Saturday, December 19, 2015

Being economical with the truth...

Friday 18 December 2015

Sunny and warm 18 degrees

I am always edgy until I have my bags packed.  OH insisted on making the most of the beautiful morning so we went to town, bought more surprisingly cheap ink cartridges and went around the lake.  It was like a mill pond with just an occasional diving plop from a Grebe.  At the bridge, thousands of small fish were funnelling through the gap from the stream into the lake.  Tiny, silver flashing bodies about three inches long.

Back home and lunch and then I gritted my teeth and looked in the wardrobe.  The problem I have is that the majority of my clothes are Summer clothes.  We go on holiday in the Summer and I have lots of choice of pretty dresses and skirts and tops.  In the Winter I tend to hibernate under jumpers and jeans.  My legs haven't seen tights in years.  I dug around and found some rather strange cream coloured knitted ones and some mustard yellow ones.  I earnestly hoped that I would not eat myself out of my somewhat close fitting two pairs of jeans over the festive period.

I had just started to stuff things into my case when the phone rang.  OH got to it first.  It was the agent and it was apparent that the conversation was not going well.  He ended it by saying that 'it kills the sale for me'.  Apparently the agency had taken the decision to place the property in Windermere for auction.  This came completely out of the blue and we were absolutely dismayed.  OH was fuming.  We rang back and rang back and were given the run around and finally managed to get the telephone number of a director.  Andy, who we spoke to yesterday and had asked for proof of funds, and assured us that our offer would be a runner, was not even in work today and therefore when he said he would ring up the owners and get back to us, was not being straight.

OH got through to the director and I was glad it was him on the phone and not me, because I have never heard anyone so rude and arrogant.  I would not have been as calm as OH.  

The director told us that

1.  our offers were ridiculous
2.  they had wasted a WHOLE week with this negotiation
3.  we knew that they would not take less than 220k (we didn't)
4.  it had always been the intention to go to auction if 220k wasn't reached (very surprise news)
5.  we hadn't even seen the property
6.  if we were real, we could buy it at auction
7.  to stop talking if we wanted to listen to what he had to say

It appears that there is very little competition for Cumbrian Properties in Windermere.  This is an agency which also covers lettings, and is currently showing the property in which we are interested, with very poor photos and one crap review.  This is the agency which, during the terrible floods in Cumbria, raised its admin fee from 200 to 600 pounds

We then did some Googling and discovered that the property had actually been on sale since June 2014 at the price of 250k and not since August 2015 as we had been told by the agency.  The auction site said that it had income of 18000k and forward bookings.  It had income of just of 11k and no forward bookings at all.

David Hogarth of Cumbrian Properties.  I officially name you as a complete twat.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Dogs, discussions and shuffling off this mortal coil

Thursday 17 December 2015

Mild 16 degrees

The most amazing winter weather - don't think we have known it this mild in all the 12 years we have been out here.  The negotiation over the Windermere property continues.  We rang at 10.30 yesterday, only to be told that the negotiator was having a day off, consequently nothing was done.  The owners live in Oz so that seems to put a day onto each reviewed offer.  This morning, we receive a curt email saying that the owners will accept 220000 with furniture included.  OH rings the agent and asks him if he has actually spoken to the owners, as they indicated that they would accept this amount days ago.  The agent says he is fed up of showing this house.  People find it grubby and go and buy elsewhere.  Perhaps they haven't the time to put into getting it up to scratch?  OH suggests that the agent tries for just under 2220000 euros and the agent says he will ring the owners tomorrow morning.  I just want to get on with this now.  OH didn't do as I told him and ask the agent what were the arguments he had presented.  Perhaps they are so mown out with people offering, that they just let the figures speak?  In France you need the eloquence of Shakespeare to get people to put pen to paper and sellers to see reason.

We were just about to go out when there was a knock on the door and a very sad man stood there.  A former client and now good friend, NS had come over for a quick pre Christmas check on their holiday home and his wife, back in Scotland, had rung the previous evening and told him that their dog had died.  An ornery Jack Russell who loved me and mine, and tolerated dog.  Cola was their baby and NS looked like he didn't want to spend the day on his own without having someone sympathetic to talk to.  He said he and his wife had cried together the previous evening over Skype.  We cried for a week when our last dog died.  She was 14 and had recovered from a stroke but then developed a huge tumour which, somehow, she hid.  It was only when I discovered it one day that she gave up trying to live and we had to say goodbye to her just a couple of days later, when the vet said it was too far gone to do anything about.  I still have a patch of her fur, shaved from a foreleg before the injection to oblivion or perhaps heaven.  I wonder if, when I shuffle off this mortal coil, she will be waiting for me and lead me to all my dear departed loved ones and if it is dark, I can follow the white patch of her tail like we used to do when in Cornwall and gone to the pub and not sure of the way home.  J always knew the way home.  Current dog would just take us off the cliff.

