A Holiday Story

On a breezy day in July, Whiz, Horace with friend, Queasy, Mavis and I set out for our first foreign holiday since Mavis’s birth. We had rented a villa in Poitou, Western France which we planned to share with Whiz’s sister, Fret and her husband, Fender.

The place was called a villa and not a gite because it was not owned by French people. This distinction did not affect our choice as we were more interested in the number of bedrooms and the swimming pool, shared with the owners’.

After a long ferry crossing and several hours’ drive we turned onto the track of a beautiful old house in its own grounds, resplendent with swimming pool and boules pitch. A vegetable patch bursting with tomatoes, courgettes and other more exotic vegetables dominated the lawn and all we could see for miles and miles were fields and gentle hills.

The owners, welcoming and warm, came out to greet us and show us round our home-for-the-week. On the ground floor were a huge kitchen/dining/living area with flagged floors and an enormous stone fire place you could stand up in, a rather damp smelling double bedroom with en suite bathroom, another bedroom, a shower room and separate toilet .There was also a hallway with a door to the outside, staircase to the upper floor and a door to the owners apartment next door. Upstairs were a games room with table tennis table, a large landing with various games stacked in one corner including a set of boules, skittles and children’s toys. There were a bathroom, shower room and three more bedrooms including the one Whiz and I took for ourselves. This was truly enormous. It had a double and single bed and if the rest of the family had joined us with their beds and there would still have been plenty of room.

Outside, at the back, was a patio area with a vine covered pergola over with table under. There were speakers wired to a stereo system in the hallway and a large, brick barbecue.

Delighted with everything, we couldn’t wait to buy some baguettes, fromage and vin and head for the piscine. Our hospitable hosts left us to settle in saying that they would pop back that evening to give us the low down on local attractions, caves and restaurants.

Accordingly there was a tap on the door after dinner and in they came with a welcoming bottle of wine. It transpired that they were both ex-teachers, he Physics, she French. They had met each other late in life and, having both owned their own homes, they had pooled their resources and raised the money to buy this property. Frenchy was Welsh, from South Wales and Fiz was English. The villa had needed quite a lot of restoration work and successive groups of friends had helped them renovate it in exchange for a free holiday. When they decided to install a pool they had to rent out half the house to cover the cost. They were used to living in our part of the house and only moved out when guests were due.

Frenchy and Fiz helpfully pointed us to local information in the Visitors’ Book, and directed us to caves down the road where we could purchase Chateau Neuf du Pape for 40p per litre. It was then that it began to dawn on us that we had moved to Mallory Towers for the week. They began to explain the rules:

  • We would notice that there was an inventory in every cupboard and for the games on the landing. When we left this would be checked and missing items would need to be replaced.
  • There was a sheet on each bed between the bottom sheet and the duvet. Please do not remove it as it saved washing the duvet covers. Please make sure that the girls kept to this rule as well.
  • Don’t play in the games room as it was directly over their living room and the noise was terrible.
  • Do not make too much noise on the patio in the evening as their bedroom overlooked it
  • Rubbish must be sorted: fruit and veg. in the compost bin, Recycling in a skip in the village
  • Please ensure that the place was cleaned when we left

They left.

‘Well, they’re typical teachers’ observed Fret, a lab assistant at her local secondary school. We wandered, slightly less euphorically, over the house and noted little computer generated signs everywhere reminding us of the rules. My instinct? To break every one of them!

‘Oh well,’ we thought, ‘there’s no point in worrying about this’ and after a few more drinks we went to bed.

2
Beds and Other Things

One of the things of which we had been assured was that the bed in our room had, at great expense, been replaced very recently and was extremely comfortable. Imagine our surprise therefore when we climbed in and both rolled like boules into the middle where the dip was so pronounced that we found it almost impossible to part. After clinging to our respective sides for a while we gave up, clonked together and drifted into a sweaty and restless sleep.

The next morning a jovial Fiz was passing the front door as I went for a breath of fresh air. ‘Did you sleep well?’ he asked confidently. When I explained about the bed he was flabbergasted. This bed was almost new, he would have to take it back to the shop. He assured us he would sort it out and I told him not to bother, we would put the mattress on the floor, there was plenty of room.

