Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of Leaving Normal

Year End

I declared, on what I thought was the 28 December 2014 but have just discovered was the 20th, that I would write for a year.  I was miserable and lost.  I was facing a Christmas without my dear children.  I had just spent a working year where I had not completed on a single property and therefore not deposited a penny into the communal funds.  I had forgotten about the fun things of the year.  This is what I wrote

20 December 2014

There is a picture doing the rounds of FB with the words 'if you aren't happy with what you have got, how can you be happy with more ?'.  True, I am not happy with what I have got - with the shite work, money worries, the bastard clients, the crap that circles around my head.  I need a change of reality.  I need to leave normal.  2015 is looming and I must do something different if I want this year not to be a repeat of the last eight years.

OK what do I want - lets focus on the positive

1.  Spend six months over winter in Paris in somewhere good with views of the Eiffel Tower and paint.

2.  Spend six months over summer in Provence and paint in all the places that the romantic painters painted.

3.  Do Strictly Come Dancing

4.  Make Angels and become well known for Angel making like Little A Designs and Mr Finch.

5.  Sell all properties in bastard, bastard town where I live

6.  Build grand designs property overlooking the South Coast of England.

7.  WF gets job which makes him happy and they both get decent caring girlfriends.

8.  End the year knowing I am on the right road.

Positive things about this year

1.  Have done level 2 reiki

2.  Link up with other agency means I wont be alone

3.  FB group going great guns - could it be Andorran version of the WI

4.  Have actually lost over a stone by giving up dairy and bread

5.  Apparently have had a lot of weeks away and have forgotten virtually all of them because have spent so much time stressing about work.  I take pictures on iPhone which faithfully records where I have been and when.  Completely forgot about Cordoba and Seville.   Heat was murderous and choosing to go to a spa (hot salt pool) and drink Turkish tea was unfortunate.  Combination of excessive wine, snoring disturbed sleep and over tapa-ing usually leaves me longing to get into my own cool bed and sleep twelve hours.

6.  I have got to the end of this year in one piece and avoided nervous breakdown.

Football blasting through the floor of my bedroom which is also ceiling of the front room.  Battery on laptop about to run out.  Not feeling inspired.  Here endeth Day 1 of 365 days which will be different.  Normal will be eradicated.  Leaving launched.

The most progress has been made on number 8 - I feel much more centred and now see my direction clearly.  I have sold one of the properties, two flats remain to be sold plus the main house.  We have the project to buy the investment property in the Lake District and I have a brilliant new project on which to focus.  The group has continued to grow and new people have come to the fore.  I have an outlet for my creativity - resin - which I can continue to develop.  This year coming will definitely be the last one in full time estate agency in France.  As for the rest of my wish list, they are still definitely on my bucket list.

What is the brilliant new project you may be asking?  It arose through a conversation with JJ.  She talked about an instagram business which is called Lucky Dip Club where people subscribe, or bid, to receive boxes of handmade items.  Each month has a theme and people do not know what is in the boxes but they pay 18 pounds sterling a month.  Typically, the boxes will contain a LDC charm, a piece of jewellery and paper goods such as cards or book marks or note books.  My idea is the Handmade Button club.  Bimonthly and containing a limited edition of handmade buttons and themed.  Have contacted LDC to ask to be a participant and am waiting to see what their response will be.  They currently are selling 1100 boxes a month.  The potential is huge, with vintage and handmade being so popular.  I will post world wide, LDC just does the UK.  The only limit will be how many buttons I can produce.

This will be the last post in Leaving Normal.  I will continue to blog on a new page called Normal Reloaded.  I will not write every day but will write when something worth writing about occurs.  Quality over quantity?  The exercise has been wonderful, as has the discipline, but I would love the opportunity of having some lie ins during the week instead of waking and thinking, I must catch up.  Thank you for following me and reading my blog, all and every one of you.

And happy New Year wherever you are


Sunday 27 December 2015

Drizzle 11 degrees

Had another short night's sleep on the short sofa and woke to a grey and drizzly dawn with the spectres of the furniture dark against the plate glass windows and the beady eye of a grecian head vase watching me from a side table.  Bliss and silence.  Found a notebook and wrote for an hour, drank tea and absorbed the peace and a number of cups of tea and a mince pie found in a formica wrapped tin.  The central heating hummed and water swished up from the wheels of passing cars.

Day dawned proper and I lifted my stuff and went to find OH on another sofa and we snuggled up for tea and a snooze and people started to wake and move about and the floors creaked and the kettle whistled and it was time for breakfast.

Had a walk in the fine rain.  No one around.  BIL and SIL went out early evening to see friends and DL and I made some salad and cut meats and we had a jolly Last Supper together before some intensive partner whist and another episode of And Then There Were none and to bed and the leap til morning.

Boxing Day

Friday 26 December 2015

Boxing Day 

Sudden showers 11 degrees

Hurray, we are not in France and all of the shops are OPEN!  Had some cereal and fruit and loads of tea and coffee and SIL looked rather tired and WF said he had done enough shopping the other day so OH and I went into BSE and looked at Debenhams and some men's outfitters and had lovely pumpkin soup and read the papers and watched people and listened to their conversations.

Didnt manage to find anything we really wanted - I am still keen on finding a Dremel drill with some fine bits, in order to drill out resin pieces.  Also need to find some two part epoxy mould making silicone.

OH said he knew of a craft shop, which got me really excited, but it was shut.  Drove around the lovely villages, including Lavenham, which is full of gorgeous thatched cottages with wooden columbages and painted in shades of red, rose, yellow and blue.  So beautiful and so English.

Got back rather late and found that GJ and JJ had gone and OH's brother and family had arrived - CL, wife DL, daughter HL and son TL.  We had grabbed the comfy bed and left them the sofas and the double sofa bed but OH had not changed the sheets on the sofa bed before leaving this morning and apparently DL had kicked off about this.  SIL cornered OH and I could hear hissed words.  I kept well out of it.  DL is always kicking off about things.  I thought she had had her hair coloured, which would have been a real surprise as she is the meanest woman on the Planet when it comes to spending cash.  No, she has gone a yellowy kind of grey and, despite being nearly 60, still has the same mid shoulder length hair with chewed off fringe; the speciality of the now ageing mobile hairdresser who comes to her house twice a year.  They are busy installing themselves.  BIL is looking stressed at the amount of clobber they have spread everywhere and WF seems to have gone for a sleep.

