DIARY 2003


January 2003


As I mentioned in passing the house here is sold with a closing date of 31st January so we were in something of a panic to find another.  We knew where we wanted to be – a gated community called The Shores.  A day to unpack and recover and the American Hunt for a Home was on – there’s a TV show in here somewhere.


We talked ourselves up from the sensible small property we were s’posed to be having to a larger (semidetached) side-by-side property.  (Seems we’ve been down this road before – remember 17 Darlington?  That was supposed to be a small 3-bed bungalow for our old age to retire and die in!)


It is such a new house it isn’t even finished yet.  We are assured it will be by the end of the month.  We went over today and they have begun the floor tiles – so they have some lighting, tiles, carpets, cooker, fridge, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, sink, dryer, two bathrooms, door handles, all the outside landscaping and some bits and bobs to do.  Doesn’t seem much when you say it fast.



The house has a little more square footage than Kent Drive – though it looks the same to us.  What we have given up is the huge lanai and pool, which was such a pain to keep ’serviced’ and clean both when were there and when we were in the UK.  I’m sure we’ll miss it but it was a liability when you can only be there half a year.


We have managed to cut the running costs.  We won’t need a housekeeper and gardener as the community is run as a sort of condominium system.  Even more importantly we should be able to ‘lock and leave’ without any worries.


Well, ladies and gentlemen that seems to bring us up to date.  We are now in the throws of hiring movers and sorting the details of The Great American Move.  – All of five miles up the road from here.  The address is fun – 7777 Haverhill Court.  It must be lucky with all those sevens and it sound very English.


I apologise for this being a very dull recounting of facts – not a titter in it – I confess I’m a bit pooped and am making myself do overdue stuff – I’ll try to make up for it next time.


In the next day or so I’m adding photos to the www.groups.msn.com/OrmsonFamily

Site.  So if you want to see us at Christmas and the ‘new’ house etc. just check in there.


February 2003


Keep on trucking


This months update is (even more than usual) a collection of disparate observations so be prepared to leap from thought to thought.


We are IN!  Even as I type the painters are surrounding me.  They come back after the move and touch up bits that need another go - even the marks made by your movers (and you!).  Pretty good eh?


We said goodbye to 3652 with a late afternoon swim the day before we left.  My favourite time of day here - watching the birds over the lake and the sun getting softer and lower - a very gentle time - impossible to feel anything but good.  I was thinking how much I would miss the birds and the butterflies as 7777 is on a new development and I assumed it would take time for them to move in.  Shows what I know about fauna (Im OK with flora).  In the first couple of days here I realised the lake is populated with fish (and fly-fishermen) and various ducks and herons are already here.  The nicest surprise was a woodpecker pecking away at the bugs on our brand new baby (six footish) tree outside the lanai.  They are exactly like Woody.


I did the packing - which saved us around $800.  The movers quoted $400 plus for packaging and $400 plus for packing.  (The move itself is around $750).  They didnt charge us for wrapping furniture, bedding, large pictures, mirrors etc.  This was pretty good as those wraps are the higher priced items.  So our $1500 move came in at about $650.  I actually quite enjoy the sorting and packing and such a saving is a real incentive.


Youll love the name of a couple of moving companies - Two Men and a Van (huge company - lots of men and vans!) and All My Sons (beats Jones and Son doesnt it?).  William C. Huff Moving and Storage is moving us - sounds nice and solid - after all we are British.


The week before the move was a bit fraught.  Nine days before the deadline we were told that the house wouldn’t be ready until February 15th.  We looked up the cost of flights ready for a trip back to the UK to pick up mom so we wouldn’t waste part of our six months US time sitting around a hotel for three weeks.  The next day we got a further call saying completion had been brought forward to the 7th.  This was after Ken had said we’d go back to our original choice of house which we had been told would be ready on the 15th when we bought this one - we preferred the vaulted ceilings and extended lanai but decided we’d have 7777 instead as it would be completed on the 31st.  Not only was our original choice no longer on schedule for the 15th but also it had gone up from $194K to $209K in less than a month!  Incredible!


So now we started to look for a short cruise and/or plan a road trip.  The argument being that if we were going to spend on hotel rooms and food we may as well do it somewhere other than Naples.  Maps out and plots afoot.


The following day - another call - ‘corporate want the deal closed on the 31st, so we’re back on schedule’.  Hence the frantic rush to finish the house.  We met a couple of neighbours who said the frenzy over here had been something to watch.  “All over the place like ants”.  In one-and-a-half days in the week prior to the move the builders managed to do the loft insulation, finish the air-conditioning including installing the vents, install the toilets and kitchen sink, grouted all the tiles (floors and walls) and fitted the carpets.  Outside they laid the irrigation system and were doing the landscaping.  They also fitted the large lanai (patio) doors - known as sliders over here - and had started the lanai screening.  Doesn’t seem like your average British new build.  Just try to get an electrician and plumber to work in the same room at the same time and you’ll know what I mean.


Actually the move itself went very well.  All a bit hectic but in fact everything clicked into place, as it should. Movers arrived at nine.  Ken did a final walk-through of the house at 11 am.  Movers on their way to the new house before twelve.  It was still being built - so a bit farcical really.  The builders moved out to let the movers move the stuff in.  Then Ken was off to the closing for 3652 Kent Drive at 1 pm.  A ‘closing’ is the formal sale of the property done at a closing agent’s office - seller/buyer/any representatives they may have.  People don’t (normally) use solicitors over here to buy a property.  This was followed by the closing on 7777 Haverhill Court at 3 pm.  Meanwhile the movers (and I are moving 3652 contents into 7777 (technically before we owned it).  As I said smooth as silk.  By the time it was signed and sealed and the keys handed over the movers had left and I’d unpacked a lot of the stuff.


You get lots of pressies over here when you move.  The builders gave us a huge basket of nibbles. Chocolates, cookies, pretzels etc etc. and a delightful ceramic house with our name and number over the door.  This was all beautifully wrapped and ribboned.  The site office gave us a very posh (heavy!) key tab with LED light and some plates for the front of the car saying ‘The Shores’.  You get these in two’s of course as everyone has at least two cars!



Don Olen, our realtor for 3652 who also acted as our buyer’s agent for

7777 gave us a very weird clock.  As it was from The Mole Hole (remember this shop, Denise?) I’m inclined to take it back and swap it.  Ken says this is churlish (and, of course, he’s right).  We also had a cheque for $1000 from Don as he only managed to get $5000 off the price of the house from the builder.  This was actually pretty good -

usually new build have a fixed price and that’s it - so we’re not complaining.  Even the Post Office send a pack of discount coupons for various local stores (to introduce you to your new neighbourhood) such as Home Depot, K-Mart, Blockbuster etc.


So we’ve arrived, unpacked, pictures hung and bits and bobs arranged.  Ken’s put in (extra) lights and fans and blinds.  We’re ready and looking forward to our visitors next week.


John (the flying chap) is expected sometime after the 14th - maybe with a couple of friends.  Ken’s looking forward to flying again.  I really need to get to work on persuading him to do it when John’s not here.  I’m sure its only because we never seem to have time to fit much in between ‘living’ here.  We need to get better organised.


I’m typing this on my brand new computer!  The story begins with my buying a computer from a ‘neighbours’ garage sale for $100 - complete kit and windows 98 installed.  I then decide to upgrade to XP - the one I use on Ken’s machine and have got used to and like the features it offers - one upgrade costs $106.  Install (with problems) and finally the machine craps out and now doesn’t even have Windows 98.  After having to endure a lot of ‘I-told-you so’s’ from Ken he then toted around a couple of computer shops to confirm it was ’rubbish’ and wouldn’t support XP however hard I tried.  I had various options and the most ’sensible’ seemed to be to buy a new kit for $409 with all the bells and whistles including XP (of course).  So here I am.  A lot poorer but with my own machine again - in Naples at least.


It is so hard to explain to someone who is practical and doesn’t think of stuff as being ’his’ how much I need my OWN stuff.  I have to have my own things about me.  Much as Ken insists stuff is ’our’ stuff that’s not how I feel.  I want my own desk, computer etc. 


The extension of this is also true I hate sharing MY things.  I know it’s a deep and abiding flaw for which I apologise.  I assume it is to do with the fact I am such a control freak and have to have my world arranged my way.  So be it.  I hastily add I don’t think I’m ungenerous.  I’ll give anyone anything, but SHARING - no can do.  People mess things up.  For ‘Friends’ watchers amongst you think Monica and worse.


On this topic the computer deal at Best Buy gave me a $200 mail in rebate and I picked up free speakers (for my other machine), free lapel mike and free copyholder from Office Max.  Every month they offer freebies (we had discs last time).  You buy the item and send in the mail in rebates for the total value.  Being us, we do just that - don’t buy anything else from them and don’t have an attack of apathy and not bother with the mail-ins.  We are not what advertisers are looking for.


For my shopping friends my best bargain so far this trip is $181.94’s worth of clothes for $21.21!  Bealls on Monday - store price less their discount, less ‘find-a-dot’ discount, less Monday Club discount, less transaction card discount (get it clipped each time you shop) and finally the new total is getting on for ten percent of the original prices.  Good stuff eh?


Also Books-a-Million had a couple of huge $1 tables - brand new hardbacks - I weakened and bought five - and even got my 10% ‘Millionaires’ discount.  I love this place.


As for how the other non-discounting half live…there was a wonderful theft here recently. Someone on Gulf Shores Boulevard - the road that runs parallel to the beaches - had two paintings stolen from their hall.  They were a Monet and a Turner, worth $7,000,000!  Imagine having a couple of your paintings worth seven million.  They had gone to bed and not noticed they were missing.  They hadn’t set the alarm when they went out.  We loved the story especially as someone wrote an article saying it would increase the value of paintings in everyone’s home as now it’s known that someone had paintings to this value (and rarity) they would all have to have same or better.  The truth is, according to one gallery owner here, that there are many ‘important Picassos, Degas, Renoirs and Manets in private homes but very few Monet’s’.  So sad.


[Just heard today the police are charging three people they caught in Miami trying to sell the paintings (to an undercover cop) for a million - all’s well that ends well]


Whilst on the topic of police we had a call a few evenings ago which was a recorded police message to ask people to look out for a missing person last seen in the Kings Lake area on a bike.  As the description was of an elderly man we assume he was befuddled (more befuddled than us that is).  What a good idea!


As you know we got serious about buying a car this trip.  We’d flirted with the idea of changing our sharp ‘little’ Buick for a big American Job and had hung around various Cadillacs and Town Cars and their ilk in many a car park.  Finally we saw the most perfect caddy for sale parked on the car park at our local Publix - $5,000 (almost half the dealership price) white diamond paintwork leather seats and all the bells and whistles.  Ken returned home to do a nights ‘research’ on the computer - checking prices, reviews etc and rang the next day.  We were pipped to it literally by minutes.  Another couple had arrived shortly before us so they got to test drive it.  Needless to say they returned to the car park having bought it.  Spit!


Now the hunt was really on - the next one we went to view was out in good-ole-boy country.  This is known as the estates in North Naples.  People own acres and build their house - the proper American way - none of this living on ‘communities’ stuff.  They are the huntin-shootin-fishin set. (With horses).  True to type we were met by a string-bean, chain-smoking, mid-fifties, Levi cowboy complete with grey ponytail.  Again the perfect caddy (except for the smell of ciggies) but this time $8,000.  Not bad but we hoped we could do better. 


Ken kept his eyes on the paper and finally we drove up to a dealer in Fort Myers and bought a sweet white caddy Deville.  At the moment all we’re doing is gobbling gas (18 mpg) totting around Naples.  We love it - it is sooo American.  In fact it is so ‘normal’ that we seem to be surrounded by near identical white caddys everywhere we park.  I had trouble finding the fairly rare Buick Skylark in a car park - what chance with this one? 


Ken is itching to use it properly and do a road trip. Perhaps in March we’ll be able to take off somewhere.  We’ve done very little of anything as we’ve been so focussed on the move this last six weeks - now that’s over we are hoping to get back to actually being here.


