Friday, 29 January 2010

Missing home

A whole week in the UK, and although the visit here has been constructive I am missing out on major events in France.
The first is that Tam caught his first mouse. Now I know what it must be like for a parent to miss the first step or the first tooth poking through. Ok, so maybe it's not quite as exciting as that would be for a parent, but it just brings home how much I miss being in france with Neil.
The second is that apparently our ducks have started laying eggs. Neil said there was complete panic in the chicken run this morning as one of the ducks tried to go against the flow of chicken traffic descending the chicken house ramp so that she could go in and lay her egg. He said it was like rush hour on a tube station platform. I've never had a duck egg before and I look forward to trying one produced at home.
I have been working at a conference in London on Afghanistan. The security for the event was something else, and we all had to be checked prior to working there. I thought I might get in trouble with secret services for giving a British address and get found out, but I think they had bigger things on their mind. We were told that London is on high alert at the moment for imminent threat, which I found a bit disconcerting until it occured to me that as I was working at an event where literally no stone was being unturned, it would probably be easier to attack something elsewhere.
Still, it gave me a chance to coo over the sniffer dogs and then following the rulebook for every trained paramedic I found the canteen and coffee facilities and glued myself to them for the duration of my working day with heat magazine and a good book.
Some bright spark had given me radio number 666, which again I thought may bode badly but luckily none of the attending heads of state decided to 'pull a sicky' and we were left to our own devices with nothing to do other than hand a couple of plasters. Result!
I go home on Wednesday (forcast snow allowing) and I can't wait.

Monday, 25 January 2010

depression and anxiety

I've just been scouring the internet for information on how to deal with someone with anxious depression. I have made it my personal mission whilst being here to try and get my in-laws out of the house at every available opportunity so that they see more than the wall opposite the sofa.

My father in law spends his whole day anxious and guilty and apart from odd occasions when he makes a huge effort and appears almost like his old self (for a fragment of time) he is a nervous shaking wreck.
I know it's an illness, I know it's not his fault, but it is so hard to not get frustrated at his inability to see a single positive in life. He spends his whole day worrying about something or other. My mother in law thinks that I think she is harsh and cruel because she sometimes loses her rag. I'm sure I would too if I had been dealing with this for as long as she has, but I try to see things through fresh eyes.

So what do you do? Try to get him to look on the bright side? Tell him again and again what a wonderful person he is and that this illness is no fault of his own? Bully him into silence from the noises he makes that drive his wife mad?

I wish I knew the answer.

Friday, 22 January 2010

And back I go....

It was another beautiful morning this morning in the Limousin - a smattering of frost dusted the fields and glittered under the sun which shone in a clear blue sky.
Shame I had to marvel at it on the way to the bloody airport to bring me back to blighty.

As we made our way out to the runway the pilot cheered us all up by telling us that the weather in London was 'not like it is out here, very poor visibility' and he wasn't lying - we saw the runway a few short seconds before we landed on it with a typical Ryanair hairy landing - all the passengers momentarily looking for something to grab hold of so that they can put their teeth (and any other loose objects) back in and grab a lifejacket for the upcoming emergency exit.

I then had to share a coach from Stansted with, from what I could gather, mostly Polish and German passengers, and I began to feel a bit like a foreigner in my home country. Mind you I felt like pretending to be foreign as their obvious and understandable disgust for the sheer amount of litter and filth that was strewn around the motorways and roads on the way to London became apparent. They only cheered up as we drove past Billingsgate and over Tower Bridge and all the familiar landmarks came into view. It is an amazing city even in this dreadful depressing weather.

The purpose of this trip is to get signed off as a trainer for difibrillation machines. Just another thing so we have a few irons in the fire should the day job not work out!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Cock or hen?

Sad news, our new cockerell was found dead by Neil in the hen house this morning. It's all very mysterious - he was only 5 months old and there was no sign of attack or abuse. His name was Denis (after our friend who had given him to us)and he was very fine. I was getting quite excited about what beautiful chicks we would have.

