Saturday, April 21, 2012

Moving to France - first views of the Pink House

If anyone's thinking of moving to France just for the weather, think again! Today is just like the weather we left behind in Wales, only with nicer scenery. It's cold, it keeps raining and hail-stoning, and the sun is nothing but a fleeting visitor.

Time to update the blog and probably high time you saw some pictures of the "pink house" as we saw it first, although it wasn't really pink at all, anywhere other than in the estate agent's online pictures!

"Both on paper and in the flesh, so to speak, this one looked very promising. According to the internet details, it had seven bedrooms and three bathrooms, was on three storeys and had a good-sized garden. We nicknamed it the pink house, as the photo showed the rendering as a pale rose pink, although in reality it was a lot paler and more washed out."

Our first view of "the pink house"

"They do warn house viewers to try to see past existing décor to what the place will look like once you've stamped your own mark on it. Sound advice. The decoration in the pink house was truly hideous. Very nineteen seventies. The sitting room had two very strong contrasting patterned wallpapers, which didn't go together, neither of which was very nice even in isolation and in unison presented a full frontal assault to the senses."

The retro sitting room

"But the layout was practically perfect for what we wanted. On the top floor was a bright, light three-bedroomed apartment with shower room and loo and some open space to create a small cooking and dining area. Ideal to let as B&Bs or a self-contained flat. It had very nice south-facing views, and the possibility to create a sunny roof terrace on top of the roof of the room below, which jutted out in front of it."

View from the top floor flat

And, Just because it's a very cold day today and there's still a lot of snow on the volcanic peaks all around, a view of what this part of France can look like in winter!

Don't forget, kind readers, I'm relying on you to tell me what photos you'd like to see. Hope you will enjoy these, will post some more on the next rainy day, which won't be too long, if the weather forecast is anything to go by! Do leave me your comments here, about the book, or the blog, or France, or Life, the Universe and Everything.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Not just any other family moving to France

It's a cold, wet, miserable day in the Auvergne.  Yes, we do get them. In fact overall our weather isn't that different to that of the UK, only more extreme - our hot is hotter, our cold is colder.  So I thought I'd go and rummage round in the attic for some more photos for you and I suddenly came over all nostalgic and found some family ones.  Not sure if they are what you want to see, but thought it might help you will picturing the family behind the move to France, before dementia, depressed dipsomania and downright dottiness set in.

As ever, I'm in your hands, dear readers, to know what you would like to see.  Do please let me know.

I thought it would be nice to start with one showing a relatively normal family scene, Mother, Father, Brother and me, with my brother's godfather, Fr Leo Rakale CR on a visit from Bulawayo, where my father had met him during his wartime service there.

"Mother certainly had her share of admirers. In fact she went out with the man Auntie Doris went on to marry, before her younger sister did. I have no idea why she waited so long nor eventually made the choice she did.

Recently, when age and dementia have removed inhibitions, Mother has taken to looking wistfully at her wedding photographs and saying: “That was the day. I wonder if I did the right thing?”. A sentiment I have certainly shared throughout most of my life."

Parents' wedding, April 1947 

"My father's job as a newspaper editor came with a heavy social engagement schedule. There were endless civic receptions, cheese and wine parties, film premiers and other such delights to attend, for which mother would put on her finest gowns. And they did make a handsome couple, it has to be said." 

Wilmslow Civic Ball 1962

"Mother was a real looker, with beautiful blonde hair so long she could sit on it, who surprisingly didn't marry until she was 30. Doris was the dizzy blonde who made the good marriage."  

Mother (left) already well into her 80s, with younger sister Doris

Mother (right) in 2004 with older sister Ethel in the lovely home in St Helens

Right, that's your lot, lovely readers.  Sorry the spacing went a bit funny, think I've now sussed what I did wrong and will do it better next time.  As ever, do please leave me some comments and request any pictures you would like to see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another wonderful review of Sell the Pig on The French Village Diaries

I always appreciate everyone who takes the time to leave their comments on Sell the Pig either here, on Amazon (where there are now 21 x 5-star reviews in total) or on their own blog or website. Reader feedback is so helpful in deciding whether it really is worthwhile bashing on with a sequel.

