Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Wendy’s Diary 29th November – 5 jars of jam and a wedding!

Another quiet few weeks have passed by for me, still on crutches but I managed to offload the wheelchair a couple of weeks ago. Whilst I can’t walk too far on the crutches, the wheelchair had become a bit of a luxury and with having to pay a weekly rental I was happy to say goodbye to it. I had the “big” screw removed from my ankle yesterday so am hoping that I will be able to start walking before long and I will be getting some physio starting soon.

My French has continued to improve and the need to break a leg to learn a new language has become a frequently used phrase.

In early November we were delighted to attend to wedding of our friends Julie and Chris in Plymouth.  We had a full on 3 days of visiting friends and collecting supplies (John had ordered a new wind generator and anchor chain). It was a mad rush of seeing people, we weren’t anywhere for long enough, but it was lovely to see people for the short time that we did. The wedding was lovely, it was fabulous to see the happy couple looking radiant.  

We started the weekend staying with some French friends in Le Bono, and they had invited some other friends from La Route de L’Amitie to dinner so we had a lovely evening before driving up to Roscoff for the ferry. We stayed with the soon to be weds on the first night and boaty friends Richard and Chris the second night in the UK.

As part of my meticulous planning I booked the car in for an MOT, 10 -11am on the Friday morning. Then came the phone call to say it had failed and the spare part would arrive on Monday – when we were sailing back to France on the Saturday. After an anxious phone call, the garage confirmed that they would be able to get the part and have the car fixed for the end of the day. One problem solved, another created. How to get to the wedding in the afternoon?? My dear friend Jane ran us around doing everything else we had planned to do, fed us a Full English brunch and delivered us to the wedding.

Another very kind friend Richard took us from the church to the reception, then back to Saltash after the wedding, waited whilst John collected our car key which had been delivered back to Jane, then took him to the garage to collect the repaired car before travelling back over the bridge to his own home, much closer to the wedding venue than Saltash! We really do have some very kind friends and it was a blessing that when we needed help there was no problem in getting it.

We had a heavily laden car and were rather tired by the time we got on the ferry on the Saturday evening. I had booked the ferry a few weeks earlier, before I knew whether my leg would be out of plaster, so as a precaution booked a wheelchair accessible cabin. On the way over, this meant we were the first car to board the ferry and the first car off again. We weren’t first on the way back, but there were so few cars anyway it hardly mattered. The cabin was a lovely size, with plenty of room for the wheelchair and a shower with a seat – bliss. I did use the wheelchair on the ferry, mainly because I was afraid of falling over if I was on crutches.

A week later we were off to Audierne for the weekend for a dinner laid on for the volunteers who make La Route happen. It is the biggest sailing event in Europe that is run by volunteers, anything bigger and several smaller have professionally paid staff, caterers etc and the whole thing becomes much more expensive. So to thank the volunteers and evening of food, drink and entertainment is put on, and we had a very enjoyable evening meeting up with old friends.

Back in October, when One of Annie and Philippe’s friends came to stay, she noticed the tree in the garden and pointed out that “Les Anglaise” make jam with the little apples that grow on it. Then when Hannah visited, she confirmed it was a crab apple tree and she had the recipe for the jam, which was duly emailed. So Annie and I decided we would give it a go. Annie had made jam before, but never with crab apples, I have just never made jam before.

We spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the garden picking the apples, there were so many of them that you couldn’t tell any were missing by the time we had filled two colanders. Bibiche (means something like fluffy) the cat joined us in the garden and I took great amusement in throwing the fallen apples around the garden for him to chase. When we had picked enough, we sat and drank a cup of tea in the garden, enjoying the November sunshine. It has been a remarkably warm autumn here, with the weather being ok for tee shirts in the sunshine right through to last week.  
Two bowls of crab apples ready for the kitchen

Bibiche keeping an eye on me!

We sat in the kitchen preparing hundreds of the little apples for cooking, cutting out the blossom heads and checking for bruises before putting them in the pan. One bit of information missing from the recipe was the quantity of water to add to the apples and I put in plenty to be on the safe side. This was where it got entertaining. The instructions said that once cooked, put the apples in a jelly bag and leave overnight to drain. We did as instructed and within 5 minutes, the liquid had drained through – neither of us knew what to do, neither of us had the language skills to express “I haven’t a clue” in each other’s language never mind suggest what may be wrong or what to do now! So we laughed and laughed until our ribs hurt, it seemed the best thing to do under the circumstances. In the end we left it overnight anyway, just in case a bit more liquid should choose to dribble out.

Two days later, Annie added sugar to the liquid and produced 5 jars of jam. After a very apprehensive first tasting, we all agreed it was lovely and well worth all the hard work and laughter that went into making it. Even better, having recently returned from the UK with a fridge full of goodies, we were able to have a clotted cream tea, home-made scones (one of my specialities) with crab apple jelly instead of strawberry jam – if you have never had it I thoroughly recommend it. In the last couple of weeks we have nearly finished the second jar, and so impressed with ourselves, gave one to a friend as a thank you for inviting us round for dinner.

As I sit typing this, watching the wind and rain lash down for a change, there are still quite a lot of apples clinging to the tree, and I reckon that later this week we will be making another batch of jelly with them. 

John finding a bit of time to fix the car headlights
John continues to work long hours, often more than 30 hours contact time in a week, so by the time he has done his lesson planning the weeks fly by with little time for anything else. However it is the work that has enabled us to buy the new wind generator, and pay for my medical bills (hoping to get a refund soon), so the salary is welcome. After Christmas his hours should reduce significantly and we are looking forward to spending more time together.

