Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Happy Christmas 2012

Hi friends and family and anyone else who happens to be passing by. I don't normally send out one of those Christmas letters with my cards, but if anyone is interested then I post a link to this page, where I summarise the year, thus saving on paper and postage and ensuring that only those who really want to know what we have been doing actually have to read it!

This year started with 'more of the same' I suppose. The building project continues. January saw us making progress with the garage. It was cold but sunny and we managed to get the wall structure built before February, when we were hit by the coldest winter in 45 years. Snow is pretty unusual here but we had up to a metre of snow and temperatures that never got above -8 for two weeks. Needless to say, everything ground to a halt and it became a full time job to keep warm on our 3 kw temporary electricity supply! It finally thawed in March and we were able to get the roof on, the windows in, the doors in and covered with a weatherproof membrane. Unfortunately that is as far as we have got as other things have taken priority! What we were able to do was to finally move all of our possessions here and on the same piece of land in the same country..Some day in the future we may actually be able to unpack them all!

Other progress has been opening up the kitchen and living room and completing the electrical work so that finally, as of 4 weeks ago we have had a proper electricity supply. Next job is to put in a proper hot water system so that we can have more than 15 litres of hot water at a time! It arrives next week!

Of course in all of this we have also had to earn some money and so my work has continued at Bordeaux and Ian(sic) has been starting up his handyman business with a few jobs for other people.

Just as we were in full flow over the summer, my mother had a stroke. I was summoned to UK and spent the period of the Olympic games by her bedside. She didn't really make much recovery and died 3 weeks later, so there has been a fair bit of going back and forth before and after and no doubt more to come next year as we get on with 'sorting' things. I am doing fine but obviously have my sad moments, particularly because she never got to see our house in its finished state. My brother was also just in the final stages of his mammoth building project as well and starting a new job, so it was a stressful time for us all.  Their project was featured on Grand Designs. You can see it here. Bear in mind it is carefully edited for TV!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvMJeoTZn6o

The dog has been in our lives all year, going from being a complete and utter pain, to the best dog in the world on a regular basis. He learns quickly, but unfortunately he doesn't always learn the right things! He also proved to be an obnoxious teenager, constantly challenging for top position but also being nervous! In the end we decided to get him castrated, and that is beginning to prove to be the right decision, as the hormone levels have reduced and there are now channels of communication with him. I reckon another year and we may have cracked it! We are also considering getting another dog, as he is just one of those dogs that is so much better when he has a dog to relate to rather than a human.

Other tasks this year have included trying to get to grips with French bureaucracy, in that we registered the car, I changed my drivers licence to a French one, we filled in tax forms, and finally we both registered as small businesses. That in itself took several days of work, but stage one of our 'integration' has started.

On a less positive note my aatempts to improve my French have stagnated a bit. A summer of speaking English has not helped; so maybe that will be my New Years resolution and my goal for 2013. This, along with a list of jobs, that if we really started to think about them would make us panic, plus trying to earn the odd shilling to keep us going will no doubt keep me well and truly busy!

So, Happy Christmas to you all and best wishes for 2013. If anyone is around the aea do pop in!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Pictures with my new camera

Today we went for a walk around 'the lake'. I say 'lake' because it has been dry now for over a year and the recent rain hasn't really helped. We walked along the old river bed with the dog. As you can see it was a lovely day and I played with the camera!
The top lake

Dog playing in the puddle in the 'big lake'

Remains of trees along old river course

Man and dog

Drying off

Friday, 7 December 2012

Deer

There are quite a few deer around at the moment. I took this picture yesterday morning, just before we took the dog for a walk. There were five stopping off for a bite to eat in the field.


Yesterday, on my way to the shops, I had to brake suddenly to avoid hitting three that ran out in front of the car and this morning I was walking the dog in the bottom field and he suddenly caught sight of something in the distance. Before I could say "Gremlin come here you little sh*t" he had gone. In a flash he had crossed over the stream, through the field the other side and up into the woods. I saw his tail bobbing up and down a bit and then he disappeared from view. He has done this before but normally once the deer have run off he comes back. This time I was calling for 20 minutes, unable to cross the stream myself. Ian left his work to come and look for him the other side of the river. After about half an hour we caught sight of him following a scent home. He approached Ian, turned to look at him as if to say 'it's this way' and then carried on, appearing by my side 5 minutes later, exited, wet but rather tired. By this time Ian and I were soaked and not it in the best of moods. It was good to see that he came back eventually but worrying as once he catches sight of a deer no amount of recall training will break his focus and he can cover some distance in a matter of seconds!

Last night we ate venison casserole. The venison was a gift from the local hunt as we allow them to hunt on the land. It's arrival was not for the squeamish. The chairman of the hunt knocked on the door, plastic bag dripping in blood with a deer foot sticking out the top in one hand, and a fag in the other!  Ian cut it up and we kept some and gave some away. Normally we have been given a front leg, but this year we got a hind leg. The meat was beautifully tender.

