Collioure, a Jewel in the Med

IMG_8463Perpignan caused a brief hiccup as our sat-nav struggled to decide which road we were on. When we arrived at Collioure the mist was low and we could only just make out the shapes of a chateau and a windmill on the hills in the distance. The sky was grey and the air colourless, dreadful for photos but giving everything a strange calm. Despite the conditions the sea was clear turquoise blue and the entire bay was laid out before usIMG_8522

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As the sun burned through the mist we started to see the warmth of the colours of the stone, and to feel the heat of the day. Having been in the snow of Les Angles only the day before, the Med felt like another world, warm and sensuous

It’s hard to take a ‘new’ picture in Collioure. It’s been painted by artists for centuries and photographed in every way possible, yet it remains a compelling scene. Baz took a lovely shot of the brightly coloured houses on the sloping roads back from the shoreDSC_0430

Lunch wasn’t expensive and we were served with great charm and humour. The fish stew, the squid and the sea bass were all superb. After feeding a small shoal of fish in the bay we grabbed ice creams then coffee. We sat on the beach facing Collioure’s famous tower while C practised skimming stones. As we were leaving she and I hit a seam of precious sea gems (broken glass to other people) and stuffed them into my handbag with no real purpose in mindIMG_8535We will go back. Perhaps not in summer, when traffic queues are rumoured to be three hours long and parking impossible. I hope we’ll overnight next time and enjoy a glass of wine with lunch and a leisurely dinnerIMG_8543The sun was still shining when we left, but we had to navigate Perpignan once again and it’s still all new to us

On the way home we stopped among the Maury vineyards IMG_8578

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A Gentleman Calls

An elderly gentleman from Narnia, that is

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This morning I was waiting for my pillow (and a lot of other ‘stuff’) to arrive and using a wallpaper stripper to free up the left half of the front door in advance of the delivery. Just as I managed to free it and push it open, an elderly man with a shopping bag stopped in his tracks on the road outside, put down his bag and looked in

He greeted me and asked whether it was now my house, so I suggested he come in and look around. He became quite animated and said that he’d always wondered what it was like inside. He took off his gloves and left his bag in the hallway, while I gave him an abbreviated tour (first floor only), very conscious that he might not be as nimble as he looked. The house met with his approval and he told me exactly where he lived, including a direction involving a wardrobe(?), and told me to knock on his door any time and say my name, and he will provide tea or coffee, according to my preference. I’d followed what he was saying, except that I hadn’t really listened to the actual street address – I didn’t see me calling in on him anytime soon. But he wasn’t leaving anything to chance: before he left he took out his phone, gave me his name and number and had me call him there and then, answering ‘hello’ into the handset as he stood in front of me.  Clearly not an insane axe murderer, just a delightful old man on his way to the market. He kissed me on both cheeks and went on his way, just as the pillow crew turned up

While the pillow people were there I noticed Monsieur’s gloves on the radiator

Oh merde! I should have paid attention to the address. Now I had to call him, of course. Baz called to talk chickens, perfectly normal daily stuff for us. I told him about the meeting and the gloves. ‘It’s a ploy’ he said, laughing and reinforcing fears that I’d pulled

Shortly after, the gentleman called me. I told him I had found his gloves, and he said he was on his way over. When he arrived he explained again where he lived, including the bit about the wardrobe. It was only a few doors away. Would I like to see where it is?

I followed him around the corner and we climbed the stairs, turned left and passed the said wardrobe, next to which was the door to his flat, where we were greeted by a well-kept ginger cat, who took time to check me out before allowing physical contact. I didn’t go in, but could see that it is an elderly single man’s home, the walls and furniture dotted with numerous dusty notes and photos. Perhaps he has numerous cats too. Anyway, he repeated his invitation to me for coffee

So I will go and say hello, take some cake and have a chat (or un chat) for half an hour sometime this week. He’s too close to ignore, I have time on my hands and it might just make his day

P.S.   Thank you to whichever blogger/s recommended ‘All the light we cannot see’. I am about two thirds through it now and it is one of the loveliest and most beautifully written books I have ever read

My Home from Home from Home

I feel totally at home, but my home is nothing like this

I sit here on an upholstered dining chair at a wooden table in front of a television. I have my laptop, phones, magazines. I have wine, water and wasabi peas. There’s a flushing toilet. This is luxury

IMG_7903.JPGI realised as I let myself into my neighbour’s charming apartment that I have become very comfortable here. I want for nothing and his charges are very reasonable. The fact that I can get a phone signal and use his wifi means that I can even stay in touch with Baz and C

Meanwhile our own house is shrouded in scaffolding. The sight stopped me in my tracks when I arrived, even though it was planned. Inside I was surprised and impressed to see that the builders have reinstated the little Formica kitchen table and 2 chairs that we had ‘bunged’ into the garage, presumably as somewhere to sit and take a proper break

