9 days on and Everyones at it now

Here we are, in France , where we wanted to be for so long. On lockdown since 12h 17.03.2020.  Its actually not too bad now that it has sunk in. We are not on holiday- yet not working ( not in a paid role anyway ) .  Its sureal , not having the regular flow of cars and walkers going past , or the usual number of trains . The trains that do go by have many empty seats in them.

Noel , our neighbour,  has been a creature of habit ever since we arrived, Passing on foot or on his bike at least 4 times a day when he ” faires le tour ” like clockwork at regular hours . Then their is the man that sleeps in his car during his lunchbreak , visible from my kitchen window. And the Facteur , who either sails past at break neck speed in his yellow post van, or stops just long enough to to sling our post into the box from his open window.  I havent seen them for days now. I have passed the time of day with an elderly lady who walks with Nordic poles, clicking along the road. We had a small chat at a large distance last week . She tells me my French language has really improved  since we arrived . I think in the last 22 months my ears have tuned in .

I am so very grateful that we are here , with space  and time to do things that need doing. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to be completely isolated and unable to venture out for whatever reason, or to be in a high rise flat with several children, also unable to escape their boundaries, or to understand why .  Hats off to any of you reading who are having to deal with this Crisis in that way , you are all amazing .

Luckily for us we have been carrying on as normal , but with a slightly different slant on things. Over the preceeding few months  had taken to grumbling about the number of parsnips, swedes and leeks left in the ground needing to be used. Now I am extremely grateful that they are there. I am also grateful that the preserving I did last year ( some of it during the canicule when all I wantd to do was basically nothing due to the heat ) is all proving delicious. The simplest preserve was the glut of cherry tomatoes, that I bottled  and sterilised. They are now the basis of pasta sauces  and soups. Simple, but delicious.

Although we have  to stay at home, it is permissable to shop for necessary food. I have chosen not too so far . When it all started – with the exception of chicken food we had plenty in stock to last at least 2 weeks. Now at 9 days I am realising that the flour situation wont last beyond 14 days.  I have placed a click and collect order .

In the meantime I am perfecting the art of bread making in  various forms. None of your arty farty stuff,  Just decent loaves, that are good to eat fresh, and then make good toast .

Yeast surplies here are currently a little difficult to source. I have some, but an eeking it out. Being drawn to WW2 coping strategies, alongside Aramageddon prepardeness blogs  I stumbled accross some information about soda bread . Traditionally a wholemeal bread made with buttermilk I had dismissed it as a quick alternative to the usually labourious yeasty affair . However , it can be made with normal plain flour, and either a yoghurt/ water mixture or milk soured with a liitle vinegar .

Here is the recipe that worked for me yesterday , but sadly no photograph becase we ate it too quick !

 QUICK SODA BREAD ( for 2 ) 

175g plain flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

140 mls of either plain yoghurt watered down to a milky consistency or milk with a dash of lemon juice or vinegar added to sour it

Method:-

Preheat oven to 180C

Mix all dry stuff in a bowl, then add the wet stuff, make it into a ball shape if you can- if not flour your hands and encourage  it into a pile on a greased baking sheet . If you can mark a deep cross on the top it will improve the even cooking . If not, dont worry .

Cook for about 30 minutes . Check it after 20 .

Its brilliant with soup, or cheese , either sliced or just broken up .

Its quick , and its cheap , and its homemade .

 

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This picture above is of my slow bread, that uses a tiny amount of yeast , but a 24 hour window for manufacture.

SLOW BREAD 

3 cups flour ( I used ordinary plain- nothing fancy , not even strong plain bread flour )

1/4 tsp instant quick action yeast

1.25 teaspoons salt

mix it all in a bowl, add approximately 1 1/2 cups of tepid water .

Mix it well with a fork. it will be quite a wet dough. Leave it to do its thing in a warmish place for about 18 hours ( use a larger than you think basin just in case it does its thing a bit too much. )

After this time, knead it a bit, and shape into a loaf shape. If you have a bread proving banetton line it with a cloth and put the dough in it . If not …. put it into the cooking vessed of choice . this will need to be  either well floured, of have a very good layer of grund rice or semolina in it to prevent sticking . Either way, when you reach this tage, cover it again with a cloth or lid. Leave it to rise for 2 hours or so. Then heat your oven . 200C is good to start off a loaf.