Neil is getting quite excited about eating some of the last batch of chicks. They must be about 5 months old now. I'm not sure if it is due to their brahma heritage, as Brahmas are a very different shape to our normal bog standard chickens, but I am finding it very difficult to make out which are hens and which are cocks.
There has been a bit of disagreement in the ranks of late, it hasn't got to the full blood shed of adult cock fighting, more handbags at dawn and over very quickly. So if I actually was able to spend some time watching them I would soon work out who's who.

The cocks will have to go in the pot and although inbreeding isn't something which goes completely against the grain for the locals in these parts - I would prefer to get another cockerell that isn't related to this bunch for this year.

So we are on the hunt for another cockerell...I hope the next one lasts more than 3 days.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


I don't know if anyone else in France has problems with delivery companies but it seems a frequent hassle for us.
We had a call last week from a company who were due to deliver some slate flooring to verify our address. Blimey I thought, a company on the ball for once who are not swearing blind that our hamlet doesn't exsist.
However this week we had a further call from the slate company to say that the delivery company were having trouble getting hold of us (although they had reached us on their first attempt?!).
We ended up having a stream of phone calls with the company before the truck turned up today with one disgruntled delivery driver to unload three pallets of hugely heavy slate with only a tail lift and a dodgy trolley.
As the tail lift had no kind of barrier and the driver had parked on a downhill slope I waited with bated breath while Neil and the driver tried to maneuver the pallets precariously towards the precipice at the back of the truck.
Somehow they all made it safely onto our property, where they were unceremoniously dumped just within our gate. The driver was having a severe sense of humour failure and seemed to think it was our fault that his company had sent him on this ridiculous errand.
So now the slate will be sitting there, probably for months, blocking the front of the house until we are finally ready to lay it. Yet another example of French (lack of) customer service.

Monday, 18 January 2010


In todays spectacular display of ineptitude I managed to superglue my hand together.

I had had a Neil style paddy because I fitted a new wing mirror to my car and the door lining refused to go back into place. Neil style paddies involve shouting, swearing,and normally kicking of inanimate objects, and then I tried to glue the rear view mirror back into the car (after it got knocked off several months ago).

The mirror resolutely refused to stick itself to the windscreen, but I had a slight panic as when I pulled my hand away some of the glue had seeped down and I had what appeared to be a slight case of webbed hand.
I 'googled' how to remove superglue from skin (with enormous difficulty due to aforementioned webbed digits) and found that the remedy was supposedly nail varnish remover.

Nail varnish isn't something I use a lot of since I became ferral and moved to France, so it was probably because the remover was old and out of date that it didn't work, so I have spent all day picking at the crusty bits of glue on my fingers.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Beggars cannot be choosers!

I'm having slight difficulty in typing this today as there appears to be a cat welded to my chest with an almost gravity defying grasp. Luckily the clothing I have on is thick enought to support the weight of cat hanging on with only several claws for grip. Its not even the kitten but the cat that came with the house. Neil says we bought a very expensive cat and the house came free...
She was very skinny when we got here, but now she is rather portly and fits in with our family rather well.

Today I started a job! hallelujah! It is working on a local stud farm and I am hoping that it will alleviate at least some of our cash flow problems in that I should be able to venture into Intermarche slightly more often than we have of late.

The plan was that in the New Year we were going to go on a major health kick - but then we visited Sainsburys just before we came back and Richmonds's sausages were reduced from £1.65 to 30p per pack. So we bought all the packets on the reduced shelf, and then got home to realise just exactly how much we had spent during our UK trip and how broke we are, and so now we are living almost exclusively on...yes, you guessed it.....sausages!! And value baked beans. Although it has to be said there are people living here who would kill for that meal. Perhaps not every day though.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Snow longer here (did you see what I did there?)

As fast as the snow appeared the rain came and took it all away. I have to admit to being slightly disappointed to see it go, but I guess it makes life a bit easier.

Today I have been insulating with James Morrison. Well I was doing the work and James was singing on my CD player. Luckily for Neil it is a new album I am not familiar with, so I was unable to accompany it by singing (some would say wailing) along at the top of my voice.

