Monday, 31 May 2010

The invoice requesting payment by cheque in your grubby little hands.

I woke up this morning with a deep sense of foreboding. Today was the last day to get our tax return in and I was ill prepared and now in a state of shock. We had to wait for Mike's P60 to come from the UK and when it did I was not in an ambidextrous state of mind and played ostriches hoping the form would fill itself and the nasty French tax man would go away but we were now up against it so I had to make that call putting on my worst English accent to plead for help. There was nothing for it but to skip breakfast and try to get first in the queue as I presumed we would not be the only inadequate imbeciles needing help. As we drove up I could see a steady stream of people traipsing in and out of the tax office and feared the worst that we would be there all day. To my astonishment we were second in the queue, and at our turn we were gently smiled at and referred to the personal touch department, where we were welcomed with open arms and handshakes, our details checked and cross referenced on the computer, the p60's checked and amounts calculated into euros then there were more friendly smiles hand shakes and the sincere wish that we had a rest of a good day. I have no idea why I should have thought our tax return would have been a problem, I recollect last year was just as lovely and cuddly an experience, so role on next year but I promise not to leave it so, last minute.
We seem to have lost a cat, our baby who celebrates her first birthday tomorrow is nowhere to be seen and Genevievre who came to see to the hens while we were away commented she had only seen one cat. I am sad and upset and have walked around the field several times pretending to walk HOSS but really looking out for my little poppet, let's hope she's just gone walk about.
A couple of months ago I got a fast flowing phone call from Orange to say that I would save money if I put my France Telecom phone with them. Save money ...that sounds good, so I went through the ordeal of contracts and direct debit forms and all the bureaucracy that accompanies any change here. I was therefore confused when an invoice came last week inviting me to pay by cheque before the 27th May despite the fact that it only arrived on the 26th. However the point is that I filled in a direct debit form and needed to check that a direct debit was in force. It took three phone calls and when I did get through sure enough there was an agreement set up and I was advised not to pay by cheque as the money would be taken from our bank account. The reason for this story is that last year my Butagaz bill of one thousand euros came in the form of an invoice which also invited me to pay by cheque, I thought I had a direct debit set up with Butagaz but guessed it had run out and dutifully sent a large and expensive cheque by return post. I did my accounts a week later and found I was one thousand euros adrift, not only had Butagaz taken the amount through the direct debit which I thought was defunct but they also cashed the cheque and it took me three weeks to get my grand back into the bank. The moral of the story once again is, to be french you have to practise your telepathy, and know that your direct debit is live despite the invoice requesting payment by cheque in your grubby little hands.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

We will pick them young, tender and cute looking and not wait until they are marrow size and ugly.

