Monthly Archives: October 2016

Sally’s Whirlwind Lifestyle

Meanwhile I got involved with Sally’s whirlwind lifestyle.

We went to a local beauty salon for a hot-tub – Another first for me, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The salon we visited – Finishing Touch in Stourport – had just opened a new section named Unique Spas, and very nice it was too.  The main salon had hairdressing and a nails bar, where I had my fingernails and toenails painted a sparkling shade of deep purple with spangled highlights.  At the back of the salon they had installed two treatment rooms, showers and a chill out room, whilst a beautiful garden at the back contained two hot tubs an indoor and outdoor one, plus barbecue area, benches, chairs, pergolas and terraces.  Compact but very stylishly and beautifully done.

I found the hot tub thoroughly relaxing, and vowed to return, which in fact I have, several times since.  This is me relaxing with Sally and friends plus chilled champagne in the largest of the hot tubs

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Then we had several theatre trips which were great fun.  Sally’s Mum took us to see the stage version of Ghost at the Alexandra in Birmingham which was excellent, then we popped over to Malvern Theatre, which has been thoroughly revamped.  Sally and I travelled over with Jack, Sally’s apprentice, and met up with an old neighbour of mine  – Sue – and we had a great time.

Sally applied for, and was granted a doubling of her Transport Operators Licence from five trucks and ten trailers to ten trucks and twenty trailers – which was a real landmark moving-forward for her, having only started as a limited company in February of this year

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I went out quite a few times with her on night time runs in the lorries when she was catching up on extra jobs, which is always an experience

I had a number of lifetime firsts – I went through a drive in food outlet (best not call it a restaurant)  Ate a KFC and MacDonalds.  Had a Donner Kebab and various other take away meals, one of which was delivered (another first)  Drank beer from the bottle and pop from a can (the last time I had pop it didn’t come in cans but knobbly bottles with black screw in stoppers)

We visited Greg’s The Bakers – and though I didn’t eat ALL the pies I did eat one, having given up on worrying about what I ate on the way over on the ferry from France, when there was nothing remotely vegan, or even half-heartedly vegetarian.  I tried to eat sensibly for a while and although I still do eat some organic food when I can, the defining day was when I declined a MacDonalds, and found that by the end of the day my food intake had consisted of a Lion Bar and a can of fizzy pop!

Sally and I treated ourselves and friends to meals out – and also to a car.

 

And Off the Ferry

We took the lifts down to the lower decks, and once again the Renault was refusing to start.  And once again we were told we would need to wait until last then be towed off.

Knowing we had no chance of making it home without getting towed or trailered back Sally had phoned her brother Karl to ask if he would meet us at the docks.  He, poor guy, had just taken his family on holiday in Devon, where they had begged to stay on for to enjoy one last sunny day at the beach rather than making the journey home so Karl could have been fresh for work on the Monday.  As a result he had quite literally just arrived home in the Midlands when Sally’s call came through to ask him to collect us from Poole.  What a kind guy.  He borrowed a suitable trailer and a reliable tow vehicle, hitched it all up and headed down to meet us from our 2am docking.

Sally had already phoned him to see it he could tow us off, but the ferry staff were having non of it.  We would wait until last then be towed off by them.  So wait we did.  First the foot passengers heading for the coach.  Then the cyclists.  Then the cars.  Then the motorhomes.  Then the lorries – though that part was quite interesting as a massive lift came into play and they lowered whole loaded artics right beside us.

Every so often Sally tried to start the van, and all of a sudden and quite unexpectedly it sprung into life.  We half-heartedly inched forwards, the gears sometimes nearly catching but not quite.   ‘What’s French for push’ said Sally.  ‘Pussez!’   So  Sally yelled to one of the French handlers that we had started but just needed a ‘Pussez’ – hoping the gear would drop in as it had on the steep ramp when we loaded.  He sprinted across and started to push.  Whats French for push harder, I wasn’t sure but suggested ‘Allez Allez’ and ‘Vite Vite’ which she used with enthusiasm.

‘We need more pushers’  she said, but my minimal French couldn’t cope with that, though another couple of handlers seeing what was happening had now joined in.

But all too late.  By now we had reached the bottom of the steep exit ramp.  The gear had not caught and the pushers were flagging.  We ground to a halt a few yards up the slope – with us now completely blocking it.

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‘Now you see why you should have stayed till last’  snarled the French supervisor, ‘I still have over a hundred vehicles to unload.’  But as we were now an obstacle a shunter was called in and a short and somewhat weak looking rope attached.  This promptly snapped and when re-knotted became even shorter, but we managed to make it up the ramp this time and off the boat, and much quicker than if we had waited until last as instructed.

Of course – once again we simply sidetracked the customs shed, so if we had wanted to smuggle anything or anyone through it would have been perfect, having been checked at neither end.

Dear Karl was waiting there for us with a very sleepy step-daughter in tow.

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The shunter pulled us over, but getting the Renault up the trailer ramp without a winch would be next to impossible, so the shunter kindly pulled us on very professionally and Karl strapped everything down before we headed for home, watching the sunrise as we sped along.

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Thank you Karl, and Thank you Sally.  My heroes!

Oh! Cruel Fate!

Sally made it to the shop in record time – only to discover it didn’t open until we had cleared territorial waters, some thirty minutes from port.  Arghhhh…..and with an anguished look on her face she came round the corner from the shop.

I had by now caught up with her and looking for a seat on which to rest spotted the lovely young couple who had helped push us through the ticket and passport control.  Sadly for Sally neither of them smoked, so there was no help there.  Still she thought a beer might at least take the edge off the nicotine craving and headed for the bar.

