Tuesday, 15 September 2009

20. The final countdown

Tuesday, 15th January 2008. Readers of a nervous disposition look away now… Between completing on the house and the run-up to Xmas, I had an overnight stay in hospital in Bayonne. I'd needed a minor ‘op’ to remove a stone that had taken up residence somewhere in my plumbing.

While still in the UK, I’d paid for a BUPA consultant and had had ultra sound scans but they were inconclusive. My GP referred me to a consultant at an NHS hospital shortly before we were to leave for France. When this date arrived, they carried out various tests which included ultra sound scans and cameras (but strangely no X-ray), the consultant's advice was that my problem could have been one of three things – the third of which was a tumour!! He wanted – in his words – to “open me up to see what it was”. I thought I don’t think so.. I thought it best to wait until we were settled in France where I’d have time to work through the whole process from start to finish.

So it was that once in France and we’d broken the back of all the tedious jobs and we were approaching Christmas, I finally went to the doctor.. I was quickly referred to a consultant who straightaway sent me for X-ray and 10 minutes later told me that what I had was a stone and definitely not a tumour. (Phew..!) It was as simple as that. With my layman’s hat on I can’t help but wonder why the NHS didn’t X-ray me..? He asked me what I was doing on the following Monday and with that, I was booked in for an ‘op’. I was amazed at the professionalism and speed of the whole process, the modern facilities, the friendliness and approachability of the doctors and the consultants.. It was difficult not to make comparisons with my experience of the NHS.

I went in and had the stone removed and when Madame brought me back home to the gîte, to my amazement Madame D came upstairs with a basket containing a bottle of wine, a packet of coffee, a box of sugar and a large bar of chocolate.. She said it was traditional in the Pays Basque.. and Madame and I were very touched by this kind gesture as they don’t have much in the way of material wealth.

This afternoon, I had my French class again which I enjoy. We all ended up talking as there were only four of us today and one was Vanessa, a new girl from Colombia in South America. The teacher asked me if I'd like to ask Vanessa a few questions? (Ding dong!) Faced with this approach, there was no option but to put my natural English reserve on hold and it wasn't too long we were all freely engaged in murdering the French language in a variety of ways using all available cover. Why didn't we learn French this way at school? All I can remember are endless lists of new vocab to be learnt and death by grammar.

Wednesday, 16th January. We went to Spain this morning to do some shopping and as we approached the border, we were both once again struck by the beauty of the countryside and the mountain scenery. There’s something about the fold and the lie of the land here that we both like very much. Many of the peaks are steeply angled and of course the landscape is dotted with these beautiful white-painted Basque farmhouses that are often situated on top of hills. I think they do this to get the evening breeze when it’s hot in summer. While I do have a soft spot for the Malvern Hills, I'm afraid that they're small pommes de terre compared to the Pyrenees.
We decided to have lunch in Spain while we were there.. We had a tortilla each, which here is like a potato omelette with ham and cheese in it. With that we also had a round of hot bread with a slice of lomo (pork with piment d'Espelette) and cheese on it each. To ease its progress down we had a sangria each followed by an espresso..

When we emerged outside, I looked up at the sky and it was a real dark midday sky – almost black. It was the colour of a gun barrel – a very threatening dark blue-grey.. We went into another shop for some food shopping and while we were in there, there was a resounding crash of thunder followed by the sound of torrential rain on the roof.. The poor pooch was stuck out in the car on his own as they don’t let dogs in shops in Spain, unlike in France..

Thursday, 17th January. Rained quite heavily for most of today.. We went to the house this morning for 9am to wait for the company who were going to deliver the new bed.. They couldn’t or wouldn’t tell us an exact time it would arrive so we had to hang around until they finally came just before lunchtime. The kitchen fitter, Eric, is one of Peio’s Basque Mafia (another one!) and he’s another superb worker. By the time we left he’d done so much and neatly too. Every day we do a few more ‘little’ jobs.. I sometimes wish I’d made a note of them all. It would be quite a daunting list if we’d seen it at the start.

Yesterday, for example, we had a look at what system we’re going to use to get TV, internet and telephones in the new house. There are so many different possibilities these days and the tarifs of the various companies are all subtly different depending on what you want. It’s a real minefield. They make it difficult for you to compare like with like. Also what kind of phones to buy.. And, no, they’re not all the same nowadays.

The day before we’d finally tracked down the right council department – after visiting about four different council departments - that issues wheelie bins as ours had vanished. They said they’ll drop one off at the house this week. Tick VG. Another job done. I think we do about 2-3 of these little jobs every day and we’ve been doing this every day since we arrived here.

