December 31, 2017

CHENONCEAU–THE LAST PART. AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Chenonceau9h

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved visiting old houses.  A trip to some nearby stately home in Derbyshire with my parents - Hardwick, Chatsworth or Haddon for example, was a summer treat that I always looked forward to.  Here in Derbyshire we have a good supply of old houses and monuments to visit and I have many happy memories of picnics by the river at Chatsworth or tea in the tea rooms of some other grand old house or other.

For as long as I can remember the best part of any visit for me would be to see the kitchens.  I have no idea why they should fascinate me so much, but they still do.

Chenonceau9f

Maybe it’s the sight of the preposterously large ovens and ridiculously shiny copper pans which make kitchen life seem so fascinating compared to how it is in modern times. 

Chenonceau9g 

Or maybe too many of the “upstairs, downstairs” kind of TV programmes that I loved watching when I was younger – in fact still do to be honest.  There have been several TV series in the UK recently which have portrayed the reality of kitchen life in these big houses, dispelling any idea that kitchen work was anything other than dangerous hard graft. 

Chenonceau9j

But I still find kitchens fascinating and am disappointed if we visit a château where the kitchen is not part of the tour.

Chenonceau9c

Chenonceau9q

At Chenonceau the kitchens are a delight, with shiny pots and cooking pans and mysterious gadgets aplenty.

Chenonceau9p

Chenonceau9o

Plenty of things for a person with an overly active imagination and rather romantic fascination for life in “the olden days” to enjoy!

So that’s it for 2017.  A huge thank you to those who have stuck with me in the last couple of years where my blogging seems to have lost direction somewhat.  I can’t promise anything different next year but for me it feels different, our future more or less settled rather than in limbo.  I hope so anyway.

A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL !!

December 29, 2017

CHENONCEAU–THE SECOND PART

Chenonceau9k

Chenonceau never fails to enthral me with its sheer beauty but never as much as in February this year when there was hardly anybody else there.  To be able to stand back and look at its treasures in proper perspective without dozens of other people swirling about in front of me was a total joy.

Chenonceau9l

Of all the châteaux we have visited over the years, Chenonceau always has the best flower arrangements.  They are quite breathtaking and must take hours and a lot of skill to produce.  Even in the middle of February the flowers were fresh and the arrangements in good condition.  And of course with nobody much about I could see them in their full glory instead of only bits at a time.

Chenonceau4

Hyacinths featured greatly in many of the displays, filling the rooms with their glorious perfume.

Chenonceau5

Chenonceau5a

I do admire people who can produce a nice flower arrangement, being a put them in the vase and hope for the best kind of flower arranger myself.  One day I will take myself off on a course to learn how to do it properly and make it look effortless, when I have the time.

Chenonceau9m

Time being something I seem to have a lot of at the moment, but not able to do anything very useful with it, still being quite poorly with this horrible cold/flu.  Sitting in front of the computer and tinkering with pictures is about all I have had the energy to do since I gave in to the illness and went to bed on Christmas afternoon. Each day I try to do a few easy chores, like clear the table or stack the dishwasher, but it’s exhausting.  I’m pretty fed up with it.

Chenonceau9d 

However, I’m consoling myself with the fact that at least I am retired.  If this had happened whilst I was working, having to spend a precious holiday being ill instead of enjoying myself, I would have been much more upset about it.

Chenonceau8

At least now that we’re both retired we can just write off the time, batten down the hatches until we’re better (Nick has had a milder version of it, lingering slightly) and just pick up the decorating and other stuff where we left off when we feel up to it.  That is one of the advantages of being retired, I think, knowing that if today doesn’t work out as planned, there’s always tomorrow.

Chenonceau9e

It snowed again here today, putting the kibosh on any plans we might have had to go anywhere.  We often get a bit of snow in Derbyshire between Christmas and New Year and being stuck in the house gives me the time to do a bit of sorting out of the year’s photos, something I actually look forward to.  It’s good to be reminded of the wonderful things we have done during the year and to think of how we will enjoy doing it all again next year!

