Thursday, 18 September 2014

My turn to be a guest!

Being invited to a family birthday party provided the perfect reason to go back to the UK, see lots of my 'extended' family and a wonderful opportunity to spend time with my brother Tony and his wife Alyth, with whom I stayed in Northampton for a few days.

Some of you may remember that I gained a new cousin last October (she weighed only 4lb 9oz when she was born!) and although I keep up with her progress via Facebook, obviously I had never met her.  Well I have now! She was at the party and here is a lovely photo of me holding her - what a little doll she is!

At the other end of the age spectrum, I was delighted to find my oldest aunt at the party.  When I voiced surprise she told me in no uncertain terms that she still loved parties!  (I also got a ticking off for not keeping in touch with her so I need to remedy that!).  She will be 93 years old (or should I say 'young'?) in November and here is a photo of her up and dancing with a young gentleman!
It rather puts me to shame as I didn't get up to dance at all!  My excuse?  I was too busy nattering to all my cousins - oh and eating and drinking of course!


On the subject of eating, as I said, I took the opportunity of being in the UK to spend some time with my brother and his wife.  One of the days I was there, they took me to Delapre Abbey, where we enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon tea in the gardens.  I had hoped to be able to go in the Abbey (I love old buildings and part of this is reportedly over 900 years old).  However, it is being restored so I was denied that pleasure!  (You can find out more about the Abbey here).  Still, as you can see from these photos, my afternoon was very enjoyable nonetheless!

The huge tree hides the huge 'me' after my cream tea!
I had a lovely surprise as one of my nephews happened to be in Northampton on the day I arrived and I was able to spend several hours with him.  Unfortunately, none of us thought to take photos!
When I left my brother's house last Wednesday, I travelled down to Essex where I was meeting Danny who had flown over that day. Travelling clearly tires Danny....this is him with Joe's dog, Midgey, who was just as tired it seems!
The very next day we travelled back to France in our newly repaired VW Camper.  Here it is waiting its turn at Portsmouth!

You may recall it broke down on our way over to the UK to a VW weekend, last month and remained there so it could be repaired.  Thankfully, the return to France was a breeze and we had no problems whatsoever.
Back home in France meant a return to normality, which for us meant yet more work in the garden.  (One day we will have achieved the "low maintenance garden" we are aiming at!)  And to bring you right up to date, our digger man was here yesterday and now all of the ground at the far side of the pool has been levelled.  After more than 18 months, it feels amazing finally to be free of the mountains of earth that the hole digging (and re-digging) for the pool originally created.  In addition, we now have an area of 'hard standing' which we will use to store things like our trailers, etc. 
So the ground around the pool is now ready for sowing grass seed and for planting.  This is what the new areas look like...
Our neighbours from Essex arrive here on Monday for a week's visit and we are hopeful that they will help us to rotovate and seed the area which will be grass.  Oh and help us plant the areas which will have shrubs!  Well, they are keen gardeners!
And for my final picture this time.... this is our driveway.  Finally clear after nearly two years of storing building materials, pool kit, pallets and so on.  Turning the car round should be a doddle now!

Hopefully there'll be lots of photos of our improved garden next time.  Until then, à bientôt tous!


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Well, THAT was a busy summer!!

I don't think I've ever missed an entire month since I started writing this blog yet I sit here at the beginning of September having done just that.  I knew it had been a while but now I see that the last time I posted was on 31st July!

As the title suggests though, I do have good reason! 

As well as a number of guests, we also squeezed in a visit to the UK ourselves.  Originally intended as a surprise visit, we had given in and told people that we were going to drive back in our VW camper to attend a Volkswagen show called "Sweetcorn" held near our old home in Essex.  As well as being able to camp with Paul and Joe, two of Danny's sons, and their families, we would be able to meet up with some old camping buddies plus give the camper a good airing!

In the "old days" when we lived in England and went camping regularly, the camper was always equipped with basic essentials and we pretty much just had to add the food and drink and go!  Although we have used the camper since we came to France, we were well out of the practice of regular camping.  Not only that, we put a lot of thought into taking only what we really needed so we could travel light.  Finally, we were ready; a friend of ours was housesitting for us and we set off for the port of Caen for the afternoon crossing to Portsmouth.

