We haven’t quite mastered the language….

This French dream is real                                                                                                                  It improves how we feel.                                                                                                             Stone houses, green fields                                                                                                                 A view that heals                                                                                                                            And vast tall trees                                                                                                                            That sing in the breeze.                                                                                                              Though we haven’t quite mastered the language                                                                      We own fields that have a great vantage.

This French home amazes                                                                                                                In big skies, the sun simply blazes.                                                                                              Abundant outbuilding                                                                                                                  Hard work and chilling.                                                                                                                  Blank canvas owned                                                                                                                    Stones no longer disowned.                                                                                                      Though we haven’t quite mastered the language                                                                            We love the land we now manage.

This French country green                                                                                                              The air pure and so clean.                                                                                                                   Old ruins unearthed                                                                                                                      Land has a rebirth.                                                                                                                          New growth nurtured                                                                                                                Hopes and dreams furthered.                                                                                                    Though we haven’t quite mastered the language                                                                    We’ll restore that which has languished.

This French hamlet life                                                                                                                Causes no stress or no strife.                                                                                                          Wood piles grow high                                                                                                                        As the chainsaw lets fly.                                                                                                                    For autumn readiness                                                                                                                      Our beautiful headiness.                                                                                                            Though we haven’t quite mastered the language                                                                  Leaving old homes causes no anguish.

Jill and I are now doing an alternate blog about our experiences in France. You  can follow her too on francehasmudtoo.wordpress.com (Our Life in France). She will blog about our April adventures soon.

 

 

 

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‘Timber!’, ivy, dogs & plots.

Jill and I decided to move to Brittany as we thought the climate would be similar to that of Southern England, but a little warmer and slightly drier. We wanted a climate where we could indulge our passion for gardening and self sufficiency with crops, plants and conditions that we are familiar with. Well, so far the weather has been very southern English; a little warmer but wet and windy too. Our forth visit to our new home saw us work between heavy rain showers, high winds and then in some beautiful sunshine, with vast blue skies.

We are currently using our time in France ‘to tame the land‘ that we have purchased. We are tying together the field at the rear of our premises to the garden within which the houses and outbuildings sit. We have also planned what land to fence and gate. During this visit we marked out our vegetable plots and started to dig them over. Beds still to be dug have been covered in black plastic to kill off the grass underneath in preparation for the next visit’s dig. All of this work is done by hand as apart from our 1960s tractor we do not possess any garden machinery in France. It is slow but very satisfying work and because of the size and position of our land no one can see us tilling away with forks, spades and trowels!

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Our two dogs, Spencer (an 8 year old labrador) and Tilly (a 13 year old Heinz 57), come out to France with us in May and as we have neighbours who own chickens, cats and sheep we have decided to build a dog enclosure for them by utilising a third of the space of the open barn. For this task Jill rightly persuaded me to purchase a mitre saw. So for this job we did have the right machinery; it made everything so easy. This mitre saw is our favourite purchase of this new adventure so far. The ‘enclosure’ will be completed on our next visit together-with a kennel which we will sit within the ample structure. Neighbouring chickens, cats and sheep can rest easy now (hopefully), as when not enclosed the dogs will either be on leads or with us in our field. The mitre saw also helped us to produce our first wooden composter, built from scrap wood left on our property by the previous owner.

 

I have previously mentioned the size of our property. It is constantly surprising us. During this visit we felled 10 large saplings/small trees in a copse that is over populated with alder and oak. For every tree we cut down, Jill has found a small sapling to dig up and nurture in its place. This copse provides one of the best views of the neighbouring landscape. We have a vision of sitting there of an evening, but at the moment this and the adjacent ‘ruin’ need some TLC to make them fit for this purpose. Having never felled whole trees before I have started with the smallest and progressed to a 25 foot tall alder so far. This was a true ‘timber!’ moment. As I move up the tree-scale I have come to realise that my trusty chainsaw is going to be too small. The challenge of scale again! The wood pile that we are producing more than doubled in size during this visit.  Wood to burn next winter.

 

The aforementioned ‘ruin’ needs to have plenty of invasive ivy removed. We completed half of the task on a showery day. Old stone was revealed, a wall dismantled and the stones sorted into small, medium and large for future use. A very enjoyable, hard and rewarding half days work for this team of two.

 

Finally on this visit our aim of mastering the French language was aided by a trip to a professional garden centre where no English was spoken and then two hours in the company of our non-English speaking neighbours. Here  we discussed livestock, local history, WW2, Brexit (‘folie’), past lives and families, completely ‘en Francais’. Our present and past tenses may have been all over the place, but everyone seemed to know what was being communicated.