I felt sympathy with the Christmas turkey by the end of the afternoon, so accustomed was I to being wrapped in silver tin foil. I was very careful around the chimney stack not to damage any of Christinas pargetting.

Christina said that I would keep noticing things that she had put in the design and today I noticed a 'C', tucked around the corner in the lime render, which I will add to the list of a mouse, a salamander and a paw for Tess... surely there can't be any more to see in the design I have looked at a hundred times!!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Dry Hands and Chapped Lips

Roz has very thoughtfully signed me up as a contributer to her blog as she believes I will enjoy it. As her husband I'm ashamed to confess to not being her number one reader. When Roz started writing her entries she did so without telling me and so I illogically assumed it was a rather private, diary like thing, shared only with the entire internet family. Since those early days I have taken more notice of Roz's entries and how much she seems to enjoy connecting with people. She writes a very witty, realistic and touching account of our times in France and has made some virtual friends in the process. (Thanks for your support during troubled times Helen and Vera) So tonight I will make my first contribution to our written record of events and this has been made all the easier to do as Big Brother has just started and I really can't be doing with any more reality. I came here to escape all that!!!

Roz may have entitled our blog " Dirty Feet and rubble in my hair" but recently I have been having entirely different anatomical problems. Im not sure about Roz's title but I am absolutely sure that "Black Bogeys, dry and blistered hands and chapped lips" would not have drawn many readers to our site. None the less, after two days of continuous sawing of old and frozen wood that is the situation I find myself in. I have been driven, mainly by meaness , to build our kitchen entirely from reclaimed timber. From doing this I get a residual benefit of feeling a distint degree of greeness. Obviously I offer this as the primary reason when talking with people about our current project but any one who knows me would see right through this. Either way, I have hoovered up a substantial amount of oak and chestnut in the past 48 hours and will be glad to start bashing a few of these bits of wood together pretty soon. The dry hands and chapped lips bit I think would currently apply to 90 percent of the Limousin so I cant make any fuss about that but it did quite nicely finish off my strap line. I think I need to learn to write more succinctly as does my missus. that will do for now.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Form frustration.....

Back to reality and a job both Neil and I have taken turns in putting off - the dreaded planning application. We want to turn a hangar at the back of our house (luckily already on the cadastre (plan) of the house as an existing structure)into a workshop for Neil, so that we can take all his equipment out of the room that will one day be our lounge.
Why oh why are these forms so complicated? - I need an idiots guide to completing this form so that I can have permission (not to need permission) for this structure.

I suppose the equivalent forms in the UK may be just as complicated, but at least I would have half a chance of understanding some of the technical lingo.

A French friend of ours is exasperated at our wish to do everything by the book and swears that as the only power the officials have is to say no, we shouldn't give them the opportunity to say it by not asking in the first place, but we hear such horror stories of Brits in France taking the absolute piss and we do not wish to join them.

We must also knuckle down and improve our French. We have been invited for aperos soon, and I think Neil and I should have some practice beforehand so we appear more fluent. The biggest challenge is still thinking on our feet when we are asked something unexpected but we are slowly improving. I had quite a complicated conversation with a delivery company on the phone yesterday when I wasn't expecting it, and I wouldn't have been able to do that when we arrived two and a half years ago.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Some light relief

We had a break from the plumbing - which is sorted now you will be pleased to hear, when we were asked if we would like to go sledging. Fantastic, I thought, what fun. We didn't realise that this particular type of sledging involved being pulled around the village and fields and tracks in an old enamel bath by a rather large 4 x 4.

I was glad that we had partaken a rather large quantity of mulled wine before we started ( we had been entertaining) and had a hip flask of cognac to hand.

It was brilliant fun and I think they should look seriously into making it a sport for the next winter olympics

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Its still bitterly cold out there, and the snow has been falling all day. We are not exactly 'snowed in' but we are using it as an excuse to drink mulled wine and pretend that we are.

