Monday, 31 December 2012

Au revoir 2012!

Remember:  To view the actual blog online, click on 'Danny and Roz' above.

Well, this will be my last post for 2012.  I don't know about you but on New Year's Eve I always like to reflect back on the year that is drawing to a close and I think that's partly why I keep a diary. 

This has been a rollercoaster of a year for us.  This time last year, our house in Thundersley was all but packed up; we took the dogs and cats to their respective kennels and cattery and drove up to Lowestoft to spend New Year's Eve with friends; Yvonne, who had planned a surprise birthday party for husband Mick. 

When we got back to Essex on New Year's Day, 2012, we began a frenzied few days of last minute packing before finally leaving the house on 3rd January.  We spent that night in an hotel, gathered up the animals the next morning and then began the long journey to France together with Danny's sons, Paul and Joe, who helped us to bring over the camper, the truck and the Mondeo, which Joe was to drive back and keep for himself. 

So much has happened since then.  We spent the first three months in a rented gîte just outside a beautiful village called Verteuil-sur-Charente in the Charente, one of the four departments of Poitou-Charentes.  When I look back to that time, I think of it as having been wrapped in a soothing balm.  You can plan and research all you like but until you actually come to live here you have no idea of what your everyday life might be like or what difficulties and obstacles you might meet.   The couple who owned the gîte were incredibly helpful and I simply can't imagine what those first few months would have been like without their help, advice and guidance.   I think it's lovely that we are still in touch with them (although we live over 80 miles away from them now) and also the couple who were in the other gîte, having been there for six months while they too looked for and bought their own house.

We were lucky that we found our house within that first few months and lucky too that the purchase went through so quickly.  Over here, you pay a 10% deposit and then have a seven-day cooling off period during which the purchaser may change their mind and receive their deposit back.  If  the vendor changes their mind (which is almost unheard of here), they have to pay you back an amount over and above that deposit and we heard that it can be as much as another 10% of the purchase price!  But the point is that after that week, the deal is confirmed and it's just a matter of agreeing a completion date which allows time for various searches and tests to be carried out by the notaire who handles the legal transfer for both parties.

We moved into the house on 24th March and hardly a day goes by when we don't feel blessed to live in such a beautiful place.  Of course it's been busy, unpacking all of our belongings, buying new furniture, planning changes etc.  From the beginning of June to the end of September we had lots of visitors, both family and friends and I thoroughly enjoyed being hostess and looking after them.  We went back to the UK in May for my brother Tony's wedding and that was another highlight of the year.  While there we were able to see other family and friends too.

There were sad times this year too.  Danny lost two of his Aunts in quick succesion as well as a good friend, who died too young from an aggressive cancer.  All of this happened between February and April and each time he went back to the UK on his own for the funerals.   Friends both in the UK and other parts of the world had their share of sad times and we felt for them too.   There were times when things didn't seem to be going right, times when one of us would feel isolated or lonely and times when being able to live here seemed like a huge mountain to climb.  But always, the good outweighed the bad and now, at the end of that rollercoaster year we still know we did the right thing in moving here.  I think the hardest things to cope with are the language barrier and being so far from our family and friends.  But gradually, we are learning French (and we have both resolved to spend more time studying it in 2013!) and with modern technology we are in constant touch with everyone.  Also, slowly but surely we are making new friends here...... just a couple of nights ago we were invited for dinner with some people we've come to know and it's a start!

We have hopes and dreams for 2013.  Of course, the most important thing is that we, our family and our friends all have good health.  But as well as that we have hopes that the coming year will see lots of you coming out to visit us; we hope to have a swimming pool installed in the Spring and with a bit of luck, we'll achieve some other changes to the house too.  I hope that by this time next year, my French will be vastly improved, that I'll feel more integrated and that I'll have some new French and British friends!

And my wish for all my readers is for you all to have good health and happiness in 2013.

Bonne année et bonne santé à tous!


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Well, that's Christmas over!