Spent two hours in the doctor's waiting room and had my flu jab.  Told him about my recurrent and terrible tiredness.  He suggested I may be snoring and have sleep apnoea. He gave me a prescription to see a pneumologue and another for a blood test.  That will be for 2016.  Came out as the light was fading and the Christmas lights were just beautiful on the leaden evening skies.

Christmas windows

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Warm 18 degrees
Gift shop and tea room


French cards are often bizarre and feature animals

A good place to get your moustache trimmed

Hairdressers and nail beauty

Chemist shop window

Florist window left

Florist window right

Lovely Christmas lights hung on the night sky

Early evening last shopping

Starry night

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Being a buyer is a fun....

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Cloudy but warm 15 degrees

Subject of potential purchase in Windermere took up much of our thoughts.  The agent rang at 11.30 and said that the new offer of 212000 euros had also been refused and could we go up into the 220's.  We looked at the lettings schedule for 2016 - currently empty - and compared it with those of other houses in the area.  Many already have a lot of advance bookings.  'Our' house looks drab and the first picture on the lettings website is the dark slate facade.  Other houses have pretty pictures of the interiors.  The one we are considering has the same dimensions as the other houses, is in the same area, but even though it is cheaper, it is not letting because the main rooms look sterile or sad.  One of the bedrooms is crammed out with furniture.  Hopefully Mrs Noddi can go and look at it for us. And Mr Noddi of course.  It does have private parking, which is most unusual.  There is a crap review of the house on the lettings site too, which is not going to help.  This is a link to the property details

Oak Street Windermere

This is a prettied up version of Oak Street

Granary Nook

OH then passed out on sofa whilst watching Bargain Hunt and said we needed to reinstate siestas at least a couple of times a week.  Poor lamb, he finds it so hard being awake all day, every day...

Took dog out along the railway track and left OH to recommence the battle with the brambles which have taken over the old orchard.  There were no leaves for me to try to catch.  No communication from the Portuguese guy about the chateau.  No new enquiries. Went to buy bread and was admiring the beautiful choux pastry 'pièce montée' when my colleague from a partner agency tapped me on the shoulder.  As usual, she looked very stressed.  She also mentioned that the beautiful villa in town had sold.  Bummer - was convinced that the US guy would go for that.  Would have gone for it myself in another life and time.  My favourite of all my current stock.  US guy has said he wont be able to get over until the New Year.  Just hope chateau near mountains is still for sale as he really loves that one.  Interestingly, property which has been on sale for years is now starting to move.

A pièce montée is literally a tower of choux buns

Made lemon meringue pie and spag bol and we watched the remainder of Hamlet with Glenn Close and Mel Gibson.  They were excellent.  Helena Bonham Carter was a convincingly mad Ophelia.  Rosencranz and Guildenstern were dead.  I spent quite a lot of the time not having a clue what was going on and had to catch up by reading the plot summary.  At least when you watch Shakespeare at home, you can pause him and get a cup of tea.

OH then went to bed and I found Kirstie's Handmade Christmas, followed by the Most Expensive Christmas where amazingly beautiful things were sold for absurd prices to billionaires.  Every thing was super sparkly.  A topper for a Christmas tree was made, studded with diamonds and centred was a massive diamond which could be separated and worn on a silver chain.  Price tag?  Half a million pounds....  My glitter balls are more sparkly.  

Had to admit to the lady who ordered a whole flower pendant that the whole flower had gone murky sort of yellow and looked like it had spent five years on a pub ceiling, back in the 70's.  She was very understanding and ordered a white hydrangea one which I have in stock.

Have had a number of orders this week!  Lots of seed buttons and also some of my new sparkly hearts.  Am actually in profit on the enterprise.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Japanese Christmas

14 December 2015

18 degrees - delightful

Spent morning loading up details of the overpriced chateau and the afternoon battling with brambles and cutting back old shrubs.  OH rang the UK estate agent to see about the progress of our offer on the house in Windermere and was told it had been refused (were they not going to tell us?)  OH upped the offer and asked for full information this morning. By early evening, nothing had happened so he rang back and the guy said he would be ringing the client in the morning.  He also said, in general, people selling in Windermere didn't need the money so were tougher on the prices.  I have to say, it is a hell of a lot more fun being a buyer than a seller.

