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Twice a year I visit the UK to see my family that still live there, in the town I was born, raised, grew up in and started my working life in. Twice a year I get to note the differences between ‘home’ and home. Twice a year I get back ‘home’ with these differences gnawing away at me.
So what are these differences? The biggest, single thing that I’ve noticed is the amount of debris in the streets. That’s what I want to rant about here. Litter not just in the streets, but in the countryside too. Driving through the New Forest, I was absolutely staggered to note just how much rubbish there was strewn around. The ubiquitous New Forest Ponies were grazing at the sides of the roads, little more than country tracks, really, and I couldn’t even begin to count the numbers of plastic pop bottles. Empty crisp packets and plastic wrappers abound. What is that all about? This is a National Treasure, ladies and gentlemen. It’s somewhere to be proud of, to take your kids to, and marvel at the landscape, unchanged in millenia. It isn’t a dumping ground for your unwanted trash. It is a place to be nurtured, looked after and guarded jealously, because there’s nowhere else quite like it.

To take a photo, you have to look through the viewfinder and ‘see’ what else is in the shot. Then you have a choice. You either remove the rubbish strewn around by hand, collecting someone else’s cast-offs, bagging them up to be disposed of in a bin later. Or there’s Photoshop.
I prefer the former.
It wasn’t just the New Forest. Driving on the motorways, I was all too often distracted by the sheer volume of rubbish on the embankments, wondering how on earth it gets there? Do people just throw this stuff out of their car windows as they’re driving merrily along? Do they even stop to think what happens to it? In fact, what DO they think happens to it? Do they imagine an army of elves appearing to ‘magic’ it all away (to the New Forest) in the dead of night? Or, do they just think ‘someone’ else will do their dirty work for them?

Rubbish in the streets

A visitors view of a UK town.

Think about this logically. If everyone did as I do, there’d be a fortune saved on collecting this crap which may then go towards something more useful, like putting more policemen on the beat in your towns, or creating a few more beds in your hospitals. It may even go towards better lighting in areas that are targetted by muggers, thieves and rapists in YOUR towns.

So what is it that I do? it’s simple – I just collect MY rubbish and throw it in the passenger side footwell, or I carry a plastic carrier bag for the purpose and use a bin when I stop. Or, as is more usual, when I get home again, and then put MY rubbish in the bin there.

I suppose one of the problems is that there’s simply not enough bins around, and when there are, they’re already overflowing with human detritus. Packaging is one problem – there’s just too much of it. Less blister packed fast food, and more cellophane please? I know that when our eldest son worked for McDonalds for a short time in his youth, they had a rota for staff to scour the immediate environs for litter bearing their name, and to bag it up and bring it back to the store. That’s nice, and a responsible attitude to take. But what about the millions of fast food outlets in every town and city across the land? What’re they doing?

Another problem, and one I have personal experience of, is terrorism. Yes, terrorism. In many airports and train stations, as well as large shopping centres, you’ll now struggle to find somewhere to drop your litter. Why? because of the ‘threat’ of a bomb being hidden in the bins. It’s true. So, not only do we live in fear of an Islamic backlash on the ‘civilised’ western world, we have to drown in a tidal wave of crap created as a direct result of that fear, because as a society, we’re too scared to install bins on street corners anymore.

Also, there must be armies of men employed by local councils to try and keep the streets clean, yet here in France there’s usually just one or two employed by each commune, and they do litter collection on a very part-time basis. There just isn’t the same amount of it strewn about. Sure, there’s some – especially in the bigger towns, but nothing like the amount I’ve seen in the UK. And, in my opinion, the problem’s becoming worse each time I visit.
It has to start with the parents and the schools. It has to be a mindset instilled in the very young. But before that, we have to change the mindset of the generation that is currently creating the problem. How do we do that? I don’t have a clue – I’m just thankful that my parents taught me the values I grew up with, and passed on to my own kids. They, in turn I’m sure, will pass those values on to their own kids. It’s a start.

Notice

Notice in the New Forest.

Until the next time, au revoir.

Happy New Year.

First of all, let me wish you all a Bonne Année. Pleine de bonne choses pour vous et votre famille.

I suppose I’d better re-cap last year before moving on to a whole new one? Well, we had a great season, stuffed full of lovely people that came and spent a while (or longer) here at Le Chant. Some promising to return, others having already booked for this summer. Those that came this year having been previously will have noticed some changes. Those that return this season will notice a few more as our plans for the place come to fruition.