Just a short post today to let you know how our first Christmas Day in France went.  Of course, it seemed very strange not to be seeing family and Danny found it especially hard not to see his sons.  But with the benefit of technology he spoke to or "messaged" all of them.  I'm sure they found it just as strange as we did and I have a sneaky feeling that at least one of them missed seeing his dad on Christmas Day.

Danny and I exchanged gifts, which is something we always do on Christmas morning no matter what else is happening during the day.  We had a light breakfast - we didn't dare have our usual Christmas morning fry-up as we would be having lunch earlier than normal.  We then got ourselves dressed up (nice for a change - I can't remember the last time I wore a skirt and high heels!!) and set off for the restaurant

There was a champagne reception and we were introduced to the other people with whom we'd be sharing a table.  There were two other couples (at a guess, I'd say just slightly older than us!) and a family of four, mum & dad probably early 40s with two lovely daughters of 18 and 15.  We had all been asked if we preferred to sit in our separate couples/family but I thought it was a nice idea to sit in a group and obviously, so did they!  In all there were four tables and I guess around 30 people in total.  If you could have seen and heard all of the balloons, poppers, streamers, not to mention shrieks of laughter, you would not have believed this to be a bunch of mostly older people out for a civilised Christmas lunch.  Add to that, one of the men leading us through a sing-song of the Twelve Days of Christmas and you can perhaps picture the scene.  I should mention that the tables were all beautifully laid and decorated and we each had not just a high quality cracker but also a gift box containing the afore-mentioned poppers and so on.

As to the meal itself, I have reproduced the menu below, just to make your mouths water!   I chose the turkey for my main course but even though I say so myself, I think my roast turkey dinner is normally superior!  Other than that, the meal was superb and we didn't get home until about 5.15pm.

Champagne Reception and Canapés 12.30pm
Sweet Potato Velouté Soup with Pine Nuts
Fig, Orange and Goats Cheese with Candied Walnuts
Confit of Duck and Apple

Potted Smoked Salmon with Lemon and Tomato Dressing
Lemon and Vodka Sorbet
Main Course
Roast Turkey with all the trimmings
Pheasant Stuffed with Black Pudding and Apricot Served with Brandy Cream Sauce
Roasted Trout with Seafood Broth 

Served with Seasonal Vegetables and Potatoes

Stilton and crackers 

Christmas Pudding with Whisky Custard
Chocolate and Cherry Amoretti
Wild Berry Iced Pavlova


Coffee with Warm Mince Pies and Christmas Cake

I have to confess that no sooner were we home, the skirt and high heels were swapped for PJs and slippers and before long I was on the sofa in front of the TV!!

I think I wrote that being able to get into the restaurant had been a last minute success and I had already ordered a turkey from my local boucher in Moncoutant.  I had decided not to cancel my order so guess what I'm doing today!  Yep!  Cooking a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings!  Ah well, at least all of our pets will get to have some leftover turkey - I'd hate them to go without!

I hope all of you reading my blog had yourself a very Merry Christmas and that you've enjoyed reading about ours!


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas in France

I had a very interesting French lesson the other day in which Hélène, our teacher, told us about some of the traditions surrounding Christmas and New Year in France (in French of course!) and I thought you might be interested to know too.

To start with, the French don't send each other Christmas cards!  This of course, rather belatedly, explains why I couldn't find cards with "Joyeux Noël" on them and why I had to give in and buy Marks & Spencer cards from an English source here!  Hélène told us her mantelpiece is full of Christmas cards..... but only from her English friends! (She studied at Sunderland university and taught in England for some years). 

No, rather the French send "les cartes de vœux" during the first "quinzaine de janvier".  Sorry!  That's basically 'New Year cards' during the first fortnight of January.  Funnily enough, I had guessed that there was a preference for New Year cards because during my ardent searches for Christmas cards, all I could find were cards that wished a "Bonne Année" or "Joyeuses Fêtes".  Now I know!

