DIARY 2004


January 2004



As I am in France without Marilyn, I thought that I had better stop being lazy and relying on her writing a diary, and produce some notes of my own.


Marilyn’s mum (Eileen) has just been diagnosed with a form of lung cancer (mesothelioma) caused by exposure to asbestos so Marilyn did not want to leave her mum, but we were concerned that the house in France was totally unattended through the winter weather.  We never had such concerns about the house in Florida because there was always someone to check on it.


Anyway, we decided that I should take the Honda (still with its Florida plates) filled to capacity with items that have been accumulating in the ‘computer room’ in Bury over the past month.  The Honda has about twice the capacity of the Avensis and I thought that had been full when we went in December!


The document that I had been chasing from the customs in Aberdeen was faxed to me on the morning of my departure.  This would prove that I had paid import duties into the EU in the UK, thereby allowing me to use the car for 6 months as a temporary import.  I intend to register it in France as soon as possible.  There may not be time on this trip, French bureaucracy being renowned for being time-consuming.  Additionally, I have to obtain a certificate of homologation from Honda France and the car has to be checked by the DRIRE (know locally as the ‘Service des mines’) to ensure that it conforms to French safety standards.  I have been warned that this could take at least 2 weeks and, more likely, over a month.


The journey was fairly uneventful, having left on Monday afternoon to try to outrun the promised snow.  I tried the new toll M6 (£2) and was almost the only car going south on it.  Traffic had been light all the way so I slowed to 60 mph for the last 2 hours of the journey and still arrived 3 hours before sailing time, which meant I had 2 hours to wait before boarding.


As the cars were waved forward for boarding, the customs officer looked quizzically at my front number plate.  (Because only rear plates are used in Florida it is traditional to have a personal plate on the front.  Mine says ‘The Shores’, which is the name of the gated community on which we were living in Florida.)  Fortunately all the search bays were full, so he waved me past.


The following morning I drove past fields with a light dusting of snow, persisting from Caen down to Le Mans.  The roads were mostly clear or slushy, but I did see one snow plough in use and a gritter on the motorway.  Here I had another scare as I was drinking my mid-morning coffee in a service station.  A gendarmerie car stopped in front of my Honda in the car park and two officers approached it suspiciously.  They peered at the front plate, then marched to the back.  Having seen the Florida plate, they jumped back in their car and sped off.


I arrived at the house after lunch and the sun was shining so I unloaded the car quickly, thinking the snow would catch up with me.  I brought the post from the pox and dried it.  Still no snow, so I had to start the new fridge that we had bought on the December trip.


Part of the post had been from BUT, the white goods supplier in Chateauroux.  It had the cheek to say that, if I did not collect my tumble dryer soon, they would be forced to sell it because of lack of space.  Since they ‘forgot it’ when they delivered the fridge, dishwasher and washing machine in December, I thought their card was unreasonable...I rang and explained, was transferred to the delivery department, and eventually a new delivery was agreed for the Friday.  I was pleasantly surprised, because it was all conducted in French.  I had half-expected to have to drive to the shop and use gestures to explain.


As an exciting end to the day I put the 4 new cordless ‘phones on charge and read my new 2‑inch‑thick French dictionary over dinner.


On Wednesday I spent an hour surveying the complexities of the various plugs and sockets in Bricomarche in Châtillon.  Most of the sockets in the house are of the standard continental two pin and earth variety.  Some rooms have an additional ‘high power’ socket – most of these have three round pins and one rectangular, but one has four round plus a rectangular!  Unfortunately, the ‘office’ is one of the few rooms with continental two pin sockets without an earth.  I had set off with the intention of using the high power socket in the ‘office’ to provide an earth for the power surge suppressors protecting the PCs.  After about an hour I adjourned, totally confused.  There were even more variants than I have in the house.  The only plug that seemed to match the socket I was trying to use was labelled as 400V.  I half suspect that they are 3-phase sockets and, since I know nothing about that subject, I decided to leave well enough alone.  The PCs are fine running off the earth-less socket.


Then on to the telephone connection.  I had hoped to use a wireless network to link the PCs and ‘phone this time.  (I had a wired Ethernet LAN in Florida.)  My research showed this would only be suitable for a broadband connection, not the dial-up I am using.  Back to the Ethernet and a long telephone wire!


Eventually got both PCs up, restored backup files from UK, downloaded all the latest updates from Microsoft and McAfee and generally ready for use.