Last year we upgraded the site electricity supply, providing a beefed up supply for all and lessened the impact upon our poor gite guests in Chardonneret in the event that the site supply tripped, in the process. Ever since we’ve been here, the only way to re-set the site supply when it trips is to access the baby gite and press the reset button. It’s a very simple thing to do, not in any way dangerous. Not a problem at all when there’s no-one in the gite, but once it’s occupied, then it became an intrusion for guests and an embarrassment for us. With only one exception though, we can honestly say that everyone we’ve asked to re-set the box has been happy to do so, putting the ‘job’ down to one of the vagaries of ‘life in France’. Indeed, we’ve been astonished to learn just how often the leccy trips in the UK too!

Anyway, after alot of thought, and after uncounted calls to EDF, we arranged for the supply to be upgraded, and for the mains switch to be positioned outdoors, and back in our control in case of trips. we instigated all of this in Frebruary last year and it all finally came together in August! At the same time, we changed our tariff from one (ridiculously expensive) to another, and already we’re seeing a drastic reduction in our monthly bill. This all means two things: Syb can operate more than one electrical appliance in the house at the same time, and we can pass on our own savings to our guests. Syb still hasn’t got the hang, almost six months later, of being able to operate the toaster AND the kettle at the same time. So, having a hot cup of tea at the same time as my breakfast toast is still proving a learning curve.

Still, it’s funny to hear the squeals of delight when she realises she doesn’t have to wait for one thing to finish before she can switch another thing on…..

What else did we do? Oh yes – the trees! Winter here can bring some pretty strong winds that would push and pull our poplars all over the place. On one particularly frightening stormy night/early morning, I was shocked at the sight of the two rather large specimens just to the front of the house bent almost double (it seemed like it at the time) over the house. They had to go! Not completely though. We brought in a local company to trim them right back to a manageable size. In effect they’re now only 10m high, instead of more than double that. The skyline changed further here at Le Chant when we lopped the two poplars by the barn, and gave one of our large ‘peupliers noir’ a shave too. One of the benefits of this work is that we now have plenty of wood stacked around the place to burn next winter – that’s also a good thing, as our usual supplier, Arnaud, has run out!

Arnaud, you may know from my ramblings elsewhere, is the owner of a local snail farm. Yes, really. He’s also happy for anyone to visit for a mini-tour (in French) of his farming methods and the ‘laboratoire’! You just have to ak us, and we’ll set it up for you. He also sells many & varied snail related dishes there too.

One of the things we had to do as a matter of some urgency was replace not one, but all three of the electric water heaters on site! The first one to go was the shower block chauff-eau. Luckily for us, it was just after a very busy Easter. We still had a few campers on site who’d noticed the water wasn’t quite as hot as usuaal. When we investigated further, the heater was indeed kaput. So, a trip into Saumur with the trailer, and back I came with a bigger version. This time, a 300l model, rather than the 200l one we’d had since we arrived here. Can’t complain too loudly, I thought, as this was the first time we’d replaced this particular one. A quick call to our favourite sparky to wire it in after I’d finished the plumbing, et voila. Hot water again within 6-hours of the old one giving up the ghost!

The large gite, Héron, had a bit of TLC earlier in the year too, with a completely fresh bathroom. The loo was lifted, turned 90° and placed against a solid wall, rather than backing onto a shower curtain hiding the water tank! we have no idea why this hadn’t been done originally, but hey-ho – we added it to our list of things to do years ago, but time got in the way. I built a cupboard around the water heater for all the cleaning tackle too. The bath was moved away from the walls, had a tiled surround fitted which is lovely to perch your glass of wine whilst reading your latest chick lit among the bubbles!

The first guests to use it were a delightful French family, and they loved it. The only comment upon departure was that they’d tried to have a shower that morning but there wasn’t any hot water! After a little investigation – sure enough, the chauff-eau had packed in! The second in as many weeks. No drama, I thought. This one must have been installed at the same time as the other, they’re like light bulbs – they all pop at once! Off to Saumur. New (again 300l) tank and a call to the sparky, who by this time was thinking I was some sort of a curse upon French hot water tanks. This all had to be done in the least amount of time possible as we had more guests arriving later that afternoon! I’d just finished fitting the tank in place when the sparky arrived and, once again, by the skin of our teeth we managed to install a new tank and have hot water ready for our guests’ arrival. Phew!