It really was not her day at all.  The barrel was just running out as he drew her pint, which apparently came out as flat as the proverbial pancake.  As it was a French ship the barman either did not understand, or chose not to understand, that she preferred her beer to have a head, but eventually she persuaded him to have another go and finally returned with at least a drink, quite why she did not ask for a packet of cigarettes from there I am not sure but……..

So with one need provided for we checked out the restaurant, but as we had been so late in getting loaded and had spent time procuring and drinking a beer there was hardly anything worth eating left.  I decided not to bother but Sally had some fish and chips which looked pretty much past their best, and I settled for a coffee from the machine.

By now the shop had finally opened its doors and Sally was the first in to stock up with the maximum permitted number of cigarettes, then retired to the outside deck to probably smoke three at a time.

Back inside and looking calmer she headed to the bar for another drink.  Oh! Cruel Fate!  The bar had now closed. Back to the shop to see if they sold drink…… but that too had quite literally shut up shop.  There was nothing for it but to try and get some shut eye.

I had tried to book a cabin for our journey, but non had been available.  So after a quick walk round with the young couple we had hooked up with to see where we might be able to settle down, we found that pretty well every suitable spot had already been bagged. They, at least had the foresight to have bought sleeping bags with them, whereas Sally and I just had our coats.

Sally and the others decided to climb the low fence into the softly padded Children’s Play Area.  It was too high for me to attempt and they were all for lifting me over bodily, but I was having non of that and stuck to my choice of sitting in one of the chairs in the cinema, and with my head resting on the cold window managed to get at least some sleep.

Sally, having climbed in to the play area was then worried about her hoard of cigarettes and handbag so slept with them all beneath her, but as I have often noticed Sally can sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat, as seems to be the case with anyone who has driven lorries for a living.

Before long the chimes announcing that we were nearing the port woke us, and sleepily we bid farewell to our new friends, then headed for the lift to take us back to the lower decks.

The Loading and the Lifts

As the Renault gathered speed down the ramp the gear had clicked into place and we were now moving under our own power.  Which was great.

But – anyone who has ever used a vehicle ferry knows just how close the loaders like you to park.  With impressive hand signals they call you forward, and forward, when all the time you are certain you are about to collide with the vehicle in front, until suddenly they raise their palms and you are supposed to stop instantly.  Which you normally do, as you were convinced you were about to collide a few feet ago.

So we had the usual pernickety loader, even though on this lower deck it looked like we would be almost the only vehicle there.  He kept on signalling Sally forwards and forwards, but when the obligatory palms out indicated for her to stop, she found that the gears not only had clicked in on the way down the steep ramp to the lower deck, they had actually locked in!  So – far from  easing to a halt – she had to stand on the brakes, whilst the Renault kept locked in forward drive.

Needless to say the supercilious palms outstretched signal from the loader had now turned into a frantic waving of open palms with wildly crossing arms, and we stopped a hair’s breath from the bumper in front of us.

But that was of no real interest to Sally.  She grabbed her handbag and coat, leapt out of the van and strode across to the lifts, with me making as much speed as I could behind her.

Into the lift we got.  Sally declared that she didn’t know which floor the shop was on so she had pressed all the buttons and we started to ascend.  The lift stopped, Sally was out like a greyhound leaving the traps and I followed.  The lift doors closed as it sped on to the second destination Sally had ordered, whilst we left the lobby to find – Oh No!  We were still on the cargo decks.

With the lift now winging its way to the highest floor, again selected by Sally, we had to wait ( I would like to say patiently – but that was not the case) until it could slowly descend again.  Once back in the lift Sally made a more careful selection of buttons, which gave sufficient time for a somewhat portly man accompanying a wheelchair complete with wheelchair attendant to hold open the doors and squeeze in with us.

Now with four passengers and a wheel chair there was not a lot of space, and the portly man was the last to enter.

Although the buttons had been selected the failsafe on the lift doors detected the protruding belly and refused to close, after about three failed attempts Sally – through clenched teeth suggested he stepped back.

At every floor the lift stopped with more anxious passengers wanting to enter, though of course there was no room, but finally we made it to the floor with the shop.  Sally was once again out like a greyhound from the slips – shouting to me over her shoulder that she thought the shop was – ‘This way’  her voice trailing off as the distance from her to me increased.

But even then luck was not on Sally’s side.

Getting onto the Ferry

The picnic was now scrambled in one of the carrier bags and pretty well beyond rescue, and all we had was some water to drink, but thankfully Sally still had some cigarettes left.  But we hadn’t reckoned on quite how long we were going to have to wait.

When we were directed to the correct numbered line – still being pushed – we explained that we had arranged a tow onto the boat.  ‘Non!’ was the reply ‘You will wait until last – then we will push you on’

So we waited and waited.  And then waited some more.  Sally, even though she was trying to be careful had smoked the last of her cigarettes, and was feeling more than a little tense.

A guy in one of the other lines had been walking about smoking – so Sally in desperation went to buy a cigarette for a euro, which he seemed happy to supply

The ferry was quite fully booked by the seem of things.  First a coach arrived and disgorged a load of passengers who walked aboard.  Then a whole posse of cyclists complete with camping gear and bike trailers were loaded.  Then all the cars were directed aboard.  Then the motorhomes.  Then the unaccompanied trailers were shunted on by the ferry staff.  Then the big artics.  Then last and very much least, it was to be our turn.

But before then Sally’s need for nicotine kicked in again, and another euro bought another cigarette.  Still we waited and waited.  The cigarette supplier had been loaded earlier, but there was another smoker now pulled alongside.  Sally had used her last euro, but had a pound coin which was once again swapped for a much needed smoke.

