Thursday, 31 December 2009

A good cheese is worth its weight in gold.

Well not exactly but we did find out how valuable and appreciated little gifts can be. We bought some Stilton cheese in little china jars to give as Christmas presents here. We also got a few baseball caps printed with the name of the farm on. These were not big presents and quite fun to organise. Yesterday evening we went round to see the farmer and his wife with the gifts and they were genuinely pleased to see us and delighted with the presents but concerned that they hadn’t got us anything. We weren’t expecting anything as the farmer has been really helpful and lets Ian leave his old tractor there. Never-the-less they invited us to stay to dinner. It was very impromptu but suddenly their duck casserole became a four course meal with pate, cheese and desert. All this was washed down with copious amounts of local wine. (Apparently last year was a bumper harvest and 2009 will be a good year for wine from the south of France; especially for the sweet whites famous around Monbazillac. ) As the wine flowed my French at first improved and then deteriorated! We came back and collapsed into bed, passing out into sleep and then waking again a 4.00a.m. We vowed not to drink tonight but then remembered that it is New Years Eve!

This meal was simple, unplanned but plentiful and better than many we have eaten in restaurants here. They didn’t need the likes of Gordon Ramsay to tell them how to cook!

Although this may be posted after the event, may your 2010 be all the things you want it to be.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Camping in the house

We arrived at the house to find it was still there along with the damp cellar, the dead woodlice and in addition a liberal sprinkling of mouse droppings, which I didn’t notice in the dark and thought were bits of old rice! Yesterday was spent cleaning out the cellar and the kitchen. Ian also installed a sink in the bathroom so now we have hot and cold water out of a tap and don’t have to go down to the cellar to get water! We bought a butane gas heater on the way down and have been really quite cosy and warm, although the temperature is very mild (according to Ian’s thermometer it is 22.4 degrees outside although I don’t believe that!)

Gordon Ramsay does French

Continuing from where I left off on the last post, it was amusing to see that the French seemed to be as obsessed with cooking programmes, and Gordon Ramsay in particular, as we are in the UK. Channel 9 was showing an evening of the Gordon Ramsay programmes where he visits failing restaurants to tell them where they are going wrong. The programme follows a set format. Gordon visits, tastes the food and spits it out making sick noises, looks in the kitchen and finds rotten food and filth and then within two weeks turns them round to become modern and hopefully profitable. All this is interspersed liberally with Gordon swearing at the chef and the owners and anyone else that comes his way. It makes for what some people might see as an entertaining programme but you can’t help thinking that what he actually does isn’t exactly rocket science. I was amused to see how they handled Gordon’s prolific use of swear words in French. Mostly where he uses them as an adjective (‘the f*cking sauce, the f*cking plates’) they just ignored them. Where he uttered ‘f*ck me’ under his breath, this was sometimes translated as ‘merde’ ( or sh*t) and when he called someone a d*ck head this was translated correctly as ‘connard’. On one occasion he told someone to ‘go f*ck yourself’ and this was correctly translated as ‘ va te faire foutre’.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

No delays for us

We arrived at the Eurotunnel terminal bright and early, a little in advance for our crossing, only to see a sign that there were delays due to an earlier cancellation. We were resigning ourselves to a long wait when the woman in the check-in asked us if we had any animals or children with us. "No", We said." Well, in that case we are asking anyone with a van if they mind being transferred to the freight service today as we have some delays". We didn’t mind one bit! We got an earlier crossing, breezed through customs and security (they were not up yet!) and ended up in the little carriage that all the lorry drivers sit in, complete with a hot drink machine and working toilets!

The drive to Tours was trouble free and we had a brief stop near Rouen to eat our turkey sandwiches. We had booked a hotel that sounded quite nice, with a particularly impressive sounding restaurant. However, the restaurant was closed as there are only three other people staying here so we ended up walking to the local shopping mall where we had a steak and chips! On the way we passed MacDonalds, which was packed. Don’t believe it when they tell you that all French people are gourmets!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

12 days of Christmas (rolled into 3)

Christmas is over for another year. It wasn't white but it did involve approximately six and a half hours on the M25 ,adding to our carbon footprint! My mother is now back in her apartment, my sister and brother-in-law are by now asleep in front of the TV at their place, my brother and family are hopefully in Italy skiing by now, Ian's mum has cleared up her house after having us all round yesterday and is now relaxing in front of the TV and Ian's sister finally made it out to Milan a day late after the snow disrupted everyone's travel plans. Ian's man-flu is getting better and we are all packed up ready to go to France tomorrow morning. All is well.. and if I don't get a chance to blog before then, happy new year.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A white Christmas?

