Weeks 15-17 – to England and back

When I first started the weekly bulletins, an ex-colleague said that I’d never keep it up. But my excuse for this 3 weeks worth of news is that we’ve been in England for 10 days of that 3 weeks, so that doesn’t count!

At the end of our last bulletin, we’d done a massive clear up in the farmhouse for the family from Birchington that we’d unintentionally let the house to (last September before our plans to move here had been finalised and we decided not to let the farmhouse this year), and we were camping in the unfinished barn conversion, prior to setting out ourselves for England. (In the meantime the visitors were setting out for long drives in the other direction. I have to admit that I’m finding it quite frustrating watching visitors set off for Switzerland, Germany and Alsace when I think that the countryside and villages within a 20 mile radius are so beautiful, – you can see everything on the local forest walks I take with the Friday walking group. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s THEIR holiday!)

As for our holiday, it was lovely to see Leila, Toby, my mother, John’s mother, John’s sister and her family and many of our Nottingham friends again. An additional treat was to spend a couple of nights in Broadstairs, where Jessica made us so welcome in her family house. We went to sleep with the lighthouse flashing on the cliff top, and woke to the sound of the geese rushing out onto the lawn. Needless to say, we also walked on the beach and paddled in the sea (we’d forgotten to take our swimming costumes).We strolled round to Holland House (my favourite childhood house), visited the Albion second-hand bookshop (and an even better one with a 50p bargain basement) and dined near the harbour – in a mixture of heavy rain and wonderful sunshine (the sunshine of childhood summers).

Our main aim was to do the final clearance of John’s mother’s bungalow (which his sister had already done a lot of work on), as it seems to be nearly sold. This is always a very dispiriting process. If your parents have already downsized, most of your childhood things have already gone, but there’s a lot of good quality furniture, pictures, etc. which don’t seem to have much market value. So in the end it was a clearance firm for most things, but with books and some other items given to Oxfam, some blankets and duvets to some of the homeless, and two carloads of stuff for France (one load stored with friends!). So the meals which we had with family and friends were just such a welcome diversion. We both have such happy memories of a barbecue on a balmy night with Alistair’s demonstrating his (then) latest version of his patent barbecue/garden heater/table/puffing Billy — which hasn’t yet set fire to the neighbouring properties (and thanks for a belated leaving present from John and Wendy S — when did he “steal” that Entre-deux-Eaux wood?), a balti in Birmingham with Toby, Hannah and Leila, a rather Fawlty Towers meal with my mother in Sherwood at a restaurant where we’d had an enjoyable meal in May (wrong wine, waiter asking how well I’d like my lamb done – when it was a confit, mixed up dinners, solicitous queries as to our enjoyment, chocolate “tort” which turned out to be sponge pud just like school made it, etc. – but all done with a very confident flourish), a Chinese meal down Mansfield road (no, not the one which St Ann’s Library –or, at least its staff – frequent) and a very enjoyable, relaxing meal with Ann and David and friends returning to Nottingham (plus demonstrations of David and Matthew’s latest model rocket technology which they had been launching over the Bank Holiday weekend, in Scotland). Then there was dinner in Billericay with John’s sister on the way up and lunch on the lawn on the way down. So thanks to everyone for looking after us so brilliantly and making the dreary task seem lighter.

We’d found Nottingham much dirtier, noisier, and scruffier than we’d remembered it, with road works, police sirens, litter, and boarded up properties that you just don’t notice when you live there (do we sound like Meldrews already?). So it was lovely to spend our last night before our return with Jessica in sunny Broadstairs. After coffee and toast at Broadstairs on the Friday morning we made a leisurely start and caught the 10.45 a.m. Pride of Calais, which gave us time for an easy drive back on our usual route through northern France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. We even turned off the motorway in Belgium to Redu (towards the Luxembourg border – also signposted for the European Space Centre exhibition centre) and spent an hour and a half in the book village there. Again it was lovely and sunny, and it was enjoyable wandering round. One of the shops had quite a good English stock, which was a pleasant surprise. We stopped a bit later for an evening meal in a restaurant at Cora, just before Metz, and were back at the farmhouse well before 11 p.m. We found the house beautifully neat and clean, which was good (the visitors had paid for cleaning). But we just left the car fully loaded and tumbled into our beds in the barn conversion. So we spent the Saturday moving things back into the farmhouse and also unpacking the car and finding homes for various items from the bungalow.

