Sunday, 16 October 2016

Mixed Fortunes

Normandie welcomed us once more with open arms, blessing us with lovely weather and friendly faces this week, though things could have gone better as far as our own lovely home is concerned.

After an uneventful crossing we arrived to find that cluster flies had besieged the house.
Finding their way into nooks and crannies, these little black buzzers wake up when they think Spring has arrived, and whilst striving to return outside they appear on this occasion to have felt that inside our home was the better option. 

So we arrived to find two floors with black bodies all over the carpet around any window, and trying to vacuum them up discovered seething hordes around every window crevice, surtout les Velux. Which is a problem largely because you open a Velux window above your head, instantly letting them fly directly into your hair. 

Good old Henry Hoover did a valiant job: by G&T time we had thousands in the bag, to be joined by delayed troops every day as the warmth continued to summon them forth. Local friends sympathised, confirming that it had been a spectacular year for these germ-free, short-lived pests, and that we should not feel singled-out by their attentions.

Unfortunately the boiler also played up during our stay, rapidly overheating on a couple  of occasions and then cutting out.
We managed to find two plumbers prepared to come out and try to fix the problem, though both came to the conclusion that due to old age (16 years, albeit barely a couple of years' constant use) the tank had calcified and numerous other issues mean that we need a new boiler. Needless to say neither could fix this within the few days we were there, so a rather large bill and a bit of organising await us.

However, these will pale into insignificance beside the potentially enormous bill awaiting us for a new roof. Having been up in the loft vacuuming the VMC tubes to halt the creepy, continuous stream of cluster flies creeping from the ventilation tube in the bathroom:
Martin was well aware of the daylight shining through the tiles and the need for rapid action. But everyone we had asked told us they were busy until Spring. Nevertheless we managed to tempt a couple out to look at the problem, and both advised us that a complete re-roof is necessary (I guess we have been lucky to avoid this to date) and laughed when we asked how soon it could be done.

All of which means that I am sitting back in Hampshire rather afraid to open emails which will in all probability bear tidings of great cost. At least Martin had the foresight to transfer a chunk of sterling into our euro account just before everything (politically speaking) went pear-shaped.

Back in France we thought nothing more could go wrong, so decided to pop some washing on and take a flask and patisseries to the beach. Ha-de-ha-de-ha. The laundry was soon flooded and a lot of bailing and mopping later we found out that a wonderfully-shaped clogged filter was the problem.
(ignore the socks)
But heck, we had a therapeutic walk on the beach, including a welly-paddle in the sea, and even found a chimney-sweep on our way home (again, not available, but we have details now so can book).
Plus we achieved a lot in between bouts of failure/repair/research/appointments. Our exterior paintwork needs doing once again, so over the five days I managed to sand and paint both one salon window and the study door, leaving them much better prepared to face the winter.
Martin also went wild with the hedge-trimmer, reducing the height of the back hedge to lower than it has ever been, and creating an enormous quantity of waste which we enjoyed burning before dinner one evening.
Clearing the lawn made us realise just how many apples had fallen from the trees, so before we left we gathered what we could, and picked a huge boxful of crunchy eaters from the trees at the back. The spares meant we had something to offer Chauffe-eau and Limonade whenever they took  the time to gallop across the paddock to say hello: this is them waiting expectantly whilst we sipped pre-dinner drinks on our last evening.
Their owner Pascale had asked to be given hunting rights over our land via the 'Chasse Gardee' system, which we were happy to grant as it means he will be able to keep an eye on our land whilst we can ask trespassers to leave. We therefore received a visit from the local representative of the chasse police and Martin duly signed the relevant papers. By way of thanks Pascal brought us a litre of homemade Quarante Quatre liquor before we left: it smells fearsomely strong.

We also managed some winter tidying up including bringing in the solar fairy lights which look as though they must have been on every evening in the BBQ shack since we put them up 6 months ago, and are still working well. Martin fixed the wooden supports, which looked as though they had been pushed in by a hoofed creature, and we took a walk down to the river, where we watched an otter or water-rat swimming up and down in peace.
So all in all a lovely holiday, but with rather more negotiating-in-French than we would have wished, and with the prospect of some rather large quotes and bills to follow.

But we can hardly complain. A good friend from choir lost her husband recently, and we invited Mark and his wife to dinner whilst we were in France so heard all about her huge operation, nasty cancer growths and continuing chemotherapy. Thank heavens our problems relate to the flight of funds rather than health.

Plus, just look at these joyous colours (no post-editing) high up by the stable roof:
...and the morning and evening sunshine
 and our delicious lunch on the way home

Life is good.

Toiture Torture

We have had scaffolding up at home for a couple of weeks whilst an expensive repair is done.
When the paintwork was refreshed last year it became apparent that the fascias at this end of the barn were rotten, so they were left un-painted. It has taken us ages to find a company that could replace this length of wood, but this has now been done. Next we need to get the tiling repaired and scaffolding taken down. And pay the rather large bills. Oh, and get some more scaffolding to fix a problem on the house roof...

