Decorating finished (for now, anyway)

When I moved into my apartment, I planned to have all the redecorating finished within a year, but life got in the way; the first year arrived and my bedroom was still as it was the day I moved.

Maddy and Dom’s impending visit provided the motivation that I’d been lacking, so a couple of weeks ago I emptied the wardrobe and moved the furniture into the spare room. I’d have to get on with it now; the spare bed was all but invisible under a heap of clothes and drawers containing more clothes and I could hardly move in there for the extra furniture.

I covered my bed with dust sheets and stripped the horrible, old lady, vinyl wallpaper, then knocked in the dozens of Rawl plugs and plasterboard fixings and filled the holes with polyfilla.

There were rashes of plugs and plasterboard fixings all over the walls!

The lining paper went up easily, once it had had time to dry, I painted the walls and ceiling white and headed to the DIY shop with the throw Alex made me.

They didn’t have the shade of pink paint I was looking for and the price to have a sufficiently big tin mixed made my eyes water, so I got a small tin of a deeper shade, which I mixed with some white – perfect!

I painted the wall behind the bed pink, cleaned up and put back my clothes, shoes and furniture. It was a treat to have a choice of what to wear, ie not just whatever was on the top of the heap.

I found a pair of table lamps in a local shop, to replace the work lamp I’ve been using for the last 16 months.

Now I just need Kieran to help me put up the lampshade and hang some pictures.

In the meantime, I’m making a patchwork quilt for the spare room. I’d painted the room all white, thinking the quilt would be colour enough; but laying out the quilt pieces on the bed, it became apparent that the wall behind the bed needed some colour.

There are plenty of colours to choose from and I had some green left over from the living room, so mixed it up with some blue tint and a bit of white, to get a lovely turquoise shade. I think the room looks much better now.

I love the patterns you get when mixing paints

It’ll be even better once I finish the quilt, but that could be a few months yet.

A new challenge

Whenever people hear that I can’t do something-or-other because I have a rehearsal, they usually ask what sort of a choir I’m in; do we sing sacred or secular music? I love to see the look on their faces when I explain that actually it’s a rock band. It’s not at all what they expect of an otherwise quite ordinary grannie.

There’d been some tension in the band for a while,  between Adrian, the lead guitar, and Mika, the bass player. I’m not sure that Mika was even aware of it, but the rest of us certainly were. The problem was that Mika is a very good bass player, but not a great team player; he just cannot play simply, even when that’s what’s required. He was playing everything as if it was his solo, his fingers flying over the frets, which really upset Adrian, whose solos couldn’t be heard properly. He tried dropping hints, but they went straight over Mika’s head.

Then we encountered another problem, a fundamental difference in attitude between Mika and the rest of us – he would only play paid gigs. The rest of us are quite happy to play if we’re fed and watered, though a contribution towards petrol costs is always welcome. Mika informed us that he loved playing with us and would continue to do so, but only if and when we’re paid, which obviously leaves us in the lurch, with no bass,  for free gigs. The discussion got quite heated, with Mika shouting down anyone else who tried to speak and laying down the law to the rest of us. He sent us a message later in the week to let us know he was quitting, but then turned up to the next rehearsal as if nothing had happened!

I was very confused, not having been able to follow the conversation very well at the end of practice, but it seems that he sent his quitting message to shock us into realising how much we’d miss him – his plan was to stay and thought we’d be so grateful that we’d be cowed into abiding by his rules!

Well, he could think again. We gave him his marching orders.

So….. what to do next?

Find another bass player and start again? No, Adrian, Jean Michel and Jean Marc, who’ve played together for years, didn’t think much of that one.

Play without a bass? No, it just doesn’t work.

Adrian and Jean Michel can both play bass as well as guitar, so suggested that if I play a bit of rhythm guitar occasionally, that can free up one of them. I mentioned that for years I’ve fancied having a go at playing bass, but had never had the chance.