I’d like to see several large gardens in the State such as Bok Tower (yes Bok not book).  Also I’d like to see St Augustine and Jacksonville.  So we’ll see what we can do - at least the March email might be more interesting.


A footnote on our car buying searches.  We went to a car sale, which was held on a Supermarket Car Park - there were a couple of hundred cars all with their keys in their doors.  How many places would you be able to do that?


We truly are in Back-to-the-Future-land here.  Our local school has a huge wire fence along the Preserve side of their drive and they have a great system of plugging the holes in the mesh to write what I assume is their (massive) ‘pep’ word for the next couple of weeks.  So far we have worked our way through Perseverance, Self-discipline and this weeks contribution is Citizenship.  Don’t knock it.  My first instincts are to be very European and cynical but perhaps it does have some effect.  People we talk to do seem to have a notion of social obligation (in Naples at least).  They are not sold the idea of individualism above all else.  They are repeatedly told they have other things to consider

such as loyalty to family and community and ultimately their country and that sometimes their wants and wishes have to be a compromise or even subjugated to others needs.


How did we come to find this so old-fashioned and twee?  The sixties have a lot to answer for. 


Our total contribution to improving our intellect has been trips to the movies.  On the hearty recommendation of my 88-year old mother we trotted of to see ‘Gangs of New York’.  According to mom it was the best film she’d seen in years - a ‘bit bloody but really interesting’.  I don’t know how she arrived at this conclusion.  We both thought it was utter rubbish.  It was simply an excuse for the usual Martin Scorcese blood bath.  It was marketed as ‘the story of the Irish struggle for survival in their new home‘.  In effect it was the story of a load of Irish gangs (including the one who called themselves The Natives) doing what they do best - getting well blathered, beating the crap out of each other for the hell of it and then crying over the whoever they’ve mangled.  I’m astounded with Daniel Day-Lewis.  I kept expecting him to turn into Captain Hook from Peter Pan - what a Hollywood performance from a usually fine actor (not to mention I think he’s positively edible).  This was a movie made entirely for an Irish/American audience.  Sometimes I wonder about my mother! (I always wonder about the Oscar nominations!)


The second experience was a whole lot better.  We saw ’Adaptation’.  (Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep:  who played John Laroche?)  If any of you is curious about where we live this film is made ’locally’.  Always odd to see places or people you know on screen.  That aside I thought it was a decidedly different film and amusing (the rest of the audience didn’t seem to pick up on the funnies - is it just me?) and sometimes clever in its intricacies.  Above all that, the story itself and the actors were engaging.  This is one I recommend.


Our third was Ken’s turn - yes, we are that pathetic.  We take turns to pick the movie as neither of us particularly want to see the other’s choice.  So this time we got to see ‘The Recruit’.  It was all a bit obvious and rather a hollow shell of a film - but I had the compensation of watching Al Pacino who is adequate compensation for me. 


Today is movie day - Tuesday ($3 day!) and if you go to the afternoon show you can get the theatre to yourself sometimes.  Actually now we’re back in the season we have to share with anything up to a dozen others.  Last week was good - the manager of the theatre came out to introduce the film and thank us for coming - he’s also funny.  If our painters finish in time today we’re off to see either Rabbit Proof Fence or The Hours (my turn!).


Whilst on the subject of the magic lantern and its joys I have a conspiracy theory about American TV. 


Whilst cleaning down the kitchen surfaces I found I was humming an advert for Clorex.  This reminded me that over here I’m often quoting various ads to Ken. He NEVER takes the slightest notice of ANY sort of ads - even the clever ones - how can you choose to be oblivious?


So to the theory.  American TV programme makers and advertisers are hand-in-glove.  Yes, I know this is already an established fact.  But did you know that the real agreement is that the programme makers make the worst programmes possible so that the adverts which interrupt the programme every four minutes seem really brilliant, interesting and very entertaining.  Clever isn’t it?  I am then found singing:  ‘momma has the power of Clorex’.  Incidentally the bloody stuff splashed on my new black t-shirt and left it splattered with bright orange spots!  I am now looking for someone to sue and trying to get the Washington Post interested in my theory.


I’ve just found some bits and pieces of notes for my diary so I want to include the memories here even if they are out of sync.


Did I mention the Chamber Music in the last note?  We went to the Phil to the Daniels Pavilion for a little Mozart - very pleasant experience including the Ladies!  This is a loo which triangle folds the end of the loo rolls and offers boxes of tissues and hand cream - such a joy to be in civilisation.  You can measure a civilised society by the quality of its Ladies.  This is number thirty-six in the handy Marilyn (aka Hyacinth Bucket) tips on how to assess human evolution.


On our last trip to the dinner theatre we sat opposite a lone diner.  This is fairly unusual there as most tables are set as fours and sixes.  We occupy one of the few tables for two.  This diner was a six-foot-two transvestite with the shoulders and voice of a shot-putter.  S/he had such panache - seriously.  I really am envious of someone who is so at home in their skin that they can make a ripple in the world and (seemingly) not bat an eyelid.  More eny provoking than her insouciance was the fact that (like most men) she had the flattest stomach and backside and a cracking pair of legs.


I’ve just asked Ken to send an amusing clip from the local paper for me.  [No I’m not totally pathetic with the computer - he’s on line and I’m not (yet!)]  It’s a column I always enjoy.  This week’s was about the joys of the writer’s daughter having arrived at the potty-trained stage, which was very funny but I thought the one about State ‘objects’ might be more interesting to us English folk.


A funny moment in our household recently was Ken trying to book a cab to the airport.  He often has problems being understood by Americans on the phone (quiet voice and fuzzy tone).  Spanish Americans and he often reach an impasse so I wasn’t too curious as to why he was having to repeat everything umpteen times - although it did seem more excessive than usual.  He came off the ‘phone eventually to tell me that the girl who was booking the cabs was a deaf telephonist - no seriously!  What a perfect choice for exactly the right job.  She explained that she was registered deaf and apologised for the difficulty.


When we first arrived back we went to get our haircut - mine with Claudia the Bronx hairdresser who’s a laugh a minute.  This reminded me to share with you her official description on her card - Cosmetologist!  I love it.  We also have a local shop that proudly announces that they employ Gemologists to sell their jewellery.  I am now becoming a Typologist or perhaps a Computerologist - can’t decide. Did I hear Blatherologist?


While I’ve been writing this we have had 2 painters in, two hours of the Alarm system man, the landscaper adjusting the irrigation system and now have the carpenter tip-tapping making fine adjustments.  The cleaner will follow all this - tomorrow I hope.   We should then be free of all the workers and really ‘at home’.


Incidentally alarms here work through your phone-line.  The claxon goes off in a cupboard in the bedroom so it doesn’t disturb other houses but frightens the bejesus out of you and the burglar/rapist/large spider.  The alarm company is called automatically and they send someone out to investigate.  There’s three panic buttons - one for fire, one for medical emergency and one direct to the police.  There must be about fifty combinations of settings for the darn thing - needless to say I’m sticking with two.


Sally’s just rung.  She and Chris are both happy and doing well in uni.  They’ve survived their first exams and are settling into the next semester.  It’s Sally’s second year and Chris’ first so their experiences are probably very different.  I’m sure the ‘end’ seems a lifetime away for them right now.  It isn’t possible to show someone else how quickly it all goes by.


On this note I’ve just been speaking to someone (in the UK) who I was great friends with at university and for (probably) twelve years or so after.  I was sorry to have our friendship dwindle to Christmas cards and notes over the last six years or so and was happy to have a reason to call her.  We had a rather stilted, polite and ever-so grown-up conversation - how are you? And the kids? Etc with the promise of getting in touch when I return to the UK.  How sad we let these things happen.


So on that reminder to stay in touch with your lazy friend………


(P.S. we went to see The Rabbit-Proof Fence - I won’t spoil it for anyone who may get to see it - do try.  It was a little gem of a movie - probably not enough to make a movie with but true and spare and all it needed.  Well done those folk.  We ate at a Brazilian Restaurant which turned out to be hugely better than it looked.)


March 2003


Vertical Hair and I’ve seen a fish


If titles are supposed to give a clue to content you can see we’ve had an exciting month here in new Napoli.


I’ve had all my hair chopped off.  Sally would be proud of me and my mother will disown me – does that make it a good decision?  I went for my usual trim and tidy up and watched Claudia finish cutting someone’s hair.  It looked terrific; about two inches all over and completely ‘wash and go’.  “I’ll have the same please”,  “It’s very short are you sure?”  “Yes”,  OK, let’s go for it”.  Us! Where does the 'us' come in?  I now have very short hair, Claudia does not.


Actually it’s growing on me (Tee hee).  It is so easy and cool.  Both of which are needed over here.  Driving with windows down, sitting in high eighties temperatures and (eventually) swimming.  It seems to be a really good idea.


The fish?  Well, I saw a fish in the lake.  This isn’t too noteworthy except it leapt!  A large bright silver flash – very exotic.  Also it confirms we do have life here after all.


On that note, last week I had just spent some time re-assuring our visitors that the lakes here do get visits from ‘gators but it isn’t a problem – they are more wary of us and than we of them (well maybe).  Statistics show there have been 200 attacks in the State since 1947 and only 12 of them fatal.  Basically people learn to live with them and leave them alone although it isn’t advisable to throw sticks in the water for your small dog to retrieve.  Actually one lady owner battled the ‘gator for the dog and won.


After my ‘there, there’ nanny speech, the next day TV and newspapers carried the story of a seventy-year old lady losing her arm to a local six-footer.  It was at a community that had several ‘gators living in their lakes and ponds and on the golf course and everyone had learned to live with them and had in fact named the large one.  The woman was weeding among shrubs by the lake and it snatched her by the arm – some quick thinking seventy-two year old (female) passer-by had the gumption to hang on to the woman’s ankles, which probably saved her from drowning but in the ensuing tug-of-war the gator got her arm up to the elbow.  She was taken to hospital, ‘gator killed and arm extracted but was in too poor a condition to re-attach.  I am now excused gardening duties.  (I wasn’t going to do any, any way)


Another alligator news story this week was about a lady who ran over one – felt sorry for it and put it in her car; presumably to get it treated.  It promptly regained consciousness and thrashed around.  At this point she crashed the car and ran home.  She was later charged with leaving the scene of an accident and being in possession of an alligator!


We had a bit of weather excitement too this month as a tornado came ashore at 5th Ave and blew its way up through North Naples.  It didn’t leave any real damage and all we felt was incredible lashing wind and rain but it was a bit suspenseful (during the twenty minute tornado watch!) waiting to see how it would develop.


In my capacity of Chief Tester of as yet Unidentified Diseases I really came into my own this month.  On the Tuesday before John and friends were due to arrive I was developing nicely swollen glands and a rough throat – nothing unusual so far – a cold perhaps?  Annoying, as its timing was rotten, but there you are.


Wednesday and Thursday a little worse – think myxamatosis.  Then Friday rolls around and overnight my slightly rough/itchy/tingly lips had turned into Ivy Tilsey.  (For non-Corrie fans think Satchmo or Goldie Hawn’s beesting job – wherever your predilection lies).  Seriously I had huge swollen lips and a generally sore mouth – gums and soft palette.  Ken enjoyed some relief as it pretty much silenced me and slowed down the “I’m hungry” cries he usually endures.  Not to mention the comic picture I’d become.


Off to my trusty website ‘doctors’ and their various diagnoses.  All I could find was second stage syphilis and food allergies.  As I seemed to have not noticed first stage syphilis I think I must have had a reaction to something I ate.  Big panic I was about to discover a ‘banned’ food.  In all seriousness all I could think was that it was a reaction to strawberries – but a pretty slow one as the whole episode lasted a week.


Whatever, I was a bit nervy about eating my next luscious Florida monster strawbs especially as they were bigger, better and redder.  But I was OK.  Watch this space.  Any conclusions about what it might have been would be welcome.  It really wasn’t as funny as it sounds.