When, a couple of weeks later, I returned from the brico store in Saumur, with yet another 300l chauff-eau onto a trolley, after shelling out yet another €500; I suppose I could forgive our sparky for really thinking I was the kiss of death on water heaters! Yes, the third and final heater – our own, had trickled to a tepid halt. The first two weren’t bad to fit, both being on the ground floor. Ours is in the loft above the small gite and it feeds that gite, as well as the house here, with hot water. It’d been a tad lukewarm for a couple of weeks to be fair, but we just thought that we may have been taking baths and showers at inopportune moments, at the same time as guests next door. It wasn’t until one of them actually mentioned that the water didn’t appear to be too hot that morning that we realised that it had indeed ground to a halt! Much huffing, puffing, shoving and pulling of a rope attached to the heavy cylinder ensued. Another call to our tame sparky and hey presto – hot water! The first really hot bath we’d had in weeks was duly luxuriated in later that night!

Later in the autumn, after much frantic scrabbling around first of all trying to find manhole lids, then attempting to lift them, we had our fosse septiques inspected! By a man from SPANC – Spancy Man! There’s a ‘law’ of sorts been rolled out through France that dictates changes to the ‘norms’ for septic tanks and their drainages systems. I’ll ‘blog about the silliness of this another time! But, suffice to say, it’s a pretty stupid thing and has been met with great anger and frustration in village halls up & down the country. Our inspector came, saw, didn’t once get his hands dirty, and sat on our patio in the sun filling out forms with us. He passed both of ours, even though they’re of the same construction as a friend’s (but older), and our friend has to replace his! We’re now expecting an official, typed report on our fosses with reccommendations that we a) chop down the 100 year old oak in our ‘coeur’ and b) we move our swimming pool.

Hmmm.

So that was last year, that was.

What of 2012? Well,  we have yet more tree surgery planned. No! Not the 100 year old oak, but other, less beautiful and more youthful ones dotted around the place. Phase Two will get underway in the autumn of this year.

Because we were waiting for a decision on the fosses, it became a bit of a bind planning and then installing the long awaited chemical waste disposal point for the campsite. I just didn’t want to do it to be told that I’d have to rip it all out anyway. Now that Spancy Man’s been & seen, I’ll crack on with that in time for the season proper!

We’ve just ordered two very swish (and very expensive) replacement ehu (electric hook-up) bollards for the campsite. Ours are fine, they work ok and they’re tested yearly. They just look crap. We want the place to look nice and we want people to have a nice time here. Looking nice is all a part of that, so we took the plunge just yesterday and ordered them from the UK for delivery within a fortnight. No doubt I’ll be splattering piccies all over our facebook page when they’re done!

What else? Nothing much except the constant round of decorating, gardening, mending, cleaning, replacing water heaters and generally living la vie française!

So. If you’re coming to see us this year, please do mention how lovely our (drastically lowered) trees look and that you’re having fun tipping your chemical waste down our bespoke disposal point. Tell us that you love the plentiful supply of hot water, and that you’re struggling to extract your soapy bodies from the luxurious bath in Héron. Do tell us you’re laughing hysterically, listening to Syb and her squeals of delight as she boils the kettle and burns the toast – AT THE SAME TIME! You can, if you like tell us you have NO idea how you ever managed without the new, swish ehu bollards too! Then we’ll know we’re doing things right!  😉

Until the next time,

Au revoir.

As the title says, it HAS been a while. It’s been a long, very busy summer for us here at Le Chant. Great weather, great guests (in the main), and lots of nice people have booked to return. That’s the upside. The downside is that we have had one or two ‘guests’ that seemed not to appreciate that Le Chant isn’t just a holiday destination, but also our home. Granted, this is what we do for a living, and yes – we do get ‘paid’ if you like, for sharing what we have. But that’s my point – we ‘share’ Le Chant d’Oiseau. We share it because we think it’s a pretty place, and because we would have loved to have spent our holidays here with our own kids when they were growing up. We share it because we’re justifiably proud of all that we’ve achieved with it, in just 6 years.