Before I came to France I was determined to stop  hunting on the land as soon as possible, but after living here a while you see that there is a balance here that is perhaps best to accept. The deer have no natural predators and left alone the numbers would soon rise and they would become a pest, eating many of the crops. The hunt are allowed to kill a certain number each year. It is quite carefully controlled. (I say quite carefully because there are always one or two that will poach the odd one or two). Furthermore, as the hunting population is generally fairly elderly hunting day looks like an Age Concern outing with rifles, so I am not even sure whether they manage to get their targets every year. So, if we ever get llamas and horses on the land we will have to restrict it, but while it is prairie we don't rock the boat.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Get yourself something

'Get yourself something' was what my mother used to write in my birthday card each year. The card would contain a cheque and she would always say 'I never know what to get you so just yourself get whatever you want'. The first birthday without your mother is always a bit difficult. Mothers never forget their child's birthday and I wasn't really looking forward to being reminded of the fact that she is no longer here.

My mother's estate is still being sorted out, but what we do know is that after all the bills are paid and done and dusted there will be money left for each of us. I guess we will invest it wisely, but for my first birthday alone I decided that I wanted to 'get myself something' from my mother that was entirely for me. She always enjoyed reading the blog and liked looking at my rubbish photos. They have mostly been taken with a little 'happy snappy' type camera and hence a bit hit and miss. I have never had a proper grown up camera! So my birthday present from my mum was a brand new digital SLR with a proper grown up lens that comes off!

It arrived a couple of days ago and I have been playing with it ever since and amazed at how different it is. I have not gone beyond the automatic settings yet but these are a couple of my first attempts, taken from the patio.
The sunset looking like a forest fire

The sky making amazing colours
The camera is a Nikon 5100. Thanks mum!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Christmas is coming

Ian commented last night that it's only a month until Christmas. By that time we will have been here two years and I wonder where the time has gone!

One of the things I was lead to believe about France before arriving here was that the French don't do Christmas as they do in the UK. It starts later, is less tatty, more low key, etc etc.. Well. it was the second week of November when our local supermarket planted a 50 foot high inflatable snowman in the car park, and the Christmas lights are up in all the shops. This weeks advertising consists of pages and pages of Christmas essentials, from tinsel to a model of the Eiffel tower to boxes and boxes of chocolates. The shops are full of the same stuff as the shops in UK, all courtesy of a shipment or two from China. I guess that's globalism for you as the supermarkets themselves are mostly owned by multi-national companies now.

There was a thick mist this morning but now it's a clear, sunny day, warm enough to sit outside with just a jumper!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Getting on with life

Reading through my last few posts it almost appears that my entire focus for the last two months has been on the death of my mother. Well although I guess this has taken a lot of my mental focus, and maybe been the reason why I can write about nothing else, the reality is that life has continued and I have been getting on with it.

We have had a rather busy few weeks, starting with a social event at the local village hall. It was the usual format, with too much food, too much drink and a lot of work, but a good way to feel a part of a bigger group. We also had a friend staying with his two dogs, so even Gremlin got some company! The morning started with a walk, a lunchtime meal that lasted until 7.00pm, music and even some games!

I also had a week working in Bordeaux, which was hard (three nights in a city centre cheap hotel) but good to get back into things. It is just enough to keep me in touch with my interests but make me glad I gave it up as a full time job!

We have also been working to get our permanent electric supply, which we succeeded in doing last week, so for the first time in two years I can put the washing machine, toaster and dishwasher on at the same time without having to worry about tripping out the supply.

Add into that walking the dog, and all the other daily things and life has been really busy.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Dreams part 2

I'm gradually becoming aware of my mother in my dreams. She is not there completely, in that I don't dream about her face, her voice or her physical presence, but I am just aware of her. It's like a brush on the cheek, or a brief smell of a familiar scent, or a glimpse of her energy somewhere. The energy is of her as a whole person, not as she was at the end of her life so that is reassuring.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Memories of Caledonian Road Market: Sepia Saturday 215

 
I'm updating this post for this weeks Sepia Saturday, which shows a picture of a crowded street in Glasgow. Sadly I have no pictures of my own for this prompt, but my father created a picture of his own with these words.

This was one of the things I found amongst my mother's things. It was something my father wrote in response to a request from a local journalist about memories of Islington. His memories would have been from the 1920s up until after the Second World War.


We lived in Kentish Town, virtually on the doorstep of Caledonian Cattle Market. It was a huge rectangular built area with cattle pens surrounding a centre white tall building. When the market was not in use for the cattle, half of the area was allowed for an open market where you could buy almost anything. Stalls displayed bric-a-brac, paintings, vases, old jewellery, metal goods, pottery, pots and pans, food, chickens, live and dead rabbits, live cats and dogs, furniture, carpets and clothes.

An excellent place for bargain hunters and sometimes very lucrative for collectors who wanted information about an article they were looking for. Lighting for the stalls was by Kerosene lamps. Two burners supplied by a centre bowl and air pressurised. As the years progressed glass bowls were introduced over the burners and gas mantels instead of naked jets but there was something warm and old fashioned about the naked lights when they were burning.

It must not be forgotten that the Caledonian was primarily a cattle market complete with pens on the outside, south side were the slaughter houses etc. I remember as a lad from 15-18 years old going to work every morning up York Way into the market square and being confronted by herds of charging bulls and cows and sheep being driven from Kings Cross Sidings to the market or slaughter shed and the nearer they approached the sheds the more frenzied they became and I
used to flatten myself up against the railings to avoid being caught in the surge. I used to think that the animals could sense or smell the slaughterhouse.

At the eastern end (Pentonville Road) were a number of firms dealing with offal etc and it was quite a common sight to see tripe being prepared for distributors. As the years went by the flow of cattle became smaller and only the pen remained but the general market continued to well after World War 2.