Don't forget to have your say, let me know what you thought about Sell the Pig, what photos you'd like to see here on the blog and what more detail you'd like in a sequel.  I always try to respond to each of you personally, and certainly to post the pictures you ask for - just ask Carl Legge!  He asked for the photos of the Lincolnshire grottage - I've done the befores, here are a few afters.

In the meantime, here's the link to the Sell the Pig review on The French Village Diaries .Thanks so much, Jacqui!

Back garden - after

Kitchen - after

Sitting room - after

My bedroom - after

Don't forget, you're in charge of this blog. Tell me what you'd like to see or to know and I shall post it. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Moving to France - why the Auvergne?

For those of you who have read Sell the Pig and wondered why the fascination with the Auvergne, I thought I'd include some illustrations to show its beauty. Surprisingly, my own collection of photos is too poor to do it justice, so I'll include some links to far better pictures than I have taken.

As I explained in the book: "And then there was a song buzzing round in the back of my mind. Those of you who may remember an advert for Dubonnet in, I think, the seventies, with the strapline “Dubonnet - way up there,” will know the one I mean. It was the hauntingly beautiful shepherd's song Bailero, from Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne."

And for those who want to know what my brother looks like, here's a picture to show that he really did overcome his acrophobia and make it to the top of the Puy de Dome.

"We went for a run-out after that, westward to the Monts Dores then back via the Puy de Dôme and finally found the navette (shuttle bus) running, so took the white-knuckle ride to the summit for the incredible views.

The journey up certainly rattled my brother so he decided he couldn't possibly face the return journey on the navette. There is a pedestrian route up the Puy, an old mule track, but it brings you down to a car park a long walk from where we had left the hire car, near to the navette car park.

The direct route down to the navette car park is prohibited to pedestrians. The road is too narrow for more than one vehicle to pass at a time, so the navette drivers use what the French call talkie-walkies to synchronise their departures from either end, so they only meet whether there are designated passing places. And despite the steep gradient and plunging drop to the side, they rattle up and down as if they were in the Monte Carlo rally. Any pedestrian in their way would be toast, in very short order."

And here's an idea of what the Puy de Dome  looks like from the air - it's 1464m to the summit - and a side view

Do please let me know what else you would like to see photos of. Perhaps you might like to share which bit of Sell the Pig you find most interesting/amusing and I'll find some photos to go with it. Any and all comments always very gladly received and I always try to reply personally. Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 6, 2012

A review of Sell the Pig by Susie Kelly, author

It's always so gratifying to see what readers say about Sell the Pig in their reviews. It currently has 20 x 5-star reviews across three Amazon sites.

It's particularly flattering that the latest such review comes from an accomplished and published author, Susie Kelly, whose works include Best Foot Forward and Two Steps Backward.

Susie very kindly posted a review on her blog under the title Belated Blog Reviews as well as on Amazon, for which very many thanks.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Leaving home in the UK to move to France

Just to prove I do listen to my kind readers and respond to their requests, here, especially for Carl, are some of the pictures of my "grottage" near Market Rasen, Lincolnshire.  Affectionately known as "The Hammer House of Horrors" when I bought it because it was in such an appalling state, having been largely lived in by animals for years.

As ever, photographs are accompanied by relevant text from my book, Sell the Pig, for the benefit of those who have not read it and to link things together for those who have.

"I wasn't particularly thinking of buying a property at this stage in my life, and certainly was not certain that that area was where I wanted to put down long-term roots, having been there barely six months. But, like the Elephant's Child, I am full of “'satiable curtiosity”.