By now it was dark.  The upper decks were ablaze with lights and full of folk enjoying a drink or hanging over the rails enjoying a cigarette.  Sally was getting more and more distraught.  All the other vehicles were gone from the lines and now only the big lorries from the far side remained to be loaded.

How long would it be until our turn.  Sally was really uptight by now.  Stress, tiredness and a lack of nicotine were making a horrid combination.  In desperation she tried to start the van and to everyone’s surprise the engine started.  The lines supervisor yelled and someone ran over to push us.  With both Sally and myself inside, plus boxes of wines and champagne I thought he was going to have a hard go of it, but someone else ran over to join him, but approaching the ship and seeing the ultra steep ramp heading up to the car decks I knew they would have no chance whatsoever of getting us up there.

But to my surprise – just at the last minute – they shouted at Sally to steer right and headed us down to the bottom decks where the big lorries are stowed.

Now – the Renault – although its engine had started, was still refusing to go into gear, but as we joined the steeply sloping ramp to the lower deck something happened and it suddenly popped into gear.  Sally accelerated away from our pushers, and we made the lower deck under our own steam.  Great!  Sally between gritted teeth said that the first thing she would do would be to get to the shop to buy cigarettes, and have a drink from the bar.  But fate had yet another little surprise in store for us.

From the Limousin to the Ferry

I would have quite liked to pop back to Parc Verger and have a chat with everyone there and maybe take back a case or two of the excellent champagne sold by neighbour Andree, but it would have meant heading in the opposite direction from the ferry port, and even though the van had been repaired I think memories of our last traumatic journey in Thebus were still clouding both of our minds.  So we just set Strict Lady for the ferry port and headed off.  But we decided to stop at the first largish town where there was a sign for a SuperMarche, and not only stock up on some champagne and wine, but buy some food for lunch our as well.

We struck lucky before too long and after a trawl round the supermarket set out again suitably weighted down with champagne and wine for home plus food for a picnic.  So then we kept our eyes skinned for a suitable stopping place.  In France when travelling on the motorways there are not only stops for service areas selling food, drinks and fuel, but also well signposted picnic areas, normally with shady spots and picnic benches, somewhere for dogs to stretch their legs, loos, and often showers.

Once again we were lucky and pulled into a beautiful area with trees overhanging shady benches, which ran into a wooded area with footpaths.  We managed to get the last table in the shade and spread out our goodies for a pleasant picnic.  Suitably refreshed we set off again towards the UK

Then….. a bit further along the motorways we pulled in for a comfort break and stretch our legs, and maybe get an ice-cream, as once again it was a hot day.  Being the French holiday season the services were absolutely packed out – but we ate our ices in the shade at the back of the building then headed to the Renault which was parked just outside.  –  The van refused to find reverse!

After some switching it off and switching it on again, trying it in manual, then automatic, then manual again, trying to select forward and then reverse and anything else we could both think of, for some reason known only to Renault gearboxes it finally decided to co-operate, and snatching wildly as it lurched backwards we managed to leave the parking slot.   After a slight hesitation it then jumped into forward gears and we were off.  I have to say I was more than a little worried, especially after the last traumatic trip from France to Britain in Thebus.  Sally decided, and I agreed, that now the van was actually in gear and going forward our best bet would be to just keep going without trying to stop again, though Strict Lady informed us it was still a good three hours to the ferry port.

Sally kept to it, which was a hard slog without a stop, but at least it was in daylight this time and we finally pulled into the ferry port – immediately joining the queued vehicles in the ferry lines even though it was quite a wait until sailing time.

As it was now a good while since we had eaten anything much we got out the remains of the lunchtime picnic.  Our supermarket purchases hadn’t included plates, but we had bought knives and forks, so we used the knives to roughly slice up one of the cardboard boxes containing some of the bottles of wine to make ourselves some improvised plates.  We spread out our goodies, french bread, pate, butter, tomatoes, olives, some nice soft cheeses, salads etc.  Then as it would be several hours before we were due to sail and we were loaded up with wines and champagne we decided a glass of wine to wash it all down with would be nice – but there were no glasses to drink from!

Using the picnic knives Sally started to hack up an empty water bottle – the top third with the cap on would make one drinking vessel, and the bottom third another.  Mission accomplished was the moment we realised that all the wine bottles had corks and we had no cork-screw.

Just as I was about to suggest we had champagne instead the vehicle in front of us started to move!!  They had opened the ferry lines early!!!

Our improvised picnic was by now spread over every available surface in the cab of the Renault. so I packed up everything as quickly as I could and Sally jumped in to the driver’s seat.  Somewhat shakily we lurked forwards, but next time the lines moved the Renault was having non of it, and not only refused to go into gear, but this time refused even to start its engine.

The gap between the vehicle in front and ourselves grew longer and longer.  Sally tried the switching it off and on again trick, tried to start it in every combination of gear shifts she could think of – but no – it stubbornly refused to  co-operate.  Eventually the young man from the vehicle behind came to see what the problem was, and together with Sally they pushed us up the slight incline towards the ticket booths with me at the wheel – the picnic now in a scramble in one of the carrier bags.

As the lines stopped and started, we slowly approached the lady at the check-in booth.

I must admit I imagined she would just refuse to let us through and tell us to park up and get recovery assistance.  When I purchased the Renault, included in the purchase price was twelve months RAC Recovery Assistance, but only within the UK.  So if they refused to let us board that would be no use to us whatsoever.

But – to my surprise Sally’s magic worked yet again.  She explained that the young man would help push us to the far side of the gates (his girlfriend was now driving their vehicle) – then later on he would tow us onto the ferry – and she just nodded and allowed us through!