December 27, 2017

CHÂTEAU de CHENONCEAU

Looking through the hundreds of photos of places and events I took this year I realise that we did an awful lot of things that I never posted about.  Now’s the time to do something about that.

Chenonceau

There are some places in the Loire that I never tire of and the château at Chenonceau is one of them.  Not that I visit it that often - just knowing that it’s only an hour away is enough, and that I can, if I want, pop over and have a look round, feast my eyes on it, whenever I like.

Chenonceau2

My last visit was in February this year.  So many châteaux are closed over the winter but not Chenonceau, which is open all year round and the great advantage is that in February there is hardly anyone else there.

Chenonceau3

I was able to take dozens of pictures completely uncluttered by human beings.  For most of the year the place is heaving with tourists but on a cold grey Tuesday afternoon in February I had the place almost to myself.

Chenonceau6

The long gallery that is the bridge over the river is usually full of people but on this day it was deserted.

Chenonceau6a

I was able to walk from one end to the other and back again without meeting another person. 

Chenonceau9

It was weird, actually, being able to wander around unhindered by hordes of people.  I have always loved visiting old castles and houses and been fascinated by the stories behind them.  Being almost alone in the place made the experience even more magical.

Chenonceau7

Another advantage of visiting in winter is that any stray people that might appear in photos are dressed sombrely in winter coats, not in gaudy summer clothes, which nearly always spoil a photo, especially if too much flesh is on view.

Chenonceau9b

I find it hard to say which part of Chenonceau I like the best, it’s probably a choice between the kitchen, the long gallery and the fabulous flower arrangements that are everywhere.  My photo tour will continue ………

December 26, 2017

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS

CHRISTMAS

A week ago today the plasterers came to plaster the chimney breast and alcove, making an enormous difference to the appearance of the living room.  Bare plaster is so much nicer to look at than bare bricks.

CHRISTMAS2

Having started with a cold on the 11th, which was also my birthday, I thought that at least it would probably have gone by Christmas and sure enough it subsided sufficiently that with a Herculean effort, between us we cleared all the downstairs rooms of the boxes, dust and rammel, making the place look reasonably presentable for Christmas and the usual entertaining of my dad, brother and niece.

CHRISTMAS6

Nick was in charge of the decorations and tinselled us up accordingly. I was in charge of the hoovering and was finishing up on Christmas Eve but as the day wore on my cold seemed to have reinvented itself and I was feeling very poorly indeed.

CHRISTMAS3CHRISTMAS4CHRISTMAS5

As for the kitchen, we are in the end thrilled with it.  There are some snags to fix, the most annoying one being the tiling, which, quite frankly, I could have done better myself.  The annoying part is that because most of the grouting and a good half of the tiles will have to come off, we will have yet again to clear our kitchen of our belongings and live through several days of mess and upheaval whilst the job is being re-done, delaying our moving forward with the finishing off.  That entails painting the remaining bare walls, fitting tool rails and last but not least, having a new floor of some kind.

I must say that the fitter is a lovely bloke, but couldn’t organise one of those classic events in a brewery.  It appears that in order to get the kitchen “finished” he got other members of his team to lend a hand with the tiling, one of whom being the plumber.  Tiling is definitely not the plumber’s strong point.  Which is such a shame as the rest of the job, if you ignore the delays and anguish we went through, is done really well.  It’s a beautiful kitchen apart from the tiling which really lets it down.

pumpkin pie

By Christmas morning I was feeling very rough.  Between us we managed to put the usual feast on the table, including a new alternative to the Christmas pudding, a pumpkin pie.  I was determined to get that one done.

By teatime I had had enough and retired to bed.  Dad went home as soon as he could get away with it, to spend his usual hour or so on the phone to his lady friend.  My brother and niece had a snack of pork pie and cheese before wending their way home.  I was sad to see them leave before the evening was out but at the same time relieved they had decided not to stay the night, so that Nick and I could have a bed each, meaning that we were both in with a chance of getting some sleep as I coughed and spluttered my way through the night.