This home is an amazing place where we feel free of time constraints, convention, mod-cons, crowds and tail-chasing.

 

 

A Packet of Crisps!

Sir Martin Donnelly, formerly International Trade Minister Liam Fox’s most senior civil service advisor has inspired me to put some some thoughts on Brexit on these pages. Yesterday (27th February 2018) Donnelly stated that the UK leaving the customs union and the single market is the equivalent to ‘rejecting a three course meal for a packet of crisps’

This comment re-awoke my Remainian fervour. I woke up this morning thinking that maybe our country would have been in a better  position to understand the impact of Brexit, had Scotland voted to leave the UK in the referendum held on 18th September 2014. If Scotland had achieved independence via that vote, I think by now we would all be realising how difficult, expensive and disastrous such a decision had been and would never have entered so lightly into the crazy Leave/Stay EU referendum of June 2016.

My thinking then extended to an image of our Prime Minister, Theresa May standing on the steps of 10 Downing Street making the following announcement;

After 18 months of trying to work out how to make Brexit work on behalf of the British public, it is with a heavy heart that I have to announce that my Government and The Opposition parties have come to the conclusion that this is an impossible dream. As a result of which we have decided to remain in the European Union and work for the interests of the United Kingdom from within this partnership, rather than from the outside. We tried our best, but in the end the hopes of the 52 percent who voted to leave the EU could not be achieved. We will therefore represent the interest of all within the European Union and this country’s Brexit negotiations will end today. Thank you.’

I can but dream that there will be a similar out-break of common sense within the seat of Government!

So many wonderful jobs to do…..

This home in France is an amazing place. There are so many wonderful jobs to do. Normally one would be squeezing these jobs into a weekend or a short burst of annual leave, but in France, now we have retired, we have time to graze amongst the tasks.

We left the UK to the news that it is now the second most congested country in the E.U. Brittany as ever greeted us with empty roads and streets. We had sunshine, sleet, rain and mist on our latest journey to our home with some far-reaching views and the feeling of splendid isolation (although we are only 9km from the nearest village).

Once again we had packed the camper-van to the gunnels with more furniture and equipment to fill our home and allow us to undertake anything from groundwork to baking bread. On our way to our home we took a short detour to our favourite bakery only to find that it was closed for 2 weeks for a family holiday. We keep getting caught out by the opening hours in France and the added challenge of people living their lives around their businesses feels wonderfully old fashioned and only serves to add to our joy of being here. We called into the charcuterie only to be told that she too was going on holiday the following week so wouldn’t be open either!

This latest visit saw us continue to decorate the main house that we live in. We now have a hall, lounge and kitchen that are brightly coloured. Every day we walk around our field and plan our adventure; where to place the vegetable plots, poly-tunnel, chickens, the wood/copse that Jill is planning. We are a little bereft of heavy equipment ( apart from our 1960s tractor – that I am yet to use in anger), so most of the work is manual whether it is digging new borders, groundwork to ease access, picking stones out of the ground or felling small trees. We must have made quite a sight walking around an acre of our land with a wheel barrow picking up any large stones that will cause problems to any mower or strimmer (not that anyone would see us!). It is a very relaxing job when there is no urgency. Jill has also found time to become a detectorist; finding mainly farmyard metal!

 

With no TV in France we actually have time to read. Jill gens up on French ways of life, whilst I finished what has been the best factual book I have ever read; ‘Norwegian Wood, Chopping, Stacking & Drying wood the Scandinavian Way’ by Lars Mytting. We have many old logs in the barn, small trees to remove and a number of large trees to manage, so this is an essential read. There is a lovely quote within the pages that rings true; ‘wood warms you twice; once when you cut it and then again when you burn it’. These words sing in our ears as we make log piles and start to remove trees that have self seeded too close to others. We are keeping a count of every tree we remove to ensure we plant another in its honour.

Our command of French is improving. We have joined a garden centre club, asked to taste a local sausage delicacy, engaged in conversation with a lady who could speak no English and bought a bird feeder when we had to ask for where they were located in a large store. Small but significant steps for us both. As a bonus, English friends resident in the Cote D’Armor introduced us to the wonders and great value of second hand shopping in France to help furnish our second home.

The aforementioned bird feeder has been infested with blue-tits and chaffinches. A green woodpecker has visited our lawn and a huge gathering of red kites has soared overhead, swirling around in a ‘wake’.  The view around our home has been sprinkled with snow, dusted with frost and shone down on by stars; all of which we have time to admire. We can’t wait to return again…..