As we slowly crossed the lines for the ticket check-in and approached the passport control booth Sally took over the steering, the nice young guy from the following vehicle still pushing from behind, and I got out with Sally’s and my passports to show to the passport officer.

He opened my passport, checked my photo, and asked my name which I confirmed.  ‘Where is Sally Jones?’ he demanded, and I pointed to the van saying ‘Sally is there -pushing’

Somewhat crossly he asked for the third passport – ‘But there are only two passports here – Where is the third?’

‘There are just two of us travelling’  I said

‘So – Who is the man behind – pushing?’

‘I have no idea’ was my reply and by then the van had eased across the barrier and somehow we were on the far side!

Rescuing the Renault

After the wedding had been well and truly celebrated the problem of the Renault Trafic, still at the garage in France had to be solved.

It had been fixed at the cost of four new injectors – at not inconsiderable expense.  The garage needed paying, which was fine as card payments work world-wide, but they could not keep the Renault there indefinitely.  And it really was more sensible to have it with me, rather than over in France.  Obviously I was not feeling up to flying over there and driving back, so Sally, once again said she would help.

Flights were booked, the garage liaised with, and this time we decided to fly from Bristol.  One of Sally’s friends, Zak, who lives near Stourport, but works in Bristol kindly agreed to drive us there before starting work, meaning a 4.30 am start for both him and us.  He arrived bang on time, and Sally co-operated by being up, dressed and ready and we all whizzed down the motorway to Bristol.

This time Sally took command of the airport wheelchair, and having arrived somewhat later than anticipated we were involved a pell-mell rush along the endless corridors to get there just in time for the air plane loading, with me felling guilty and Sally decidedly out of breath.

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Russ from Parc Verger had kindly arranged to meet us at the airport and drive us to the garage, and he brought their dog Cuba with him – Phoebe’s companion from the campsite.  As soon as Cuba saw me he was convinced Phoebe would be along soon, and was most upset when we drove off and she still hadn’t appeared.  🙁

We duly arrived at the garage and the Renault was waiting for us on the forecourt.  The lady in the garage had a few words of English and we stumbled through the transaction then headed off.  As it happened in completely the wrong direction, but we had more important things to think about.

Sally had not been able to smoke since before boarding the plane, and even worse had no lighter for her cigarettes.  She assumed that the airport at Limoges would sell them, but no – there were non on sale.  Russ did not smoke so he could not help, and when we arrived at the garage there were no shops nearby.  So our first priority, never mind about heading in the right direction, was to find a somewhere to buy a lighter.  Of course by now it was lunchtime, so even if there had been a shop it would not have been open.

Eventually we passed through a larger village with what looked like a potential shop and also a cafe bar.  We came to a quick stop, but not quickly enough so had to turn round to park up.  The shop, was of course shut, and being France the village deserted, but being lunchtime there was an elderly guy headed across the street in the direction of the cafe bar.  Sally tried to mime her need for a shop selling lighters, but all she managed to elicit was the offer of a light.  Still she followed him into the bar with the intention of trying again.  Apparently all the local guys, there for a Saturday lunchtime drink turned to stare, but eventually the penny (or centime) dropped and she came out with a lighter and a very relived look on her face.

So the first problem was solved and not only that having turned around we were now headed in the correct direction, so with us both feeling a little more relaxed we set off.  As we had set out from one of the smaller villages Sally’s Sat Nav chose to take us on the scenic French route, and we enjoyed a reasonably leisurely drive though the French countryside on a glorious sunny summer’s day.

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But once on the motorway system we literally flew along, at one point I casually glanced over to see the speed we were travelling and was surprised to see it was over 110 – no worries, I thought, this is France we are in kilometres.  Then suddenly realised we were driving the British version of the Renault and the clock was registering miles per hour.  Still, I have to say for a van it gave a very comfy ride at that speed, so I was confident that the repair to the injectors had been a success.  And so (I think) it has proved, but the Renault still had a trick or two up its sleeve for us!

Back to Boring Illness

But getting back to my illness – boring as it is – Sally firstly persuaded me to register with a doctor’s nearby.  After I had visited and met the very pleasant lady doctor, who surprisingly had spent some of her training with my equally pleasant and now retired GP,   Sally then suggested that I paid for a private scan as it would be much quicker so I could find out what had been happening to my insides.

I must admit that over the preceding few months I had gradually been feeling worse, and worse, and the pain from my insides now warranted the maximum dose of the three easily available painkillers – paracetamol, ibuprofen, and codeine.  I had to make sure that all of the doses were taken on time or pay the consequences, and even then sometimes I was in pain.  So it should have come as no surprise when the results of the scan came in to show that everything had doubled in size since my first scan in France 🙁  But I have to admit I found the news depressing even so.

I saw a very nice consultant Miss Hillaby, at Worcester Hospital who concurred with the French medics that surgery was not an option and suggested that at least I had a word with the resident Oncologist to listen to what he had to say about chemo.

Even with such serious news I had to laugh when Miss Hillaby was taking notes, asked me if I smoked to which, of course, my serious reply was ‘No’.

Then she asked if I drank alcohol to which my equally serious reply was – ‘Yes’ – ‘I read somewhere that two or three glasses of champagne and a glass of red wine before bed is good for people with cancer’

Apparently her eyebrows shot up and she said – ‘Well!  If it makes you feel better…..’

And my reply was – ‘Well – it does actually!’

Later, when I re-visited the doctor with whom I had registered our conversation had been noted down and posted over – and once again the doctor’s eyebrows shot up!

Anyway – back to the serious bit.  I then went through to the Oncologist who explained the options and I promised to think it over in the coming week.