I found this picture, from creative commons, of the market itself to give you an idea of the layout.

 

For some more pictures of this market and other London markets of the time, you could look here.

Sorting

Now mum's funeral is over we face the long job of 'sorting'. Actually 'sorting' her things into piles to be kept, to go to the charity shop, to be thrown away etc, didn't really take that long. I went back to UK for a week and spent 2 or 3 days in her flat. Before that my brother had already removed her clothes (something my sister couldn't face doing), so actually clearing the 'stuff' wasn't too bad. What I am doing now is looking through the piles of papers and photos, remembering, scanning, deciding whether to keep them and what to do with them. She had copies of the family tree, odd bits of writing, my grandfather's ledger etc etc. The process is long, mostly pleasant and at times bitter-sweet. I found the photo below amongst her things. It is a photo of my father and his cousin Stan. I never met Stan but mum said he was one of my father's closest friends. He died when he fell off the platform of a number 140 bus as it went round the roundabout at Kenton, in North London.
Arthur and Stan

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Drunk dog loses boll*cks

It's been an eventful month for the dog. After he disgraced himself at the dog show by being completey disobediant we decided that his breeding potential was limited!  I was going to wait until I returned from my latest trip to UK before getting him castrated, but in the end thought it would be better to do it as soon as possible. So, three weeks ago he checked into the vets. He was not a happy dog and ended up biting the vet nurse in his terror, but in the end his b*llocks were removed! I have to say I was a little shocked at the size of the surgery, made worse by the fact that he tried to lick it all day. He was obviously in pain, so the following day I returned to the vet and got some painkillers and one of those lampshade collars. He was suprisingly tolerant of it and seemed to quite enjoy banging it into my legs. He was pretty shakey for a day or two but then by the time I had to go back to the UK he was getting better and not paticularly bothered by the wound.

Gremlin with the lampshade


I was away a week and when I returned we took him to have the stitches removed, where it took three of us to hold him still while the vet snipped the stitches. We then decided to get his vaccinations done at the same time. By this point he was in a really bad mood and snarled, growled and snapped at the vet. As we left the surgery the other dog owners looked on with a pitying and slightly scared look! It's hard to explain that this whirling dervish of a dog can actually be a good boy sometimes!


As a treat we took him to Ian's sister's house so he could run around like a mad thing in the garden. This he did, while I picked apples from the tree. The ground was covered with windfalls and Gremlin happily tucked in while I picked away. He had another mad run around and then quietened down and then disappeared. I called him and eventually he staggerred over looking rather sorry for himself. He definately looked ill, seemed unable or unwilling to stand and very sleepy. After a process of elimination we concluded that he must have eaten too many apples and they started fermenting in his stomach, giving him a severe bellyache and making him drunk. He seeemed perfectly willing to do things but unable to work out what to do! This was confirmed by his demeanor over the following 24 hours, where he slowly 'sobered up' but looked like he had one hell of a hangover!





Saturday, 8 September 2012

Dreams

I haven't dreamt about my mother since she died. I think after my father died it took a while before I dreamt about him. However, at the moment he is often there, in my dreams. Last night I dreamt about Ian's father. He died before I met Ian, but last night he was there and I was introduced to him, although I couldn't quite make out by whom.

Life goes on

It feels strange to continue blogging with mentions of more mundane everyday things, but that is exactly what we have been doing.

One thing about dogs is that they don't have time for what happened yesterday and are concerned totally with now. So, my rather sad and contemplative mood was quickly interpreted as weakness by the stinky dog and he saw it as his chance to take over! On our daily walks all thoughts of sadness had to be put to one side while I concentrated on trying to be a strong confident pack leader! On some occasions it works but it doesn't stop the little sh*t from testing the water every morning! Never mind, I will have the last word on this as he has an appointment at the vets next week to have his b*llocks removed! We decided that there can only ever be one 'Gremlin'.

It has been unseasonably hot and dry here, with temperatures in the 30s and no rain. Everywhere looks parched and bare. It is a bit cooler at night, which at least gives us the chance to cool down and get some sleep, but dog walks need to be done early and late, when the harvest mites seem to be at their worst. These little larvae get under your skin (literally) around the sweaty areas of clothing, such armpits, groin and under your bra. They inject you with something to dissolve your skin, feed off it, drop off and leave you with the most annoying itch that lasts for days!

As I seem to be doing an animal blog, I will conclude with mention of the cat, who seems to be getting more and more demented! He is now quite deaf, miaows loudly and is hyper affectionate for the first time in his life, wanting to sleep as close to me as he can. I fear his kidney's and thyroid are on the way out, but as he is old I don't want to go through the ordeal of vets and tests and tablets and more tests that will eventually end in him getting to the end of his life anyway, so I just keep and eye on him, let him eat what he wants and worry about how many more boxes of cat food I will need to stock up on!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Eulogy

We wrote the Eulogy for my mother's funeral service. I really wanted to remember her for the times in her life when she was healthy and vibrant and not the last few weeks. I decided to publish it here.. I have changed a few names as it is a public blog but I don't really expect many people to read to the end!

Lovely's Mum- the original Spice Girl

There are a few things about Lovely's Mum that you might not know.

She might have appeared a quiet and unobtrusive person, but underneath that exterior there was the heart of an adventurer; a free spirit with a sense of humour, a keen wit and an eagle eye.  Long before ‘Girl Power’ Lovely's Mum was doing what she really really wanted!

