A trip back to England

We have just had a lovely trip back to England seeing lots of family and friends. Of course, it turns out we haven’t got pictures of most of it but here are some of the moments.

We went back for the wedding of my niece, a lovely day and don’t the happy couple look fine.IMG_4906We thought we didn’t scrub up too badly ourselves!IMG_4901We called in on some dear friends.IMG_4916and then off to the Lake District in campervan. The weather was absolutely superb. Completely perfect autumn weather.IMG_4941Loved the campervan. HO grinned all the way up the country even in Friday evening traffic. We didn’t get tested by the weather but definitely need one with toilet and heating. Just loved the whole, lets just stop here and have a coffee, thing.IMG_4952Not all the weather was brilliant. The last day we went up to the Solway Firth and the only reason you knew it was there was that the satnav was blue! IMG_5004Did a bit of Hadrian’s wall. IMG_5015Then visited younger son and family in Newcastle and they had some of the Tower of London poppies displayed at his ‘office’. Very impressive, the whole display must have been spectacular.  IMG_5029And when we got back, the terrace was finished. Such a delight to pop out of the back door to hang out the washing. Simple things.IMG_5038

Him Outdoors the pilgrim

HO has gone off on his walking again (on his own this time) with high hopes of finishing the last 705 kms of the Camino de Santiago. All OK so far when he was having coffee after 5 kms. He has restarted in Pamplona this morning.

I will try and write this again to keep him up to speed with what is happening in the village.

Of course, immediately he leaves we get a letter from SOGEDO (the water board) saying that our water consumption is very high and we might have a leak. I ring and say could this possibly be because we only moved in in August last year and your year on year figures might be a bit amiss. Oh no says lady. Read the meter in the evening, use no water, read meter in morning and if there is a difference there will be a leak. OK says I. And of course there is no difference.

This morning I walk briskly up the hill and more hill and more hill to the SOGEDO offices. Talk to the reception lady who says, no, if you’ve moved in a year ago that will explain it. Your water consumption is normal for two adults. Is that not what I said???

Anyway it was a beautiful bright autumn morning. The walk was very good for me and I discovered on the way that you could walk through the rugby pitch to the medical centre.

On the way back I met an elderly man struggling to walk up the hill I was then strolling down. I happen to know that he is very elderly indeed and used to be the station master. He asked if I was visiting and then told me a story about the huge cedar trees that had obviously caught his eye at the top of the hill. The first bit was a bit unclear to me but presumably they used to plant cedar trees at the station and then when they stopped someone planted them in his garden. Eventually the family left the garden to the village provided that the trees were uncut. And they are now enormous.

I love living here 🙂

Batiments de France

The wonderful French bureaucracy continues……….

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We have got to the stage of thinking about the outside of the house. We would like to remove the grey pebbledash (crepi) and show all the golden stone.

When we originally had the planning permission for the house we weren’t thinking far enough ahead and got permission to make it yellow like the house below us. But now we would like to reveal the stone.

So being the good people that we are, we go off to the Mairie and the nice man fills in the form for us, we send in loads of photos and wait a ‘bon mois’.

‘Non’ comes the stern reply, it doesn’t fit with the values stated for this zone.

OK, we arrange a meeting with the guy that has refused with the idea that instead of just sending another request we could ask him what he does want, and he eventually comes to the village. Not during August of course but we wait patiently. We wait more patiently on the day of the meeting because he forgets he is seeing us before the Maire. After showing us various buildings around the Mairie all of which have finishes that we can no longer have, he says send a photo of the stones after removal of the crepi just to make sure what’s underneath and I will send the permission for un enduit “beurré”. Apparently we are not allowed to have a finish like this:

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any more because it seems they want to have a mixture of different finishes in the ‘zone’. In theory I am pleased that a mixture of finishes is desired because some of the villages look very Disney when every building is identical.

Him Outdoors dutifully removes some more of the crepi and takes a photo (which I can’t seem to find), and emails it off. The reply:

‘Comme j’imaginais, il ne s’agit pas de “moellons assisés“.
Par conséquent, il faudrait mettre en oeuvre un enduit “beurré”.’

When I ask if we can then just go ahead “beurré” which is this

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I am told to go back to nice man at the Mairie.

So I have and he has dutifully filled in the whole load of forms again which will take another ‘bon mois’ and no I may not start the work before I receive the permission.