I have to say that the speed with which I had been feeling worse over the last weeks and months gave me little choice but to go with the chemo, so after a few days I got in touch and the date for my first dose of chemo was fixed for 7th Sept.

A Wonderful Wedding

One of the reasons I had returned, apart from Sally’s persuasiveness, was that I had been invited to a wedding by some young friends of Sally’s.

She was Austrian and they had met in Austria, but they now lived locally to Sally, and the wedding was to be held in the beautiful church I had visited last autumn at Great Witley.

Plus as is the tradition in Austrian weddings her side of the family would be wearing their national costume.  And then the reception was to be held at the nearby Chateau Impney.  With a beautiful bride-to-be and handsome groom I was looking forward to a most stunning wedding – and so it was to prove.

But firstly Sally needed to find something to wear, and always being so busy with her business meant that we set out to find an outfit at past eight o’clock on the night before, to a shop some miles away which closed at nine.  After a whirlwind trawl through the racks of dresses on offer and a lightening trying-on session with Sally in the changing rooms, followed by a quick trying of on shoes, handbags and fascinators we hit the tills at about two minutes past nine, but with the amount to be spent the sales assistant seemed happy to stay over a little.

The next morning Sally was up and dressed early and looking lovely even though there was still a lorry and trailer to be delivered up the road – so she set off driving it complete with stiletto heels, feathery fascinator, and cream jacket over the striped pink satin dress she had chosen.

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Then she dashed over to decorate the bridegroom’s transport – which was a huge truck.

13882382_1187055951356219_5861173878620890584_nGroom and Best Man’s transport outside Chateau Impney

Meanwhile I drove Thebus over to Chateau Impney so I could have Phoebe on hand during the day, and the two of us could spend the night in the carpark – so no worries about not having a drink.  I followed Tibbo to the Chateau, and then he drove us both back to meet up with Sally, before heading off to the beautiful church to see the lovely couple united in matrimony.

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It was an extra pleasure to see the guests in their national costume, and after a lovely ceremony with lots of ‘pop’ music we drove over to the Chateau which had been completely taken over by the wedding guests.  Probably a good idea, as after lots of canapés and drinks and a lovely meal with wines and champagne there was a dance in the evening where some of the guests became a little boisterous, joining in with the Austrian Lederhosen dancing by a judicious bit of stripping off, one guest finishing the evening in his under shorts and lying horizontal on the bar!

I have to say by then I had long departed the scene, and having taken Phoebe for a late night romp round the beautiful park we were safely tucked up in bed

The next day there was to be an ‘after’ party at the groom’s father’s house out in the country.  So Thebus was to be moved and parked up in a nearby farmer’s field.  I have to say once again it seemed to be one of the narrower lanes which formed the approach and Thebus and I gingerly tackled it before parking up in a high field with beautiful views.

We were all supplied with lots of lovely food, drinks and live entertainment, though I retreated to Thebus fairly early on and left the others partying to the small hours.

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13901470_10209846135972862_2631561214401169672_n  13906864_10209846124492575_3312849989728584476_nMe – looking even shorter than normal between Sally and her 6ft 7in brother Karl

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IMG_2770My view for the night

Finally Made It!

I woke earlier than Sally and left her to sleep until the last minute and then we got into the ferry lines and headed for passport control

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I had mine, Sally’s and Phoebe’s passports ready and sliding open the window to hand them through,  Phoebe pushed her head out to its fullest extent with a beaming grin on her face and tongue hanging out – I really must get a photo of her like that for her official dog passport – which I notice actually has a space for a picture!

Two grim faced customs officers came inside to search Thebus, though they decided to leave their sniffer dog behind, but Phoebe was thoroughly enjoying herself by now and really entering into the spirit of the thing.

 

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Back down in the hold I took a quick photo of the back of Thebus with the dangling scooter rack at the back.

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So it was farewell to France

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We parked up below decks and I told Phoebe to be good whilst Sally and I headed to the upper decks where Sally – now refreshed after a night’s sleep was into shopping mode, so after we had something to eat she headed to the onboard shop, returning every fifteen minutes or so to buy more things, much to the delight of the steward in charge.  The last purchase was a large bottle of Gucci Rush perfume, which they were happy to liberate from the locked display cases on the ship’s corridors for such a free-spending customer.

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Sally trying out some of her purchases

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Then into the English port – It certainly seemed strange to speak and be understood, and made life a lot easier to be sure.

We headed for home with the scooter rack becoming more and more precarious.  Plus, as usual sourcing LPG was making life difficult.  We stopped at pretty well every station we passed without success, but each time taking the opportunity of re-strapping the scooter.

Eventually it was just too desperate, and I suggested we try dismantling it as much as possible and putting the heavier parts such as the battery and seat inside.  Even so it hung lower and lower to the road.  Should we try leaving it somewhere to be collected by one of Sally’s lorries or contacts, or should we keep going?

All of this was making our journey home longer and slower, though we finally found LPG some thirty miles from home!

On our way back we got an urgent message from Niner at the farm to say the pigs were out and could Sally call in to sort them out.  We did, and I was amazed when Phoebe, having travelled all the way from France, and having only briefly stopped at the farm some months before, recognised the lane in the pitch black before we were half way up it, and came bursting out of Thebus as soon as Sally opened the door, looking round anxiously for Sally’s Dalmatian, Lara.

We eventually limped back in to Sally’s yard late on Sunday night with the corner of the scooter rack dangling some hand’s breadth from the road.  To say we were both shattered would have been an understatement – but we were back, and this was to be the start of a new chapter for me.

The Swaying Scooter

After a little while of me desperately trying to think of interesting topics of conversation to keep Sally awake she found something to keep herself alert.