She was born on her mother’s birthday and grew up as an only child, describing her own childhood as quite lonely. However this forced her to be self sufficient and to seek out her own entertainment. When she was evacuated to rural Shropshire with her mother during the War, she became a teenage rebel. Her mother fretted as Lovely's Mum became fascinated with the local gypsies, running off into the woods to watch them roasting hedgehogs over their open fire.

The War was a difficult time and she spent much of it in fear of what would happen to her if the Germans invaded. However, these experiences seemed to spur her on to explore and discover other places and cultures. Shortly after the end of the War she and a friend got on their bikes and cycled through Northern France wearing the shortest of shorts! They started in London and made it as far as Reims, a distance of some 269 miles as the crow flies. France was still recovering from occupation at the time and they made people laugh by asking for coffee with cream, something that had not been seen for a while! They slept in fields, on one occasion in a brothel and on another in the cell of a local police station, when the local Gendarme took pity on them. And it would seem that this love for cycling was something which Lovely's Mum passed on to the little Lovelies!

Lovely's mum in her shorts


Also around this time Lovely's Mum became pen-pals with someone in Minnesota, as part of a project organised to link up young people from different cultures. Lovely's mum and Loris wrote regularly to each other for the rest of their lives. Loris visited London in the 1960s and Lovely's mum repaid the visit in the 1980s, making the news in the local papers and radio. The last letters they exchanged were last Christmas.
Lovely's mum and Loris


She also visited the Soviet Union before the end of the Communist regime, with a friend from work. Her one frustration was that she couldn’t speak any Russian and communicate with the people she met.
She would never turn down an opportunity to travel when she was in good health. When Youngest Lovely was sent on his first business trip t o New York, he half jokingly said to her “you can come if you want”, not really expecting her to say yes. Well he obviously underestimated her tenacity and she jumped at the chance; and so Youngest Lovely was accompanied on his first proper business trip by his mother, who enjoyed several days of 5-star luxury in the Big Apple!
She also enjoyed many walking holidays and her most recent trip was to Eastbourne in May, with friends from her apartment block. In one of Lovely’s last conversations with her she said that she was still planning to visit her in her new house in France when it was finished and would soon sort herself out a new passport.

Lovely's Mum was not a drinker, although she would occasionally have a glass of wine. This aversion to alcohol stemmed from her 21st Birthday party. Her parents had organised a big family party and she celebrated by downing a whole bottle of port. The ‘other side’ of her character then  emerged and the quiet Lovely's Mum was replaced by a far more outrageous version as she systematically  went round all the invited guests and told them exactly what she thought of them. This was much to the embarrassment of her mother who refused to talk to her the next day (although in later years it was a story she loved to tell everyone). From that day Lovely's Mum decided that the excesses of alcohol were not for her and she preferred to keep her wilder side well and truly hidden.

Lovely's Mum met Lovely's Dad on the tennis courts at the Civil Service sports club. A friend bet him that he couldn’t get a date with this young girl, as he was quite a bit older than her. They underestimated Lovely’s Mum's sense of adventure. She described Lovely's Dad as being far more dynamic and energetic that any of the men her age. Marrying someone 26 years your senior was a controversial thing to do in the 1950s but she never let what people thought stop her from doing what she felt was right. When people said, “well with that age difference you won’t be having any children”, she replied by saying “oh yes we will, lots”. She refused to wear a white wedding dress, saying the colour didn’t suit her, and on the morning of her wedding she returned from the hairdressers and washed out the shampoo and set, preferring a more natural look.
Lovely's Mum and Lovely's Dad


Lovely's Mum never liked to push her opinions on others but she did have them and was not averse to expressing them in a well penned letter. She was particularly fond of the cricketer, Ian Botham. She entered into a serious correspondence with John Junor of the Mail on Sunday when he wrote an article accusing him of being a foul mouthed yobbo. She concluded her letter to John Junor by saying
When I read your remarks I felt like “planting one on yer” which is what us true foul mouthed yobbos say!! “ and signed the letter
Yours ever, Lovely's Mum”.
The following year she sent a letter to Ian Botham himself when he announced his retirement. It said
Just a short ‘thank you’ note for the many hours of wonderful cricket. I have enjoyed your playing career especially because you have always appeared to be so competitive and keen to win. Cricket will be the loser on your retirement, but thank goodness for ‘son of Botham’- there is still hope.”

As a mother, Lovely's Mum had a very relaxed approach to parenting.  She certainly didn’t “sweat over the small stuff”.  Domesticity was not one of her great loves and it suffices to say that from fairly early on we all learnt to do our own ironing, if we were being fussy.  She was loyal, loving and always there to pick up the pieces if things went wrong.  In her own quiet way she inspired us to be true to ourselves and lead the lives we really wanted to.

Lovely'a Mum did not like being the centre of attention and she will probably be cringing now at all this fuss. She would want to be remembered as she was in life; her own person, determined, adventurous, thoughtful and considerate to others and definitely not ‘plain vanilla’.