In year one, in the very first full season that we were owners, and only just after we’d finished work on completing the family accommodation in what is now our home, we were very green. We were very keen to please, though we didn’t have an awful lot of spare cash to invest in Le Chant. We still made great efforts to ensure that both the gites and the campsite were the best they could be until we could afford to improve what we had. Lots of what we inherited had to stay, as we couldn’t afford to change things. We knew our limitations, but we priced accordingly.

Once or twice in that first full season, we were taken advantage of by people who just didn’t ‘get us’, or Le Chant d’Oiseau. It took one of these people a whole TWO years to release his bile on a well-known review website. The fact that a) he blatantly lied about certain aspects of his stay with us, and b) in the TWO years he’d taken summoning up the spite to send in his ‘review’, Le Chant had undergone a massive improvement, didn’t mean that the ‘review’ wasn’t published. Published it was, and definitely to the detriment of our business, not to mention our feelings.

In subsequent years, we’ve put up with allsorts of comments from people. In the early days, the main one we laughed off was “How does a lad from Doncaster get to own all this then?” Well, I’ll tell you. By being absolutely convinced that we could handle the HUGE French mortgage, and by having confidence in our ability to graft like navvies in order to pay off said mortgage. Not only that, but also by being brave enough to sell up everything we owned in the UK to try and make a better life for our family here. Many people wish they had the same courage of conviction that we had in 2005.  Another comment we’ve had is “It’s like camping in someone’s garden.” This is true. It is exactly that. But, it’s a very lovely, large, FRENCH garden. This has been said to us both in a kind, complimentary way as well as in a derogatory fashion, implying that we weren’t a ‘proper’ campsite. Well, we are. With the registrations and insurances to prove it.

We’ve suffered the idiocy of people ‘reviewing’ our pets. The fact that our two cats catch birds was the subject of one reviewers ire. What the hell is wrong with some people?

We’ve had to put up with guests’ children scratching their names into our pool table with their cheap little penknives. We’ve watched them chasing our chickens around until they squawked in protest. Our pets have had to endure being poked and prodded as they snoozed in the sun, or had their heads battered with a table tennis bat.

I’ve had to restrain myself on more than one occasion, gritting my teeth as I’ve watched someone’s little darling  ripping said table tennis bats to shreds, or fighting siblings with the pool cues. I’ve also lost count of the times I’ve been told that the pool table hasn’t released all of the balls. Usually due to the amount of gravel clogging up the mechanisms. Usually carefully placed there by small children, roaming freely around the place, as it’s “just so safe here.”

Yes. We provide a safe environment. Yes, we keep the site gates closed all the time, and yes, it’s fully fenced all around. But that’s not an invitation for people to absolve themselves of all responsibility for their offspring. While you’re ‘relaxing’ after your long drive from the UK/Germany/Belgium/insert lieu of choice, YOUR kids are releasing their hours of frustration at being kept cooped up in a car watching re-runs of Thomas The Tank Engine on the in-car DVD system!

Very rarely do we say anything. Instead, we ‘take it on the chin’. Perhaps moaning to ourselves in the privacy of our own house that we need (yet again) to take a trip into Saumur to find/buy replacements for this that AND the other.

Oh, talking of privacy – the number of times we’ve had people walk through our own patio area in order to get from one gite to another, shared by extended family is astounding. Despite what we might ask in various ways, that we be left alone from time to time to just be ‘us’, people still have so little respect.

So, why the rant, you may well be asking? Actually, it’s a case of one thought train leading to another. We’ve had a couple of reviews in lately. One was extremely bad in that again, we felt we’d been treated very, very badly by the guy responsible for it. It’s all very well, the internet giving everyone a voice, but some people should have their voiceboxes surgically removed if all that springs from it are lies. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of cash ensuring we provide things to do on site here. For what? To have it ruined by a few small kids whos parents are happy to let them, as long as THEY get the holiday THEY want? Why bother to write the most lovely comments in our guest book, only to do a complete about turn once you’re away from here and in the safety of your own keyboard?

The other review actually said in far less words, and in such a way as to make it perfectly clear what we’re about, exactly why we take it so personally, this ‘job’ of ours. It said:

Stu and Syb’s unobtrusive hard work behind the scenes ensures you enjoy your holiday, from the generous welcome pack to the care for their environment is obvious.
This is essentially their home and garden which they open for you to enjoy, treat it with respect and appreciation in the hope that their commitment and enthusiasm will be sustained so you can come and enjoy it again and again. We will!