I make a better effort on the starter and produce goats cheese with caramelised onions, creamy salad dressing on rocket and spinach and Bayonne ham and cherry tomatoes with ricotta.  Everyone but DL eats and enjoys it.  DL gives most of it to WF as she 'cant' eat ricotta or goats cheese or Bayonne ham.  She has no problem eating cake, I notice.

The last time I saw her, she took me 'shopping' in Meadow Hall in Sheffield.  I wanted a hat for MIL's funeral and found some wonderful ones and DL wouldn't let me buy them and kept on dragging me into more shops until we rang out of time.  She wouldn't go for a coffee or lunch but sat on a bench with a discount sandwich and a small bottle of water.  I left her to it and had at least two cups of coffee and a delicious bacon, lettuce and tomato on cereal. She is totally exhausting and can only talk about shopping and telly.  OH brother doesn't seem to like her either.  It is beyond me how they had three children together.  I ended up hiring a hat.  A massive, sparkly, black hat.  I feel funerals are for celebrating a life, not being miserable.  I suspect it did badly block the view of the people sitting behind me though...  

She is a denizen of the charity shops, where she doesn't hesitate to use her negotiating skills.  Everything then amasses in their home and garage, which after 24 years of occupation, are bulging in a Cyril Fletcher suit fashion.  The garage is the home of items which are designated 'garage sale'.  The paraphernalia of the growing up of three children who fell in and out of love with bikes, skateboards, scooters, dolls, computers, printers, pool table, table tennis tables, car bits and broken furniture.  Nothing leaves.  It is the Sheffield version of Hotel California.  Amusingly, the electric doors malfunction and periodically, they open and close on their own, giving the neighbours a view of the installation inside.  I really must dig out and retell the story of one of the boy's birthday parties; now part of the family history and pulled out and re examined in exquisite detail by all who were there.  Still hilarious after 14 years.

Watched the start of a three part version of Ten Little Niggers by Agatha Christie, a title which has morphed, through the application of Political Correctness, via Ten Little Indians and arrived today at And Then There Were None.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Day

Thursday 25 December 2015

Christmas Day

Sunny and showers 11 degrees

Woke up at 6 am.  It's Christmas!!!  No one, not even the four year old, was awake. Staggered around in the dark and found my laptop and managed to write two day's worth of blog before the battery crashed.  People emerged, gradually, and I took OH a cup of tea in order to avoid early morning reading of the 'Frozen' story.  OH had Christmas hangover induced by intensive partner whist and too much red wine and arguing, following by port and heated political discussions.  WF and I had watched Casino Royale with Reverend J (BIL father) and JG who was sporting Christmas PJs and talking about all the clients who are looked after by the theatrical agency where she part times.  Joanne Froggatt is one of them, apparently (plays Anna in Downton Abbey).

Intense pressure on the bathrooms and we all had to be ready for 9.45.  SIL appeared, looking slightly the worse for wear and hoarse voiced; largely from shouting 'stop cheating' the previous evening  Both she and OH are unabashed cheats which is why I refuse to play.  She crammed the turkey into the oven and we got into the cars.  It was a good thing that WF spotted (1) which direction BIL had torn off in and (2) that the GPS was saying Church Lane or we would never have found the carefully hidden church.  

The service was already underway and WF and I squeezed onto the end of a pew, its finial guarded by a worm wooded Griffin.  The church is Norman high plastered walls, Gothic dark wooden vaulted ceilings and arches.  Knapped flint facade.  Sunlight speared through the many paned windows, simply decorated in pale blues and yellows.  Hand blown glass.  One window remade using pieces of a number of other windows.  Pieces of a former knight jumbled together in the central panel.  We sat and rose and sang and recited the familiar texts and it felt like Christmas.  I went up for a blessing but was given wine which was deep and rich and delicious.  I wondered what the wine drunk by the disciples tasted like:  the original blood of Christ?  Wine and bread.  Staples for so many millenia.  Mulled wine and mince pies and chatting to the organ player then out into the sun dappled lane and home to present opening and champagne.

It took at least an hour.  I received a microwave flower press, Tiffany coffee bean silver necklace, 2 tops, two 2016 diaries, hand cream, books and a handbag mini mirror.  SIL gave me something which looked like a crocheted rats tail decorated with buttons.  I had to ask her what it was and she said a necklace.  It was about three feet long and angora, which made me itch but I showed willing and put it on and I could see OH looking at it through the corner of his eye.  I pretended that I liked it.  SIL didn't return the compliment and, after having briefly examined her glitter ball necklace and earrings, stuffed them back into the packet.  I felt annoyed and took off the rats tail.  Happily, JG loved her wire wrap earrings and put them on immediately where they looked really good.  EV adored the sparkly red dress and also wore it for the rest of the day.

It was then time for some serious kitchen activity.  I had said I would do starts and had chosen a Jamie Oliver dish of roasted pear with walnut and ginger stuffing.  It had looked delicious on the web page but came out looking like gruel although it tasted OK.  Not one of my most successful efforts!!  Following by immense lunch and I think most of us then went to sleep in front of the telly and Brave and Stick Man.

Opened my Secret Santa present and found a huge tote back in toile de jouy plus covered diary, notebook and larger notebook.  Best ever SS!

Later, played cards and had Christmas pudding (Tesco special and utterly delicious) and watched final Downton Abbey.  At last Edith was happy.  And so was everyone else.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas Eve

Wednesday 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve

Mild with sudden showers 12 degrees  Suffolk UK

Spent the night on a very narrow sofa but at least a reasonable distance from the snoring. WF took the opportunity of nabbing the spare bedroom for a night avant the arrival of the next wave of guests.  At over 6 feet long with massive feet which hang out of any normal duvet, sofas are not the ideal sleeping surface for him.

There was a nasty small in the laundry room and a pool of water on the floor.  BIL groaned and said it was the septic tank and it was overflowing.  Lovely.  They have nine people in the house, all of whom will be eating vast amounts of food, and it looked like we would be having to dig a Christmas latrine in the garden.  We were all banned from using the loo and BIL got onto the telephone, where, amazingly the poo truck man agreed to come out within the hour and flush out the whole system.  A real Christmas miracle!  The whole system was completely backed up and apparently it is a problem with angles and flow but that is not probably what you want to be reading about, dear faithful followers....