We have taken 5 days away from our to do list here at Brevands to adopt another to do list for the boat. We took my Mum to Cherbourg for her journey home and met John off the midday fast cat on Tuesday to escort her back. we drove out to Port Flamands where we have discovered a French version of the Beach Watch Cafe at Bembridge on the IOW. In a beach side shack we eat muscles and chips knocked back with a beer and finished off with an ice cream, it was fantastic. Mike and I were very tired and I was aware that we were not great company but a few days on the boat was designed to give us a change of atmosphere and routine and by heavens it has. In the past taking any time out has been an arduous mission, afraid of leaving our investment home alone, we have however calmed down or confedenced up and with all the systems we have in place leaving for a few days is so much easier. We left HOSS in the kennel and applied ourselves to get Beema ship shape and sea worthy for leisurely sails and holiday accommodation. Together we went through every locker and cupboard and filled the car up with all the trash collected over years of new season starts and shake downs. We have equipped our Cherbourg second home with a microwave and being a thoroughly modern milly I really enjoyed having a little cooking luxury on board at the expense of the marina. When I cook on gas we pay, but if I cook electric it is all part of the mooring contract, so guess where Mike's next meal is coming from.........from deep within the microwave.
We collected HOSS and took him to the boat for a day and night, determined to make him an ol'sea dog. He had a better time at Animolidays kennels this time. The french staff speak English with him and by the way the owner said her goodbyes to him I think he has becme a bit of a star, or could it be that I had just pre booked 5 days in June. That will be our last chance to be doggie less as kennels are full for July and August and I'm convinced you need to know the secret handshake or at least be a thoroughbred French family to get in at peak times, no worries for us though, our Doggie on board trial was a total success and HOSS was jumping on and off the boat and complained less and less about the 4 foot drop into the cabin. Mikes step invention worked well and needs one alteration after having spent time observing HOSS apply himself to the challenge, but he did look at me a little wide eyed this morning as a 4 foot drop is a 4 foot leap upwards, and very annoying, when you are busting for a wee.
The other most astounding event that happened in the 5 days we were away was that it rained and the garden took triffid proportion leaps in the growing stakes. I just wandered around the garden and poly tunnel with my jaw scraping the floor. All my planting is strong and purposeful and I even picked some salad leaves, radish and strawberrys for supper tonight. Oh, and be warned anyone hoping to visit...the courgettes are up and tomorrow I will pick the first baby veg. Now that I understand how fantastically prolific this crop is we will pick them young, tender and cute looking, and not wait until they are marrow size and ugly.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

How very European and jolly hockey sticks.

John and Lorna came by on their way back from a 3 week trip in their camper and it was good to see them. Brother John visited us when we moved in three years ago and stopped for a few hours last year I felt he and Lorna were excited at our progress and what we are achieving. I have mentioned before that having an audience is very appreciated, perhaps we are more the performer than we ever imagined, and having people here to discuss our plans is always fun and satisfying. We managed to eat outside again on Friday but as soon as the sun started to lower I could see that Mum was feeling the chill and we decanted indoors for coffee and tart naturelle, with creme fraiche, which John insisted was only for cooking but is the only thick cream we can buy to dollop onto our deserts. We pay homage to double fresh cream only found in the UK every time we open a jar of creme fraiche.
We had afternoon tea at the Somer's manoir yesterday. There was a wicked chill in the air which is seasonally acceptable for May but both Sarah and I felt a need to wrap Mum up in a windless corner so she could watch us play croquet which we all confessed to being an expert 25 years ago but without a stable knowledge of the rules played a sedate and friendly game until Peter and Mike decided that we were not playing by the rules and after a review of the 'how to play book' it all became tactical, malicious and aggressive, and much more enjoyable. For one glorious afternoon in May, we were in a french garden listening to french church bells eating scones with jam and cream ( creme Fraiche) drinking tea and paying croquet, how very European and jolly hockey sticks.

Friday, 21 May 2010

The offer of help from mum and baby kitty cats just made his day

Mike finally got around to mowing the grass yesterday, without any sight of rain the ground is hard and the grass is starting to show signs of stress, which in May is a little alarming but at least we are not having to panic to keep up with the growth. Mike is on a short fuse so I got onto the lawn boy and whizzed around the trees for as long as I could to help out, we had company invited for aperitifs and I really needed to be sat in a relaxed state before they arrived or there is a worry that they would feel they were intruding despite the fact that they are invited...all part of the French prepared. Unfortunately HOSS had left a few parcels on the lawn that I had missed and Mike's utter revulsion to doggie poo just sent him into a rage and HOSS is now banned from the field until he learns to poo in his bags or I am with him to pick it up. I actually agree that HOSS should not have a free range of the garden unattended as he is a bit obsessive and scratches at the lawn and does a jolly good job of scarifying even when it is not required, so new regime, HOSS stays on the drive until we walk the field and that will make me get out to possitivley walk the talk of doggie ownership and organise HOSS's outings. We are watering the crops daily and the poly tunnel is dry and hot, no complaints there as the tomato, melon and courgettes look good and healthy.
Our cats left us three lovely prezzies this week in the form of moles caught fresh and active from the field. To any gardener the mole in all it's innocent and cute aspects is a pest and nuisance. Mike has waged battle on the colonies in our gardens for 4 years now so the offer of help from mum and baby kitty cats just made his day

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

We all found ourselves around the table with a bottle of cider in the bat of an eye lid.