Thursday was the day I composed a speech in French for the mayor in Le Tranger.  This entailed a combination of my new dictionary and the Google language tools site.  The latter does a literal translation of each word individually (mostly).  This can give some strange results, especially if you use convoluted expressions – as I am prone to do.  Simple, short sentences work best.  My ‘speech’ was just to introduce myself and ask for some rubbish bags, but it still takes time!


At about lunchtime I received a call from the assessor for the damage to the furniture when it was shipped from Florida.  The American insurance company had previously informed me that it had appointed Penny of Chess Antiques to view the damaged coffee table.  I queried this with the company because I had visions of Penny turning up in Naples, but I was assured that it was correct.  Turns out neither of us guessed correctly.  Penny is based near London and expected to come to Bury!  I am still waiting for the next step.


On my way to see Jean-Marie Blanchet, the cabinetmaker who is co-ordinating the local artisans estimates for work on the house, I noticed that the Indre was very much higher than in December.  It had flooded the adjoining fields in most places.  The railway line, which runs alongside the river, was saved because it is on a high bank- that had seemed very strange in the summer.  Madame Blanchet (Marie-José) mentioned that she had had to take her children to school that morning because the school bus would not go out on the icy roads.


She also commented on my car and warned me that the local police may look at it closely.  Apparently, she had reported a red 4-wheel vehicle as behaving suspiciously when she was out cycling in December.  (I was not in France at the time – just in case you were wondering.)


I had to stay in on Friday to wait for the Tumble dryer delivery.  So I set about replacing the central heating thermostat with a programmable version to allow me to have more control than just off or on.  Now I can set different temperatures for day and night and set it for on and off periods by the day of week.  Unfortunately, the pump still runs all the time.  My experience of systems in the UK is that the pump is linked to the start of the boiler and continues for a short while once the boiler stops, not in France apparently.  Can’t win them all!


The good news was that the dryer turned up at 11:30.  They do not give an ETA other than ‘during the day’, so it was a pleasant surprise to get it so early.  It allowed me to go exploring again, this time to the Cap Sud district of Chateauroux.  This is where the large stores are located outside the town.  In true French style, there are advertising hoardings telling you that such-and-such a shop is at Cap Sud, but no signs directing you to Cap Sud.  It is actually part of Saint Maud, but nothing tells you that.  Cap Sud does not exist on any map.  I finally located it and then spent useful time finding the best/quickest/easiest route back to Les Roches.


Back ‘home’ I documented the differences between the French Canadian keyboard that I am using to enter French characters and the standard English version.  It gets tricky to use because, of course, the characters are not marked on the keys.  Once I got used to it though, it does make it easier than trying to remember lots of 4-digit ALT codes.


Saturday was spent food shopping, defragging both PCs and other exiting activities.


On Sunday the weather was so nice –the sun was shining and it was mild with only a slight breeze – that I decided to take a constitutional around my ‘estate’.  I discovered that most of the 1,000 bulbs planted by Marilyn in December were sprouting.  (I had been given the locations to check as one of numerous jobs when I left Bury.)  The stream at the foot of the fields had a little more water than in December, but not enough to justify its being at the bottom of a 6-foot ditch.  It was very pleasant to be able to stroll around like this in January.


Enough enjoying myself, time to get back to work and clear the staging out of the glass corridor.  That took the rest of the day and some of Monday.  I could not just carry it out; I had to dismantle it first.  This was not made easier by the fact that the metal framework had been painted green and, of course, whoever did it had been careful to ensure that the screws blended in.


I went to the Mairie in Le Tranger on Monday morning, having checked last week that the opening times were M to F 8:30 to 12:00.  The Mairie was ‘exceptionally’ closed that Monday.  The speech would have to wait.


Shelley (from the Chambre D’hôtes) rang to say that she and Barry might manage to get to see the house over the next couple of days.  It depended on the weather worsening because Barry was doing some building work on their house and wanted to stay at it whilst it stayed dry.  It will be nice to see them again and catch up on their news.


I dispatched two more of my tasks by telephoning Monsieur Dimoli and postponing the work because of Eileen’s illness, and then contacting Honda France about my car.  I need a certificate of homologation that will identify the changes needed to the USA CR-V to allow me to register it in France.  These should concern safety and emissions.  I was told to put the request in writing (I could just use a letter - no form to collect this time), together with a copy of the Florida title and they would then contact Japan.  This could take months; as the French systems in general seem stuck about 30 years back from us.