We hung around and eventually, an hour later than arranged, a technician arrived to look at our car.  Oh went out into the stiff breeze, presumably to tell him how to do his job.  He came back in ten minutes later and announced that the man was an idiot, had said the car was too new for his diagnostics machine and also he couldn't find the battery.  He had the manual in his hands - all in French - and asked what was the word for battery.  'batterie' I suggested, and he went back out.  The technician disconnected and reconnected the battery and the warning light still didn't go away and so OH and WF and I went into Bury St Edmunds Renault to see what they thought.  A man came out to look at it and we waited in an area with tea, coffee, free WIFI and the offer of a PS III in case one's child freaked out at the idea of spending an hour without being plugged into a machine.  Apparently it was a fuel heating fault which couldn't get fixed before the New Year so we decided what the hell and we would carry on driving it in the Christmas hope that the orange warning light wouldn't turn red which would mean stop, do not pass go, on pain of having the warranty annulled.

Went to delightful shops in BSE.  Left OH to drag WF around some shoe shops and escaped to buy beautiful dragon fly golden pattern material, bondaweb, ravishing pink and blue glitters and some fab dried exotic skeleton tree leaves.

BSE has some lovely little boutiques as well as larger interesting ones such as the Range, Waterstones, Waggamamma, Boots and Smiths.  A stand sold roasted caramelised nuts and they smelled heavenly.  Laura Ashley full of divine fabrics but the clothes were very dull coloured and huge and old fashioned.  Debenhams lurked in a strange curved space ship hub type building.  Paperchase and Accessorize.  Eateries everywhere.  Tiny sweet shops, gentleman's outfitters, fine old shoe sellers with boots standing to attention in their oak framed windows.  Americans from the air bases.

An hour later met OH and WF and WF had bought some jumpers but had held out against buying any shoes.  When he was little, he was a nightmare.  RJ would choose shoes in about ten minutes but WF had to look at every shoe in the place before reluctantly trying on just a couple of pairs.  Went to a fish and chip shop where they had more food than I have ever seen on a plate and I pinched bits off the side and had two cups of tea.

Round two in the shop shops.  I couldn't find a pair of boots which I could zip up all the way to the top - my calves are chunky but not excessively so.  Why on earth are all boots so narrow????  WF was refusing to try on leather or synthetic material shoes and said he just likes canvas deck shoes.  OH was so frustrated, he bought a pair of shoes for himself and a flat cap.  I diverted into Monsoon and watched people whizzing around on the pop up skating rink.  Went to pub on way back and a small border collie helped itself to beer mats off the table and insisted we threw it for her to bring back.

Back to SIL house and found that SIL son (GJ) and his wife JJ and their four year old EV had arrived.  EV was in a state of wild excitement.  Had sausage and mash for tea.  Ages since we have seen GJ.  Now 40years old, he is still the same guy as he has always been; easygoing and smiling.  Looks like he is not quite sure how he ended up with a doctorate, mortgage, wife and child.  JG miscarried many times before producing EV and she is now the centre of her world.  JG and EV were parked in front of the telly for most of the night and there were animated films, played at great volume, which made general conversation impossible.  Everyone was tired so we went to bed early, OH to the strange lumpy camp bed, WF to the long narrow sofa and me to the short and fat one.

Friday, December 25, 2015

It is the most wonderful (maddest) time of the year

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Sunny 13 degrees

Woke early to bright sunshine, packed up car and had breakfast.  A different selection of equally corpulent businessmen colonising the tables and small children jiggling in front of the telly.  Into the car and a warning light came on 'check fuel injection system'.  OH very very agitated so we found the nearest Renault garage who were very keen on offering us lots of tea and coffee but couldn't actually plug the car into a diagnostics machine until the afternoon.  Decided to risk it and drove to pick up WF.  The black mould remover had, miraculously, removed vast amounts of the mould and there was just a fraction remaining.  

After what seemed a very very long time, we arrived at Thurrock to OH's spiritual home, Costco.  It was like being in another world.  All of the white people were enormously fat, like Waynetta, and the rest of the people were African.  Everyone was calling each other 'babe' and saying thank you and sorry in each and every sentence.  I found some underwear and we bought some food for starters and the most immense carrot cake I have ever seen. Then went for lunch.  I will now have to rescind what I said about the corpulent business men.  They were nothing on the people in the Costco dining room.  I ordered a baked potato and I have never seen such a huge one. It was the length of my hand and piled high with at least 150 grams of coleslaw.  OH polished off a huge pizza and a fudge desert and WF had cottage pie and then finished off my potato.

Crammed the stuff into the already bulging car and headed over the Dartford Bridge, where you have to pay a toll but it is not signposted and you pay online.  There is only notification of obligation to pay on one side of the bridge and if you don't notice this, you receive a penalty notice which, by the time it gets to your postbox, has gone from the original 2.50 charge to about 60 quid.  I think this is totally illegal.  Today was quieter than yesterday, fortunately, when apparently it took people up to seven hours to get out of the Blue water shopping complex.  Christmas is the maddest time of the year.  On northwards on the M25 with huge queues in London direction.  The sprawl ended and beautiful country lanes appeared, with glimpses of brightly lit red brick houses and fine driveways.  I do love Suffolk.  Finally, just as the light is going, we arrive at Sister in Laws house, disgorge the car, eat yet more pizza and spend two hours on the phone to Renault assistance before we collapse to bed.

A family day out and horrific black mould

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Sunny 13 degrees

Woke to sun squeezing through the heavy clouds.  Breakfast was in the large communal dining area.  People in business suits, ladies in couples discussing business, a general feeling of serious activity with dynamic buzz.  Corporate types leaning back expansively and waving their arms languidly as they talked figures, their huge stomachs straining against the striped shirts.  Staff all Eastern European.   Ate fruit salad, bacon and egg and set off into the bright morning to pick up youngest WF.

He had recently moved to a street not far away from his old house.  Another terrace with narrow frontage.  The front door looked like it had been the subject of an attack and the window had sad nets and half burned joss sticks.  The interior was more messy than the previous house, although nothing on the appalling state of the house before.  Clothes were stacked everywhere.  The kitchen was full of rubbish and dirty dishes.  Someone had wrapped around some pine branches on the staircase and the needles had fallen everywhere.  WF room was covered in floor to ceiling black mould.  Absolutely horrified.  His clothes were in boxes and everything smelled damp.  He went and got some mould killer and said he had only just noticed it.  Whole house damp.  Insisted that he contacted the landlord and told him to sort it out.  He said he had emailed him.  No one actually seems to ring people up any more.  I am all for ringing up and playing hell.

