entertain us every night, it's a busy place to be!

8 March 2022

I WAS DOING OK UNTIL.............


The news from Ukraine is so awful that I can't bear to watch the TV.  Facebook is full of it too.  I don't really understand what's happening except that a lot of people are being driven from their homes or killed by Russian missiles.

The feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it is almost unbearable.  My usual strategy of coping with crises far away is to operate a "close to home" philosophy.  Because there is nothing I can do to improve the plight of these poor people, I can do the best I can to improve life for those around me.  A kind of "charity begins at home" concept.  Being miserable because of the plight of others achieves nothing.  Staying cheerful and considerate of nearest and dearest, friends and neighbours, fellow shoppers and motorists, is all I can do to save the world.  I can't save the rest of it all by myself.

I was doing ok with this until this morning when my eyes fell upon on an image online.  A group of people were lying in the gutter, some dead, some injured I presume.  Ukranian soldiers were bending over one of the bodies.  The image was almost in monochrome except for one item.  A bright green cat basket on the ground in the middle of the carnage**.

These people, possibly a family, but a group of people anyway, were fleeing their home on foot, carrying as many of their belongings as they could, including their cat.  They were attacked by the Russians as they fled.

My first thought was "what about the cat?".  Was it still alive in its cage?  Would somebody check if it was ok, take it home, look after it?  Or at least let it out of its cage and allow it the chance to find safety somewhere and fend for itself?  Or would it be left in its cage to starve to death?

I was doing ok until the cat basket image.  Now I will be haunted by the image of the bright green cat basket, waking me in the middle of the night.  It took something like the plight of a family who cared about what happened to their cat to bring home the horror of what is going on in Ukraine.

Please, someone wake up to the evil that is Putin and shoot him.  How else will the misery end for these poor people and their pets?

** Someone told me today that the basket contained a small dog.  The family comprised a mother and two children who were all killed, the father who was injured and taken to hospital, and the dog who ran away when the cage was opened.  All of which is just too inhumane to contemplate.

7 March 2022

NOT LONG NOW!

 

Only six more sleeps and we'll be in France !!

It will have been a full six months since we were there.  It's been a torrid winter, one way or another, but Dad is settled and we're keeping fingers crossed that he stays that way.

We have discovered that Ryanair fly from Limoges to three UK airports reasonably close to home, with flights to one or the other every day of the week.  That means if there's a crisis I can be back very quickly, which is very reassuring.

This time next week we'll be waking up in France.  I'm making a list of first jobs to do when we get there and it's getting very long!

À bientôt !!

2 March 2022

A SPARKLING AFTERNOON TEA


For my Big Birthday last year our friends Gaynor and Tim gave me a gift voucher for afternoon tea for two.


There were dozens of places to choose from to take the afternoon tea but one stood out from the crowd.  It's local and I have known it all my life.
The New Bath Hotel at Matlock Bath.
It was built in the late eighteenth century and the exterior is little changed.


The hotel pool, known as the Matlock Bath Lido, is where I learned to swim.  My school took coaches of children to the pool each week for swimming lessons in the unheated outdoor pool.  Brrrr......!!


As soon as I was old enough to work I got a job at the New Bath Hotel, working weekends and school holidays.  My very first job at the age of fifteen was to sell entrance tickets and ice creams from this kiosk to visitors who came to swim in the hotel's pool.



Many years later I became a regular user of the pool as a member of the local sub aqua club.  Matlock is about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK but the depth of the pool and its cold water were ideal for training in diving skills wearing a wetsuit.



Overlooking the pool was a building called the "new wing".  It was built in the 1960's to provide more bedrooms, each one with its own bathroom which, in those days, was a very new idea!



The back of the original part of the building shows how the earlier rooms were arranged.  Bars, restaurant and lounges on the ground floor, bedrooms and separate bathrooms on the two upper floors.


The job I did most often at the hotel was as a chambermaid.  I loved it.

One of my tasks was to serve "early morning tea" to the guests who wanted an early start.  It was my job to get them all to the rooms on this floor, the first floor, between 6.30 and 8 am.