I cook mine in a  lidded cast iron casserole dish . It works brilliantly for me . The bread rises well, and develops a good golden crust . bear in castironpan .jpglow yeast 24hr loaf jpg.jpg

 

Day two of the Breton Canicule

Sorry I havent written since March, I didnt realise it was so long ago.

Very much has happened in the last few months .

Early in April I was somehow admitted into L’ordre des Infirmiers, mainly due to my haphazard approach to enquiring again about my previous application from November. Somehow I had managed to email the president  and he took pity on me . At the time it looked like Brexit would be happening early in April. He decided it was imperative that I meet with him in Rennes to discuss my application again. I only had 4 days to refresh again my drug calculations and drip rates ( in French ) – but I had it off pat by the day of the meeting . I arrived just on time, had a ten minute chat with him on the state of the French and British  health services , and then was sent on my way , safe in the knowledge that my application would be accepted and confirmed in the next few days . I enquired about resitting the exam ( I was all geared up for it- new pencil case and everything ) . He told me there was no need as I had passed it last time ! I was totally flabbergasted .

I had yet another hoop to jump through to practice here . Another organsiation , another application and yet another dossier . Once that came through I was offered a contract in the long stay geriatric ward of the local hospital .  I really tried my very best , but I quit after four long days.  I had been told I would start with the team of health care assistants , but when I got there I was told they were so short of staff I would have to start immediatley as a nurse and I would soon pick it up .  Needless to say I didn’t in four days and I didn’t feel that I was able to practice safely with my limitted language skills alongside my very rusty hospital nurse skills gained 35 years ago . I think it was the right thing to do . It would be awful to lose my French regsitration status due to an error, but it would be even worse if I also lost my UK regsitration as a result . When one door closes hopefully nother one opens …. I am just waiting . I put my CV into a local restaurant today who are looking for a Plongeuse ( washer upper ) ,after all- a jobs a job  and I am not overly picky .

We seem to be becoming pretty much self sufficent in eggs and vegetables this year . Due diligence with the weeding and watering is paying off. We have a polytunnel full of triffids, a freezer full of broad beans , and trays and trays of shallots drying in the warm weather , plus all the other culprits . I think the late frosts  and heavy pruning wiped out most of our fruit trees  . We have just one small cluster of apples on one  tree. However – next year who knows ?

Flower wise we have managed to provide some stunning patches of colour mostly from seed or bulbs. This summers garden is very different to last years , and hopefully next years will improve on this one .

There have been lots of caravans parked at the local Hippodrome over the summer, usually for about a week at a time  . Added to this is a huge increase in the number of small human dung heaps in the local lanes and farm gateways . Close to here there is a small lane that is sometimes nice to walk down.It links us to the main route into our village. Caractacus was driving up it one afternoon in May , and horrified at the number of ‘dung heaps ‘ decided he was going to complain to the local Maire about it . He was practicing  his perceived  complaint discussion , but lost concentration on his driving, and managed to slide his car into the ditch at the side of the lane. Its quite a deep ditch with a sheer drop into it . It took quite a bit of explaining to the Insurance company , but just shows , that when push comes to shove I can do a reasonably good job on the telephone . The car was quite broken down one side , but no one else damaged thankfully . All repairs were carried quite quickly fortunately . Another little French experience to add to the ever growing list .

We  have lost two ex battery hens – no obvious reason- just turned their toes up on seperate occasions. This week we have  nicknamed  one of the original big hens Droopy Drawers . I think that maybe she is egg bound. Her tail end is pointing downwards .  I didn’t ever expect my new life would involve spending part of  a morning massaging Waitrose baby bottom butter into a hens egg laying department – but that is exactly what I had to do according to the books and google guidance . ( Other brands of hen massage oil are available ) . In all other ways she is happy – eating and drinking – fighting her way through the ‘old ladies at a jumble sale ‘ mele when the cooked vegetable peelings get put into the bowls in the hen run. TIme will tell …..

For the second time this summer we are experiencing a ‘Canicule ‘. Luckily here in Brittany it has only reached 34c so far . The rest of France is suffering 40 plus degrees C.