But before I digress into New Year customs, back to Christmas!   Some things are the same, for example children believe in Father Christmas and gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day.  Of course, I'm sure it varies from family to family but Hélène, who has three young children, told us that they buy only one or two presents for each child and then the children get other presents from grandparents, aunts and uncles etc.

France is primarily a Catholic country and in general, the French are religious.  So it almost goes without saying that families attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve.    Also,  Christmas is celebrated, not so much on Christmas Day as we Brits do, but rather on Christmas Eve when whole families (including aunts, uncles, cousins etc) get together for "le Réveillon" - a big party including a long meal (well, it would in France, wouldn't it!!).  Hélène told us a typical meal would start with seafood and would feature turkey, duck or goose.  She said that often families would buy "un brochet" which is pike and is an expensive fish enjoyed as a luxury at this time of year.

I assume that after le Réveillon, the family walks to the church for midnight mass and as every village, no matter how small, has its own church this is probably not too arduous a journey!

New Year's Eve, also known as St Sylvestre here, is often another occasion for un Réveillon and at midnight everyone wishes each other not just "Bonne Année" - Happy New Year - but importantly a wish for good health "Bonne Santé".  Hélène told us that it usual when writing new year cards to say "Meilleurs vœux de bonheur et de santé pour 2013".  This translates as 'best wishes for happiness and health for 2013' and I think it's a lovely sentiment.

Evidently, on New Year's Day, it is usual to go around your neighbours, with a bottle of champagne or wine, wishing them a Bonne Année.  I am wondering if any of our neighbours (who are all French) will come to us..... and I know I ought to pluck up some courage and go to them!

And finally, there is Twelfth Night.  This is celebrated with a special cake called a "Galette des Rois" - cake of Kings.  It is traditional for a lucky charm to be inserted into the cake then on or around the 6th January, each person present eats a slice of the cake and whoever gets the trinket, is 'king' or 'queen' for the day.  This link gives you more information and a recipe...
Hélène has promised that we will eat une Galette des Rois in our first lesson in January and I'm looking forward to it!

So there you have it.  Some of the traditions of a French Christmas and New Year.  We of course will stick to our English traditions but by this time next year, who knows!


This picture shows the mistletoe growing on our apple tree. It’s not a very good picture but I can assure you it’s beautiful, especially now, complete with its winter white berries and to me, yet another of nature’s winter wonders. Oh and yes! We did sneak a little kiss underneath it!!


There is another and actually technical reason for posting this right now.  I’m using a different program to write this post and I want to see if it makes any difference!!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

J'ai eu un rhume!

(To view the actual blog, click on "Danny & Roz" above)

My title today means "I've had a cold" and that is the reason I've not been on here for some days now.  I woke up with the cold on Friday and have been knocked for six by it.  Those of you who know me better will be astounded to learn that it affected my appetite and I've not been able to eat much.  (For the rest of you, suffice to say that normally very little ever affects my appetite!)

Anyway, this afternoon I feel more or less back to my normal self so I thought I'd do a quick catch up on the blog.

Well, Danny and I are ready for Christmas now having made sure we bought and sent all of our cards and presents off in good time for the big day.  We sent boxes of gifts for each of Danny's sons, my brother and all of  their families and I hope it was fun for them to open a large cardboard box to find lots of individually wrapped presents inside.  Doing the Christmas shopping highlighted not just something we miss about the UK but another difference in living here.  I can't say that there are no shopping malls or even small shops in the towns here.  But the concept of say, wandering down the High Street and browsing around, in and out of the various stores, finding the right gift for the right person seems to have eluded us.  We ended up doing most of our Christmas shopping online from Next, Marks & Spencer and Amazon!)  I have decided that one of my New Year resolutions should be to "find" more shops so that by next Christmas I will have a better idea of where to look for certain items.  On this subject (and sorry to digress) but a good example of a shopping difficulty was that I recently needed some buttons to finish a cardigan I'd knitted for one of our grandsons.  Earlier in the year I had found a wonderful store that sells all sorts of goodies for people like me who love needlework and crafts but that store is about 60 kilometres away and I figured there must be a nearer place to buy buttons!  However, I couldn't find a shop in our nearest town of Moncoutant that sold them and even our local supermarket didn't have any.  I eventually found some in another supermarket some 15 kilometres away!  (Actually, a funny aside to this whole saga, is that my mum "saved" buttons and I now have her collection, which pretty much fills a large biscuit tin.  In addition, I inherited her penchant for saving buttons so I have quite a collection of my own.  Needless to say, however, there were no buttons suitable for the cardigan I'd just knitted!!)

