August 25, 2016

THE TOMATOES ARE LOVING IT

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We are having a heat wave at the moment.  The sky has been a beautiful, cloudless bright blue every day for nearly a week and temperatures have been in the mid 30’s.  Yesterday it was 38°C by late afternoon, that’s nearly 100° in old money.

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The forecast is pretty much the same until the weekend when it begins to cool off a bit.  We’re all finding it a challenge but the tomatoes are loving it.

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When I think back to how much trouble we had growing tomatoes in the UK I have to smile.  When I was a little girl at home, my dad had a home made greenhouse and in it he grew tomato and cucumber plants, spending hours looking after them.  Feeding weekly, watering daily, spraying for disease, picking out shoots.  Several times a day he or mum would march up the garden path, opening or closing the greenhouse windows to control the temperature inside so that the little beauties would have as good a chance as possible of producing fruit.  The effort usually paid off and I remember the joy of fresh tomatoes straight from the plant, still warm and smelling wonderful, along with home grown cucumbers and lettuce.

Even with a greenhouse Nick and I struggled to grow anything like a decent crop ourselves, often ending up with just enough to make a few salads each year and at the end of the summer finishing up with a lot of green ones that simply wouldn’t ripen at all.

Here, it’s a different kettle of fish.  Or a different bowl of tomatoes. 

We were late putting our plants in this year because the spring was cool and wet so we didn’t expect to do as well as last year.  For one reason or another we then neglected our tomato plants, left them to their own devices, tying them to canes when we noticed one day that the poor things were trailing on the ground.  The plants are by now a scraggly set of shriveled specimens and I would be embarrassed to let anyone see them.  My dad would be horrified if he saw them.  If we had let our plants look like that in our UK greenhouse I would have been ashamed.  Yet they are producing loads of beautiful, tasty tomatoes.  I have already preserved some, roasted in the oven and put into jars with oil.  There have been plenty for salads and cooking and enough to give some away to friends whose plants have not yet started producing.

So it may be too hot outside for comfort for us, including Daisy, but the tomatoes are very happy, I’m happy to say!

August 4, 2016

ROOF TERRACE, GATES AND A PROMISE

Time has whizzed by.  I am slightly dismayed by my own lack of blog posts.  Constantly playing catch-up and posting old news is not what I thought I would be doing at this stage of my life, now that we are more or less settled in our new home in France.  I could claim to have been so busy that I haven’t had the time, but in the past, before I retired, I had less time but still managed to post more often.  Ah well, they always say, if you want something doing, ask a busy person.  So there will be a degree of catch-up and I will try harder.  I promise.

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One of the things that has risen to the top of our to-do list, once the weather dried up, was to rebuild the “roof terrace”.

The very term roof terrace implies something more sophisticated and more useful than it really is.  Basically it’s the flat roof over the well barn and its existence has puzzled us from the beginning.  OK, it’s nice to sit in an elevated position and enjoy the view over the fields at the back of the house from time to time.  We don’t have any other way of seeing this view as there are no windows in the back wall of the house, except for three Velux windows in the roof, none of which are in a position that you can gaze out from without getting a sore neck after two minutes.  But frankly, if the terrace wasn’t there, we wouldn’t miss it.  We certainly wouldn’t have built it and could have done without spending hundreds of euros repairing it.  But…….

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It leaks.  The two layers of tiles, one on top of the other, sit on chipboard flooring panels and these have mostly rotted because water seeps through.  We could just leave it to rot away completely and not use the “terrace” but having something that is potentially unsafe and a no-go area on the property is not our style.  And the barn beneath would be a good storage area once it’s dry, so we decided to bite the bullet and get on with it.

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To access the “roof terrace” you have to climb out of the bedroom window.  Nick first removed the low railing, which was presumably meant to prevent you from falling off the edge, then the two layers of tiles.  Then he had to cut up the floor panels to make them small enough to be carried, along with all the other waste, out of the house via the bedroom window, the bedroom, staircase and kitchen.  This is because the farmer’s land goes right up to the back and side walls of the house and there was no way to lower stuff down and remove it any easier.  What a pain.

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Having removed all the rotten floor panels and replaced a rotten piece of beam, the next stage was to fit new panels made of wood that is impregnated with water repellant, making them less likely to rot and become dangerous if they get damp.  A water proof membrane then went on top of that, followed by the tiles, a long and tedious job.