 

 

 

Winter mud!

Upon our return to France in mid January I was affected by a number of things, all of which had a positive impact on my state of mind. The scale of everything is so different. Our property has spacious ……..everything! The rooms in the 2 houses, the size of the out-buildings, the grenieres, the amount of drive-way and the size of the land. The last on that list is the most stunning. We take a walk around our field every morning and notch up 1.5km on our Fitbits. As you walk across the land the perspective of what we have planned changes. We have marked out vegetable beds, fencing and boundaries. As we mark them out with poles and rope we say to each other ‘they’re big!’ As we walk to another site on the field we look back at what we have marked out and say to each other ‘they look small!’

Everything looks big in France! The scale of the countryside, the size of the sky and the distance between areas of habitation. I think it is this scale of things that creates the peace, tranquility and at times the absolute silence apart from the noises of nature. The country roads and sometimes the main roads are wonderfully quiet too. The villages in the dark evenings appear deserted as people seem to have hidden themselves away behind shuttered windows. Some scenes just need the addition of tumble-weed to make you think you are in a spaghetti western town.

Our garden supports so much wild life. We have seen many varieties of small birds; chaffinches, tits, fly-catchers, robins, sparrows. A barn owl has been spooked by my evening trips to collect logs for our wood-burner from the barn. Birds of prey hover overhead and the foot prints of deer have appeared across our land.

We had a great variety of weather thrown at us on our last visit. Light rain, heavy rain, drizzle, brilliant sunshine and frost. I am getting used to getting muddy when working on the garden and land. MUD is fun!

Whilst Jill worked inside the house, I have been clearing the many autumn leaves out of the gullies and channels that run around the land and buildings. Great fun. No, seriously. The task reminded me of playing on a sandy beach as a child; making rivers in the sand to channel the currents of the sea and the run-off. Very satisfying watching the fruits of my labours. Our hamlet provides the source of the River Scorff, so running water is a key feature where we live. The rain that we had during this last visit provided us with the confidence that our environment, with its natural and man-made contours, can cope with the water that lands on it and flows through it.

We have been adjusting to French life too. The dark mornings. The light evenings. The unfathomable shop and traders’ opening hours which always seems to trip us up. We have used our developing French language skills to order oil for our home and have the internet installed. We now have a french e-mail address and telephone number. We have found a friendly tabac for a Sunday afternoon glass of maison rouge, where we watch French folk gamble on a variety of televised horse-races (flat, hurdles, carts/chariots and what appear to be prissy skipping horses!) and play cards. We have discovered what is apparently the second best bakery in the whole of France, providing us with amazing flame-baked sour-dough. My french deserted me when exploring the possibility of purchasing a rotavator (motobineuse thermiques!), but fortunately Jill stepped in to save the day! Then whilst searching for trades people to tame our land and our ‘soon to be staying with us’ dogs, we found and utilised an English fence-maker and then an English kennel owner! Prior to contacting both of these services we practiced our French before making the phone call, only to be greeted by perfect English accents on the other end of the line! The surprises continue to wow us.

 

 

Limbo land

So Christmas and the New year celebrations have come and gone. A strange affair when one is semi-retired. Jill and I  had a couple of busy baking days in the run up to Christmas, but it is no way like our previously stressful working lives, full of last minute demands, meetings, emails, being on-call and then colliding with annual leave / holidays. The run up to this Christmas was quite relaxed, with time to shop, put up decorations and even provide a 3 week holiday ‘chez nous’ to my 92 year old father. Lovely as it was seeing him, he kept us on our toes as he does treat our place like a hotel; “Any chance of a cup of tea?” “Is the bar open yet?” Well that’s what I did to him for 18 years so it’s a repayment duly owed.

We also had snow to add to the Christmassy feel.

Then on 4th January we completed our final bake for our small business. Then we retired. Myself for the second time in 18 months. No sticking power me!

I now find myself in a ‘Limbo Land’ between here and France. We have had to delay our latest trip to our new home due to a similarly frustrating delay to the cancer treatment of the close relative we are caring for. We therefore find ourselves worrying further about him and about the condition of our home in France.  Brittany has been struck by several severe winter storms (Dylan and Eleanor) recently. Although we haven’t had any calls from our neighbour to say that our roofs have blown off,  as I failed to get his mobile number in exchange for mine, we cannot ring to check.

Later this month we will make a week long trip there. We have a Camper-van to fill with more furniture and other essentials. We have also purchased some paint and wallpaper to start work on the habitable space in the larger of the two farmhouses to make it more like our home.  Jill and I will decorate a spare bedroom and our lounge when we return.