So when I got to rehearsal today, there was Ade’s beautiful bass hung on the wall. I was amazed at how heavy it is! Our song, “L’amour germinale” can have a very simple bass line, so they thought I could try that first. I made notes of the notes and we started, but bear in mind that I still had to sing my harmonies, yes, in French, while trying to play. It wasn’t easy, and I made plenty of mistakes, but they seemed to think it was ok for a first attempt. I’ve brought the bass home to practice on, along with instructions to find the tabs online for “knockin’ on heaven’s door” and learn that too.

It’s all good for the little grey cells, but is it normal behaviour for a 68 year old grannie? Well, it is for this one!

Back in the day…..

When I was pregnant with Kieran  and Princess Diana was expecting Harry, Nick’s brother’s wife’s sister, who was a journalist on Woman’s Own, phoned me to say the magazine was running a feature on fashion in pregnancy; they’d got a real model who was pregnant, but were looking for a pregnant “reader” with a child of about two. Would I be interested in going to London with Gemma for a photoshoot? It’s not the sort of offer that comes along twice in a lifetime, so I jumped at the chance.

My doctor suggested that, as Kieran was due only two weeks later, I shouldn’t do the double journey in one day and that I have someone with me to help look after Gemma, to which they agreed. Nick came with us as we took the train to London and were put up in a swanky hotel for the night, then the following day we went for the shoot.

It was an all female team, hairdresser, make up artist and photographer, who were all lovely and put me at my ease. They cut my hair, did my make up and chose suitable clothes from a huge selection lent to them by various fashion shops. We had a lovely day and got home exhausted that Friday evening. When Kieran arrived the following Monday, I received a huge bouquet of flowers from Woman’s Own.

It’s taken me a mere forty years, but, at last, in the week that marks Kieran’s 40th birthday, I’ve got round to having a print made and framing the photos Gemma and I modelled for, just days before Kieran was born.

In the original article there were photos of the professional model, too, but I used some of the prints I was given at the end of the shoot, to replace her pictures.

Original magazine article

The printers have made a lovely job of it, even down to reproducing the pastel borders around each photo.

I brought it home and put it in the frame I had ready, then decided to take a photo of it. Easier said than done; no matter where I put it, there were always reflections.

I messaged my photographer brother for advice. “Black drape behind you and wear a black top” was his reply; I dug out all the black fabric I could find and taped it to the walls and doors, but there wasn’t enough, there were still reflections. A black tee shirt came in handy. Then I put on a black, long sleeved top, a black hat and black, fingerless cycling mitts. The corridor was now rather gloomy, so I added an extra light, covered in some net curtain fabric as a diffuser.

My hallway, more Halloween set than photographic studio

The whole place was beginning to look like a set for a Halloween play, but it worked – a reflection-free photo.

Final product

A long day

Mart and I had planned a soap making day, so I set off extra early, to make the most of being in the Gers and visit my friend Maithée too. Just before I arrived, the car made a bleeping noise and a red thermometer symbol flashed on the dashboard, so I parked at Maithée’s and called the breakdown people, who sent out a dépanneur (breakdown man) and lorry.

It was embarrassing to have to admit that I didn’t know where the bonnet opening lever was, but I’m sure I’m not the first “blonde” he’s dealt with. My question about the bottle of pink liquid in the corner and the fact that the liquid didn’t reach the “min” line was dismissed – no, that wasn’t the problem, just top it up sometime. I didn’t dare ask what I should top it up with.

Several inspections of the engine, lots of revving, head scratching and a test drive later,  he still couldn’t make the warning light come on again; he concluded that it must be an electronic glitch – it’d be fine.