Went out then and drove to see eldest RF at the hotel where he works - a beautiful Georgian manor house.  Slightly disappointing inside, rather more shabby than I had anticipated.  Some of the dining area in the former dungeons.  Went to Winchester for lunch and it was a total nightmare to park.  Had turned into a wet day by this point and the brolly and us were blown around as we finally took refuge in Prezzo.  Had very agreable lunch.  It has been so long since we were all together as a family.  That is the only thing that really matters at Christmas.

Dropped both of them off and went back to hotel in Southampton.  Still very tired from yesterdays efforts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The shortest day, or the longest?

Monday 21 December 2015

Winter solstice

10 degrees rising to 16

2.30 is not a reasonable time to wake up.  Apparently Margaret Thatcher ran the country, for years, on 4.5 hours of sleep a day.  I need 9 in order to get through the rest of the following day without needing a siesta.  Poked OH and he shuffled around like slug but was up to headless chicken state within about 40 minutes.  Finally set off at 4 am, the skies hung with stars as bright as baubles and threads of mist wrapping themselves around the car.

There is something to be said for driving in the dark.  Instead of looking through the window at views you have seen many times before, you look at the blank darkness, the glitter of approaching lights, the dark masses of trees.  In the night, you could be anywhere and it could be at any time in history.  No colour.  No reference points.  In the car, you are suspended in time.  The road snakes ahead, dull and grey and shadows bounce across the carriageways, sliced up into rays by the metal rails.

We stop for a sleep at about 7 am when it is still dark and then set off again and have done about 200 kms when the first glimmers of dawn start to illuminate the western horizon.  So many lorries.  We stop for breakfast at 10 am near the town which houses Futuroscope, a huge complex.  MacDonald's and OH fancies a burger.  I ask for a burger and am told that it is not possible to serve burgers because, at this time in the morning, the grills are reserved for breakfast.  There is no indication on any of the boards that breakfast is served.  We are given two buns containing tasteless bacon and rubber eggs.  Vile.  Coffee is very watery. Staff sullen.

We press on.  The land flattens out and mile after mile of agricultural land, rich brown earth, grass, cows.  Another sleep stop then OH requires refuelling so we go to Flunch in Le Mans. It is absolute chaos.  One man is attempting to cook steaks, burgers and fries for 20 people at the same time.  The chips are way behind the meat.  The customers are busy filing up on the free vegetables.  We lose 40 minutes in there.

Finally, and interminably, the journey is achieved and the pale chalk cliffs of Le Havre appear and it has taken 12 hours.  The ferry is buzzing in the harbour and we finally park on deck, shower, and fall into the bunks.  It is 5.30 pm.  The engines rev up and we edge out of harbour.  At first the motion resembles a brisk trot.  Not too bad.  People go to their cabins and become silent.  After an hour, the trot has turned into a gallop, there is rolling and pitching and sometimes it feels as if the ship has driven into a brick wall.  Three hours go by. We grip the sides of the bunks and wish it would all stop.

Waves are strange things.  They shape the water into flattened onion forms which roll forward, pushing the water before them and dragging the water after them.  No vacuums allowed.  Nature abhors them.  I imagined the boat on top of these massive forms; bobbing. Approximately ever seventh wave is the big one.  After four hours of rattling bunks, tikka tikka tikka tikka, clanging coat hangers, rattling bottles and howling of wind, things slackened off and we took some rest before the tannoy summoned us to the deck and we emerged gratefully into lovely, lovely England whose earth was solid and reliable.  To our hotel and sleep.

Off we go!! Ah no we dont....

Sunday 20 December 2015

Sunny and warm

Up early and am running around cleaning up and tidying (hate coming back to messy house) when OH staggers down the stairs and decides to check on the weather forecast in the Bay of Biscay.  Horror of horrors - five to six meter waves and gale force 7.  The 4 pm boat is now delayed to 10.30 pm.  We take the decision to transfer the crossing to a shorter Channel one for 4 pm tommorrow.  Spend the day cleaning.  

Drop dog off at the pension and the owner is thrilled to see how much better he is after a few months on Argilium.  She says he is 'transformé'

To bed for 8.30 pm and alarm set for 2.30 tomorrow.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Feeling miserable...

Saturday 19 December 2015

Sunny and warm 19 degrees

Big day tomorrow!  Getting the ferry from Santander and across the dreaded Bay of Biscay. Feel very tense.  Spent afternoon putting more stuff into the car.  OH decided he would do his packing tomorrow morning. He exists to torture me.

The ferry crossing when we came over in 2004 was a nightmare.  The ferry was like the Marie Celeste with hardly anyone on board.  We went Portsmouth to Caen.  The crashing, banging, plunging and terrible metallic groaning continued until we rounded Le Havre.  OH was thrown out of his bunk.  I have written about in somewhere.  Must dig it out.

Am in usual pre end of year funk.  Yet another year when we are still in the same place and still doing the same thing.  Feel very depressed.  Had hoped to be out of here by the end of this year, instead no.  Despite being out here 12 years, I have yet to make anything resembling a best friend.  

