26 September 2022

HOW'S IT GOING?

 


There certainly has been a change in the weather.  The raging heat of summer gave way to about a week of pleasantly warm temperatures then.....soup weather is upon us!  This soup was made from leftover roasted spaghetti squash, carrots and my home made chicken stock.  That was made using an "ugly bag" - something I spotted on t'internet and sounded like a good idea.  You put all your trimmings of onion, celery, leek, tomato, chicken bones etc from food prep into a poly bag in the freezer and when the bag is full you make it into stock, which you then bag and store in convenient quantities in the freezer.  I can't think why I never thought of that before.



I couldn't resist the paper napkins - "ca roule" is what I take to mean "how's it going?"


So far we still have just two of our five velux windows fitted.  The next job in this room is to rebuild the boxing in underneath it.  This was built by the previous owners to form a kind of headboard and mount the bedside lights.  It had to be modified to allow for the new window to open freely so we decided to bite the bullet and remodel it completely and rewire it while we were at it.  One job always leads to another when you get the builders in!


The roof repairs at the back of the house are complete but the scaffolding remains in place for now.  The two new velux windows are the bigger ones on the right and the left.  The one in the middle is the one above the stairwell which is so far above the stairs that it's impossible to open or close it.  That's the next one to be replaced.  All the new ones can be opened by remote control, much easier than grappling with a boat hook!



We took a walk down to the water tower behind the house yesterday.  It's the landmark we always give to new visitors - if they go past the water tower they've gone a bit too far.  We wanted to see what was going on there.

One day last week I got back from my morning walk with Hugo to find the water had been turned off.  It seems that new pipework was being laid between the fire hydrant on the roadside and the water tower.  I asked the workmen how long my water would be off for and they said "normalement" until midday.  Previous experience of the word "normalement" means that they didn't really have any idea and couldn't guarantee when it would be turned back on"!  Luckily I was reconnected by mid afternoon.




Hugo enjoyed the walk and we found huge reels of cable lurking behind the copse out of sight, one already empty.  We therefore take it that the cable is being buried below ground along with the water pipe.  Maybe.


Our walk took us past the neighbour's property, which has been empty since he died four years ago.  We heard a rumour that it has been sold to someone for "doing up".  It's in a lovely spot but will take a lot of work to do the house up into anything that I would want to live in.


From the lane to his house we got a different view of our place, complete with scaffolding, that we don't usually see.  Thinking back to how he used to spy on us and start yelling at us as soon as we emerged from our house still sends shudders down my spine.  Plus all his walking backwards and forwards past our front hedge and gate, staring in.  Not to mention the time that he kidnapped our cat and kept her captive in his bedroom for two weeks.  We do not miss having him as a neighbour at all. 



Now that the old carpet is doomed we no longer worry about making a mess and finally tackled a job that's been niggling us ever since we moved in.  The chimney breast from the bread oven downstairs comes up through the bedroom but had some strange looking stains on it.  We worked out that it was probably resin, varnish or something similar from the beams above, which had dripped down the stonework when the roof leaked, leaving an unsightly dribble.  A bit of elbow grease and a good scrub was all it took to clean it off.  





Outdoors the garden is hanging on to summer for as long as it can and we still have plenty of colour dotted about.



The best news of all is that my brother has finally left the intensive care unit.  He's still in hospital, but on a normal ward.  He's still on oxygen but they are working at getting him walking again.  It's going to be a long haul before he can be allowed home but at least he's now on the mend.  It was touch and go for a while.

21 September 2022

THE WANDERERS RETURN

 

I was due to return to France on 10th September with my brother, Hugo and Daisy.  He was to be staying with me for ten days for a holiday while Nick remained in the UK.  As I have spent many more weeks in the UK than Nick this year we are significantly out of step in how many of our 180 days in France we have left this year.  He decided to remain in the UK to catch up with me a bit so we can both stay here until the end of October.  Life is so much more complicated since Brexit.

Sadly, my brother is still in intensive care in hospital so was unable to join me.  I ended up making the journey by myself, with the cat and dog for company. 

When I booked the journey with my brother we opted for an overnight stay in Calais where I booked two rooms at the B&B hotel.  With only a few days to go before we were to make the trip I had a phone call from the hotel which I didn't quite understand.  This was followed up with an email telling me that the hotel had been "requistioned" for the night and one of the rooms, the one reserved in my brother's name, had been cancelled.  They offered instead the convenience of a room at another of their hotels several km away!  Not very convenient at all!