So that was Christmas, over for another year.  Interesting that in the end it was not the horrible mess of living in a building site that ruined it for us, but the humble cold.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all !!

December 13, 2017

NEARLY THERE. POSSIBLY.

kitchen11kitchen12

On Saturday we collected Daisy from the cattery, thinking that the most destructive and noisy work on the kitchen had been completed and it would be safe for her to return home.  She had been in virtually solitary confinement for two whole weeks, being the only resident in the cattery, and she was really pleased to see us. 

While we were at the cattery the lady that owns it warned us that heavy snow was forecast for overnight on Saturday.  We were glad she mentioned it as we had not seen the forecast and had no idea that snow was coming. 

The cottage we have rented is not far from where we live but is on higher ground on a little used country road and, from past experience, likely to be inaccessible if it snowed a lot.  We could end up snowed in at the cottage with Hugo while Daisy remains by herself in the house.  What a state of affairs.

kitchen13

So, we decided to make a temporary move back home for the night.  At least from there we could walk to the pub, the little Spa shop and the bus stop if we were snowed in for very long – which is in fact one of the reasons that we bought the house in the first place – its location is good for the worst of the Derbyshire winters.

We did a quick clean up of the bedroom and bathroom and spent the night there.  Snow did indeed fall to about 3”.  Neither Hugo nor Daisy had ever seen proper snow before and had a great time playing around in it.  We had laid in enough provisions to keep well fed for a couple of days and while we were there we made a start on cleaning up.  On Sunday we were able to clean out some of the new cupboards and put away some of the kitchen stuff we had piled up in the dining room and elsewhere.  Snow continued to fall all day so we spent Sunday night there as well.

kitchen16kitchen17kitchen18

On Monday there was no sign of the kitchen fitter or any of his team so we carried on with the work.

kitchen14kitchen15

It felt really odd to be almost camping out in our own house but at least we could see that the kitchen was taking shape.  There was still a lot of finishing off to do and we couldn’t use about a third of the cupboards as they were full of the fitters tools and kitchen components. 

kitchen19a

When the fitter turned up on Tuesday morning we vacated the house again and left him to it.  Nick pops back to check on progress and do any fetching and carrying of materials, also to give Daisy some company.  I am staying in the cottage nursing a horrible cold that started on Monday, which happened to be my birthday.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, or at least we think so.  Latest prediction is that the kitchen should be finished, except for a bit of grouting, by Thursday evening.  That’s assuming that the appliances (oven, microwave and extractor hood) turn up today – and that the fitter does not have to dash off somewhere to deal with some problem with one of the other kitchens he has on the go at the same time – which is why, it appears, in the three weeks our kitchen will have taken to complete, for four days no work was done on ours at all.

We are due to move out of the lovely, warm, clean, neat and tidy cottage by 10.00 am on Saturday.  I’m hoping that by then the fitter and his team will have kept to his promise, the job will be finished and we can have the house back to ourselves.  So that then we can get on with the cleaning up and make the place comfortable for Christmas.  Spending Christmas in a building site was not something I relish but we’re not ruling out the possibility.

December 8, 2017

KITCHENS, FIREPLACES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS

kitchen5

There is good and bad news on the kitchen front.  The good news is that most of the units are now in.  We also have new internal doors which we are very pleased with.  They are white, stylish, some glazed and some not, and are infinitely more attractive than the horrid dark plain doors that came with the house.

kitchen6

The bad news is that the kitchen company have let us down big style on the kitchen.  In a nutshell we think they forgot to order it.