Here is something I wrote a while ago

There are four types of French dogs. There are handbag dogs, hunting dogs, tied-up dogs, and dogs on the loose.
Handbag dogs appear in the coastal resorts. They are immaculately groomed and prance alongside their bejewelled and be-furred owners on the promenades of the chic coastal towns. Fur has never gone out of fashion or become socially unacceptable over here, or in Spain.
Hunting dogs are not blessed with a lot in the brain department and are extremely valuable, so are usually kept in wire enclosures, where they bay mournfully until released into the countryside, where they bay happily. They usually wear a bell around their necks because they inevitably career in the direction of the nearest scent and become impossible to find. Hunters seem to spend as much time looking for their dogs as they do chasing their prey.
Quite often, we are in the garden and a tinkling sound announces the arrival of a lost dog. They are always very apologetic and shuffle to the back door for a drink and something to eat, while we phone the owners. The dogs used are a slimline, longer-legged version of a beagle, with large floppy ears and liquid brown eyes.
Tied-up dogs bark incessantly. They are inevitably tied for one reason: they chase cars. One local dog was a particularly enthusiastic car chaser, notwithstanding the fact that quite a few motorists must have clipped it. We ran over its paws twice as it shot out from behind the woodpile under our front wheels. So it was tied up. Day and night, rain and sun, it was there. Barking, miserable, thin and unhappy. I went to the gendarmerie and the mairie and they all promised to do something — and did nothing.             
Every other French dog is a free spirit. If a French dog wants a walk, it takes one. If a French dog spots another dog being taken on a walk, he will join in, and it is perfectly possible to acquire a number of spare, happy dogs during a walk. I like doing circular walks, but this is a problem as if you do not pass the individual dog’s home, it will follow you to yours, and lurk. A couple of years ago, a husky joined dog and I and then spent three days outside our back door. Temperatures were sub-zero but, being a husky, this didn’t bother him in the least.
Mostly, my dealings with French people are pleasant and amusing. However, I have had “run-ins” with dog owners. The husky owner was not pleased that I had had the temerity to walk past his house and “lure” his dog away. The next time we walked past, he came out of the house to shout abuse. I pointed out that it was a public highway. The circular walk was on roads that were regularly used by cars, bikes and quads, so I did not feel that I was being unreasonable.
More disagreeable was the affair over a local dog’s treatment, including being left out in freezing temperatures. I reported it to the gendarmerie in October, November and December. January came, and the dog was still there. Again, I spoke to the local police.
“Oh yes,” they said. “We did have a word with them.” I pointed out that nothing had changed and told them when the owners could be at home. “Oh,” said the gendarme. “At those hours, I don’t work.”
Frustrated, and with my car’s temperature gauge showing minus 5C, I tapped on the owner’s door and asked if they intended leaving the dog out all night.
It was not a pleasant conversation. The woman said it was not their dog; it was her brother’s (he lives in the same house). The man asked what right did I have to come to their house and tell them what to do with the dog and that I should take up knitting if I had nothing better to do. The woman said that the mairie had been hassling them since October and the man said he was going to “denounce” me for hassling them. I told him to go ahead. I regretted not waiting until they were out, and releasing the dog.
I decided to take a different tack and contacted the Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA), a small band of people who care about mistreated and abandoned animals. A very fiesty lady gave the gendarmes and the dog owners a tongue lashing. The owners then built a dog kennel so small that the dog had to reverse into it. Then I hit a brick wall, as everyone felt that the dog was now OK.
A few months elapsed, and I noticed that the dog was no longer there. I asked a neighbour what had happened. Apparently, the dog got off the leash and killed most of his chickens and all his ducks. He visited the dog owners and told them they had to replace the livestock, and he would shoot the dog the next time it was off the leash. So the dog disappeared, and I have no satisfactory end to report.
I find the French attitude to dogs very interesting: there is a clear division between dogs that are pets, and dogs that are there to protect or hunt. The former have much care and attention lavished on them. The latter are tied up or in cages. As a soft-hearted Brit, I find this a hard distinction to live with. What is your experience?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Being economical with the truth...

Friday 18 December 2015

Sunny and warm 18 degrees

I am always edgy until I have my bags packed.  OH insisted on making the most of the beautiful morning so we went to town, bought more surprisingly cheap ink cartridges and went around the lake.  It was like a mill pond with just an occasional diving plop from a Grebe.  At the bridge, thousands of small fish were funnelling through the gap from the stream into the lake.  Tiny, silver flashing bodies about three inches long.

Back home and lunch and then I gritted my teeth and looked in the wardrobe.  The problem I have is that the majority of my clothes are Summer clothes.  We go on holiday in the Summer and I have lots of choice of pretty dresses and skirts and tops.  In the Winter I tend to hibernate under jumpers and jeans.  My legs haven't seen tights in years.  I dug around and found some rather strange cream coloured knitted ones and some mustard yellow ones.  I earnestly hoped that I would not eat myself out of my somewhat close fitting two pairs of jeans over the festive period.

I had just started to stuff things into my case when the phone rang.  OH got to it first.  It was the agent and it was apparent that the conversation was not going well.  He ended it by saying that 'it kills the sale for me'.  Apparently the agency had taken the decision to place the property in Windermere for auction.  This came completely out of the blue and we were absolutely dismayed.  OH was fuming.  We rang back and rang back and were given the run around and finally managed to get the telephone number of a director.  Andy, who we spoke to yesterday and had asked for proof of funds, and assured us that our offer would be a runner, was not even in work today and therefore when he said he would ring up the owners and get back to us, was not being straight.

OH got through to the director and I was glad it was him on the phone and not me, because I have never heard anyone so rude and arrogant.  I would not have been as calm as OH.  

The director told us that

1.  our offers were ridiculous
2.  they had wasted a WHOLE week with this negotiation
3.  we knew that they would not take less than 220k (we didn't)
4.  it had always been the intention to go to auction if 220k wasn't reached (very surprise news)
5.  we hadn't even seen the property
6.  if we were real, we could buy it at auction
7.  to stop talking if we wanted to listen to what he had to say

It appears that there is very little competition for Cumbrian Properties in Windermere.  This is an agency which also covers lettings, and is currently showing the property in which we are interested, with very poor photos and one crap review.  This is the agency which, during the terrible floods in Cumbria, raised its admin fee from 200 to 600 pounds

We then did some Googling and discovered that the property had actually been on sale since June 2014 at the price of 250k and not since August 2015 as we had been told by the agency.  The auction site said that it had income of 18000k and forward bookings.  It had income of just of 11k and no forward bookings at all.

David Hogarth of Cumbrian Properties.  I officially name you as a complete twat.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Dogs, discussions and shuffling off this mortal coil

Thursday 17 December 2015

Mild 16 degrees

The most amazing winter weather - don't think we have known it this mild in all the 12 years we have been out here.  The negotiation over the Windermere property continues.  We rang at 10.30 yesterday, only to be told that the negotiator was having a day off, consequently nothing was done.  The owners live in Oz so that seems to put a day onto each reviewed offer.  This morning, we receive a curt email saying that the owners will accept 220000 with furniture included.  OH rings the agent and asks him if he has actually spoken to the owners, as they indicated that they would accept this amount days ago.  The agent says he is fed up of showing this house.  People find it grubby and go and buy elsewhere.  Perhaps they haven't the time to put into getting it up to scratch?  OH suggests that the agent tries for just under 2220000 euros and the agent says he will ring the owners tomorrow morning.  I just want to get on with this now.  OH didn't do as I told him and ask the agent what were the arguments he had presented.  Perhaps they are so mown out with people offering, that they just let the figures speak?  In France you need the eloquence of Shakespeare to get people to put pen to paper and sellers to see reason.