And now for something completely different…..  The county has been increasing its use of public transport known as CAT (Collier Area Transport) i.e. buses.  Quite a novelty here.  They seem to have been very successful and they are expanding the routes.  They are very cute – rather like the traditional school bus size and shape with a huge Panther logo (CAT – get it? – we have panthers here) and they carry bikes on a rack on the front.  What an excellent idea – you can ride your bike to the bus for the ‘main road’ part of the trip and then continue by bike around the quieter centres.  I must try to take a photo of one sometime for ‘the record’.


We met the shakers and movers behind our community last week – Della and Ron Salina (good names!).  They delivered The Shores Newsletter – incidentally this was super-professionally produced in colour with ads.  (They also delivered an invitation to their 5 pm cocktail party next Tuesday, as we are ‘neighbours’).  There is a lot to do here on The Shores – poker nights, keep fit classes, tennis, various meals, theatre trips and socials etc.   Such a shame we’re such an antisocial (for this read shy) pair and can’t bear the thought of going to a room filled with strangers voluntarily.  Difficult to make friends when we hide from people.  I must confess I’m the real villain of this piece.  Ken isn’t particularly bothered, so if I cry off (and I do) we don’t make it over the doorstep.  I have a lingering curiosity over the mah-jong group, as it’s a game I really enjoy.  We’ll see.  We’ve been in a month and up until Sunday I hadn’t even made it to the clubhouse for a closer look!


Sunday (2nd March) was one of those utterly perfect days.  We got up late, which for me is always a great beginning to Sunday.  Leisurely breakfast, Sunday papers and lunch.  We then took chairs, two hats, water and ourselves and tootled off to a free concert in Cambier Park.  It is a small park at the back of 5th Avenue (across the road from McCabe’s).  It has nice touches such as the Children’s Play Area and the picnic benches are No Smoking Areas!  There is absolutely no litter and it wins my top award for having properly constructed ‘Restrooms’, which were immaculate even with that size audience.


It had a new Band Shell built last year to accommodate a larger (90 musicians) Naples Concert Band. (90 musicians)  As usual it was funded mainly by private contributions – one anonymous one of $250,000!   ‘Friends’, sponsors and audiences fund the band’s entire $50,000 annual budget and raise enough money on top of that for scholarships for some music students.  The various galleries and other things like this are well supported in Naples.  The concert in the park for example draws audiences of 6,500 who contribute to a collection in the interval.  It is also pleasant that you approach them as opposed to them collecting from everyone, which truly makes it a free concert if you can’t afford to contribute.  You’ll hate the fact they are called Bucketeers!



All the Arts are extremely well supported in Naples.  Private money builds and runs the galleries along with admission charges and fund-raising.  The Philharmonic was conceived, built and is funded this way.  There is no notion that everyone on a community should pay (via taxes etc) towards the pleasures of some.  Basically if it’s wanted enough then the money will be ‘found’.  They do then have spin-off benefits to the rest of the community as they run the usual educational programmes and support Arts students in various ways.


Our concert was part of their 31st season and covered a broad sweep of music from Farewell to a Slavic Woman to the Wizard of Oz.  Each piece of music was given a useful introduction by the announcer, outlining points of interest to do with the music and/or composer.  We began with everyone standing and singing to Star-Spangled Banner.  All hats are removed and it is sung with genuine ‘passion’.    I really find it quite moving.  The music was wrapped up with Sousa’s Stars and Stripes forever, which is irresistible to clapping hands, and no attempt was made to resist.  An appropriate finale to some two hours of great music.


It was a really wonderful experience.  We pitched our seats under a canopy of exotic trees – one was filled with amazing air plants.  It was a warm day with soft warm breezes that carried the perfume of the Jacaranda trees and the occasional birdsong.  The whole human audience was utterly silent – not something we normally find at park concerts at home.  They all seemed to be in their Sunday best – lots of linen and straw hats and some of my nearest ‘neighbours’ could be seen knitting and reading.  One of them was working on a piece of wonderful shirring as they listened.  So relaxed, and old-fashioned Sundayish.  Such a joy.


We  wandered home in the late afternoon – my favourite time of day here and, after an early meal we went across to the club to watch a movie.


Now this we were charged for – a whole dollar each!  The movie was one I hadn’t the slightest interest in seeing but ended up quite enjoying. ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’.  Perhaps I was still mellow from the afternoon in the park but it was actually quite funny in a fluffy predictable sort of way.


Our other movies in February were:  ‘The Hours’ (Meryl Streep, Miranda Richardson, Juliette Moore – what a trio of ‘greats’) and ‘The Life of David Gale’. (Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslett) I loved the first and enjoyed the second.  I think The Hours must be helped if you have (or have had) any interest in Virginia Wolf (et al) and had read Mrs Dalloway – I don’t know how the film stands without that but I thought it was an excellent multi-layered look at women and creativity (and more) – terrific.  Ken of course hated it ‘cos “nothing happened”.  Honestly blokes – what can you do with ‘em?  The second was his choice but pretty good, Quite original if you avoid the trap of being fifty-seven and having seen a zillion movies and keep thinking ooh that bit’s like such and such and that bit’s like….  It’s probably the only movie I’ve ever come out of saying that would have made a great book.


We got to a Flea Market this month but it was a total non-event.  A handful of stalls and even less customers.  To be fair we went on Thursday rather than Friday or Saturday.  We’ll have to try again sometime when we’ve forgotten the pointless trip.


Most of this month I’ve spent shackled to a sewing machine in a small room in a Florida sweat shop.  Unpaid and only fed and watered occasionally.  I have been making a zillion curtains.


The sitting room curtains became the curtains from hell.  I went out to buy twelve yards of fabric and bought eight and a half ‘cos that’s all they had and then did a quick rethink on how to use it.  I then needed to buy an additional seven yards of the accompanying fabric for ‘swags’ to conceal the fact I didn’t have enough of the main fabric.  They had now run out of this too.  After much ado they tracked it down for me at another store in Florida and got it sent to them and then to me – great – only now it cost twice as much because the sale had finished.


Also I had managed to choose the piggiest, slippiest, stretchiest sheer fabric known to sewingkind.  By the time I got to swags I decided I’d forgo sewing and go for the casual fling ‘em over the rail sort.  Oh Yeh!  Ever tried to fling silk over a well-polished leg!  After seven more hours (that is the real time lapse!) I’d finally managed to cut out a pattern, which worked.  It took a little maths and a lot of geometry.  The making of the three swags after that was almost a doddle.


I’ve made kitchen valances, which I don’t like and am about to remodel and have made a huge (nine foot) shower drape/curtain for the guest bathroom which took two returns of fabric before I got what I wanted.  The first one was a grey white against the paintwork and looked dirty.  The fabric shop is the one place where we have a really nowty assistant – Mary the fabric granny.  She boasts of having served there so long she is now serving grandchildren of the original customers she ‘helped’.  I was greeted with “Well, why did you buy it?  There are forty shades of white”.  I assume this is an arbitrary figure she shoves at people who return the white they don’t like as I’m convinced there must be an almost infinite number of whites.  So fabric number one goes back and I purchase number two.  This time after straightening Mary’s crap cutting of same and losing eight inches of material I am four inches short of what I asked and paid for and two inches short of doing the job.  Back we go again.  “Who cut this?”  Mrs Grumpy asked – Tempted? Oh how I was tempted, “I can’t remember” replies yellow-bellied English person.  Away I go with fabric number three.  This was white enough and long enough but was deeply flawed.  By now I don’t care and it hangs elegantly (flawed) in our guest bathroom.


I still have our bedroom drapes to codge but will probably leave them until we return in September.  You have to have something to look forward to after all.


On the 18th I was released for the evening to attend the Dinner Theatre for West Side Story.  It was the authentic Broadway production including the ballet sequence in the second Act.  It was, as ever, superb.  I love the music from WS – probably one of my top three musicals if I had to choose.  I’m a lyrics person and they are so good.  They advance the story and are well able to stand alone – a hard thing to accomplish.


The next day Ken’s friend John (from CIS) and two of his friends Peter and Frank came for an overnighter.  They flew down from Titusville as usual and Ken joined them the next day for a flying visit (how do I do that!) to Key West via Marathon.  The day they arrived we did a brief tour of ‘palaces’ on Gulf Shore Blvd and Gordon Drive, a moment on the beach and dinner at McCabe’s at Inn on Fifth.  The food was fine; the ‘noise’ was not.  It’s the problem with being in season.  A lot of people (for us) and an Irish Band.  Still it was a very pleasant break – always good to see John again and Peter and Frank were very nice.  I’m afraid our house doesn’t sleep three individuals very well.  Frank got the guest room, which is OK, Peter got the convertible settee in the office, which is not brilliant but OK and poor John was left with the couch.  I hope they were all as comfortable as they claimed.  We had a not-so-good meal at home before they left for a night-flight back to Titusville.  Isn’t it always the way?  You can cook anything standing on your head, blindfolded and with one arm behind your back (well, you know what I mean) any day of the week until you want to produce a half-way decent meal for others and then………  It was OK but I can do so much better.  They need to come again.


We managed to catch the Estate Sale at the airport, which we like, but bought nothing.  It started Thursday but we didn’t get to it until Saturday.  It was pretty well stripped by then.  The dealers move in the instant it starts and you have to be pretty quick off the mark for anything worthwhile – but it’s a great mooch even so.  Must look out for it next month.


We’ve booked a space at The Shores Community Yard Sale on Saturday to flog off the things we aren’t using at this house following the move.  The major thing is the lanai furniture – I paid a couple of hundred dollars for it and other than one chair it hardly got used.  This lanai is tiny so we can’t use it here.  I also have my garage sale computer but it needs its operating system put back on so it’s not ready.  Other than those it’s all bits and pieces.  Difficult really as they’re still things I like but can’t use here.  No use taking them home, as that house is so tiny we can’t fit them in there either and we already have 17 Darlington stored in the loft without adding to it.  I doubt my kids would like my ‘decorative’ pieces.  I’ll let you know what happens in the next instalment.


Our attached neighbour hasn’t moved in yet.  She bought the same day as us (31 January).  She’s actually got a different house, which is a bit strange.  It was going to be the next model but as they have sold quickly and the office will be leaving here in a month or so it was sold off instead.  She therefore, paid $35,000 more than we did for the various upgrades amongst which are huge wall mounted mirrors, faux painting, drapes, chair rails, crown moulding (and so on).  So she has an elegant, expensive house (you don’t redeem that part of the cost when you sell).  She has spent some of the month waiting for new furniture to be delivered as she sold most of her stuff when she moved down here.  She drives a red Spyder.  Parents drive a Jag.  All this and she’s single and thirty-eight and ‘in catering’.  How do this generation do it?  I’ve decided I’m getting a chuck-wagon and making my million.  Envious?  Not really, but being me I’d love the whole story.  Meanwhile she hardly ever visits – her parents (she’s staying with them) are here every five minutes – perhaps they’re trying to encourage her to move out.  She does have a name – Beverly.  Picture Barbie – she’s rake thin with pneumatic breasts and wears pink and white.  Envious? Not really.  Liar?  Yes!


She did me a favour in that she had her lanai floor spraycreeted and painted so I nabbed her workers and asked if they’d do ours ‘unofficially’ which they proceeded to do for $150!  Good old Bev!


Both my kids are doing fine.  They’ve just got through their first exams with flying colours.  They have been warned that I will not tolerate having children more intelligent than me (too late?).  I am so pleased for them.  It is really hard work getting through University unsupported so they deserve their success.  Doing it the hard way seems to run in the family.


Some pictures of the house as it is now……….
















A couple of you expressed a sense of loss since my streams of consciousness stopped dropping into your mailbox - you fools! - that's all it takes.


So here I am trying to catch up any 'events' since I last wrote.


Basically I think I left you in Florida in the 'new' house.  We managed to live there two months (ish) before flying back here since which time it has become the 'old' house and is now up for sale.  This will all become clear as we progress.


