Monday, 31 January 2011

Frosty starts and glowing days

The last couple of days have been grey and misty, although prior to that it was cold, dry and sunny. This is typical winter weather and with misty dawns and red sunsets.

 We seem to live under the flight path for planes heading down to Spain. They fly high above us, so we don’t hear them, but on a clear day they leave their vapour trail across the sky.
Ian has been spending time on the digger.

The priority has been to try to stop the cellar from flooding every time it rains, so ditches have been dug and drains have been laid,

culminating in the biggest ditch of all; constructed around the house like a moat. This was dug by the builder using his very big digger, when I was working in Bordeaux and consists of a two metre deep pit across the front of the house filled with gravel. The theory is that as the rain runs down the hill, along the rock bed, it will hit the drain and run off into the field before it reaches our cellar. We are so confident that it will work that yesterday we started to paint the walls of the basement (although we stopped just above the flood line!).

I have done another two days in Bordeaux and although it was exhausting it didn’t feel quite as strange as on the previous occasion (although I was in bed by 9.00pm and asleep by 9.30). This time I took the early train and my Brompton bike and navigated my way through the rush hour traffic and trams to get to the school. On Saturday we were both tired and decided to have a ‘weekend’ day. We went shopping to Bergerac and spent our time buying groceries, a new doorbell; a mat to put our muddy shoes on and a chimney for our Canadian drain (more on that another time). Despite what some English people here seem to think, food is not more expensive if you buy fresh food in season (although tea bags and other things imported are naturally a little more). The best place for fruit and veg is a shop called le Grand Frais (or the big fresh), which has rows and rows of beautiful looking fruit and veg; some of them long forgotten types, such as purple potatoes and carrots. As we were there, three monks from plum village were doing their weekly shop.

So, life goes on in rural France as we continue to adjust to our new life.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Lost in translation.

We have had a day off work today. At 9.30 we had a visit from a salesman about a swimming pool. We are not really that bothered about a pool for ourselves but when Ian got planning permission for the house it was dependent on us having a source of water for the fire brigade. It was either a pool or a fire hydrant and the cost for the latter was not much less than a basic pool, so a pool it is! As Ian has been focussing mostly on the outside of the building and the groundworks we decided to at least give some thought to the pool.

So.. after lunch we went pool shopping, around the many pool merchants of Bergerac. We have several appointments booked to get opinions on what is possible and we have some nice glossy brochures. The best one has been rather poorly translated into English, to the extent that Ian had to download the French version so that he could understand it. Here are some gems.

The etancheity of your swimming pool is ensured by a resistant coating, the liner

Amongst a pletoric choice, you will give substance to your ideas... your swimming pool will become a reflection of your desires.

Worldwide Pools disencumbers you of the inherent concern of the earthwork. This stability confers you the insurance to arrange the beaches quickly..

and my favourite:
Some common sens, a little bit of dexterity, a knowledge of work of masonary and an imense desire to give pleasure to yourself...

Your friends will be astonished, your close relations will be proud of you and you will have a great satisfaction from this experience.

This is a great example of why you shouldn't use Google Translate!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Squirrels and doctors

Yesterday I had my first contact with the French Health System; except I am not fully registered yet so I am still learning! I was amazed to have a whole half an hour with my GP; who took one look at the referral letter from my GP in the UK and panicked! I now have referrals here, there and everywhere for permission to have my medication prescribed, for blood tests, and for appointments with a specialist in April! How quickly things move and how great that the GP can organise it all from his office! No waiting, no letters but as I have no inusurance yet, quite a heafty bill for me at first! Unlike in the UK, healthcare is not free at the point of delivery.

Ian opened the bonnet of the Ford Focus to put some windscreen washer fluid in before I left, only to find 24 neatly stored acorns, squashed in the sound proofing of the bonnet. It looks like a squirrel saw it as a nice nesting box and as here they are not the aggressive grey variety but the rather timid red squirrels, we were sad about disrupting it. (However, squirrel barbequed on the engine block would not be a good idea!). Ian now has instructions for a squirrel house!