The scooter which was on its lift at the back, seemed to be swaying more and more alarmingly as our journey progressed.  We decided to stop and check that all was okay, and it turned out that things were very much not okay.  One of the welds holding the main plate had failed, making the very heavy scooter sway and jolt wildly at every unevenness in the road.

I found some straps and Sally did her best to secure it somewhat and off we set again, but with the scooter swaying more and more precariously at every jolt and bend.  So our progress slowed, and slowed, as we stopped and strapped, and re-strapped again and again.

At one point feeling very down and despondent I said ‘If the damn thing falls off – just drive on and leave it behind’  But when, about half an hour later, Sally, slightly misjudged a line of plastic road bollards and making a terrific  clattering as they rebounded from Thebus sides, guiltily smiled a ‘Sorry’ at me – she left me with widened eyes and open mouth – saying I was only joking and I really think we should stop for the sake of the drivers behind.  –  I thought the noise was the scooter finally parting company from us !!!!

So our hellish journey continued.

I had anticipated our arrival in the ferry town at around six or seven in the evening, giving us time for a leisurely meal before heading to the port for our midnight sailing.  But the day drew on later and later, till Sally had time to experience the true uselessness of the American idea of headlights.  Even though I have had the light bulbs replaced with super-bright halogen ones we still had to drive round one of the islands three times before we could pick out the sign for the big ferry port.

And so it was that we arrived well after the ferry had sailed, and about one and a half hours after the latest check in time.  Ill as I felt, I was also shattered after a late night and an early start and goodness knows how Sally felt.  But she brightly trotted across to the ferry offices to ask them if we were too late, and when she was told with a Gaelic shrug ‘Oui’  – She smilingly replied ‘Oh – I thought it might have waited for us’

But her bright cheekiness must have paid off as they said we could take the next ferry which sailed at 9.30 next morning, and we gratefully parked up near the ferry lines and crawled into bed to sleep.

Low Bridges in Rouen

I must admit that the emergency seemed to have woken Sally, and thoughts of sleep seemed far away, but as she drove on her eyelids began to droop again, so I suggested that she pull over when possible and I would drive as long as we were nowhere near Rouen

Now, I do have a rational reason for having a fear of driving through or round Rouen.  It gets mentioned fairly often on the internet motorhome sites as a troublesome area due to its unmarked or poorly marked low bridges, and in fact, Carol, a fellow lone traveller, who I met at Champagnac earlier in the year, had actually totally torn off the roof of her motorhome when driving through there

So I took over the driving seat in Thebus for the first time in six months, as you might imagine not feeling in the most robust of health with my current problems, but off we set along the motorway and Sally settled down for some well needed sleep

It seemed that she had hardly been asleep for a half and hour when the motorway signs suddenly included ‘Rouen’ on their directions.

I really wasn’t up to this.  I was feeling fragile, I hadn’t driven Thebus for six months.  Now Sally was asleep in the back I had to control Phoebe as well as drive and I certainly couldn’t cope with the though of unmarked low bridges as well.

Much as I didn’t want to, I had to wake Sally.

Bless her she got up and sat on the cushions in the front with Phoebe, and as we whizzed along the motorway she calmly and reassuringly explained that by European law all low bridges had to be carefully signposted in advance, giving you plenty of time to exit the motorway.

Just as she was getting to the end of her explanation I had to interrupt – ‘Low Tunnel ahead – 3.5m and Thebus is 3.65m !!!!

We were on a four lane motorway skirting a city and I was all for heading to the hard shoulder to re-assess the situation.

‘Keep going’ said Sally, ‘Use the middle lane!’

When I said in panic ‘Which one’ the swift reply was – ‘Both of them’

So we headed up the middle of the middle two lanes to the loud accompaniment of horns from the surrounding French drivers.  Of course by now I wasn’t even going that fast so they wondered what on earth I was up to.

The tunnel was a wide, low U-Shaped affair, with every so often an array of fans and ventilators dangling from the roof.  Though I must admit, when we didn’t actually hit the first lot I did feel very marginally more confident, and began reasoning in my mind that surely they would allow more than 15cm clearance?

I am not sure how long the tunnel was but at a guess about half a mile, and once we were out I headed for the nearest exit, and even though we were in the city and it was not easy to stop and change over drivers I really didn’t think I could carry on.

So poor tired Sally took over again and off we set.

The First Breakdown

Once Sally began to relax with the driving and we joined the motorway system I soon became aware of how very tired she was, but just as I was about to suggest that at the next stopping place she pulled over and I drove for a while the note of the engine changed and it became apparent that something was very wrong.

In France although the motorways have a hard shoulder for emergencies in fact it is not wide enough to take something of Thebus’ bulk, but every so many hundred yards there is a slightly wider pull in, often with an emergency telephone.  Rapidly explaining this to Sally we coasted the extra distance and pulled in safely, though greatly worried.

Sally jumped out to assess the situation but was not sure of the problem other than that we had rapidly lost power and the engine was very hot.  A phone call to her brother Karl got her checking the water system – and yes – something had gone wrong.

The configuration of the American RV is different to that of an British truck but Sally tracked down that one of the water pipes had come adrift from the cooling system.  She tried to access it over the  wheel, but the day was so hot that the tyre was burning her as she tried to reach over.  Back in she came for a coat to lay over the tyre and then tried again.  This time, as she said ‘The space between the tyre and wheel arch was so small that her boobs got stuck’ so she had to crawl on the burning hot tarmac and under Thebus to reach an errant pipe which had come adrift.

