Monday, 11 June 2018

The crash ...

... came from the hall and was impossible to ignore.

I was watching something facile on Netflix trying to block out the sound of the wind and rain, the thunder and Vita's anxious pawing at the furniture.

But the crash needed attention.  A sharp command to two anxious dogs to "Stay!" and I opened the door from the lounge.

The old, rickety french windows were flung open and horizontal driving rain from the east (from the EAST! It never rains from the east) was pouring into the hall, soaking the scruffy Indian carpet purchased for next to nothing in a junk shop.  A pool of water spread across the concrete floor and under the spare computer tucked beneath a card table awaiting Tod's attention.

I dragged the windows to and tried to lock them together, but knew they would not hold for any length of time in this gale. 

It felt like an old disaster movie as I clutched at the handles "Fetch the storm shutters Annie-Mae and be quick about it gal!". But I had no storm shutters and any help was soundly asleep (heaven only know how) and gently snoring.  If not woken by the crash he certainly wouldn't be by any distant shouting as I clung onto the wooden frames.

Forced to leave the rattling windows, I dragged the green leather sofa that had been an unfortunate choice and had been banished to the hall across the sodden carpet and wedged it against the doors hoping it would be enough to hold them.

In the lounge, the dogs had not moved, shocked into obedience by the urgency of my command.  I returned to Netflix and to my surprise they both settled down contentedly.  Obviously I'd sorted out whatever was wrong and all was well.

We wake to remarkably little damage - battered roses and a branch down from one of the lime trees.  The météo promises that summer starts this coming Thursday.  After weeks of storms described as "a national disaster" - for farmers, for builders, for the tourist industry - it can't come a day too soon.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Big Talk

I suddenly find we're having a conversation that I'd hoped not to have for years.  Ideally never.

He thinks here is "becoming too much".  I don't.

He's talking about downsizing. I don't want to.

Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Bertie lies on a blanket ...

... in front of the calor gas fire in the hall which is boosting the warmth in the cottage.  If he gets any closer he'll scorch his fur.

The "Beast from the East" - it's Siberian winds much tamed this far south - is sending snow flurries across the garden and the under floor heating is struggling. 

Yesterday, with even colder temperatures and in brilliant sunshine, I mowed one of  our grassy banks. Huffing and puffing backwards and forwards I was tempted to remove (but resisted) one of my many layers. Today, however, a leaden grey sky keeps us firmly indoors.

Watching the snow begin to settle I decide a Leclerc's shopping trip is required. Better now, while I can still get the merc up the chemin rural behind us. The supermarket car park is virtually empty and the few of us who've braved the weather scuttle in and out of the automatic doors, shoulders hunched and faces lowered against the sting of the driving snow.

Before I set out, Tod tells me that tomorrow is due to be worse in the UK according to the meteorologists and he asks me gloomily if I've checked our forecast.  I'm somewhat surprised to read our temperature here by late morning will be fourteen degrees celsius. With sunshine.

Much encouraged, I find myself standing in front of the seeds display in Leclerc's and buying packets of cosmos, lavatera and California poppies .  Maybe this summer, during the weeks when the roses sulk, I will manage to fill our borders with a riot of colour to delight our guests. Now there's a heart-warming thought on this dank cold day.

Thursday, 1 February 2018


My father's parents came to live with us when I was eight.

Nana was small and brittle, always busy. Not comfortable with children, she used to buy our good behaviour with spoonfuls of honey. She wore an apron with a pocket in the front and it was here she carried her false teeth, only to be put in her mouth when visitors came to the door.

In her early twenties Mum had all her teeth taken out and was fitted with dentures.  She told me she had chalky teeth and was tired of going to the dentist on her own since early childhood. She had no mother and none of her many older siblings could be bothered to look after her.  So among the memories of my mother is one of a small pink plastic pot into which her dentures were popped at night.