By then it was clear that his room was not needed anyway so I had a rethink and decided I would make the journey in our usual way - all in one go.  It would be hard work driving all the way here by myself but probably easier than managing the logistics of settling a cat and a dog into a hotel room on my own, where I would likely get very little sleep anyway.

To be honest, I was dreading it.  After the last two awful journeys involving huge delays at Eurotunnel I was expecting the worst.

I set off at 5am and the journey down to Folkestone was easy.  Early on a Sunday morning is definitely the way forward in the future if we are to continue doing this.  The journey down through France was even easier (it always is).  I managed the péages well, having to stop the car each time, get out and go round the front to take a ticket or pay the charge - apart from one, where a gallant motorcyclist, the first in the long queue forming behind me, came to my rescue.  The machine would not take any of my cards or even cash but as he approached the kiosk the barrier went up due to the telepéage card he carried in his jacket pocket.  I thanked him and sped off as fast as I could, not realising that (a) he had paid my fee (only a couple of euros) and (b) he then had to pay again for himself as he wouldn't have been able to use his telepéage card twice.  Oops !!

We arrived just before 8pm while it was still daylight.  My biggest worry had been that I might get very tired and nod off while driving but I somehow managed to avoid that and made good time.


Hugo and Daisy were excellent travellers and good company.  They settled in within minutes and when the next morning dawned bright and sunny Hugo was very keen to go on one of his favourite walks.




 


The lake at La Çelle Guenand was at its most beautiful the next morning but my joy at being back was marred by a huge sadness that my brother was not here with me.  Instead he was languishing in a hospital bed doing his best to hang on to life itself.

Since then his condition has improved a little but if I tell you that yesterday his major achievement was to be able to stand up on his own, still attached to multiple tubes and wires, for a full thirty seconds before having to sit down, that gives you an idea of how poorly he still is.  He has a long way to go before he becomes anything like well again. 



When we got back from our walk to the house there was a man up the telegraph pole attaching new wires.  I expected the worst - that our electricity would be off - but all was fine.  Someone told me today that he might have been installing cable internet cables to the nearby hamlet and that soon we might be invited to subscribe.  That would be a huge blessing as our internet supply is slow and dodgy to say the least.



One week after I arrived, work has started on the roof and our new windows.  Once that work is done we can decorate the main bedroom (paint the walls and varnish the beams) having three weeks to get that done before the carpet is fitted.  One window in, four to go.  The weather is perfect for it.

9 September 2022

SEVENTY YEARS OF SERVICE





The Queen visited the John Smedley factory at Lea Bridge in Derbyshire, famous for its quality knitwear supplied to many royal households, in May 1968.  We lived in the village at that time and there was much excitement.  That afternoon I was taking my little brother for a walk and as we walked along the footpath I heard a car approaching.  I turned to see a big black car drive by and waved.  The Queen was in the back seat and she smiled and waved back.    There was nobody else around and I shall never forget that moment - when the Queen waved just to me and my brother.

She has been a constant presence throughout my life, always dignified and above all the in fighting of politicians, the vulgarity of celebrity, royal or otherwise.  She lived her life with honour and compassion, both unfashionable qualities amongst our most recent leaders.  We will miss her.

5 September 2022

IT NEVER RAINS.....

…..but what it pours……


One of our favourite Derbyshire walks.

Last night’s thunderstorm here in the UK woke me up at two in the morning.  It was a French style storm, the like of which we rarely see in our part of the UK nowadays.  It somehow reminded me that I haven’t posted anything for a while.

The weather in Derbyshire has been very pleasant since we got back and we have been enjoying our favourite walks.


The heat wave continued in France until a few days before we returned, en famille, on our planned trip back to the UK.  It was thankfully a little cooler but even so there was only the occasional light shower and in fact there had been hardly any rain at all since April.

We have to physically be out of France on the day our VLST (visa de longue séjour temporaire) expires so we planned for our exit to last a couple of weeks.  Time to catch up with family, friends and chores, not to mention paperwork following my dad’s funeral.


About a week before we returned my brother (in the UK) began with a set of symptoms that we all thought sounded very much like Covid but he kept testing negative.  We persuaded him to see a doctor and it turned out to be a pulmonary embolism.  He was admitted to hospital for treatment.


Our journey back was a nightmare, even worse than on our way to France only four weeks before.  We arrived at Eurotunnel in Calais two hours early, as they suggested, passed through the pet check in then were sent to a holding area.  After two hours we moved to the car park which, along with the overflow car park, was rammed with vehicles, and by then stories were circulating about a train stuck in the tunnel.  I say stories because the information process was hap hazard to say the least.