Someone on a British TV programme this week described the French way of life as ‘gentle and civilised’. I realise that ‘frustrating’ will be another adjective I’ll continue to use, but both Baz and I thought this was a perfect description. There is merit in upholding traditions and rituals, in maintaining the order that has prevailed. In the UK we have some stunning villages – there is no doubt of that – but in France the villages still largely live and breathe, many communities exist in much the same way as they have for a very long time, and older people generally seem less isolated and lonely

Perhaps I am wrong about that, but most people are deeply sociable and enjoy the company of others. I have just read Blog-sur-Aude’s post (coteetcampagne) about just the same thing – community spirit, available company, shared interests: a village bench where people sit if they choose company. These days millions of people in the UK have nowhere to meet up with others and often no daily connection with their community. A gentler and more civilised way of life would solve so many social problems

But tonight, I’ll just curl up alone with my comforts

 

 

 

Springing into Action? Oh yes please!

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There is movement. Apparently work is about to commence on the roof, and not just sometime soon, but this Monday. I am as astounded as I am excited. Hard though it is to imagine the house without the interior waterfall, I also wonder if this might run for a while yet – I mean, it’s all very ‘sudden’ in contrast to the frustration of the last few months. I am not complaining because this is the beginning of the rebirth of the house

Coincidentally I was given an unexpected opportunity to get some more of my junk down there if I had it packed by yesterday, so this was Thursday’s priority, and I have booked a flight. It all fell into place rather well. Baz is understandably jealous and he feels more than a little second-best to my the house. He noticed that I labelled all the boxes with my name rather than our names. I didn’t mean anything by it!

Instead of sleeping in a roofless house, I have succumbed to Plan B (the very comfortable apartment I rented last time) because I can claw back some money by eating in and on heating. And because having a bath and the privacy of a working toilet is just irresistible

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This time next week I intend to be knee-deep in wallpaper strippings and I can barely wait

 

 

 

The ultimate romantic gesture

I have allowed my face to be moulded and ‘splodged’ in latex, come face to face with myself made out of plaster of Paris (a very strange experience) and been photographed throughout as C did weird stuff to me towards her Art GCSE. But I long for the time and space to do my own projects and I fear the time slipping past

When my ‘big’ birthday arrived in September there were generous gifts of chocolates, money and booze – many and varied booze(s), in fact – and an extravagant evening out. So imagine my delight when Baz, the love of my life, presented me with his gift

A gas-fuelled soldering iron/ blow torch

Jason at work compared this to the time when his dad gave his mum a set of saucepans one Christmas (apparently she was livid – imagine!). But for me this little beauty is just what I will need to repair my Jugendstil chandelier, and to experiment with countless other glass and metal projects I have in mind

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Ah, the fun I will have…

But more than that, I believe this gift is Baz’s way of saying ‘It doesn’t bother me that you fill our lives with unco-ordinated tat that needs mending. It’s OK that you never want nice modern things like other people.’

It’s obviously his full acceptance of my obsession with old crap and therefore a licence for me to continue to attempt to resurrect dying things, and perhaps even finish a project one day

At least that is what I get from it. Am I wrong?

 

Coincidences and who is ‘Serge’?

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Must be a very French ‘thing’ to leave Xmas decs up so long?

So after our strenuous afternoon moving the charbonne, we shared a bottle of Cremant as an apero, and went for pizza. We then strolled through the remaining Christmas decorations to have a drink at a local sports bar I have only been to once before. Of course, in small French towns it is unusual for two women to go out for a drink at ten in the evening, and when we sat down the three men at the bar turned and said ‘Bonsoir’. It didn’t feel entirely comfortable but we were not to be easily dissuaded, so we sat and ordered our drinks

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During our second drink, the tallest guy stood up, walked the few paces over to us, and asked in fairly good and friendly English where we hailed from. When told which region of France my friend currently lives in, he asked whereabouts and she named the small village. He suddenly became very animated and even doubtful at first, because apparently this obscure village with only one hundred inhabitants is his family village and they still own two houses there. It transpired that they actually know the same people: (‘Oh yes, Serge is doing the driveway’ and ‘Oh, the one with only three fingers’, etc). When she mentioned a concert she’d attended in a house near the church before Christmas, he even knew who had played there

How? Because it was his sister’s house, of course!

Such coincidences can defy belief. She was only with me for a second night due to car trouble, the guy in the bar was spending just two nights in town on business, having never visited the area before

Around midnight we headed off to our respective dorms, all with a couple of hundred yards of each other. The fact that they made individual random visits to this town – this bar – at the same time is incredible to me

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Spotted in McDs in Limoux the next day and it made me giggle. Go on, say it out loud..