Hopefully after a few more days it will cool down a bit .

As I type Caractacus has been transferring water from the well into our storage containers . He has a good system now, and most of the improvised seals on the huge petrol water pump are holding fast . He was only a little bit wet down one side when he came in earlier . Onwards and Upwards

 

Benny Hill, the robot dog, and a beyond just stinky Camembert.

 

Beautifully unseasonal days at the end of February .

We were lucky enough to have beautiful weather at the end of February with unseasonal temperatures of up to 22degrees c. Night temeperatures dropped with clear skies and we had beautiful crisp frosty mornings. This lead to a lot of gardening, with Haxo at foot too. Well mostly. HE did his escape job again and disappeared for a couple of hours. We feared the worst, but just when we had given up hope of finding him, he reappeared with a spring in his step, filthy, stinking and wet. 
It is always a worry here, being so close to the train line that he will come to a sticky end. We had tried all sorts , and he is incredibly well behaved, and will sit tethered in the garden, and walk on a lead. Its not the same as being free to explore and run round in circles with a huge stick in his teeth. 
We took the decision to buy a training collar for him . It has several modes, we have only had to resort to occassional use of the musical note button. Initially he appeared very subdued while wearing it, as if he had had experience of one in a previous life . I know he was originally rescued from the dog pound and had a history of escaping. Maybe he had been a trainee with the electric collar method ? Who knows. What I do know is that it has transformed his days . We can walk in the woods and fields without worry now, he comes back  when I whistle, and very very occasionally, like when he legged it after a man on a bike ( the man, not Haxo ) I have to use the earth to Haxo button to bring him back. Its instant !
He does still look very tempted by the chickens though, and I reckon if the opportunity ever arose it would not be a happy ending there . He sits longingly outside their fenced enclosure , but wont approach the fence that closely because its electrified - for fox repellant purposes. 
In early March we collected 10 more red hens, who sadly would have otherwise gone for slaughter after having finished their productive egg laying lives ( at the age of 18 months ) in a BIO egg farm . 
They were a pitiful sight to behold initially, pale pink combs, not much in the feather department, and one was limping . 
I am happy to say they have flourished in the last 3 weeks, their combs have reddened, some new feathers are visible and they are laying some lovely bright yellow yolked eggs. Currently we get about 4 a day, but I guess this will increase as they get back to full health . 
Percy the Brave has adopted the manners of Benny Hill. In my head I can hear the music as he launches after his hareem when we open up the hen houses every morning.
WHile the weather was beautiful we decided to have a day off from gardenning, and went to the coast with a picnic. I made the mistake of buying some individually portioned  Camembert. It was in a bag,in a plastic box and in a picnic box, but it really managed to create an ambiance in the car . All that aside though , it was great to get out and about, have a nice walk, enjoy the coastline and the sunshine. The tide was out , the beach was huge.Dogs were happily cavorting and horses  were galloping  there too. Lots of families were enjoying the day, and many people from the Old folks rehabilitation residence next to the beach were also profitting fromlovely day the weather . 

The bureaucratic wheels are moving ever slowly for me, but in a very slight forward motion. I do now exist here- I have a social security number and healthcare provision. I have worked a few random shifts via an agency. I have been to a seminar on healthcare and a job fair where I have been very liberal with depositing my CV. I participate in French conversation lessons twice a week now, and more structured study of the written language for 2 full days a week. Its hard, but slowly I am getting better. One day soon I will be able to work properly here , although with live stock and garden I am not sure how I will fit it all in .

Proud and Humble ( Imelda May ) If you get the opportunity to listen to it, it basically sums up this instalment

I can’t believe we have been here for almost 8 months now, and we still have a huge glut of leeks to eat .I did not imagine for a moment that we would manage to produce such a variety of vegetables in the first year . It will only increase this year , as the Polytunnel is already home to 3 rows of potatoes that will be ready to harvest next month , before we plant up tomatoes peppers cucumbers and the like as well as starting off more veges for outside .

Early in January we had a second  appointment  to discuss locally available French lessons for foreigners. Rich managed to get signed up and started immediately . I wasn’t so lucky as I still have no social security number . I take every opportunity I can get to speak in French  with anyone who will listen- even the dog .  Last week I received a letter informing me that I will soon have the required number,  so all is not lost , and I guess the neighbours and our bilingual  dog are quite relieved .