Had a look through my cook books for something interesting and found the following extract from 'A Cook's Tour' by Ingeborn Relph and Penny Stanway.

A Japanese Christmas

On Christmas Day in a Christian home, the mother gets up early to prepare miso soup for breakfast and for the evening meal.  This is a fish based clear soup containing chopped up vegetables, tofu or small clams and flavoured with miso - a salty product made from fermented cooked soya beans - smells like very ripe cheese and has a strong though pleasant taste.  There is rice for breakfast with beaten raw egg and soy sauce.  Other breakfast foods include pickled vegetables, omelette and grilled fish, and tea is the usual accompaniment.

After breakfast the family may attend an early morning church service before the working day - only 1% of Japanese are Christians so the 25 December is not a public holiday.

To eat its evening meal, the family kneels on the large flat cushions known as sabuton in front of a low table.  The evenings can bee cold at Christmas time and the typical wooden houses are draughty.  In northern Japan there is snow from October right through to April or May.  In many homes there is no central heating and the only form of heating is from an electric heater under the top of the table.  An eiderdown quilt is draped over the table and the family sits or kneels with its feet in the warm under the quilt to eat.

Chopsticks are used to eat most foods although savoury egg custard for instance, is eaten with a china spoon.  Presentation is very important in Japanese cuisine and most families have a variety of china or lacquer bowls and they choose them according to the season or the colours and shapes of the food.

Their Buddhist and Shinto backgrounds influence the eating habits of the Japanese and give them respect for their oneness with nature and for the sacredness of the food they prepare and eat.  This is evidenced by the Grace they say before eating 'Itadakimasu' which means roughly 'I shall receive this food'.  To the Japanese, you are what you eat and food is considered best when kept as raw as possible.  The basic Japanese diet, unchanged for centuries, consists of rice, fish and vegetables.  Over recent years more meat and dairy produce has been creeping into the diet but remains very expensive due to the scarcity of suitable pasture ground in such a mountainous country.

For a meal on Christmas Day, bowls of cashew nuts, delicious deep fried seaweed tangle (fried finely sliced cabbage) dried fish or crunchy ginkgo nuts may be served as appetisers.  The ginkgo nuts are boiled first then fried to give a crunchy texture.

Oysters are a particularly good winter delicacy, as are red salmon eggs.  Tempura consists of pieces of at least six different kinds of fish and vegetables dipped into a light batter and fried.  The cooked foods are served immediately and each person dips theirs into a bowl of savoury sauce.  Tempura is a famous Japanese dish and is said to have been imported by the Portuguese traders centuries ago. The Portuguese, as good Catholics, rejected meat on Ember Days, which they called by the Latin name of Quattuor Tempora, the 'four times' of the year.  They asked for fried seafood instead, and so this became known as tempura.

Beef is served in the equally well known modern dish sukiyaki, which means 'grilled on the blade of a plough' as it was cooked by hunters.  Japanese buckwheat noodles or wheat noodles are among the most popular foods and would certainly be part of the Christmas meal, as would rice.  Noodles are dipped into soy sauce or into a broth containing spring onions.  

The name for rice, goban, means meal and most people eat it two or three times a day.  Sushi is another well known food of Japan and can be ordered in from a sushi shop.  A special treat is to have raw fish on top of tiny cakes of vinegared rice. These appear in exquisitely colourful and artistic form.  Maki sushi are sliced sushi rolls made by putting a piece of raw fish, such as red tuna fish or sea bass or green cucumber inside some vinegared rice, then wrapping this in a small sheet of nori seaweed and slicing across the roll.  sushi are eaten with soy sauce, Japanese horseradish wasabi)and think slices of ginger pickled in vinegar.

Sashimi - raw fish - is very popular.  Tuna, flounder, bonito, shrimp, abalone, squid, eel, salmon, cuttlefish, sole and sea bream are eaten raw, as is blow fish, whose original state contains a lethal poison.

There is a salad on the table, such as one of spinach and sesame seeds garnished with dried bonito shavings and there might be some hot savoury egg custard made from eggs, chicken, prawns or shrimps, mushrooms, fish cake, fish or chicken stock and celery or other green stuff.

Throughout the meal there is miso soup to drink, kept hot in a lidded lacquered bowl.  Green tea and perhaps sake or Japanese beer are popular drinks. Sake is said to be named after the city Osaka, the centre of sake production.