We came back to Bury the end of March to our lovely little (house and) garden just in time to knock it all into shape for the summer.  It's looking terrific right now - indeed, this very afternoon  I have been receiving compliments galore on it from a realtor - sorry - estate agent.  At this point I was about to tell you to go to the family website as I intend to update the pictures on there to run alongside this epistle.  BUT!!!! the ******* computer refuses to allow me to download my photos from my camera (as of last night) so until that's sorted not much will happen there I'm afraid - I'll try to remember to send you a note when I've managed to move them so you can catch up.


Since coming home mom's been pretty ill.  She had pneumonia which turned to pleurisy and had a spell in hospital.  Pam and I sprung her from their tender mercies and between us got her (almost) back to her old self.  It seemed a bit touch-and-go at the time and there was a point when the dreaded C word was being bandied around - quite incorrectly as it turned out.  The hospital was excellent at dealing with 'curing' the illness but as usual these days the nursing was nonexistent.  No fault of the staff concerned they were lovely but they're absolutely stretched to the limit and spend more time paper-filling than patient caring.  So, as I said we pretty much insisted we took her home as she was going downhill rapidly.  Not eating and very depressed - basically throwing in the 86 year old towel and saying her time had come.  Rubbish - with a bit of TLC and fussing she's back to her spiky self.


The point of this story being that it set us off thinking about Spain again!  Mom feels she's not up to the long-haul journey and I'm not comfortable with leaving her to her own devices for three month stretches.  So, swanning back and forth to Spain with or without her seems much more reasonable. 


To be perfectly honest I also think we're up for a change ourselves.  Not that Naples isn't simply wonderful - it is, but I suppose we are ready for another sort of challenge and lifestyle.  Yes, I am saying 'we'.  I am always seen as the driving force behind this flitting about (the nag!) but it isn't strictly true.  Ken really does enjoy the challenges involved in selling/buying and sorting out the complexities of foreign trading and gets happily involved in such as soon as the ball starts rolling.  He's no more committed to an uneventful life than I am.  He may have had forty-odd years like that prior to me but now he's tasted chaos he's very happy with it.  In fact this round of 'shall we look at Spain again' was started by him.


April 2003



In April we were back in Spain with Phil and Sue to have a look at another area whilst taking an actual holiday.  We had a couple of days in the Sierras for skiing - though day two got rained out and the chaps bailed.  We then drove on to the coast - the name of which escapes me at the moment and Ken's in bed (it is 2.30 am) and won't appreciate being woken to ask him.  Any way wherever it was (somewhere on the south east bit of Spain) it was very nice and we got some sun and good food and good company. Ken just appeared to see if I was OK (3 am) - it was Roquetas. 







June 2003


At the beginning of this month (5 - 12th) - Ken and I  went back to Spain to look at houses again.  We flew into Malaga and out of Alicante.  This time we were following up properties we had selected from the web and checked out and made appointment with the agents to view.  I was mad keen on a house called the 'garden house' (spot the attraction) and tried to persuade Ken there was no point in looking at anything else as we'd need all out time to get it bought.  Ken - being a sensible sort - suggested we book others for after the garden house viewing and we could always cancel them if I was right.  I was so keen not to miss it that we flew into Malaga at lunchtime and were traipsing round the property by mid afternoon.  The viewing took about ten minutes.  It was pretty dire.  I hope the photographer who posted the web pictures has been rewarded appropriately for his extreme talent.  The house was a traditional, very tiny, dark village house.  Great if you sincerely want the real Spanish life style but pretty depressing and claustrophobic for the average Brit who craves light and sun.  The views from the back were excellent but the wheatfield which ran alongside the house is about to be exchanged for a road!  Alongside the house means the other side of our garden wall and no pavement between.  The garage (one of our absolute criteria) was actually big enough for a car and with the appropriate size door - this isn't always the case in Spain.  Slight problem was that to approach the garage you would have to drive the wrong way down a one way street and even then getting anything larger than a Smart car round the corner and into the garage would be impossible.  It was perfectly adequate for your donkey and a bike. (double garage!).  We stayed in a very traditional (and nice) Spanish hotel in Yunquera - well worth going back to if we (you) are ever in the area.  (The white villages of Andalusia)


So, onwards and upwards.  We spent a couple of days on the Malaga side looking at more property and were pretty convinced into a very large 'shell' in one of the white villages - El Burgo (more of this later) but decided to follow Ken's philosophy of seeing the other houses before deciding.  Sunday we took off for a long drive across to the Alicante (Almeria/Costa Calida) side where we looked at several other properties - all OK but not quite right.  Then we struck the one we wanted for real.  This was a finca on 2,500 sq m land (on paper - turned out to be 600 sq metres short when measured!) which had a 30 year old orchard (oranges, lemons, peaches, pears, apples, pomegranates, almonds etc) fruit, vegetable and flower gardens and a lot of olives.  The house was a complete re-do inside but would be wonderful when finished.  Its location probably won't mean a thing as it is not on a map.  It is 8 kms from Lorca in a hamlet called Velopache - not even so much as a village nearby.  We were staying in Fuente Alamo and the house was about an hour or so away so we did a lot of driving between it, the (also good) hotel and the agent.  The total for our week was over a thousand miles (yep miles).  (This hotel incidentally was even more not-tourist - it was their equivalent of a roadside hotel/travel lodge - great food again and a bar hung with Jamon)  We put down our deposit on the finca and came home to do the nitty gritty.  I really need to shortcut the story here as it has ground on for a further two weeks (and is still doing so).  The long and short of it is we can't get the appropriate paperwork supporting the land and house and are very dubious about the legality of the purchase so we have backed out of the deal and our Spanish lawyer is presently trying to get twice our deposit back for us.  Our initial deposit will be returned without a problem but under Spanish law whoever reneges on the deal has to pay compensation by paying twice the monies already paid over.  Needless to say the seller doesn't particularly want to do this or at least the agent doesn't want to tell the seller he's screwed up and that it will cost him 1500 euros.  The dodgy paperwork aspect is par for the course in Spain and I suspect thousands of people including Brits close their eyes to it and plod on with the purchase.  This is fine I'm sure for the actual deal you are doing but heaven help you when you come to resell you could come up against all sorts of problems - the extreme position being that you don't even legally own the place. We, being us, aren't prepared to chance it. 


So at the moment we have returned to the El Burgo property and are waiting to hear from the agent as to whether it is still for sale and to answer a few questions we have about it. Not least of which is whether it has the correct supporting escritura detailing the house and land, and a definite decision on the landline.


I think it will probably waste your time and mine giving you the details as, like our other three near misses, this one probably won't come off either; but here goes.  It is 418 sq m - so it's the biggest we've tried to buy.  It comprises of (I've lapsed into realtor mode) six bedrooms, two bathrooms - no land, as it is on the edge of the village - but has the usual large Andalucian walled patio which I could turn into a little gem of a place and is probably less frightening than having to be the steward of the finca's olives and land.  More importantly the road to it is large enough to get a car down and the house has an enormous usable garage.  There is also a pretty good chance of getting a landline - another of our absolute must-have criteria.  The story with this house is that it is owned by someone who is working in France and has decided he is not returning to El Burgo and therefore wants to sell.  It has been completely gutted, (by his brother - El Burgo's builder) rewired, replumbed, reroofed etc and is now a six bedroom shell waiting for everything else - doors, windows, plaster, paint, bathrooms, kitchens etc.  So its very sound and gives us the chance to have exactly the house we want, which is exciting.  The downside being the amount of work ahead of us. Having said that we have a fifty thousand euro start on the cost of the Velopache house and that needed the same doing to it.  The only thing in Velopache's favour was that the house would split into three and we could live in two sections at a time while one section was being redone.  I suppose we could arrange a similar thing in El Burgo but it wouldn't be so easy and as ever with these things it's easier (and therefore cheaper) for the builders to work through a house in the order that suits the work rather than doing a couple of rooms at a time.


Again I hope to post pictures so keep listening.


Meanwhile 7777 Haverhill Court, Naples is on the market even as we speak.  Our trusty realtor, Don,  is on the case.  The house has increased in value by $20,000 since we bought it a few months ago.  Even with Don's 6% fee and moving expenses we might still break even on this one.


That seems to have caught up our 'position' with regard to our next house.  As for the normal events of being in the UK I don't seem to have much to report.  We've caught up on doctors, opticians, dentists (spellchecker suggested fetishists), haircuts - all the usual stuff and have managed to see a couple of friends a couple of times.  I saw a good deal of my sister and a little of  Number-one-Ken during mom's illness. 


We've also managed to get up to Sally and Chris in Edinburgh.  We rented the most fantastic flat for a couple of days.  Any of you need to do likewise get in touch and I'll pass on the details.  It was huge, newly decorated and furnished (almost all from Ikea - down to the pictures) slept eight comfortably - so two of us pinged around in it a little but an experience I'd love to repeat.  Chris and Sally are both fine and still flogging their way through their courses and their paid work.  Sally's just moved flats.  Her landlord wanted to sell the one she was in.  I'm please about it as I think the one she has now is much more comfortable - modern, heated etc.  Sally, being her mother's daughter, thinks that unlike its predecessor it 'lacks character'.  Sally also managed to grab a few days in Manchester at the beginning of the month - in fact we deserted her and flew off to Spain for our break with P & S. We always plan to spend time together but never seem to actually manage it.  A couple of weeks later Chris was due to visit but it turned out to be the same weekend as we took off again to Spain.  My kids will begin to think I'm avoiding them.  Chris and Gayle are off to Canada to see Gayle's folks in a couple of weeks so maybe we can all get together again at the end of August - housebuying permitting. 


We haven't been to see Ken's two yet but it is becoming imminent.  If they don't get up here first.  They do come to June's now and again so we might be able to catch up with them that way. 


I've lost track of when but my niece (Justine) came over from Canada to run the Belfast Marathon and visit Nicky in Belfast and friends in England.  We saw her briefly between airports, but always nice to catch up.


This last weekend we met up with Ken's sister (Margaret), her friend (Cheryl) and his brother (Stuart) and wife (Chris).  [I shall test you on names later]  It was a very pleasant way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon - lunch at our local pub (which, incidentally does excellent food) and the opportunity to catch up with their news.  They've been severely threatened that they must come out to Spain when we settle on a house.  Another part of deciding to do this move is that we are hoping to see more of friends and family there.  Naples was too far and too expensive to flit over to for a short break and most people have other holiday commitments when they're working and only get one major holiday a year.  This next time you can all make it for short breaks now and then.  We are doing the flight regularly at around £50 with Monarch but if you can get to airports down south and/or Liverpool (etc) you can get out for as little as £29 each way.  Once there we offer a good bed, breakfast and evening meal (no charge) and you can go out and play on your own in the day if you want to.    


I've mentioned my garden briefly.  It is looking wonderful considering this is its first real season.  That's the great advantage to a small garden you can afford to fill it to bursting with good size mature plants so it becomes (pretend) mature pretty quickly.  It's a bit sad  really as we are contemplating renting the house if/when we find the Spanish house.  The idea is that we won't be back here very much during the first six to twelve months as we will have a lot of work to do on the property - shame to leave the house empty and even sillier when we could get some income from it.  I would like to totally redo the house itself any way so I'm not bothered about letting renters in but the garden makes me fret, of course.  We've had our teeny bungalow valued and are astonished to learn that it has increased in value by 50%- 75 %.  As I keep reminding Ken this bobbing about round houses makes sense if you buy right and so far they've all proved to be good investments.  Fingers crossed we don't lose the touch.


So folks, I reckon that's it again for catching up with the Ormson's for the time being.  Our life at the moment is caught up with appointments every day with estate agents, letting agents and movers - trying to get some sensible idea of what our various options could cost us.  No nasty shocks there yet.  Meanwhile looking forward to a visit to the Octagon to see Steel Magnolias the weekend as a welcome return to normality.