Today we’re going to look at renting a small van for the move on 30th January. Plus we’re going to look at another TV/Internet/telephone provider in Bayonne called Numericable. With many of these companies now they offer free phone calls within France and all the EU (including Britain) and N America… And that’s 7 days a week, not just week ends! However, when we arrived there, we were discouraged by the number of dissatisfied customers.. We’re also going to shift all the new bathroom fixtures and fittings from the front bedroom where they’ve been stored for the last few weeks to the back bedroom which has now been finished. Another job done. Once we’ve done that, the painter can get cracking in the front bedroom. Next week, the new bathroom goes in too..

Madame's going to start sweeping out the sitting room and the dining room today as we’ve asked Eric if he can give us a price for sanding the wooden floors in there and refinishing them. He’ll have to get a shift on as there’s only next week clear before the removals men arrive with all our stuff the following week.

Friday, 18th January. We went to the house this morning and Eric's almost finished. He had the fridge in and he was just screwing all the handles onto the new units. And then that will be about it in there.. There’s now very little trace of the previous owner’s decoration evident and the house is very light now. Eric is also an interior decorator and we’ve asked him to do the downstairs wood floors as his estimate was very reasonable. He’s going to sand the floors in the sitting room and dining room on Monday and then he’ll put a couple of coats of varnish down. I asked the painter this morning in a roundabout way what he liked to drink.. He said whisky.. I surprised him (and myself!) by giving him a bottle of 12 year old Glenmorangie on his last day as our way of saying thank you for a good job well done..

It was still grey here today after a couple of days of rain. The river that runs down the valley was running very high and the water was brown..

Saturday, 19th January. We went to the house this morning to meet Peio and two of his Basque friends from the Spanish side who were going to fit the work tops and the sink. They came today to measure up exactly as there’s always a world of difference between the plan and reality. Eric is going to sand the floors in the sitting room and dining room on Monday so we had a major tidying up session. We swept and swept and swept getting all the dust up.. One of the side-effects of the painter's technique is that it produces a lot of dust as he rubs down with sandpaper between each coat. But a determined sweep gets most of it up and we went over it at the end with a damp cloth. We did the upstairs too while we were at it. It really needs a good vacuuming as a lot of dust has got down between the cracks in the floorboards.

The pooch was wandering around in his new garden but he was slightly uncertain of himself. Not quite sure what’s happening. He looked like he didn’t know whether to stick or twist.

After I’d finished sweeping and shifting things around I went outside and sat on our terrace to cool off as I was covered in dust and sweat. Madame reckoned that it was warm enough to eat outside. I’ve always dreamed of living somewhere where you could sit outside to eat..

We went to St Jean de Luz this afternoon and when we got out of the car it was like May… blue skies, brilliant light and the sun was warm on our faces. It was superb - I left my jacket in the car and just had a sweater on. Madame wanted to go there as there’s a bedding shop that she wanted to have a look at. It was open so in we went and 20 minutes later (this is the kind of shopping I like!) we came out with a bedspread and two pillow cases for the new bed and a blanket as ours were getting a bit thin. As a bonus they were in the sales too.

After that we walked along the front and found a bench facing the sun and sat there for a bit like a couple of owld codgers.. Well, why not? It was really just the job and we were reminded how lucky we are to be living here. After that, we found a table outside in a crowded café in the main square where we sat and people watched for a while. It was so warm and we kept telling ourselves that it was mid-January!

Sunday, 20th January. This morning we drove just up the coast to a place called Hossegor in Les Landes. Although it’s just outside the Basque Country it’s very different. The landscape is different – the soil is sandy and so the trees and the vegetation is different – it was thickly wooded with pines. The style of houses is different too (right). Gone are the large white Basque houses with the wood facings painted blood red. We had a good long walk along an inland canal that was less of a canal and more like an inlet that was open to the sea. It became a large lake surrounded by houses that looked wince-makingly expensive. While we were there I saw a young couple getting out of a black Range Rover Sports - a familiar face I thought - it was Dimitri Yashvili (the French rugby international) who plays for Biarritz Olympique.

A white van with Spanish plates stopped outside the house during the afternoon and it was our Spanish Basques with our granite worktops.. The two Basques were quite happy to work away well into Sunday evening so we left them to it and sure enough, the next morning, when we opened up, the kitchen looked magnificent with its gleaming green granite tops. They'd done a beautiful job.

Monday, 21st January. Went to the house first thing (9am) and Eric had almost finished (!) sanding the sitting room and dining room floors..

After this we went to St Jean to go to the bank to tell them of our impending change of address and then, on the way back, we stopped at a Depôt Vente where we bought a wardrobe in cherry wood for one of the bedrooms. It should be a good match for a chest of drawers we already have in cherry wood and it will give us a bit more storage space. It comes apart so they’ll deliver it (on 1st Feb) and put it back together again. It’s 16½C, in bright sunshine and hardly a cloud to be seen..!

A chap could get used to this!

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