Although there is still a chill in the air I am thankful that we have not had the frosts the UK have experienced these past few days and nothing in the garden is lost, so moving south albeit to foreign shores has it's advantages....not to mention the cheaper wine and easy life style which today nearly back fired on us. We were busy building the back step and Mike had the shuttering measured and squared up to give a bit of a water fall and all that kind of technical stuff. I was pottering around site when I heard the comforting sound of the cement mixer announcing the next phase and I attended just to be there to hand over tools clear floor space and just generally act as apprentice. At 11:30 Mike decided he was short of sand and the panic then set in as to whether we could get all the cars moved the trailer dragged out of the garage, hooked up and on the road in time to beat the the deadly midday shut down. We were both beside ourselves as a Renault four driven by a geriatric looking for somewhere to eat poodled and hesitated through the village and by the time we reached point P , our most disliked builders merchant it was dead on twelve o'clock. There was no way I was going to be turfed out so I said in a very loud voice...because I was being ignored so close to lunch shutdown...J'ai un grand urgence.....the three cashiers and the warehouse man all stood there waiting for the magical moment of shutters down, stopped in their tracks and to my utter amazement asked me what I needed, I babbled that I must have sand and cement or they die and before the invoice was printed and the card thrown through the pay machine Mike was being loaded with sand and cement. It was the fasted and most efficient service we have ever experienced and wonder if this is the secret french way to get things done, turn up on the cusp of lunch time. So despite a nail biting, speeding with a trailer trip into town, we had a momentous mission accomplished and the step was complete and ready to cure before lunch. My Mum quietly prepared the lunch table not knowing just how long this finishing process might take but we all found ourselves around the table with a bottle of cider in the bat of an eye lid.

Monday, 17 May 2010

When the flower beds liven up it will be a lovely place to be.

busy busy busy....having one extra person in the house just makes the days shorter only because we are happy to sit around and talk, take aperitifs and make each meal last it's allocated time. Mum was feeling unwell on Sunday and I was concerned that she might be quite unwell and need doctors attention but a day in front of the TV has bounced her back into health and today we were able to get to the beach and do some shopping. Mike is still tired and a little off quilter. Birthdays can do that, he did not hear from any of his kids on the day and it passed by without a fuss except for both Mums really pulling out the stops to make him feel special. Men just don't show their feelings but four days down the line and I can see he is not full pelt. As we were site bound yesterday Mike built me a fantastic runner bean frame and I planted 20 runners and my last sunflower. Our friend Genevievre gave me a bunch of rooted plants and I plonked them where ever, I really don't know what they are so a year in the ground will give me a clue for next year.
We have had no significant rain for a month now and I am obliged to get out every day to keep the water levels up, especially in the allotment. We are off for a four day sail next week and I rather hope we can have some rain before or even during so that all our hard work is not waisted during our absence.....and we do need to get away, Mike threatened to put all of this on the market if he did not get away soon, so I am planning escape routes for him and we will get away for 4 days every month during the summer, but May has been very busy month this year with plenty of visitors and activity around the place.
I love my door in the lounge and we have jazzed up the back yard so that it is a little bit more 'changing rooms' but when the flower beds liven up it will be a lovely place to be.

Friday, 14 May 2010

She enjoys that intense growing warmth you get in a polly.