 

 

The Infinitive – and beyond!

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Part 1 – Baz’s route to French

‘Daddy’s behaving suspiciously.’

I looked out and saw him crouched down among the chickens at the back of the garden, apparently gazing into his phone. Given that we have virtually no signal in the front garden, I thought this was indeed suspicious but perhaps it was better not to ask…

That evening Baz told me that he had been secretly learning some French vocabulary using the Linkword app on his phone, following the suggestion of the serveuse on a visit to France in August that he and C should not rely on me so much (and perhaps more so because he had been frustrated that he could only say “bonjour” to the lovely elderly lady who stopped them in the street to chat one morning)

I was hugely impressed that he was doing this, but slightly worried that random words like hedgehog and wasp etc might not help him much with everyday conversational French, so I dug out the dust-covered and previously unused Michel Thomas CD set which a friend had recently recommended. I bought it over ten years ago, but the desire to learn back then just hadn’t been strong enough to persuade either of us to put up with the really irritating female pupil on the CD

Baz’s wish to learn has clearly increased since then. And this course focuses on the similarities of the language with English, of which there are many, rather than the differences. Why didn’t our French teachers at school do this, instead of scaring us with their ‘you’ll never understand any of it’ attitude? I left school with no confidence and no expectation that I would ever learn French, and the strong belief that only certain people had the sort of brains required to process a second language

Just a few weeks on, he has been listening to the course in the car, there is no written work, and he already has a very good grasp of the mechanics of spoken and written French, referring to me for vocabulary from time to time. He has become fairly competitive (it’s a man thing), seemingly driven by the desire to be better at it than me. In twenty years I had no idea he had any aptitude for languages, so his improvement is remarkable!

My French is fairly rusty and I harbour no such ambitions, though I really should improve and would definitely benefit from listening to the course properly. I have stuck it on my iPod and will try to cover some of it while I sweep and mop this week, in preparation for meeting the builder on Tuesday

 

 

Stuff matters – packing pitfalls

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Charlotte age 5 in ‘the hat’*

I am currently packing my own stuff to send out to France. I was saddened recently to read a fellow blogger’s account of receiving her damaged belongings. This lady had paid for professional packing, so hopefully her insurance will cover the damage, but monetary value is of course only part of the story

I certainly don’t mean to patronise anyone reading this, but after 20 years (and counting) in the freight industry I know that people often do not realise what is involved in the journey their goods take. Just today, a large national courier delivery driver brought in some items and we saw him literally chucking boxes around in the back of his van. Don’t be despondent – thought and planning can save heartbreak if you are packing goods yourself, so this may just help someone else in blogspace:

  1. THIS WAY UP   The journey usually involves changes of vehicle along the way, meaning that various people will handle your goods. Markings alone cannot protect your goods. Your packing needs to be tough enough to withstand repeated handling, changes of orientation and being stacked with other goods
  2. Keep it Original    Where possible, keep things in their original packing – particularly for electrical items etc
  3. Nice and easy    When packing small items, try to make each box easily manageable for one person (rule of thumb is 30kg). For example, mix heavy books in a box with bedding to spread the weight
  4. Is it FRAGILE?    Only mark fragile items as such, because if you mark everything the same way people tend to ignore it
  5. Movement and Impact    It may sound obvious, but the aim is to ensure that individual breakables have adequate padding to stop them moving around and to protect them from knocks. Line strong boxes with bubble-wrap or similar where available, and use smaller padded boxes within outer boxes to separate and contain items in transit. If your stuff moves around or rattles when you shake the box, it will probably not survive the journey
  6. Soggy bottoms   Sometimes people close the top of a box beautifully, but neglect to put enough tape underneath. A box is only as strong as its bottom. If in doubt, add more tape!
  7. A solid top  Cut boxes down in height if they are not full. Boxes with empty spaces are weak and can collapse when things are put on top so you need to make the top surface firm
  8. Be creative   Re-use packaging wherever possible, for the sake of the environment and your purse too. I keep an eye open for useful packing materials, and stash these to one side for later use. These are typically things like strong postal tubes, protective padding, small boxes and anything ‘squidgy’ that can be re-purposed, however unconventional. If you are sending bedding, it makes excellent packing when packed into plastic bags inside an outer box

Now that’s quite enough. I don’t pretend that this is an exhaustive guide, but I have tons of packing to do and a sick chicken in my living room, so I wish you all a wonderful (breakage-free) Christmas!

*more about ‘the hat’ another time, perhaps…

Online romance, unkempt loveliness

Dust? What dust?
Dust? What dust?