I asked kind man at Mairie what “moellons assisés” meant ‘no idea’ he says with the sort of shrug that says that he has no idea what they ever want, no interest in finding out and he just fills in the forms. Which is fine but maybe, just maybe, if he knew what the guy wanted he could stop sending in stuff that was going to be rejected and  save us months of waiting……….

Camping

Let’s do a bit more travelling. Here we are in the middle of France, let’s go exploring.

Plan 1 is to try camping. We’ve got most of the equipment required, we can buy a tent in a sale, we used to go Eurocamping with the kids, how hard can it be?

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We spent 3 nights on a campsite in the Tarn Gorge. Spectacular place. Amazing scenery and we chose a gloriously sunny few days after all the kids had gone back to school.IMG_4849

On one day we scrambled up the side of the gorge to visit the houses built into the cliffs high up on the top. The written guide said that an elderly lady had lived here until the 1960s and sitting outside her front door in the sunshine, in the silence with the vultures circling below, it had its attractions. Another thing I read said that it had originally been a lookout place for the next village – the views were certainly good enough – and there, there were remains of a castle that everyone had rushed too and pulled up the ladder behind them when the enemy approached.

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but maybe only as a summer residence………

So, camping, how was it? After a lot of discussion we both agreed that once you’re up and dressed it’s great. What neither of us are so keen on is the lying in bed needing a wee knowing that the nearest toilet is on the other side of the campsite and you might as well have a shower while you’re there which involves the whole balancing on one leg trying not to dangle clothes on the wet floor of the cubicle thing. Now I know we’re creatures of habit but a lovely way to start the day is sitting up in bed with a cup of tea looking out at the view deciding what the weather’s going to do. Difficult in a zipped up tent.

On the good side, the tent paid for itself because three nights’ accommodation was 50 euros. The people watching is great and camping by a river is lovely.

Next we’re hiring a very small campervan in the Lake District in October. I think this is all a cunning plan by Him Outdoors to make a campervan seem like luxury!

 

Books

Maybe writing this down will sort out what I do think. Maybe.

We have clutter. Not huge amounts compared to some, I know, but we have moved several times without really clearing out stuff. I guess we haven’t really cleared properly since we fitted all our worldly goods into a 20ft container to leave for Singapore in 1997. By the time we came back from Hong Kong 3 years later we needed a 40ft one!

We now have two lovely rooms for ‘stuff’ in the cellar and a promise of more cupboards and bookshelves to be built by Him Outdoors. Trouble is, the rooms are already full of unsorted, ‘just put it in there for now’ stuff. We have added some treasures from both family homes…..

OK, so I am still looking for the coffee cups and there are a load of boxes behind the door of one of the storerooms. Today’s the day for this pile.

Books. The shelves are already two deep for most of the bookcases. What are my criteria for keeping books?

– if it’s black with daggers on it probably belongs to Him Outdoors so let’s start a pile of those for him to sort out.

– oh, I remember loving that one, half an hour later …………… so let’s start a pile of those.

– oh, I remember buying that one in Australia, I’d like to read that again……………..

I need to make some decisions, do I keep a book just because at some time in my life I enjoyed reading it? Because at one time they were my favourite author (if I get rid of one I could get rid of all of that author). Just because I like being surrounded by books even if I’m never going to reread them? Reference books I understand although I find myself Googling plant labels rather than looking them up in a book so maybe I don’t need those gardening books.

Well that’s no nearer a decision.

And what about this pile of tourist leaflets from holiday places that I have kept and I find myself gazing at fondly remembering happy times. Some of these have sat on a shelf for 15 years and been looked at maybe twice when moved.

Eureka. It has just occurred to me that I come from a family home with pretty much unchanging bookcases of books. Mum and Dad had kept all the (hardback) books they bought during and after the war. Dad talks of books he’s reading in his letters and they appear to swap them. Was there some sort of wartime bookclub that would have helped this? All our reading came via weekly trips to the library so these bookcases of books were moved from one RAF married quarter to the next as treasured possessions.

Little did they know that their daughter would buy endless paperbacks. Maybe, just maybe, I don’t need to treat them with the same reverence.

(I have managed to donate two boxes of books to the next booksale so maybe I’m winning. Maybe.)