Desserts are not common at Japanese meals although nowadays city housewives may buy cheesecake or some pretty pressed rice cakes covered with sweetened red bean paste and cut into the shape of snowflakes.  Fruit is much appreciated and the Christmas meal is likely to be rounded off with satsumas or tangerines.  Traditionally the satsuma represents the flame coloured rising sun that will return in Spring to warm the earth and its people.

This human yearning for life and light to triumph over death and darkness reveals just how relevant the message of Christmas is to all people.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Sunday 13 December 2015

Cold and sunny 15 degrees

News travels fast in a small town. Sometimes it travels so fast that it seems, as the old saying goes, that you could die and be in heaven before the Devil even knows you're dead. In this small town that's almost always exactly the case.
I was having a coffee at Screemie-Meemie's house (our family calls her that, because all she ever does all day long is scream at her kids), when the the streetsweeper passed by the open window. That was André, the man hired by the town to walk along the alleys and lanes in town with his little wagon and broom, sweeping up any dead birds, cigarette butts, general litter, and dogpoop. The French haven't quite gotten the idea of rubbish cans and throwing things anywhere but on the street, yet. I suppose that this comes from having had a few generations of 'guest workers' from Algeria to do their dirty work for them.

The job of a village streetsweeper isn't such a difficult one, all that really has to be done is to go around the town and make sure that all the alleys, lanes, and little cobblestoned roads look nice and tidy. Just the streets, nothing else. The light blue flowerboxes all over town, ever filled to overflowing perfection with a rainbow of chorographed blooms, are taken care of by another department...this one a team of gardeners whose only job is to set out the plants, come by with the watertruck or the wateringcans in those allyways where the truck can't fit, and to replace any stolen, dead, or finished-blooming plants with even more perfect ones.

This is what comes of being a town that's in the annual French national competition for the prettiest and most flowerful village of them all. It draws the tourists, but it can sometimes feel as if we residents live on a set in Disneyland. During the winter, when life is hard and poor because no tourists come, life gets back to some semblance of normality, and looks a bit more like a lived-in house, dirty dishes and piled up laundry, and all.

In the winter, the streets are not quite as pretty, not quite as clean, although you can be sure and certain that once winter breaks, the town sends out an army of employees and the spring cleaning campaign begins. Then, there is even an auxilliary streetsweeper brought in, as well as heavy equipment in the form of hoses to wash down the streets, sprayguns filled with nice-smelling disinfectant to wash down the urine-scented walls of the hidden nooks and crannies in the patchwork collection of centuries old added-on to buildings, and a small group of painters armed with brushes and buckets of the light blue paint that's been chosen as the official colour of the town.

Being the townstreetsweeper has it's benefits, if you like gossip. And André certainly does. If you want to know who is being seen with whom, who hasn't washed their windowpanes or is still dressed in pyjamas after lunchtime, how many bottles of wine Madame DuPont has recently had delivered, or even what the Mayor and his council officers had for lunch at the last Town Hall meeting...then Andre's the man to ask. He visibly throws back his shoulders and puffs up with pride, he is so proud to be asked and able to recount all that's been going on in this small, village-within-a-village that is the center of town.

If nobody is around or bothers to ask, then Andre will stop you and let you know all about current events. Which includes stopping by open windows in order to make his announcements. This is how I found out all about how Angelique's father had died, when I was sitting having a coffee with a quiet Sceemie-Meemie. She was quiet because the older kids were at school and the baby was upstairs in his bed, sound asleep.

Poor old Mr. Duclos had dropped dead not an hour before, at a church meeting where he was an elderly, but active, member. He'd heart had simply stopped beating, and he'd toppled over from the chair he was sitting on, to the floor just after remarking how everything was going so well at the meeting and how lovely it was to have the get-togethers and see everyone. I suppose you could say he had a good end.

The ambulance was called and when they arrived, they announced to all present that the old man was dead and took him away to wherever it is that a person gets taken to between the end of their life and the funeral. Of course, this being the kind of town that it is, or maybe human nature being the kind of thing it is, anyone that happened to be passing while the ambulance was parked outside the church and while Mr. Duclos was being loaded up into the back of the now transformed hearse was now free to spread the news. Including André, who wasn't actually near the church when all the excitemant began, but had been sweeping the lane over by the butchershop, heard the siren blare from the top of the Town Hall and had followed the sounds of the ambulance, scurrying over to the church, dragging his rubbishbin cart behind him, as he figured out where the emergency services were parked.