I went to Mart’s, where we made 2 batches of soap. Paul, a neighbour, was there for lunch too, so he had a look under the bonnet; his reaction to the low fluid level was just the same.  But I wasn’t convinced that I’d get home without a problem, so, just in case, I set off in good time; sure enough, 45 minutes into my journey, the light started flashing again. I was near a car share car park, so pulled in there and called the assistance again; they asked all sorts of technical questions this time, such as did the engine feel hotter than normal when I opened the bonnet?! I had to admit that I’d never actually opened a bonnet in my life, so I had not the faintest idea. They’d send a dépanneur ; this time it was a dépanneuse – a young woman! She took one look in the engine and said that the fluid level was too low and needed topping up. She didn’t have any “liquide de refroidissement”, but I could get some at the supermarket, which would still be open if I hurried. I just had to make sure it’s the right one for my car, probably pink. She happily showed me how to open the bonnet,  exactly how to fill the bottle and how much to put in; she didn’t even make me feel a fool for asking.

I bought the coolant, as well as a sandwich and some water and ate while waiting for the engine to cool down a bit more, then did my best to look as though I knew what I was doing, opening the bonnet, propping it up and pouring the pink liquid into the bottle.  I screwed the cap back on, shut the bonnet and set off again. Eventually I got home with no more problems, but I really must book it in for a service this week.

A busy trip to Harrogate

I came home on Saturday from a visit to Harrogate with Kieran and his children.

The ten days passed all too quickly, with visits to Tropical World, a trampoline park, Harlow Car Gardens, swimming and the Forbidden Corner, among other places and of course, meeting up with old friends.

Harlow Car Gardens
Forbidden corner
Harlow Car Gardens
Forbidden corner
Forbidden corner
Forbidden corner
Tropical world

The cherry trees were in bloom on the Stray, which was a treat for the eyes. I’m sure they used to flower in May, but it was lovely to see them, early or not.

I was lucky enough to be invited to an eightieth birthday party. I’ve known Mike since I was 7 years old and can remember my mother going to his 21st party; he’s still going strong and looks a lot younger than his years. It was amazing to see people there who I haven’t seen for over 50 years, and to recognise many of them.

Alex had just started a new job, so couldn’t take time off, which made the weekend and evenings even more precious, it was lovely to see her so happy after a year in her previous role in a toxic environment. Her new job looks as though it has possibilities for growth and she’s giving it her all.

Belle and I went to Harrogate theatre to see an amateur production of Sister Act, which was great; so between that, decent curries and the availability of vegetarian food in restaurants and cafés, the trip ticked all the boxes of things I miss in France.

I’d forgotten, however, just how cold it can be in Yorkshire; I took thermals, thick sweaters, hat, gloves and scarf, but was still perished most of the time in the glacial winds and have arrived home with a dose of bronchitis and without my voice – if anyone finds it, please send it to me!. But if that’s the price I have to pay for a great holiday, then so be it. I don’t think I could live in that climate again though.

Harlow Car Gardens
Harlow Car Gardens
A meal with friends
A walk in the dales
A walk in the dales
Cherry trees on the Stray
The forbidden corner
The forbidden corner
Another meal with friends
Immy at the Valley Gardens after school
Bordeaux airport

Some of my photos seem to have doubled up and I don’t know how to get rid of them, sorry!

Painting expo

Twice a year, the painting club holds an exhibition in a community building on the edge of the lake and this time I was persuaded to put in three pieces.

I’m no great painter, the only painting I’ve done over the last 50 years being of walls and ceilings, but I thoroughly enjoy the afternoons I spend “playing” at the workshop.

There are some very talented artists, all happy to share their expertise and give me the benefit of their experience, but I’ll never be a real painter and am very happy to use what I produce as the basis for some textile art, unlike the work of anyone else in the club.

I framed my three little pieces and took them along to be hung. We all do one or two afternoons manning the exhibition; often there are 5 or 6 people, which makes for a very enjoyable few hours.

I was there one afternoon when someone pointed out a couple having a good look at my work. “Go and talk to them”, she said, which I did; they wanted to know about the techniques I use to arrive at the result, they seemed very interested and ended by buying one of my works! I was delighted, though to say I was surprised would be putting it mildly.