Early morning teas done, I would then begin the work of the chambermaid.
This corridor had more bedrooms in the 1960's and just two bathrooms!

The room at the end of the corridor was where I had an encounter with the hotel ghost.  The corridor is much brighter and lighter now.  
I wonder if the ghost is still there!






The hotel closed and remained empty and unloved for a few years but has been given a new lease of life by new owners.  It's stylish and comfortable now.



The tea was lovely.  No crusts!



A huge thank you to Gaynor and Tim for my birthday present and for the afternoon spent in a place where I have so many happy memories.  

1 March 2022

ANNOYING ADVERTS

Is it just me or do others find adverts splattered all over blog posts annoying?  Especially over blogs dedicated to cooking?  Some really nice blogs are blighted by adverts.

This advert appeared in a blog post with a recipe I was interested in.
I didn't get past the advert to look at the recipe.
(I used my new skill at taking screenshots for this picture !!)

It’s especially annoying if an advert obscures part of the text, which seems to happen frequently.  In one of the blogs I try to read an advert is always placed over the list of ingredients.  I can get round this by using the "reader view" on my iPad but on other blogs the reader view omits either the ingredients or the method, so that I’m obliged to battle through all the adverts for ear wax removal or oven cleaners to see them.  No thanks!

It’s really annoying if I’m reading on my iPad and accidentally click on an advert which loads something that I have no interest in whatsoever and then have to go about getting rid of it.  More often than not I give up on the blog as well.  Those jumping images and mini video clips are too distracting.

The economics of it are curious.  I wonder how many sales results from these annoying adverts and how much income for the blog?  Presumably quite a lot or nobody would risk losing frustrated readers like me by doing it! 

Oh for the days when if I wanted to buy anything I would get the bus into town and walk down the high street to find it.  Window shopping along the way, popping into the café to enjoy a coffee and an eccles cake before getting the bus back home.  Being constantly bombarded with adverts for stuff I'm never going to need will never compare to that!  Hey ho!

28 February 2022

WHO KNEW?


Well fancy that!
If I hadn't watched the "Trigger Point" serial on TV I would never have known what a "screen shot" was, let alone how to take one!
You learn something every day and I'm sure that one day it will come in handy!

26 February 2022

SOON…


Another horrible journey to Salford and back yesterday and we have our visas.

The weather was fine this time but the UK roads are, without a doubt, awful.  Dodging the potholes and sunken manholes, diving into the hedge bottom to avoid oncoming lorries and range rovers, bouncing along the badly maintained bumpy lanes in the countryside and grappling with the traffic in the towns, not to mention the endless roadworks - huge swathes of road turned into single lane carriageways and causing massive inconvenience to motorists - and no visible signs of any work going on.

Over two hours each way to pick up our passports, the whole process taking up two days of our lives.  Another Brexit farce, a huge expense and thank goodness we don’t have to do it again until next year.

With just two weeks to go before we leave for the first tranche of our six months in France we will be busy, busy until then.  There is much work to do to get the house and garden straight here to leave it for a while and a few loose ends to tie up regarding my father's care.  Then we're off.

We came close, very close, to transferring my father to a care home but in the end have bought in carers to visit him twice a day.  They give him his medication in the morning and something to eat at teatime, adding to the people who already do his cleaning, shopping and laundry, plus other services, and he's fine.  The last year would have been so much better for him and us if we had put all this in place months ago, putting our foot down instead of pussyfooting around it, because in the end he’s accepted all of it.  He's taken to his new life of leisure, where someone else does everything for him, like a duck to water!

We reckon he will run out of money in about three years but for now he's safe, warm, well fed and happy and we're free to get on with our lives.

I'm resisting the temptation to write anything about Ukraine.  Others are saying plenty and I can’t think of anything I can add that would make a difference.  Disgust and outrage not only for Putin but also for the leaders of our own country for making it a safe haven for Russian dirty money whilst not making Ukranian refugees welcome.  

For now I'm very much looking forward to being back in France, to sunshine, friends and those beautiful smooth, quiet and delightful country roads that surround our own little patch of paradise.