The only other bit of news is that I  was invited out last night for "aperitifs".  The French lessons I have are run by a local association and in addition to my class, there is a class of French people learning English and a conversation class open to both French and English people.   All were invited to last night's "aperitifs".   The association provided the drinks and the rest of us brought "nibbles".   The concept of aperitifs is very common in France.  It is usually held early in the evening and the suggestion is that it will last for maybe a couple of hours (as ours did last night).  However, I have heard of people being invited for aperitifs which has turned into a dinner party and they've ended up being out until the wee small hours!  Anyway, as I say, mine lasted a couple of hours last night and it was good (if not challenging!) to speak with some French people who are trying to learn English.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The week so far....

It's nearly a week since I last wrote about what we've been up to so it's about time I caught up!  Last Sunday we went to two Marchés de Noël in a town called L'Absie, approximately 14 kilometres south-west of us.  Both were indoors which is just as well as the weather here is starting to get rather chilly!  The first, run by members of the town itself  was predominantly French with (as usual) lots of lovely home crafted goods.  We bought two hand knitted throws for 10 euros each (the animals are very happy with them as they're very snuggly!) and a few jewellery items for Christmas gifts. The second Marché was held in a lovely coffee shop called "Pause" that I often use..... have a look at their website  The coffee shop is run by two English women and the Marché was all English.  I bought yet another Christmas gift there!

Also last weekend we had the French Téléthon here which has so far raised over 80 million Euros for charity.  What was our contribution?  The local boulangerie (the translation is "bakery" but that doesn't even come close to the mouth-watering place it really is !) was delivering croissants and pains au chocolat on Sunday morning for a donation to the Téléthon.  Well, what can you do?  It's for charity after all; I just had to succumb and ordered some of each! 

We had some good news about Christmas Day this week.  Originally, Danny's sons were hoping to come out and spend Christmas with us and also I had hoped my brother, his new wife  and my nephews might come but for one reason or another nobody is going to be able to make it.  By the time we realised this it was pretty much too late to organise anything else and so it looked like I would be cooking a Christmas dinner for just the two of us.  BUT....we have a favourite restaurant here called A La Bonne Vie (if you come and visit us, we'll almost certainly take you there!) and although they were fully booked, they've managed to fit us in.  The five-course Christmas Lunch looks scrumptious and we're both looking forward to it.  It would have been absolutely wonderful to have a great big family Christmas here but I think this is going to be the next best thing! 

Unfortunately, there has been some bad news this week too.  We had hoped we'd managed to jump the next hurdle in the process of getting Danny's truck registered over here but unfortunately we've hit a brick wall with it - albeit only metaphorically.  The problem is that it's an American truck and even though it's registered in the UK, at the moment they are insisting on putting it through a series of tests to ensure it meets European standards!  The tests would cost us a minimum of 1600 Euros and it simply isn't worth it.  We're exploring other options at the moment but we're both feeling a little deflated by the setback.

It is starting to get quite wintry here and we've had some frosty mornings now.  So far, unlike parts of the UK, we haven't had any snow but we don't think it's far away now.  Most days we have our woodburner going from the morning.  Although we do have central heating, it's oil fired and therefore expensive where wood, being plentiful here, is much cheaper, so we tend to use the woodburner as our primary source of heating.  As you can see in this picture, Finn and Liam have no complaints!