Limbo land means you keep changing plans. The latest one is to develop the land first; fence posts, wire fences,  gates etc. ‘Nous avons besoin de trois portes, des poteaux en bois et des barbelés pour notre champ’ we recite over and over again. The rationale for this change from the initial plan to develop the small house is that our primary reason for leaving the UK and purchasing this new home was to run a small holding; why wait? We can still submit plans to the Maire’s office for the small house, but whilst waiting we can sort out our land and maybe procure some livestock.

Our plans have had to change further thanks to the wonders of Brexit. We will have to become residents in France quicker than previously planned to secure the rights of membership the EU currently grants its people. This will give us access to health care, National Insurance etc. My temperature rose on 22nd December when the Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis announced the return of the UK’s blue passport cover with the quote “leaving the EU gives us a unique opportunity to restore our national identity and forge a new path for ourselves in the world.” This rubbish was actually front page news when there are so many other important decisions to be made in the run up to this country’s disastrous exit from Europe.

We will return to France with our  perfectly serviceable burgundy passports later this month to start to explore residency, fence posts and further develop our language skills….. live! Hopefully this return will ease my worries about things I cannot change whilst in the UK and we can leave Limbo Land’s departure lounge.

 

Limbo.

 

Happy New Year – The ‘Brexit Rhapsody’ -A reprise to begin 2018.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide (AKA ‘narrow victory for Leave’),
No escape from reality.
Open our eyes,
Look up to the skies and see.
I’m just a poor boy,
I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy come, easy go, little high, little low.
Any way the wind blows didn’t really matter to me……

…….UNTIL BLOODY BREXIT!

Britain’s just maimed the EU,
Put a gun against it’s head, pulled a trigger (Article 50) now we’ve fled.
Britain’s life was pretty good,
But now we’ve gone and thrown it all away.
EU didn’t mean to make us cry.
If we’re not back soon, we’re sorry,
Carry on carry on as if nothing really happened.

Too late our time seems done.
Sends shivers down some spines.
Voter’s feuding all the time,
Goodbye EU we have to go.
Gotta leave you all behind and face a (Boris) lie.
EU, half don’t want ‘Goodbye’,
We sometimes wonder if we were ever ‘Great’ at all.

I see a little silhouetto of despair.
Vamouche Vamouche we could change direction.
Theresa and Boris very, very frightening me.
Common market, Common Market, Common Market is bravo.
We’re just a small place with a big history,
You’re just a small place with a big history.
Spare us this lie and this monstrosity.
Easy come, easy go will you let us go?
Brussels you should not let us go.

(Let us go?) Brussels you should not let us go!
(Let us go?) You should not let us go!
(Let us go?) Brussels you should not (let us go)!
Ah no no no no no no no!
Oh Mother Europe don’t let us go!
Theresa May is the devil incarnate for me.

(Long solo played by Weak Britain for the foreseeable future post 29/3/19).

So you think you can vote ‘Go’ and spit in my eye.
So you think you can vote ‘Go’ and leave us to die.
Oh Leavers, can’t do this to me Leavers.
Just got to go back just go to get right outta here.

All this matters, anyone can see,
All this really matters,
All this really matters to me,
Anyway the wind (of change) blows………

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR #LEAVERS, #REMAINERS & #DON’TCARERS

(with due acknowledgement/thanks to Freddie Mercury/Queen)

Split flag

Europe torn asunder

Happy Christmas 2017 Poem

What a year it’s been
Cancer hits a next of kin
And whilst the cancer’s held at bay
Our French adventure’s underway

What a year it’s been
EU membership in the bin
My blogging causes thumbs up and down
I decide to smile not frown

What a year it’s been
Grenfell, Trump, war, famine
But count your lucky stars
Cross fingers for this world of ours

What a year it’s been
Sun and snow both seen
When all is said and done
Merry Christmas EVERYONE

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Quitting the U.K.

I have recently changed the name of my site from ‘Copper Turns Artisan’ to ‘Paul the Europhile’. The reason for this change is my love Jill. She  inspired me to change the direction of my ramblings here from a diary that reflected on my transition from retirement to a new lifestyle, to a blog that outlines my reasons for leaving the UK and the impact that living in France and mainland Europe has on my emotional, physical and mental well-being.

As I sit here in our study in wintery Northamptonshire I am longing to be in France starting to update and develop our newly purchased French home with Jill. Our aim, within the next 2 years is to move to France full time and leave behind a country that has been my home for over 50 years. Why?