16 February 2022

DEAR JACOB

Dear Jacob,

One EU rule that I would like you to get rid of is the one where the French no longer allow us to freely visit our holiday cottage in France.

Something called the Schengen rule means we can no longer arrive on 1st April and leave on 30th September, even though the French say we are still allowed to spend six months there!

If we arrive on 1st April we have to leave on 30th June and can’t return until 1st October! What’s the point of that? Nobody buys a holiday cottage in France to spend the winters there! We certainly didn’t when we bought ours in 2007!

We have managed to get round the problem by applying for a six month visa but this is a huge palaver. There are only three centres in the UK where you can go to apply, Edinburgh, Manchester and London, and yes, you have to go in person, you can't apply online! 

It takes hours of work to gather and photocopy all the paperwork, get extra passport photos, hours to get there, the UK roads are in atrocious condition especially around Manchester AND it costs a small fortune. 
On top of that we now have to buy animal health certificates at £170 each for each pet every time we cross the channel!

This ridiculous rule by the French is so unfair when we are going to spend our money for six months in their country.  We used to be able to just book the ferry, take the passports and go.  Now it’s an enormous expense and hassle.

It seems the only solution is to become residents of France and pay our tax to them instead of Boris.
 
Ironically there are no reciprocal restrictions on French residents who have a holiday cottage in the UK!  They can come and go as they wish as long as they don’t exceed six months, which is unfair and ridiculous. The Schengen rules only apply to us!

I would be most grateful if you could do something about this unfair sanction against the British by the French.

Yours sincerely,
Jean.

15 February 2022

A VALENTINE'S DAY OUTING IN SALFORD QUAYS.

One of our favourite walks, around the château in Le Grand-Pressigny, March 2019.

The last time we were in France in March was two years ago, in 2019.  That year we managed our usual pattern of visits, arriving mid March and not finally leaving until the end of November, having spent only 180 days in France by returning for a couple of visits back to the UK over the year.

Just to refresh readers' minds, that is no longer possible due to the Schengen 90/180 rule where we can still spend 180 days in France but only 90 at a time.  It's not quite that simple but in reality, however you look at it, the 90/180 rule means that you have to effectively swap three summer months for three winter ones.  Gone are the days when anyone who has a house in France can legitimately turn up there on 1st April and leave on 30th September.

The best way round this is to get a visa.  A six month visa allows a person to come and go as they please over a six month period.  That then gets added onto the Schengen allowance at the end of the visa period, the only stipulations being that you have to physically leave the country when the visa expires before returning and, of course, you can only stay for 180 days in total. 

It's the best option we have at the moment for doing what we did before Brexit, but involves a lot of extra expense and hassle.  There are three centres where you can apply for the visa, Edinburgh, Manchester (Salford) and London.

Having spent hours, if not days, searching for, gathering and photocopying all the necessary documents for our "interview" at TLS, the people who handle such things for the French Embassy, we set off for Salford Quays yesterday morning.  

The journey there was truly horrible.  The weather was atrocious and could only have been worse if it was snowing.  The traffic was awful, the condition of most of the roads is appalling and there were numerous sets of road works.  For the 52 mile journey it took us over two hours.

We arrived early, having allowed nearly four hours, just in case, which is what you have to do when you go anywhere in the UK these days.  We parked in a car park just by the Salford Quays tram station and right next to a pub called the Matchstick Man.  The TLS centre is literally a two minute walk away.  (Five minutes if a tram arrives as you have to walk across the tram lines.)  Our appointment was at 1.30pm so we decided we may as well have lunch there.  We had the worst cheeseburger we've ever had anywhere.  I think next time we'll take a picnic and eat it in the car!

The "interview" turned out to be just an exchange of documents.  We waited in a hall something like a post office or bank and looked for our reference number to come up on a screen.  In fact more like when you wait for something you've ordered from Ikea!

We were held up by the other people who were already being dealt with.  Every single booth occupied was dealing with someone who was struggling with lack of the correct documents and they ranged from the ill prepared to the totally clueless.  Waiting in the hall we could hear a lot of what was said and the lack of preparedness in some cases was shocking.  The staff deserve a medal for their patience!

