Tuesday 23 October 2012

Time for a change

It is out of our hands. There are three houses in the lane where we live. Two of those houses are for sale.

The one that is not, is our cottage, which is the second house in the lane or the middle house. So sooner or later we shall have new neighbours on either side. We live on the outskirts of a rural village about four miles from Chester. Despite being so close to a city we are almost living in the country and are surrounded by farms. The lane where we live is unadopted which means that it is unmade. Our cottage is over one hundred years old and is actually two farm workers cottages knocked into one, but the other two house are modern and fairly recently built. We are biased, but to us our cottage is the most desirable property in the lane, as we prefer something older with character. There is a fourth house at the end of the lane, which fronts onto the made up lane that our lane is off and then on either side of our unmade lane there is a farm. Either you think that this setting is idyllic or you don’t. You are probably wondering what have we done to upset the neighbours? Nothing, we have just been minding our own business. We do not have pets, play loud music, have wild parties or wander around in the nude. The cottage is well maintained and we keep the garden tidy. I would like to think that we are the ideal neighbours. As we see things the present neighbours are the architects of their own downfall.

The first house  is owned by a couple and the wife’s very active seventy something  mother. When I first met them I thought that the husband must be a saint to have his mother-in-law living with him. A few years ago the halo slipped and he had an affair. Now he has gone, the couple are divorced and the house has been for sale for nearly two years. They are on their third estate agent, the price has been drastically reduced and they have, to our knowledge, had one very low offer that they refused. We shall be sad to see them go as they have been good neighbours.

The house on the other side is a totally different story. When we first moved to the cottage the couple that owned the other house both worked away from home and were hardly ever there. Then quite suddenly they disappeared and the house was for sale. It took over 18 months for a buyer to turn up. In that time we got used to the peace and quiet of an empty house next door. I was working in our back garden when our new neighbour-to-be took his architect round to discuss an extension on the back of the house. My sixth sense told me that they were going to be trouble and  it was correct, they have been. From picking a fight with the dairy farmer to leaving their dog 'home alone' to bark until the early hours of the morning. They do not fit here and have been trying to sell their house on and off for some time. More off than on actually and I do not think that they have had even one viewing. We are desperate for them to move. The sooner they go the better.

I do not envy either neighbour the stress of moving. However, if they are to go we are looking forward to some nice new neighbours. On one side at least. Who knows what we shall get. The devil that you know is often better than the devil you don't.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Off with her head

Ironically last week I was lent this mannequin’s head, by the flower arranging teacher, for this week’s flower arranging assignment. And I know that I have been absent again, for a goodish reason. Firstly, I had never done anything like a floral hat and I had to give some thought to what I was going to do. For a run of the mill arrangement I need to chose a container from my cupboard. Then buy some flowers and cut some foliage from the garden. That does not take long. However, a hat was going to be quite a challenge. It would be as much art, as flower arranging. By Thursday I had had an idea or two about what I might create, when fate or something stepped in, in the form of a bug which as it turned out  was all in my head. Sore throat, woolly head, blocked nose and soon a tickly cough. I was fine from the neck down. If someone had wanted to try out their guillotine on me I probably would have let them. Consequently their seemed to be a certain amount of irony in the mannequin’s head sitting in our utility room. I hope that I have had the worst of the bug and I have returned the mannequin's head. She never did get her hat.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Escapades Francaises

The date is Friday 14 September. The British media is in a frenzy over topless photographs of out future queen that have been published in a French magazine and ten days ago three tourists from the UK were found shot dead near Lake Annecy in the French Alps. I am wondering what the France  of President Hollande will be like. Will we be safe and anonymous?

Two days later we drove to Portsmouth on the south coast. The hotel that we normally book for the night before our ferry crossing was full. So we had booked a nearby alternative, which was dowdy, depressing and musty smelling. The quiet room that we had requested had equipment running outside, that we did not notice until we went to bed and the curtains did not fit the window. I eventually fell asleep about 12.30 after stuffing ear plugs into my ears. We were booked on the 9 am ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. For the first time in six years, security stopped and searched our car. This involved looking under the bonnet, which husband did not know how to open, as he has only had the car a few weeks and looking under the car with mirrors. As the car is new to us I did wonder if anything had been planted on it, but they found nothing. The crossing was uneventful and we arrived in a grey and cloudy Cherbourg from, for a change, a sunny Portsmouth. That evening we stayed in an hotel, in the sleepy little town of Saulges near Le Mans, that we had previously stayed in and liked. Everything was fine until 7 am on Tuesday morning, which to us, on our first day in France, was 6 am, when we were awoken by loud French voices which went on non stop for two hours. Do the French ever stop talking? Why do they use ten words when on will do? It was not the ideal start to our holiday.

Later that morning we set off into the Loire Valley heading for Tours. We stopped for lunch at Angers, famous for its' timber framed houses. The best of which is Maison d'Adam - pictured below.

