Friday, December 25, 2015

It is the most wonderful (maddest) time of the year

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Sunny 13 degrees

Woke early to bright sunshine, packed up car and had breakfast.  A different selection of equally corpulent businessmen colonising the tables and small children jiggling in front of the telly.  Into the car and a warning light came on 'check fuel injection system'.  OH very very agitated so we found the nearest Renault garage who were very keen on offering us lots of tea and coffee but couldn't actually plug the car into a diagnostics machine until the afternoon.  Decided to risk it and drove to pick up WF.  The black mould remover had, miraculously, removed vast amounts of the mould and there was just a fraction remaining.  

After what seemed a very very long time, we arrived at Thurrock to OH's spiritual home, Costco.  It was like being in another world.  All of the white people were enormously fat, like Waynetta, and the rest of the people were African.  Everyone was calling each other 'babe' and saying thank you and sorry in each and every sentence.  I found some underwear and we bought some food for starters and the most immense carrot cake I have ever seen. Then went for lunch.  I will now have to rescind what I said about the corpulent business men.  They were nothing on the people in the Costco dining room.  I ordered a baked potato and I have never seen such a huge one. It was the length of my hand and piled high with at least 150 grams of coleslaw.  OH polished off a huge pizza and a fudge desert and WF had cottage pie and then finished off my potato.

Crammed the stuff into the already bulging car and headed over the Dartford Bridge, where you have to pay a toll but it is not signposted and you pay online.  There is only notification of obligation to pay on one side of the bridge and if you don't notice this, you receive a penalty notice which, by the time it gets to your postbox, has gone from the original 2.50 charge to about 60 quid.  I think this is totally illegal.  Today was quieter than yesterday, fortunately, when apparently it took people up to seven hours to get out of the Blue water shopping complex.  Christmas is the maddest time of the year.  On northwards on the M25 with huge queues in London direction.  The sprawl ended and beautiful country lanes appeared, with glimpses of brightly lit red brick houses and fine driveways.  I do love Suffolk.  Finally, just as the light is going, we arrive at Sister in Laws house, disgorge the car, eat yet more pizza and spend two hours on the phone to Renault assistance before we collapse to bed.

A family day out and horrific black mould

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Sunny 13 degrees

Woke to sun squeezing through the heavy clouds.  Breakfast was in the large communal dining area.  People in business suits, ladies in couples discussing business, a general feeling of serious activity with dynamic buzz.  Corporate types leaning back expansively and waving their arms languidly as they talked figures, their huge stomachs straining against the striped shirts.  Staff all Eastern European.   Ate fruit salad, bacon and egg and set off into the bright morning to pick up youngest WF.

He had recently moved to a street not far away from his old house.  Another terrace with narrow frontage.  The front door looked like it had been the subject of an attack and the window had sad nets and half burned joss sticks.  The interior was more messy than the previous house, although nothing on the appalling state of the house before.  Clothes were stacked everywhere.  The kitchen was full of rubbish and dirty dishes.  Someone had wrapped around some pine branches on the staircase and the needles had fallen everywhere.  WF room was covered in floor to ceiling black mould.  Absolutely horrified.  His clothes were in boxes and everything smelled damp.  He went and got some mould killer and said he had only just noticed it.  Whole house damp.  Insisted that he contacted the landlord and told him to sort it out.  He said he had emailed him.  No one actually seems to ring people up any more.  I am all for ringing up and playing hell.

Went out then and drove to see eldest RF at the hotel where he works - a beautiful Georgian manor house.  Slightly disappointing inside, rather more shabby than I had anticipated.  Some of the dining area in the former dungeons.  Went to Winchester for lunch and it was a total nightmare to park.  Had turned into a wet day by this point and the brolly and us were blown around as we finally took refuge in Prezzo.  Had very agreable lunch.  It has been so long since we were all together as a family.  That is the only thing that really matters at Christmas.

Dropped both of them off and went back to hotel in Southampton.  Still very tired from yesterdays efforts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The shortest day, or the longest?