Monday, 17 January 2011


I guess students are students wherever you go. Despite my careful planning most of them didn't bring their papers to the class.. one had read the wrong paper, one was on the phone during the break and then came back in and cried to herself for the rest of the class; they talked amongst themselves, they spoke so quietly I could hardly hear them, they sat looking dumb and they laughed from time to time. No change there then!

Thursday, 13 January 2011


When I told Madame Martenago that I was going to Bordeaux for two days to work she was so exited and started telling me about the wonderful buildings, the opera, the concerts and what a great time I would have! I thought about her comments as a I struggled up the road from the station to the hotel; carrying my luggage; as I walked past the sexy lady peep shows and the all night supermarkets and laundries that line the road from the station and I thought that this was probably not the good time she had in mind!

It's been a long time since I was in a city. Bordeaux seems busy, young, trendy and amazingly warm for January! I spent the day saying 'il fait chaud' and' il est comme printemps' only to be told; well you are in the South of France now! I found the day quite hard and spent most of it feeling out of my depth. To make it worse, I arrived in the middle of a hot flush and spent the entire day feeling sweaty. Now I am only fit for bed!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Digger tales

While I plan my teaching sessions in the relative warmth of the bed-sitting room, Ian has been enjoying playing with the digger. He has been digging drainage gulleys to try to solve the problem of the subfloor flooding in winter. However, the thick claggy clay and his desire to make progress at all costs did lead to a few problems.

The digger was stuck fast in the mud, leaning over at a precarious angle and even the farmer's big yellow tractor could not shift it! Hmmmm what to do??

Eventually, after some discussion, digging, twisting, levering and groaning the digger was freed and lived to see another sunrise! Ian was happy.

The end of the holidays

In all our time coming here we have always been on holiday, (although with the amount of work we had to do it was never very restful). We would rush around with things to do, no time to do them, deadlines approaching. We would make progress and then frustratingly have to tidy up, pack up and return home exhausted to our equally busy lives. Well, now the holidays are over and this is it...We can't turn our back on it and head home as home is here. This has begun to really hit us both now and although it is great, the degree of adjustment we have to make is quite overwhelming at times and we have both had 'wobbly' days when we think 'what have we done'. However we have also had days of peace and relief.

I have found coping with the French bureaucracy the most unsettling. My attempts to get a bank account, registered with a doctor and signed on to the health insurance system have been a case of two steps forward, one step back (normal progress in France). I am slowly getting there and for me it is about having an independent identity and ‘existing’ in France in my own right and not as part of Ian. I came to this point as someone who has lived independently for 33 years, with my own history and outlook on life and at now would it be too difficult to exist entirely as part of someone else. For this reason I am looking forward to spending two days in Bordeaux next week on the first of my teaching tasks, although I am rather nervous as to how I will manage, given that my spoken French is so much worse than my written (and that my new colleagues thought that my carefully prepared session may be a little too difficult for the pupils!) Still, I will blag it and I’m sure it will be okay!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone! We celebrated New years Eve in the house; with a party with our neighbours in our temporary kitchen, in the makeshift dining room, on the trestle table covered with a plastic cloth, with the three sets of Christmas lights that we managed to salvage from the unpacking and with six of our neighbours. We barely had enough crockery and cultery, everyone brought bits and pieces and we finally got to bed by 3.00 a.m. It was a great start to our new year and new life.

Today I had to do some work for my part time job that I start in a week and Ian spent the morning on his digger; which he enjoys a lot! We visited some friends for an hour or so this afternoon and then this evening I came back and started to cook dinner when there was a loud knock at the door. Ian got up to open it and standing on the doorstep were 'Le chasse'; carrying a dripping bit of animal carcass!

Now, we can recognise a bribe when we see one and this dripping bit of bambi was in the hope that we will continue to allow them to hunt for the next year (and also a bit of a welcome present)! If you are a bit sensitive to these things I suggest you look away now.

Anyone know how to cook foreleg of bambi?