This did not help us feel any more confident that we had got things right as we sat there nervously waiting our turn and wondering what we might have got wrong.  The English couple at the counter next to us had been there for an hour by the time we arrived and were still there when we left.

Thanks to Nick's superb preparation, we sailed through.  We handed over the relevant documents in the order they were asked for, first Nick then me, and left the whole lot, and our passports, with them to be sent to the French Embassy in London.  There the decision is made whether or not to grant us a visa and the passports are returned to Salford for us to collect, with or without the visa.

The centre no longer offers a courier service to return the passports so we have to make the journey there and back again to fetch them.

On leaving the building we found that the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.  We took a different route back which was about ten miles longer but much more scenic, less fraught and took about the same amount of time.  Now we know where we're going we'll use that route next time.

A friend once told me that the only time anything is hard to do is the first time.  After that it becomes easier and easier.  I think we were discussing serial murderers at the time but it's very true and applies to most things in life, I have found.

I am going to write to the Right Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, who has been given the post of Minister for Brexit Opportunities, and put forward my idea for one of the bits of EU red tape he has asked readers of the Sun newspaper to identify to see if he can remove them.  The red tape that the French have obliged us to conform to that denies us the freedom to visit our French house when we please and requires a huge palaver and expense in getting a visa.  I wonder if he will reply!

If anyone else would like to write to him the address is:  jacob.reesmogg.mp@parliament.uk

The article in the tabloid paper can be seen here:   https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/17603553/sun-readers-tell-me-of-eu-regulation-abolished/

12 February 2022

GETTING READY

Apéros on the deck chez nous soon after we arrived last summer.

Not long now.  Until our visa application meeting that is.  It's on Monday, 14th February.  Getting it over with will be the best Valentine's gift to each other, ever, I think.

For the last few days the dining room has been under a sea of paperwork as we gathered together all the documents we will need to take with us to the meeting.

These include:

The application form, passports, extra passport photos, a declaration of purpose of our stay, decalration of our socio-economic situation, marriage, divorce and birth cerificates, bank statements both French and English, proof of income, proof of ownership of our French house, French utility bills, proof of health insurance.

Every item has to be provided in original forms and with photocopies.  Each of us has to have a copy of everything in our own dossier.  No doubt having done it once and, hopefully, succeeded in being granted a visa, next time will be easier.  At least we haven't had to do it all in French!

The visa itself will cost us £117 each.  We have opted for a six month visa and this will allow us to spend up to 180 days in France over a nine month period.  This is because the Schengen allowance is on top of the visa period.

I was pleased to see this confirmed in actual words on the Government website here:

The relevant paragraph says this:  

·        if you stay in France with a residence permit or long-stay visa, this does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit

On top of the cost of the visas we have spent another £80 or more on certified copies of marriage certificates as we couldn't find the originals.  Another £38 on photographs, passport style.  (We weren't happy with the first set so got a second set done, just in case.)

All this so that we can come and go to France and live in our French house just as we did PB (Pre-Brexit).

We are hugely grateful to our friend Gaynor who paved the way for us in being the first of our friends to go through this process.  She gave us many hints, tips and pointers.  We are also very grateful for the people who write a couple of facebook pages on owning a second home in France and how to avoid the pitfalls of the visa process.

Nick has done 99% of the work for our visit.  I have been solely preoccupied with arranging care for my dad, who has gone downhill rapidly over the last three months.  His mental capacity is now very limited and he forgets to eat or thinks he has already eaten.  The same goes for his ablutions and taking of medication.  All of these things were being managed by me until carers could be engaged to take over.  We are using agency carers and I'm not completely happy with them.  I suppose they get most of it right most of the time so that's the best I can hope for. The crisis in Social Care is making life very difficult and beggars can't be choosers.  

The facility where he lives has on-site carers but they are short staffed and have no extra capacity.  If he was applying for a flat now he would not be accepted because they do not have the staff to look after him - he was much more able and independent when he moved there eighteen months ago.  Lucky for us that we encouraged him to go down that route when he did.  We are currently addressing his problems with daily carers visiting him in his own home.  There are one or two serious issues which may lead us to place him in permanent residential care (a care home) if there is a crisis and the bought in care doesn't adequately deal with it.

