31/12/13 Endings & beginnings…

These end of the month blog posts seem to come round very quickly these days…I’m told that’s a senior moment thing to say, but it is so true! And not only is it the end of the month today but also the end of yet another fun filled year here in Chabanol. I sometimes find it hard to believe that we have been here for over seven years now…time does indeed fly.

So what have we been up to this month then? Not a great deal really, but then I usually think that when I start writing these posts & then somehow find quite a bit to write about! We started the month off with a bit of snow still lingering but the weather did improve thank goodness – although there is still a lot of snow over on the Sancy mountains which has delighted the skiing fraternity as the season was able to start very early this year. We had some B&B guests staying this week & they were delighted to go over there & play in the snow yesterday. Personally I like it better here where I can look at the snow at a distance & still have my green garden! I suspect that won’t last for long though. I have quite a bit of work to do in the garden after that early snow episode, as it took quite a battering, but I suspect I’ll soon be seeing some signs of the bulbs pushing through. Life begins again you see :)

The month began with our annual drive up to the Protestant church in Clermont Ferrand for the English language carol service. I took about 50 mince pies which disappeared like snow off a dyke as usual! The French just love mince pies – even though they haven’t a clue what they are! The service was really good this year & the church was full so there were some good opportunities for belting out the traditional carols with gusto! The only problem with this service is that it is so early (this year it was the 1st Dec) & it always seems strange to us to come back from a carol service to an undecorated house & no Christmas tree!

Following this there was as a week of duty as an “elf” at the Croix Rouge Marché de Noel as per usual. This year’s marché was very different though to previous years due to the big change in personnel at the Croix Rouge recently. All the lovely ladies who used to make such beautiful handicrafts have left I’m afraid, & so I was put in charge of a very meager looking craft & jewelry stall. I did my best to make it look as nice as possible but there were just not many of the lovely items we used to have, & no jams, chutneys, biscuits or cakes at all. A lot of the regular customers were very disappointed when they came to stock up on their Christmas presents…as was I as I usually buy a lot of stuff there to put in stockings & for little gifts for friends & family. However, despite all this, we worked very hard & the Red Cross still made a handsome profit out of the stalls which were there & that was the main thing really. I do miss the old ambiance though & sometimes wonder how much longer I will continue to be a volunteer. It really is not the same organisation as the one I first joined.

I managed to escape on one of the afternoons (it is hard work doing all three days of the marché) to go on a little jaunt with my friend Linda. She is very friendly with a lady (François) who owns the tea shop in Montpeyroux – a lovely village not far from here - & she was having an “afternoon tea” event for some of her friends & customers. We spent a very pleasant afternoon looking (well, Linda was buying too, as usual) at all the lovely crafts & china she has in the shop, & then drinking tea & eating cake with a group of ladies (+ one poor bloke) in François beautiful salon. There was a couple who arrived (he being the token “bloke”) in traditional costume (which Linda originally thought was just a nice thick skirt as it was a bit chilly!) & he was toting a violin, so I thought for one horrible moment we were going to have to participate in some country dancing! However it turned out they all wanted a bit of a sing song & as the songs on offer from the group were not exactly inspiring & the singing was a bit feeble, I persuaded a very reluctant Linda to join me in a bit of traditional carol & Christmas music singing! So by the time it was time to leave we had livened things up considerably! It was a lovely afternoon all round & I enjoyed it very much…even if I had to drink some thé de Noel…not something I relished I’m afraid!

The rest of the month was pretty mundane really. Geoff finally got paid I’m glad to say, so we were able to complete the Christmas shopping & get all the arrangements finalised for our trip to the UK. Our house sitters arrived & took charge of the house & the animals allowing us to get a good early start for the long drive back to the UK. We have changed our habits for this drive, choosing now to “get up & go” early, cross the Channel & stay overnight near to the Dartford crossing. Then next day we “get up & go” once again & get round the M25 without much bother. We arrived at our son’s new house in Manchester by lunchtime using this strategy. In fact we had the best drives ever this year, both there & back, despite the awful weather in the UK which we managed to avoid thank goodness. We even caught earlier ferries to the ones we had reserved in both directions – something we have never done before! However, it is such a long drive & we always feel as though we spend too much time in the car. We had clocked up 3000kms by the time we got back home again. And I have to say that driving on UK motorways is much worse than those in France. When will the British learn good lane discipline??? The French divers put them to shame!

We did have a good Christmas though & it was great to spend some time with the family again. My DIL`s bump is beginning to grow nicely & it was lovely to see their cosy new house. I spent a pleasant afternoon there making holly wreaths & other decorations using greenery from their jungle of a garden! I foresee some gardening work in store for me when I visit next! Our mothers continue to deteriorate both mentally & physically & once again I thank our lucky stars that we both have brothers who look after them so well. They are a real handful & would try the patience of a saint at times! We spent a lovely Christmas Day with them at my daughters in Carlisle where we are all very well fed & entertained. I have to make a special mention of Phil’s appearance in his festive onesie - the highlight of the day, although it did not help the old ladies confused state to have a dragon in their midst! There are photos on FB if you want to se this apparition! It is good to see both of our kids so happy & settled. New beginnings all round for them.

So, now its goodbye to 2013 & hello to a brand new year. I wonder what 2014 will bring for us. Definitely some new “beginnings” for us in the form of our first grandchild due in May. Not sure if my eligibility for my state pension in July is a beginning or an ending…perhaps it will be the beginning of the end if you get my gist! And perhaps we will at last “begin” to make some money living here in France (that’s wishful thinking by the way!) In any case I will not “end” writing this blog! Thank you all for continuing to read the blog…it really does cheer me up to read your comments & see how much you still enjoy reading it.

Geoff & I wish each & every one of you a very Happy, Peaceful & Prosperous New Year & we would love to see some of you in person in 2014 so perhaps you would like to “begin” to make some holiday plans! Just a thought…!