We were just about to go out when there was a knock on the door and a very sad man stood there.  A former client and now good friend, NS had come over for a quick pre Christmas check on their holiday home and his wife, back in Scotland, had rung the previous evening and told him that their dog had died.  An ornery Jack Russell who loved me and mine, and tolerated dog.  Cola was their baby and NS looked like he didn't want to spend the day on his own without having someone sympathetic to talk to.  He said he and his wife had cried together the previous evening over Skype.  We cried for a week when our last dog died.  She was 14 and had recovered from a stroke but then developed a huge tumour which, somehow, she hid.  It was only when I discovered it one day that she gave up trying to live and we had to say goodbye to her just a couple of days later, when the vet said it was too far gone to do anything about.  I still have a patch of her fur, shaved from a foreleg before the injection to oblivion or perhaps heaven.  I wonder if, when I shuffle off this mortal coil, she will be waiting for me and lead me to all my dear departed loved ones and if it is dark, I can follow the white patch of her tail like we used to do when in Cornwall and gone to the pub and not sure of the way home.  J always knew the way home.  Current dog would just take us off the cliff.

Spent two hours in the doctor's waiting room and had my flu jab.  Told him about my recurrent and terrible tiredness.  He suggested I may be snoring and have sleep apnoea. He gave me a prescription to see a pneumologue and another for a blood test.  That will be for 2016.  Came out as the light was fading and the Christmas lights were just beautiful on the leaden evening skies.

Christmas windows

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Warm 18 degrees
Gift shop and tea room


French cards are often bizarre and feature animals

A good place to get your moustache trimmed

Hairdressers and nail beauty

Chemist shop window

Florist window left

Florist window right

Lovely Christmas lights hung on the night sky

Early evening last shopping

Starry night

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Being a buyer is a fun....

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Cloudy but warm 15 degrees

Subject of potential purchase in Windermere took up much of our thoughts.  The agent rang at 11.30 and said that the new offer of 212000 euros had also been refused and could we go up into the 220's.  We looked at the lettings schedule for 2016 - currently empty - and compared it with those of other houses in the area.  Many already have a lot of advance bookings.  'Our' house looks drab and the first picture on the lettings website is the dark slate facade.  Other houses have pretty pictures of the interiors.  The one we are considering has the same dimensions as the other houses, is in the same area, but even though it is cheaper, it is not letting because the main rooms look sterile or sad.  One of the bedrooms is crammed out with furniture.  Hopefully Mrs Noddi can go and look at it for us. And Mr Noddi of course.  It does have private parking, which is most unusual.  There is a crap review of the house on the lettings site too, which is not going to help.  This is a link to the property details

Oak Street Windermere

This is a prettied up version of Oak Street

Granary Nook

OH then passed out on sofa whilst watching Bargain Hunt and said we needed to reinstate siestas at least a couple of times a week.  Poor lamb, he finds it so hard being awake all day, every day...

Took dog out along the railway track and left OH to recommence the battle with the brambles which have taken over the old orchard.  There were no leaves for me to try to catch.  No communication from the Portuguese guy about the chateau.  No new enquiries. Went to buy bread and was admiring the beautiful choux pastry 'pièce montée' when my colleague from a partner agency tapped me on the shoulder.  As usual, she looked very stressed.  She also mentioned that the beautiful villa in town had sold.  Bummer - was convinced that the US guy would go for that.  Would have gone for it myself in another life and time.  My favourite of all my current stock.  US guy has said he wont be able to get over until the New Year.  Just hope chateau near mountains is still for sale as he really loves that one.  Interestingly, property which has been on sale for years is now starting to move.

A pièce montée is literally a tower of choux buns

Made lemon meringue pie and spag bol and we watched the remainder of Hamlet with Glenn Close and Mel Gibson.  They were excellent.  Helena Bonham Carter was a convincingly mad Ophelia.  Rosencranz and Guildenstern were dead.  I spent quite a lot of the time not having a clue what was going on and had to catch up by reading the plot summary.  At least when you watch Shakespeare at home, you can pause him and get a cup of tea.

OH then went to bed and I found Kirstie's Handmade Christmas, followed by the Most Expensive Christmas where amazingly beautiful things were sold for absurd prices to billionaires.  Every thing was super sparkly.  A topper for a Christmas tree was made, studded with diamonds and centred was a massive diamond which could be separated and worn on a silver chain.  Price tag?  Half a million pounds....  My glitter balls are more sparkly.  

Had to admit to the lady who ordered a whole flower pendant that the whole flower had gone murky sort of yellow and looked like it had spent five years on a pub ceiling, back in the 70's.  She was very understanding and ordered a white hydrangea one which I have in stock.

Have had a number of orders this week!  Lots of seed buttons and also some of my new sparkly hearts.  Am actually in profit on the enterprise.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Japanese Christmas

14 December 2015

18 degrees - delightful

Spent morning loading up details of the overpriced chateau and the afternoon battling with brambles and cutting back old shrubs.  OH rang the UK estate agent to see about the progress of our offer on the house in Windermere and was told it had been refused (were they not going to tell us?)  OH upped the offer and asked for full information this morning. By early evening, nothing had happened so he rang back and the guy said he would be ringing the client in the morning.  He also said, in general, people selling in Windermere didn't need the money so were tougher on the prices.  I have to say, it is a hell of a lot more fun being a buyer than a seller.

Had a look through my cook books for something interesting and found the following extract from 'A Cook's Tour' by Ingeborn Relph and Penny Stanway.

A Japanese Christmas

On Christmas Day in a Christian home, the mother gets up early to prepare miso soup for breakfast and for the evening meal.  This is a fish based clear soup containing chopped up vegetables, tofu or small clams and flavoured with miso - a salty product made from fermented cooked soya beans - smells like very ripe cheese and has a strong though pleasant taste.  There is rice for breakfast with beaten raw egg and soy sauce.  Other breakfast foods include pickled vegetables, omelette and grilled fish, and tea is the usual accompaniment.