The sixty four thousand dollar question is - when will we be able to go to France?  We have asked for a start date for our visas of 7th March as that, added to our Schengen allowance, will give us all the time we want for this year.  Nick may well go on ahead with Daisy and Hugo to get the house open and gardening started, if I'm still trying to get Dad settled.

As always, we will have to wait and see!  Fortunately the requirement for testing for travel has been removed and that's a blessing - more expense and hassle that just adds to the whole process being a nightmare.

Tomorrow we will recheck the paperwork all over again, check our route and decide when to leave the house in order to get to our appointment in good time.  As always in the UK you have to factor in extra time for traffic hold-ups, accidents, road works and general volume of traffic.  A Monday morning is never a good time to travel anywhere.

Now that it's within our grasp I feel my excitement and longing increasing all over again, just like it has in previous years.  It's been masked so far this year because of my dad; I seem to spend every waking hour thinking about him, trying to work out how I can improve his situation and how to navigate the complicated dealings with all the agencies and organisations involved.  Without a doubt, looking after the needs of a very old person is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

23 January 2022

ONE SPACE OR TWO?


Just a catch-up.

We have completed our online visa application and have an interview in Manchester on 14th February.  We have asked for a start date of 7th March but have no real idea of when we will actually be going to France.

One of the reasons for not going sooner is a forthcoming wedding for which I have been asked to do some baking and to make the bride’s necklace.  Both a total joy to do.  The dining room has turned into a jewellery factory and the living room is disappearing under mountains of recipe books.


I’ve done a dozen necklace designs for the bride to choose from and Daisy has taken a keen interest in the beading!  I have discovered that those lacey food covers are excellent for keeping her from gently pushing the whole lot off the table!  

My brother has offered to come and stay at our house for five days of the week every time we're away in France.  He's been working from home for nearly two years, just having to do occasional site visits, so "home" can be anywhere he has access to the internet.  Knowing that he will be only five minutes from Dad's flat especially over the weekend, and more especially on Saturdays when the restaurant is closed, is a huge relief.  

Dad now has carers to help him with showering and from this coming week others will be going to give him his tea three times a week.  He gets lunch in the restaurant but had stopped eating anything in the evenings and was losing weight.  Fresh sandwiches were always there in his fridge but he simply didn’t eat them, saying he wasn’t hungry.  We decided to take it in turns to go at teatime every day and found that if we put them on a plate in his hand he would wolf them down.  Having carers to do this for three days will free us from having to plan our whole life around being home every day at 5pm or thereabouts.

This post has been written on my iPad, a first for me I think, the laptop being currently hidden under piles of beading and recipe books.  The annoying thing is that although I can read other blogs using the iPad, my comments don’t appear.  They just get lost.  This happened once before and I thought I’d fixed it but can’t remember how!  I can’t work out how to resize the photos either!

Normal service will be resumed post nuptially!

Just out of interest, do you go for one space or two?  I was amused by something posted on Facebook recently saying that nobody needs to put a double space between sentences nowadays, that it’s an unnecessary and outdated practice.  Decades of typing has hardwired the double space into my writing so I would have to think hard to stop!

Mind you, I’m also a bit picky about spelling and the erroneous use of the apostrophe.  Which probably makes me a dinosaur but I don’t care!  Now I’m officially in the dinosaur age group I'm luxuriating in not having to care about a lot of extra things!  (Double space there.)  How about you?

14 January 2022

TIMING

The view from the château in early spring.

4.30 am.  The phone rings.

It can only be one person.  I stagger out of bed to answer it.

Me:  hello

Silence

Me:  hello Dad, what's wrong?

Dad:  nobody's been

Me:  it's four thirty in the morning

Dad:  well nobody's been

Me:  Dad, it's four thirty in the morning.  Have you got up?

Dad:  yes

Me:  well go back to bed, it's the middle of the night

Silence.

