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…..

 

 

 

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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…..

 

 

 

J’aime l’automne

This blog seems to have landed like a Zed Zeppelin….

Paul the Europhile

Whatever it is called across the world; Autumn, The Fall, L’automne I love it. The changes in the climate and nature’s colours, the unpredictable weather, from warm sunshine to frosts, are a feast on the senses. I love the events of this time of year; firework night, Hallowe’en and jam and chutney making. I struggle to rank the English seasons, but Autumn is definitely in my top four.

This Hallowe-en I was determined to top our efforts last year of carefully and with due consideration, frightening the trick or treaters with a costume, props (‘is that a body hanging from the upstairs window?’ – a trenchcoat on a hanger, back lit by an Iphone 5c on torch-flicker mode), sound effects and of course sweets presented by werewolf hands. It went very well, apart from one of the first caller’s mums saying ‘can you tone it down a bit?’ when one…

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J’aime l’automne

Whatever it is called across the world; Autumn, The Fall, L’automne I love it. The changes in the climate and nature’s colours, the unpredictable weather, from warm sunshine to frosts, are a feast on the senses. I love the events of this time of year; firework night, Hallowe’en and jam and chutney making. I struggle to rank the English seasons, but Autumn is definitely in my top four.

This Hallowe-en I was determined to top our efforts last year of carefully and with due consideration, frightening the trick or treaters with a costume, props (‘is that a body hanging from the upstairs window?’ – a trenchcoat on a hanger, back lit by an Iphone 5c on torch-flicker mode), sound effects and of course sweets presented by werewolf hands. It went very well, apart from one of the first caller’s mums saying ‘can you tone it down a bit?’ when one of a group of 12 kids burst into tears when I appeared. After this Jill got me to introduce each ‘event’ with a mega-phoned ‘Are you ready to be scared?’ Mind you that normally ended up with a challenging ‘I wasn’t scared’, or ‘that wasn’t very good!’ I was tricked myself when this lone, small and very young child, dressed as what looked to me like a witch knocked at the door. I went straight into safe-guarding children mode; ‘where is your mother?’ ‘Are you on your own?’ before I realised it was my own grand-daughter tricking me! Oh well there is always next year!

The firework display at our local village was also brilliant on a frosty November evening. Great bonfire, fireworks plus laughs and ‘oohs’ with friends and family, then a stonking chilli con carne back home in the warm. Perfect!

 

Jill and I are starting to put the ‘borrowed garden’ to bed, whilst harvesting the last of the fruit and vegetables and delivering the last of our vegetable boxes to family, friends and benefactors. We are now clearing the greenhouse and weeding all the beds. Due to our many commitments in the remainder of this year and into 2018, we are undecided if we are going to continue with this wonderful garden next year. We are therefore unable to plant onions and garlic for next year, as we would normally at this time of year. We have been busy making jams and chutneys for a local Christmas Tree Farm; marmalade, apricot, tomato chilli and strawberry jams, beetroot and orange chutney, and various tomato & vegetable chutneys (spicy and ‘normal’) too.

 

We have had it confirmed that the purchase of our French property has found it’s way successfully through the offering of the land to the local commune and the Department of Agriculture. Fortunately no one wants our land! This means that at the end of November we can complete on the purchase, take hold of the keys and start our French adventure. We have both feel like we are treading water at the moment, waiting for this project to fall into place. We both continue to learn French via phone and computer apps and programmes. I think I can read French much better than I speak it. However I do have this burning urge to use my newly acquired ‘skills’ on the French, but when the word for DIY/ hardware store is ‘quincaillerie” what can possibly go wrong?

Finally, as I continue to despair at what is happening in my country, I found some time to re-work the words of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (attached below), as (potentially) my last pot-shot at the craziness of Brexit (our doomed departure from the European Union). Hum the tune, read the words and either ‘thumbs-up’ or thumbs-down’ me!

Brexit Rhapsody

The Next Adventure

I have just read my last blog from the 26th June this year. I cannot believe where the summer has gone as I look out the window of our study at the strange autumnal half-light created by Storm Ophelia and the dust from the Sahara. What an amazing few months with both good and bad news. A very close family member has been diagnosed with Hodgkins disease so has just started chemotherapy and we are strongly supporting them through this process. We have continued to reap the benefits and hard work in the Borrowed Garden. We have holidayed in our camper-van all too briefly. We have decided to run down our baking business by the end of the year and have bought a house in France through a television programme! So just as you seem to have found a direction of travel in ones life things come along, both good and bad, causing you to change course.

I will not dwell on the family illness as it is all too personal to place within the social media network.

The Borrowed Garden continues to be a wonderful experience. We have produced vegetable and fruit boxes across sixteen weeks for the owners of the land, family and friends, plus ourselves. Jill and I have not bought vegetables or fruit from a shop since early June. It has continued to be hard work, but to fill up a vegetable box for yourself once or twice a week makes it all worthwhile. Neither Jill nor I have produced such successful cauliflowers, carrots and onions before. This victory, plus staples from our past like tomatoes, beans and potatoes being cropped in abundance has been very satisfying. We have had trouble with white fly on our brassicas, but by and large keep the insect parasites at bay.

As we now start to put the garden to bed for the year it has been a most rewarding twelve months and this experience has further fueled our desire to have land of our own one day soon.

We are now in the process of making jams and chutneys for sale in a local Christmas Tree Farm shop, loaves and rolls for the businesses we still supply and Jill continues to support a wedding business with a regular supply of focaccia and ciabatta breads. Our last hoorah for our produce this year was to join friends in the village (The Guilsborough Apple Corps – established March 2017) for a cider make using our apples and pears at our local pub.

Our commitment to the Borrowed Garden has meant that we could only go away in the camper-van for brief breaks from June to September. These trips took us to Leicestershire, the Peak District and Devon where the sun continued to shine on these couple of lucky campers. We both relaxed and also worried whether the garden would survive without us watering regularly (though Jill’s youngest son was on hand to water the greenhouse).

Now for that house in France story…….

Well back in February I sent an e-mail to a television company who were looking for volunteers to ‘be on a show’ about property hunting abroad. They made contact with us in May and a couple of auditions later we find ourselves in France with a presenter and film crew for five days of filming. They showed us 5 houses in Brittany and we actually fell in love with the last one and put in an offer, which was accepted. By the end of November we will know if we are the proud owners of a house with nearly 5 acres of land in the middle of the French countryside. It’ll need some renovating and updating but is perfectly habitable at the moment. We plan to start this French adventure in early 2018. We are therefore both accelerating our learning of French by various means; Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, CDs and books.  One of these devices says that I am 41% fluent. I AM NOT!

We re-visited the property in September to have a second viewing which confirmed what a great find it was and toured the area to get a fix on what our new part time home will be like. We fell even further in love with the place and now have ‘frequent flyer’ membership with one of the ferry companies. We return to France later this year.

One last comment….the dolls house hobby is coming along slowly but surely; roof nearly complete and the lighting half done but working…..