Love for now




July  2003


hello chaps,


thought I'd update you on the latest house-hunt palaver just in case you ever fancy doing this!


forget the one we had a deposit on - forget getting double the deposit back - we were told by our Spanish lawyer - taking the agent to court takes 3 to 4 years and you have to stump up the value of what you want up front!  I hope this makes you all appreciate English law/small claims and county courts - we'll never complain again.  So, in short if someone refuses to pay what they owe you - you have to be able to possibly pay more than they owe you to retrieve it and then go through a protracted lawsuit to get it all back.  We aren't particularly bothered about it as long as our deposit is returned OK that's fine - it just makes a complete ass of Spanish contracts.


we've pretty much reneged on the El Burgo house as we can't get a sensible or complete response as to its paperwork and telephone.


meanwhile the search goes on.  I thought you might like to have a few of the phrases we've come across whilst looking at properties -


the house has:


a great hungry hall (large dining room?)

a firewood kitchen (probably literal!)

2 locals (no idea unless its the water supply - I thought it meant two local people come and live with you)

plumber (I assume an alternative to having a local living with you - you get a fully fledged tradesman - only comes with the higher priced property)

hoist fruit trees (you tell me)

block of horses (stable block or long row of very quiet horses?)


I promise these are all real and have appeared several times on various sites.  we think they use something like the google translation tool - we have had some funny results with that.  thanks to Chris for telling us about it - good stuff sometimes when you are the' Johnny foreigner' in a deal.


right now we are following up on five (more) possibles - this time in the Almeria area.  I won't swamp you with details ....... yet!!!  we are planning (is that a word I am allowed to use?) to go out next Tuesday maybe, probably, possibly, whatever.


I have finally stopped compiling a complete dossier for each house that I get enthused about - so far I have designed (in flat plan, elevation and 3D!!! yes, honestly!!) for 2 houses and collected ideas (Ikea et al) and priced all the furnishings for El Burgo.  I am now waiting until we sign the SECOND part of the contract before I put pen to paper again.  anyone looking for kitchen planner/interior designed/professional shopper - you have my number?


the Naples house may have sold.  our agent is dealing with (in his words) an obnoxious new Yorker who can afford to pay cash for a $210,000 (chiselled us down from 219 - normal (ish) for house deals in the states) which he will use one month a year but then spends ages nitpicking about what picture or mirror you will leave in the price - what a pain.  so far price agreed, contents in the process of being agreed and he and wife will fly down to view on Friday.  we'll see - would be great for timing and there's a chance he wants the car too which would be excellent as we could use it til the day we go and not have the problem of selling it in a rush.  all in all maybe god is smiling on us again.  who knows?


so that's where we're up to for now..






Do NOT go to Florida in the summer - are you listening Mike and Martin?????


Talk about a pain in the rear.  First of all when we tried to get tickets - there was nothing on our usual route/airline other than business class (pllleeease).  That was the first 'upset' - not to mention we have enough airmiles for a freebie trip!!!  So onto alternative airline - US Airways (they were the only airline into Naples when we first came and we used them a couple of times then - since which time they've cleared off and we've moved over to Delta).


The nearest they could get us with one stop was Miami - so set up hire car for the couple of hours dive across the 41.  All set.


10 am leave our house - left on time for Philadelphia  - scabby flight and in-flight service - small stuff like no coffee after or meal, less leg/seat space than Delta and so on.  Still we get into Philly.  Then the queues begin - queue for immigration, followed by wait for baggage reclaim, followed by queue for rechecking and then another queue for security check before entering the gates - all this is interspersed with five mile hikes between each section - no shuttle like Atlanta.  we then discover our Miami flight is cancelled due to bad storms in the area creating traffic congestion.  they are so close to New York airports then pick up their problems too - needless to say Philly is bathed in calm blue skies and not a breeze in sight.  so now rebooked to Orlando with a further connection to Miami - our day is getting considerably longer.


board our Orlando flight and then proceed to sit on the tarmac for two hours waiting for a slot.  by now we know we've missed our connection to Miami.  arrive in Orlando - we've now been travelling for fourteen hours- no more flights that night.  we get to stay overnight in the Hyatt (which was exceedingly nice I might add  we could learn a thing or two about airport hotels from the states).  By next morning we've decided to stuff any idea of flying anywhere and we changed our hire car pick up from Miami to Orlando - hired a car and drove the rest of the way.  this part turned out to be a good idea - pleasant drive, good lunch en route and arrived home the best part of a day late.


I think something is trying to convince us we've made the right decision.  we knew the battery on the car was flat - we'd been told by the folks who were keeping an eye on the house and car for us in our absence - so out comes the Allstate Auto Club and jumpstarts it for us - ken takes it out to charge it up a bit, dropping me off to food shop - comes back for me and bingo it won't start again.  the air con. has also decided to give up the ghost - we now await the auto club again in a Publix car park in the rain - so can't open windows and doors and in tropical heat - yummy - the food is defrosting and stewing in the trunk and we're generally not very happy.  out comes car guy - jump starts car - home to store food out to drive round for a long long time charging the battery.    Thursday first thing - car won't start - towed to garage, replaced battery, fixed air. con and ken's $169.60 lighter (plus $11 for the cab!) and we will be selling the car in a couple of weeks.


so here we are - ensconced in our Naples house on the countdown to leaving.  we've met our buyer (yesterday).  he came to discuss buying bits of furniture and stuff but we think we want either to sell the whole lot or ship the whole lot - faffing about with bits and pieces of remaining mismatched stuff doesn't seem to be a great solution.  so we're up for consignment, shippers and estate sales quotes over the next few days and a real decision will be made.  all we have to do then is decided what we're shipping where.  simple really.


ken's re-instated our computers - he backs up from the uk and updates here and then the reverse when we go back to the UK - that's another little chore the Spanish house will be saving us.  as ever that is never as simple as it should be.


moan moan moan moan - as I said it's good really as so far coming back has been a bit of a pain (never has been before) so perhaps it'll help us move on without too many regrets - well p'raps not.  we've just had our buyer extolling the virtues of Naples.  another one who came here for a holiday and can't wait to get a home here.  he's english, came here to work as a teenager and stayed here - lives inc California - has cousins/friends in Naples but has only just visited them and he (and his family) fell in love with the place and decided they want another home here.  they had a second home in new Zealand for a long while but have given that up.


thanks to the folks who have found time already to end their addresses - I hit the first major snag today - I need to mail my daughter's birthday card and she's recently moved flat and I haven't got her new address committed to memory yet - so I'm waiting for the right time (5 hours asunder here) to ring her to ask.  as I said - so far nothing is going very right..............


finished moaning for now


stay in touch and I'll do the same




I forgot to mention the driving licence pain in the bum in all my moans.  When we were here last we went to change the address on our driving licence.  you may remember we moved house on our trip!  any way were then told that Johnny foreigners like us could only have a licence for the length of our visit and we would have to get a new one each time we came back.  this is a post 9-11 measure to prevent terrorists driving!. we were not thrilled.  off we go to the jolly licence office - queue as ever - fortunately Americans don't like queuing and many tend to leave before their turn comes up so it's not too bad really.  its a take a number system and they were on 13 when we picked up 25 - but so many of them had done a bunk that we were being 'processed' (I love that expression - just like a pea) in 15 minutes.   'Processed ' being the operative word.  an original licence (which we originally had!) lasts four years and costs $25.  Now we go through the process including an eye test which is only given to residents who are renewing their licence when they are over 75 - but clearly potential terrorists can be discovered among foreigners by an eye test.  ok - that done, now the photo, now the return to our clerk - we get a temporary licence for 30 days - a piece of paper - cos we're foreign - again our original and our first change of address one was instant - but a renewal has to be a 'send-away-for-it' job.  to cap it all this was listed as costing $20.25 and we were duly charged $21.25 - one dollar as a late fee because our licences had expired!!!!  Yep this is cos you only let us have a licence from visit to visit!  Frustrated - I should say so.  the final indignity of all is this is that had we not done the right thing and gone to change our address none of this would have happened - better still had we not bought a house to live in for two months last December we would still be using our original licence.  they can't afford the cost of chasing up foreigners, tourists and terrorists so they are just waiting for them to turn up at the licensing office.  yeh!  like they will!


I think I may be looking for moans as there's a huge amount of regret attached to this leaving lark.  but, other than the trip for the licence, we actually had a nice day yesterday doing our usual stuff.  we'd been swimming the day before and sunbathed a bit - the weather beat me after an hour and a half - not got your staying power.  anyway yesterday we went to library which I love and collected 8 books - there's no limit.  a small child came in with parent and trug and filled same (trug that is) and the librarian chatted and smiled her way through them all with the child as she registered them - so nice.  I know I've said it before but its worth saying aging they are lovely with their kids.  there was a little one in the pool with her daddy  - Audrey!!! - little red-headed dot and he was so patient and skilled with her.  firm but not at all bossy or moany or cross - just delightful to watch/hear.  went to Wal-Mart bought stacks of clothes which I'm returning as usual - their sizes seem to have shrunk since we were here last!!! on to Office Max, Grand Buffet for lunch - this is the Chinese buffet restaurant - over 200 dishes.  it is so hard eating them all.  I deserted Ken part way through so I could nip into Jo-Ann fabrics - with a 60% discount sale how can you not.  so - yes - we are getting back into our lovely Naples rituals.





September 2003


Vive La France


Yup we've bought our next adventure. 


Just done a whistle stop tour of France - Paris down to the Pyrenees and back up again (1,939 miles) - basically ten days covering the south west quarter of France.


We started our searches on the net as ever and decided against the Provence area - not because it wasn't beautiful but we think it would have been difficult to find a bargain now.  We then set ourselves the idea of somewhere and hour-ish from the coast (Atlantique) and the same from skiing and with the best weather all year so as far south as possible for the hottest area.  We found some properties to see from Biarritz to Tarbes but decided we may as well check out other interesting ones as we went south.


Just to prove my theory that some things are meant to be - at the last minute we happened to find an agent and houses we would like to see but had by then booked a full itinerary the only chance was to get round them at supersonic speed on our first trip from Paris to our first appointment.  The realtor said if we could get to him by 1.30 it was all possible.  So we saw our first house.  I fell in love with it immediately and had to be (constantly!!!!) reminded by Ken that this is how I always view houses - five minutes mad passion until I see the next one.  No argument from me - he's quite right so we duly spend the next week traipsing around various houses on our tour.  As ever - sometimes the house was fine but the location was duff and of course the opposite.  On rare occasions the house, location and everything was fine but the price reflected it.  All in all nothing (for me) compared to house number one - Les Roches.


Cutting our tour short by three days we belted back up to Les Roches, met with a wonderful (artisan) builder recommended by the couple we were staying with (who had a lovely house containing his (ongoing) work.  Mr Dimoli (the builder) spent 2 hours at the house on Wednesday - instead of his lunch and dropped off a quote on Thursday!  Excellent.  We signed our first contract with the realtor on Friday and flew home.


Initially it will have two bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and the third bedroom will be used as our office. All the rooms are very large.  Downstairs will have a huge kitchen and even bigger sitting room, a half bath

and laundry and 'mud room'.  


At some point in the future we will have another 2 bedrooms upstairs.  Outside we have two wonderful barns built in the same stone as the house and a 'hanger' - a sort of barn made out of tiled roof, super oak structure and laths and withies.  We think we will use one barn as an indoor swimming pool to use all year round and the other barn will make a generous two-bedroom gite.  It would make two two-bedroom gites but as we don't want to let it as a business as such it seems a shame to skimp.  The reason for the gite is that we just think it’s a waste not to use the building and share the lovely house and land.  


The sale has a closing date of 15 December but it may (please, please, please) be before that if everyone hurries up.  Mr Dimoli can start work in February and will take two months to do the initial repairs and alterations to the bedrooms/bathrooms.  After that we can progress at what ever rate we like (and can afford!)


The repairs are pretty minor - a couple of chimneys to repair and down-pipes to tidy up - the major job is removing both floors (and ceiling) down and upstairs and replacing.  They set tiles on soil in these houses and needless to say they have a seriously switchback surface.  Looks lovely and 'antique' but you can't stand a piece of furniture on it.  To be truthful I would keep them but Ken (who has a great deal more sense than me) says he can 'go country' and 'old house' but drunken floors are just a step too far. 