To give you an idea of our winter life here, this is a picture of one of our  outbuildings shortly after we had the first batch of wood delivered.

Just as a matter of interest this is one of three small outbuildings that were at one time used as a porcherie or pigsty. At the moment this one is a woodstore, another is being used as a garden 'shed' and the other is full of boxes of kitchenware that I can't get into the existing kitchen.  We hope to have a swimming pool installed in the spring, and one of these buildings will have to become the 'pump room' - how grand!  A pigsty used as a pump room!

We opted to have the wood delivered in  half-metre lengths so the logs fit the wood burner perfectly.  It means Danny hasn't got to chop it up before using it.  Nonetheless, you do need small bits of kindling to get the fire going so he does have a bit of chopping to do.... and I'm going to leave you with this little video clip of him doing just that!
À bientôt!

A couple of technical points!

As most of you know, I am a little technologically challenged but doing this blog helps me to learn things so I guess it's a good thing!

Anyway, I've come to realise a couple of things about the blog in the last few days.  Firstly, I assumed that if you subscribed to the blog by email, you would just get a notification whenever I published a new post.  But it seems that instead, you get the actual post by email, which means you don't go to the blog itself.  That wouldn't matter at all, except that I believe you can only add comments or view others' comments to the blog if you go to the blog itself.  If you're happy with that, then it's fine but sometimes the comments on blogs can be fun to read as well as the posts.

Secondly, if you do want to either add a comment or read someone else's comments, you have to click on the words "no comments" or if there are already comments there you'll see something like "2 comments".  Now this might have been obvious to you but it isn't to everyone!

Finally on this technical "aside", I have added a gadget for followers.  My brother and I were trying to work out how this works but despite adding himself as a follower, when I look at the blog it still shows no followers/members.  So it remains a mystery unless you can explain it to me!!!

I'll be doing an update later so keep watching this space!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Caption competition!

Danny took this photo earlier today and it made me wonder what might have been going on in Finn's doggy head when he spotted little kitten Cali in the Christmas tree!

There are no prizes but I thought it might be fun to hear your ideas.  Just leave your caption as a comment on this post and Danny and I will try to pick a "winner".

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Cut off from the world……..without internet access!


Did you wonder why there was “silence” here?  Well we lost our internet connection last Friday afternoon, making us feel quite cut off from the world!  We have a package deal with Orange France which gives us Internet, TV and phone for a set monthly fee.  The phone deal gives us inclusive calls within France and 100 other countries including the UK and America.  Don’t ask me to explain it but the telephone is internet based and consequently, if the internet is ‘down’ then we have no phone either!  Fortunately, Danny has a French mobile phone (with unlimited calls within France only) but he is able to get internet access, albeit a bit restricted.  So we did have some contact with the outside world but even so, it’s amazing how cut off you feel without the internet.  For me, I do virtually all my banking online and I find it hard not to have unrestricted access to the bank, day or night!  And most importantly..... I couldn't publish my Blog!

Orange France provide an English speaking help line which is fantastic because even with good French, it would be hard to deal with the technological language needed to resolve problems.  BUT….the helpline only operates between 8am and 5pm on Monday to Friday.  Although Danny managed to contact them on Friday afternoon it was just before 5pm so nothing could be done before Monday. 

Anyway, we’re back!  Goodness only knows what the fault was but now we’re back in full contact with the world, who cares?!

And funnily enough, a lot has been happening since I last wrote…..


Charity Fashion Show

Last Thursday evening, we went to a fashion show held to raise money for charity.  It was held in a restaurant called Lion d’Or (Golden Lion!) and the price of the ticket (12 Euros) included a dessert and a glass of wine (you can see why I wanted to go!!).  I’m sure you’re wondering why Danny went because apart from the glass of wine, there would be little to interest him!  Well, the reason is simply that I don’t like driving at night over here.  The whole journey is on unlit country roads (part of which is through a forest) and I just hate it!  There were several other husbands and partners, abandoned to the restaurant bar so Danny didn’t mind too much! 