I took advantage of the warm weather to give the Honda its first wash in France.  It was filthy from the journey down plus days of roaming on side roads and dirt tracks.  So now it has to stay in the garage.


On Tuesday I was successful in meeting the mayor’s secretary (Sylvie Faichaud).  My speech nearly worked and I got some bags for the rubbish.  They are very proud to have introduced a re-cycling collection system last November, so I got a detailed explanation and lots of leaflets – all in French of course.  I did not have the heart (or the command of the language) to tell her that I had been used to re-cycling in Florida.  She did not understand the part of my speech asking about collection of old mattresses and bed-bases.  Another customer did understand and repeated my phrase.  It sounded just like I intended to say it, but it must have been different because the secretary understood it that time.  It was covered in the leaflets.


The Blanchets arrived about 10:30 on Wednesday with another artisan, this time a plasterer.  After we all clambered into the loft to draw imaginary walls for the plasterer to measure, we did a tour of the house for him to see the other damaged areas in need of his skills.  As usual, he started by suggesting insulating wallboards.  Then he suggested that there was an alternative treatment for the small area of damp that he had found.  We await another estimate.


I may have another visit tomorrow, on the morning of my departure.  The original plumber has problems with his health, particularly his back, and may have to be replaced.  Hence another visit may be required with the replacement plumber.


Barry rang in the midst of these discussion.  He hopes that he and Shelley may be able to come to view the house about 17:00 today.  He said that Shelley will be bringing cake.  Roll on five o’clock!


Whilst examining the plastering needed in the main bedroom, Monsieur Blanchet noticed that the drain valve on the radiator was leaking slightly.  This had not been noticeable with the heat on at night and I am not usually in there during the day.  Once they had left I soon fixed it by wrapping PTFE tape around the threads on the plug.


Also I disposed of another job from my list by fitting a new light system to the display cabinet in the dinning area.  This had a 120V system, having been brought from Florida.  I had to replace the whole system with a low voltage system, placing the transformer out of sight on top of the cabinet.



The return journey was uneventful apart from a brief meeting with our neighbour Gilles In the lane as I was leaving.  You may remember that he used to feed his cows on our grass and that, because of mis-information from the Notaire, we had given the task of grass cutting to another neighbour.  To make matters worse, I had discovered on this trip that Gilles was our Deputy Mayor.  However, he has reached agreement with the other neighbour to continue to use our grass.  He seemed satisfied with that arrangement, but had yet to speak to the Notaire.


Marilyn’s Diary



This will be a very patchy update for some of you as I am totally confused as to who knows what and when - so apologies for duplicated information for some and redundant information for others. At least I will know that my 'regular' correspondents know what's happening.


The whole France project is on a very long indefinite hold right now so anyone needing/expecting an update on Les Roches may as well quit here.


As far as I can tell my last update was at the end of December - so here's a quick run through of the last couple of months.  On 7th January mom went into Wythenshawe hospital for a horoscopy.  She had pleurisy last year and a large 'growth' was noticed outside the lungs on her pleural wall.  Since then we have been back and forth for all sorts of tests to try to determine what it is.  At some point we were told (after a needle biopsy) that it wasn't cancer but was proving to be a bit of a mystery.  Finally the specialist at Fairfield referred her to a specialist at Wythenshawe who did the horoscopy and promptly told us it was mesothelioma - cancer caused by asbestos.  He also told us that the consultant who said it wasn't cancer 'wouldn't have said that because needle biopsies are very unreliable'!!  Strange that he knew what was said without being there when Pam, mom and I who were there, are convinced about what we were told.  Any way no reason to flog away at that, though it did make the 'news' a bit more of a blow than it need have been.


Thanks to mom's sojourn in Wythenshawe (which we thought was an appalling hospital in every respect) she ended up very ill and came home (20 Jan) with everyone including her own doctor expecting her to survive only a matter of weeks at best.  Pam and I moved into her flat 24/7 in shifts and did our best to make things a comfortable as possible for her.  Meanwhile my Sally and Pam's two kids (and partner and great grandchild) visited from Scotland, Ireland and Canada - in effect to say their goodbyes.  As you can imagine all this was very emotionally draining which has a physical knock-on and Pam and I were pretty much struggling along. 