Which I mention because we have just returned from France, where we were obliged to spend time with two roofing contractors with a view to a complete replacement of the rather large slate-tiled roof. There are clear holes letting the sunlight (not to mention the rain) stream through, and it seems generally agreed that the whole lot needs to come off and be replaced. So more, much more scaffolding. And bigger, much bigger, bills.

Toiture torture indeed.

Sunday, 2 October 2016


We enjoyed another 'proud parent' moment on Friday 30 September as Victoria graduated from Oxford University.
The graduands started with a lunch in college, so having dropped Vicki off at Magdalen, Martin and I savoured the buildings for a while, failing to resist a corny selfie in the quad.
We wandered into town for lunch, then queued outside the Sheldonian Theatre (designed by Christopher Wren and purpose-built for Oxford degree ceremonies, with “Truth descending on the Arts and Sciences to expel Ignorance from the University”in 32 oil-on-canvas panels on the ceiling)
Our seats were headily high up in the gods with feet and bottoms jostling for space.The ceremony was conducted in Latin, with groups of graduating students going up to have their degree conferred, then leaving to don their robes and return to be welcomed to their new status.
We caught up with Vicki and her friend Mariota in the sunshine outside before walking back to Magdalen for drinks and tea on the lawn.
Back where we took the first photo of Vicki in Magdalen
Collecting the BA (Hons) Degree Certificate
Magdalen had laid on a lovely spread, with plenty of time to take photographs and enjoy the gardens.
Eventually it was time to disrobe and wander through the deer park to return the mortar board...but not before I snatched an opportunity (never having had one at Durham)
Then we took a lazy wander round Addison's walk, picking up conkers and enjoying the peace.
Congratulations, Victoria, and good luck with the next stage of your life!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Catching Up


Ben and Fran came over for a couple of days sometime in September, and kindly collected all the apples from our trees. Including some pretty big'uns.

Needless to say the apples have virtually all now gone, having provided some delicious apple and blackberry crumbles.
We took a walk in the sunshine over to Longparish, played pooh sticks over the river and stopped at the pub on the way back for a drink and game of Jenga, by which time Max had finished playing rugby so was able to join us and drive us home.

Grace Wood

We flitted up to Market Harborough last Bank Holiday weekend and I have only just spotted some pictures on my phone (so not great).

Martin was keen to catch up with his parents about our holiday and to offer our services in Grace Wood, so we left in time to take Ron and his Grace out for lunch in a local pub. Then on to the field, where the trees we helped to plant some 30 years ago are maturing beautifully, and providing a rich harvest of apples, pears and plums.
We moved some wood around for chopping but were pretty soon in the middle of a stupendous thunderstorm crashing and flashing right overhead, which curtailed our progress somewhat. Nevertheless the men managed to chop a good quantity of what we had collected, and it didn't take us too long to dry out.

London with Rosie

Feeling very lucky and blessed this week. Rosie invited me to go out for tea with her in London, using a gift voucher given to her by friends Jess and Emily for her birthday, so a bit of work-juggling and I was there like a shot!

Having got drenched running for the train in Basingstoke I actually got a seat on the train, and from then on the day went beautifully. The weather chirped up no end so we didn't use any public transport. I walked from Waterloo up to Buckingham Palace where Rosie met me with tickets for a tour of the State Rooms, including the 'Fashioning a Reign' 90th birthday exhibition from the Queen's wardrobe.
We finished our tour with salmon bagels and mille feuilles from the Garden Cafe
then a wander round the gardens, before setting off across London to find the hotel where Rosie had booked us in for tea.
We arrived in plenty of time, so popped into the Wellcome Collection in Camden and had a thoroughly fascinating half hour learning about Bedlam and how to shrink an enemy's head!

Tea was delicious, with scones and cream and plenty of tea, but especially with the inclusion of a cocktail for starters.
We sat and chatted for ages, then walked through the sunshine all the way back down to the river, where I left Rosie to meet friends for drinks at 6pm whilst I wandered back to catch a train.

Strangely, it was the second time in London for me within a week, as Linklaters held its alumni reunion (30 years since we joined) at a wine bar one evening. I was keen to go but expected to feel jealous of how much everyone would be earning and how successful they were.

However lovely it was to meet up with old friends, I did not in fact feel jealous at all. Several had worked hard for years and clearly done well out of it, but saw very little of their families due to living away from home during the week. Others looked much older, and though planning their retirements, several didn't really know what they would do with their time.

So it was good to see everyone, they recognised me ('still really smiley') and we caught up on work and children, but by the time I left I felt contented that Martin and I have made the right decisions and have been very lucky with our family. A good feeling!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Boat NoShow

Southampton Boat Show drew us to Drifter yesterday, on the pretext that we would watch the air display from the water. It was enough even to tempt Vicki, though we should have known better.
The display consisted merely of two Spitfires, which whilst diverting hardly constituted a show. But it was fun to cruise past the hordes and boats at Southampton, and especially to see the tall ships.
We put Martin in the child seat to start with, to stop him fidgeting.
But eventually he escaped. We zigzagged (I believe the term 'tack' to be overrated) down Southampton Water until the wind died, then moseyed back up again.

And that was that!