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Life in France

31 Mar

Am I the first Temple-Heald to vote in a French election?

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These are my voting papers.

After registering to vote in January, we had a visit from the deputy Mayor two weeks ago who came to deliver our voting cards and a list of candidates for us to chose from. This was one of two lists produced which we had to chose our council from. We are allowed to chose a total of 15 people from both lists combined as they are not separated into political parties. So off we went to the village hall to place our votes.

Walking into the village we were greeted by most people in the traditional way by a nod and a ‘bonjour Monsieur damme’. A few stopped us to ask about Nettles. They certainly are dog lovers here!

In the hall we had to cross off the names on each list of the people who we did NOT want to vote for. Then we placed both lists into an envelope and took it with our voting cards and passports to the table where our names were checked against the electoral register and asked to place our envelope into the box. We then had to sign the voters list while the receiving officer said Voté. This was our second vote as the first vote which we made last weekend did not provide a clear win for some of the candidates. So the list this week was whittled down to ten people to chose five from. This meant that ten people were chosen the first week by majority votes and the remaining five had to be voted on again this weekend. Now that all fifteen people have been chosen they will elect the village Mayor who will be in post for the next five years.

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An update is on its way!

11 Feb

We are working on an update but it’s taking time. Since returning from the UK we’ve been busy.

Anyway, to sum up what we’ve been doing, here’s two photographic clues:

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Christmas at our place in France

29 Dec

Christmas in France is a bit different to what we are used to. For a start, many people here have their main Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, before going to Church. But some people have their main meal on Christmas Day and some have two main meals! Boxing Day does not exist and the day after Christmas Day is a normal working day, although many people take a holiday from work.

The shops are not quite as manic as ours are before the big day. There does not seem to be the commercial pressure to buy up everything in sight! To be fair, we don’t look at French television so we have no idea of the advertising pressures but the shops are quite restrained in their approach. You see the occasional Father Christmas!

The decorations in the street are restrained and quite nice. Each town or village has their own display put up by the local mayor’s department. There is absolutely no sign of Christmas lights on peoples’ homes, something we found to be pretty ghastly in our old area.

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This is our artificial tree and real cut flowers

I must say we have enjoyed sharing this time with people from France, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. An international gathering of people, sharing food, drink and each other’s company. We have learned a lot about other countries’ customs at Christmas.

Tonight a four day NVC course starts, attended by 12 people. Holding a course at t he end of the year is quite popular, mainly because no other trainer is offering to run courses then!

Looking forward to December but a lot of driving required

13 Nov

We have decided to come by car for our visit to the UK in December. We looked at flying with Ryanair and hiring a car but the cost, amazingly, was within €3 of the land/sea route. So ferry it is! I love travelling on P&O ferries; they make you feel as though you are a valued customer. I also love eating in the Brasserie on the new ships – table cloths and napkins and all! Oh, and the food Is quite nice and the view is always changing (if you are a sailor – for the rest of you it’s just water)!

It takes 10 hours to drive from Montolieu to Calais, a distance of 1,000 kms or 650 miles. On French motorways you can drive at 130 kph (if it’s not raining when the limit drops to 110 kph). If you keep an eye out for radar traps then you can nudge that up a tad! We take turns at the wheel, changing every two hours. We stop at favourite Aires, to get coffee and chocolate and to give the dog a run. Normally thee is little traffic after leaving the Toluouse area, until we get near Paris. We have to work out the rota carefully as Trish just does not like driving around Paris. Sometimes we go west around and up the coast. Other times we go east around and then up the main A1 past Charles de Gaulle airport. Depends on what the signs on the motorway say, and the time of day.

So we will be leaving the Peace Factory very early on Wednesday 4th December, to catch the 1955 ferry at Calais. We have to arrive about an hour earlier, to check the dog in. Last time I went by car, I had an Australian friend with me; it took four times as long to get her past the UK Borders Agency control than it does the dog!

We will be staying in Sussex and in Kent. I have the last of my four long visits to the Dentist, as well as a client meeting all day one day, and two dinners to attend. Apart from that, our time is our own. Sadly we won’t have time to visit Trish’s relatives in Manchester as we want to get back before the Christmas exodus starts and we can’t leave any earlier as a new volunteer is arriving on 1st December.