After breakfast the family may attend an early morning church service before the working day - only 1% of Japanese are Christians so the 25 December is not a public holiday.

To eat its evening meal, the family kneels on the large flat cushions known as sabuton in front of a low table.  The evenings can bee cold at Christmas time and the typical wooden houses are draughty.  In northern Japan there is snow from October right through to April or May.  In many homes there is no central heating and the only form of heating is from an electric heater under the top of the table.  An eiderdown quilt is draped over the table and the family sits or kneels with its feet in the warm under the quilt to eat.

Chopsticks are used to eat most foods although savoury egg custard for instance, is eaten with a china spoon.  Presentation is very important in Japanese cuisine and most families have a variety of china or lacquer bowls and they choose them according to the season or the colours and shapes of the food.

Their Buddhist and Shinto backgrounds influence the eating habits of the Japanese and give them respect for their oneness with nature and for the sacredness of the food they prepare and eat.  This is evidenced by the Grace they say before eating 'Itadakimasu' which means roughly 'I shall receive this food'.  To the Japanese, you are what you eat and food is considered best when kept as raw as possible.  The basic Japanese diet, unchanged for centuries, consists of rice, fish and vegetables.  Over recent years more meat and dairy produce has been creeping into the diet but remains very expensive due to the scarcity of suitable pasture ground in such a mountainous country.

For a meal on Christmas Day, bowls of cashew nuts, delicious deep fried seaweed tangle (fried finely sliced cabbage) dried fish or crunchy ginkgo nuts may be served as appetisers.  The ginkgo nuts are boiled first then fried to give a crunchy texture.

Oysters are a particularly good winter delicacy, as are red salmon eggs.  Tempura consists of pieces of at least six different kinds of fish and vegetables dipped into a light batter and fried.  The cooked foods are served immediately and each person dips theirs into a bowl of savoury sauce.  Tempura is a famous Japanese dish and is said to have been imported by the Portuguese traders centuries ago. The Portuguese, as good Catholics, rejected meat on Ember Days, which they called by the Latin name of Quattuor Tempora, the 'four times' of the year.  They asked for fried seafood instead, and so this became known as tempura.

Beef is served in the equally well known modern dish sukiyaki, which means 'grilled on the blade of a plough' as it was cooked by hunters.  Japanese buckwheat noodles or wheat noodles are among the most popular foods and would certainly be part of the Christmas meal, as would rice.  Noodles are dipped into soy sauce or into a broth containing spring onions.  

The name for rice, goban, means meal and most people eat it two or three times a day.  Sushi is another well known food of Japan and can be ordered in from a sushi shop.  A special treat is to have raw fish on top of tiny cakes of vinegared rice. These appear in exquisitely colourful and artistic form.  Maki sushi are sliced sushi rolls made by putting a piece of raw fish, such as red tuna fish or sea bass or green cucumber inside some vinegared rice, then wrapping this in a small sheet of nori seaweed and slicing across the roll.  sushi are eaten with soy sauce, Japanese horseradish wasabi)and think slices of ginger pickled in vinegar.

Sashimi - raw fish - is very popular.  Tuna, flounder, bonito, shrimp, abalone, squid, eel, salmon, cuttlefish, sole and sea bream are eaten raw, as is blow fish, whose original state contains a lethal poison.

There is a salad on the table, such as one of spinach and sesame seeds garnished with dried bonito shavings and there might be some hot savoury egg custard made from eggs, chicken, prawns or shrimps, mushrooms, fish cake, fish or chicken stock and celery or other green stuff.

Throughout the meal there is miso soup to drink, kept hot in a lidded lacquered bowl.  Green tea and perhaps sake or Japanese beer are popular drinks. Sake is said to be named after the city Osaka, the centre of sake production.

Desserts are not common at Japanese meals although nowadays city housewives may buy cheesecake or some pretty pressed rice cakes covered with sweetened red bean paste and cut into the shape of snowflakes.  Fruit is much appreciated and the Christmas meal is likely to be rounded off with satsumas or tangerines.  Traditionally the satsuma represents the flame coloured rising sun that will return in Spring to warm the earth and its people.

This human yearning for life and light to triumph over death and darkness reveals just how relevant the message of Christmas is to all people.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Sunday 13 December 2015

Cold and sunny 15 degrees

News travels fast in a small town. Sometimes it travels so fast that it seems, as the old saying goes, that you could die and be in heaven before the Devil even knows you're dead. In this small town that's almost always exactly the case.
I was having a coffee at Screemie-Meemie's house (our family calls her that, because all she ever does all day long is scream at her kids), when the the streetsweeper passed by the open window. That was André, the man hired by the town to walk along the alleys and lanes in town with his little wagon and broom, sweeping up any dead birds, cigarette butts, general litter, and dogpoop. The French haven't quite gotten the idea of rubbish cans and throwing things anywhere but on the street, yet. I suppose that this comes from having had a few generations of 'guest workers' from Algeria to do their dirty work for them.

The job of a village streetsweeper isn't such a difficult one, all that really has to be done is to go around the town and make sure that all the alleys, lanes, and little cobblestoned roads look nice and tidy. Just the streets, nothing else. The light blue flowerboxes all over town, ever filled to overflowing perfection with a rainbow of chorographed blooms, are taken care of by another department...this one a team of gardeners whose only job is to set out the plants, come by with the watertruck or the wateringcans in those allyways where the truck can't fit, and to replace any stolen, dead, or finished-blooming plants with even more perfect ones.

This is what comes of being a town that's in the annual French national competition for the prettiest and most flowerful village of them all. It draws the tourists, but it can sometimes feel as if we residents live on a set in Disneyland. During the winter, when life is hard and poor because no tourists come, life gets back to some semblance of normality, and looks a bit more like a lived-in house, dirty dishes and piled up laundry, and all.

In the winter, the streets are not quite as pretty, not quite as clean, although you can be sure and certain that once winter breaks, the town sends out an army of employees and the spring cleaning campaign begins. Then, there is even an auxilliary streetsweeper brought in, as well as heavy equipment in the form of hoses to wash down the streets, sprayguns filled with nice-smelling disinfectant to wash down the urine-scented walls of the hidden nooks and crannies in the patchwork collection of centuries old added-on to buildings, and a small group of painters armed with brushes and buckets of the light blue paint that's been chosen as the official colour of the town.

