Week 1 From Sherwood Rise to Entre deux Eaux

Friday 10 May

Up at 6 a.m. to block Second Avenue with our two cars, milk crates, planks and assorted appropriated cones before the New College students block the road. It’s moving day and the articulated removal lorry needs plenty of space to swing into our road. (Those of you who came to our farewell party may remember the narrow road and the limited parking!) Later on, the police, who’d been silent on the subject, despite a couple of requests, also put in an appearance to cone off part of the road (sorry that’s all the cones I have – a measly six). The scarlet removal van ( “from the Pennines to the Pyrénées, a Peak performance”) swings in with the greatest of ease and loading of all our possessions commences. The day is gloriously sunny, and loading is punctuated by many cups of tea. Lunch is spontaneously laid on next door. By mid afternoon John has brought up from the cellar some forgotten home-made elderberry wine, neighbours fetch wine glasses, and an impromptu wine tasting takes place, comparing the merits of 1982 and 1983 (yes, 1982 and 1983!). We could be in France already! A sensation compounded by the lingering alcoholic aroma after John has poured the remnants down the yard drain. The neighbours leave with a gallon of the ’83. By 5 p.m. the 13 metre van is completely full – we’re glad they spent the time discussing how best to pack everything in to optimise the volume at various times during the day (mainly taken up with over 100 cardboard boxes of books and crockery, but also fruit trees, bay trees and geraniums – we’re taking very little furniture). So many thanks to the uncomplaining friends who helped heave weighty items down from the attic and to colleagues who provided some of the cardboard boxes. We later hear the load was 10 tonnes and the men reckoned on just over 2000 cu.ft. in the 2200 cu.ft. van. Having started loading at 8.30 they finished soon after 5.15 and then looked gloomy at the prospect of the drive in the weekend rush to their depot just south of Sheffield.

After an hour’s sleep and a shower we’re ready to party all night with Ann and David Hart on the River Trent. We’d originally assumed this would be a warm pullovers and thick socks event until we discovered that evening dress is required, as the event, on board the Nottingham Princess, is to launch an Aids education project for Zimbabwe. A bit of improvisation is required. What a memorable way to say farewell to Nottingham with swans gliding by in the dark, bank-side buildings illuminated, hearty food and dancing till midnight (it has to be admitted that we rise to the challenge of the buffet rather than the dancing!)

Saturday 11 May

An anticlimax, as we finish cleaning the house. It looks as bare and impersonal as when we first moved in all those years ago.

Sunday 12 May

A day for family farewells. We pass our fax machine on to my mother and hastily coach her in the art of instant communication, as she is a great letter writer. Then she and Leila join us for a celebratory birthday lunch in Sherwood. I (Helen) had almost forgotten it was my birthday (where have I put the cards which came earlier?). My present from Leila and Toby is Nottingham Monopoly, so I can’t forget their birthplace! The Two Rooms restaurant is fairly new and only one other table is occupied; the meal is excellent for both the vegetarians and meat-eaters; so the owners are disappointed to discover that we won’t be around to tell people how good it is. So, for those still within easy reach of Nottingham, we can thoroughly recommend it – slightly nearer to Nottingham than the Sherwood library, on the eastern side of Mansfield Road, next to Geoff Bloore’s second-hand book shop.

Monday 13 May

After lunch, Leila and Helen’s mother wave us off on the great adventure. Stage one is an easy drive down to Billericay. We visit John’s mother, recently installed in a nursing home in a nearby village and still adapting to such the huge change following the unexpected death of John’s Dad just after Easter. Then over to his sister Ann and family in Billericay for the night.

Following a further quick visit to see John’s mother again, we drive on to Dover to get the 11.30 a.m. ferry. I (Helen) thought I’d feel immensely sad seeing the white cliffs of Dover recede. But the morning is grey, the cliffs drab and the boat seems less comfortable than usual. It’s raining in Calais. However the weather brightens as we drive across Belgium and Luxembourg; we re-enter France in full sunshine. We stop for a quick evening meal at IKEA north of the centre of Metz, as usual handily located just off the motorway. It’s interesting how different the French/Swedish fast food is from British/Swedish (and of course they serve wine as well as beer)! The evening sunlight over the Vosges is spectacular and it feels like a homecoming.

Tuesday 14 May

Wake up early (again!) as the removal van driver had, on Friday, announced his intention to start delivering our possessions on Tuesday afternoon rather than on Wednesday morning, as previously agreed (does this have something to do with the fact that he’s driving up to Scotland on Saturday for a week’s holiday?). As we had warned the neighbours that the road would be blocked on Wednesday, this is rather a blow, especially as a large milk lorry is due to collect from the end of our “cul-de-sac” on Tuesday afternoon. Spend the morning indulging in our own furniture shifting to make room for Nottingham items and walking through the orchard and meadows, delighted to find that the wild purple orchids have survived all the changes to the meadow, including our various sewerage excavations. Weather is glorious, and we relax on the terrace at lunch time thinking “this is what the move is all about!”

At around 4 p.m. red lorry proudly declaring “from the Pennines to the Pyrénées” (they can add “and Vosges” now) is spotted across the meadows. The driver leaps out, changes into his shorts, and he and his mate launch straight into unloading (there were three men to load), plants first. Many cuppas and a couple of hours later, the van is one third unloaded, all the plants have been watered, and the men call it a day. After we’ve all showered (separately) we all go off (together) for a pizza. The pizza turns out to be a fortunate choice as the driver’s mate can’t stand French food (or more specifically, anything that shows any signs of not having been cooked to death). What is unfortunate is that our nearby pizza restaurant, the Toscane, is closed on Tuesdays, as is the other restaurant on the outskirts of that village. So it’s off to the bright lights of St Dié for a pizza, which is excellent despite the snooty waiter. We hear the late rather than early afternoon arrival was due to delays they’d experienced travelling down to Dover from Sheffield on Monday – several blockages on English motorways – but they were unable to make up time on the French motorways due to the speed limiter. The lorry spends the night in the new huge carpark outside the village shop.

