Carols, Christmas & a Car Crisis

I have to say there were a few doubts in my mind as to whether I`d be here in our home in France to write this months blog! However here we are, on New Year`s Eve getting ready for some B&B guests to arrive for the night & all is well. We did have some adventures though during our trip to the UK for Christmas with the family...but more of that in a minute.

December seems to have come & gone very rapidly. We can`t even say that we have been very busy either, so I don`t know where the month has disappeared to really. My B&B guests tonight – 2 couples who are part of the family gathering at the holiday house at the end of our drive, & where there is not enough room to accommodate everyone – are our sole visitors this month really. Geoff has still been quite busy with his teaching, trying to get all his contracts finished before the end of the year, but really apart from that we have had the month more or less to ourselves. We had quite a lot of preparations to do at the beginning of the month – me finishing off making the Christmas cards & Geoff working alongside me in the gite making Ethan`s cracket ready for taking with us to the UK. The cracket (which is a traditional NE small stool very much part of mining history) was a great success by the way...Ethan loved it & plonked his bottom down on it as soon as it was out of its box! It was great to see & Geoff was very proud of his handiwork. I suppose because we always leave early to get back to the UK for Christmas, December always seems a bit short each year.

We did manage to meet up with our friends Mike & Linda during the first week of December...twice in fact! We met them for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants in Usson. Linda & I then went off to see her friend in Montpeyroux for tea, while Geoff & Mike went for a walk around Nonette, before we all met up again, each of us having had a nice afternoon. We saw them again the next day at the Carol Service we all go to, in Cleremont Ferrand, which as usual was a nice way to start off the Christmas countdown as we all sang our familiar carols & listened to the Christmas story. The 50+ mince pies which I had taken along for the drinks & nibbles bit afterwards, disappeared very quickly as per usual! Geoff & I also managed to fit in a trip to Clermont Ferrand one afternoon to do a bit of shopping & to see the Christmas lights & the small Christmas market there which was nice.

I spent a very good day the next Sunday doing a Marche de Noel in the nearby village of Chameane. It is the first year they have done this, so I was very pleased to have a stall with my paintings & some cards. I had a very good day & sold five paintings & all the Christmas cards I`d taken. Normally the French don`t do Christmas cards so I`d only taken along a few, but they all sold whereas strangely, none of the New Year cards...which the French do send...sold at all! I now have 20 very nice New Year cards going spare! Anyway, all in all I really enjoyed the day & was very pleased with my sales.

Our Kiwi house sitters arrived as arranged on the 20th December & so the next day we set off northwards & drove to Noisy-le-Sec just outside Paris where we spent a lovely evening & night with our friends Marc & Michelle, who were Hazel`s “exchange” family many moons ago & who have now become family friends. We spent the evening looking at some of the photos they had taken at Hazel`s wedding & their “follow on” holiday touring around Scotland & the Borders. We were very amused to see Michelle`s out door garb...which closely resembled Nanook of the North`s attire in each picture! They had found Scotland beautiful but a bit chilly & wet...what a surprise! The next day saw us driving up to Amsterdam, which apart from one error (the motorway junction we needed was closed for road works so we got a bit lost after that) all went smoothly. The ferry crossing was a bit bumpy but that doesn`t really bother us at all. However it did mean we were able to eat (at extortionate prices mind you) in an almost empty restaurant as not all the passengers fared as well as us with the rocky boat!