With the delivery date approaching fast we queried why we had heard nothing about it and that’s when we think they then ordered it, only to find that the appliances would take until several days after the agreed start date to arrive.  In order to have something ready for the fitter to fit when we vacated the house for them to get on with it, they deleted the appliances from the order so that delivery of the cabinets wouldn’t be held up.  We think they then forgot to re-order them until we enquired why there was no sign of our appliances. We have deduced all this judging by snippets of information told to us by the fitter and shop manager – it’s not exactly the kind of thing that people would openly admit to!

This is in such contrast to the service we received from this company only two and a half years ago, when we bought the kitchen for our house in France and they sorted out problems quickly and painlessly, helping us out enormously when the shipping company trashed several of the units in transit.

Speaking of shipping, things started to go really downhill when the delivery company turned up with the cabinets.  The moronic oaf that carried most of the packages into the house bashed the boxes into our brand new front door in order to shove it open, scratching the bottom panels.  What is it about driving a van that turns people into idiots who have no respect for their customer’s goods or property?

With the house now transformed into a building site, everything covered in a layer of plaster dust and gritty dirt, some of the cabinets were found to be the wrong size, damaged or missing altogether.  It quickly became very obvious that it would take much longer than the week promised to fit the kitchen.  So we extended our stay in the cottage for a second week.

When we got a final delivery date of 13th December for the appliances we extended our stay by one more week, making three weeks in total.  What a shambles.  And just to add insult to injury, our fridge freezer, which we were not replacing, mysteriously acquired a large dent in the door, which nobody owns up to knowing anything about.


fireplace9d

In our quest to get all the big, messy and disruptive things done as soon as possible, we booked replacement of the horrible (very fashionable in the 1960’s) fireplace in the sitting room for this week – to follow on from the kitchen work which we had been told would be finished by now.

gas fire2

The demolition of the old fireplace was a very messy job and not without surprises.  Namely that the hearth seemed to have been built on a huge slab of concrete – thick enough to “hold up a multi storey car park” according to the fireplace engineer!  Most of it had to be chipped away to reveal a proper floor level and enable them to fit the new fireplace.

gas fire3gas fire4

And here it is.  If it wasn’t for the fact that the glass front has a small crack in it and we therefore can’t use it, we’d be very pleased with it.  The engineer and his mate blamed the delivery company, but then they would just because they could.  To my mind the thing should have been inspected for faults or damage long before they started the job and in time to replace any damaged or missing parts.  Nobody does quality control any more.  They expect you to pay up front for fear that you might not pay at all, then expect you to put up with faulty goods until they can fix it.

The chimney breast also needs a significant amount of plastering to finish it off.  This was not the engineer’s job, apparently, which is not something we appreciated when we ordered it.  However, we like the look of the new fire.  It’s very smart and stylish and makes the room look bigger – and I no longer bash my ankles on the corner of the old hearth stone when I walk past it.

So all in all, things have not really been going to plan.  Sure enough, we will get the kitchen finished eventually and the chimney breast will get plastered and finished off.  I just wish this was not happening so close to Christmas, which seems to be passing me by yet again.  We have missing appliances, a damaged front door, a damaged fridge freezer, a brand new fire that we can’t use, a big plastering job to organise and a house that’s a tip.  This is not at all what we were expecting and our excitement at having our projects come to fruition is marred by disappointments.  It just shows how important it is to have good people working in any company.  No matter how good the product is, the service is hugely dependant on how good the staff are.  Unfortunately the people we were so pleased with at the kitchen company last time have moved on.

A friend of mine once said that if you go through life expecting 100% from people you will always be disappointed.  If you reckon on 50% you might just be pleasantly surprised.  I thought at the time it was a sad reflection on human nature but he was probably right.