Well it is looking more likely every day!

A whole week has gone by since I last wrote. Christmas is always a busy time of year and this year it seems worse than ever, although that is probably my imagination. To add to the chaos the weather has suddenly turned from wet and very mild to bone dry, snowy and ice cold, making the everyday tasks of shopping, getting to work and organising the Christmas round of relative visiting much more difficult!

We had the first snow of the year on Friday. There wasn't a great deal down here and by mid-day the roads were clear. However, the snow over the North Downs and Ashdown forest was much thicker and they lay between Ian's house and mine. Friday night for the first time in years I didn't go to Ian's and it felt very strange to be sitting in our separate houses at the start of the weekend. I packed up and left the following morning, not sure of what to expect. Ten miles out of Eastbourne the snow at the sides of the roads was thicker and although the main roads were clear the side roads were thick with ice. As I got further and further into the Ashdown Forest the snow and ice encroached onto the road more and more and by Crowborough my tyres were gliding over the icy tracks left from the previous nights attempt and clearing the road. This continued to Tunbridge Wells and that, and the number of people going Christmas shopping made it a slow and tortuous journey. I also had to stop twice to pee, which meant leaving the beaten track and driving over the ice covered service station forecourts! Driving required a lot of concentration, which was a shame as the snow and the Christmas lights made everywhere look like a fairy tale Christmas except that I couldn't really stop to look. Driving was also made more hazardous by the abandoned cars at the side of the road and drivers generally not used to driving in snow!

Coming back today the snow and ice was still bad across the North Downs but by the time I got back here a fine rain had washed away most of the snow and ice (although it is looking like it might return tonight).

Looks like the iced theme of this years Christmas cake is very appropriate!

Monday, 14 December 2009

History under the floorboards

This weekend we tackled the wiring in my house. Of course, the regulations mean that we are not allowed to actually do anything since Ian doesn't have the required Part P electrical qualifications. However, he does have a degree in electronic engineering and worked on the Channel Tunnel so he was able to look and explore the wiring and give his opinion of what needed to be done (which of course we didn't do). The problem came to light after I had my new central heating boiler installed. We discovered that the gas meter was not earthed and at the same time the RCD kept tripping out. Both problems required investigating. This required lifting all the floorboards to see what was underneath (and a nice little array of old pipes, rubbish and wires we found!). What we did find was a corner of a page from The Daily Sketch dated 1930 (when the house was built), an old tea card (from the 1960s) and an empty packet of Lambert and Butlers (from about 15 years ago). The timber structures in the house are in really good quality pine or deal and even now, 80 years later, they still have a strong pine smell. The tripping RCD was caused by dampness in the sockets behind the sink and has now stopped.

What is worse, the illness or the cure?

Things down here on the coast are always a little behind the rest of the UK so we have only just got our first batch of swine flu vaccine. This pleased me a little as by the time my letter arrived inviting me for my jab enough people had been given it to satisfy me that there were not likely to be any serious reactions to it! I debated whether to have it and decided that although I don't believe swine flu would be that harmful to me I could do without being ill for two weeks. So, Saturday morning I got my jab and by Saturday night my arm ached and I felt as sick as a dog! Sunday was a bit better but by evening I had a fever again and today I just feel a bit worse for wear! The annoying thing is I have to go through it all again in January as according to those that know I need two jabs to get enough immunity!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Guidance for risk assessment : the singing of 'Festive Songs'

Someone sent me this at work and I thought it was worth sharing.
The Rocking Song
Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;
We will lend a coat of fur,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore a cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative.

Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences. And be aware that over-zealous rocking could put you at risk of being prosecuted for harming a child .

Jingle Bells
Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions.
Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields.
To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While Shepherds Watched
While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

The union of Shepherds has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available.
Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.

Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.

Little Donkey
Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period.
Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles.
The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

We Three Kings
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as 'cash for gold' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher.