I guess you could say that our commitment and enthusiasm has just been reborn.

Thankyou all for your continued support in what’s been a very long, very tiring but ultimately successful season for us. Here’s hoping your first visit won’t be your last. Except in one or two cases, and you know who you are!

I’ve often thought, as I wander the highways & byways of our bit of France, what a beautiful landscape we live in. Because I’m a very enthusiastic photographer, I look at the scenery in awe sometimes, and wish that others could see it just as I’ve just seen it, you know? This train of thought is a constant in my head, and it’s not until very recently that I’ve had the wherewithal to try and realise the ambition to have a few days of informal, but informative photography workshops at our place.

La Loire and Saumur sunrise

The Loire at Saumur at sunrise.

Sure, I have a good eye, and I know how to take decent images. It’s not that difficult really, given where I live, and the types of photogenic landscape and subjects I’m exposed (forgive the pun) to on an almost daily basis. But what I lack is the reputation as a serious photographer. You see, to our guests, I’m just the grumpy bloke that owns the pretty gites and sociable campsite in the Loire Valley. They don’t realise that I do actually know a fair bit about photography, and what constitutes a decent image. If they do, then because of my ‘day job’, they fail to take me seriously if I say I’d like to teach them how to take the kinds of pictures they admire in local galleries etc.

Montreuil Bellay

Just one of the many chateaux within very easy reach of Le Chant d'Oiseau

So, when a guest here last year, Chris, at last took me seriously and put me in touch with his prospective father-in-law, UK based landscape photographer, Anthony (Tony) Blake, my creative juices began to flow again after a long period of hiatus.

To explain. Tony is an award-winning landscape photographer, making a living from his photography workshops held in his home county of Dorset. His eye for the shot is simply fantastic. His clients are mostly beginners or improvers, but he’s comfortable having professionals on his workshops too.

Image copyright, Tony Blake, Dorset based landscape photographer

Beautiful Dorset scene, taken by Tony.

Tony’s been looking into the potential for expanding his horizons, and after being introduced to one another by Chris, we got to chatting via. e-mail and arranged a visit to Le Chant d’Oiseau to get together and discuss the possibilities, and for Tony and his lovely wife, Miranda, to see for themselves just what stunning potential the area has for budding landscape ‘toggers.

They came and stayed in Chardonneret with us for an all too brief few days in April. The weather was beautiful. Warm, bordering on hot with the blue skies and clear light that attracts so many artists to the area. It bode well.

What we’ve decided, between the four of us, is to pilot a three-day workshop, based here at Le Chant, to be held in the week commencing the 24th September 2011. We’re currently looking into the costs involved, but accommodation can either be on the campsite, or in one of the two remaining gites (Tony’s bagged Chardonneret already!).

The autumnal landscape should be in full bloom by then, and the chance to bag images such as the one captured perfectly by Tony, below, shouldn’t be too difficult!

Image copyright, Anthony Blake Photography.

Autumnal splendour.

We’re working hard at ensuring there’s a superb itinerary for the three days, with a range of photo opportunities from landscapes, to sunrise/sunset shots (don’t worry, the sun rises late and sets earlier in September!), chateaux, river scenes, architecture, people, village life…. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination!

Here’s how we think it will work.

We’re planning on the cost to include a pitch on site for two people and their chosen unit, (though Héron & Hibou will be available too) with electric for the week. There’ll be an ample french style picnic lunch and four-course evening meal with wine for those attending the workshop. If partners wish to join us, then there’ll be a nominal fee and they’ll be made more than welcome!  If both people on a pitch wish to take part in the workshop, then a supplement for the second person will be charged. Transport to & from the locations for the three-day course will also be included. The remainder of the week will be yours to explore the area and put into practice what you’ve learned on the workshop!

For me personally, It’s exciting to think that as your guide, I’ll be able to share some of the ‘off the beaten track’ locations that I’ve come to find in the six years we’ve been here. Lots of these would be very difficult to find without local knowledge. It’s great to think that some lucky people will get to take the most gorgeous shots of the area, that they’ll be proud to hang on their walls at home, and that we’ve helped them to achieve that!

