Saturday, 22 February 2014

It's's REALLY started!

What's started?  The pool of course! 

Last Monday, Danny spent a huge chunk of the day pumping out yet more rainwater (I've actually lost count of the times he's done it now but I think this was about the 4th time!).  He then removed all the tarpaulins plus slabs, beams and goodness knows what other stuff that he'd used to keep the tarpaulins in place.  At the end of the day, with all of that removed, we could see just how much earth had subsided into the hole and it looked like this.....

Our digger man, Phil, turned up next morning to get it all ready for John who would be starting on Wednesday.  You might think we would feel happy at this point but for Danny and I (and even Phil, come to that) we'd got to this point before!  Nonetheless, it was good to see it looking freshly dug and ready for action by Tuesday afternoon....

Now on Wednesday, things really did start!  The first thing John organised was a delivery of cement so he could put a capping layer on the floor of the hole.  This is all additional cost to us because of the delay but we understood that because of the continuing wet weather, John wanted a solid floor on which to work.  (Just as well as it absolutely poured with rain on Thursday!).  So, on Wednesday afternoon a huge cement lorry it comes, backing in .....

....and here is the cement being cascaded into the hole...

By the end of the day, the capping layer was down and the hole was looking better!

As you can see, John has also started to move the various bits of the pool 'kit' round to the back garden from our drive at the front of the house.  (The drive is actually beginning to look quite bare minus the pick-up truck (back in the UK), the Citroen Saxo (sold) and now most of the pool kit (relocated)!
On Thursday and Friday, John concentrated on marking out the position of the pool itself.  It turns out that the hole wasn't square-on to the house and he's had to make some alterations.  All I know is that by the time he left on Friday afternoon, the hole looked like this....

Hopefully, things will move on a bit next week!

So, what else has been happening chez nous?  Well, for one thing, we've had Internet problems.  It seems, after several telephone conversations with the technical guys at Orange France and two separate visits from engineers, each of whom repaired different cables, we will have to settle for slow Internet speeds if we want stability!  In other words, they can give us a faster working Internet connection, but it'll be hit and miss when it's working!  It's surprising how cut off we feel when the Internet isn't working, partly because it affects our telephone landline too.  Still, there are bigger things to worry about aren't there and I'd rather have reliability than speed, I think.

We've made a bit of progress on the utility room in that Danny has changed the lighting in there.  I'm very pleased with the new lights and especially with how much brighter it is in there.  Unfortunately we haven't had an opportunity to move the freezer into the barn so nothing else can be done for the moment.  (I intend to resume nagging about this next week!)  In the meantime, what do you think of my new lights?
Danny has been spending quite a bit of time in his hobby room lately!  He's currently making a replica model of his son Joe's VW Beetle and is thoroughly enjoying himself with it! 

Actually, we've started calling the room Danny's "cave" because apparently it's what other guys call the rooms in which they do their models.  I rather like the description!

And finally, well I just want to share these pictures with you.  One of Danny's tasks...and it seems to be several times a to keep the bird feeders topped up.  The other day he watched them and it seems the birds have a system set up whereby a couple of them swing on the feeders, dislodging loads of sunflower seeds and then a whole group of their friends come along and feed on the ground! Just look at these....

And on the theme of nature... the farmer who rents the land around our house has moved his cows back into the field right opposite the house.  It means, for one thing, that when I look out of our bedroom window when I get up each morning, I can see the cows grazing in the field and it's a wonderful start to my day.  So I'm going to leave you with this picture of them in their field!

À bientôt!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The missing four weeks....

......well, not so much "missing" as "unaccounted for" perhaps!  I would like to offer a particularly good reason or explanation why I haven't updated the blog since 11th January.  Or even to tell you that I have been far too busy to do so.  But the truth is that the days have simply drifted by with little of consequence to tell you.  At the risk of boring you then, this is a quick résumé of the last four weeks.

Our next project in the house is the utility room; a room that's used pretty much as a dumping room at the moment.  That is to say that if there's nowhere to put something, it's just dumped in there!  Our aim is to have a properly planned, thoroughly useful utility room!  All of the jobs we have planned always seem to have a series of smaller tasks, the next dependent on the last and so on.  For example, we want to move the second-hand chest freezer I bought some months ago, out into what we call the 'small barn', that is, the barn attached to the house.  But, we had to wait until the barn was cleared of the old kitchen units (some of which Danny plans to use in the 'big barn') and to get some pallets for the freezer to stand on.  We also needed better lighting out there plus electrical sockets!  Having finally unpacked all of my kitchen stuff, we had space in one of the piggeries for the old kitchen units and over a couple of dry days, Danny and I managed to shift the units into the piggery.  On another couple of days, Danny put up new lighting and sockets in the little barn.  Then friends of ours were able to give us some pallets.  So, as I write, we are now in a position to move the freezer out there.  (We hope to do this when there is another dry day on which we're not doing anything else!).  The next stage is for Danny to change the lighting in the utility room because our predecessors used the room as a downstairs bedroom and the only lighting in there is a couple of dim wall lights.  Only then will we be able to strip the walls and paint them.  And after that, Danny will sort out worktops and shelving et voila! I will have a utility room! 