Lovely's Mum on her 80th birthday with the little lovelies


Signed The Little Lovelies, August 2012

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The end

In the end the end came quickly. Over the weekend she seemed to be asleep more than she was awake and when she was awake she pulled out her feeding tube. My sister watched her in a physiotherapy session and the only time she seemed to respond to anything was when she heard my sister's voice. Another feeding tube was inserted but she pulled it out almost immediately. Hard to know whether this was just a response to the sensation or a conscious decision on her part. If it was the latter I can't say I blame her. My sister was called to say that her breathing had deteriorated but by the time she arrived she was already dead. The most likely immediate cause was that she had been sick and inhaled her own vomit. We were left with mixed emotions as a life as the one that loomed ahead of her had she survived would have been no life.

Now it is over the idea that she was unwell for only 3 weeks before she died seems relatively short compared to what some people suffer but in the middle of it we suffered every minute of it with her and it felt like an eternity.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A strong heart

My mother has a strong heart. She has never smoked or drank large amounts of alcohol; has always eaten well (despite the love of all things sweet and chocolaty) and although never one for sport, she enjoyed walking and kept active.

Now it is her strong heart that is keeping her going although her brain has all but given up the ghost. Two weeks on she remains much the same, with some minor improvements in consciousness, although I am not sure how much of that is wishful thinking on my part. I am not sure how good her strong heart is for her well being. She is completely dependent for everything, being fed and given fluids through a tube, she has a catheter and wears pads. The only parts of her body that she can move herself are her left arm and leg. She can shrug her left shoulder and use her left arm to feel her face and hair, and while she is there play around with the tube in her nose. She seems to be able to see things when she is awake and at times can recognise us, but as she can't communicate in any meaningful way and I don't know what she understands of her situation.

I know that there is always hope for improvement and it is early days, but looking at my mother now and remembering what she was like only two weeks ago, and thinking about the best kind of improvement that we can hope for, I am still undecided about what I wish for. Her suffering is plain to see.

Because of her strong heart she has survived and so we must offer supportive care and clutch at the positive signs as we can. If she continues with no improvement I am sure that nature will take its course in a matter of months and her strong heart will eventually be weakened by infection or just the burden of continuing to live.

In the meantime I have to continue my life and am returning to France soon, leaving time and nature to run its course.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

All change again

Wow, just when life is ticking over nicely something comes along to pull the rug from under your feet and to stop you feeling too complacent. I got the call last week that everyone who lives away from their family dreads. "Call me urgently, it's about mum" In my family this means business.

Mum had not been seem all day and when someone went to check they had found her collapsed on the toilet. Looking at the fact that the breakfast things were still out, she must have been there since morning. My sister arrived at the same time as the paramedics and she was taken to the nearby hospital where she was admitted, having had a very large bleed into her brain. It was critical and I had to come.

It's amazing how quickly you can do things! Ian had booked my flight for the following morning and I had packed my hand luggage in half an hour. We had to leave at 5.00a.m. the following morning and I worked hard through the night to get my head round the fact that my mum was dying and I might not make it in time. Sleep was never really going to be an option.

At the airport the following day I noticed that red eyes mean you get given plenty of space in the waiting room! I made my way from Gatwick to Heathrow, seeing the first arrivals for the Olympic Games at Terminal 4 in a slightly surreal atmosphere. From the airport I got a lift to the hospital. She was in the acute stroke unit and we were given unlimited visiting (not a good sign). As I arrived I saw the red eyes and worried looks of my brother and sister and then saw a person in the bed who had some features of my mother but really wasn't her. She was wired up to a drip as she was unable to swallow and was being given fluids, but that was it. The bleed had affected over one third of her brain and was untreatable. We spent the weekend waiting.

On Monday, the doctors returned from the weekend, surprised to find that she was still there with relatively stable vital signs, although she had a chest infection. At this point they started a more active treatment approach and treated her with antibiotics and started to feed her through a naso-gastric tube. By Tuesday she was a little more responsive. She is able to follow us with her eyes, hold hands and move her left arm and hand. The worst of it however is that I think she is able to understand a reasonable amount of what is going on but can't speak or communicate in any other way. I really at this stage don't know what I wish for and what is possible.

Arriving in London in the countdown to the Olympic Games, in an unplanned way, with just hand luggage is a really unsettling experience. Today I booked a flight home in a weeks time and I will go whatever happens, even if I have to return again quickly.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Things to do!

I can't believe how long it has been since I last posted here. I think we thought somehow that coming to live here was going to be a bit like early retirement, where we would still be busy but would have more time! Well that couldn't be further from the truth as we have a list of projects that gets longer each day and each time we cross off one job we add on two more!  The positive things are that we are working in a nice environment, we are pretty much working for ourselves and we don't do the same things everyday.

So here is some of what we have been doing:-

We have been making hay while the sun shines.. although it turned out that was only for a weekend and came at the time when we had a million and one other things to do. So, our one day off for weeks was spent cutting, baling and lugging hay. We called in a few favours in order to get it done and by the end of Sunday had a field full of large bales and a big pile of small ones. The wet summer has meant we have about 5 times as much as last year.


The wet warm whether has caused the garden to grow and I have been inundated with courgettes again! We have been eating courgette soup (quite nice), courgette lasagna, courgette muffins, stir fried courgettes, courgette scones.... (next year must remember that two courgette plants is ample!)