Soon, André had added the title of Town Crier to his job discription, and had come by the window and filled us in on all the detail. As I walked back to my own house a few minutes later, reflecting on the issues if life and death, I met up with a friend and we walked together the rest of the way, stopping by my front door to finish our conversation. Naturally, the topic of conversation was Mr. Duclos' death. He had been a widower with two children, one of them a spinster daughter who had spent her life taking care of both of her parents until the day they'd died, and today was one of those days.

The daughter, Angelique, took that moment to walk past. As is the habit in France, she stopped to give the usual two-peck kiss, one on each cheek...or rather, in the air in the general vicinity of each cheek. Custom has it that you murmur 'comment ça va?' or 'bonjour', or some such thing as the kisses are being done, so I thought it only polite good form to say to Angelique, 'oh, Angelique, I'm so sorry to hear that your father has died'.

Well, that was a mistake. Anglique gave out a big scream, yelled 'Salope!' at me, and ran off in her high heels towards the direction of the church. Salope is the French word for Bitch. My friend and I just looked at each other. She said, 'what the hell was that?', and it slowly dawned on me that parhaps Angelique hadn't yet heard the news about her father. If I hadn't have been so concerned with polite and correct greetings, then I might've realized that she was on her way to the church as she passed us, going to fetch her father and walk him home from the meeting he'd been to. After all, he'd only been dead for about an hour.

So it seemed that Angelique's dad had had a better ending to his life than Angelique had with it. And to top it off, from that day foreward, the poor woman would be reminded of this, each and everytime she saw my face. I did what I could for damage control. I called a good friend of hers and relayed the news of the death and the events surrounding it. The friend, Juliette, was able to come and stay with Angelique during the period of mourning, right up until a few days after the funeral, which was a blessing, as Angelique didn't really have anyone else, except for one brother that lived somewhere else and that hadn't been so immersed in the aspects of caring for the parents.

Juliette had her work cut out for her, as Angelique could be quite a stubborn and willful woman. As Juliette tells it, the worst part of it was when it came to the laying out of Mr. Duclos' body in the front room of the family home. This pre-funeral custom is fairly common in France, or, at least it it is the older familes, or where older members of a family are still alive. Maybe in the newer, more modern families it's not so often done anymore, and the dearly beloved deceased is sent straight to the cemetery from the undertakers.

Anglelique didn't just want her father laid out in the parlour; she wanted him laid out in his own bed in the parlour. So, that evening, when the body was brought back to the house for the wake, she insisted that the deliverymen not put her father, who was already neatly placed in his coffin, onto the special table provided for the occasion. She insisted that his bed had to be brought down from the ustairs bedroom, frame, mattress, bedclothes and all, and set up, then made up, with the dad changed into his pyjamas and put into bed and positioned as if he were not really dead, but only asleep. Grief has many faces many ways of coping with the fact.

Thinking about it, though, I've come to the conclusion that Angelique was simply doing something that has always been done in this small French town, and perhaps in all of the wold where isolated communities had to deal with death on a personal and real level, as opposed to today's way of quick, sanitary disposal and quick sanitary grief counselors. It wasn't until I got to this place that I saw widow's weeds and old people dressed for the rest of their lives in black.

I recall a very old man once showing me a picture of what I took to be a sleeping child in an iron-grilled bed, surrounded by carefully placed and spaced long-stemmed roses. The picure was an old black and white one, with ragged edges and crease marks. He'd pulled it out from his wallet, where it had probably been since the day it was developed, probably more tha half a century before. The child's eyes looked sunken, and at first I thought it was ill, and didn't realize at first that it was a deathbed photograph that I was looking at. A dead child in a bed, made up to look asleep, with a circle of flowers carefully placed around the child. No wonder Angelique argued with the men who had come to set up her father in the parlour, until he was positioned as she wished. Nothing has changed, only the years have passed.

As the ambulance service in this small town is voluntary, the good men and women who take on this job are not exactly professionals...that is to say that they are trained in the job of trying to save people, but perhaps less so in the diplomatic and tactful parts of the job. All the same, I can't for the life of me comprehend why on earth the ambulance services told the people standing around the body, as they loaded poor old Mr. Duclos onto the ambulance, that he had died. It would have been so much more kind and diplomatic, not to mention professinal, to have said that Mr. Duclos was simply ill. Then, when the next of kin had been informed, things cold have been made public. They could've waited untill the ambulance doors had shut before pulling the sheet over his face, after all.

Buttons galore!

12 December 2015

Sunny and warmish 15 degrees