Monday 21 December 2015

Winter solstice

10 degrees rising to 16

2.30 is not a reasonable time to wake up.  Apparently Margaret Thatcher ran the country, for years, on 4.5 hours of sleep a day.  I need 9 in order to get through the rest of the following day without needing a siesta.  Poked OH and he shuffled around like slug but was up to headless chicken state within about 40 minutes.  Finally set off at 4 am, the skies hung with stars as bright as baubles and threads of mist wrapping themselves around the car.

There is something to be said for driving in the dark.  Instead of looking through the window at views you have seen many times before, you look at the blank darkness, the glitter of approaching lights, the dark masses of trees.  In the night, you could be anywhere and it could be at any time in history.  No colour.  No reference points.  In the car, you are suspended in time.  The road snakes ahead, dull and grey and shadows bounce across the carriageways, sliced up into rays by the metal rails.

We stop for a sleep at about 7 am when it is still dark and then set off again and have done about 200 kms when the first glimmers of dawn start to illuminate the western horizon.  So many lorries.  We stop for breakfast at 10 am near the town which houses Futuroscope, a huge complex.  MacDonald's and OH fancies a burger.  I ask for a burger and am told that it is not possible to serve burgers because, at this time in the morning, the grills are reserved for breakfast.  There is no indication on any of the boards that breakfast is served.  We are given two buns containing tasteless bacon and rubber eggs.  Vile.  Coffee is very watery. Staff sullen.

We press on.  The land flattens out and mile after mile of agricultural land, rich brown earth, grass, cows.  Another sleep stop then OH requires refuelling so we go to Flunch in Le Mans. It is absolute chaos.  One man is attempting to cook steaks, burgers and fries for 20 people at the same time.  The chips are way behind the meat.  The customers are busy filing up on the free vegetables.  We lose 40 minutes in there.

Finally, and interminably, the journey is achieved and the pale chalk cliffs of Le Havre appear and it has taken 12 hours.  The ferry is buzzing in the harbour and we finally park on deck, shower, and fall into the bunks.  It is 5.30 pm.  The engines rev up and we edge out of harbour.  At first the motion resembles a brisk trot.  Not too bad.  People go to their cabins and become silent.  After an hour, the trot has turned into a gallop, there is rolling and pitching and sometimes it feels as if the ship has driven into a brick wall.  Three hours go by. We grip the sides of the bunks and wish it would all stop.

Waves are strange things.  They shape the water into flattened onion forms which roll forward, pushing the water before them and dragging the water after them.  No vacuums allowed.  Nature abhors them.  I imagined the boat on top of these massive forms; bobbing. Approximately ever seventh wave is the big one.  After four hours of rattling bunks, tikka tikka tikka tikka, clanging coat hangers, rattling bottles and howling of wind, things slackened off and we took some rest before the tannoy summoned us to the deck and we emerged gratefully into lovely, lovely England whose earth was solid and reliable.  To our hotel and sleep.

Off we go!! Ah no we dont....

Sunday 20 December 2015

Sunny and warm

Up early and am running around cleaning up and tidying (hate coming back to messy house) when OH staggers down the stairs and decides to check on the weather forecast in the Bay of Biscay.  Horror of horrors - five to six meter waves and gale force 7.  The 4 pm boat is now delayed to 10.30 pm.  We take the decision to transfer the crossing to a shorter Channel one for 4 pm tommorrow.  Spend the day cleaning.  

Drop dog off at the pension and the owner is thrilled to see how much better he is after a few months on Argilium.  She says he is 'transformé'

To bed for 8.30 pm and alarm set for 2.30 tomorrow.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Feeling miserable...

Saturday 19 December 2015

Sunny and warm 19 degrees

Big day tomorrow!  Getting the ferry from Santander and across the dreaded Bay of Biscay. Feel very tense.  Spent afternoon putting more stuff into the car.  OH decided he would do his packing tomorrow morning. He exists to torture me.

The ferry crossing when we came over in 2004 was a nightmare.  The ferry was like the Marie Celeste with hardly anyone on board.  We went Portsmouth to Caen.  The crashing, banging, plunging and terrible metallic groaning continued until we rounded Le Havre.  OH was thrown out of his bunk.  I have written about in somewhere.  Must dig it out.