Places will be strictly limited, so please register your interest for the Loire Experience Photography Workshop now. You can do this by visiting our website at www.loire-gites.com and scrolling down the home page to the Newsletter Subscription box. Enter your e-mail addresss, and press GO! Then, tick the box marked ‘Photography’ to ensure that we keep you up to date with details of prices and itineraries etc.

Tony & I look forward to seeing you in September!

Until the next time,

Au revoir.

 

 

 

Xynthia – One Year On.

On the 28th February, 2010 Tempête Xynthia left a trail of death, devastation and destruction in its wake, coming in from the Atlantic, and forcing its way inland through much of France, Portugal and Spain, up into Belgium, the UK and Germany. In almost all of the countries other than France, the tempest was seen as a violent storm. In France, and especially in the area of the Vendée around L’Aiguillon sur Mer, it was nothing short of a disaster of almost biblical proportions. 51 people lost their lives, many in that one village, while a further dozen were missing, feared dead. Six people were killed in Germany, three in Spain, and one each in Belgium, Portugal and the UK.

Flood damage after Tepete Xynthia

The Vendee coast after the tempete.

France météorologistes named this the worst storm since those of ten years earlier, ‘Lothar’ & ‘Martin’.

I reported what happened in our area, in my ‘blog here – When The Wind Blows. At the time I was writing that, I had absolutely no idea what had happened elsewhere. We suffered electricity cuts for a week afterwards, therefore it was a day or two before I saw the newspapers, and the full extent of the damage. Over one million homes in France were left without power. Falling trees and debris damaged vehicles, property and people. We ourlselves escaped very lightly, given the number of trees we have on site here. One Catalpa did succumb to the winds, in excess of 130kph here, and very gently, and ever so slowly leaned and rested against our house. As frightening as it was, it was nothing compared to what L’Aiguillon sur Mer experienced.

When eventually, we regained power, we were able to switch on the TV and see for ourselves the reportages from the coast, and from the rest of France. Not just the images of floods, and of distraught family members mourning the loss of loved ones, but also the ‘hidden’ cost of Xynthia. The forestiers, their income lost and their potential ruined with the loss of so much forestry. The poor farmers that lost their herds of sheep & cattle to the floods, 1.5m deep. The pompiers working throughout the night to rescue old folks from their homes, frightened, wet and exhausted after what seemed to us to be one of the longest nights ever, what it felt like to them doesn’t bear thinking about.

Destroyed home in the Vendée.

Destroyed - a dream!

The 200 year old sea wall at L’Aiguillon, built to last by Napoleon, breached by surf 7.5m (25ft) high. Rubble being moved by mechanical excavators, which only 48 hours earlier had been tossed around like lego bricks by the waves. What was left was a scene of utter devastation.

I suppose we’re getting used to scenes like these. We’re accustomed to images from far away places of dusty faces, tears and shattered lives. We think we’re immune in our substantial, well-built homes. We don’t believe anything like this could happen here, in a ‘civilised’ land. But it can, and it did.

But now, almost a year on, the French Government has outlined plans to mitigate the circumstances leading to the scale of the disaster. One of these reforms is to restrict planning permissions in low-lying coastal areas.

The ecology minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, announced a €500 million plan: Tempête Xynthia, un an après : des actions fortes pour prévenir les inondations, which will introduce building restrictions as well as reinforcement of protective seawalls.

Cleaning up after Xynthia

The clean-up begins.

Risk assessments and emergency plans will be undertaken in coastal areas, coupled with a total ban on new dykes being built that would have opened up ground for new building projects.

Météo France will be tasked with overseeing a new warning system along the coast, with extra government funding for meteorological radar and an extension of the areas under surveillance.

Around 1,200km of existing dykes and seawalls will be reinforced, and research is being done into tracing the private owners of dykes so that sea defences are uniform.

“A new awareness of the dangers of flooding and storms has to be gained”, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said.

We certainly hope so.

 

Until the next time, Au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2011

What a palaver!

Well, where to start? I s’pose at the very beginning? That’s a very good place to start…..

Many of you reading this will be aware of the shitty time we’ve had of late with one thing and another? It’s mainly been the lack of internet and phones that’s completely had us at an all-time low, well, it has me at any rate. Obviously, with family back in the UK, I’d like to be able to log on, or to pick up the ‘phone once in a while and chat to them, get their new and pass on ours. You’d think that in a country that’s in the forefront of space exploration, avionics and medical advances, they’d be quite ‘sussed’ in maintaining a decent communications infrastructure, wouldn’t you? Well, that’s not an entirely fair accusation as it wasn’t really the infrastructure that was at fault, just one certain company’s lack of interest in their customer relations!