February 2004


By mid-February mom went into Bury Hospice and to be honest we didn't really expect her to come home from there.  One week later she is back to her old self!  Physically weaker because of the extreme weight loss but totally full of life and spirit.  For the first time we actually got a prognosis from a doctor who proceeds to tell us that the cancer has not spread anywhere else and isn't affecting her breathing or anything else and that she will be with us indefinitely!!!   The hospice here is fantastic.  It is a lovely house with just five bedrooms and the most wonderful facilities and staff.  Indeed after one week mom was reluctant to come home - as she said why bother when she could stay there and have a Jacuzzi, nails polished, hair done and wonderful food - not to mention a toy-boy nurse.  Unfortunately, as you can imagine, the facilities are needed for more urgent cases and they couldn't keep her longer.


March 2004


So since her return Pam and I have settled into a routine of my staying at mom’s from Sunday to Thursday.  Pam then arrives Thursday and her Ken comes to stay with her on Sat and Sunday and she returns to Cheltenham with him Sunday evening.  I am trying to organise as much help as we can get.  Again Bury is astonishingly good about supporting people at home.  At the moment we get the district Nurse who calls in once or twice a week to check we're Ok and have everything we need.  Between them and the hospice we now have a ripple bed, commode, special cushion and a wheelchair (which was made to fit mom's height and weight).  We also have the excellent services of a Marie Curie nurse who does a night for Pam and one for me so we get one decent night's sleep. 


I am in the throes of trying to arrange some more support in terms of carers (via the Social services) to come in a couple times in the week to help with washing and dressing and so on.  Also there is a system in Bury to support the Carers (rather than the patient) called Crossroads and I have started to ask about someone to come in a couple of times a week in the day so we can at least get out to food shop or take a small break. 


Anyone who has done this will know just how exhausting this kind of care is.  There isn't one second in the day (or night) which belongs to you and the emotional drain of having to remain chirpy and chatty when all you'd really like to do is watch the telly or read is massive.  Mom has lost all interest in TV or reading and needs conversation to 'entertain' her.  She has lost all interest in going out of the flat as she sees these sort of 'decisions' as too much trouble.  She also has long-term and short-term memory loss so the conversation may well be the same one several times a day.  My sister is much better at this aspect than I am.  I have never been very good or patient with the irrationality small children (and annoying adults!) and this is very similar, though, of course, unintentional.  Added to this is the sheer inconvenience of 'camping' in someone else's (over-stuffed) home.  Our accommodation at mom's is an inflatable mattress on the sitting room floor. 


Amongst all this North British Housing (mom's Landlord) have decided to replace all the windows and doors of the flat with UPVC double glazed units.  The  workmen have been fantastic - now they even ask about mom when we see them on the site.  So no complaints there.  Mom also decides she wants her settee and footstall recovered so we've even managed that.  Indeed, she is now having an armchair redone too.  Nothing's simple with this family.  We are dancing round the discussions about recarpeting and redecorating.  She does know her time is probably limited but then it always has been at 87 so what's the difference?


I realised recently that I actually haven't been out or spent time with a mate since Christmas - pretty desperate.


As I said at the beginning of this blathering France is of course truly on hold.  Ken managed to get out there end of January and I have attached his 'diary' piece.  I have got to the stage of trying to persuade ken to stick Les Roches back on the market at a reasonably inflated price and if it goes, well so be it - if it doesn't we can carry on with it 'sometime'.  Meanwhile I can't go anywhere.


This has also driven us to look for another uk place.  this teeny-weenie bungalow was Ok when we had half a year in Naples but is proving claustrophobic now we are stuck here indefinitely.  So a new life plan is shaping up. (again!!! I hear you say) Yup.  We have looked at a house on Orwell Close (number 3) and made an offer on it today.  It would give us three bedrooms instead of two and a dining room instead of a diddly table and two chairs; also it is a detached property.  So.......  it is still a smallish house but will be perfectly reasonable for us.  I'll keep you posted


Meanwhile - in short (!) - You can get me at home (email and phone) on from Thursday evening through to Sunday lunchtime - after that I'm buried in Purdah.





June 2004


We live in interesting times…..


I’ve just had one of those really nice days – the sort that you never plan – they just happen to you.   I suppose the fact the sun is shining again today (high twenties during all our stay here) has a lot to do with it. 