November 27, 2017

WINDOWS AND DOORS, KITCHENS AND HUGO

Progress is good with our new house.  With the plumbing done and dusted the next big job was to replace the windows.  It amuses me how estate agents will describe a house as fully double glazed throughout.  Ok, there were double glazed windows everywhere, but they all needed replacing.  There were gaps around the front windows that caused a howling draught and the one in the dining room actually whistled when the wind blew.

windows1windows2

The front door was a classic style for a 1960’s bungalow.  The letterbox rattled in the slightest breeze and I found getting into the house awkward the way the door opened right up against the brick wall.

windows3windows4

We’re very pleased  with the new door.  The glass panels to the side let in lots of light so we don’t notice losing any light by no longer having a full length glass door.

kitchen4

We are now in the throes of having the kitchen replaced.  It looked modern and smart in the agent’s photos but in reality it was a cheap and nasty kitchen, badly fitted and with ridiculously bright wall tiles.  There was plumbing for a washing machine but not a dishwasher and after three months (three months already!) of washing up by hand, I really miss my dishwasher!

kitchen

We spent yesterday emptying the cupboards ready for the fitter to arrive this morning to start work on the new kitchen.  I shall be really, really glad to see the back of this one – and to get my new dishwasher.

kitchen2kitchen3

With the old units out you can see what horrors lie beneath.  Even though the house is only about fifty years old, there have been several changes to the kitchen over the years.  There is an old electricity point showing that the original cooker was electric and positioned right next to the door – I remember that that was what people did in the 60’s and our old family home was just the same (except that ours was a gas cooker).  The idea of having a hob in the middle of a nice, functional worktop was unknown then.

I am pleased to say that the old kitchen is going to a good home.  Although we hate it, many of the units are in good condition and I was hoping to find someone who needs a kitchen and would appreciate it.  The kitchen fitter knows of a charity that provides training for people with learning difficulties and can use our old kitchen, including the hob and oven, in their training.  So much better than sending the whole lot to the tip.

cottagecottage2

We have moved out while the work is being done.  That way, the men (who look about fifteen years old) (to me, anyway) can concentrate on getting the job done and not worry about clearing up and providing us with some kind of working kitchen each evening.  We also thought it would be a nightmare for Daisy and Hugo to deal with, so Daisy is in her favourite cat hotel (well, our favourite anyway) and we are in this rather cute little cottage with Hugo, just about a mile from home.

cottage3cottage4 

It has a lovely country style kitchen and all the usual comforts, including some home made fairy cakes to welcome us.  There was also the makings of a nice cup of tea, with proper teapot, sugar, milk and cups and saucers.  I had to chuckle at the difference between this and many of the French gites we have stayed in – the welcome pack there would usually consist of a bottle of wine and, if we were lucky, a fresh baguette!

cottage8cottage9

How lovely it is to be in a house that is spotlessly clean, instead of a grubby, grimy building site with cardboard boxes piled up all over the place.  I am going to love being here for a whole week, and am making full use of the dishwasher!

Hugo1Hugo1a

Meanwhile, whilst we rush about getting things organised, little Hugo is just getting on with settling in and growing.  He is growing fast and his little legs have lengthened, even since we took these photos. 

Hugo1d

He’s a good dog, learning fast an growing into his name and into his feet.  House training (always a black art I think) has been relatively painless and he now has very few little accidents in the house – as long as we keep an eye on him and pick up on the signs that he needs to go out.

Hugo1h

He loves going for a walk, loves to play with his toys, loves his dinners and loves everything in fact.  His personality is very different from Lulu’s.  He’s been easier as a puppy we think, which we attribute to him having mixed with people, cats and other dogs from the beginning, unlike Lulu who spent the first eight weeks of her life, until we collected her, in a barn with only her siblings.

Hugo1l

He would play all day long if he could, and if we had the time.  Training time has been difficult to find due to the work on the house but he’s a fast learner.

Hugo1m

I can still pick him up, just!  Which is lucky because although he’s learned to climb the stairs, he doesn’t always have the courage to come back down by himself.  I remember that phase with Lulu, who spent hours trotting upstairs and then waiting to be carried back down so she could do it again!

He’s off to the groomers later this week for his first proper trim.  It will be lovely to meet the handsome boy who lurks somewhere beneath that mass of black fluff!