How it all started was way back in the summer of last year I’d noticed the wifi connection dropping out at certain times in the evening. I could only put this down to the fact that we’re on the end of a fairly long line of users, and at certain times, we’d all be settling down to a bit of surfing, or skype’ing with loved ones across the ditch. But, it gradually worsened over the autumn, and in deep midwinter, our connection failed altogether. Our provider, AliceADSL weren’t much use to be honest, but did manage to send out another box, which did work again.

But, in the intervening period of internet inactivity, I’d decided enough was enough, and lured by the promise of NO breakdowns, NO loss of service, a FREE USB 3G clé, should anything go wrong, and countless other gems, I signed up for SFR. You’ll know by now that all of those claims were a bit ambitious at best, and outright lies at worst! See my rant here

It degenerated into the realms of a French Farce with me as Jacques Tati, effectively reduced to miming with no internet and no phones for over two months! In the meantime, we had a couple of visits from technicians who stood around scratching various body parts before announcing that they had no idea what was wrong, but they’d contact someone else. And so it went on!

The French ‘idea’ of after sales service is virtually non-existant. They either keep you hanging on the ‘phone long enough for ideas of suicide to set in, or they’re just so ignorant of your needs it’s actually quite laughable. They. Just. Don’t. Care! If you find a local SFR store, and try asking a real live person to help, all you’re told is to call their helpline number! And so it goes on.

It’s all well and good visiting France on holiday, soaking in the laid back lifestyle it can offer (though we’ve yet to find it), but the stark realities of life in amongst the apathetic entreprises is just plain worrying. On a more local level, there’s nothing majorly wrong, evidenced by the fact that when we called our local France Telecom (Orange) office in Saumur out of desperation to re-install our account, and internet with them, it was all plain sailing. The guy who my daughter spoke to was charming, helpful and very accommodating, and ‘touche bois’, we’ve had no problems since!

No, the problem appears to be with those new garçons on the block, the Alice’s, the SFR’s, the Free’s of this world. They have no real idea of how to cope with the demands of an increasingly internet-aware French public. They don’t have the people in place to respond to the myriad problems associated with leasing France Telecom’s antiquated systems (although these same systems work perfectly well when operated by France Telecom!). I think the best piece of advice I could give holds true not just here in France, but anywhere. Stick with the people who are the originals. The France Telecoms, the British Gas’s, the YEB! THEY really DO know best!

Anyhow, we’re almost back to normal as far as the internet and phones go, though I was really pissed off to discover that I’d had missed calls from people potentially wanting to book holidays here at Le Chant. There was a period of takeover where we weren’t being ‘serviced’ by SFR, because FT had once again taken over the line. So, when I first connected to Orange, there was a list of missed calls since FT/Orange had resumed service, but before it had been passed on to me! France (thankfully, it has to be said) doesn’t have the litigation culture that sprang from the US, and has now infected the UK, though I’d be seriously tempted to take SFR to task over loss of earnings!

The icing on the cake, which did actually make me laugh out loud was when I followed the online link to my particular ‘incident ticket’ and it said, quite proudly, that my incident was now resolved! How? By me booting SFR so far into touch, they’re orbiting Mercury faster than the US probe has managed? Oh, I bet their problem solving departments high-fiving in Paris at yet another incident ‘solved’ by pissing off the poor bloody customer so much that he’s on the verge of high-fiving the SFR shop window in Saumur with a brick! Twats!

One of the more worrying aspects of our communications problems has been that Sheila’s not been well either. Again, those of you who follow my missives on the Facebook page will know she’s been in hospital recently. She’s had one or two things that needed ‘looking at’. The first was her shoulder. Somehow, the daft old bat had managed to dislocate it. She, nor we have any idea how. She doesn’t fall over half as regularly as she used to, mainly due to not being so good (not that she ever was anyway) on her pins these days. So it isn’t that, or at least she says not. It just started hurting, but she couldn’t put her finger on exactly where, thinking it was her breast area. Being a breast cancer survivor, she (and we) thought it may be that. So, appointments were made for a mammogram and we duly trotted off after several visits from our medécin, Mme. Petit. Docteur Petit, and her locum had examined Sheila as carefully as they could and recommended an x-ray. We were all stunned to find out what the problem was. None more so than the poor young locum, who was truly upset that she’d tried to manipulate Sheila’s arm, with all the distress that it caused.