"So when a neighbour told me horror stories of a cottage in the hamlet that was coming up for sale, I simply had to go and take a look at it. She told me it had been repossessed by the mortgage company when the former occupant, who apparently had some mental health issues, fell behind with payments and became unable to live there on her own any more.

"According to my source, the house was in very poor condition, as she'd kept all of her animals indoors for years – and I do mean all. Apparently the menagerie included dogs, cats, chickens and goats."

  Main bedroom

"It's hard to say which of our senses was assaulted first. The smell was indescribable. But my eye was immediately drawn to the tell-tale dark brown stains all over the floors and the door frames, wherever we looked.

"Before we'd even stepped over the threshold Mother was already saying “No, oh no.” But Auntie, who was surprisingly intrepid, was bumbling about peeping into rooms and cupboards and following me up the stairs and round the bedrooms – very brave, as parts of the upstairs floor boards had been rotted away with presumably several years' accumulation of animal urine."

First impressions on entering - the "kitchen"

...."I loved my cottage, now promoted from grottage, with a lovely garden, all created by my own hands. My predecessor there obviously had some very serious issues as, once I started digging in the mass of nettles and runaway lonicera nitida which was all there was of a garden, all I came up with was endless pairs of tights inside Walkers' crisp packets.

"Not sure which flavour. The blue bags. I only like the plain ones so I don't know the colours of the different flavours. But whatever the former resident had been trying to achieve, I can tell you that no matter what soil you plant that combination in, it simply doesn't grow into anything."

The garden, as I saw it first

That's your lot for today, but I promise to show you some of the "after" photographs, after the promotion from grottage to cottage.  Do please leave me your comments and as ever, this blog is driven by you.  What yea ask for shall be given unto thee, or something like that.

Guest blog on camping in France

Very occasionally, I do guest blogs for people about life as an ex-pat in France.  Here's one I did earlier. Aquitaine Feature

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Have dog, will move to France

As promised, I decided to start this blog to support my book, Sell the Pig. Those of you have read it may like to see photos of the main characters, to put faces to names.  And those who have not yet read it might enjoy reading a few excerpts to see if you might like to.

A very brief recap, it's about the, some would say, bizarre decision for my rather unusual family to up sticks and move to France together. Unusual in that the family consisted of Mother, aged 89, and pleasantly barmy with vascular dementia, Brother, a manic-depressive alcoholic with a double decker bus as a plaything, Meic, my larger than life border collie, and me, a decidedly dotty middle-aged freelance copywriter.

For those of you interested in dogs, here's a bit more about Meic.  For those not interested in dogs, my usual advice - look away now.

"I hadn't exactly intended to get Meic. When I'd left my riding centre in Wales, in the early 90s, to move to Dorset, I had a small black collie cross named Mady. She came from a rescue centre, where she was called Mandy, but she was so definitely not a Mandy, I just dropped the N and she became Mady."

"She was very happy as an only dog. She was a very easy and biddable dog, though inclined to be a little bit bossy with other dogs. She did on one occasion up-end my friend's lovely Staffie, Camilla, whilst giving away a huge amount of weight in the contest. That's how tough and determined she was."

"I wasn't in the market for another dog. There was no danger at all of my wanting one when Anna-Lou showed me the remaining two puppies. But then I saw Meic. Or Mott, as he was called at that time. And something cracked. To Mady's intense disgust, she found herself sharing the back of the car on the way home with a squeaking, peeing, puking puppy who had not had much experience of car travel."

Meic, aged 5 months

"I'm sure there are those amongst you, if you've read thus far, who will be thinking why not just put him to sleep and move and get a new dog once installed in France? Trouble is, I'm a bit of a softie with my dogs and always apply the Toy Rule – as long as a dog is still quite happy to play with a favourite toy, there's too much life there to extinguish, in my humble opinion."

Meic, demonstrating the Squeaky Toy Rule

So there you have a couple of doggy faces to put to names.  The rest is up to you, dear reader.  Tell me what you would like to see photos of and I shall do my best to post them here for you.