I have written previously about our decision to get Danny's pick-up truck back to the UK.  Well, that has now been achieved.  Danny's son Paul came out a couple of weeks ago, stayed for a couple of days then the two of them drove the truck back to England.  Danny stayed over there for a couple of days and was able to see his family and all the grandchildren which he thoroughly enjoyed.  Unfortunately, the truck failed its MOT and we will need to spend yet more money on the necessary repairs.  But at least Paul can do them for us and the truck is tucked up safely in the garage where he works!  There is a fair amount of paperwork to get through as well because DVLA had treated the truck as having been permanently exported so now we have to go through the process of "importing" it! 

In the meantime, we decided that we should sell the Citroen Saxo.  It has been a great little car but I had started to miss some of the luxuries that the Mondeo has to offer (not least heated seats in the winter!).  I started to drive the Mondeo again to see how it felt and I have to say I started to enjoy it!  There were a couple of niggling little jobs that needed doing on the Saxo but again Paul stepped up to the mark and sorted them out while he was here.  Coincidentally, Danny's French teacher's car had died on her around this time and she was looking for another car.  Long story short?  She bought the Saxo from us!  The French equivalent of a UK MOT is a Contrôle Technique (CT) but they last two years rather than the one year of the UK.  However, when you sell a car, it is supposed to have a CT that is no older than six months.  The CT on the Saxo was last done in June 2012 so I had to have one done before I could sell it.  Fortunately, it passed!

So now, we have just the Mondeo and the VW Camper.  It is rare that both of us need to be using a car at the same time so we think that we shall manage okay.  If it proves otherwise then we shall have to reconsider the situation but for now, both of us are happy with this arrangement!

Those of you who know me well will know me to be a fairly organised sort of person!  For virtually all my working life, I looked after the household finances, had all of our bills paid monthly and saved for everything else.  Moving here changed that, at least until now.  Looking back, I suspect it was mostly down to my lack of French that we were simply paying bills as they came along rather than plan for them.  In the last few months of 2013 though, we had the triple whammy of taxes to pay; our income tax and the two types of household taxes (one based on the size of your property; the other on the size of your income!).  Together these three amounted to around €3,000!  Naturally we were able to pay them out of savings but it made me realise that I really needed to get back to basics and find out if we could start paying not just the taxes, but also bills like electricity and water on a monthly basis.  So, off I went to our local  bureau des impôts - tax office!   And it was simpler than I imagined.  I have also now found forms so that we can pay our electricity and water on a monthly basis too.  It means our monthly pensions will have to be stretched a bit tighter but at least there shouldn't be any horrendous bills at the end of this year!

We can never legislate for what money we might need to spend on our beloved pets of course and the last few weeks have seen us make a few trips to the vet.    Since I last wrote on here, Finn has had two more epileptic fits, although both were extremely short and he recovered quickly from both.  But it has meant another blood test and an increase in his medication.  We also had a big scare with Bertie, who was diagnosed with pancreatitis and the vet was very concerned.  Thankfully though, he has made a full recovery and is now back to being a very happy, grateful doggy!

On the subject of health, Danny and I have been accepted into the French healthcare system, although we will have to contribute over €2,200 this year.  For the first two years of being here, our healthcare was covered by the UK by virtue of our National Insurance contributions.  And as far as we are aware, we will be covered again once we get our UK state pensions.  But there was a black hole of a period between January 2014 and April 2015 when we would not otherwise have been covered.  We were warned that if we weren't accepted into the French healthcare system, we would have to take out private health insurance and the lowest quote I got for that was....wait for it......over €8,000.  Gulp!!  So, after a tree's worth of form-filling and document copying, we made our application and as I say, thankfully we were accepted.  This will cover us for up to 70% of healthcare charges and we will need to get "top-up insurance" to be able to reclaim the rest.  (This has been the case for the last two years too).   On the one hand it may seem rather expensive, but when I consider the standard of healthcare and the efficiency of the system here, I think it's worth it.  When we lived in the UK, Danny and I paid for BUPA membership.  It was more expensive than we are going to have to pay here for this next year but it didn't cover things like GP visits, routine screenings, dentists and opticians so all in all I think we've probably got a fair deal!! 

Well readers, I think that pretty much brings you up to date on what's been happening here.  We are now approaching mid-February and I gather spring is only about 40 days away!  I think that weather-wise we have been lucky here in our corner of France.  Friends of mine in America and Israel have had snow which we haven't (yet!) and although we've had weeks and weeks of heavy rain and wind, we are not having the flood problems that they are experiencing in the UK.  I'm going to leave you with some tiny signs of spring in my front garden.  These photos were taken a couple of weeks ago and as much as a reminder of approaching spring, make me realise it'll soon be time to get out there and start weeding again!!


Keep warm and safe everyone!  (Well, those of you in Australia and New Zealand...keep cool and safe!)

À bientôt