Vide maison/ Gararge sale

Over the past several weeks I’ve been trying to clear as much stuff as possible from the house, the garage, the workshops, the bike shed and all the other outbuildings. It’s been a mammoth task, but with the help of some very good friends, I’m making progress.

Last weekend was my vide maison (garage sale); Nico and Edwige came round on Thursday to help me install trestles and planks as makeshift tables and to move all the stuff I’d collected together onto them and elsewhere in the garage. Every time I came into the house, or anywhere else, for that matter, I’d find more bits and pieces; but eventually I felt I was as ready as I could be. I spent Friday pricing every item; mostly at 1 or 2 euros, way below what stuff was worth, but every item sold would be one less to dispose of later.

Saturday dawned cold, but with the promise of warmth in the afternoon. Maithée, Mart, Nathalie, Fleur and Régine turned up to help with the steady flow of people. Things I hadn’t thought of selling, such a plants in pots, were requested, so I sold enough stuff to be able to see a difference.

Sunday was a filthy day; rain, hail and sleet were all blown into our bit of shelter by a driving wind. It was bitterly cold; I was frozen, in spite of 5 sweaters and jackets and thick tights under my jeans. I’m not sure if Isabelle, Laurence, Mart and Paul were wearing quite as many layers, but we all took turns coming into the house to warm up and make hot drinks.

Naturally, we had very few visitors.  We did, however, have a very enjoyable day, with plenty of conversation and lots of laughter.

At the end of the day we packed the less saleable stuff  into my car for the tip on Monday and the rest into boxes.

An English couple who live not far from the charity shop in Eauze, and whom I’d never met until Saturday, offered to come back, with their trailer, on Tuesday morning, to take whatever remained to the charity shop for me, which will save me hours of driving back and forth in my little car. They say that they received so much help from strangers over their first few months in France that they’re passing on the kindness – what an amazing ethos, it restores your faith in human nature.

I’ve been amazed, more times than I can remember, by the kindness of total strangers, who’ve turned up in my life, out of the blue, just when I needed them.

One day, not long before Christmas, a man messaged me; he’d been talking to a fellow teacher who’d been to my house to buy books, and who’d told him of my glut of bikes; he said he was a cyclist and enjoyed renovating bikes and could he come round? 

He’s been an absolute godsend! He’s taken bikes, stripped them down, cleaned and serviced them, often swapping parts between them to make them more saleable; he’s then put them on le bon coin (an internet selling site) and brought me the money. He refuses point blank to accept anything in return, saying that he enjoys doing this and that I obviously need the help. What a star! It must be driving his poor wife mad, I’m sure she must have things she needs doing; I know how that feels – Nick was exactly the same. Jean Michel told me one day that his wife had asked if she ought to be worried about him spending hours every afternoon at the house of an English woman; “no, of course not”, he replied, “she’s old!”. Thanks, Jean Michel !

The last English class I taught at the “clan”, a former student and lace maker arrived, bringing me a lace book mark that she’d made for me before covid. She was my only student that day, so we chatted for a while and I discovered that she’d recently started to learn to play the saxophone. I mentioned that I had three to sell, so she put me in touch with her teacher, who very kindly had a look at them and advised me what sort of prices to ask for them.

Times like this seem to bring out the best (or sometimes the worst) in people; I’ve certainly learned who my real friends are.

Just one of those days!

I woke at 4am today, feeling thoroughly chilled. I got up and put an extra cover on, but that didn’t help, so I found a hot water bottle, which did help. When I woke again, it was to discover that the hot water bottle had sprung a leak, the end of the bed was soaked.

That dealt with, I came upstairs for breakfast; it didn’t feel very warm – the heating wasn’t working. I went for a look in the chaufferie, where the “working bits” are, but all was silent and I was none the wiser, so I phoned the heating engineers (fortunately I took out a service contract earlier in the year), who will send someone round early next week.

It’s not desperately cold at the moment, so I can just light the wood burner in the daytime as well as the evenings; however, a lot of my remaining firewood is logs that are too big for the stove – they need splitting. I do have a log splitter, so I dragged it out and plugged it in. It’s not my favourite tool; it’s so powerful, it scares me, so I push the button and run away.  It made all the right noises, but nothing else happened; no movement of the two ends to split the log I’d put in. Humph! Maybe if I move the pile of logs around, I’ll find enough smallish ones. Kieran’s coming over this week ; I suspect the splitter just needs cleaning and lubricating – I hope so.

Not a great day so far!

A much needed holiday

Gemma started nagging me to visit her in Australia shortly after Nick’s death and eventually I agreed to go over in November; she did all the booking of flights for me, deciding I should stay for almost the whole month.

I was petrified at the prospect of travelling all that way on my own and nearly called the whole trip off on several occasions in the preceding weeks, but I needn’t have worried; I didn’t get lost in the airports, didn’t miss any flights and my luggage arrived in Perth with me.

We had an amazing time together; Gemma’s long awaited redundancy came through on my second day there, so we were able to spend the whole time together. It was lovely to get to know Chris a bit better and to see their beautiful home.

We visited Gemma’s friends who live on a station in the outback; 700km north east of Perth and covering 185000 acres, it extends as far as the eye can see in every direction. The earth is bright red, the vegetation is very scrubby and there’s an amazing variety of wildlife around; kangaroos, émus, bungarras (a sort of big lizard), snakes, etc, etc. Blair, Jared and their three delightful children were so welcoming, we had a fantastic couple of days with them. I will never understand, however, why anybody would choose to live in such an isolated, harsh environment, where even the nearest shop is 60km away and you have to rely on rainfall for drinking water.

Another day we went to Mandurah, a bit like a modern Venice, in that many of the houses front onto canals. Gemma’s friend’s parents live in such a house and took us for a wonderful trip around the canals on their boat. How the other half lives!

Some other friends, again boat owners, invited us to join them on a trip to Rottnest Island, so we headed off. The less said about that day though, the better , as I discovered that I’m not a good sailor. I was just pleased the family was staying overnight on Rottnest and we were taking the ferry back to Perth.

It was a fantastic holiday; I borrowed Gemma’s bike to ride up and down the coastal cycle path, joined Gemma in her yoga classes and met so many of her wonderful friends. We went to markets and visited a jazz club, went out to meet friends for breakfast and spent Sunday afternoons watching the salsa dancing at the amphitheatre on the beach. I was able to wind down a bit for the first time in months. 

Coming home wasn’t easy, but I was better motivated to start on the major pre-moving clear out than when I’d left. February is looming fast; I’m making progress, selling what I can online, giving other stuff to charity and taking yet more to the tip. Nick was such a hoarder! It’s far from easy, but in some ways it feels quite liberating to be having a good clear out.

Day 1, staying upright to ward off the jetlag
A local market
Gin stall
Scarborough beach, the sea really was this blue!
From the cycle track
Cycle track; the sand is so white, you could mistake it for snow
A walk around Herdsman lake
Herdsman lake
The swan-inspired bridge over the Swan river, Perth
Another view from the cycle track
And yet another from the cycle path
A walk at the station with Aubrey and Lacie
Clouds over the station
More clouds over the station, but no rain
Jared and Andie
Blair and Gemma

Egg collecting
As far as the eye can see is the station!
Spring flowers
Back to civilisation, a jazz club in Perth
Setting off to Rottnest Island
Heading out towards the sea
Rottnest, I was so pleased to be on dry land!
Dancing at the Amphitheatre on Scarborough beach before I set off home.