Wednesday 15 May

Another glorious day – fortunately the van is on the north side of the house in the shade. Unloading the boxes is complicated by the fact that we have foolishly agreed to let the farmhouse to people who enjoyed it so much this time last year. They will arrive on Saturday, so we can’t really stack the farmhouse with 100 boxes (although they have said that they’ll be out on the terrace in the sunshine all the time). On the other hand we don’t really want a lot of stuff lying around the “west wing” that we’re working on, as everything will be in the way. The compromise is to stack the new spare bedroom to the ceiling (it will be decorated after everything else!) and also to spread other items between the three barns. All the boxes and rooms are numbered, which seems most efficient – until we change our minds about a few locations! The last of the boxes is unloaded by lunch time and we wave the lorry off. By evening we are exhausted with sorting and decide to patronise the previously closed Toscane. The new owner obviously has no idea of the potential for British trade as he is closed yet again. So we sit out on the terrace of the busy St Martin restaurant in St Dié and watch the world stroll by with dogs and rucksacks as we tuck in.

Thursday 16 and Friday 17 May

Two days of cleaning and clearing the farmhouse for the visitors and sorting out bedding. How can it have got so dirty since we were last here? But by the end it looks more attractive with its additional furniture (“What a lovely dressing table!” exclaim the visitors when they re-enter “their” downstairs room – which we usually refer to as “grandma’s room”). John’s cookery books and some new games have all been unpacked and make the dining room and sitting room look very lived-in. The terrace is transformed and gleaming in the sunlight as nine years of moss and grime are blasted away by the inherited Karcher pressure washer. The garden also looks splendid with the potted plants and trees processing down the pathway.

Thursday evening is “rounded off to perfection” (sorry, an in-joke from our visitors’ book) with a meal on the terrace of our friend Nicola, who lives in a neighbouring village. The food is as delicious as ever (“only something quick and simple”, she says, as she serves the artichokes, followed by roast poussin, and then fruit with meringues – the meringues “stolen” from a baker friend’s patisserie). Her dogs think it’s wonderful to be out of doors so late at night, as we sit gazing at the planets in the clear sky.

Friday evening after another sunny day, we try out the domestic arrangements in the “west wing” — to make sure we’ve got everything. Various return trips are needed for wine glasses, colander, washing up bowl, drying up towel, etc. John slept in the new bit last year (when the Rowes, our forthcoming visitors were here last May), but it’s Helen’s first night!

Saturday 18 May

We wake up to rain. And rain/overcast skies are forecast for all next week, apart from a possibly sunny Monday. And our visitors were so looking forward to their break in the sun (in “paradise”, as they refer to the farmhouse setting) – outdoors all day and evening. Mme Laine, our neighbour, says that it always pours with rain for the Entre-deux-Eaux flea market, which is a week on Sunday. I’ve just finished mopping the kitchen floor when the visitors arrive, several hours early. So we invite them into our makeshift sitting room for a coffee……. They’re thinking they might like to buy a house in France in a region not full of the English at any time of the year (seems they’ve been to the Dordogne and Normandy since they were here last year!). Do we have any tips?……

So here we are, safely installed, after our rash purchase nearly 12 years ago. The old house looks good. And in the “west wing” barn conversion we now have temporary shelving in the bathroom, which has a beautifully tiled floor, shower, toilet and washbasin all fully functional, but bath purely decorative and unconnected; the connected fridge-freezer and the unconnected dishwasher earmark the future kitchen; our bedroom has two flea market beds (without fleas, fortunately), a clothes rail (reminder of student days), two old rugs and a curtain over the doorway (doors to follow at some later date). The huge living room is the crowning glory. John has installed yet another satellite dish and, with a Sky Digibox, we now have UK television (and, more importantly, clear Radio 4 reception all day – England v. Sri Lanka has been unfurling all day!). Temporarily, we have unrolled a carpet we haven’t seen for 20+ years (some may remember it from Blenheim Drive days) –  it un-needed in the Nottingham attic. We have the rocking chairs, a table and a weird assortment of upright chairs (when the men first unloaded them and lined them up round the living room it looked a bit like a doctor’s waiting room). Soon it will be dark and time to close the shutters a the end of our first week.

Well this wet weather, coupled with the enforced cessation of housework, clearing and DIY activity for a week, has provided the opportunity for a quieter time to reflect on the hectic past 3 weeks: Helen finishing work (“resting” sounds so much better, though not currently very accurate, than “retiring”) and leaving colleagues old and new; lots of farewell meals with local friends; John’s last canoeing trip for a while in England (and yes, he and Alistair just had to have a final soaking while playing at Newark weir); a Derbyshire garden centre and second hand bookshop nostalgic trip with Mary; catching up with all the news of more far-flung friends at the “au revoir” party (where have all those years since university, library school, Swaziland, RSC/UKCIS gone? – and why didn’t we hold it over the whole weekend to have more time to talk to all those who came); walking round Hardwick Hall gardens with Helen’s mother (lots of stops at benches), and last visits to Second Avenue from Toby and Leila. It’s been a break-neck 3 weeks (did we mention packing?), but it’s been lovely to see so many friends. Do please keep in touch as we’d love to hear all your news (especially on these boring wet days when we can’t just lounge on the terrace with a glass of wine and a good book). And of course, those of you who’ve already visited know that slave labour is always welcome (food and bed provided!) – and even “proper” visitors wishing to explore the area – we’ve room for six-to-eight!

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