Neil has had a frustrating day trying to sort out the plumbing for the sink. He got to a point where he was calling himself all the derogatory names under the sun (or more acurately the thick, snow leaden cloud) and so we pulled on several layers of fleece and headed out for a walk. After our trip to the UK we had decided it would do us both good to get fitter and that it would be good for Tess to walk more, and today the countryside was so beautiful in the snow. The French don't seem to go in for walking their dogs much, they are more usually tied up outside around here, so it's like we have the place to ourselves.

Clever hubby has just finished installing the sink - a work of art that he made himself for the sink I bought for £50 on ebay. Now it is useable I am hoping that my first attempt at tiling does not let it down.

So the kitchen is slowly coming together, it is starting to look very posh with the dresser I bought for my 40th birthday now in situ. We picked it up from my parents house where it has been residing since that birthday three, nearly four years ago. I thought I was going to have a struggle on removing it from the house, so attached has my Mother been to it, but hastily replacing it with a Christmas tree three days before Christmas did the trick. You can see it in the picture of the animals taking pride of place by the fire.

The swearing has started again and I believe there may be a leak.... must go!!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Its snow joke....

We arrived home late in the afternoon and Tess was very glad the ordeal was over. She was much better on the way back, but it was still a trial and she was overjoyed to be able to round up the ducks and chickens and be free of the van. Neil was glad to be back too and to be off the payage - which he thought was run by (and I quote) "greedy robbing bastards". It was a tad expensive with the van but I wanted to be home asap to shorten Tess's (and our) journey and was not about to take diversions on the already long and torturous drive.

The house was absolutely freezing and ice was making very attractive patterns on the inside of the windows in the hall. We gratefully slid off to our friends house to spend the night and they had been round to our house, picked up our duvet and warmed it in front of their fire. There is no greater mark of friendship!!

The next day we fired up both our fires and tried to raise the temperature above freezing as the snow began to steadily fall. I had childlike excitement at the thought of getting snowed in and we checked the freezer to see what supplies we have in the event of being stranded. I think we will be living on sausages and the cider we made in the autumn should a trip to the village become impossible.

Today Neil is plumbing in the new sink whilst I am unpacking, tidying up and trying to make sure all the animals have enough feed and unfrozen water to keep them going.
Tam is back home and looks fantastic. More cat than kittenlike and although he still has a runny eye he looks very healthy so I am delighted. Tess, Tam and Romey are all in front of the fire in prime positions so I doubt we will get anywhere near it tonight.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Heading home

Neil is in the next room to me trying to get his father to take his medication. You would think we were trying to poison, not help him and I have no idea how his mother is going to manage when we have gone home tomorrow. It is so sad to see how their relationship has gone from a normal loving to a frustrated difficult angry one.

Talking of angry we got a rollicking yesterday for coming in late for dinner, on the one afternoon we had actually had for ourselves visiting old friends. We have not been accepting any offers of dinner or drinks as Neil felt while we were here we needed to be on hand as much as possible for his parents, so it felt a tad unfair to be on the receiving end when we had been told it was a casserole that wouldn't spoil and to go and enjoy ourselves. A symptom of the situation I guess.

The van is full of the usual supplies for our friends in France. Baked beans,tea, cheddar and the Sunday Times all feature quite highly - as well as chappati flour, ghee and garlic powder. A sign of our modern times in Britain and now France!

I am just about to order the slate floor we have chosen for the hall and the barn when it becomes a lounge. We went shopping in Limoges to try and find something equivalent to what we had seen in the UK and found that the nearest we could get (which was far inferior quality) was over 100 euros per square metre, whereas in the UK it is 19 pounds and in the sale there is an extra 10% off that. No contest really.
Even with shipping we are going to get something special for a lot less than we would have to pay in France. It makes no sense at all.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

A proper job

Today I am sitting in the medical room at Shepperton Studios waiting for the proverbial accident to happen. I was here yesterday and the only time my skills were called upon was when someone needed a plaster. That was fine, I was able to sit in a warm room, with a computer and a kettle and pass my day in peace.
On the way here I drove past one of the ambulance stations at which I used to work. I could see someone leaving, no doubt tired to the bones after a long 12 hour night shift and felt so relieved it was not me.