This is my first online relationship. Somehow I identified this house as my soul mate among all the other potential candidates on the property equivalent of Tinder (what Baz calls ‘house porn’). I had little idea what I was looking for in my partner, only that it would be French, considerably older than me, and would hopefully introduce me to some good walking and a bit of skiing. I didn’t care how it was dressed, what sort of health issues it might have or what its relationship history would be. In fact I don’t even remember what especially piqued my interest when I saw it, but I committed there and then. I could not wait to be face to face, so I booked the first possible flight over, and it felt good. Now I spend my time dreaming of being back there when I’m not …

 

But what if fate and the internet hadn’t brought me to this old unloved and unfashionable house? No doubt it would have remained empty for another 40 years, and there would eventually be a sign on it – like the one further down the road where the stonework is now partially naked and the front door is rotten through – which unashamedly invites people to ‘make me an offer’

Brazen and almost naked
The brazen neighbour now almost completely exposed

I cannot imagine these beautiful old buildings having no souls, nothing beyond the simple fabric of which they are made. They have withstood so many changes, outlived all the people who dreamed of them, built them, and several generations living in them. They have energies – some are less than positive

It’s also difficult to comprehend how little monetary value they have and how little interest they get. The estate agent had the front door key but hadn’t bothered to free up the lock so that we could use the front door when I went to view. As a result, my first sight of the house interior was while negotiating my way though a garage full of junk, and this made it feel like a bizarre film set, not a place to live. Once we finally completed the sale and wrestled the key from the agent it took Baz 30 minutes and a bit of WD40 to get the lock working. The house immediately felt like a very different prospect – a home with a future

As a footnote, the plans arrived in my inbox this morning. An architect has painstakingly put together detailed plans of the layout to enable me to work with a small local team towards stabilising and saving this lovely building. This is the first essential element of progress. I’ve been told that the plumber and the builder apparently think we are ‘very brave’ to take it on. Should I be panicking?!!!

 

Formica – it had its place

I promise I will not normally post EVERY day, but this week is an exception.

Quillan is a town haunted by the loss of major industry – and amongst those in recent memory is Formica. Many people remember this particular product with horror, but one local lady is leading a crusade to collate memories of Formica from local people, and she was one of the lovely characters we met this weekend. When I told her that our kitchen table was made of Formica she asked me to send her some jottings, and I was surprised by how happy it made me to remember, and how clearly and easily it all came back. Indulge me:

Late 1960s in Southgate, London. Our kitchen table had a pale red Formica top with white flecks in it. It had a metal trim around the edge with various dents and scratches. We ate all our meals together around it unless we had guests, when we would be in the dining room next door. My mum sat at the end to my left and my place was next to my dad, opposite my brother. It was quite snug. My favourite meal was Sunday lunch, when I would help my mother to make sauces and desserts and she would serve up a plate of meat and dishes of vegetables along with my favourite part – roast potatoes. I was the youngest and I had my own smaller plate and set of cutlery but I had a huge appetite. My dad and I would share the last of the potatoes after everyone else was full and as a ritual after dessert I would sit on his lap, squeezing his arm muscles and practising joke-telling.

It was my favourite time of the week. The table top is etched on my subconscious as clearly as any other element of my childhood. Whenever I see a similar table it takes me back to this time, when I could cuddle up to my father whenever I wanted and when eating a big meal was something to be congratulated.

My dad worked at the London meat market and we would always wait for him to get home before we had dinner during the week. He would bring the cold into the kitchen with him after walking a mile and a half from the station, carrying bacon, lamb or gammon in a cardboard box tied with string for the next night’s meal. As soon as he had taken off his coat and kissed my mum I would call my brother and sister down for dinner and they would thunder down the stairs, starving. After dinner it was my job to clear the plates and push the chairs under the table.

My parents remodelled the house in the early 1970s, my older siblings became teenagers and mealtimes became less rigid. The table may have been used later by my brother in his bedroom, where he dismantled car and motorbike engines at weekends. I think he possibly took it with him when my parents moved away soon after 1980 and we all moved apart. I asked him the other day if he still has the table, but he doesn’t remember what happened to it.

While I realise that discussing the Formica table was only the catalyst for all this, I see how the dinner table was central to our family, and when I picture the colour and finish of the well-worn table top, it also brings back very exact visual pictures of the coloured napkin rings, which my mother still has, and the serviettes we used to have. I can actually feel the atmosphere and the steam in that kitchen, see the ginger tom who often sat at the sash window and our own black cat with her basket in the corner.  I can see the old grey and blue vinyl tiles on the floor, the floor to ceiling white painted units with the (1950s?) pull down sections and the coke-fuelled Aga. It is a sense of well-being and childhood that I rarely think of, and I am grateful for the unexpected meeting that led me to revisit that time