For the practical ones out there.  It has town water, plus well water for the garden.  A septic tank, in the English sense, which has to be emptied every so often (How often is every so often?)   Normally their fosse septiques are 'drain-aways' from the property.  You hear two versions of thought on this - they are great - no problems or they sometimes give problems and can be a real nuisance - I guess both versions are true - any way we don't have one.  We have oil-fired central heating with the tank underground.  There is a new boiler (2 years old) so that was good news.  Basically the house is decidedly habitable as it is but we'd like to 'get it right' again.  When it's repaired, repainted, reshuttered and gardened I think it will be truly wonderful.


As for the land and the surrounding setting - it is to die for - so pretty.  We have getting on for nine acres.  On the pictures ignore the wire fences - they have been built to keep the cow from invading the house/garden area.  I realised yesterday we may need to keep them as I saw a deer wandering around a nearby garden. Our land extends to any far hedge borders you can see and then some more.  It drops to a stream at the bottom of the fields (no it won't flood - it's in a six foot ravine and even if that filled, which is extremely unlikely, it still has to get uphill to the house).


Our nearest town - Chatillon-sur-Indre - is a couple of miles away and a sooo pretty.  The surrounding villages are lovely and we are littered with chateaux, walks, rides, lakes, forests et al.  The river we are near is the Indre which runs into the Loire so we are on the chateaux trails for the Loire valley runs and fishing and walking country - but not on the main (usual) ones so not too many tourists.  The area relies almost totally on agriculture and the fields are filled with sunflowers.  There are vines but its not as wine filled as the Dordogne for example.  If I remember rightly it's cognac country. Did you spot it couldn't be further removed from our initial geographical criteria?  We are miles from the sea and mountains and further North than we ever intended to be!  I'm not bothered.  I suspect we would have hardly used either the mountains or the sea as this would have been dependent upon visiting friends and most people are working and have other commitments for their holiday time so will still find it difficult to fit us in even though we are now much nearer than we were in Naples. I don't mind it being that little bit cooler - again there isn't a Naples winter anywhere in Europe so what does a few degrees difference between areas matter.  This place had snow for two days last winter for the first time in eighteen years - so it's not exactly frightening.  Their winters are shorter and milder than ours and the summer (in the main) won't be so hot that I can't garden - which again is the Florida/Southern Spain experience - so it suits me very well.  If we get desperate for more sun in the winter we can always do what other folks do and go on holiday!!!!


I hope when you check out the site I have managed to add a map to show you where we're located - haven't done that yet - or labelled the pictures - so if the site's in the 'draft' stage and you're interested - give it a couple of days and check it out again.


So there you are... up to date I think.  I hope from next April (or sooner if you don't mind roughing it) you will ALL find time to visit when you can.  I know I will miss being able to natter to people.  Our limited French served us very well on this trip - very few people spoke English - especially as you got out into the countryside (like Les Roches and Chatilllon!).  We have enough French to shop and eat and hold basic everyday conversations (with difficulty) but, of course, as soon as it gets technical - banks, lawyers, builders, and listening in to other people’s conversations (!) we're done for.  We will try very hard to use it as much as possible and learn as fast as we can.


A bonus from this trip was meeting two wonderful English couples who will live (more or less) in our neck of the woods - so we hope to be able to keep in touch for English language relief.  I sound like one of those dreadful ex-pats I moan about so much already!!!  Of course, in my case, it's different!


Think I've covered it all for now........


November 2003


I spent October feeling totally 'fed-up'.  I know that's pretty blasphemous when I'm a lady of leisure with almost two homes and a really good life but as is the way of these things you don't need to have anything wrong to be feeling absolutely miserable.  I can invent a collection of excuses such as missing Naples, the sun, the American way of life and a purchase of a house in France which is knee-deep in paperwork and phone calls and absolutely no nearer to being real, but I suspect even these won't hold water.  Let's just put it down to a lack of seratonin and leave it at that!


I left you on the 25th September with Ken having just put a deposit on Les Roches and signed the first contract.  The realtor (Walter) assured us at the time that the sale would complete well before the 'contract date' of 15 December as a lot of the spadework had been done for a previous buyer who, after six months messing about, couldn't raise the necessary mortgage.  Fool that I am I believed this.  Needless to say since then trying to get any response from the same realtor has proved virtually impossible and at the moment we are just hoping against hope that it will (at least) complete on the due date.


Everything that we'd ever read or heard about buying property/living in France had warned us about the fine art of French bureaucracy and let me tell you - they were only hinting at the mire to follow.  Threaded between never being able to get any answer from anyone about anything in either English or French about the house purchase, repairs and anything else we might need to know we are also trying to get our 'home' shipped from the States to France and our American car shipped to England.


The car has taken four months as opposed to four weeks!  There was an initial delay on paperwork at the US end and finally when the car was loaded in Miami  (after having delivered it to Fort Lauderdale!) the container was pulled from the ship and it's two companion cars were impounded by customs.  Only we could post our car home along with the Mafia.  Time elapses until we start to chase it and then - "oooh, woops we'll try and get it on another ship soon, honest".  We then spend a wee while waiting for a Porsche to turn up to fill our container (well you do don't you?) - eh voila! the ship/car sails to Felixstowe.  Pick up plans are being festered this end when we get an eleventh hour call - would we like it transported to Hull (for another fee of course) cos the other two car owners in our box would like theirs sent there and they can't break up the set. So............ today we return from Hull the proud parents of a Honda CRV (American version) complete with US number plates - don't ask!


Some of you know how much I love driving.  I measure it in degrees of terror.  Mild, but short-lived, fear for local and familiar driving which increases in proportion to distance and strangeness.  Hull for me is beyond the edge of the known world and that sort of mileage. I am, therefore, typing this covered in ice-packs to relieve the aching limbs which were held in rigidity for two and a half hours driving behind a lorry (or two) back to Bury and a large tranquilliser in the shape of a chunky Kit-Kat.  I did really well until I got to the M66 junction - any of you who know it will sympathise and I won't bore the others with a long description of my two goes at getting into the correct lane.  In short - all traffic ground to a halt at the epicentre of a huge roundabout and a 'kind' white van person let me in.  God bless him and his Tiny Tims wherever he is.


The Naples home is sailing and is due to arrive in Le Havre on December 2nd.  We can only pray that it and the house purchase dates blend together in some meaningful way when push comes to shove.


At the moment we have paid duties on the US car twice (in the States and entering the UK) although Ken is pleading his case even as we speak.  To avoid any duties on our house contents we have to get a note from a French consular official in America to say we are going to live in France.  The ubiquitous Ken is also doing this.  (Did I mean omnipotent?)


Between the last episode and this Ken treated me to a trip back to Les Roches as an early birthday pressie in a brave attempt to cheer me up.  My cheer-up, of course, lasted the length of the stay but it was a noble effort.


We did a different mode of transport this trip.  We had airmiles so decided to use them on a £600 jaunt combining flying and the TGV.  Manchester/Paris with Air France (how awful is that airline? - like going back to the '60's) and then on to Tours by TGV.  The train was excellent - direct from Charles de Gaulle airport into Tours in silent smooth comfort - well done the French - a railway that seems to work - trains on time, booked seats and comfortable.  I'm not a fan of Charles de Gaulle - seems very spread out - miles of hiking and the food experiences so far have been incredibly bad.  To say this for France makes me weep.  You can stop in the tiddliest of villages in fairly decrepit hostelries to be greeted with fantastic food, served beautifully yet a lot of people's introduction to French food begins with such appalling stuff at C de G - they should be truly ashamed.


We went out on wed 5th and came back Sat 8th.  We (or more truthfully 'I') had zillions of things planned - measuring, getting building quotes from other local builders, looking at the small towns and villages that will be our immediate neighbours and maybe take in a chateau/garden or two.  Yup, I can hear you, how unreal is this woman?  Suffice it to say we just about had time to do some measuring, meet up with Barry, Shelley, Graham and Jan again, stuff our faces and flit home.


Thursday was a beautiful autumn day full of incredible blue skies and a temperature which reached twenty degrees at one point.  The colours of the trees were just as impressive as New Hampshire - I kid you not.  We've had the right summer to produce it and I think our timing was perfect.  The smell of the leaves mixed with the reds and greens and glowing golds was worth every moment of the journey there.  I am sure there are many corners of England producing the same experience but we have been urban dwellers most of our lives and the sheer indulgent feeling of looking at our wonderful oak trees and knowing that, for now, we are their nominated caretakers gave me an overwhelming sense of pride and joy.  When not indulging my senses by stuffing them full of warmth and scent and colour I helped Ken plod round the house and measure the bits and pieces we'd left out on our last trip. 


On Friday we went to see Jan & Graham's longère.  It's in a lovely setting and will make a fantastic home.  On our recommendation we met them for lunch at the Lion d'Or in Ecueillé.  We had a wonderful meal there last trip - a rough and ready boeuf bourguignon, spuds - as in spuds - and fresh veg.  This was preceded by a very good pâté and followed by a lemon tart of some delight.  Including coffee and wine it came to ten euros each.  You've guessed the end of this story - this time we all had a particularly nasty French-cut steak (which we've encountered before in France - it looks like beef skirt to me - very stringy cross-grained beef and very tough) served still twitching, with fries (no other veg) and a dessert I don't even remember.  Apologies to J & G, them to the longère to meet an insurance man and us back to Les Roches.  Ken was now measuring bits of barn. 


We have a bit of a mystery with one of the barns.  Someone has very recently put in a new staircase and constructed a small room on the upper floor - possibly a play room for the children (?) in doing this they've closed off access to the rest of the upper floor - so we have a part of the building which we can't access until/unless we knock down the new dividing wall.  I'm all for doing this because it either contains the family heirlooms hidden from the nazis and forgotten or the desiccated grandmother in her rocking chair aka Psycho.  Either way I have a need to know.  Ken suspects its just full of 'loft'.


J & G then came to view our house.  I'm desperate to get as many opinions on it as possible as it feels such a responsibility even as a growed-up deciding on a house and work of this stature.  They seemed Ok with it.  Graham has had some experience of renovating and he didn't seem especially fazed by the work to be done.


On our way back to Barry and Shelley's (after the Rowney's left) we found a glorious 'shop' in Le Tranger.  It was a woodworkers place showing the tables and chairs and beds he could make.  (Plus a huge file of work he'd done).  This is lovely polished hand-made oak furniture full of loving quality.  His sign declared that he undertook restoration, renovation, repairs etc.  In our broken French and his broken English he agreed to meet us at the house at 9 am on Saturday. 


On our return to our chambre d'hôtes that evening we found that Barry and Shelley made me a 'birthday' meal including a chocolate birthday cake complete with candle (including wish) and a brilliant home-produced card.  Jan and Graham presented me with a wonderful (large!) box of chocolates.  They are such incredibly nice people - how lucky we were to fall across them.  So we spent another lovely evening in Levroux.... and so to bed.


At Les Roches the next day Mr. Blanchet duly arrived with his English-speaking wife as translator.  She trained to be an English teacher.  Interesting diversion here - there wasn't enough work so she worked for local government - as she had three children she only had to work 15 years to receive a full pension and retire!  So have your children by 20 and you could retire by 35!  Back to the plot.


We had, of course, misunderstood Monsieur Blanchet’s sign - he did renovation, restoration and repair on things of 'bois' (wood) only.  He still gave us two hours of his time - he and his wife were utterly charming, as is everyone we meet in France (except in Paris!).  He offered names of masons, plumbers, and electricians to do the rest of the work and suggested that when we have bought the house we arrange through him (and Madame the translator) to meet at the house to get quotes for the work.  This would have been good but we feel that we have a commitment to Mr. Dimoli and that there will be less of a delay following that route.  We had kidnapped Mr Blanchet originally to see if he could do some immediate repairs before Mr Dimoli started work on the major stuff in February.  Mr Blanchet is fully booked until April (!) but would be happy to quote for all the woodwork.  The shutters on the house are already his - he made them ten years ago.  The hand-made kitchen would be around nine thousand euros which would be wonderful but we need to be as economical as possible so that we can do as many of the projects we'd like to do.  I know I can 'do' a UK kitchen for much less - our problem is going to be trying to find the equivalent low prices in France or working out how to transport a huge amount of stuff economically across the Channel.  Suggestions welcome.