The outside information boards gave different information from the inside ones; staff gave different information from each other.  The only thing certain was that we were in for a long wait.  Our departure time of 19.40 came and went.  Delays of two, then three, then four hours were announced.  Then they gave up and the outside information boards were switched off.

Around 23.00 hundreds of cars started leaving as rumour had it that you could exchange your train ticket for a ferry ticket.  Their exit was chaotic and disorganised and tempers flared.  We decided to stick it out.


We finally got on a train at 2.30 the next morning, after a seven hour delay which, to add insult to injury, meant the whole thing cost us one of our 180 days as we passed through French customs after midnight!  There were only two cars behind us at the back of the train, the next one being two hours later.  We got home at 6.00am and at 8.30 the phone rang.  It was a doctor at the hospital telling me that my brother had been admitted to intensive care.  He’s very poorly indeed.

To have this happen only six weeks after our father died is very hard.  It never rains but what it pours.

3 August 2022

HOT, HOT, HOT !!!

 

We are experiencing yet another heat wave here in France.  They're becoming worryingly frequent.

We delayed our trip to France until the 21st July to avoid travelling in the last heatwave, so on this day two weeks ago we were sitting on the tarmac at Eurotunnel, Folkestone, patiently waiting for our train.  It was delayed by three hours.

We had set off in the morning at a time that allowed for a two hour delay on the road and sure enough, one of those was taken up when we sat in a queue just north of the Dartford Bridge because protesters of some kind or other were making a nuisance of themselves by climbing the gantries above the road.  

Anyway, we still arrived at Eurotunnel an hour early but all trains were delayed.  We like Eurotunnel but when it's very busy things often go wrong and long delays occur.  Having arrived in Calais three hours later than we should, we then arrived chez nous at three in the morning.  The total journey had taken eighteen hours.  Daisy and Hugo travelled really well considering, although by two am Daisy had clearly had enough of being cooped up in her cage and vocalised her feelings for the last hour!

Other travellers who had tickets for trains later in the day faced even longer delays of up to six hours.  I'm fairly sure the reason was as usual that all trains were fully booked but no doubt some of it was down to the effects of Brexit.

There were even worse queues at Dover, where those trying to get a ferry to France at the end of the school year faced many hours of delays and the resulting misery that goes with it.  I thought it typical of the person who is likely to be our next Prime Minister, Liz Truss, to blame the French!

The truth is that the French are obliged to carry out extra checks at UK ports for each passenger now that we are no longer in the EU.  They have to check the passport expiry date, check for how long each person has already spent in Europe because we are not in the Schengen area and stamp every one on exit.  Then a number of vehicles are picked out of line randomly to check for the goods that we are no longer allowed to take into France, such as meat, dairy, plants, furniture, tools - all of which people like us with second homes in France could take freely before we left the EU.  To suggest that the French were simply being bolshy and could have opted to ignore all these checks is ludicrous.  Maybe if a different Brexit deal had been negotiated things could have been different, but the problem only affects the little people so why bother?  (By little people I don't mean those who are vertically challenged but people like us, the ordinary, everyday tax paying citizens.)

In pre-Brexit days we would pass through the French customs with just a wave of our passports, barely even having to stop the car.  Those days are gone.  It's called the end of freedom of movement, which so many Leave voters were so keen on.  Unfortunately it works both ways but the Leave campaigners  told us it wouldn't make any difference to us at all, not to travel, trade or anything.

In addition, the French had some time ago offered to man several more customs booths at Dover in order to cope at times of heavy demand but the government didn't see the need for it and was not prepared to stump up the £30 million pound investment in order to do it.  Why would they?  It would only affect the little people!


Our garden and pots of plants had been well looked after by our little army of plant waterers while we were away but they are in danger of becoming frazzled again.  Our oleander likes the heat but was noticeably grateful for a good drink of water yesterday.


The plants on the decking are in greatest danger as they are in full sun for more hours of the day.  We are now not allowed to use tap water for watering but luckily our thousand litre water cube is still over three quarters full.  All we have to do is trudge up and down the drive to fill watering cans!



We have moved some of the plants that were struggling the most into the shade of the picnic shelter so hopefully they will survive.


I have however kept our bird baths topped up with fresh water.  We keep a few pots and saucers dotted around the garden so the birds and insects can have a drink or a bath when no other water is available for them.


We don't see much of Daisy during the day.  She finds somewhere cooler to hang out but never far away from where we are.  The bedroom is however, not cool at all and we are at a crossroads in wondering what to do about it.