As we sat down for lunch at a pavement cafe, I started to sneeze and continued to do so for the next 24 hours – a French cold maybe? From Anger we went to Saumur then on to Tours. But before we arrived there, husband had wanted to fill up the car with fuel. However, the fuel pump twice refused his credit card and he decided not to try a third time. By the time that we arrived in Tours, in the rush hour, the car’s dashboard display showed that we were on ‘reserve fuel’ whatever that meant. As a result of work to install a tramway, the centre of Tours was a sea of white and orange barriers.

There was nowhere to park outside our hotel except in a bus stop which husband did, leaving me  in the car while he went to the hotel to ask for directions to their garage. He had just gone when a gendarme knocked on the car window. I knew perfectly well what the problem was but pretended not to understand, reasoning that it was better to say nothing than, in the heat of the moment, select the wrong French words. I was in the passenger seat. They asked for my driving licence. I replied that I was not driving and pointed to the empty driving seat. By the time that husband returned a second gendarme was about to write a parking ticket. Husband quickly got into the car and we drove off. I have never been so glad to see the inside of a hotel bedroom. The alternative could have been a cell in Tours goal.

The following day was less eventful and was spent sight seeing in Tours, a cathedral and university city on the River Loire.

The next morning found us on the road to Chinon, after enjoying a bottle of Chinon vin rouge the previous evening. We were off to buy some at a vineyard. Chinon is a small old town with some lovely old buildings

and it was market day which is something that I always enjoy browsing. This was not without incident as an old lady tried to trip husband up with her shopping bag on wheels. Luckily she did not succeed.

In the afternoon we went to see the chateau at Cheverny stopping en route at Vouvray.

Cheverny is  a small privately owned chateau in which the current owner's family still live, but we did not see their apartments. Despite the splendour of the place, life before the days of electricity and running water etc. must have been uncomfortable. The above photograph is of the rear of the chateau which looks pretty much the same as the front. Flash photography was not allowed inside the chateau.

The next morning found us heading south to Bordeaux. A drive which was scheduled to take us around four hours on the toll road. Early afternoon we stopped at St.Emilion to stretch our legs and buy some wine. The heat hit us as we got out of the car. It was about 15C when we left Tours. Now the temperature had climbed to about 30C. Then it was back into the car and fight with Bordeaux's Friday afternoon traffic. That evening we had a pleasant meal at a pavement cafe. When we came to pay once gain husband's credit card was refused by the card machine. So I offered the waitress my credit card. She scrutinised it as if we were a pair of criminals. Anyway it worked.

We spent Saturday sight seeing. The residents of Bordeaux are not early risers and it was lunchtime before the streets became busy. Bordeaux's architecture is magnificent and really reminded me of the English city of Bath. Here is the Grand Theatre or Opera House which is reminiscent of Bath's Roman Baths with the figures at roof level. I do not have time here to do justice to Bordeaux and all of its sights and one day was certainly not enough time to take it all in.

Sunday we had ear marked to drive up into the vineyards to the west of Bordeaux, which produce some of the areas most celebrated wines. It was a fine and sunny day but being Sunday nothing much was open. So our plans to visit a vineyard were thawted. However, we did manage to take some photographs of the vineyards

and the grapes.

Back in Bordeaux on Sunday afternoon we joined the locals promenading by the River Garonne and took our lives into our hands amongst the cyclists, scooters, roller bladers and skate boarders. Or those that were simply walking on the water.

Later, showered and changed for the evening we decided to take the healthy option and walk down the four flights of stairs from our room to the ground floor. Husband was in front of me. After three and a half flights he lost his footing and rolled down the last flight of stairs. Luckily the stairs were wide and shallow and he was picked up at the bottom by an elderly English lady and the hotel's English/American receptionist with nothing more than a bruised forehead and scrubbed knuckles. He got little sympathy from me. This accident happened because he was looking at his mobile phone as he walked down the stairs. I think that watching it happen shook me up more than it did him.

The next morning as we were about to leave Bordeaux husband had a text and a phone call, on his mobile phone, from Brittany Ferries to say that our ferry crossing from Cherbourg to Portsmouth, the following day had been cancelled, due to industrial action by the ferry staff. Our ticket could be used on the P&O Calais to Dover crossing and any extra cost incurred could be claimed back from Brittany Ferries. Calais is a much longer drive than Cherbourg and we had an hotel booked in Portsmouth for the evening of the crossing, which we needed to cancel. That was the easy part. Then we had to find somewhere to stay for the night near Dover. How did we manage before the days of mobile phones, tablet computers and satellite navigation systems?

The ferry crossing from Calais to Dover was choppy but only one and a half hours as opposed to the three hours from Cherbourg to Dover and we were soon back in a very wet and windy England. That night we were kept awake by a thunder storm and the following day we had a very wet drive home. As  turned into the road at our end of the village we were met by a 'road closed due to flooding' sign meaning that we had to take a detour around the village to reach the cottage. It was good to be home. Once again the UK media are in a frenzy over an male English school teacher who has run off to France with a young female pupil from his school.

I must apologise to any bloggers based in France for not making contact. We unintentionally gave ourselves a very tight schedule with no room for flexibility.