Looking at the pictures of the renovation of the house that were given to us by its previous occupants, it finally dawned on us why the roof terrace was there at all.  The reason is, we think, something like this:

The bedroom wall, with the dining room below (previously the bread oven area), used to be the end wall of the house.  There was a well standing beyond that wall. Someone built a roof over the well, creating the well barn (or well room, whatever you like to call it) on the end of the house. The pitch of the roof built over the well partly blocked off the window in the wall above.  This will not have been a window at the time, but an access into the roof space which would have been used for storage.  (There was a similar window giving access to the space at the other end of the house.)  Whoever started the conversion of the roof space from storage into bedrooms decided it would be nice to use that access as an actual window.  In order to solve the problem of the roof line blocking the window they decided to chop half of it off, creating a flat roof instead and hence the “roof terrace”.  I’ll post more pictures when its repair is completed.

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While Nick was beavering away aloft, I was busy painting the gates.  We considered buying new gates, more stylish ones, ready painted.  But we decided it would be expensive and not the best use of our money.  Better use would be plenty of good food, good wine, holidays and a pot or two of paint.  So that’s what we did.  It was a long job.  In fact it took me a whole week to prepare and paint the old gates and the new, not quite matching but near enough, side pedestrian gate which we fitted last year.  (Fitted so that we could stroll out with Lulu for walks without having to open the main gates.  Sigh.)

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The effect I achieved is a little more shabby chic than I had hoped, largely due to having to slather something the consistency of treacle on vertical surfaces where it dried rapidly in the warm weather.  But the colour is nice, a kind of palish greyish green, much softer than the old dark green and the non-matching black of the new side gate. From a distance they look lovely and we’re very pleased with them.  All I have to do now is to paint the gateposts a nice creamy stone colour.  They can wait a while I think…….

July 12, 2016

A WEEK OF SPORT

Last week was a week full of distractions of a sporting nature, starting with the Tour de France and ending with the Wimbledon final, The Grand Prix and the football.  I’m not passionate about any sport these days although in the past I had my moments, but the proximity of the Tour de France route got us all excited and we thought “why not?”.  So off we set to the lovely old town of St Savin with sun cream and picnic, arriving in good time to get a good spot.

Of course, it’s really all about the advertising.  The caravanne takes hours to pass through, followed much later by the leaders then the peloton, which goes by in seconds.  If you blink or look the wrong way you miss it.

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Nick found us a good spot to sit and watch, with a clear view of the road, opposite the old abbey.  I couldn’t help pondering the difference between France and the UK when I noticed that the very young female police officer, her motorcycle parked nearby, was carrying a very businesslike firearm.  You would be highly unlikely (probably unlucky too) to ever see a policeman with a firearm in the UK.

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The caravanne started to arrive and it was worth the wait.  What fun these people must have, dressing up and fooling around through France for several weeks, seeing smiles on people’s faces as they go by.

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After the entertainment of the caravanne, it was time for lunch, picnic pies, fruit muffins, ham sarnies and a bottle of fizz.  After what seemed like forever, suddenly it all happened.  The leaders passed by in a flash, followed by the rest of the cyclists.  Whoosh, gone.  Followed by hundreds of spare bicycles.  And that was that.  Time to pack up and go home, after a great day out in the sunshine.

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At the weekend, having watched Hamilton win the Grand Prix and Andy Murray take the Wimbledon trophy, we wandered down to the village for a beer at the PreHisto to find excitement mounting for the evening’s football.  Nick fell victim to the enthusiastic face painting going on but after a while we headed home for dinner and to watch the match in comfort on our own sofa.

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What a damp squib that was.  There’s nothing more boring than a football match where nobody scores.  I don’t get it.  How can people become millionaires for kicking a ball around and not getting goals?  After the first half I went off to finish the ironing, much more worthwhile!

July 11, 2016

LIFE GOES ON

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In years gone by I have learned to be careful about who I told about losing a dog.  There are those that understand and those that think that it’s only a dog and the answer is to go straight out and buy another one.  A conversation with either is likely to find me in tears.  It helps that, at last, summer has finally arrived here in Sud Touraine.  Long, hot and sunny days and plenty of the usual activities to distract me from the constant feeling that I have forgotten to do something, of expecting to see her lying in the grass soaking up the sun, or lying in just the right spot to be in the way on the cool tiles when she’s got too warm.