A couple of weeks ago Rich came back from his French classes really pleased that he had been directed to the social centre in the local town.  I had passed it many times, and assumed it was a sort of advice centre for people who needed it , or possibly social housing . How wrong I was. It is the most amazing place where everything goes on, from advice on benefits for families to homework clubs for children and, knitting groups, DIY lessons  and ,importantly for me , the coveted  French lessons !

I study with people of all nationalities, each  with amazing and often sad stories of how they got here . Some are refugees from Syria , Chad, Senegal, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.  During my second lesson we were discussing moving house. My simple flip accross the channel at the time seemed to me like a huge adventure. I can’t  begin to imagine the horrors that my fellow students have endured in their quest to change the cards they have been dealt. For some of them it has taken up to 7 years to get to a better life in Brittany. They have paid smugglers to put them onto boats, they have hitched rides hanging under lorries. They have walked enormous distances, been herded into refugee camps and subsequently moved on, and on and on. Yet still they smile. They are always pleased to greet everyone else in the class. In our new language we discuss many things . For me its great to feel that I somehow belong within this group, even if it is simply through the fact that we are all facing the same challenges in a new country . Everyone has made me feel very welcome there .

This week at the ” centre social ” as it is  the half term holiday, they have held a ” The Whole World Is Here ” event , where sharing some of your culture was encouraged.         It took the form of many things including music and dance, food of every type imaginable, tea , costumes, tatoos and  games.   The sounds and smells have been amazing. The colourful costumes a sight to behold.  The enthusiasm to just share has been inspiring .

For my tiny part, having been asked to share something from my region, I opted to try and talk in French about Cornish Piskies and the luck that they bring . I drew some small pictures and copied them for children ( of all sizes) to colour in and keep for good luck and  I made saffron cake and shortbread to share. It was all happily devoured, and translated recipes shared. I also tried some basic English teaching , but, probably  like children everywhere , most  politely declined the offer as that was something they had to do at school.

However I did get a lot of adults chatting away happily, amazed at how much they themselves remembered from school.  English is a compulsory lesson for children, even at  Primary school. By the time they reach senior school they are usually profficient and can hold quite an in depth conversation as well as being able to read and write it.            A wonderful 9 year old girl talked to me in French about her family. She is one of 8 children, and with her parents they walked from Syria , arriving eventually in France after travelling for nearly 3 years . She told me about her struggles with  studying English on top of learning French . She also went on to tell me about Gummy bands and making bracelets and how, if I am lucky ,I might be able to find  myself  some stripey tights like the ones the Pixie in the picture was wearing .

I think I just need to follow her lead, and get to grips with this language . She certainly is an inspiration .

The only things guaranteed in life are death, and taxes

As December comes to a close I thought I ought to take the opportunity to write something . It hasn’t been the best of months . Richards mum  Angela died on 1st of December . He managed to get a sailing from Caen to Poole on 30th November , and luckily wasn’t hampered by Gilet Jaunes en route. The protests over here , and blockades of refineries did necessitate him staying in the UK until 20th December , just because we couldn’t guarantee that he would either be able to get a crossing, or buy any fuel for returning to the UK for the funeral. The funeral took place on 17th, a sad day for everyone, but Angela would have been pleased that it went to her previously decided rigorous  plan.  Here in France a funeral happens 5 days after the death , my friends here were very surprised at the delay in England . Its just a different system .

Haxo and I managed very well. on our own for almost three weeks .   I took to prowling the grounds at night with him on a lead- and a very large heavy torch just in case some unsuspecting monster was waiting to pounce whilst the dog had a piddle .  We are not exactly isolated, but it does feel a bit that way late at night . There was only one night when  we were both a bit startled that the outdoor security lights had already been triggered. Needless to say – no bogey men discovered out there .

I mentioned my MOT test equivalent last time  – well it failed, mainly on the right hand drive headlights.  The lovely thing here is that you get 2 months to rectify any problems with your vehicle providing it is not suffering from extreme unroadworthyness.  Its currently a work in progress. Richard is doing the headlights because the garage charge of 800 euros seems a bit excessive .

