Sunday, 29 March 2015

Slowly slowly....

The title of this update relates to the speed at which the lounge refurbishment is going!  Here we are at the end of March which means we've been stripping wallpaper for around two months!  Well, that is something of an exaggeration I suppose since we've not exactly been doing it constantly!  I really thought we'd get it finished yesterday but this patch is what we are left with now....

Surely, we'll finish that off tomorrow?!  For the last week, I have been doing most of this work so that Danny could get on with the electrical work he has to do before the plasterer comes in next week. That hasn't gone as smoothly as it might have done!

But first - and by way of explanation - let me tell you about our 'walls'.  You see, the actual walls of the house are granite.   The outside has been rendered but all of the inside walls are 'false' in that they are made of terracotta blocks, cemented together and plastered.  This photo taken last year when we had the new door put in the kitchen shows the sort of thing....

When the walls are plastered and decorated you wouldn't know and truthfully you don't even think that the 'real' walls are slabs of granite!  (Many people over here leave their houses that original way and of course it does give a more authentic French rural style.  But from a practical viewpoint, I am happier with what we have!)  Anyway, the reason I am telling you this is to set the scene for how difficult a task Danny has to install the extra electrical points and new light switches we want. Things were going relatively smoothly until the heavy duty hammer drill he was using suddenly swung to one side and made the hole you see in this next photo, near the bottom of this wall....!


And repairing it is proving something of a challenge!

Anyway, as I say, we are expecting the plasterer to come toward the end of this coming week and barring disasters, we should be ready for him!

Talking of challenges....this parcel arrived for me this week.  Any guesses?

It's actually a roll of curtain fabric!  I couldn't find exactly what I wanted locally so I ordered some samples from a company in the UK and, having chosen my favourite, ordered enough fabric to make the curtains for the lounge.  Here's a sneaky peak at the fabric itself....

And here's the challenge.  Over here, eyelet headed curtains seem to be the most popular style of curtain and I happen to think they look very attractive.  But I've never made eyelet headed curtains before!  How difficult can it be, I asked myself!  Well, I decided to have a practice run by making some bedroom curtains first and having found a perfectly sized remnant of fabric, set about learning and practising!    If it could go wrong, it has gone wrong!  And I haven't even got to the heading stage yet!  Still, my confidence is not dented and I'm plodding on!  And surely it means that, by the time I get to starting on the lounge curtains, practice will have made perfect - or at least, okay!  Watch this space, as they say!!

Do you remember our ill-fated curry night a few weeks back?  Well, while we were there, we got talking to some other people (who were as disappointed as we were!).  One of them is a lady we know from the time we used to go to dog-training and having got talking to her, her husband and her friends, that led to her inviting us to another curry night but this time, cooked by her and in her home! This was last Friday and I'm pleased to say it was a wonderful evening with very good food and very good company.  Here's what some of the food looked like...

Needless to say, I overate!

Finally, just an update on my other activities.  Unfortunately, with having to give the work on the lounge priority coupled with some very bad weather of late, I have been for only a couple of walks since my last update.  Nonetheless, I am going to my yoga and aqua-gym classes regularly so I don't feel too guilty.  And I'm pleased to report that the aqua-gym is getting more energetic each week and although it's still not quite what I was used to in the UK, it's heading in the right direction.  I suddenly realised that one huge difference is that they don't use music here - perhaps that's what partly gives a slower feel to the session.

Well, that's it for another update.  À bientôt!

Friday, 20 March 2015


By far the biggest achievement was the completion last weekend of My Peak Challenge.  There are more details on the page My Peak Challenge Diary (see tab above) but suffice to say I even smashed the 7.5kms I'd hoped to do.  I had taken Finn with me and he and I seemed to be in total harmony that day, walking further and faster than ever.  We did 7.91kms in total.  Danny took this picture of us when we got back home....

Then, there was the achievement (if you can call it that!) of my first taste of "aqua-gym" here.  Let me say first of all that, given this was at a public swimming pool, I was most impressed with how nice and clean everything was.  But it was still a far cry from what I'd been used to at the Virgin Active club I belonged to in the UK!  I arrived ridiculously early but it gave me a chance to look around a bit and get a feel for the place.  Surprisingly, you have to leave your shoes in the reception area but I guess it does help to keep the place clean.  Having done that, you walk through a foot bath to get to the changing rooms - thankfully separate ones for men and women, unlike some public toilets of which you still occasionally meet unisex ones here!  And while on this subject, Danny tells the story of the time he was using a French public urinal only to have a female cleaner come along and mop the area around him!  But I digress!  So in the female changing room there are a few cubicles for those who are modest, a communal changing area and loads and loads of lockers.  After worrying ahead about whether I'd need a Euro coin for these, it turns out you can use the little jetons or tokens we use in supermarket trolleys.  From the changing/lockers area you go into another area where there are communal showers.  Thinking about what it had been like at the Virgin Active club, I had taken all my showering paraphernalia - shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, sponge, comb - but as there are no "proper" showers it was all pointless!