That, painful for Sheila though it was, wasn’t the worst of her problems. She was also suffering a little with her ‘plumbing’, and the doctor was more concerned about this, leading as it does to dehydration, vomiting and allsorts of other unpleasant stuff. An appointment was made to go along to the hospital in Saumur for treatment as an out-patient, but the doctor there decided that a drip was necessary, and that they’d have to keep Sheila in for a while. You may be able to imagine what this meant for a soon-to-be 80 year old lady, with severe disabilities as well as a dislocated shoulder, and no real command of the French language? She was in bits. Scared to death in fact.

That first night was a tad stressful. Syb stayed with Sheila and Hannah provided much support in the translation dept. for Syb. I couldn’t really stay, what with the nature of the problem, and the potential care that was required. A bed was found for Syb and placed right next to her mum in a room with one other occupant, another elderly lady. A nightdress (very fetching) was given to Syb, as well as instructions on where to find the toilet, and the shower if she wanted one! The staff were so kind and efficient to both patient and patient’s daughter, we can’t praise them highly enough. One nurse, learning that Syb hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch (it was now 10pm) scurried off in search of something, anything for Syb to eat. She returned with a full-scale meal, in small pots heated up in a microwave! Now that’s caring!

After a stay of 5 nights, Sheila was allowed back home and I duly picked her up in the car. Now, with the problem she has with her shoulder, and with her disability worsening over the winter, our car’s become a tad impractical for her. The doors just don’t open wide enough for her and we can’t manoeuvre her into the right position to be able to ‘fall’ into the seat. So, we may have to think about replacing the Mégane. What with though? Dedicated vehicles for disabled passengers here are at a premium, and the expense is something we just can’t afford. In the UK, it’d be acase of relying on Motability, but here in France that’s out of the question. Much of my time on the internet is spent trying to find information on things that may help not just Sheila, but other guests with f=disabilities that arrive from time to time to spend holidays here.

Our local pharmacie, and their staff have been a revelation too! After the doctor prescribed a certain bed, with eletronic controls, and a memory-foam mattress for Sheila, we trotted off to the pharmacie. Mme. Péhu, the owner was a star, even to the point of leading the delivery driver from Vernantes, to our house for the delivery. Then she explained how the thing worked, and assured me that any problems we may have, we only had to ask. Now, that’s above and beyond. A stark contrast to our after-sales service experience with both AliceADSL and Neuf/SFR! That’s what I mean about the local, and national levels, and how France works or doesn’t, depending upon which level you’re on.

As I type, Sheila’s doing ok. She’s strapped into a sling that can’t come off for another two weeks yet, but says that the shoulder’s feeling much better. We have an appointment to go back to the hospital for more x-rays, and a general check-up. The arm that’s in dock is her ‘good’ arm too, such as it is! So walking’s not an option as she can’t hold onto her walker for stability, so the wheelchair’s been pressed into service. Eating’s a bit of a job too, as are so many other things that most of us take for granted, but she’s doing ok, and the prognosis for her arm, and a return to similar levels of activity as before, is good. She’ll be happy to tell you all about her experiences of the French healthcare system in the spring/summer, when she’s sat out on her favourite bench in the sunshine. You’re more than welcome to join her, one remarkable and brave old lady.

Until the next time, Au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2011

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,600 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 18 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 107 posts. There were 70 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 8mb. That’s about a picture per week.

The busiest day of the year was February 28th with 207 views. The most popular post that day was When the wind blows….

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were loire-gites.com, facebook.com, atasteofgarlic.com, twitter.com, and ukcampsite.co.uk.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for saumur market, la maison du vigneron, amuse bouche, mouliherne, and auverse.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

When the wind blows… February 2010
4 comments

2

About Us February 2009
3 comments

3

We should remember them. June 2010
13 comments

4

A damned good thrashing! April 2010
10 comments

5

Fete de Vendanges – Saumur! September 2009
14 comments

Until the next time, I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2011. I look forward, as ever, to reading your comments on our lives in France during the coming year!

Au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2011

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