Alas, the camper developed problems and around 20kms from Caen, with smoke billowing out of the back, we had to pull off the road.  This was the first time we had ever broken down over here and although I knew our insurance included 'vehicle recovery' I had no idea what I should do, who I should call, etc.  I just froze in panic (so much so I even forgot the basic rules of donning our hi-viz jackets and putting out the warning cone!)  Fortunately, the security guys who patrol the motorways stopped and helped us.  It was they who called a recovery truck and ensured we were taken safely from the side of the motorway.  This is the sad picture of us being loaded onto the recovery truck!

I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say, we paid the recovery driver to take us to the ferry port (where we had to go on a later - and overnight - ferry) and we were met by another recovery vehicle which took us to Essex.  The camper was driveable but sounded horrendous and was clearly in need of first aid! 

Luckily, none of this spoilt our camping weekend and we had a fabulous time.  Although the weather wasn't too kind to us, we had a lot of fun and the weekend was everything we always loved about camping.  Like doing silly things......
                                                  buying a silly hat! 
Or having a ride on the back of a VW pick up truck!

Even the little 'uns had things to do!  They too had rides on the pick up but also got the opportunity to make things at craft stalls at the show....

We stayed in the UK for a couple of days after the show but had to fly back to France, leaving the camper which was still being repaired.  Now we are preparing to return to the UK to collect it and bring it back home - hopefully incident free!

Within a couple of days of getting back to France, our friends Caroline and Paul, with their two children, Cara and Reuben (my godson) arrived for what has become their 'annual visit'.  This year they spent about three days with us before they travelled southwards.  Here are pictures of us all - eating as usual! - on their first and last nights with us..  As you can see, they are a departure from our usual, conventional photos and we have come bang up to date with "selfies"!!

This first picture is, of course, at our new table on the terrace by the pool!
The second one was at a lovely restaurant we were introduced to a few months ago.  Called Le Rabelais, it is in a hotel in Fontenay le Comte, about 45 minutes drive away in the departement de la Vendée.  If you want to see more about it, click here.
In between these particular (and other!) meals, we had some nice warm weather and the children were able to enjoy our pool.  And enjoy Danny being in there with them!

A few days after we said our farewells to Caroline, Paul, Cara and Reuben we were on our way to Nantes Airport to pick up our next guests!  I can confess now to having been a little apprehensive about how this next visit was going to be.  You see, our next guests were Estelle and Rosie - two of my 'old' school friends and I hadn't seen them since I left school in the autumn of 1969!   But I needn't have worried as we started chatting from the minute they came through into the arrivals hall until the time they went back several days later! And in between all the chatting, we ate! And drank!  Here are a few photos from what turned out to be an enjoyable and memorable trip...

We have a few weeks' breather now until our next, and probably last, guests of the year come.  This is Ron and Barbara, our neighbours in Essex who are coming for what is also now an annual visit!  They are keen gardeners and always give us lots of help while they're here - and I have a number of tasks in mind for them already!

This is not to say that Danny and I have been idle in that department!  It has been a difficult year as we endured the months of building work followed by the whirlwind of visitors.  And I have to admit, in all that, the garden had become quite neglected.  But in the last few weeks we have started to get on top of the jobs that needed doing.  While Estelle and Rosie were here they helped me to tidy up the potager and since they left, we - and especially Danny - have been getting stuck into some big and much needed jobs.  In particular, Danny has done loads of hedge trimming and all around the garden it has opened up the wonderful views we are blessed with.

For my part, I have been concentrating on clearing flower beds.  I have made the decision to stop tinkering about and working around the stuff we inherited from the previous owners and to start making the beds "my own".  This won't mean getting rid of everything but I have decided to make some changes and to plant the beds the way I want them.  Although I hate getting rid of live plants, I have realised that I don't have to do that - there are always friends who are happy to have new things in their gardens!  So I have taken lots of "before" photos and hope to show you the changes over the coming months.

Well, that's about it for news.  I want to just leave you with two more, unrelated, photos.  The first is of a moth!  Yes! A moth.  It appeared on the door to the pool house and stayed for a couple of days.  It was so unusual that I had to take this photo.  Don't you think it looks like he's wearing a toupee?!

And finally.... I think I have talked in previous posts about Danny's hobby of model-making and that he was making a replica of Joe's VW Beetle.  Well, he finally finished it and we were able to take it with us when we went to England in the camper.  Joe took this rather remarkable photo of the model with his actual car and I happen to think it's an amazing photo (not to mention, an amazing model!)
Well, I hope not to leave it so long before the next update so until then, à bientôt!