I found the class itself much, much slower than what I had been used to.  This was a morning class and not surprisingly was attended by women who were mostly older than me - or at least they looked older!  (I wonder if I looked old to them?)  I did wonder if it was because it was the first class of the season and I have to admit, when I went for the second time yesterday morning (without all the accoutrements for showering!) it was a bit more energetic than the previous week!

This is my other achievement!  (By the way, Danny thought I was completely nuts when I asked him to take a photo of my ear!)

Those of you who know me well may remember that I used to wear very bold, colourful earrings! What a lot of you may not know is that, some time ago now, one such particularly heavy earring caused one of my earlobes to split.  Since then, I stopped wearing earrings but although I have always missed them, with long hair it hasn't mattered too much. Suddenly, with short hair, my ears were exposed again and I decided to bite the bullet and see if they could be re-pierced!  They could and they have been!  I had intended to run through with my French teacher how I would ask about it in the jewellers but we happened to be in there last Friday so I just had a go!  Luckily the lady who owns the shop does speak a bit of English and between us, we managed to get what I wanted.  There was an interesting thing that came out of the experience and that is the French word "piercing" is used to mean a piercing anywhere on the body other than the ear!  It seems the word used for an ear piercing is simply un trou, meaning 'hole'.  This serves to demonstrate the pitfalls one can encounter trying to speak a foreign language!  Anyway, I am very pleased with my new 'holes' and am looking forward to wearing some nice earrings again, although I'll have to have non-heavy ones and ones that hide the original split!

Now, on the subject of achievements, not all of them have been mine!  After months of struggling with his manual log splitter, we decided to invest in an electric one and Danny whiled away many hours researching the pros and cons of various machines.  We also had to make a couple of trips to different DIY stores to see what was available.  To cut a long story short, he ended up getting one via Amazon France and here he is with his new toy.  It slices through logs as if they were butter!!!

Another of Danny's achievements has been to wire the piggeries for power and light and we even have an outside light there now! This is something that isn't easy to photograph but here he was at the start of the operation, threading cable through conduit (called gaine here).

Apologies for the shadows of my washing hanging on the line!!!!

As you may have gathered, we have had a run of very nice weather.  Some days have even been hot but certainly we can't complain about the amount of sunshine we've had for the last couple of weeks! The trouble is that, as soon as the weather is good, you can't help but want to get out and start on the list of outdoor jobs you want to get done.  And that has meant that the lounge refurbishment has taken a bit of a back seat.  Regardless of the weather though, we are going to have to get back to it as we now have the plumber lined up to remove/replace radiators and a plasterer, ready to plaster the walls in a couple of weeks' time!    Also on the subject of the lounge, I ordered - and have now received - the fabric for the new curtains so I really need to knuckle down and make a start on those!  However did I have time to work?

So that's about all of our achievement news!  I shall just leave you with a few "feel good" photos from my walk with Bertie at Pescalis, a local nature and fishing centre near us.  This was an extra little walk I did this week, while Danny was mowing the lawn - we have come to realise that Bertie is terrified of the mower so we now have an arrangement whereby I take him out for a walk while Danny mows!

Until next time then, à bientôt

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Busy days!

It's been nearly three weeks since I updated this blog, although I have been updating the My Peak Challenge Diary more regularly in the meantime.  I knew we'd been busy in these intervening weeks but I had to actually look through my diary in an attempt to recall exactly what we had been doing! And I was quite amazed at what I found!  These few weeks have been what Danny and I call "fractured weeks". Weeks when we never seem to get a run of time to concentrate on any one thing - like wallpaper stripping (which we are STILL labouring with!) - because we have to go somewhere or do something which takes us away from our intended tasks.

For example, we had to make two trips to the opticians; the first for Danny to have the measurements for his new glasses checked then secondly to collect the finished articles. And here he is in his new regular glasses...

...and his new prescription sunglasses - note the similarity to Tom Cruise in Top Gun!!!

Not to miss out on changed appearances, I have to tell you that I have made a drastic change to my own appearance!  For a number of reasons, I decided to have my hair cut.  And I mean CUT!  The last time I had hair this short, I was 14 years old!  I'm still getting used to it but I am very pleased to have had it done!  What do you think?

Going back to Danny, we had to go and visit the dentist because yet again, Danny's crown tooth has fallen out!  The last time it happened we were in the UK and we managed to see our old dentist. He recommended that Danny now has a bridge.  To have it done in the UK would cost around £750 and would involve two separate trips to the UK, a fortnight apart.  So, when the crown fell out again, we decided to ask our French dentist (a) if he agrees that Danny needs a bridge - he does - and (b) how much that would cost.  Are you sitting down?  We were actually given a formal estimate (called devis in French).  The total cost is estimated at €1,710 but we would get some back from the state leaving us with €1,430 to find.  I have asked if our insurers will pay any of that and am waiting for the reply.  (In France, the state pays up to 70% of your medical costs and it is usual to have what is called a "top-up insurance" to cover the rest.  The reality is that a lot of things - like dental and optical costs - are not reimbursed leaving you with rather large expenses!)  Still, anything will help!  Given the costs of getting to and staying in the UK on top of the treatment, we decided that, if Danny is going to have it done, he may as well have it done here!  (As an aside, I was terribly amused that, after having carefully planned what I was going to say at the dentist, it turns out that the word for 'bridge' in a dental context in French is....'bridge'! Go figure!)