The clip which had secured it had corroded, and the pipe shot off spilling all the water to cool the engine.  Had we something to repair it.  Yes – as it happened I had a long and strong cable tie.  Back under the clever girl went and effected a repair.

Then the water had to be replaced, first with hot water, as brother Karl had explained that cold water might crack the block.  I suppose that is one of the advantages of travelling in an RV – I put the kettle on and found a suitable container (thankfully I had thought to half fill the water tanks before starting out so we had plenty of water onboard)  and after a lot of running back and forth with bottles of water the radiator was filled again, the engine sprang back to life and we were off again.

Thank you God that I was travelling with Sally when it happened as such a repair would have been totally  beyond my capabilities – and that was not to be the last of our troubles!

My Rescuing Angel

So it was back to the lovely little airport at Limoges with Lisa driving us – the Renault now gone to the garage – to wait in the arrivals lounge. Before long the plane touched down and soon beautiful young Sally was striding towards me with a lovely smile on her face.

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Lisa drove us back to Parc Verger and after a quick introduction to some of the folk who had befriended me on my somewhat lengthened stop-over it was time to sort Thebus out ready to set off for the first time in over six months

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I was not feeling up to driving, but what I didn’t realise at the time was that Sally had hardly slept in over twenty four hours !

She always works so very hard, and knowing she was flying over the next day to collect me she decided to have an early shower and retire to bed, but thought she deserved a glass of wine – and I am very sure she did.  However getting in and out of the shower she managed to knock it over, and there was non left to supply a refill.  But just then a lorry arrived back, and the driver suggested that a trip to the Marina just over the road might provide some liquid refreshment.  Soooooo…….  Sally popped over for ‘a swift one’ as the saying goes, and ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable evening on into the early hours.

Now as her flight was leaving also in the early hours, and from East Midlands airport which is quite a long drive, it meant starting out in less than three and a half hours.  So it was either no sleep or someone had to stay awake to make sure she left in time, as though there are very few things Sally is not good at, getting up and out of bed is one of them.  Tibbo (who I was to meet later) offered to stay awake till it was time to leave, wake her (no mean feat at the best of times) and drive her to catch the plane, and true to his word he got her there in time.

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The flight is normally a couple of hours so Sally imagined she would have time to catch a few more winks before arriving, but on finding her seat she discovered that the guy seated next to her was absolutely terrified of flying, and being such a lovely and out-going personality she felt she couldn’t let him sweat it out on his own, so ended up chatting to him for the entire flight meaning she arrived in France almost dead-beat.  Of course I didn’t know this at the time, otherwise I might have suggested she at least tried to get a few hours sleep before we started out.

Google maps informed me that our journey to the port would take us something over six hours and even with the chatting at the campsite we still had twelve hours before the ferry sailed.

So off we set.

To say it was a glorious day would be something of an understatement.  The weather had been somewhat mixed, but when the sun came through it was really hot, and today the temperature registered around 40C

So Strict Lady was set into action, farewells were taken, hands waved and horns tooted and we set off – Sally – for the first time at the wheel of an RV and also not used to being on the right side of the road driving slowly and carefully on the smaller roads where we started our journey.  She said some time later that it took her the best part of an hour to drive at more than forty miles per hour!

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Approaching one of the very narrow toll booths!

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You may remember that when I first started my travels I had the passenger seat removed so Old Phoebe could lie next to me as we travelled, and of course this meant I should have sat on the settee behind the driver’s seat, but that would have meant not being able to chat to Sally as we drove.  Not only that, but some time ago Young Phoebe had gnawed her way through the lead which kept her safely in position on her cushions at the front.  So it seemed the best option for me was to travel next to Phoebe sitting on the floor at the front – and that is what I did.

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Farewell to Champagnac-la-Riviere

Sally’s flight was arranged, the Renault had been trucked off to a garage, I visited the various people who had been so very kind to me whilst I had been staying in Champagnac-la-Riviere to bid them farewell, and called into Andree’s house next door to buy some of the excellent champagne her nephew produces so I could wish her a proper farewell – Andree is the sweetest of ladies. Though I think she is shy of having her photo taken.

 

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As usual my French let me down, and although they understood I wanted to buy champagne she didn’t grasp that I wanted to drink a toast to my having met them – but eventually with the aid of her enormous French/English dictionary Andree understood, and produced champagne and three glasses for herself, Jean-Claude and me, though she adamantly refused any payment.  Having hardly had anything to drink in weeks and weeks I had to admit it went straight to my head, and although our communications were limited we all smiled and laughed a lot.

Then back to Thebus to wish farewell to a lovely young couple staying on the site whilst property hunting, and whose charming boy dog – after a somewhat shaky start, as she was so much bigger than he – had fallen head over heels for Phoebe.

Lisa popped by as well and a convivial time was had by all, though by bedtime, I at least, felt somewhat the worse for wear, and was unhappily aware that an early start was needed in the morning to collect Sally from the airport.

Surely my luck must change soon……?

Apart from the unexpected pleasure of these visits the days seem to drift by a bit, with me taking Phoebe for twice daily walks through the woods and along the quiet country roads, interspersed with shopping trips to the local supermarket for meat for Phoebe, or off to the nearest organic shop for vegetables and fruit for me.

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You may remember that earlier in the year I bought a second hand Renault Trafic van which was specially adapted to take a mobility scooter and still leave room in the back for Phoebe.

I had tried to source one in France but the difficulties of buying any vehicle in a foreign country when one does not speak the language, let alone something as specialised as this just seemed beyond my abilities, so I looked at a nice website of a company dealing in used Mobility Vehicles and this one looked ideal as it had only done 42,000 miles.