The reasons for leaving the U.K. are many. Some of it is about being able to live our dream of owning and running a small-holding. Finding space, tranquility and big skies. Meeting new people. Having new experiences. Some of it is about the slow collapse of the country that I once loved. Over the past 10 years I have seen seen successive governments dismantle, either deliberately or by incompetence, much of what I loved about the U.K.

They entered us into unlawful, destructive wars on the coattails of the USA. They fiddled their finances and expenses, whilst moaning about voter apathy. They disrespected the talent and commitment of those that worked in the public sector, through under-funding, unnecessary inspection regimes and for policing introduced a wasteful political system based on US models that had no evidence base of being successful.

To top it all David Cameron then rushed into a poorly conceived referendum on the U.K’s membership of the European Union, in order to try to lance a boil that had been festering in the Conservative party for over 40 years. How can you have a referendum that could potentially make such an enormous change to the UK on a simple 51% in favour of leaving equation? Surely 67% was the correct ‘leave target’ to enforce a such a fundamental change? To add to this monumental blunder the ‘Remain’ campaign was then run lazily. They repeatedly failed to highlight all the positives of being in Europe; peace, wealth, trade, human rights, cultural exchange, intellectual advancements and creating of a place in the World that would strive for the aforementioned.  Political ‘Remainers’ also failed to recognise the Leave campaigns’ appeal to those who had felt ignored by politicians in the past. Then the Leave campaign just LIED. Furthermore nobody explained the complexity of leaving. It truly was a Referen-DUM!

I voted to stay.

This vote was based on my love of the European people, the fact that we have had peace for 70 years and the other positives I have listed above. Whenever I have visited countries in Europe, for work or pleasure, I have found the people familiar, friendly, welcoming. I find the European mainland like England, but slightly different. I suppose the reason mainland Europe appeals to me as a place to live are a combination of these comforting similarities as well as the beautiful differences.

As a committed ‘Remainian’ I am angry. All that I read and hear about Brexit makes me incensed and agonised. But there is little I can do. I do not really know how to protest and I know we must move on. I am sensible enough to know we must secure our future as a country (however bad). Fatefully I now  cannot see the decision ever being reversed, even though the U.K. appears to be totally divided and is jumping off a cliff like a colony of lemmings.

On 8th December the cobbled-together minority Tory administration (I cannot bring myself to call it a ‘Government’), lead by the metronomic, once committed Remainer,  Theresa May brokered a deal to allow the next stage of exit negotiations. Fortunately this deal does appear to protect the rights of E.U. citizens living in the U.K, together-with U.K. citizens living, working and studying in Europe. It also leaves people protected by the European Court of Justice for the next decade. Thank goodness. I would not trust politicians and the British justice system to look after us!

So I need to rest my disturbed, concerned and angry brain. I too need to move on. France provides that opportunity. The U.K. is crowded, noisy, polluted, fast-paced, congested and badly let down by its politicians.

France has similar problems with its political elite but I view it as a country that has space, greenery, open roads, fresh air, big skies, a different culture and fewer people. Simply I believe it is a place where I can re-energise and re-boot myself. And I have a best friend and lover to share it with…….

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Saint Malo – Gateway to a new life

 

Good news

The past month Jill and I have had two pieces of good news; our very close relative’s cancer treatment for Hodgkins Disease is working and we completed the purchase on our French home.

There are still 7 sessions of heavy duty chemotherapy to go, which will take us through to mid March 2018, but we appear to be winning the battle. We will be around to provide support for the rest of this fight.

The other news took place on 23rd November when we returned to France briefly to complete the house purchase that we had commenced in early September. The trip didn’t start well, with the roughest crossing of the English Channel that either of us have ever experienced. However the rest of the trip couldn’t have run smoother. Collecting our French bank account cards, signing documents at the notaires and then obtaining the keys to our new property. We found the property had been cleared of all the clutter that had been present (accumulated since 1947 according to the owner, Marcel) and it appeared to have been re-painted internally. The larger of the two houses is perfectly habitable. We unpacked and celebrated with some champagne provided by our Estate Agent Gwen.

The following day we spent two hours marking up all the keys for the property, meeting neighbours and our new post lady (Dominique). Later we were joined by Jill’s son and his partner. We toured the property with them on day 3 of our visit, discovering that is it a 1.5 km walk around our field – which we have named ‘Muttley’ after the hound in ‘Catch the Pigeon’ due to it’s shape. The 2 of them even persuaded us to successfully (after about 50 minutes of trying) start the 1950s German tractor that came with the property and take it for a spin around the garden.

We are deeply contented with our property and cannot wait to return…..