Two weekends ago we went to two outdoor musical events, one an Irish night on the Friday, with fish and chips – some local musicians playing Irish jigs in the square behind the church in the village, fish and chips being served all night by local people, and very good they were too, popular with both French and English customers.  It was a great evening and we had a good time but my mind wasn’t quite there as it was too soon, and the photos of the event are poor.

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The next evening we went to an annual do called “Les Barroudeurs”, an outdoor music festival down by the river in the next village, Barrou.  This year the music was exceptionally good and much more to our taste than in previous years.  We had a lovely evening in the company of friends and I began to feel a little bit more like my old self.

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Some friends gave us this lovely rose which we have planted in Lulu’s memory next to her favourite spot in the garden.  Other friends gave us a climbing plant which we have planted so that it climbs the wall overlooking the same place.  How kind people can be when it really matters.

We are trying not to let the loss of Lulu spoil our enjoyment of the summer whilst at the same time not wanting to forget all about her.  We just have to get through the first few weeks so that we start to recall the fun part of life with Lulu, not the sadness of her last days.  

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With that in mind, we at last got round to tidying up the picnic area and bringing it back into commission for the summer.  It’s a great place for lunches outdoors, barbecues and long lazy evenings.  The house faces south so is in full heat of the sun, but this shelter always provides a shady spot to sit.  When we first looked at the house we had no idea how useful it would be.

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We have more or less finished the changes to the garden.  We have enough flower beds to provide a bit of colour without having to spend hours watering every day.  There is a small veg patch where we grow a few beans, cucumbers and lettuces but not so much that we don’t know what to do with them all.  There are two rows of tomato plants that we more or less ignore.  The biggest job is the weekly mowing of the grass and transporting the sacks of clippings to the déchetterie.

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All in all, we are feeling settled here.  There are places all around the house where we can sit to either enjoy the sunshine or escape the heat if it’s too hot.  As a last resort we can sit indoors, where it is always blissfully cool.  And with so much happening, life goes on and is pretty good.

July 1, 2016

RIP Lulu

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Our joy in getting back our old Lulu did not last very long.  We collected her from the vet’s last Friday evening, full of vitality and brought her to France with us on Saturday, but on Tuesday morning I thought I noticed signs that all was not well.

She deteriorated fast, as our UK vet had warned us she might.

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After her teatime walk on Tuesday she was obviously in distress and took to her bed where she stayed for eighteen hours.  An appointment was made with our vet in Descartes for Wednesday afternoon. 

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We got her up at lunchtime and after pottering around the garden she came with us for one of her favourite walks around the lake at La Celle-Guenand.  We all like that walk and it’s on flat ground so not too taxing for a dog that’s feeling poorly.

The vet in Descartes was wonderful.  The practice is in a different league to our vet in Derbyshire, but that’s another story.  We showed him the report of her illness and treatment and he said he would take another blood sample.  Our hearts sank.  If we had to wait another two days for the result Lulu would most likely be in a terrible state again by then, and we didn’t want that to happen.

But no, the surgery is far better equipped and after a last walk around outside, amongst the flowers and trees, the result was in and showed that her kidneys were in a very poor state.  With no other treatment available and no future for Lulu except pain and feeling ill, we decided to have her put to sleep there and then, before she became as ill and distressed as when we first took her to the vet in Derbyshire.

Anyhow, that’s where we are.  Doing the right thing never feels right afterwards and now we have to adjust to a life without Lulu.  It won’t be easy.

June 24, 2016

WE GOT HER BACK. ONE OUT OF TWO AIN’T BAD.

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Having spent two days in “hospital” having intravenous fluids to flush her kidneys, Lulu is much, much better.

The shaved area on her back (she has a matching one on the other side) is where they performed the ultrasound scan.  This showed that her kidneys looked perfectly normal so there is no obvious explanation for why they are failing.

She is more like our old Lulu, the one we now realise we lost several months ago, which is probably when she started to feel ill.  When we collected her from the vet’s she was bouncy, wriggly, full of beans, although skin and bone because she has eaten hardly anything for over a week now.