My pieces of textile art

A few days in Naples

My brother’s partner, Penny, had some leave to take from work, but Peter didn’t; so Penny and I decided that we’d have a few days away. Naples seemed to fit the bill; we could find flights that arrived within minutes of each other and we had a good chance of decent weather in March.

Penny booked the accommodation; it was amazing – a beautiful apartment on the 6th floor of an old block, overlooking the bay of Naples and with a view of Vesuvius! There was even a concierge, who chatted away to us in Italian, seemingly unconcerned that, beyond good morning, pasta and pizza, our Italian was somewhat limited. If there was something we really must understand, he’d drag someone in off the street to translate for us.

A colleague of Penny’s comes from Naples, so we had a list of good pizzerias to try, along with a recommendation to try fried pizza. It sounded disgusting, but actually was delicious. The pizzas were so huge that we never ordered more than one between the two of us.

Friends I’d spoken to were horrified at our choice of destination – they said it was busy, filthy, etc, and it was! The traffic was unbelievable, scooters weaving their way in and out of fast moving cars, lorries, buses, everybody hooting their horns; you felt you were taking your life in your hands every time you crossed a road, even on zebra crossings, which the drivers largely ignored. And yes, there were overflowing dustbins outside the shops in town…… However, there was such a buzz about the place; people were so animated, so full of life. We loved it.

We’d booked a guided tour of Pompeii on the Saturday afternoon; a good job we didn’t book earlier as it took us all morning to work out the trains. At last we arrived, found somewhere to eat and were ready for some serious history and culture.

Pompeii was fantastic; our guide was very knowledgeable and more than happy to answer questions, he even managed to keep two very loud Americans in check. It was incredible to think that the frescoes on the walls and mosaics on the floors have been in place for over 2000 years, they’re in such good condition. Some parts of the mosaic floors resemble crumpled pieces of fabric, following the form of the earth as it moved and buckled on the day of the eruption in 79AD. There are plaster casts in glass cases, made from bodies found, intact, during the excavations, as well as fast food outlets, bakeries and  brothels.

Once the tour was over, we took the train to Ercolano, a modern town around ancient Herculaneum. Having been to Pompeii allowed us to interpret better what we saw in Herculaneum, which was a richer suburb of Pompeii all those years ago. It was getting dark by the time we left, the thought of the long walk back to the station was too much, so we took up the taxi driver’s offer of a “special deal”; yes, we were charged more than we should have been, but our feet felt it was worth it.

All too soon it was time for me to take the bus back to the airport, Penny had an extra half day before heading back to London.

St. Patrick’s day

I’d only met two English people during my first 9 months in Dax, one at the patchwork club, the other at the painting club, so when one of them asked if I’d be interested in joining an English book club, I jumped at the chance. My French is good, but the possibility of speaking English one afternoon a month, of being able to understand easily everything that’s said and to express myself properly was just too good to miss.

The book club is just one branch of a bigger, “international ladies’ club”; there are lots of activities, though, to be honest, lunches, aperitifs, trips to markets and cooking demos don’t interest me in the least, so for the most part, I’ll just go to the book club.

At my first meeting, I and two other “newbies” had to introduce ourselves and talk a little about our interests. A few days later an Irish woman, Sheila, invited me to her house for afternoon tea, along with a few other women. Sheila, it seems, was fascinated by the idea that I play in a band and as the afternoon wore on, even more interested in my having been part of an Irish band. She was going to host an event for St Patrick’s day and please would I bring my guitar?

She gave me the number of someone she felt sure would be happy to sing the melody to my arrangement of Danny Boy, so I contacted Glenda, who turned out to be an opera singer. Glenda said she’d love to sing and please would I send her the sheet music……. ah, well….. I had to admit that this was my own arrangement and that, never having had a music lesson, it was written a little unconventionally – the blobs were her line, the crosses mine. She took this in her stride and we met for a few rehearsals, of Danny Boy and several other songs, before the event last Wednesday.