I guess people who have been reading the blog for some time expect that after 18 months our building project should be complete, we should already have our llamas and be open for business.  We are now more accepting of the fact that it will take longer than we anticipated to get that far!  Day to day life seems to take more time than we expected! Still we are progressing slowly. A big step this week is that for the first time since Ian and I met, all our possessions are in the same piece of land! For 18 months most of the boxes that we brought from England have been stored at a neighbours house. This week Ian managed to finish boarding an area in the garage that we can use as storage and we moved our boxes in there. They didn't look so bad when they were all piled up in one space.

We have also been trying to make headway with the electrics so that we can get our permanent supply connected before our temporary supply is cut off (as is being threatened!) We have a 4 page list of jobs and are gradually ticking off the red (high priory ones ). Some days we get it down to three pages but then remember other things that need to be added!

So, with all these things to do, I suppose we don't need another project but we just can't resist! Someone was offering an old caravan free to someone who could collect it. We volunteered our services and so yesterday drove 2 hours to collect what I have now christened 'Norma' the caravan; named after my old cat that never made it to France with me! Here are two pictures of Norma as she was this morning.


Of course we can't resist attempting a major restoration project at some time in the future. I have always wanted to have a go at tarting up an old caravan and turning it into a kitch waggon. Ian is not so sure about the kitch bit but when he saw what we could get in rental for one he was more convinced! For now we are just going the repair the leaks and damage and clean it up....but it has been a great thing to be thinking about while we should be doing other things!

Someone asked me before I left whether I would be bored in France and questioned what I would find to do with time! I can honestly say I have never been busier!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Strange goings on in the country

Sometimes on a Sunday I can persuade Ian to come for a walk with Gremlin and me. One of the walks we do takes us down into the village, along a couple of farm roads, and back home. On the way back we pass a dis-used quarry. It always looks very tempting and this time we decided to pop in and have a look round. (I should say this was about a month ago). It was quite a weird place. There were the remains of the workings. Ian and I were saying that probably many of the houses round here would have been built with stone from this quarry. In one corner there was an area that looked a bit like it had been used for fly tipping. There were a lot of large chunks of concrete slab, earth, gate posts etc. Ian had a good look and we did think that some of it might have some use. We decided that we might ask one of the nearby neighbours if they knew who owned it and if the items there were needed. Here is a picture of Ian and Gremlin climbing over the rubble.
There was a bit of strange smell there and I didn't feel comfortable, so we left and continued our walk.

A lot of people die here. This is probably because the population is quite old. There was yet another burial in the local graveyard attached to the church a couple of weeks ago. The graveyard is quite small and I often wondered where they put all the bodies.. (Are you beginning to work it out yet?). Once I went and had a walk round the cemetery but I didn't like it. There were lots of flies, decaying flowers and a funny smell (although it was the middle of August and hot).

This week the news broke amongst the English speaking community (although it had been news for a few days prior to that). A walker had also been in the quarry and had also been poking through the rubbish and found human remains; skulls, femurs, burial shrouds and even an old coffin. He had reported it to the police and it transpires that the local undertakers (or their employees) had been exhuming bodies to make way for new occupants. Now in France this appears to be legal under certain circumstances. The body must have been in the ground for at least 5 years and there must be no relatives, or they must give consent. The Maire must sign the authorisation and any human remains must be returned to the church where they are stored. Now the undertaker is in prison, his business closed for 6 months and he is facing charges that could mean up to a year in prison and a fine.

This is a link to an article on the local news about the events!

I am definately even more convinced than ever that cremation is the way to go!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Broadening Horizons

It has been a little while since I posted anything. Reading my last entry, about buidling the garage, I realise that we have been quite busy. The garage is now placed on hold as we have had to change priorities and concentrate on getting as much of the wiring done as possible so that we can apply for our permanent electricity supply. This is because EDRF are now threatening to disconnect the temporary electric supply that we have been living off for the past year. We can't really argue against it as we have had the supply for 6 years and technically we are not supposed to use it to live off! The positive thing is that it means we are making progress on our living area which is a great morale booster!

The wonderful thing is that we seal off bare walls with plasterboard never to see them again, and open up areas that we had temporary sealed. Today we removed our temporary wall between the kitchen and living room and for the first time were able to enjoy the open view, through the two doors.
The space has been a bit overwhelming and all of us, including Gremlin, felt a little lost. Maybe soon I can unwrap my grandmother's chairs!

Looking out of the double doors we can get a good view of the four hoopoes that feed off all the insects on the lawn. Unfortunately I can't get close enough to get a good photo!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Spring

May continues and is nearly at an end already! I have been busy with marking student work and trying to fathom out how to fill in a French tax form. The forms finally became available on the 9th May, to be filled in and returned by the 31st with fines for being late! This is one of the most frustrating things about France. A bureaucracy that makes the UK look simple with people employed to run it in the least efficient way possible! Well, we will do our best sfe in the knowledge that even if we got it right the chances of anyone in the tax office of being able to work it out are slim, so we expect them either to ignore it completely or return it as 'unacceptable' when we will get a D- and told to do better!

Ian has been continuing with the garage. The batons are on for the wall panels and we have been boarding off a little of the inside walls so that we can move our boxes out of storage for the first time in 18 months!

The weather remains mixed but this year the wild flowers have been out in abundance, including the orchids, although this time they are hidden in the field amongst the grass.




Walking the dog has become difficult as the grass is too long and when he decided to run off after a scent he disappears into the field and we can't see him! With that in mind Ian repaired the tractor this week and ewas able to cut a path around the edge.