Saturday market

We’ve just returned from the market where I sat on the square thinking of you.
It’s chilly this morning, needed shoes and socks, cardigan and scarf, but we were early and I sat watching the French buy their food thinking ‘wow we live here’. (Actually I had to sit down, wandering makes my legs wobbly for some reason, but a lovely place to sit and watch.) Most of the other tables were smoking locals (now there’s a picture) rather than tourists.
A very cool French dude was setting up to play and sing under the Halle and after a bit of squeaking speakers started crooning in a smoked too many way.
You could smell the strawberries from the stall next door to the café, strawberries that I know will be perfect, not an imperfection in the whole of the summer.
A lady with an Alsatian puppy that was already the size of a small horse sat at the next table and people politely came and asked if they could pat the dog – it did look as if it might eat them, it had the most enormous feet, maybe a shire horse in disguise!
The deputy mayor went through the outside tables grunting politely at people but making for the depths of the bar to see his cronies.
The vegetable lady had advised me on how many peas I had to buy to make a meal for 4 people – people coming for supper. She said I needed more veg than just peas because it was difficult to make a ‘plat’ with peas.
The cheese/yoghurt lady was telling me that they would have bleu chevre next week which sounds like some sort of disease or maybe deep depression?
The german man who sells prepared dishes has still not heard about a job he went for about three weeks ago. They are tired of making and serving food and he thought he’d apply for a job back home. Wasn’t sure about it at first but having done it and got an interview he’s obviously pissed that they haven’t said yet whether he’d got it. Bit late now really.
The greengrocer was full of laughter when Him Outdoors carefully put his money back in his pocket and then left all the bags on the stall.
And the sun came out as we wandered back down the hill. Wow we live here!

A weekend away

We’ve just come back from the most lovely weekend away. ‘We deserve a treat’, we thought, and we’ve had one.

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Thirty years ago we stayed on a caravan site at St Georges de Didonne with our two small boys and have always remembered it fondly. ‘Let’s go somewhere near there and go to the seaside.’ Him Outdoors found this chateau that is a Chambre d’Hote and booked us in for two nights. And it is lovely. We were welcomed by a very lovely woman, our room was beautifully done with just the right mix of antique and comfort, dinner was delicious and the bed was huge and comfortable.

We had already gone into Royan on the way there and had a beer watching the holiday makers on the prom. The next day we went back to see the market which Him Outdoors had memories of being amazed by 30 years ago. Even after living here for 7 years it is still amazing, one of the best we’ve ever seen. More people watching with coffee this time. There is a special delight in watching loud French voices greeting each other and enjoying a glass of something with friends. We went on up to Isle d’Oleron and found a place to have moules frites for lunch – this was on the ‘to do’ list but was a bit of a mistake because it’s not really the time of year.

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There was a lovely mix of amazing citadel

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and boat sheds full of interesting boaty stuff to do with the oyster beds.

We then carried on up the coast to visit La Rochelle but our luck ran out as they were having a major running event and it was a holiday weekend and by the time we’d driven round three times trying to find anywhere to park, we gave up and came home to our peaceful chateau, had champagne in the garden with delicious nibbles and then more delicious food.

Yesterday we visited Saintes and Cognac. With usual French style, the amphitheatre in Saintes was closed because it wasn’t the season. Well we’d already decided you could see it through the fence.

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An English guest’s face when we said that it was closed, was a picture of disbelief :-).

We had a lovely picnic by the Charente between Saintes and Cognac. Such a different river from the Dordogne, very peaceful with water deep enough for motorboats. Much excitement when a French fisherman arrived and set about launching his boat only to get his car stuck in the mud and a Dutch motorboat arrived, astounded that the map he’d been given said that there was a tap here to fill up his water tanks and there was nothing.

On to Cognac for more people watching. Cognac had changed hugely from the place I remembered 30 years ago. We went on a little tour of Hennessy distillery then, now the whole town seemed to be full of distilleries and tours and coach loads of tourists all looking for something to do out of season on a Monday (no, of course the first week of May, with two public holidays and bus loads of tourists isn’t the season.)

Home again.

After checking out and having a look at the alterations they are doing to the attic rooms and picking some elderflowers from their garden so that I can have elderflower cordial from the chateau, we went to Talmont which is a tiny headland of perfect ancientness. We had a lovely beachy paddle and shell collection. We had the most delightful, delicious seafood lunch in a restaurant recommended to us that we would have missed (thank you dear children for my birthday present) and then came home.

It has been a truly lovely break. I feel that illness is over, recovery is properly starting and I will soon be my proper self again. I have booked into a yoga class tomorrow and I will do my best to get back ‘en forme’.

Taking the crepi (render) off

Decision time. We have always had it in mind to take the grey concrete render off the outside of the house and expose the golden stone. The architect that originally put our plan to Batiments de France has a love of orange render and at the time we had so much else going on that we didn’t really think about it.