Our lime tree after its last haircut in February 2015.

The announcement yesterday that the French will now allow entry into France from the UK is great news but the timing is all wrong.

We have a number of commitments next week that might result in further appointments and until we know that we are not in a position to book a crossing.  It's now looking rather like we will be going in mid March as usual, after a full six months away.  Again.

Sadly, had we been able to travel in late December when we planned to, it would have worked out fine.  We had hoped to be there for a couple of weeks in order to finally put the house and garden to bed for the winter and, hopefully, oversee the pruning of our lime tree which is now overdue.  We have been in touch with our new gardener (the previous ones having crossed us off their list of clients last summer) but apparently the timing isn't right and the weather is all wrong. 

I have to wonder what has been achieved by closing the border to the UK for three weeks, other than pissing off a lot of people on both sides of it.  British holiday makers and the French hotels and other businesses that lost out on their custom.  

Another timing issue is when to apply for our visas, the VLST's that will give us freedom to come and go as we always used to.  They require an interview at the French Embassy, Manchester being our nearest office.  And they cost £150 each with all the add-on charges.  And we will have to go through this cuffing palaver every year unless we become French residents and go through all the palaver associated with that.

Brexit.  How to complicate life for so many for virtually no benefit to anyone.

Still, it looks like time is running out for the elitist tosser currently in number 10.  Who declared that a "close family member" conveniently tested positive so he could justify going into hiding.  Although even that is his own bending of the rules for his own purposes, which currently say that fully vaccinated contacts no longer have to self isolate!  Let's hope enough people will now realise how they have been taken for fools for too long.

Bon weekend!!

3 January 2022

FINGERS CROSSED


 It snowed chez nous in January 2016

From today UK citizens will once again be allowed to travel to Germany, dependent of course on negative tests etc.  We have fingers crossed that the French will soon follow suit and lift the ban that only allows for "essential travel only".

The virus is all around us here in the UK.  Estimates vary from one in fifty to one in thirty people being infected but most of them experiencing no symptoms.  Those that do mostly have something similar to a cold or at worst mild flu.  

We know of whole families that have been infected, only one having symptoms.  In our own family a nephew and his fiancée have caught it twice since they were double vaccinated, him after having his booster.  Again only mild symptoms.  Those worst infected are the unvaccinated.  Many of those being people who have declined the vaccine by choice rather than circumstances.  

I overheard a conversation between three people the other day, in a shop doorway.  A couple in their fifties were talking to a much older woman who said she wouldn't have the vaccine because you have no idea what's in it.

I have wondered what I would say if I got into such a conversation.  Would I accuse the person of being selfish, of putting not just her own health at risk but also that of her friends and family, not to mention every person she breathed on?  Or would I feel obliged to respect her view?

I think I might be tempted to say "well I hope you get away with it if you do get infected".  Or maybe "you don't know what's in most of the food and drink you have been consuming all your life either, not to mention all the other tablets you have taken when you were ill, or the ones that undoubtedly keep you alive".

More than likely I would simply end the conversation and step back to a safe distance for her sake and mine.  My understanding is that it's hard to dissuade the misinformed these days.

Today in our part of the UK the sky is blue at last.  Weeks of grey cloud and endless drizzle have only been bearable because of the distraction of Christmas and New Year.  For once it hasn't rained overnight and the forecast is for a dryish spell and very cold temperatures.  Nick will be able to resume his woodland walks with Hugo - they both enjoy an hour's trample through the woods and fields every morning but not when they come back covered in mud.  The washing machine has been going every day to cope with muddy clothes and dog towels.  Lately their usual walks have been so awful that they have resorted to the paths and parks that are good under foot in wet weather with the disadvantage that every other dog walker in the area is doing the same thing. 

And so we keep our heads down.  To catch the virus and have a mild dose of it would be bad enough but to have to self isolate when there is dog walking to do and Dad to look after would be very awkward.  If the French drop the drawbridge back down and we have the opportunity to go for a couple of weeks to finally sort the garden and house for the winter it would be tragic if a positive test result stopped us from going!

Fingers well and truly crossed here!