I should really take Gremlin for a walk now but as I look out it is pouring with rain, so he may have to wait a bit!
The other news is that France has a new president, Monsieur Hollandaise as they have nicknamed him. I don't know in the end whether it will make much difference whoever is in government but even if I did have an opinion I couldn't vote anyway!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Storm approaching

I was just about to take Gremlin for a walk when I saw this approaching. The lightening took out our circuit breaker. Fortunatel it passed over in a couple of hours.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Home

We are finally getting over our trip back to UK. Going away requires extra washing and work before you go, two gruelling days of travel, hard work socialising and then washing and cleaning when you get back. Today the rain stayed away and I was able to do the last lot of washing and get it dry on the line.

It's been so long since I blogged that Google has changed its layout. Not sure I like the new one but sure I will eventually work it out.

We arrived back to torrential rain and wind and water seeping over the new garage floor. Lesson to selves: when laying service trenches to a building (especially when the building is at the bottom of a hill) make sure that you lay some drainage and divert the pipe away from the house, or else it will just collect all the water as it runs off the slope and spill it out the end! In this case the end was in the new garage. The solution was to get out the digger and dig lots of trenches.

I will do a seperate post of Gremlin's adventures in London, but just add that he seemed happy to be back and celebrated by running off to look for his girlfriend!

May looks like it is going to be a busy month with  couple of dinner invites, the hunt soiree, and of course plenty of jobs to do.

More later.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Wrapping up

The weather is turning a little and rain is forecast for the rest of the week. This is very much needed but means outside jobs are on hold now until after we come back from our 10 days in UK. Our last job before the rain was to finish wrapping the garage in its breathable membrane to protect the OSB.





As you can see all doors and windows are now in as well, so the garage is watertight and secure. The next job is to paint the floor (as once everything is in there it will never get done), render the concrete blocks at the bottom and batton and clad the outside. Then we should be able to move our boxes out of storage and the tools out of the house!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Springtime

This couple appeared in the front of the house yesterday. They are hoopoe and are common here around springtime. I had just attempted to mow our apology for a lawn and I guess there must have been a lot of insects around! The photos are pretty poor as I had to take them through the kitchen window before the birds flew off. I think they are nesting in our neighbours roof.




We also have a bird nesting in the tower and one trying to nest in the garage. Spring is here!

I planted my onions and potatoes last week. The vegie patch has been increased by a third in size and I reckon is now big enough to feed two people, although the soil will need a couple more years before it is properly workable.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sheepgate (and other stories)

Spring is now here and we are up to 25 degrees during the day. Although the nights are clear they are not too cold and so we have forgotten about heating and are beginning to look out our summer clothes (not much different to the winter clothes but just have shorter sleeves!)

Last week Ian celebrated his half century, which required me to make a few mad cakes. Here are the results.
The tractor was all they had in the gift shop that was appropriate. It is made in China!

Cup cakes with chocolate and vanilla butter icing decorated with licorice allsorts
Gremlin the naughty cattle dog is slowly calming down at times. His main difficulties (or should I say our main difficulties) are his over exitement at anything remotely different. To that end we are trying to increase his disciplined exercise and I am trying to run with him (trying because I can't keep up) whereas Ian is trying to get him used to running after the mountain bike without attacking it. We have been having some success although he still runs off unpredictably after an interesting smell or a flapping duck, taking the bike or me with him.

Yesterday Ian took him round the field and I waited on the terrace for them to return. I glanced down towards Herman's field and noticed his sheep running around in all directions. After a while I could just about make out another animal with them. Closer inspection showed a red dog, causing havoc! I concluded the worse; that Gremlin had escaped from Ian and was having a good time on his own. I put on some shoes and made to go across the field, when I saw Ian and Gremlin trotting up together.  Further investigation revealed that Herman's dog had got out of his dog house and was rounding up  the sheep in Herman's absence (only not very gently!). A rescue party was launched consisting of me, Ian and a neighbour. When we arrived we heard the dog in the distance. After calling him a few times he sheepishly appeared (punn intended) and we were able to put him away. Now to look at the damage! There were sheep all over the place; several in the stream, some in different fields, many with big bite marks in their flesh. Ian and the neighbour set about trying to drag the wet sheep from the river and tend to the wounded. It took about and hour of pulling, coaxing, lugging, calling and falling in the stream to get them all accounted for. One lamb was dead and one sheep looked close to death. Herman returned at this point and surveyed the damage. We were amazed to see this morning that all the surviving sheep were still alive and grazing in their field.

Drought is anticipated this year. We walked around the lake with Gremlin this weekend. It should be full at this time of the year but it is less than half full.


As we were walking round the lake a couple warned us that further round there was an 'incident' and we might be turned back. They thought someone may have collapsed (maybe died) as there were Gendarme all around. When we got there it was mid-day and the incident had just been cleared in time for the Gendarme to go for lunch.

Today there was a funeral in the village. I don't know who it was but there were well over 100 people there. It is the third funeral in the village that we have seen and they all have been well attended!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Marching forward

March seems to be going by rather quickly. Our aim is to get the garage sealed and secure by mid April, when we are returning to UK for a week. With that in mind Ian has been putting in windows and doors. These are the latest pictures.
Back of garage 21st March

Double doors still needing fitting

End view; door still needing fitting
The roof is now completely finished, including cementing and pointing the ridge tiles. The large shutter doors still need installing and then the whole outside can be clad. I think I am going to call the garage the EBay garage as that is where much of the materials are from. The cladding is a type of fibro cement panel, popular in the United States. Ian saw it on EBay and had two pallets shipped from the UK. The windows are not EBay but special offer in our local DIY store and cost 70 euros each. The roll down doors, all the nails, the breathable membrane for the outside and all the tools required for the build (nail gun, stappler etc) were all EBay specials, and even with delivery have saved a considerable sum of money on the costs.