We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of AA routefinder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption.
Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer.
Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence.
A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Lovely's Christmas message 2009

As Christmas approaches its time to look back on the last year and summarise what has happened. I'm quite suprised that I have managed to keep with blogging all this time. When I started off nearly three years ago I thought I would soon get fed up with it, in the way that most people give up with writing a diary after a few months, but I find it quite enjoyable and therapeutic at times. It is true that when I am busy I find it hard to find the energy and sometimes the entries are not as frequent as I would like but never the less I have mostly found time to write things on a regular basis. For those of you finding this page for the first time, in the archive of previous posts you will find all sorts of details of the mundane day to day events of my life, so to avoid the need for you to trawl through them I have produced a brief summary here. They are divided into the following sub-headings: The house in France, Moving to France, Holidays and Family News, although the first three are very much linked!

The House in France

If you have read these letters before you will know that we have been building a house in the Dordogne, in between working and living in two different places in the UK. This year has seen significant progress with the house. At the beginning of the year the walls were finished and the roof was put in place, making it at last look like a proper building. The windows were fitted in March and the house was finally 'closed and covered'. Once this happened we could start thinking about the interiors and in March and April several journeys too and from France were made with van loads of plaster board and insulation (as the decrease in the value of the pound has meant that most things are now cheaper in the UK). Interior walls and ceilings were commenced and temporary plumbing and electric installed. Our hours spent planning the previous winter were not wasted as we knew where most things were going to go although to be certain we had not made a mistake we spent the first visit marking out the position of the baths, toilets and kitchen cabinets on the floor in chalk! We stayed in the house for the first tiime in May while more work was done to the inside. Over the summer we engaged a man with a digger who did some ground work and started work on the septic tank. This project has taken longer than we thought and is still half finsihed. We started some plumbing, varnished the windows and finished off some of the walls and in autumn we continued. Our next trip back is after Christmas, when I think our main aim is to galvanize the buidlers and the septic tank man into the next stage. The buidlers have been finishing off the outside in readiness for renderring and we have been waiting for the septic tank man to reappear. It has been a case of two steps forward and one step back but compared to this time last year it has progressed quite well.

Moving to France
We made a big step towards this goal this year in that in September we finally made up our mind and set a date. It won't be possible for us both to go out at the same time but the plan is that Ian (sic) will give up his job at the end of February and make a start on preparing for the move and I will go out when possible. It is hard to be more definate as there are still a lot of ends to tie up but we thought that if we left it much longer then it would just get move difficult to move and will end up taking until we both retire. So, now is the time to jump and I can't wait! Hopefully this time next year I will be writing this from France. I will give up my job as soon as we have a more concrete plan and I must admit I am looking forward to it. I may do some part time work with the Occupational Therapy School in Bordeaux  or I may just focus on running our bed and breakfast and llama farm!

As you may have gathered we didn't really have time for any holidays as such as we were busy spending them working on the house. The work was quite tiring physically but mentally was a great relief from our regular jobs and so felt like a break. It also enabled us to get to know the area down by the land better. The only break we did manage was last Christmas when we joined by brother and sister-in-law skiing in France. We also had a long weekend to Northern France to go to a wedding of one of Ian's friends. Next year we may get a weekend in Germany to buy our central heating boiler as they are half the price when bought direct.

Family News
The biggest family event was my sister's wedding in July. She got maarried in Windsor Guildhall, where Charles and Camilla and Elton John had their wedding. She was very happy and the whole day went well..

My sister and mother outside the guildhall
Bride and groom
Brother and mother of the bride

My brother and sister-in-law are still continuing with their 'grand design' project in an old recording studio in Holland park and are hoping to complete the work next year. My elderly cat Norma is still alive despite her increasing age!

All that remains is to wish you a very happy Christmas for 2009 and to hope that 2010 brings you all you wish fop.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The T Shirt that got away

Finally the grey clouds lifted today and the sun came out. This meant it was much colder but a sacrifice worth paying to get away from the greyness. It also seemed to cheer everyone up and the atmosphere at work was much better. People have been saying that I look quite well at the moment and now I have recovered from the cold I have had I do feel quite good. This is probably due to the fact that my medication was increased three months ago! I saw an advert for a great T shirt on the Random Acts Blog. Unfortunately I missed the last chance to order one as I think it is great and sums up all I feel about my illness. I never suspected for a moment that my aches and pains and tiredness would ever become anything more serious but when it did I was bl**dy glad to be living in a country with a good health service!