I explained where I was and exactly why I needed to buy it and it duly arrived.  I can’t be bothered to whinge on about everything, but after doing just over 2000 miles including the drive down from England it gave up the ghost and refused to budge.

It had been playing up for a while, but when I went to collect the steaks I had ordered it was worse than ever, and eventually we managed to limp back into the campsite.  Bastille Day was the middle of that week.  Getting anything done seemed just impossible, the van was undriveable, and there was nowhere for me to leave it, as Sally had by now persuaded me to return to England. I was in floods of tears.

Whilst I was moping around one day, Russ (Russ and Sue are staying onsite and searching for a French property to suit them) said – Cheer Up!  Things can’t get much worse!”  “Well they have been since 1968”  – was the tearful reply – and that was just about how down and low I was feeling.

I think just everything had got on top of me, and one day when Sally phoned she caught me at a particularly weak moment and I broke down sobbing – upsetting her as well as me.

Hundreds of miles away as she was, she took over and before I knew it the van was being towed off to a garage who thought they could fix it before Sally arrived.  Probably a little optimistic for a bank holiday week in France, but at least it was one less thing to worry about, even though it was to eventually cost around £2000 to fix 🙁

When Sally phoned as well as sorting out the van for me she had persuaded me that I would be better off back in the UK and tearful and low as I was feeling I had to agree, so when she suggested that she could fly over and drive Thebus Phoebe and Me back to England I jumped at the chance.

I got online and this time was better equipped to sort out a flight for her, and before long she was winging her way towards France.

Back in France

AFTER A LONG GAP OF WRITING NOTHING ON THE BLOG I HAVE FINALLY SUMMONED UP THE ENERGY TO START IT UP AGAIN.  SO………

Back in France I slowly began to recover from my haemorrhages and a little colour and life returned to my face and body, but the events of the past few months were beginning to take their toll, and this didn’t go unnoticed by the visitors on the site. A few people decided that I needed feeding up and invited me to meals, including a lovely couple who were travelling for the first time in a motorhome and were on their honeymoon.  They asked me to a barbecue where they were cooking steak – I think specially purchased for me to built be up a bit and the idea of something so nourishing I have to say was most appealing.

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I had a lovely evening and the medium rare steak seemed to be just what the doctor hadn’t ordered, so I looked online to see where I might be able to source some organic steaks.  Sadly there was nowhere nearby, but on a French Facebook group for smallholders living in France, someone was advertising steaks from grass fed Limousin cattle, so I contacted them and put in an order for a whole fillet and 2 kilos of rump steak when they next had some available – so much for my vegan/vegetarian diet!

Ron and Penny who I had met on at a few ‘Wild Campers’ meetings in the UK (some of the meetings are nearly as wild as they sound) had made a special detour on their way to the south and we had a lovely time together at a few of the local restaurants, once again my vegan diet went out of the window, but we had a lovely time

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Carol – another of the ‘Wild Campers’ who had spent the winter in Spain, and was another lady travelling alone, popped into Parc Verger on her way back to the UK, and we took the opportunity to visit another of the nearby restaurants I hadn’t yet tried.

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And there were lots of other folk, some of whom I hadn’t even met before but knew me via the blog took the time to call by – how nice of everyone.  Thank you all !!!

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It seemed as though the purchase of the property along the Voir Verte had ground to a halt so I got in touch with a nice firm of local agents from Oradour and visited a few potentially suitable properties, and though they were interesting nothing was quite right for me.

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There were a few entertainments on locally.  First off was a musical evening –  I think it is a nationwide event, and most towns and villages seem to try and put something on for Midsummer Day.  Champagnac la Riviere did their bit, and there was musical entertainment well into the night, including a performance by Lisa’s choir.  I was told that at midnight they lit a bonfire with an effigy of some description and threw flowers into the fire.  I am not sure, as I felt a bit unwell at about nine and took myself back to Thebus.

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And I went to my first ever Vide Grenier – more or less like a car boot sale and held just down the road in the village centre.  After a good long walk to tire her out, Phoebe and I attended.  She thoroughly enjoyed it, and got lots of attention, especially after I bought a large stuffed toy for two euros from one of the stall holders.  She wasn’t expecting it to be for her, and was so delighted when I handed it over, prancing around, wagging her tail, and looking extra specially pleased with herself, bringing a smile to many faces.

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On our way round we met up with a little terrier type dog, and Phoebe in her excitement at meeting a new potential friend dropped her newly acquired prize, which was retrieved and handed back to me by one of the locals, and I duly stowed it on the scooter footboard.  The terrier’s owner looked a little nervous, as do most of the dog owners we meet, and Phoebe had to be called back to heel.  She suddenly realised her new toy was missing, and rushed to where she had last had it – GONE!  Her look of distress will stick in my mind, even though I was not quick enough with the camera to capture it for you.  And then her look of relief and delight when I produced it from behind my feet !!!!

We visited early in the day so the barbecue was not up and running properly and the sausages were  still uncooked, but Phoebe seemed happy with a couple of raw ones!

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Then the Marie (mayor) and the local councillors had a meeting at Parc Verger and all the neighbours came along.  Once the meeting was over there was wine and food brought along by all and sundry, but as soon as the sun dropped it was too chilly for me to stay long.

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Later in the month Lisa and Franc hosted a barbecue, and Lisa’s choir came to sing, with Lisa singing a lovely solo.  Once again I had to retire early, although I could still enjoy the music provided by Franc as they danced later on into the night.

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I think you can tell from this that I was gradually sinking a little each day, and although I was trying to keep a positive spirit things were beginning to get me down.  Although it was lovely at Parc Verger I missed the travelling – and now I no longer had much to keep my mind occupied by thoughts of purchasing the house at Bos du Mas.