Christmas 2004 into Winter 2005
We were approaching the time of our first Christmas in France. Unfortunately none of our family could come out to spend the holiday with us and we really wanted to be here in our own French home. We'd been working so hard and we wanted to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labour.
During a couple of late car-club events, various members had asked what we were doing at Christmas and we told them the same thing. Then Monsieur C (car club president and our neighbour) invited us to their house for the big Christmas dinner - which everyone now living in France knows is on Christmas Eve not the 25th. He explained that Christmas Eve is normally for families only and Christmas Day is not so important as it's for friends too. So we were quite honoured to have an invitation for the evening of the 24th. And Boxing Day doesn't exist in France! If it doesn't fall on a weekend, it's back to work on the 26th.
We took round with us a box of English crackers (that we'd had a friend bring out for us before the cold weather set in) thinking they'd be an ice-breaker, plus we also took a little gift for each of Monsieur and Madame C. We hadn't expected a big gathering though - their two sons with their wives and the little toddler grand-daughter were there, two dogs belonging to the sons (one huge loping hound and the other a very young and energetic cocker spaniel), the 95 years-old mother of Madame C, a cousin and her daughter and finally Madame C's brother and his wife. We all sat down to eat at about 9pm and the meal continued until midnight. We were surprised to find it comprised almost entirely of fish courses and not the goose or turkey that we had rather expected. I have to admit that Terry and I exchanged furtive glances as Terry is not a lover of sea-food or fish (unless it is beer-battered fish with crisp beefy chips !!!) but he politely munched his way through his meal, just declining "seconds". We both did the same when proudly presented with foie gras on toast as everyone else dived in eagerly.
At midnight, everyone looked up expectantly then in accord, got up from the table and filed out to the large stone-flagged hall where we all perched ourselves on whatever we could find to sit or lean on. Terry and I were a bit flummoxed by this and didn't know what was to happen until they started handing presents out - to each and every person! We tried to hide our embarrassment as we had taken gifts for Monsieur and Madame only, yet everyone presented us with some small token of a present. We consoled ourselves later with the fact that we had laid out the crackers on the table at the start of the meal, much to everyone's puzzlement and then their enjoyment when they found out what they were and what they contained!
We decided to ask everyone round to our home on Boxing Day (a Sunday) afternoon for drinks and Christmas cake . I had made our own rich fruit cake lined with marzipan and spiky royal icing and decorated with miniature Christmas Trees. It was pretty alcoholic as I'd obviously had a bit of a heavy hand when it came to giving it its weekly brandy top-ups during the weeks approaching Christmas. Our varied guests turned up about two hours later than we had suggested and apparently already "stuffed" !! Out of politeness they all had a thin slice of cake and seemed quite happily surprised by it, some had "seconds" though some left the icing and marzipan on the plate, having inspected it and decided it was bizarre ! Madame C's elderly mother had no qualms though and after her first bite announced in a very strident voice "I don't like it !" and held out her plate to have it taken off her.
The men larked about a bit and the toddler provided much amusement as she lurched about our home often landing on her bottom and gazed at the many Christmas cards arranged up the stair-case, reached out for our Christmas tree and shiny decorations and she was licked all over by our dog Willie - oh yuck !! When we tried to separate child and dog her parents said it was alright, she lived with the huge hound and loved it! Then our guests noticed that it had started to snow a little, pulled on warm clothing and trundled off back to Monsieur C's home in the dip in the little lane behind our garden.
We didn't really have much of a snow-fall in January but it really set in towards the end of February, becoming deeper and deeper and the temperature gradually dropped lower and lower. One of Terry's Christmas presents to me had been a météo gadget controlled by a satellite that shows the temperatures indoors and out, as I love to know what to expect. We watched in awe as by late February it reached minus 11C then on the 1st March 2005 it finally reached minus 17C outside. That was the coldest it got! We had a lot of fun during the snowy weather as Willie loved the snow and we took him on brief walks round the lanes and we laughed so much to see him frolic and bury himself in it. We couldn't keep him out for long though as his legs and undercarriage got snowed up and stopped him being able to walk, so we kept the frolics short and took lots of photos. I trimmed his leg-hairs myself to make it easier for him.
Terry had to dig path-ways through the snow for our two geese as they were very low in the undercarriage department! They were also very disappointed when their pond was totally frozen over. Terry tried breaking the ice for them but it was too thick to break so we just had to give them fresh water several times a day. At one point the snow was so deep that "Baby" our youngest goose was able to walk up and over the wall of their compound into our main garden by using the snow as a ramp upwards! We soon got her back in and built a snow-wall to keep her there.
During the 2004/5 winter, Terry had been working hard to renovate the little cottage attached to and part of our house. We'd had a few hairy dramas during this work, the worst one being when I was "helping" Terry with the plaster-boarding. As most will know, plasterboard is extremely heavy and Terry was balanced on two ladders straddling the hole of what was the stair-well and I was trying to balance my half of the board on a broom (yes, I know!!!) to lift it high enough for him to get it into position and fix it, (and at the same time I knew that I mustn't look downwards as I have the uncontrollable urge to fall if ever I look down holes) when I realised I couldn't hold the weight any longer. My arms started shaking and I let go of it with a yell ! Of course this expensive board broke into several pieces and I burst into tears of both anger with myself and sheer exhaustion and distress at having wasted the price of a sheet of plasterboard. Terry was very calm. He very quietly said "Go and do something else. I can manage this on my own." I didn't want to leave him to this dangerous juggling act by himself but he insisted I go someplace else - so I did! I have to say that he did manage to complete it by himself too.
By the beginning of our second March it was just about finished and we then furnished it on a fairly limited budget and ended up really quite pleased with it. When we first moved here and you walked into the little cottage, if you looked upwards you could see the roof tiles and no first floor at all. The two windows that existed were ancient and rotten and what we had initially thought was a window higher up was only a wooden board over a gap made to look like a shutter.. Now it had real new windows and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs and Terry had tiled what had been a dirt floor in what is now its living room. It also has its own ensuite bathroom with a lavatory in there too. What a difference. It is so useful as overflow for visiting friends and family and they can be as independent as they wish and we all retain our privacy re night-time bathroom visits and early morning cuppas in bed.
Our house was very nearly as we wanted it and we loved it.
By the second week in March it was getting warmer, meaning it reached a "high" of about minus 1.4C. However, a week later we suddenly had a lovely warm day and the following day the temperature was a whole 25C. This was just so amazing. There was still snow covering most of the garden but we got the garden table out of the barn and ate lunch in the sun with our feet just beyond the snow-line!!
From then on it was glorious weather, Spring had suddenly arrived and the snow disappeared.