The morning light in the lounge has taken Mike and I by complete surprise this morning, it is warm and full of energy in that room now. I need to invite monsieur and Madame Leboulanger, the people we bought the house from three years ago to come and ohh and ahhh, although monsieur is such a miserable old geezer that he would certainly see fault in the project but it will be really interesting to get his angle on the change. It will probably make a great blog entry. My Mum has a place to sit and rest now, it has bothered me that she has not had a comfy chair to flop into and she has spent all last week sitting in the poly tunnel watching the courgettes grow, but seems very happy and she enjoys that intense growing warmth you get in a poly.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Happy birthday Mike and Thank you.

It is Mike's birthday, we don't do a big do for B/days any more so it was no surprise that Mike's day just followed on as usual and the usual for today was the return of builder friend Michael to finally install the door 14 days after the epic Euro tunnel style breakthrough our 2 foot deep walls. As usual, and I have now used this word three times in two sentences, Mike and Michael realised there was a small problem of fixings, and we would need to shoot into town to remedy the situation. I left my Mum home alone with HOSS as her guardian angel and breakfast at the cusp of delivery. I appreciate it was before nine in the morning but Carentan seemed particularly quiet. There were no cars on the road and no signs to give us a clue as to why businesses and shops along the main drag were shuttered and closed. Now bear in mind that we had a public holiday on the 8th of May and I know there is another on the 24th I could not compute that there could possibly be another on the 13th, but guess what is Ascension day and all hope of fixing the fixing problem was now well into the stratosphere of impossibility. Resourcefulness is the best equipment in times of lost hope and trouble and a call to Peter and Sarah to establish that they still had a stock of the required fixing from their building project with said Michael and Peter popped over to wow at the gaping hole and support the installation via his fixings, advice and building talk. The door is in, the sofa and rug are back in place, the TV is back in the corner, the light is flooding through the space that was once a dark and dismal place......happy birthday Mike and Thank you.

Monday, 10 May 2010

I really feel for Mike it never rains but it pours.

In all the excitement of visitors and builders and Maires singing La Marseillaise I had completely forgotten that Mike's bestest lawn mower is stuck up in the wood with no hydraulic power. I say I had forgotten, I think it is very fare to say that I had my ostrich head on and didn't want to acknowledge that there was a huge and nasty problem hovering on the horizon or worst still in the wood. The lawn mower in question, and there are many to consider here, is the commercial sized cuttings pick-up version with a hydraulic box to facilitate emptying into a trailer for disposal and that is exactly what we do. All the cuttings are hoovered up and dumped at the dechete vert out of our way leaving the hedge row a clearer and tidier place. So, the mower stopped just as the BBQ was ready to eat, just at the moment when Mike thought he might get a swift cut in between building events, and just when our finances will take a knock if this is an expensive break. I really feel for Mike it never rains but it pours.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

We quite like this country and appreciate the small town closeness and solidarity that we so easily live with now.

My house is full of people and the stuff they bring with them, it is lively in the evening and breakfast is a great chit chat time with lashings of coffee and home made jam on toast. Billy and Pauline drove Mum here on Thursday and have already fitted in a game of golf and we have done the obligatory BBQ despite a north easterly wind, we eat outside right up to the coffee stage and then decanted into the kitchen out of the chilly air. Billy has had problems with his all singing all dancing phone and is stressed and upset that he cannot communicate with his work space being at the important point of a web site launch. Mike and I fully understand and empathise, it has however, served as a loud wake up call for us not to take our life style for granted and we have reflected on everyday work related issues that can so easily throw you into a place of disfunctionality.
Yesterday we all decided to participate in the May 8th gathering of remembrance at our little church at the highest point of Brevands. I always attend on the 11th of November and the 8th of May, the process is the same, which makes the events even more enjoyable as a known quantity, and yesterday was no exception. Mum, Billy and Pauline experienced the emotion and passion of being French, the names of the Brevands dead read out loudly by a brave and well educated twelve year old Brevandesse. Mort pour la France, is said with conviction and pride after each name is read and looking over the broad and beautiful view of our estuary is enough to bring tears to your eyes but when the Maire of Brevands stands to attention and at the top of his pure male alto voice heads up the communal singing of La Marseillaise I then realise why we quite like this country and appreciate the small town closeness and solidarity that we so easily live with now.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

I could just be the Brit bitch from hell and call for the manager.