On that note....   on trawling the web I am finding that DIY stuff is a little more expensive in France than here and they certainly don't have the range of products we have and they seem to be a little 'old-fashioned'.  Also, of course, it's hard to really understand what things do and how you do 'em and you get used to your own stuff for jobs.  After being in Naples for a while we discovered a similar gap between Home Depot (et al) in the States and stuff back here and now finding a further gap I am feeling 'disconcerted' about not being able to do some things I'd like to do.  For example a crackle paint system I had in the States can't be bought here or in France, similarly the most wonderful insect repellent spray can't be got here or there.  This was truly amazing stuff.  Ken used to do the boundaries of the house and lanai and for at least 3/4 months we never saw a single critter in the house - including my major phobia - arachnoids.  It claimed to last six months and I s'pose if you weren't too fussy it did it; but, certainly if you sprayed every three/four months or so you were absolutely bug free - such joy.  They had 'craft' and house dressing items to die for in just the ordinary DIY stores.  I am plotting trips to Florida with empty cases to stock up on the things I already miss.  Suggestions welcome.


Isn't this just typical of me - buy a French farmhouse in the middle of the country - looking forward to a simple way of life - back to the land - grow your own veg but, meanwhile, could I also just have all the little trinkliments I've grown accustomed to?


Saturday continued......   back to finish the birthday cake and say our farewells and off for the drive to Tours.  Talk about major panic we thought we had simply ages to get there and dawdled a little en route only to find we made the train by just five minutes to spare.  Our trip to the gare incorporated a ghastly lunch in the car!!! to save time but this was then (over) compensated by the sight of a wild boar running (or sort of fast ambling) across the road in front of us just outside the town.  Incredibly huge and primitive looking object.  I was most impressed and am now working on visions of my striding through the woods at the edge of our property bow in hand hunting our future bacon.  I am, of course, in diaphanous drapes and about ten stone lighter.  B & S are doing this for real in January - they are going on a boar hunt - probably in wellies and woollies though. [Note: my spellchecker would like to change 'wellies' to 'willies'!]


On that note I'll love and leave you until next month when I hope I'll be full of joy and leppin' about all over the shop with news of BEING in Les Roches along with the biggest spider (aka Francois! or rather Monsieur Araignée until we are on 'tu' terms) I have ever seen outside a zoo!



PS I have just bought enough fabric to curtain all my windows - some of which are ten feet long - for £200 including tapes and lining.  How did I do this you might ask...  absolutely bloomin' brilliant shop just opened in Bury - ALL fabric for £2.99 a metre.  (Voile and lining are even cheaper) I have ignored it for a while on the basis anything that cheap must be dire - went to check it out to be sure and blow me down it is fantastic.  Velvets, real Italian brocades, tapestry, velour, voiles, organzas - the works - some recognisable M & S fabrics too.  I have two other bargain fabric shops but this one beats them hands down.  You should see the office; it is knee deep in miles of fabric.  I bought 62 metres of lining!  (This is only 99p a metre)  The chap was a bit weary when I left as I asked him to cut it into various lengths - e.g..  8 x 3.5 m, 4 x 2.5 m etc., but it was all undertaken with much grace and cracking of jokes. 


December 2003


December was a roller coaster of a month. 


It began with our furniture arriving in Le Havre on the 2nd.  With a completion date on the house for the end of December – maybe!  – This created much flurry on the part of the shipping agent to arrange to get our stuff into their warehouse until we could instruct them further – all this at a phenomenal additional cost of course.  Two days later we heard the date had been changed to the 12th.  It might be worth saying here – that all this happened with absolutely no explanation even when we asked for one.  The Notaire managed to conduct the whole affair without actually contacting us once.  He blithely ignored all phone calls, faxes and emails from us.  In desperation Ken hired an English speaking notaire in Provence (!) to be an intermediary – he fared only marginally better and then only at the eleventh hour.  Again, another chunk of money disappears.


By the first week of the month I had managed to buy, write and wrap all the presents and cards – this is an absolute first for me.  I am famous for being the Christmas Eve shopper.  Not this year.  I was prepared just I case I was whisked off to France at a moment’s notice for an indefinite stay – a girl can hope can’t she?


So by the 10th we were off to La Belle France.  We decided to try driving this time especially as we wanted to move a bit of stuff.  This ‘bit of stuff’ turned out to be more than the car would hold and we had to do a lot of thinning out.  Even then we set off looking like a good copy of the Klampetts.  I’m pretty sure I had the role of Granny rather than the blonde.  It worked in our favour – Customs ‘selected’ us to stop, as we were about to board the ferry.  The officer was a double for Vera Duckworth.  After shining a torch inside the car and asking why we had so much stuff for a ten-day trip she happily waved us on our way.  Meanwhile the neat ordinary car in front was ‘turned over’.  No way was she about to tackle that lot.


Bury to Portsmouth was a bit of a haul but not too harrowing as we gave ourselves tons of time to do it and it was an afternoon/evening trip rather than at some ungodly hour like most flights.  We boarded the ferry at about 10.30 (having arrived at 7.30 pm!) and sailed at half eleven.  We toddled off to bed and woke in Caen in time for breakfast.  All very civilised.  A four hour tootle down to the house was extended considerably by a trip round Castorama outside Tours.  This is actually B & Q in France – same group but very different stock.  This is probably only noticeable if you are something of an expert on B & Q stock!  I hold a degree in this. We decided on lunch in Châtillon and a trip to the Bank to pick up a chequebook and Carte bleu credit card.  We arrived at the Bank a little before 3pm – took fifteen minutes to do a couple of simple tasks and then asked for some cash from the account.  “Ooooh sorry we can’t do cash over the counter after 3 pm but you can get it from the machine outside”.  We are truly in France.  To the house for a quick check and then off to our wonderful Chambre d’Hôtes.  R & R and then D-Day arrives.


The glorious twelfth!  We decided to spend our morning in Chateauroux – or rather on the edge of the town, looking around some ‘superstores’ for white goods.  A collection of Superstores they may be but this does not prevent them from closing for lunch.  We still find this truly incongruous but are beginning to feel the benefit.  At home we would have pushed on with our looking and skipped lunch or eaten something ‘fast’ and abominable.  Here we adjourned to restaurant for lunch.  How civilised.  In our local town (and possibly all others) a claxon sounds at noon to notify everyone it is time for lunch.  We hear one at the house although we haven’t located its source yet.  So we should have no excuse not to down tools and eat lunch along with the rest of the Gallic world.


After three months waiting for this day, unusually for us, we managed to arrive late at the house to meet the agent.  We got lost trying to get out of Chateauroux the right way.  It appears that a town of any size or even towns with a lack of it have min-M25 around them to save traffic hurtling through the centre unnecessarily.  Again a great idea.  You see signposts saying ‘All routes’ and this will put you on their ring road – so sensible.  This then leads to the minor problem of strangers not knowing which way round they are going or quite where they are.  Hence our getting on the circle and going round the wrong way.  Half an hour after us a ’local artisan’ who had been taking care of the house arrived for the pre-purchase inspection.  While Ken did the tour I unloaded the car. 


An hour later Ken went to the Notaire for the signing and I stayed behind with the artisan who was trying to get the central heating sorted.  Me nesting, him hammering.  The vendor had arranged this and would pay the man.  Via the meeting with the Notaire, which she did not attend, she also sent us an old map of the area drawn on oil cloth in Indian ink showing the house and barns in 1811 and a letter saying she had arranged to fill the oil tank for the heating, and had ensured the cess pit was emptied in the summer and that generally all was as it should be.  She also enclosed copies of all the recent utility bills to show they were paid up to date and to let us have phone numbers and other details which might help – not forgetting to wish us well in the house.  This is a lady who writes in near perfect English.  We were told she speaks German, English and Italian as well as her native French.  Later I was to find letters in the house addressed to the aunt who had lived there.  She was addressed as Comtesse de la Salle (de Chateauclos).  The books in the house were in three languages and were all very erudite.  There were books in French, English and German on politics, religion, art, business, philosophy, poetry and classic novels.  The French have this knack of making you feel like a Phillistine.


I would love to learn more about the house (and its family?) and am considering writing to our vendor in hopes that she won’t mind sharing some of its history.  For instance I found a lovely illustration of Bhudda taped to the wall at shoulder height behind a curtain near a doorway – why? 


At the Notaire’s the process continued as it has always done – he spoke no English and our agent made very little effort to translate, only doing so when specifically asked to by Ken.  Unlike your English Solicitor when purchasing a house in England the Notaire is acting for vendor and purchaser and is in reality a tax collector.  S/he is not obliged to explain or represent your particular interests and generally will answer any questions you might wish to ask.  The snag being that you need to know the questions which need asking.  Ken had managed to get a copy of the documents sent to our Provençal Notaire who had checked them over and faxed them on to us, so we weren’t entirely operating on luck and trust.  At the end of the signing two of our neighbouring farmers (Jean Marc and Bruno) were wheeled in with the explanation that they had a crop in one of our fields and would like to continue using it if possible.  Ken was very smart and did a deal with them arranging that they would cut the grass in exchange for the use of the field.  Such sharp townies!  Five days later we had a visit from another neighbour, Gilles (as in Farmer Giles!) who duly informed us that he had missed Ken at the Notaire’s and that he was the one who cut the grass (otherwise known as Hay!) and needed it to supplement his own grass to feed his herd of forty cows – a couple of which also grazed our land.  The arrangement with the previous owner had been they (he and the brothers) each paid a small rental for these ‘privileges’ and was not very happy that they had been changed.  What a wonderful start to entente cordiale!  What a totally useless Notaire!  He apparently knew of all these arrangements but, for whatever reason, hadn’t bothered to explain this to us.  Not only had we done one neighbour out of his expectations but had managed to neatly hand a double gift to the brothers.  The hay was a bonus not a chore and they got to keep the field.  No wonder they had been happy to draw up an agreement and pay for it.  We suggested that Gilles discuss this with the brothers and see if they can all come to some mutually beneficial arrangement.  For our part we don’t mind who has the hay, we don’t want to have the cows in the field and aren’t concerned with any rental.  Crazy English!


The evening closed with our usual excellent meal at Barry and Shelley’s and a bottle of champagne from them. They are such lovely folk – I hope we can stay in touch. 


We spent part of Saturday ordering a washer, dryer, dishwasher and fridge.  This was both amusing and surprising in that it was exceedingly easy to do.  It included form filling and arranging the delivery all in French without any problems.  Perhaps I should clarify this by saying the assistant did all this in French and we nodded along with some understanding.  We discovered Carrefour did not close for lunch and so did our food shopping and back ‘home’ for a late lunch in our primitive kitchen. 


On our way to B & S after a day of scrubbing out spiders and webs and general dirt we experienced the famous French car-horn style of driving.  It was all really rather strange.  We were passing through a narrow road in a small village and had to stop because a lady had double-parked and was standing with the boot open outside a butchers.  We were fine with this and perfectly happy to wait until she’d done what was necessary.  Within a minute or so someone arrives behind us and immediately starts honking his horn.  Remember this is about 7 pm in a very small out of the way village – hard to imagine a real urgency in his journey.  He literally never let up even when she closed the boot, got in the car and moved it.  His honking finally ceased when he was able to drive about another twenty yards up the road and park on the wrong side with his lights on.  Incredible.