Being the townstreetsweeper has it's benefits, if you like gossip. And André certainly does. If you want to know who is being seen with whom, who hasn't washed their windowpanes or is still dressed in pyjamas after lunchtime, how many bottles of wine Madame DuPont has recently had delivered, or even what the Mayor and his council officers had for lunch at the last Town Hall meeting...then Andre's the man to ask. He visibly throws back his shoulders and puffs up with pride, he is so proud to be asked and able to recount all that's been going on in this small, village-within-a-village that is the center of town.

If nobody is around or bothers to ask, then Andre will stop you and let you know all about current events. Which includes stopping by open windows in order to make his announcements. This is how I found out all about how Angelique's father had died, when I was sitting having a coffee with a quiet Sceemie-Meemie. She was quiet because the older kids were at school and the baby was upstairs in his bed, sound asleep.

Poor old Mr. Duclos had dropped dead not an hour before, at a church meeting where he was an elderly, but active, member. He'd heart had simply stopped beating, and he'd toppled over from the chair he was sitting on, to the floor just after remarking how everything was going so well at the meeting and how lovely it was to have the get-togethers and see everyone. I suppose you could say he had a good end.

The ambulance was called and when they arrived, they announced to all present that the old man was dead and took him away to wherever it is that a person gets taken to between the end of their life and the funeral. Of course, this being the kind of town that it is, or maybe human nature being the kind of thing it is, anyone that happened to be passing while the ambulance was parked outside the church and while Mr. Duclos was being loaded up into the back of the now transformed hearse was now free to spread the news. Including André, who wasn't actually near the church when all the excitemant began, but had been sweeping the lane over by the butchershop, heard the siren blare from the top of the Town Hall and had followed the sounds of the ambulance, scurrying over to the church, dragging his rubbishbin cart behind him, as he figured out where the emergency services were parked.

Soon, André had added the title of Town Crier to his job discription, and had come by the window and filled us in on all the detail. As I walked back to my own house a few minutes later, reflecting on the issues if life and death, I met up with a friend and we walked together the rest of the way, stopping by my front door to finish our conversation. Naturally, the topic of conversation was Mr. Duclos' death. He had been a widower with two children, one of them a spinster daughter who had spent her life taking care of both of her parents until the day they'd died, and today was one of those days.

The daughter, Angelique, took that moment to walk past. As is the habit in France, she stopped to give the usual two-peck kiss, one on each cheek...or rather, in the air in the general vicinity of each cheek. Custom has it that you murmur 'comment ça va?' or 'bonjour', or some such thing as the kisses are being done, so I thought it only polite good form to say to Angelique, 'oh, Angelique, I'm so sorry to hear that your father has died'.

Well, that was a mistake. Anglique gave out a big scream, yelled 'Salope!' at me, and ran off in her high heels towards the direction of the church. Salope is the French word for Bitch. My friend and I just looked at each other. She said, 'what the hell was that?', and it slowly dawned on me that parhaps Angelique hadn't yet heard the news about her father. If I hadn't have been so concerned with polite and correct greetings, then I might've realized that she was on her way to the church as she passed us, going to fetch her father and walk him home from the meeting he'd been to. After all, he'd only been dead for about an hour.

So it seemed that Angelique's dad had had a better ending to his life than Angelique had with it. And to top it off, from that day foreward, the poor woman would be reminded of this, each and everytime she saw my face. I did what I could for damage control. I called a good friend of hers and relayed the news of the death and the events surrounding it. The friend, Juliette, was able to come and stay with Angelique during the period of mourning, right up until a few days after the funeral, which was a blessing, as Angelique didn't really have anyone else, except for one brother that lived somewhere else and that hadn't been so immersed in the aspects of caring for the parents.

Juliette had her work cut out for her, as Angelique could be quite a stubborn and willful woman. As Juliette tells it, the worst part of it was when it came to the laying out of Mr. Duclos' body in the front room of the family home. This pre-funeral custom is fairly common in France, or, at least it it is the older familes, or where older members of a family are still alive. Maybe in the newer, more modern families it's not so often done anymore, and the dearly beloved deceased is sent straight to the cemetery from the undertakers.

Anglelique didn't just want her father laid out in the parlour; she wanted him laid out in his own bed in the parlour. So, that evening, when the body was brought back to the house for the wake, she insisted that the deliverymen not put her father, who was already neatly placed in his coffin, onto the special table provided for the occasion. She insisted that his bed had to be brought down from the ustairs bedroom, frame, mattress, bedclothes and all, and set up, then made up, with the dad changed into his pyjamas and put into bed and positioned as if he were not really dead, but only asleep. Grief has many faces many ways of coping with the fact.

Thinking about it, though, I've come to the conclusion that Angelique was simply doing something that has always been done in this small French town, and perhaps in all of the wold where isolated communities had to deal with death on a personal and real level, as opposed to today's way of quick, sanitary disposal and quick sanitary grief counselors. It wasn't until I got to this place that I saw widow's weeds and old people dressed for the rest of their lives in black.

I recall a very old man once showing me a picture of what I took to be a sleeping child in an iron-grilled bed, surrounded by carefully placed and spaced long-stemmed roses. The picure was an old black and white one, with ragged edges and crease marks. He'd pulled it out from his wallet, where it had probably been since the day it was developed, probably more tha half a century before. The child's eyes looked sunken, and at first I thought it was ill, and didn't realize at first that it was a deathbed photograph that I was looking at. A dead child in a bed, made up to look asleep, with a circle of flowers carefully placed around the child. No wonder Angelique argued with the men who had come to set up her father in the parlour, until he was positioned as she wished. Nothing has changed, only the years have passed.

As the ambulance service in this small town is voluntary, the good men and women who take on this job are not exactly professionals...that is to say that they are trained in the job of trying to save people, but perhaps less so in the diplomatic and tactful parts of the job. All the same, I can't for the life of me comprehend why on earth the ambulance services told the people standing around the body, as they loaded poor old Mr. Duclos onto the ambulance, that he had died. It would have been so much more kind and diplomatic, not to mention professinal, to have said that Mr. Duclos was simply ill. Then, when the next of kin had been informed, things cold have been made public. They could've waited untill the ambulance doors had shut before pulling the sheet over his face, after all.