Talking of volunteers, here are some photographs of some of the volunteers who have helped us this year.

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Nearly back to full health!

1 Nov

It’s been a tough month but I’m pleased to say that I’m nearly back to full health! The bruising from my fall has gone and the pain in my side is nearly gone – I can lie on my side in bed for some of the time. As I was recovering from this, I caught a chest infection and I can assure you that coughing with a damaged chest is very, very painful. The chest infection is nearly gone (no antibiotics this time – hooray)!

Then the ear doctor wrote to me to tell me that my brain and ear CT scan was perfectly normal. Then the Bariatric clinic discharged me (three years after the op, after having lost a total of 55 kgs or 121 lbs or 8 stones 9 lbs). Then the rheumatologist discharged me into the care of my GP. So it’s going the right way.

This leaves two more visits to the dentist to fix my teeth (two extractions and five fillings so far). The last time, one of my teeth (that he didn’t touch) became infected and I had my first experience of a French dentist. I phoned on the way home from the UK and was given an appointment later that day! I sat in their waiting room for about 15 minutes and then I was seen. He diagnosed a tooth infection and prescribed me some antibiotics, some powerful pain killers and a mouth wash. He apologised that the pain would not probably subside until the next day (he was correct). I then drove by our local pharmacy and started the treatment. The pain went the next day and now my teeth are all OK. Total cost? €23 for the dentist and €10 for the drugs. Magic!

Now we’ve been back here several weeks, it is nice to get back into a slower rhythm of working. One of the nice things of living here is the interaction with the volunteers. One of our long term volunteers is Damien. He’s very nice and speaks reasonable English and is more than happy to help me improve my French. He works a lot in the garden. Here are some photos of his work.

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20131101-210827.jpgDamien is also a pyromaniac!

20131101-210923.jpgThe spirit of cooperation is good here. Damien purchased a Mobylette recently and we helped him go and inspect it. Here he is on his new wheels!

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Getting better slowly but spaced out with pain killers

14 Oct

It’s two and a half weeks since I fell off the companionway ladder on the yacht and got hauled off to hospital. The bruising is going down but it’s still rather sore and I can’t lie flat at night. I’m taking two Cocodamol every three hours to cope with the pain. And it’s those that are making me drowsy.

Ah well, no pain – no gain. At least I’m losing weight (as my appetite seems to have diminished somewhat).

So what’s coming up? Tomorrow we have a day in Toulouse. We are collecting Louise from the airport; she’s returning from running a course in Switzeland. Before the airport, Trish and I will have lunch at our favourite restaurant there Soililesse. And before that I have an hour on the telephone with my French business associate, improving my French.

On Thursday we are both going in the afternoon to Chez Feliz in place Carnot in Carcassonne. We’ve discovered a group of English people who are learning French. So we are going to give it a go!

Then at the weekend, it’s my 64th birthday! Enough said.

I thought I’d end with a lovely photo of our garden, taken at the weekend.

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Sailing is as easy as falling off a ladder

1 Oct

I have sailed for 50 years and last week I had a new experience. I fell off the companionway ladder, flew through the air as the boat lurched and landed on the right side of my chest on the chart table! It hurt! So the skipper ordered a course change to the nearest harbour (Poole) where we arrived two hours later. I called the ambulance service, who arrived five minutes later. After checking me over, they gave me oral morphine and was able to climb off the yacht.

At Poole Hospital they kept me in overnight for observation. The X-Ray showed no ribs had been broken. So the next afternoon I was released with a large bag of pain killers. Two good friends, Vicki and Jimmy, drove down from Leatherhead to collect me. Meanwhile, Trish, who’d been recovering from gastroenteritis and had stayed at home, booked a Ryanair flight to London and trained down to Leatherhead to meet me.

After a very painful weekend, we moved on to Vigo and are now staying with our good friends Graham and Sue. They thought we were just dropping in for a couple of days! The current plan is to return to France on a ferry on Monday. That depends on how I feel!