If money was no object, we would have the roof taken off and put back with much better insulation between the tiles and the plasterboard.  The heat seems to be more of a problem in this end of the building and we're not sure if it's because the room is bigger so more difficult to keep cool - and also to keep warm in cold weather - or if the insulation is better at the other end of the house.  The upstairs (grenier or loft) was renovated in two stages.  We can see this from the file of old photos passed on by the previous owners; the kitchen end first, so it’s likely that different materials were used.  The lovely exposed framework of the roof structure in the main bedroom is beautiful but creates such a vast space of air to be cooled down or warmed up.

The cheaper solution is to install air conditioning, something we have talked about for a few years but never got round to it.  This year we were supposed to be getting a quote from someone via the builder who mended our barn door but it never materialised.  We have someone else coming to look at it tomorrow.  The advantage of air conditioning units is that they can also double up as heaters in winter.

Something else we have talked about is having a ceiling put in at the level of the cross beam.  The theory is that the room space would be reduced so less volume to either cool or heat.  We could also cram more insulation above the ceiling, although there would still be plenty of heat passing from the sloping part of the roof.  And it would also be very expensive.

Decisions, decisions.



In the short term we have moved into the guest bedroom, which also has a high ceiling up to the apex of the roof but is much, much smaller so our little portable air conditioning unit actually makes a big difference.


Another decision we are grappling with is what to do about flooring.  Both bedrooms have cream coloured carpet which has been down since long before we bought the house and, with all the various work projects that have taken place, bear rather too many grubbly battle scars.  We simply cannot get them clean any more.  We have put rugs here and there to hid the worst of the dirty marks but the time has come (the walrus said) for us to do something about it.  

Ideally we would like to put down wooden click flooring but both floors, especially in the big bedroom, are too undulating.  The floors don't just slope, they go up and down all over the place but levelling them would be another expensive and disruptive job.  

Hence in the heat of yesterday afternoon we, like plenty of other people, sought refuge in various air conditioned shops and looked at carpet.  Replacing the carpet with new would be the least expensive way of having nice clean floors again and a nice young lady from a store in Tours is coming on Monday to measure up for the one we have chosen, which happens to be the one on the left.  We thought the one in the middle was the right one while we were in the shop but looking at the sample back home feel it would make the room too dark, even though it might be more "pet friendly".

Speaking of pets, Daisy is recovering well from the operation to remove a huge lump from her head.  It was a sarcoma, which the vet described as very invasive even though not life threatening as they don't usually metastasise.  She has a long scar which is gradually healing, although I had to take her back to the vet last week to have some residual bits of the stitching to be removed.  She was not impressed!

Realistically, we are just pleased that we still have her.  Having to have a general anaesthetic twice, once for the biopsy then for the removal, was very worrying but she came home safe and sound.  She has outlived her parents and siblings by several years already and is getting on a bit at eight years old herself.  She's a bit more clingy and less adventurous than she used to be but that means we can enjoy her company more often.  She still does a sterling job in keeping the mice at bay!

18 July 2022

LOOKING FORWARD

 


With my dad's funeral behind us and most of the paperwork completed we're looking forward to getting back to France and picking up where we left off.


Because of the heatwave we have delayed our journey.  We could probably cope with the discomfort from the extreme heat ourselves but Daisy and Hugo might find it too much of a trial.  And if we get held up and have to stop anywhere for any length of time it could be very difficult for them.  At Eurotunnel, for example, cars are often lined up waiting to board the train for quite a long time where there is no shade at all.  So we have decided to travel when the heat has returned to normal.  Still hot but not bakingly, dangerously hot.



We're expecting our garden to have suffered a lot in the heat.  I wouldn't be surprised to find many of the plants, especially in the pots, in pretty bad shape, although friends have been watering for us.  These pictures were taken last year when we didn't get to France until early July and there was not much in the way of flowering plants left in the garden centres.  But last year we still managed to find something and this year we'll be just so pleased to be back that it hardly matters.

Only a couple more days and we'll be on our way.

2 July 2022

FAREWELL TO MY DEAR DAD.

 

This is Dad when he came to stay with us in France in 2018.



And here in 2014.

Same cardigan, I think.


On his 90th birthday.


In Chinon in September 2012, at the tender age of 83.

My father passed away peacefully in his sleep last night.  He had been in hospital for three weeks after falling in his apartment, then he was transferred to a care home where he lived for just one more week.  He was 93, and in fact was just four months short of his 94th birthday.  

He had been an officer in the Royal Navy, was a gifted design engineer, an accomplished pianist, a writer and, of course, a caring husband, father and grandfather.  

R.I.P., my dear old dad.