This was the image I carried with me as I discussed with Dr M my brand new partial dentures which he had just placed in my mouth.  What did I do with them at night? He told me opinion is divided. In England, dentists suggest taking them out.  In France, dentists suggest to women that they always wear their dentures, so that their husbands are blissfully unaware their spouses are toothless.  Apparently there is no evidence either way as to which is better.

My mouth feels like it has an entire cutlery drawer in it.  I am assured things will improve.  In the meantime, I might just get myself an apron with a front pocket.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Tuesday Afternoon - Day Three

Bertie emerges from the lounge and sniffs suspiciously at a small lake that has crept out from under the pink towel in the hall.  He decides not to get his feet wet and skirts it, choosing to tiptoe delicately across the mat at the bottom of the stairs which is meant to trap muddy footprints.

I've been catching up on University Challenge with the sound off and the sub-titles on. The noise of the buzzers makes Vita anxious.  Without the sound it doesn't have quite the same impact, especially in the music round, but I do gather that Merton College looks like a strong contender for eventual winner this year. I've not been paying sufficient attention to the task of mopping up and have allowed the water to accumulate.

Earlier in the afternoon we went into town.  The fog lights on the batmobile are switching themselves on at whim. So we leave the car at the garage run by the Portuguese family with an endless number of identical brothers and cousins and afterwards head off in the merc for the bank.  I've just paid for tiles for a new pool terrace and there's a large dentist's bill coming up and builders to pay. So I want to check that the bank will let me.  French banks see the money as theirs, only to be used with utmost prudence by their customers.  After waiting half an hour, I smile gratefully as the bank clerk with the suspiciously black hair tells me he's raised my "ceiling" to the maximum for a month.

We wander across the town square to the bandstand on the promenade above the Garonne. Groups of townsfolk stand gossiping quietly and gazing across what has become a grey inland sea.  Small green islands emerge from the water - each with its farmhouse and outbuildings.  The locals knew what they were doing when they built on the flood plain.

Martyn said he would come round to look at our small inundation.  He lives in the middle of the grey inland sea.  I don't think we will be seeing him any time soon!

He will also be laying our new pool terrace when the weather improves.  The slabs arrive on a large lorry which cautiously inches its way down our muddy, slippery chemin rural.  The driver insists we cut down a poplar which some years back had self-seeded by our entrance.  He is adamant he cannot get past. Otherwise, he tells us, his lorry will slide into the ditch alongside.  There's not much we can do other than comply - he's holding four pallet loads of our slabs to ransom. Eventually, poplar tree sawn down by hand (the chain saw was sulking) the slabs are gently lifted off by crane and left on the lawn - a promise of sunshine, swimming and sunbathing.

Tod has asked me not to grumble if we have a drought this summer.

Monday, 22 January 2018

I thought I heard the siren across the fields ...

... as I came back down the drive from the house.

We have two washing machines going full pelt on their spin cycles, (one in the house, one in the cottage) trying to get the towels dry enough to mop up yet more of our small "inundation" in the hall and I was coming back with another load as the siren sounded.

That means the Garonne has broken its banks.

I've just looked at the vigicrues flood warning graph and in 24 hours the Garonne has gone from just over four to just over eight metres.  And the graph is still on an upward incline.  Two dotted lines cross the graph, showing the floods of June 1st 2013 (8.08 metres) and of January 25th 2009 (9.04 metres).  At nine metres in 2009 the town was virtually cut off.

There will be people on the flood plain tonight moving their furniture to the first floor. It puts our own small pond in the hall into perspective.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

A touch stir crazy ...

... (yesterday it rained solidly all day and this morning's not been much better) we take advantage of a brief break in the clouds to get some fresh air and set off with the dogs to walk the quays in town. The Garonne is only millimetres away from spilling across the cobbles.  In places, we walk through muddy slime - the river has already encroached and, briefly, receded.  The "vigicrues" (flood warning) graph shows the Garonne to be 4.40 metres at 11.45am, on a rapidly accelerating upward slope - the quays won't be walkable for much longer.