The arrival of the boat into the Tyne was wonderful for me as I was able to see all the coastline where I grew up from the sea for the first time in my life. We sailed past all the familiar landmarks & I loved every minute – even if we almost froze on deck in the wind & rain! We went to see some friends in Whitley Bay, when we eventually got past passport control (which took ages) & then met up with my brother for lunch which was also nice. Then we had an uneventful drive across to Carlisle which was much nicer than our usual pre Christmas drive up the M6. We arrived at Hazel`s “new” house & got settled in. Hazel & Phil are still in the process of fully moving in, so the next few days saw them making many trips to & from their flat(less than 5 mins away)as we discovered various “missing “items! My biggest concern though was the new electric cooker...which was still in its packaging. They hadn`t realised it needed to be installed an electrician. I had visions of multiple trips to the flat to cook the Christmas dinner & transport it up to the house...not a happy prospect! However, as usual in my daughters sometimes chaotic life, they managed to find an electrician who was willing to come out on Christmas Eve afternoon & install it for them so all was well in the end! We all had a really lovely Christmas Day...Geoff & I got to go to church in the morning, my brother came for the day, we all got some great presents (I`m going to see Rod Stewart in Carlisle after all in June!), the lunch was fantastic & we all had a great time together.

It was on Boxing Day that all the “fun” started as we drove down into Yorkshire to spent the night with my cousin Ken & his wife Joy. We set off in pouring rain & all went well, until we had to leave the motorway & drive cross country towards Skipton, where we started to see the real problems with all the floods. I have never seen so much water in all my life – even on high ground where the water was just pouring off the hillsides, turning dry stone walls into mini waterfalls. Around every bend (or so it seemed) we would encounter a flood in dips in the road – & some of them were quite deep. We drove as carefully & as slowly as possible through these mini floods but we were becoming more & more anxious as the drive went on. Finally at Skipton, the road was closed so we had to ring Ken who told us how to get to them via a higher road...although looking down into the Aire valley I couldn`t see how we were ever going to get across it as it was totally flooded as far as the eye could see. We did get there, however, much to our great relief. I never want to drive through water like that ever was very scary. We had a lovely evening with Ken & Joy & an equally pleasant morning the next day. It was great to catch up with them again & to be able to spend some real time with them. However, after loading up the car, after lunch, to set off to our son`s in Manchester, we found that the car wouldn`t start. Turned the ignition key...& not a cheep! We tried jump leads...nothing. The boys reckoned the starter motor was dead...probably it had got water in it the day before as we had driven along all those flooded roads. So after a rather difficult phone call to AXA – our insurance people in France – it was agreed that a recovery truck would come out & if the car was not able to be repaired there & then – unlikely – it would be taken to a garage to be fixed. I was a bit upset at the prospect of having even less time seeing Matthew, Susie & Ethan, so it was agreed that Geoff would stay with the car at Ken`s house until the truck turned up(at least he was warm & dry), Ken & Joy would drive me to Manchester & then we would all sort out a meet up the next day when we had more news of the car`s fate. I was very happy to get to Matthew`s & very grateful to Ken & Joy for taking me across. The car was eventually taken to a garage in Halifax & the owner rang Geoff to assure him it would be fixed on Tuesday morning (the Monday being a Bank Holiday –of course- just our luck!) so that we could catch the ferry home on Tuesday night as planned. And that is exactly what happened. Ken drove Geoff halfway to Manchester on the Monday morning & met up with Matthew, we all had a nice day together with Matthew, Susie & Ethan & on the Tuesday morning, after a bit of a stressful wait, we phoned the garage in Halifax & the car was fixed – new starter motor & new battery. Matthew drove us there & after parting with quite a lot of unplanned for pennies, we bade farewell to Matthew & set off, in our now functioning car, towards Hull & the ferry home. The crossing was fine & we had a vey good nights sleep after all our stresses! The drive home the next day went smoothly & our house sitters had made a fantastic meal for us for our return so all was good in the end. Mind you were in bed at 10pm last night...totally worn out by all the stress & the driving!

So a pretty eventful last week of the month...& indeed the year! However, here we are today, all safe,sound & mercifully dry & in our own home – unlike many poor souls in the flood hit areas in the UK. We have a lot to be thankful for really. My heart goes out to all those people who are not as fortunate as we are & I hope that something gets done soon to make their lives bearable again. So with those thoughts in mind, I will stop there & wish you all a very happy, safe & peaceful New Year. We are not planning any celebrations tonight....we are too tired! But if you are, then have a great time & all the very best for 2016.