Am in usual pre end of year funk.  Yet another year when we are still in the same place and still doing the same thing.  Feel very depressed.  Had hoped to be out of here by the end of this year, instead no.  Despite being out here 12 years, I have yet to make anything resembling a best friend.  

Here is something I wrote a while ago

There are four types of French dogs. There are handbag dogs, hunting dogs, tied-up dogs, and dogs on the loose.
Handbag dogs appear in the coastal resorts. They are immaculately groomed and prance alongside their bejewelled and be-furred owners on the promenades of the chic coastal towns. Fur has never gone out of fashion or become socially unacceptable over here, or in Spain.
Hunting dogs are not blessed with a lot in the brain department and are extremely valuable, so are usually kept in wire enclosures, where they bay mournfully until released into the countryside, where they bay happily. They usually wear a bell around their necks because they inevitably career in the direction of the nearest scent and become impossible to find. Hunters seem to spend as much time looking for their dogs as they do chasing their prey.
Quite often, we are in the garden and a tinkling sound announces the arrival of a lost dog. They are always very apologetic and shuffle to the back door for a drink and something to eat, while we phone the owners. The dogs used are a slimline, longer-legged version of a beagle, with large floppy ears and liquid brown eyes.
Tied-up dogs bark incessantly. They are inevitably tied for one reason: they chase cars. One local dog was a particularly enthusiastic car chaser, notwithstanding the fact that quite a few motorists must have clipped it. We ran over its paws twice as it shot out from behind the woodpile under our front wheels. So it was tied up. Day and night, rain and sun, it was there. Barking, miserable, thin and unhappy. I went to the gendarmerie and the mairie and they all promised to do something — and did nothing.             
Every other French dog is a free spirit. If a French dog wants a walk, it takes one. If a French dog spots another dog being taken on a walk, he will join in, and it is perfectly possible to acquire a number of spare, happy dogs during a walk. I like doing circular walks, but this is a problem as if you do not pass the individual dog’s home, it will follow you to yours, and lurk. A couple of years ago, a husky joined dog and I and then spent three days outside our back door. Temperatures were sub-zero but, being a husky, this didn’t bother him in the least.
Mostly, my dealings with French people are pleasant and amusing. However, I have had “run-ins” with dog owners. The husky owner was not pleased that I had had the temerity to walk past his house and “lure” his dog away. The next time we walked past, he came out of the house to shout abuse. I pointed out that it was a public highway. The circular walk was on roads that were regularly used by cars, bikes and quads, so I did not feel that I was being unreasonable.
More disagreeable was the affair over a local dog’s treatment, including being left out in freezing temperatures. I reported it to the gendarmerie in October, November and December. January came, and the dog was still there. Again, I spoke to the local police.
“Oh yes,” they said. “We did have a word with them.” I pointed out that nothing had changed and told them when the owners could be at home. “Oh,” said the gendarme. “At those hours, I don’t work.”
Frustrated, and with my car’s temperature gauge showing minus 5C, I tapped on the owner’s door and asked if they intended leaving the dog out all night.
It was not a pleasant conversation. The woman said it was not their dog; it was her brother’s (he lives in the same house). The man asked what right did I have to come to their house and tell them what to do with the dog and that I should take up knitting if I had nothing better to do. The woman said that the mairie had been hassling them since October and the man said he was going to “denounce” me for hassling them. I told him to go ahead. I regretted not waiting until they were out, and releasing the dog.
I decided to take a different tack and contacted the Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA), a small band of people who care about mistreated and abandoned animals. A very fiesty lady gave the gendarmes and the dog owners a tongue lashing. The owners then built a dog kennel so small that the dog had to reverse into it. Then I hit a brick wall, as everyone felt that the dog was now OK.
A few months elapsed, and I noticed that the dog was no longer there. I asked a neighbour what had happened. Apparently, the dog got off the leash and killed most of his chickens and all his ducks. He visited the dog owners and told them they had to replace the livestock, and he would shoot the dog the next time it was off the leash. So the dog disappeared, and I have no satisfactory end to report.
I find the French attitude to dogs very interesting: there is a clear division between dogs that are pets, and dogs that are there to protect or hunt. The former have much care and attention lavished on them. The latter are tied up or in cages. As a soft-hearted Brit, I find this a hard distinction to live with. What is your experience?