At the moment there is a group of men taking the render off a house up the road so we decided to get a quote from them for doing ours which prompted another look at the original permissions. Apparently we have applied to rerender in orange.

I went up to the mairie today to ask about it and a very kind man decided that what I needed to do was amend our original application. He filled in the appropriate form and sent me home to take photos of the stones that were beautiful enough to be exposed.

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Nickel!  So now we wait ‘un bon mois’ – which if it’s anything like ‘quinze jours’ bears no relation to the days involved.

 

Back to ‘Is it just me, or is it hot in here’?

Well, that’s the radiotherapy finished. It all seems to have gone very quickly – with the benefit of hindsight 🙂

I have loved watching the countryside change over the six weeks. The tree blossoms coming and going. At the moment it is acacia and conker trees with the occasional jackaranda (sp?) and because of all the rain we have had lately, everything is such a vibrant green.

I will miss the chats with the taxi drivers, learning a tiny bit of their lives and how they came to be in this area. Time and again, it is one of the parents who have lived here all their lives. Sometimes, they or their partners have returned here to rejoin family. Lots of them have always worked for the same company, maybe starting in the garage of the owner’s parents.

I will miss the other people in the waiting room who taught me lots of phrases to describe the trials of illness. The little kindnesses of nurses, drivers and patients. The humour.

But I will not miss going every day, getting up at 7 am most days and trying to remove the felt pen from my boob 🙂

I saw the consultant yesterday and got a prescription for the next thing. Five years of a daily drug to stop the production of oestrogen. So that will produce symptoms of menopause. Now I knew this all along but being me, I don’t confront these things until I have to. OK so five more years of menopause. ‘In your opinion, since my menopause was relatively mild, will the symptoms be the same?’ No idea, everyone is different. OK, so now I have to give myself what might be a very difficult menopause and know it will be 5 years long…………….

I can hear my mother saying ‘well, it might not be so bad and you won’t know until you start, so go and get the prescription’.

Yes, mum.

I do like a parcel

I had been down in the garden and came back up to find the postman busy filling in forms. Very pleased to see me, as he screwed up the forms and told me there was a parcel. Actually two parcels and would I like them put inside for me. (Advantage number 7 to having very little hair and obviously not being completely healthy.)

The first parcel was some bowls that I had ordered from anthropologie.com. I had been eyeing them for some time and then one day thought ‘oh just buy them’ (advantage number 8?). They are beautiful and go with the dinner service as well as I hoped. As I lifted the last one out of the depths of the packaging, I felt a handle – quoi? Rather than immediately release it from the masses of packing, I rang the helpline and said that I had received most of my lovely bowls but the last one obviously wasn’t one. Would they like it back? ‘Oh no that’s fine’, said the very pleasant lady, ‘I’ll send you one of your original order, you keep that one as a present’. Now I realise that it is not worth their while to pay the postage for the return but after living in France for all this time, the customer service is gobsmackingly delightful.

The second parcel was some water plants that I had also ordered online. We have an ancient concrete rainwater cistern that is about a two metre cube. There are very few plants that can manage that depth. I had thought of suspending something from the edges but the water level rises and falls by a couple of feet in the summer depending upon the storms. I then saw some floating plant pots online and found a website that sold them filled with plants for practically the same amount as them empty. Brilliant. After lunch I set about planting up the second one that had arrived in bits, and then launched them. All went well, they float and the fish don’t seem to mind too much. A couple of hours later I looked out to see how they were getting on and the one I planted up had disappeared! Oh b*gg*r. HO spent some time finding something long enough to poke about with and eventually dredged the whole thing up from the bottom. After replanting it in potting compost rather than soil, and less of that, it was still there last time I looked (now securely tied to the side). I now have to work out how to suspend a pot 2 ft under the water so that I can have a lotus plant that I saw in another garden locally……

The third parcel was an arch for the garden. Well actually 3 parcels/arches. I had a plan to grow sweet peas over them across the paths. I know that any metal arch that is cheap is usually rubbish. And these were very cheap; 10 euros from Lidl. But hey, they are easy, and will probably last the summer. I have spent all afternoon building them which is a pain but having said that they are remarkably sturdy (another win for Lidl), the instructions are clear and they even have a spare screw which is one up on IKEA!

I am nearly finished the radiotherapy, only another 7 days to go. All well so far with no particular difficulties apart from general feebleness and a wish that I didn’t have to go every weekday.

PS you French speakers, do you say ‘dans le jardin’ as a literal translation or is it (probably) something else?