Our mundane supermarket shopping trip was enlivened by going to St Aignan. This is a thirty minute drive which isn’t necessary as we have a couple of local supermarkets a few minutes away, but it is a lovely saunter along long straight empty French roads bordered with beautiful views of the country and edged in poppies, cornflowers, lupins and dog-roses galore.  At the checkout the cashier gave me a rose, as it is Mothers Day here.  All the staff in the store wish you a Bon Dimanche as they serve or speak to you – so all in all very pleasant.


 Back for a cheese, baguette and fruit lunch.  Ken and I have decided the locals must do ‘baguette runs’ for each other as we often see people with eight, ten, twelve baguettes.  They can’t all be from huge families or be ‘having ‘folks round’.  As the shelf life of a French loaf is the journey home no way are they shopping for a couple of days.  We reckon that like the school run they share the chore of buying bread each day. (Twice a day!)


After lunch we went to visit a local private garden which is open for three days for charity.  This is like the scheme we have in England.  Theirs is called Rendez-vous aux Jardins and on the 4th, 5th, 6th June people open their gardens to the public for two euros.  We went to La Maison Berry.  This is a very grand house which we can see (long distance across the fields) from our property so it was also an opportunity to be just plain nosey.


We were greeted by the owners who spoke utterly perfect Brideshead revisited English.  Their London house was next door to the one they used in the movie Notting Hill.  Indeed one of the benches in the garden had come from the ‘shared’ garden there.   Remember the closing shot of Julia Roberts and whateverhisname sitting on the bench.  See I’ve met a nearly famous bench.


Back to the plot.  They were mostly living in Paris (with homes in Africa and New York) but decided seven years ago to ‘stay’ in this house and so the garden began.  It is utterly delicious. The equally lovely Madame (all linen and straw hat) said it had been neglected for six years so has been hard work and this is the first year they have opened under the scheme.  She’s arranging a plant swap in October which would be great if we lived here.  She kindly toured most of the garden with us explaining this and that and filling in with some lovely observations and anecdotes.


The best part of this tale is that she asked us where we were from.  When I said Les Roches she was delighted.  She is another niece of the old lady who used to live here.  She told us how the aunt loved gardens .  Indeed I was also introduced to the passionflower on her wall which is the child of the parent plant at Les Roches and again we were told house the house was always lively and full of painters from Paris and elsewhere – some of whom were very famous.  As we had already guessed the house was also full of paintings and fine furniture – much of it would have come from the original home – the chateau at Limousin.  She wondered if we had managed to buy the house furnished and raised an eyebrow when we told her it had been stripped.  She also hinted at mild disapproval as she said the aunt had left the house to the three sisters because they had loved it but she said “I always said they would sell it immediately” and, of course that’s just what they did.  They both tried tactfully to say that her cousins were ‘difficult’ girls.  Monsieur was a little more blunt and simply said he ‘never liked them’.


When I originally asked how long they had lived at Le Maison Berry the reply was, “Since 1888.” 


So, all in all, a great visit to a lovely house and garden.


On the way back – all of ten minutes door to door – we pass our very nearest chateau neighbour – L’Isle Savary.  We decided to nip in there for a mooch.  As far as we can make out they do a guided tour each day at 2pm so we will have to go back another time for a closer inspection.  Like the Manoir its origins date back to the fifteenth century.   It’s pleasing to wonder if ours does too.  The construction and style of all these places is remarkably similar. They have all been revamped and updated at the same time and in the same way.  If you check out the pictures I’m about to add to the Ormson family site you’ll see what I mean. 


I am feeling hugely guilty about selling this place as everyone makes us so welcome and we seem to be being knitted into the fold whether we want it or not.  Indeed you don’t get away with a thing.  Unknown to us we had been seen looking at a lovely house which is for sale in a village near us called Clion.  The wife of the cabinet-maker who has been arranging various building quotes for us dropped by with a price from the plasterer and said she’d seen us.  She was visiting her mother three houses away when we were prowling round it.


Our house itching hunt has taken us to a couple of other places too.  One of the days we went to Isle de Ré – an island off La Rochelle.  Very pleasant – rather like Cape Cod in a way and probably just as packed with holiday makers in the summer.  We haunted a couple of estate agents windows.  As expected, being `seaside` the price of the property was phenomenal.   Also as expected Les Roches is are definitely not near the sea!  It took about three hours to get there.