Talking about healthcare reminds me that we had another 'fractured' day when we had to go to the office that deals with our French healthcare.  Called Caisse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie or CPAM, the main office is some 60 kilometres away from us in Niort.  Without going into all the boring detail, because Danny will start getting his UK State Pension this April, the UK will reimburse the French authorities for our healthcare.  Yes, "our" healthcare - I become a dependent of Danny's for this purpose until I get my own UK State Pension!  I rang CPAM's English speaking helpline to see if we needed to complete any special forms for this purpose and was told no; just take the form S1 that DWP had provided plus our passports.  Since our experience of French bureaucracy to date has taught us that it is best to go armed with a shed load of supporting documents, we arrived at the CPAM office with a huge carrier bag of paper!  And guess what?  We didn't even need our passports - the lady asked a few questions and it was done!  Incidentally, I know some of you are interested in the way the Healthcare works over here so if you do want more information, click here.

Well!  That was all very serious wasn't it!  Let's get onto some lighter stuff!  Like the fact we've been having some gorgeous weather over here.  Beautiful dry, sunny, warm - even hot! - days.  The sort of days when you have to just abandon whatever you thought you might do indoors and pick an outdoor job instead!  Yesterday, for the first time in 2015, Danny mowed all the grass in the front and back gardens.  And that included the areas of new grass for the first time!  (Remember back in the autumn Danny sowed loads and loads of grass seed?)  The area we did in the front garden looked gorgeous after Danny had mowed it....

We will be putting a garden bench there - we just need to find the 'right one'.  We had originally thought of moving my mum's bench from where it is just outside the front door but now we think we'll leave it there and get another one for the new area above.

Most of the jobs I have been doing in the garden don't really warrant photographs as they are essentially just tidying up, weeding etc.  But I did dig up an especially big and awkward root from the trough which is to become my herb garden.  Danny insisted on taking a picture of my achievement...

Now the trough is ready for planting herbs!  It is right outside the kitchen door so it will be so handy when I'm cooking to nip out and cut just what I need.

A week or so ago we went to a Curry Evening at a bar in a village called La Chapelle-Thireuil.  The bar - called Le Chap's - is French run but is frequented by around 20 - 30 Brits on a Friday night and every 6 weeks or so, they arrange a food evening.  One thing that Danny and I do miss living here is a good old takeaway.  The thought of an authentic curry lured us away from our sofas, the fire and the TV.  The curries were being made (heated?) in a van, parked outside the bar.  You ordered your food then just waited your turn.  I have to tell you it was a major disappointment!  Danny had a beef curry which he said was more like a beef stew as any evidence of curry was lacking!  I had a dish that was called Chicken Tikka Marsala but it was tasteless and I couldn't eat it (and that's saying something for me!)  We had other things like rice, a naan bread and samosas but most of that was inedible too!  On the plus side, it's a very friendly bar and we got talking to some other couples - so much so, that I was invited to join a dog walking group, which I intend to go along to in the coming weeks!  There is another food evening Friday week - this time a Fish & Chip van - and we shall probably go along just to have an evening out!

If you've been following My Peak Challenge Diary, you'll know that I have been doing a fair amount of walking and have now crossed the 7km mark!  Danny has started to come with me on a Sunday and we take all three dogs with us.  Of course we don't do the sort of distances I do on my own but Danny is gradually building up his fitness and hopefully over the summer, we'll be able to do some nice walks together.  Here is a photo he took of me "minding" the dogs on our walk last week...

Walking is no longer the only activity I am doing!  Yesterday I started going to a yoga class and on Thursday I am starting an aqua-gym class at the swimming pool in Moncoutant. It's funny because I tried yoga a couple of times when I lived in the UK and I didn't like it.  But I have got to know a yoga teacher here (an English lady) and she's been "nagging" me to try her classes.  She offered me a free trial so I could hardly say no!  I went yesterday and was so pleasantly surprised as I really enjoyed it! And it may sound daft but it left me with a lovely feeling of well-being all day long!  As regards the aqua-gym, I think most of you probably know that I did what was called aqua aerobics for many years in the UK and I really loved it so when I heard there was a class starting at the local pool, I rushed to register!  Let's just hope the moves are not too different from what I'm used to and that I can understand the French instructor!  (I'll tell you all about it next time!)

Well, I think that's about all of the more interesting goings on - or do you want to know that Danny and I shifted 3 cubic metres of logs (hopefully the last delivery for this winter!) and that Danny had to drain yet more rain water out of the swimming pool?  All right, how about that we've bought a second-hand but hardly used BMX bike for the grand-kids to use when they're here?

No?  Ok, how about a peep at the latest little jumper I knitted for my newest cousin, Ruby?  (Bless her, the sleeves are a tad long for her just now!)

Well, that really is about all there is to tell you for now.  I will just leave you with the beautiful picture of the sky we had the other night - so magical!

À bientôt!