As well as the show itself, there were about six “stalls” selling make up, jewellery and Christmas items.   The models were all “ordinary” girls and ladies and it was a really good fun evening out.  (Oh and the dessert was yummy!)

Our first hospital experience!

(and some information about French healthcare for those who are interested!)


I doubt many of you know that I had been diagnosed with having frozen shoulders about 18 months ago.  Yes I did say ‘shoulders’ – both of them!  Despite seeing an orthopaedic surgeon before leaving the UK, nothing could be done and I was assured that they would just get better one day.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I slipped in my kitchen and in trying to stop myself from falling, managed to do further damage to my right shoulder.  I was in so much pain that I gave in and went to the doctor.  Our doctor is a Romanian lady, with fluent French and some English, so it is, shall we say, challenging, to explain how you feel.  Anyway, she sent me off to the hospital for X-rays and an ultrasound, the upshot of which is that I have a ruptured tendon and need an operation.  Today, I made an appointment to see the orthopaedic surgeon and that will be in January.  Watch this space….. and in the meantime I am managing with strong painkillers.

But my reason for telling you all this was to give you a bit of insight into the health system here.  Danny and I have French healthcare cover by virtue of our UK National Insurance contributions and the state here pays up to 70% of the costs.  For the remainder we have taken out what they call “top-up insurance”.  It’s not particularly cheap but it means we don’t have to pay anything else other than our monthly premiums (and a small admin charge of 1 Euro each time we claim).  To give you an example, whenever we visit the GP we pay 23 Euros but we get back 22 Euros.  The trip to the Radiography department at the hospital was different in that we didn’t physically pay out anything as the receptionist took all my details, including my insurance details.  I would have been interested to know how much the X-rays and ultrasound cost but unless it appears on an insurance statement, I may never know.

We were most impressed with the hospital, which was very clean and showed none of the chaos of hospitals we’ve experienced in the UK.  I was seen promptly and taken to a room where I could undress discreetly – quite different from the times I sat with my mum in a crowded waiting room in Southend Hospital, while she sat in an ill-fitting gown, on display to all and sundry!  To be fair, I imagine the population in this area (the hospital is in a town called Bressuire, about 15 kilometres north of our village) falls far short of Southend so the demand must be a lot less but even so, it was very pleasant to get what felt like private treatment in a state system. 
As an aside, I am left wondering whether the tendon was recently ruptured or if that has been the problem with my right shoulder all along.  Interestingly, I had no X-rays or ultrasound in England so with hindsight, I think the orthopaedic consultant there based his diagnosis on the balance of probabilities!

I shall let you know how I get on with the orthopaedic surgeon in January…..


Another Marché de Noël

(and the turkey is ordered!)

Last Saturday we went to the most amazing town of St Loup sur Thouet to the Christmas market there.  It runs from 3pm to midnight on the Saturday and is open again from 10am to about 4pm on Sunday.  Unfortunately we went a bit too early to really get the benefit of the lights but it was spectacular nonetheless. There were dozens of artisans selling the most beautiful stuff and at mostly reasonable prices. The buildings are all ancient and many had their tiny rooms open to display craft work. All the buildings and the streets themselves were decorated with Christmas trees and other foliage and lighting. We stopped to buy a glass of "vin chaud" or mulled wine for just one Euro a glass! I have to be honest and say I could have spent a lot more time  and money there (and Anne G - you would love it - you and I could have easily spent the entire evening there browsing the shops and stalls!)
This was our first visit to this particular town and we have made a mental note to return in the summer to see what it's like in the sunshine! I'm afraid I am not eloquent enough to describe just how beautiful it is but hopefully we'll get some pictures in the summer and, God willing, at next year's Marché de Noël!

And finally, as they say, I was really proud of myself in that I managed to order our Christmas turkey from my local boucher. As to its quality, we shall have to see but if the meat from this boucherie is anything to go by we should be ok! Some of our summer guests were treated to the most delicious fillet steaks while they were here!