The garage is looking rather good now, to the extent that we were told by the local Maire that people are concerned that we are building gites, not a garage. I decided to make a joke of it (because it is a bit of a joke!) and told them that there was no doubt that the garage was going to be nicer than the house, but that was because Ian thinks his tools need a special place to live!

This week we have had our first real experience of French administration. Ian has been trying to register the car and I have been trying to exchange my drivers license for a French one. This has required three or four trips to various offices that are only open between 8.30 and 12.00 every day and very slow progress. One trip to the local town hall in Bergerac was the closest I have come to experiencing a visit to the DHSS in the UK. We are resolving to do as much as we can by post and email from now on, even  though everyone says you only get things done if you go in person!

The problem with exchanging the drivers licence is that as soon as you send it off if you are stopped by the Gendarme you can be fined for not having a licence. We struggled to find out the correct procedure in this case. The town hall suggested we asked the Gendarme and the Gendarme suggested that we asked the town hall! In the end we we to the village council and got a letter from them certifying that they had sent it all off to the appropriate people!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Ticked off


I didn't take this photo myself. It comes from here and is a deer tick. We have a lot of ticks here and they seem to like Gremlin a lot! Of course we are trying the flea and tick treatments, which seem to make no difference at all to the nasty little b*ggers, and in the end we have to remove them as we find them. They make me feel pretty itchy, especially as Ian found one just about to take hold of his leg the other day. Here they transmit nasty things like Lyme disease in humans and some nasty dog tick disease that has already killed two dogs this way..so we don't like them at all!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Garage gets a hat

More news on the garage building. Pleasant weather has continued and we now have a roof, minus only the ridge tiles. It was a three person and a tractor job, and once all the preparation had been done the placing of the tiles took two half days in total. Here are some pictures.




Thursday, 1 March 2012

Extremes

Ian and I have been struggling to fight off a rather nasty cold for the last two weeks and are only just winning. I suppose that's one of the problems with having temperatures of minus 20 one week and plus 20 a few days later. We had a quiet weekend to try and recover, but this week Ian could sit still no more and started to work on the roof of the garage. Tomorrow the tiles go on, but in the meantime here are a couple of pictures.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Gosip and idle thoughts

No theme to todays posting.. just odd thoughts and observations on life here.

So here we are coming to the end of another month. The garage is slowly moving forward but weather has held us back a bit. The forecast now is looking more promising so hopefully we can crack on with it and move on to the next job! We still haven't got round to registering the car in France (as the process is fairly complex) and as the insurance runs out soon, and my UK drivers licence needs to be renewed and changed to a French one, then this job is taking on more importance.

Sunday here is the hunting day. Mostly there are one or two hunters out looking for rabbits or hare, but every month or so the whole hunt come out in force to hunt deer. It's a bit of a fiasco and looking at them out there last week I couldn't help remarking to Ian, that for the hunt organiser it must be a bit like organising a day trip for age concern, since the average age of most of the hunting contingent is well past retirement. They are usually driven to their stations in a 4x4 as they are too frail to walk there and mostly they use the gun barrel as a mobility aid. I guess that over the next few years with the old brigade dying off, so will the hunt. There are younger members but most of them suffer from the 21st century disease of too little time and too much work. I have mixed feelings. Having been anti-hunting for years I won't miss the spectacle, but at least here they eat what they kill and respect the wildlife around them, wanting to preserve natural environments so that there are plenty of things for them to shoot. Without the hunt, people would put down poison and adopt other more nasty and dangerous forms of pest control to keep the deer, rabbits and hare, etc from taking over.

Looking at the older population around here, it did strike me that it is very like "last of the summer wine." The older generation still get out and about and get themselves into mischief. One dropped dead last week after shovelling snow. He was well over 80 and I couldn't help but think what a nice way to go! The local accent and patois is also widely used amongst this group. They have names like Combo, Old Scapan and Peter Orange. Old Scapan is a hunter in his 80s who has a wife 20 years his junior. He still drives his tractor around. Peter Orange lives with his wife but they argue a lot and he has made it known that he is looking for another, much younger one. I have yet to identify the Nora Batty character but there are several candidates.

On a completely different note, the first of the three babies expected to be born in the village this year arrived recently. Well, at least I assume it did as the pregnant lady no longer looks pregnant!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Thaw

At last the snow has cleared and we can see the field again. Temperatures are up to seasonal normal and life is slowly getting back to normal. Burst pipes are being mended, freezers re-stocked and mail is now being delivered.
We managed quite well despite the fact that we live in an unfinished house with no central heating and only a 3kw temporary electric supply. Ian even managed to continue on with the garage on some days, although on others keeping warm was a full time job.

Here are the latest pictures.




Next stage is the roof.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A few photos of the snow (and no sign of it going any day soon!)

The view from the terrace

Looking up the road

The stinking pool that Gremlin loves

A VERY cold dawn (-13.9 on our thermometer)

Gremlin thinks it is great!