It all went well, in spite of my ridiculously nervous state. I do wish I could conquer my nerves; I sing and play far better at home, when nobody’s there to listen, but in front of others my hands shake and won’t hit the strings properly and my voice wobbles. However, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves; we all wore something green, people brought food, so there was a wonderful spread and Sheila demonstrated how to make real Irish coffee.

At the end of the afternoon I came home and started packing for my trip to Italy the following day.

Successful vide grenier

It was a wild sort of day; cold, howling wind and frequent, squally showers, with the threat of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Kieran had told me of a vide grenier, a bit like a car boot sale, in a village near him, so I’d signed up. I went for the luxury option; to be indoors, with a 2 metre table and 2 chairs supplied, I was very glad I had.

I had an early start; it was just beginning to get light as I arrived. Kieran had helped me load the car the previous evening and had added a few boxes of his own. I was delighted with the position of my table –  the first one as you walked in, not far to go to move my boxes and bags from the car, and the first table people came to when they arrived; though later on, as the wind howled through the open door, I was glad I’d wrapped up in numerous layers of clothing.

I hadn’t even finished unloading by the time the dealers pounced, rummaging through boxes and asking for prices. Kieran’s stuff was unpriced, so I just winged it and by the time the vide grenier opened at 8am, I’d already sold quite a few things, which was very useful as I’d started with more than I could fit on the table

I don’t enjoy doing vide greniers or car boot sales; the point of doing this was simply to get rid of clutter, so I priced stuff accordingly. I had a steady stream of customers all morning and by the time I ate my sandwich at midday, had very little left. There were fewer visitors now and the woman at the next-door table said there’d probably not be many in the afternoon, given the dreadful weather forecast .

My table, mid morning
One of the indoor rooms, there was at least one other.

So I packed my remaining items into a single box and came home, very glad of the heating as I watch the treetops whipping back and forth and the rain lashing onto the balcony, while I sip a hot cup of herbal tea.

Promotion !

Michel, the band’s singer, has had tinnitus for as long as I’ve known him, but recently it’s become much worse; so much so, that he’s had to take the decision to stop singing with us, though he’ll continue to write most of our lyrics and do any necessary paperwork.

I wasn’t the only one concerned that this might mean the end of the band, but we all want it to continue. The next question was, would we look elsewhere for a new lead singer? Again, the decision was unanimous – NO! It’s one thing finding a new bass player, but the singer is the heart and the personality of a band, we didn’t know who we might end up with, the last time that happened, it was disastrous. Jean Michel, who takes on the role of singer when Michel isn’t at rehearsal (half the time as Michel has an eight hour drive from Marseilles, so only joins us once a month) stepped up. He has a lovely voice, but has always said he doesn’t really want to be the front man, a job done brilliantly by Michel; however, given the alternatives, he’s prepared to do it. He wants to make a few changes, however, most of which involve me doing a lot more.

I’ve had it very easy up to now; the lyrics don’t need much learning when they’re mostly ooh and aah, with a few choruses now and again. But French songs tend to be wordy and the lyrics that Michel writes are often full of metaphors and incomprehensible to me, which makes them difficult to learn. Their wordiness also means that sometimes it’s difficult even for a Frenchman to get his tongue around them quickly enough; I’d have no chance.

Jean Michel came over last Sunday and we worked for hours on how best to arrange the songs we have and those that are in the pipeline. He wants me to take on three more solos, in addition to “sweet dreams”, as well as taking a bigger role in several others. Where I’ve written and learnt harmonies, I’ll have to learn the melody and in some cases, teach Jean Michel my harmony. Occasionally I’ll be playing my guitar too, just need to buy a cover for the sound hole so that it won’t cause feedback.

Jean Michel, Adrian and Mika in the studio
Never having had a music lesson, my written music is without timings.
Jean Michel and Adrian
One of my new songs

Between that, preparing to play at a St Patrick’s day do and trying to finish a few pieces for the painting club exhibition, I’m certainly not going to have time to be bored.

Work in progress