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What a difference a builder can make

14 Sep

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Thanks to Andy (a volunteer who is spending two months here at The Peace Factory) the steps leading up to the Little House have been repaired. We had been concerned about these for ages. Some steps had crumbled away and getting to and from the Little House was quite difficult, especially at night. Andy arrived and within a few days had started work. Fortunately we had a cement mixer, sand and cement still on site. It took him just three days to totally refurbish the steps. Andy is a professional builder from the UK, taking a two month sabbatical. But he has decided to do what he loves doing best – building!

Flushed with success, Andy then teamed up with Nadage, Alex, Sarah and Damien (four more volunteers) to completely re-work the garden between the factory and the Little House.

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Without volunteers, progress would be very slow here. In return for their labour, volunteers receive free accommodation in the Little House. This has six small bedrooms (single bed, table, light and cupboard), plus storage space for suitcases and other possessions. They share the kitchen, living room, bathroom and toilet. Living communally generates a great team spirit. And you get to learn about other people’s cultures (and languages).

Life in a community in SW France

2 Aug

Living in a community can be interesting, challenging and very rewarding. We have started an Eco community here at the Peace Factory which at present consists of Louise, her brother Richard and sister-in-law Trish and a French couple, Sylvain and Alexa. There are others who are planning to join the community and who stay with us from time to time. Irmtraud who is a German medical doctor is having a new apartment built on the second floor as is Shona who is an educational psychologist currently living in Scotland.

The property we are living in is owned by Louise and is located in Montolieu in the foothills of the Black Mountain in the Languedoc region. It is an old tannery which went out of business and consists of several buildings and gardens, woodland, a river and hillsides. It is situated in a gorge just outside the village of Montolieu which is called the book village as it has many old book shops. In order to maintain the property it has been necessary to utilise the support of volunteers who come from all over the world to experience life here and help to build a small community. There are two main buildings which are lived in presently, the large factory and the little house (as we call it). There is also the big house which does not have any running water or permanent electricity, as the house was wrecked a few years ago (while there was no-one living here for a few months) and electricity and water pipes stolen for their financial value. Then there are a few other factory buildings some of which need to be demolished and others refurbished.

The large factory is being converted into eco apartments which are not quite complete yet. They are built within the concrete frame of the factory in sustainable wood and each one is insulated with an Eco based product which theoretically ensures that they require no heating inside. They will be heated by the heat generated by the people living in them. Within the old factory buildings is a turbine and old generator which will be commissioned to generate electricity from the river for heating a part of the factory. We are also looking at installing solar panels on the roof of the factory. We have a ram pump which may be used to raise water from the river for flushing the toilets. We have also installed a hose extending from up river down to the garden for watering the vegetables. There are two composting toilets situated outside for use when working outside the main buildings.

To qualify to live in our community we all have similar values such as a belief in ecology, peace and living sustainably. We have sought recycling boxes from the mayor’s office which are collected once a week from the end of the track near the village. We also have a communal garden in which we are growing organic vegetables and some flowers such as original stock roses which are chosen specifically for their fragrance.

Coming soon …. Health care in France

Exciting two days in London

24 Jun

Finally arrived in Kent last Wednesday night. Next day we went on health duty – blood test, collecting drugs and then to Pembury for an X-ray. Then into Maidstone for the annual haircut! Then Trish departed northwards for Manchester and I headed to London.

The reason for my visit to London was to attend my client’s 40th anniversary celebrations. I’ve been working with the International Association of Bookkeepers for several years now, as their marketing consultant.

The celebrations started on Thursday afternoon with a reception at the Houses of Parliament to present awards to the best Centres running IAB courses. This was followed by dinner for all the international guests on a Thames boat.

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20130624-051934.jpgOn Friday we had conferences and meetings. And then on to the Gala Dinner which was a great evening.

I stayed at the Park Plaza County Hall hotel. My room was big – essentially two rooms for bed and for sitting connected by a kitchen with separate shower cubicle and bathroom!

20130624-052341.jpgThe next day (Saturday) I travelled first class by train to Stockport and was reunited with Trish (and Nettles)!