Saturday’s foggy night was followed by a bright sunny day  (Sunday 14th).  This was to be the real move into Les Roches, as we would be spending our first night there.  I immediately became the mistress of the wood-burning stove and soon the house was truly toasty.  All our fretting about freezing to death without double glazing, carpets and windows and doors that actually fitted the frames disappeared as we actually sweltered in front of the fire.  The central heating warms the house beautifully. The novelty wore off after a few days as I always ended up smelling like a kipper.  The other downside of our heat was that we seemed to wake up some very large hibernating flies and a couple of wasps that were large enough to defend a country.  I have discovered what my right foot is for.  Prior to living in Florida I held the notion that it was very bad karma to kill anything – why should something die just because I didn’t care for it.  So flies, wasps, bees, and spiders – all bugs in general had to be captured with the glass and paper method and carefully deposited some 150 yards away from the house.  All very well when you have a slave willing to do this in all weathers and degrees of darkness and the bugs were benign English creepies.  Florida re-arranged my morals.  Anything which looked buglike (e.g. red ants, scorpions and a couple of spider varieties) was potentially painful and had to be got before they got you – they were unceremoniously squashed, sprayed and generally disposed of without compunction.  As France has already produced giant varieties of common crawlies I’m tempted to go the same route.  Bugs aside we do have hot and cold water, a bathroom of sorts and (ultimately) furniture – a veritable home.  It’s all greatly neglected and dirty with age.  Whoever lived in it was actually very clean – the bathrooms and what’s left of the kitchen isn’t dirty from use it’s just neglected and sad.  A few repairs and decorating and it would be quite inhabitable.


While Ken was demolishing the spider infestation and the grey candyfloss they’d woven around the place I stayed outside planting bulbs.  During our stay I’ve managed to create two small borders by one of the barns and have planted over a thousand spring bulbs in various places.  They were pretty late going in but maybe most of them will make it.  I have daffodils around the large oak tree; tulips and muscari in a hanging basket; tulips and snowdrops in an enamel bowl I found in the house; one of the beds by the barn contains tulips, hyacinths, crocus, muscari and bluebells.  I have also planted bluebells around the trees in my mini-wood near the house.  There will be a mass of Englishness come the spring – I hope.  I planted the anemones in a large bowl too as I haven’t found a permanent place for them yet.  In no way do I want to anglicise the house or our life here other than in the garden – I love English planting and would miss it dreadfully if we were to just leave the farm as it is.  I have a real need to move amongst English flowers however alien the landscape (such as in Florida where I found it impossible).


Whilst digging the borders next to the barn I put in a bird feeder (no food).  Within minutes of it being there and right next to me a robin came and sat on it to watch me work.  It was like living through an section of ‘The Secret Garden’ – a sharp bright winter’s day spent resurrecting someone’s much loved garden watched by a robin just a couple of feet away as though we both had always belonged there.


Another moment of joy was on our last day as we were checking around outside the house and a lizard scuttled up the sun-warmed wall by the front door.  I didn’t know there were lizards here and certainly wouldn’t have expected to see one in December!  I always loved watching the geckos in Naples scudding around the lanai and it seems this is something which will continue here.


Also during this visit I pruned and tied in the climbing roses on the (garage) barn, pruned and tidied one of the clematis on the house and with some Ken-help I have cut one of the wisterias (on the gate-house) hard back to its proper state.  He and I (mostly he) managed to pull all the growth off the back of the house, which was really satisfying.  On the last day as we were leaving I discovered the most beautiful Lenten Rose (Hellebore) amongst some ‘vegetation’ near the house and thought what a remarkable simile it was for our first stay.  All those wonderful creamy flowers pushing through the weeds reminding you they were still there and with a little help will be just as beautiful as they ever were.  Just like Les Roches – when it’s ‘dug out’ of its weeds and neglect it will shine again as someone’s lovely home.


On Monday our builder, Mr Dimoli, arrived unannounced, with two others, for a tour of the house and to discuss our new requirements.  Barry told us that it wouldn’t have been a problem for Mario had we not been in as he seems to be able to get in anywhere.  In a similar situation he had looked at a house by asking the owner next door if he could go through the loft to the adjoining property – no problem!  We had sent him a letter and list of projects we wanted costing a couple of weeks before.  We got the distinct impression he hadn’t really looked at it as each item came as a surprise and entailed some lengthy discussions.  He is still very keen to insulate and modernise everything he sees.  This would be great if he was working for a French family who had bought this house as their future (long term) home.  In France – in the countryside in particular – they don’t move about from house to house as many of us do here.  The notion of ‘doing up’ and moving on hasn’t settled into their psyche (yet!)  So it is reasonable for them to buy an old house and renovate it to modern comfort and economy.  Dimoli, Blanchet et al are shocked by the prospect of us pouring heating costs out through the roof, walls and windows in such a profligate manner.  For us, of course, we have a different starting place.  It is very unlikely that we will remain in the house more than a handful of years (two/three?).  It is more of an investment than a home (at this stage any way).  We don’t want to spend pots of money changing it and thereby pricing ourselves out of the resale market.  It also needs to be as untouched as possible.  Part of its charm for the English market is the fact that it is still an intact 200-year-old French farmhouse with three complete barns and three and a half hectares.


On a more mundane level this was a day to mark as Ken installed the new lavatory seat – such joy!  Our very own unused toilet!  Now I know I’m home.


Our other builders repeated the following day the tour.  Mr. Blanchet the cabinetmaker from Le Tranger leads this team.  His wife came as translator along with Monsieurs Brand the mason, Baron the electrician and Foucher the jobbing carpenter.  We were only short of ‘Dai the milk’ to complete a Dylan Thomas text.  Another two-hour tour ensued during which time someone managed to split a pipe and create a leak.  Great start.  We also had the joy of learning that water from the bathroom (not the toilet thankfully) appears to run down a drainpipe on the front of the house and into the ground rather than the cesspit at the rear!  We are beginning to feel a tad scared by the prospect of the amount of work and costs involved. 


Shortly before our tour group arrived so did our furniture from the States.  There was a point where we had four movers traipsing in and out with stuff shouting out numbers in French to be checked against a six page inventory (impossible!) and asking where things should go alongside five ‘builders’ picking, poking, measuring and discussing ‘problems’.


The movers were something from a French cartoon.  A heap of beards, bellies and smoking cigars arrived in a small empty van accompanied by a container lorry.  The container was opened and the first problem was the wooden braces that had been inserted at the back of the goods – none of the movers could remove them.  It culminated in one man hanging by one foot and one hand from the back of the lorry trying to support the weight of a cast iron four-poster king-size bed while his compadres levered the two pieces of wood out after managing to break them.  To the chagrin of the elevated mover the furniture was liberated but now it needed to be taken down from the lorry to the floor – do we have a tailgate?  a lift? anything?  – No, we have four men and a lot of head scratching and huffing and puffing.  After about half an hour, even though I had been instructed by Monsieur number one to observe all they did to ensure there were no problems, I got bored with the scene and wandered off to do something more worthwhile.  Eventually they devised ways of passing stuff down and the house began to look like a home.


Re-assembling the American beds was a complete puzzle to them but they battled on and were eventually successful.  Not so with a very heavy and large armoire, which they said, would not go upstairs, as it was too big although they did suggest we saw through the banisters to clear a way.  Yes, they were deadly serious!  After my strangulated scream they realised this was not going to be an option and the armoire (for now) rests in a totally annoying place in the sitting room.  I think if we remove drawers, doors, shelves and legs Ken and another bloke may be able to get it to the guest room and reassemble it (?).  So it remains until our first male guest arrives (volunteers please).  Other stuff went in through bedroom windows by one chap standing on the roof of the van and passing things through.


Again – true to form they took a couple of hours for lunch – after declaring they were in something of a hurry as they had to get back to Paris that day.  How Paris became our local moving company I’ve no idea.


I sustained multiple lacerations from the box cutter I was using to remove the packaging and decided I wasn’t ‘fit for the purpose’ and handed the job over to a chap or two.  Our American shippers had triple wrapped every single piece of furniture – brown paper, paper backed bubble wrap and a fantastic stuff that’s a cross between cling film and sellotape but doesn’t mark anything and is very strong.  The next couple of days were like an early Christmas for me as I unwrapped box after box of mystery items and was reunited with ‘forgotten’ treasures from our American house.  Several boxes of items to ‘dress’ the house have to remain packed as we will have to move stuff around such a lot as work is done and it doesn’t make sense to have to move mirrors, pictures, vases and the like.  This is very hard for me as it is the part of moving house which I really love.  I can honestly boast that I can have a house ‘fully installed’ in a couple of days.  For the first time for me I have had to leave a house in limbo.


Thursday arrived along with a plombier who came to fix the leak.  When asked what day he would call he reluctantly agreed on Thursday.  When asked what time he would call he said “Daytime”!  True to his word he arrived and worked for at least a couple of hours and charged thirty euros!  Ken offered a ten-euro tip that he refused.  Wonderful stuff – we hope this is sign of things to come.


By Friday we were truly installed – we have a phone connected and a post box – we exist in Les Roches.  Our white goods arrived without the dryer.  As ever there was no explanation as to why it wasn’t delivered just the suggestion we ring the shop and arrange for one to be brought out to us.  As we were returning to the UK the next day that would have to wait.


Later that evening curled up watching the log flames dancing – you have to do something when there’s no TV!  – my dearest beloved had that little boy urge to see what would happen if he plugged something American into the French socket.  It did just what he expected - he blew the main fuse.  There isn’t anything blacker than a large house in the depths of the country at about ten o’ clock on a winter’s night.  I was OK by the fire – he had to negotiate the length of the house from upstairs, downstairs and through the rest of the house to the fuse box in the boiler room.  I think that was punishment enough. 


First thing on our leaving day Ken did several trips to the local tip – the Dechette – after sufficient interrogation by the ‘guard’ as to who he was where he was from and what precisely he wanted to chuck away he was allowed to deposit our rubbish in the appropriate areas.  This done and we were tidy and ready to leave.


The journey home was OK.  We had a one-hour delay for disembarking from the ferry that didn’t really matter to us.  The crossing was also lumpy enough to keep me awake a great deal of the night but it was certainly better to endure the rock and roll in a bunk rather than wandering around the ship.  We both decided we like this driving/sailing option – takes ages of course but seems less of a hassle than flying somehow and we can cart stuff back and forth.  Maybe part of this is that we come from a generation who thought the trip was as much part of the holiday as the holiday itself.  Nothing was more exciting as a child than travelling to strange parts of the country by car or train when you only did that once a year.  It was endlessly fascinating to look out of the window and watch the world become truly ‘foreign’ as you left the familiar sights of home behind.  No motorways then, of course, so you got to imagine how other people lived in those different kinds of houses set in very different scenery.  I guess a lot of that has gone now for our kids with everywhere looking pretty much the same.  The McDonaldisation of the planet!


Settling back in at home has been tough.  We want to be in France sorting out the house and we both miss Naples.  I not only miss the obvious wonderful Florida sunshine but also the luxurious way of living and sheer urbanity of the Naples.  Les Roches seems a very primitive swap for this at the moment.


Other than the couple of days over Christmas I have also returned to being bored witless and being utterly lethargic – everything is too much effort.


Christmas day and Boxing Day were fine.  Mom and Sally for Christmas day and mom and Ken’s two kids for Boxing Day tea.  The next day we took mom and Sally to see the new Peter Pan film.  It was true to the book and to our embedded memories of the Disney Classic and so it worked very well.  Sally and I couldn’t cope with ‘real’ mermaids.  We like the ones with shell bras, brushing their hair and singing.


We spent most of Monday (27th) taking Sally and her very heavy case to Preston station for the train home.  She had a connection from Manchester but with an 8, 10 or 12-minute interval between trains (depending on which British Rail information you believed).  We were worried she might miss the second one trying to lug a case across the station and find her platform.  Preston was incredibly cold, ancient and unhelpful.  The excellent TGV looks even better after this experience.


On our way home we decided to have a late lunch/early tea at The Willows (aka Turton Heights).  I’ve named and shamed this place for the benefit of local readers.  We were told there was a 45-minute wait for food when ordering – although the place wasn’t at all busy.  An hour later we asked where our order was to be told – “Oh, sorry, it doesn’t seem to have gone through to the kitchen, but we could do it for you now”.  As we declined they reluctantly offered our money back (!)  We left still cold and hungry.


Other than the hungry bit this seems to be the appropriate thought on which to end this December epistle - still cold………..