Week 17 has been spent mainly on getting straight in the house and garden and, for me, on walks. At the end of it, John and I took a short walk together to the Cascades of Molières. We’d earlier seen a footpath to it when driving with my mother to the north of St Dié. It was only a short, though very pretty, walk up along the stream to the cascade, which seemed to have been engineered at some point to run uphill and cascade spectacularly over an enormous boulder. There were little bridges and picnic tables and I could just imagine the charabancs at the turn of the century bringing weekend picnickers to pose by the cascade for their photographs (complete with long white lacy dresses and boaters). All I need to do now is to answer my mother’s question about what connection it has with Molière!

We returned from England just in time for the annual Entre-deux-Eaux walk, which I’ve done twice before, once along with John, Toby and other friends. You register and set off with a map whenever you want (so it’s more fun to be with a group) and pass 2 or 3 check points, where your map is stamped and where you can have a cold drink or a coffee. John decided that his legs/ knees/ ankles/ Achilles tendon weren’t up to it, although later that morning he joined Nicola, who’d dropped by, on a flea market expedition. So I set off solo after a late breakfast (for those who know the area, it started just along the road up Mme Laine’s lane and took in part of Saulcy, doubled back to cross the road past the schoolhouse in Rememont, did a big loop to Fourchifol then went up to the top of the track that leads down to the Entre-deux-Eaux church. It was 16km, and the people who’d booked lunch back at Entre-deux-Eaux had all finished by the time I got there! (However residents are allowed to book lunch without doing the walk! So maybe none of them had walked). I walked with various people at different times, including one family where one of the men won a bottle of champagne as the oldest participant and another said wonderingly that I wasn’t like his stereotype English person and didn’t seem like the traditional enemy. I left them at the first check point as they were going rather slowly and doing the shorter walk. Later I joined up with a female postman (or should I say postal delivery worker) from Schirmeck (it sounds quite difficult delivering letters to remote farms up there in winter).

During the week John’s been finishing off the plastering in the new bit and starting to sort out roof insulation. I’ve been weeding and clearing in the garden (there must have been quite a bit or rain whilst we were away, as everything has grown). John has made some more ginger and marrow jam and more tomato and marrow chutney (the marrow mountain continues to grow!), and we’ve frozen most of the green beans, which are delicious, and gathered our potatoes. Beetroots and carrots still abound, various varieties of lettuce are bolting, there’s a glut of basil, and the cabbages refuse to stop growing.

At the end of the week back here, I joined the Friday St Die walking group. The coach set off in the opposite direction to the place on the programme, so I think there must have been a change to the programme! The walk started from Saales and climbed up to a spectacular viewpoint. There was still logging going on and it was interesting watching the huge machine which could fell trees, strip off their branches and slice the trunks into required lengths. The weather was overcast, but the sun came out as we reached the summit, so the view was blue and hazy. There were autumn crocuses in the meadows as we descended, as indeed there are in our own meadow and orchard.

On the way back I stopped at the Mairie and collected our approved planning application to install three Velux windows in the attic (and to legalise the one already installed in the kitchen!). So work can commence on windows then roof insulation before winter comes.

It is peaceful being back here amid the cows and crocuses (and a hot-air balloon which landed last night among Farmer Vozelle’s bales of hay in the field across the road outside dining room and again tonight in the field just to the south of us – the balloon trip company come from Saulcy so perhaps they are targeting landings near to home for easy retrieval?). We don’t miss the noise and litter of town life, but we did enjoy seeing you all.

A la prochaine!

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