We return to find sodden towels in the cottage hallway. Removing his wellington boots and heading for the kitchen for coffee and toast, Tod grumps as he accidentally walks through an invisible puddle in his socked feet.

Water is steadily dribbling from the main electricity cable where it enters the house, collecting in the meter cupboard and then oozing out across the tiled floor.  Sopping towels wedged round the bottom of the cupboard only hold the water back briefly.  I squeeze them out on the lawn outside and feel like the Sorcerer's Apprentice.  The water table is now so high that the ground is saturated and the rain has nowhere else to go except along the sheath of the cable and into the cottage.

We've been here before in wet weather, but not often and not for a few years.  It seems worse this winter and with the sharp upward direction of the vigicrues graph, unlikely to get better any time soon.  I suggest to Tod that for the next few days he keeps his wellingtons on whilst circumnavigating the hall and the kitchen.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Christmas and New Year passes ...

... in a haze of Vicks VapoRub, Kleenex tissues and early nights. Even now, two weeks on, we are still coughing and sneezing, along with every second person in Leclerc's supermarket.

We negotiate "Bonnes Années" (Happy New Years) and "Meilleurs Vœux" (Best Wishes) with caution. To kiss on each cheek?  Or not to kiss? I wave a packet of tissues at friends in the photo club and they back away hastily (wisely I suspect) and someone cheerfully informs me that this particular virus is good for at least three weeks.

And through all this, instead of lounging indolently watching bad TV, we grump and grumble our way through the process of getting paperwork together for the prefecture at Agen.  We decided way back in October, in the light of uncertainty around Brexit, that we would each apply for a Carte de Sejour, which gives us the right of occupancy here in France for the next ten years.

As so often in France, each department seems to be a law unto itself and Lot-et-Garonne seems to be particularly exigent with a three-page questionnaire to complete requiring everything except inside leg measurements and a list running to a page and a half of paperwork to be presented at an interview on January 2nd.

So, we drag the wallpaper pasting table out from the garage and set it up in the cottage and start piling up the contents of our two dossiers - two copies of everything because we each have our own interview appointment (very Green Card. Are they checking up on us?). Five years of bank account statements, for him, for me, UK and France, downloaded from the internet.  Five years of electricity bills (to show we live here). Five years of tax demands from the French tax man.  Five years of evidence that we are receiving pensions (and hence will not be a burden on the state).

As a hoarder (I've kept every single bit of paper about my pensions from the moment we began to talk to an IFA) I have no problem producing the evidence - tedious, but no problem. My beloved, as an accountant, on the other hand, keeps a massive Excel spreadsheet on our financial lives and knows to the nearest penny how we are doing. But, of course, does not keep the supporting paperwork.  Why does he need to keep the annual state pension letters when he just enters each new amount in the spreadsheet?  And what little paperwork there is could be in the cottage, or in the house, and if in the house could be in one of half a dozen places. Hence all the grumping and grumbling. (This is why behind every good accountant is an even better accounts clerk who is keeper of the paperwork.)

I post anxious messages on the French forum asking for advice and suggestions and along with the helpful replies come the questions - why are we bothering to do all this?  Why indeed?  It just feels like an insurance. We will already be "in the French system" if/when Brexit happens.

January 2nd comes like the morning of an aural exam.  We carry our large ring binders and supporting folders with three-quarters of a ream of paper up the stairs of the prefecture - to be greeted with smiles and an "of course you can be in the same interview".  We sit together and papers flow steadily across the desk, are noted and recorded in the computer. After half an hour of French bureaucracy at its best we are told that our dossiers are complete and the "cartes" should be with us in five to six weeks.  We depart with more smiles and more "Bonnes Années" all round.

Despite all the Vicks and the Kleenex laden days it feels like a good start to the New Year. Hope yours too has started well.

I can safely send virtual greetings to you without the obligatory kisses and without danger to health and well-being. So "Meilleurs Vœux" and "Bonne Année" to one and all.