Before I arrived Ken had visited friends at their new area of Argenton sur Crus (spelling? no map here right now) and liked the area and thought I might like to have a look. Quite right, it was very pretty round there but with a bit more life than here.  We found Jan and Graham’s new place which looks a delight.  Lovely setting and neat as a pin.  The village looks almost Kentish English.  You get the distinct impression that Mademoiselle Marple is about to appear on her bicyclette any moment.  It all served to make me more convinced it would be really nice to just be able to get here and not have to do major work on the house.


So my stay here has been pretty good despite the fact that I chose precisely these ten days to have the most stinking cold and cough and this property development malarkey means a twelve-hour working day, so I am not returning home exactly refreshed and full of vim and vigour.   We have flogged away at making the house more presentable for selling and more comfortable for living in; I hope with some success.


Back to Blighty tomorrow and any and all the problems that await us there.



Tuesday 10th August 2004


Mom died.



October 2004



I decided it's about time I tried to get everyone caught up to the same place with what's happening to me/with us.  Over the last few months I’ve been very slipshod about staying in touch on a regular basis and now I’ve reached the stage where I can't remember who knows what - so its back to my 'diary' list of folks and a quick catch up.


Ken and I returned from ten days in France on Saturday.  The weather there was glorious (when we left it was especially hot!).  Those few miles further south really do make a climate difference.   


The day we left was extremely strange.  We met Pam and Ken in Birmingham at lunchtime in Pype Hayes Park.  This was a place which had many childhood memories for Pam and I and was where mom had asked us to scatter her ashes.  Pam had gone to loads of trouble to ensure this was OK with appropriate folks - so all was agreed and we set off with the intention of finding a quiet spot by the stream or in the gardens.  Needless to say we had managed to choose the only day in the year when the park was heaving with parents and children in some harrier-type running event!  Any way we did manage to find our quiet place and the deed was done.


We then had lunch and spent the next part of the day in a giant Comet store buying a TV/DVD player for France.  Ken and I then began a deliberately slow journey south and ended up with so much time to spare in Portsmouth that we went to the Cinema and had dinner. (We saw Terminal).  As I said - all in all a very strange start to a ‘holiday’.


We had our first upgrade on the boat.  We usually book an inside cabin as we travel overnight and sleep away the journey, so no need of a view.  This trip out we got an outside cabin and one for disabled passengers so it was extra spacious. 


 We spent our first week doing battle with the spiders and dust.  It really does take days to get the house in order.  This must be the joy of an ancient property.  In the good old Naples days we used to arrive - fling down bags and just be happy to be 'home'.  One small difference might be that we had a cleaner over there!  I really spotted this difference when I volunteered to renovate the tomettes.  This is a posh way of describing red polishing tiles on my hands and knees – most of which also ended up red – a combination of sore and polish.  How many of you remember your mom doing the front door step like this?


We actually had one of our estate agents turn up with a client to view the house.  He seemed pretty interested as he stayed a long time and went to the trouble of walking the boundaries of the land – wet grass and all.  Here’s hoping. 


Pam and Ken joined us mid stay for six days so we did the really touristy thing of touring chateaux, market, lake etc.  We visited Valencay and Chenonceau chateaux.  They are both very beautiful.  If you get the chance they’re certainly worth a visit.  Chenonceau was doubly pleasant as we took a trip on a bateau mouche to see the chateau from the river Cher.  The chateau actually spans the river so it is pretty impressive from the water.  If you are curious about any of this go to the Ormson family photo site and have a look at a few photos I posted there. http://groups.msn.com/OrmsonFamilyPhotos/pictures.msnw


We also a visited an area called the Brenne – this is a massive National Park of hundreds of etangs.  There isn’t a literal translation for this but the closest we get is a pond.  They are manmade fishponds and all interlinked so they can be drained one to the other to ‘harvest’ the fish in October.  We went to the largest – Bellebouche.  Completely deserted at this time of year of course but very lovely.  It came with the added bonus of being able to collect chestnuts.  Ken and I had already pigged out on the store-bought variety which we’d roasted on our log-fire the previous week.  A couple of days later we all also had a huge bagful (2 small, rather than medium or large size  portions) of roasted chestnuts when we went round Loches market.  They don’t skimp on foodstuff that’s for sure.  Four of us couldn’t eat them all. 