Oh, and the boat - she is sitting quite happily in Pornichet Marina, proudly sporting her new wind generator. If you want to know what it is, how it works or how much power it produces, Wendy's diary is not the place to be looking!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Wendy’s Diary Wednesday 2nd November - Dinner Party Dialogue

I have had a quiet few weeks recovering from surgery, hobbling around on crutches or being wheeled around. The plaster came off on Monday and it is nice to have the freedom of having a shower and being able to move more easily. I am booked in for surgery at the end of the month to have one of the screws removed from my ankle, it is a large screw that goes through both the fibula and tibia, and I will not be able to walk properly with this in.  In the meantime I am now allowed to start putting some weight on my foot, which makes walking with crutches somewhat easier. Hopefully by the time the screw comes out I will be able to walk small distances without crutches.

So, what else have we been up to? Firstly John is working long hours, much more than either of us anticipated. He is teaching for around 30 – 35 hours a week (contact time) so by the time you add class prep time to that he is a busy man. The school doesn’t have any admin support so the boss asks the teachers to do a fair bit themselves, and I have started helping John with this, much of which is in excel which is one of my skills. He is enjoying the teaching though and it pays well, so it is not all bad. We are treating ourselves to a new wind generator out of his wages, so there will so long term gains out of his hard labouring.

We are living with Annie and Philippe still, with John sleeping on the boat 2 nights a week when he starts work at 7am the next morning. They are a lovely couple and we share a lot of laughter with them. They have two sons; the younger has been staying with us recently, between working on the Ille de Groix in the summer and travelling to Turkey, firstly by air and in a couple of weeks time is driving over there with a friend, in his very old Renault Quatrelle!

At weekends we cook a special meal for them, a Sunday roast, or John’s specialities in Chinese and Indian cuisine. This is something we both enjoy doing and it is nice to be able to give something back to a couple who have and still are doing so much for us. Annie adores my pastry and with a crate full of apples in the garage, apple pie appears on the table at least once a week. I have also introduced them to my homemade cheesecake which they are both very fond of. When I first decided to make this in France, I of course needed the ingredients. I make it with Philadelphia cheese, now when I came to describe what this is so we could buy it, I struggled. What is Philadelphia, I know it by no other name, France has many types of cheese, including the soft varieties, but I was at a complete loss. With Annie’s help we guessed at Fromage Blanc, and whilst not the same, it did work, and with the help of a drop of Baileys, I made my first French cheesecake.

On my next visit to a supermarket, there it was hiding between the Goats Cheese and the Raclette Cheese – Philadelphia. We bought some and I produced a fantastic Blueberry cheesecake. A friend from Groix was staying at the time and a couple of days later when back at home, she rang and asked for the recipe, and made the same for some friends of hers. A big compliment for me that she liked it so much she wanted to make it for her friends. I think I have made 3 more since.....

Round the dinner table we tend to have discussions on correct grammar, either in French or English, and also to laugh a lot! One particularly amusing evening with friends for dinner we somehow got on to the topic of bad language. Merde is a French word that I think everyone learned at school, but what we didn’t learn is that it is less vulgar in French than the English translation, so it is in very common use. Annie says she wouldn’t have used it in front of her parents, but her boys use it in front of her...a sign of changing times perhaps. Zut is rather like saying “oh bother” and I haven’t heard it used except for in jest.

So back to the dinner table and the Merde conversation, it went something like this:

Groix visitor: what was the correct pronunciation in English,
Philippe: Sheet
Another : Sheet
John: no not sheet, sh#t
Groix Visitor: Sheet
John: No not sheet......

A few more rounds and a bit of practice and all the French people round the table could now pronounce a word that we told them was offensive in English and best not to use it!

Along similar lines, one that appealed to me was how the French pronunciation of Spreadsheets sounds and they think it applicable that excel spreads sheets! Remember the previous conversation??

The boat is in a sheltered place for the winter, so it is always calm there. The tides are big and getting up and down the bridge onto the pontoon has been rather challenging for me at low tide. Everyone we have bumped into down there has been friendly, and a Norwegian chap who is living aboard with his French wife left us a note inviting our acquaintance. Somehow he managed to find this blog and had read it before we met, so already knew what we had been up to (hello Espen)!  He has been a visitor for coffee a few times, and I am waiting for my leg to improve before I visit their boat.  

My French continues to improve, although I think the pace has slowed down. The grammar is getting more complicated and I have hardly started yet. Annie and I sit at opposite ends of the table for dinner, with John and Philippe facing each other between us. There is a fair bit of rivalry goes on between the sexes, which again causes laughter. Whenever I know a word that John doesn’t (perhaps once a week if I am lucky), Annie will tease him and question that surely he knows the word. Yesterday’s word of the day for this was beetroot!

Having finally lost my plaster, I no longer have the pleasure of the daily injections by the nurse to stop my blood from clotting. The injections cost around 7 euros per day, the nurse another 3 to inject it, and another 7 for the nurse once a week for a blood test – which then goes to the lab who charge a further 10 for the result.  I think at present I have incurred around 700 euros in medical costs, a much reduced rate as I have the EHIC card, without this it would be about 3 times the amount PLUS hospital in patient time which is free with the EHIC. In the next week or so I will be paying a visit to the local health social security office to find out how much I can get back, I believe around 70%.

That’s all for now, hopefully I will be updating with stories of me running marathons in the next blog.