She was discharged with kidney pills, antibiotics and a load of special food that should not put any stress on her kidneys, dried kibble and canned meat.  When we got her home she managed to eat and keep down a small amount, which is looking very promising.

The idea is that now she feels better and the flushing of her kidneys has eliminated the toxins they can no longer remove, she should stabilise as long as she stays on the special food.  If her kidneys are so badly damaged that they can’t cope she will go downhill and get to the point where she was last week.  If she remains stable, we could keep her for months or even years.  Now that we know how lively she should be, we should be able to spot the deterioration quickly.  The sad thing is, if it happens again, there will be nothing that can be done about it.  So we’re keeping our fingers well and truly crossed.

So we got our Lulu back when two days ago we thought she was a gonner.  As for the result of the referendum – words fail me.  Goodness knows what will happen now.

June 23, 2016

WAITING, IN LIMBO

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Today is a difficult day for us.  We are in limbo, waiting, to hear the outcome of two things that mean a lot to us.

This picture of Lulu was taken seven weeks ago, in the bluebell woods near our UK home.  At the time we had noticed that she was often a little less perky than usual, sleeping more during the day, but she enjoyed her walks and her food.

Just before we came back to the UK on 14th June we realised that she was becoming much more subdued, spending most of the day sleeping and often being reluctant to get off her bed and go out for a walk.  This we put down to possibly her age and also the weather.  We have had awful weather in our part of France and Lulu has often been known to refuse to go out or get out of the car in the rain.  She hates getting her feet wet.  We hate her getting muddy so it was a fair arrangement.

On arriving home we decided that there was something very wrong.  She was eating hardly anything and keeping very little of it down, meaning she was losing weight rapidly.  She was also in pain, shrieking horribly when she first got up off her bed, then being rooted to the spot, looking terrified and trembling violently.  A visit to the vet resulted in a diagnosis of infected anal glands.  These were dealt with by the vet and she came home with antibiotic tablets.  She got rapidly worse, eating nothing and vomiting for no reason.  She became very thin very quickly and the pain episodes increased. 

And yet, often by the afternoon she would be almost normal, trotting along in her walks and doing all the things she likes to do.  We took her back to the vet who agreed to do a blood test and, luckily, she exhibited her most dramatic symptoms in the surgery, shrieking and shaking and looking terrified.  Otherwise we had the distinct impression the vet thought we were making it up.  Although you couldn’t make up the obvious loss of weight, she was so skinny it was heartbreaking.

Yesterday the result of the blood test was made known and her kidneys are failing.  The vet told us of the possible outcome, that nothing could be done to repair her kidneys, but, depending on what they found after doing an ultrasound scan, they might be able to make her feel less ill and more like herself by “flushing them out”.  Then there would be long term medication, a special diet and regular blood tests resulting in the “flushing” treatment when she became ill.

We’re not sure we want that for Lulu, or for ourselves.

She has spent the night last night “in hospital” at the vet’s, on a drip which would flush the kidneys.  It’s the first time ever that she has spent a night on her own, not with us or friends who love her.  This morning she is having her scan and after that we will decide what to do.

We went to vote in the referendum early, so that we could be back and be sure to be in if the vet phoned.  There were plenty of voters around, all gleefully accepting the free pens being handed out by the older woman (probably my age) wearing the red “vote leave” t-shirt.  We declined.  Where were all the “vote remain” supporters and who is financing all these t-shirts, posters and pens?  Living in what is usually described as a “staunch labour area” it makes no sense that so many people seem to want to leave when the labour party advise against it.  I can’t help wondering what the hell we are playing at – this is the stupidest game I have ever known.

So we wait, on two counts.  One has me in tears every five minutes and one has me in numb disbelief.  You can guess which one is which.

Lulu is a lovely dog, beautiful, well behaved and utterly delightful.  We are so glad to have had her for nearly eight years and it seems so unfair that we might lose her in her prime.  We really would love to keep her for another two, three or even four years.  But we are not about to embark upon an uncertain future which requires frequent visits to the vet for blood tests and treatments that can’t guarantee that she will feel well and not be in pain.

I sincerely hope that we will not wake up in the morning to find our world has been turned upside down on two counts.  This has been a difficult post to write, we are in pieces, just waiting.