2006, Our Third Year Kicks In.
Before I start on 2006 (!) I forgot to mention in my last article that we held our first book-swap in the September of 2005. We both read a lot and having no television, we were getting through a lot of books.
We had previously stocked up on paperbacks during visits to the UK but realised that coming back home with the boot loaded with boxes of books bought from second-hand book-shops was not the most economic way of going about things. Some very good friends had visited us bringing bagfuls of books but we couldn't indefinitely depend on their kindness.
Terry and I discussed the idea and we reckoned that there must be a fair number of English people around that would be interested in the idea of swapping books with us, so I placed postings on Pont Noir and a couple of other forum sites for people to bring their paperbacks on a pre-arranged Sunday afternoon and swap them with us. By then we had over 100 books on our shelves.
It was successful from the start and we have continued to hold fairly regular book-swap days ever since. These events have developed into enjoyable afternoons and we have made some really super friends with similar interests this way as well as gaining more books to read. We provide home-made cakes and hot or cold drinks for those who wish to partake and in the summer people like to have a wander around the garden or sit out on the patio. Several people have e-mailed me to ask if we'd mind if they copied the idea - and of course we don't - so there are book-swaps occurring all over the Region from time to time. Some of us liaise re dates so that we don't over-crowd the area with book-swaps around the same time - thus giving everyone a chance to exchange their books.
The start of 2006 was mainly pretty chilly, in fact it reached the coldest day of that new year at minus 7.9C and a bit later the snow arrived and continued for a couple more days. We didn't bother taking the car out - just walked Willie around the local lanes. He loved it and we scuffed through it wearing our boots and layers of warm clothing. It melted fairly soon and we fell back into the pattern of regularly having friends round for meals or going to their homes.
Terry was working in the barns during these cold days, removing some thick stone dividing walls to make one large space - our "garage" and his workshop - and I was concerned that he was tiring himself out too much - after all, we had "retired"!. He had a week of not feeling at all well with headaches and dizziness but refused to see the doctor, which was a worry. Men!
My diary discloses that during that January I had my first really strong feelings of missing my family in the UK. This lasted for only a few days but I think it was the culmination of seeing Terry still working himself really hard, looking back on all that we'd already achieved and looking ahead at all the things that still needed doing - or that Terry had planned to do - around the house, barns and garden. We'd been living in France for two years by that time but when I had those few days of missing my family and feeling very "low", Terry said that if I missed them that much, we could move back to England.
It was lovely of him to say that wherever we lived would be home - but In reality I loved our home and life here as much as he did and it was just a passing weakness which I soon pulled out of and subsequent visits to the UK only reinforced the fact that we really didn't want to "go back". Having since discussed this subject with several friends who live here, we have realised that many people, if they are truly honest with themselves, have felt this mild "depression" during their second or third winter of living here. They all agreed that it soon disappeared.
One cold Sunday afternoon in February, a neighbour knocked at our door and asked if we had seen Lucy go out, as her shutters were still over her window. Lucy was the very old lady (mid-nineties) who lived over the road. We hadn't, so they phoned the social services lady who used to go in to help Lucy almost every day to ask if she had a key. She soon arrived but had no key. They banged on the door and tried to rouse her but failed, so they called the Pompiers. Three fire engines arrived followed by two cars full of gendarmes. After lots of "Bonjours" and hand-shaking they huddled together in discussions, then went round the back of the house where they broke a window and gained entry to the house.
After a while they opened the front door and piled out. It transpired that Lucy had decided to spend a day in bed as it was cold and she was tired. She was apparently very cross that she had been disturbed and told the social services lady that that as our neighbour had been the one to instigate the investigation, he must pay for the window to be repaired. He held out his arms to us and said that next time no-one would bother to investigate if that was her attitude.