I never was very good on nights. At around three o'clock in the morning I used to get absolutely exhausted and unless the job we went to was a life threatening emergency (they very rarely were) I would find it very hard to wake my brain up. I remember driving down the M3 on an emergency, trying desperately to keep my eyes open on the brink of sleep and petrified I would nod off. I opened the window to get the cold air to wake me and somehow kept going. We arrived at our destination only to find that the "collapsed male" had obviously walked off. As usual.

The last straw for me was when, just before we were due to leave for France, I went out to a young guy who had skidded on a moped and hit the front of a coach, gone underneath it and been dragged along the road. It was pouring with rain and on the way we decided that whatever state he was in, we would scoop him off the road onto a spinal board and then deal with him in the ambulance, in the dry, so that we could see properly what we were dealing with.
From a distance as we pulled up we could see he was dead, but we quickly got him into the back and attempted rescuscitation whilst carrying out a survey of his badly damaged body. We decided that for this poor lad there was nothing we could do and stopped. I then got a lecture from a policeman about moving the body from the "crime scene" and I although I was sorely tempted to tell him what to do with his crime scene, I started instead to fill out all the necessary paperwork.
As I sat there in the back of the ambulance I looked down at my feet and a river of blood from the guys head was pooling around my shoes and at that moment I realised, had I needed proof, that for me my days in the ambulance service were over.

Shortly afterwards, on another night shift, the back step of the ambulance clouted me on one of my fingers as I lowered it down and broke it. I was so excited that it meant that I could have some time off and my escape to France could begin a bit earlier.

I will never regret the time I spent in the ambulance service. I hope I made a difference for some people and it was a real achievement for me to gain my paramedic status, as I had never really bothered with any sort of study before. I worked with an amazing team of people, many of whom are still very close friends. I just think in that job you can have a sort of burn out. I take my hat off to people who can do it for longer than the 14 years I did and still be enthusiastic and motivated despite all the politics and difficulties.

Anyway, I'm off to put the kettle on again and I hope that down the road at the ambulance station, they have got the time to do the same.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year brings new positivity

The last few months have been a bit of a mental challenge for myself and Neil. For Neil the responsibilities as major wage earner and house restorer have made it impossible for him to "switch off" and enjoy any down time at all, and I have been in major doldrums having lost my beloved horse and trying to cope with the house and lifestyle we have bought upon ourselves by entering this renovation. Consequently Neil has been exhausted and I have been frustrated at never having any time that I see as "quality" whatsoever and trying to be positive enough for the two of us.

We have cleared out the house and ripped out walls so that at last we can see some progress happening, which is exciting in one respect but at least before we had one room that was cosy and welcoming and it felt like home. Starting one job leads to a domino effect of construction, and things can't be put back together before a chain of other jobs have been completed. We have always been very aware that we are not builders, but enthusiastic (!) amateurs, and we have been lucky enough to have gratefully received some good advice along the way.

So our journey back to the UK for Christmas has given us both a chance to have a bit of a break from the project.
We have decided to release some of our investments, even if it means losing some money and pay to get some help in to move things on a bit. A friend of us told us months ago that you don't get any prizes for struggling to do it all yourself and we feel that it would do us both good to see real changes in the house.
Being around more in the UK to help with Neil's father will give me a chance to earn some money and take the pressure off Neil a bit, and if we can make our house more comfortable and shut off from the weather Neil will be able to concentrate on other work projects without coming home to a bigger project than the ones he is working on!

So bring on 2010! We have decided to try and get a bit fitter and slimmer in time for a wedding in August and to stop looking quite as "ferral" as we do at present. It is quite easy to end up being an absolute slob in darkest France and it is time we took better care of ourselves and each other.

Don't think we feel we made a mistake by entering into this life - there are a myriad of things that make all the above worth struggling with. When I used to look out of the window and see my horse grazing in my field I used to feel like the luckiest person alive, and I am sure there are going to be a lot more of those moments in the future. It's worth a bit of hardship to have our freedom.