Also at the end of last month I had a meeting with the “Ordre Des Infirmieres”, the governing body for registered nurses in France. The appointment letter said it was a meeting….. I drove for 90 minutes to get to Rennes, expecting a bit of  a chat having already logged a huge dossier of information with them two months before. Imagine my horror when I was told on arriving  that it was for a written  exam . Such fun….. I believe they are probably still laughing at my answers and are unable to compose the letter that they promised they would send in December with their recommendations . Time will tell. I reckon I have more chance of getting into the Ministry of Magic

 

Sorry it has taken me so long

I have to admit, it has been an odd couple of months .
September found me back working in the UK for 2 weeks, and dog sitting/ house sitting for 3. It had been planned since before we moved over here . It was great to be doing some paid work, but in such a short space of time I had managed to wipe from my memory the hassle of driving, just 10 short miles to work . It was sometimes taking me an hour . On the plus side though- I did have two lovely retrievers to look after, and that was good fun.
Whilst I was there Caractacus’s mum had been admitted to hospital after falling at home. She is still there now, so that has been one cause of worry during the last two months .
The day that I returned to France – on an overnight sailing- Caractacus, whilst returning home from the neighbouring village swerved to avoid a deer, and wrote his car off. That was another little nuisance to deal with. Sooner than expected , as we had decided to run our old English cars into the ground before replacing them with left hand drive vehicles, we now have a shiny – not new – Renault. Needless to say- during this odd couple of months it came as no real surprise to find the towing lights didn’t work, but were not covered by the 6 month guarantee. I think we have both given up arguing and doing our best Victor Meldrew impression.
One of the lovely things that happened was giving a home to Haxo – he is a smashing little dog- apparently a Labrador cross- I am not convinced about this- the only labrador part that I can find is his stomach . Caractacus says he looks likeDobby the house Elf . Whatever he is, he needed a new home due to his previous owners change in circumstances. We took him on a trial basis – just in case – but were really pleased that he fits in here so well. He is quite obedient , however – he is prone to running off.
After a late night foray into the wilderness when he was only supposed to be having a quick wee up the hedge , and us searching for him for nearly an hour , he is again on a lead at all times.

The other great thing that happened last month was the new wood burner and chimney being installed.  It really needed doing because it wasn’t going to be possible to simply line the old chimney. The previous owner had had a chimney fire at some point, and in turn this had actually charred and damaged some of the roof timbers .  It took slightly longer to install than planned, because what was assumed to be a wooden Ceiling/ floor- turned out to be cast concrete, and it took a while to cut a hole through it. I learned a lot of new French words both on that day , and the next when the same man was having a few problems with the chimney stack on the roof. Those things really do act well as a megaphone.

This week we are holed up at home due to the demonstrations and road blocks as the country protests at the rising taxes and cost of fuel. Tomorrow I have my car booked in for the final part of the puzzle in its French registration process- the Controle Technique- MOT equivalent. I am dreading it, especially getting there , as it seems that what was supposed to be a one day protest  ( and is now on day 3 ) may continue for the rest of the week . I have my yellow gilet ( high viz security waistcoat ) on show in my car  windscreen – with a tiny bit of luck- and maybe a bribe with some homemade biscuits – they might just let me through !new-fire1

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Work ?

Last week I arrived in the UK ready to do my three week stint of flying visits and long planned dog sitting for a colleague. I had always planned to come back occasionally to do a little work if the opportunity presented itself. I love the fact that I can communicate here without often having to resort to the dictionary, or mime to get my point across. However , I really don’t like the traffic jams and absolute urgency in that everything has to be completed now . Maybe I am just a bit out of practice after 3 months of a slower pace of life.

I am committed to doing a good job while I am here even if it does involve inspecting every poo that my charge, a retired guidedog, does. He suffers colitis, and his diet has to be altered accordingly. I reckon the addition of some rice has calmed things down somewhat.Obviously that is not my all consuming purpose for being here. I am also doing a few locum shifts locally, and hopefully not picking up any horrible fresher’s flu type bugs while I am doing it.

At least after the initial few days the sun has come out , and Devon and Cornwall are starting to glow, resplendent in their Autumn glory.  Two more weeks and then I will be back in the sleepy backwater of France, getting stuck behind the occasional tractor while driving.