So two chateaux, a boat trip, a National Park, a market, a Brocante and a mini tour of a couple of pretty places such as Argenton sur Creuse.  I don’t think they had a very restful time.  Hopefully they enjoyed it and maybe we can get in another visit or two before the house is sold.


Unfortunately fate intervened and we never got to catch up with Barry and Shelley and Jan and Graham while we were there – but we’ve threatened them we’ll do so next time.


Pam thinks we’re mad selling it as she thinks it’s lovely.  I must admit when you’re toasting your toes up the fire it can seem quite pleasant and tempting.  The sunshine helps too of course.  Having said that we were absolutely plagued with assorted bugs this trip – first time – I assume it’s the time of year – getting cooler and critters are crawling indoors.  Besides our bird eating spiders – par for the course now – we managed to acquire a large green cricket – which was rather beautiful in a creepy way but the real fiends were some sort of shield beetle which flew in (and around!) at night.  Pam and Ken spent many a jolly hour playing ‘turn the beetle’.  (Is this what’s meant by a Beetle Drive?) This consisted of constantly blocking its path towards me with some reading matter and encouraging it to go out.  I’m a terrible baby about stuff that flies at me or generally collides with me without warning.  I don’t mind crawlies as long as they’re slow and obvious and don’t surprise me in any way – this isn’t usually the life-plan of most insects so generally we don’t really get on.  One of the joys of coming home was the idea that we would be bug free.  That is until today when on returning from Tesco (we’ve been home three days) we spotted one of the beetles on a bag.  Clearly we’ve imported one (?)  I’m sure we should have had a permit or something.


On which note – the main purpose of this trip was to try and get the American car registered in France.  This has been going on since forever.  At last we managed to get some definitive answer – it will cost around two thousand euros!  Being France it has to have things like the five seat belts changed for five identical seat belts but with a French label – seriously – the manager at the Honda shop took photos and discussed our case with the body that decides these things but to no avail.  We have to have a fog light in (not on) the rear bumper – most cars on the roads don’t have this as it’s a fairly new requirement – but that’s ok.  Many cars are wrecks and not checked by anyone but that’s Ok.  Most foreigners don’t do the right thing and simply use their foreign cars and register them ‘at home’ and that’s OK.  Trust us to try and do it properly.  The final pain is that we have to go to the only testing centre in France to test the suppression (to make sure we don’t give their televisions ‘stars and stripes’) this would cost five hundred euros plus the cost of the trip – if its ok then what a waste of time/money – if its not ok then more money will be needed to alter it – and so it goes on…………  all in all the car hasn’t enough value in it to make it worth doing.  Ken is now seeing what he can do about registering it here instead.


France is (in)famous for its nit-picking jobsworths and it is not unfounded.  Another really stupid bit of Frenchness.  Ken needs to change his address at a bank – he can only do this if he shows a utility bill from the new address – bit difficult when you haven’t lived there long enough to get one.


Our trip home was a bit bumpy as we came back in a force eight.  Ken of course slept through so I had to tell him about it over breakfast.


We are back now in our other half renovated house still doing battle with MFI/Joiner/Plumber et al.  Even as I type (early hours of Wed morning) the plumber is due today 8.30 am to finish the bathroom and MFI have promised our final bits and pieces between 8 am and 1 pm.  So we’ll see.  We then need the joiner back to fit our bedroom, finish the guest room and kitchen.  Then its just carpets, curtains, blinds and room dressing – I make that sound so easy.  This is actually not an experience I will ever repeat.  The only way to completely refurbish a house is not to live in it while it happens – or be more patient than me and do one room at a time.  Having the whole house in turmoil has really been too much.  It was probably not helped by the fact that it has run alongside nursing mom and then having to deal with her dying and all which follows.  I just want to return to some semblance of normality and I can’t see that happening until the New Year.


Having mentioned mom it was the strangest thing to come back from a ‘holiday’ and not call in on the way home – first time in over ten years.  It must have stuck with me to such an extent that the next day I went round to see her flat for the first time since her death and I think it was another one of those moments where it really does sink in.  All her pots and plants were gone and it was bleak.  How she’d have hated it.


November 2004


A month which disappeared in a flurry of people visiting us and outings to theatres, restaurants, cinemas and so on.  Good to be home and doing normal things for a change. 


December 2004


I’m happy to say it was another of our crazy months.  We said goodbye to Bury on the 11th and drove to Edinburgh to see my kids and deliver Christmas presents.  These visits are a mad dash from place to place but always good to see them. 


