Saturday, 11 May 2013

Hectic days!!

Have you been wondering what I've been doing and why it's kept me from "blogging"?  Maybe not but it has been a while and the reason is in this post's title.... we have been having lots of hectic days!!

I'm sure some of you are wondering how the pool - and maybe even the back garden generally - are coming along.  Well, wonder no longer as I can tell you nothing has happened in the past couple of weeks.  This is a view of the back garden - taken from an upstairs window.  I think it's fair to say it looks more like a building site doesn't it!

There's nobody to blame for the delay.  Hitting the water main, which in turn meant that another hole had to be dug and the first one filled in, put the time schedule back by a few days.  This was then followed by a spell of bad weather (as you can see by the water in the hole) and by the time we had a run of good weather, Phil - the digger man - was committed to other customers.  He's coming back next week to finish digging the hole but he's also due to be doing some other work for us, namely a drain in the driveway and a soak away behind the barn, and I don't know when this is likely to be done.  To be honest, as far as the pool's concerned, although we've ordered the pool kit, it hasn't arrived yet and even when it does, we don't know when our builder is going to be able to fit it!  Our summer visitors had better keep their fingers crossed for a while yet!!

None of this explains why the last couple of weeks have been hectic for us!  Well, partly we've been busy in other areas of the garden.  If you remember, although the large conifer hedge was removed, we still have to get rid of it ourselves.  Danny came up with the idea of stripping the leaf branches from the main branches and just getting rid of the former.  The advantage of this is twofold; there would be a lot less to take to the déchetterie (tip) and we would get some wood for burning at a later date.  Danny thought it would be useful to buy a small trailer to hitch onto his sit-on mower ahead of dealing with the hedge and that's what we've done.  That exercise, i.e. the acquisition of a small trailer, actually took an entire day!  First, we needed to find out where we could buy one so we did some research online.  There are only a few shopping areas near us and each is several kilometres away so this sort of thing has to be well planned.  As it was, the best and most reasonably priced one that we saw online was in Castorama, a DIY store in Niort, some 60 kilometres and 45 minutes drive away!  It was no mean feat finding the trailer in the store (which incidentally is part of the Kingfisher group and therefore stocks a lot of the same stuff you can buy in B&Q in the UK!).  When I finally found and asked an assistant for help, it turned out they had only the one trailer in stock and it was at the bottom of a huge pile of boxes!  To give the guy his due, he happily moved all the boxes, lifted out the box containing the trailer and, with the help of a fork lift,  put it on Danny's truck.  After a Quick burger (!) we drove home, where Danny set about building the trailer....

And here's the finished article hooked up to the mower...

I have to say it has been incredibly useful.  We've been cutting up the old hedge in the back garden, loading up the trailer with the branches, then Danny drives round to the front and we load up the truck!  When we've finished for the day, we load up the trailer with the logs we're keeping and Danny then drives to the wood shed so we can store them!  Aside from these jobs, the trailer is useful for carrying garden tools around, moving plants, shifting earth etc.  Here are Danny, the mower and the trailer, all in action!!

We've managed to shift quite a bit of the hedge but there's still loads to go.  And unfortunately, we've either had other things to do (see below) or the weather's prevented us from doing more.  Still, slowly but surely, we'll get there!

On another day, since I last posted on here, my friend Donna and I went to the local Tax Office to register.  We've both lived here for about the same length of time so both of us are going to be completing Tax Returns for the first time in France.  The system here is quite different from the UK.  To start with, there is no Pay As You Earn system and a Tax Return has to be completed by everyone.  I say everyone, but actually, the tax is payable on the amount of income received by the household, not by individuals, so the return is completed on a household basis.  The tax year runs, rather more sensibly, from 1st January to 31st December.  Returns are sent out toward the end of April and have to be back by the end of May.  I believe you get your tax bill in the autumn but have no idea (yet) about when the tax has to be paid.  Once you're in the system, you can file your return online.  For those of my ex-HMRC colleagues (and anyone else come to that!) who might be interested, click here to see the French government web site for Income Tax.  Anyway, Donna and I set off armed with a bunch of the usual documents you have to take with you when you're doing anything remotely official over here, i.e. birth certificates, marriage certificates, proof of residence, passports, bank details etc.!  We had assumed they would want all sorts of information but we were wrong!  The lady we saw (who, by the way, allegedly spoke English, but let us struggle on in French anyway!) was actually very helpful.  She gave us the necessary forms and showed each of us what we need to fill in and where (Donna and I have very different circumstances, apart from having arrived here around the same time!).  Now all we have to do is fill in the forms then go back to make sure we've done it all correctly!  Then we sit back and wait for the bill!

Another exciting thing we've done is that we've ordered our new kitchen units and appliances!  Why?  Because I had already decided what I wanted to buy - it's a particular range from IKEA.  And there was a brilliant offer whereby you get 100 euros back for every 1000 euros spent.  I thought it was in the form of a discount but it turns out you get a gift card.  Never mind, there's still plenty of stuff we'll need to buy as we've only ordered the main items.  But the offer runs out today so yesterday we dashed off to our nearest IKEA store - in Nantes, some 110 kilometres and an hour and a half away!

Those of you who use Facebook will probably have seen photos of us sitting on the bench outside the front of  the house, usually with glass in hand!  On sunny afternoons we often sit, with our apéritifs, contemplating!  On one such afternoon, our musing led to a decision to change the part of the front garden alongside the big barn.... seen here...

The plan is to remove the grass, put down a membrane then cover it with the same red gravel as the drive.  (Danny's son Joe has done a similar thing in his garden and the result is so impressive!)  We then want to put up a wooden pergola, fixing it to the barn, which in the above picture is hidden by the big hazelnut tree on the right.  We can then hang up some lights and use it as an evening eating area.  I was originally going to use the land to the back of this area for my potager (kitchen garden) but we've had a change of heart and the plan now is to use it for keeping a few hens!  And my potager will be in the back garden instead!

Going back to the front garden, I have to say it does look particularly colourful at this time of year with beautiful lilacs, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.  All framing the glorious ornamental cherry tree.  This is a collage I've made to show you what I mean and I apologise in advance if you can't expand it - I don't think the photo editing program I use allows you to do that once the individual photos are put in the collage.

Well , my friends, that's about it for now.  I am due to go into hospital on Tuesday for the operation on my shoulder and will be there for at least a couple of days and possibly a bit longer.  I don't yet know about the recovery process (other than there will be months of physiotherapy!) so I have no idea how much I will be able to use my right arm afterwards.  As I touch-type it may be a while before I can get to grips with typing with my left hand only!  Incidentally, I have to praise the French health system again.  I had the usual pre-op appointment with the anaesthetist and I can't get over not only how thorough it was but also how smooth and efficient.  In the hour and a half that I was there, I not only had a detailed discussion with the anaesthetist himself, I had an x-ray of my lungs, an ECG and a blood test!  In the days when I used to take my mum to the hospital in the UK, I would be lucky to get a blood test done in that time!!
Anyway, wish me well for the operation and I'll tell you all about it as soon as I'm able to do so!
A bientôt mes amis!