I feel we are well ahead of ourselves in the garden and veg production. I put the first of the sweetcorn seedlings out in a very orderly block and noticed that the extra broad beans I sewed directly were smiling at the sky, so all is well. The lack of rain has meant that between being builders mate and household char I have had to go and irrigate manually and by that I mean filling up watering cans and walking the length and breadth of the allotment repeating... this is better than the gym, this will prevent osteoporosis..... but the job gets done and at least I have walked the length and breadth of the veggie plot and have, by habit, picked a weed or two or at least made a mental note to go back with the hoe.
We needed to buy more sand for the door project in the lounge, I really hoped that half a ton would do the job but as we are only three quarters of the way up the frame and I would also like a step down into the yard we needed to trailer up, and go to point P. Our last visit to Point P did not rate a 100% customer services tick and as we walked out I vowed never to go there again but in order to keep this job consistent we needed the same grade of sand and were obliged to return. The sales assistant who seems to always be on duty has one of three problems, he does not like dealing with non trade customers because they don't wee up the wall on site and don't drink pastis at eight in the morning, or, he does not like dealing with the English playing at DIY because we should leave the houses available for the French, or finally, he does not like women coming into his store asking technical questions, because to date he has never given me a straight answer or good advice. I am putting money on the third option here. We went in to buy a sheet of shuttering ply last week and it wasn't until we were in front of our favorite sales assistant that we had no idea what it might be called in French so I started to explain, two syllables, second syllable , sounds like, but he cut me short and told us to go into the yard and find what we wanted and don't come back until we know what it is called. Long story shortened we found a friendly warehouse man who loaded the shuttering and cement and then came into the shop to explain our purchase. When the sales assistant saw us walk in he disappeared into the ware house and left us standing by the till. If he had been dealing with another client, that's faire play, but he kept us waiting five minutes during which time the warehouse man had gone twice to gee him up. We were getting just a little agitated with the wait when he came through from the warehouse pulling a loaded pallet of stock for the shop, nothing urgent, no other customer to be dealing with, he just sauntered in parked his load without an apology or explanation. The warehouseman then provided the detail of our purchase and left us fuming by the till yearning to be respected as valued customers. The invoice was thrown across the counter without a bye of leave or a thank you or a good bye. It did however occur to me that by this time he had clocked the body language and just perhaps, was able to translate English disgruntled noises. Today however I made a bee line to another assistant and even had a joke and a laugh but I swear I will walk out if he is the only available assistant next time or better still, I could just be the Brit bitch from hell and call for the manager.

Monday, 3 May 2010

I am advising they came with thick jumper, dusters and Mr Sheen.

I would not choose to be a builder if you paid me a fortune, it is a dirty and long winded occupation and what looks like a three day job soon turns into a five, six and seven day marathon. Our window installation is becoming one of those wonderful yet traumatic events as the development and realisation of a great idea is fantastic to watch but dealing with a dirty great hole in your lounge wall for seven days with the draughts and dust whirling around in the wake of the work is enough to make me cry. The builder friend has gone home and left us with instructions on block building a concrete frame and cutting out the mud walls, he is back up this way at the weekend and wants to see that we are at lintel stage so he can instruct us on the next phase, it is a cheap way of getting the work done and we had to take the opportunity of advice from 'a man who can' whilst he was in our neck of the woods. Every morning Mike and I strike the shuttering either side of the opening rebuild it one step higher pour concrete in and then clean up all the tools and equipment for the next day. We need to make another three levels then we are at the lintel stage. It is now Monday and in three days time we have my Mum and Brother coming to visit and there is no way the whole will be filled so I am advising they came with thick jumper, dusters and Mr Sheen.