After more discussions, the Pompiers drove off leaving the gendarmes and my neighbours in a huddle outside. The neighbours then asked us round to their house for a drink and when we went just a little later, we were surprised to see four gendarmes already relaxing on the sofa drinking either wine or whisky - several glasses in fact before they all departed! Hope they weren't stopped and breathalysed!
Next thing was the bird 'flu.. Another one of our neighbours works for the local Maire and he handed us a form instructing us to keep all birds (chickens, ducks, geese etc) under cover. This was a bit difficult as our two geese had a huge grassy enclosure and their own pond in the middle of it, with just a small stone-built shelter (that Terry had constructed) for over-nighting. At first we did nothing - as looking at all the farms and French-owned gardens that still had chickens roaming about, we thought it was much ado about nothing. However, we were warned by another neighbour that we must keep the geese under cover or risk a big fine (this was accompanied by his tapping on his nose and mentioning that a neighbour worked for the Maire - you know how word gets out!).
We fenced off a smallish area all round and attached to the goosey-hut and threw three tarpaulins over them and this became a little "prison" for our geese for several weeks. However, the ground became muddy and they were beginning to look light-weight and not too good in themselves, plus everyone else's chickens and ducks were still running around in gardens, farms and fields, so we bought some rush fencing and fenced off the section where people could peer into their compound and let them out!
Our attached neighbour looked and nodded in approval and our "jobs worth" neighbour couldn't see them, though his wife was "aware" and she agreed with me saying it was a huge fuss over precautions that could not stop wild birds from spreading the disease, and so was pointless.
In May, just before his "big" birthday, Terry put it to me that he had come up with the idea of demolishing the bread-oven that took up a quarter of our kitchen/diner space. Up 'til this point we'd had to situate our dining table in a little alcove which meant we always had to have the lights on when seated at the table. So - removal of the bread-oven became the next building work project.
I wasn't looking forward to it and it was pretty horrendous during the knocking out of all the brickwork as all surfaces throughout the whole house were once again covered in dust - this time it was red/brown from the bricks and dried mud. It was really rather amazing, as the floor of the oven had been built on a platform of ancient oak beams, so we couldn't understand how a fire could have been lit underneath it and could only guess that the plan was for the fire to be lit on the circular swirls of the brick oven floor and when red hot, scraped to one side and the bread placed on the hot bricks. It had barely been used by the looks of it and Terry removed the red fire-bricks very carefully (each brick was engraved with the maker's stamp).
We were fortunate enough to have good friends who invited us to eat at their houses whilst all this went on in our kitchen. However, the end result was wonderful. Terry had kept the stone wall on the protected side outer wall, thus still matching the wall it joined to and insulated then plaster-boarded only the back wall which again, matched the length already in existence. This resulted in a much larger kitchen and also a much lighter one as Terry had fitted a velux window in the new ceiling area. I love our much roomier kitchen/diner now and it has become the hub of where everyone sits when they call in for a chat and a cuppa.
The crowning glory is the beautiful, hand-carved buffet that we bought from the troc at Limoges. That was another story! My friend Trudy and I had gone to have a look around the troc to see if we could see anything that might be suitable and at a reasonable price. We climbed and squeezed around all the old pieces of furniture, becoming quite distracted at some amazing finds then Trudy spotted this lovely buffet. I rang Terry for measurements as it seemed quite tall and we had to make sure it would fit under the beams in the kitchen. After writing it all down, Trudy and I got out the tape to satisfy ourselves that it'd be perfect and it was. I paid for it and told them we'd be back within the week to collect it as we were in an ordinary car.
Terry and I collected it in our trailer, got it home and Trudy's husband came round to help Terry carry it into the kitchen. Here we met our problem! Terry had measured from underneath one of the beams where it wasn't going to be sited and that particular beam was higher than where it was actually going to sit. No problem after all - out came the saw and Terry cut just a couple of centimetres off the little legs and hey presto - it fitted! I love this old buffet - it gives me pleasure just looking across the room at it.
This was absolutely the very last of the indoor alterations.