Got home on the 12th and left again on the 13th for Wales to see Ken’s Susan.  We had some conflicting messages regarding our usual B & B with the Longcraines.  They have a wonderful early 16th century house which they’ve lovingly restored.  Any way we ended up staying with a young couple who have set up a sort of gite type affair – odd for the depths of Wales (Cwmdu) but suited me down to the ground as we were in a self-contained apartment in the garden.   I am always so nervous about meeting new folk that it ruins any break for me.  This way I didn’t have to worry about that – other than a fleeting visit the night we arrived to settle us in and a wonderful delivered breakfast the next morning we hardly saw the pair.  For normal folk who do like meeting new people they were very welcoming and clearly would stay and chat and ‘get to know you’ if that’s what you’d prefer.  They even offer bikes and guided walks.  There is also an option to eat in the main house if you wanted to.   I’ll pass their details on if you ever want somewhere near the Brecon Beacons – gorgeous part of the world.


We left Wales the next day (14th) for our next trip to France.  We took our time getting to Portsmouth as we always do and arrived with hours to spare.  A flit round a Marks and Spencer’s outlet store – for those who haven’t done one of these I heartily recommend them.  On to the movies to see The Incredibles and a good pasta at an excellent Italian and so to the boat.


There was a scattering of powdery snow en route to Les Roches but our house was bathed in sunshine.  The following day (Thurs 16th) we had a viewing – a very posh couple – I didn’t take to Mrs designer boots and jacket and they clearly weren’t serious buyers just ‘shopping around’ is the impression they gave.


Friday brought an extreme change in the weather with severe gales battering the house.  We later discovered they had done a lot of damage through central France so we were very lucky I guess.


On our fourth day (Sat 18th) we set out for Champoluc in Italy.  We decided to break our journey at the Mont Blanc tunnel.  By then we were just coming into a little snow which was being kept down by the occasional rain showers.  The cutest thing was following a British Black cab for quite a few miles – now that’s what I call style – hailing a cab and asking the driver to take you to Mont Blanc.  Our hotel was offering Christmas dinner – unfortunately it was a platter made up of foie gras, smoked salmon and snails in red wine.  I settled for pork chop.


We arrived in Champoluc the next day.  The climb up the mountains after we crossed into Italy was at the least interesting.  There was a great deal of snow.  Everywhere was looked utterly beautiful, but lethal.  The rest of our party had been delayed in Turin airport and we lunched at Le Sapin without them.  Poor souls arrived for a cold Italian cheese and meat repast at 2.30.  In additional to the misery of a hellish journey and cold lunch poor Phil had managed to sprain his ankle in Manchester airport and Gerry and Jackie had stinking colds.  Not the best of starts. Gerry and daughter Jackie are ‘Badminton’ friends of Sue’s along with Stuart who came with them.  Gerry’s son, Chris completed the group.


Phil didn’t ski the next day as his ankle was pretty swollen so, like me, sat around his room reading and joined me for lunch at Le Sapin.  The rest of the week followed a similar pattern.  As our hotel (The Champoluc) didn’t do lunches the Sapin (and it’s waiters!) became my second home.  Lovely Italian pace of life – no rush to eat, stay as long as you want.  Sue and I spent about three hours there one day over a single course meal.  And so the week went on in similar vein.  They all seemed to have good skiing and a good time. 


Our Christmas meal was on Christmas Eve and was indeed a lengthy multi-course meal with half a roast pig being paraded around the room at one point.  I had taken crackers for the table which the Italians found very curious.  I decided I wanted to go to the midnight mass and was joined by Ken, Gerry, Phil and Sue.  People came and went throughout the service so we didn’t feel too wicked sneaking out after a while.  It was a lovely walk back through the village on a very white and crispy Christmas ‘morning’.  The guys quit skiing at lunchtime on Christmas day and we all went for a pizza!  I did say I wanted a totally different Christmas to usual (as it was the first without mom) and I certainly got that.


We left Champoluc on Boxing Day (Sunday) to return to Les Roches.  The journey down the mountain was even more treacherous – very hairy on occasions with a bit of slip-sliding here and there – you know you’re in serious snow country when they construct lay-bys especially for adding chains.  Again broke the journey overnight and got back to a much warmer and snow-free Les Roches on Monday.