We took off for the day to explore the neighbourhood and returned for a swim in the middle of the afternoon. I swung up the stairs toward our room but was halted in my tracks on the landing by the sight of a pair of naked, hairy legs sticking out from under the bed. My first, slightly bizarre thought was that it was a corpse; my exclamation must have been audible because Fiz’s head and fully clothed body extricated themselves apologetically.

As he rose inelegantly to his feet and dusted his bare knees he explained that he had been checking what had happened to the bed. He thought that the previous occupants, a couple of boys, had bounced on it. His explanation did little to quieten my beating heart or banish my dismay. This was our bedroom, surely these people didn’t plan to waltz in and out of our home whenever they pleased! After he had left I changed into my swim suit and headed for the pool to join the others. Frenchy and Fiz came out too and soon began to bombard us with more rules: Don’t let the children climb on the sun loungers (B & Q’s best), no glass in the pool enclosure, keep the gate shut, oh I don’t know what else.

Later on that afternoon Frenchy offered us some freshly picked vegetables from the garden and was very disapproving when Fret and I declined with thanks saying that we had no intention of cooking the kind of meals that needed carrots and peas, it was our holiday. It would save us money she insisted, they would be very nutritious, we really should reconsider. This was a lady used to getting her own way and although Fret was on the brink of succumbing, I was made of sterner stuff and firmly bid her good afternoon.

The rest of the week was spent very enjoyably wandering the beautiful French countryside, driving along virtually empty roads, dining in woodland restaurants and swimming in the pool. Mavis swam a length with her arm bands on and then to make things perfect, a family (friends of the owners and former renovators with much gossip to impart) moved into the Piggery next door. They had two thirteen year old boys with them and after that we didn’t see Horace and Queasy for dust

3
Now is the Hour

And so came the last night. We, full of Chateau Neuf du Pape but clearly unable to finish the copious quantities we had purchased in the local caves, invited all and sundry to a farewell drink and nibbles under the vines on our patio. We put on the music – not too loudly, put out nuts and olives and poured the wine. Fiz and Frenchy, their Piggery friends with the boys, Fret and Fender, our girls and Wiz and I gathered under a balmy night and proceeded to imbibe the left overs. The evening was going swimmingly, we were all getting to know each other better with the aid of the wine, our girls were quietly getting ratted on the other side of the table but I was oblivious, concentrating too hard on keeping a bland expression while Fiz and Frenchy explained that guests who came to stay, never came back again despite promises that they would. I couldn’t think of anything to say – not like me at all.

Fiz had to get up early the next morning to collect his son and spouse from the airport so, as she was going to be on her own on change-over day, Fenchy cornered Fret to ask her if she would strip the beds before we left the next day. Fret reluctantly concurred but I was damned if I was going to do ours.

The teachers went to bed and the rest of us carried on carousing quietly. After about half an hour a curlered head appeared at the window, ‘Could you keep the noise down, you know Fiz has to get up in the morning’. As we had only been chatting, this was difficult. The main subject of the ensuing conversation was hissed complaint about our landlady. The ‘friends’ gleefully related that she had always been thus and that poor Fiz was a lovely bloke. They wondered how he put up with her, she was also very tight fisted. It was most enjoyable. After a little while of whispering, the volume rose again to normal.

Once again the head appeared ‘Could we have a bit more consideration’ etc. etc. .The party continued. Then, horror of horrors, Queasy was sick in the bedroom. Oh bugger, can’t leave a smell of puke, we’d never hear the last of it. I swayed upstairs with bucket and cloth to clean up. When I got down again the curlered head complete with dressing gowned body had emerged from their apartment through the adjoining door. It was bristling with irritation. I sneaked into the kitchen to hide the bucket before sauntering back with an innocent expression on my face to hear Frenchy verbally berating everyone for being in the holiday spirit when decent people were in their beds. Ah well, we were tired anyway and we had a long drive in the morning – once we had survived our inventory check and bedroom inspections. Better hit the sack. Better squirt the girls’ carpet with perfume to be on the safe side.

4
I
ll be Tickled to Death

The following day we were all nursing various degrees of hangover. I can confidently say that Queasy was suffering the most and spent most of the morning prone on the settee looking very pale and groaning intermittently. The rest of us were too busy packing and counting items to have much compassion. I was particularly unsympathetic as the smell of vomit still pervaded the bedroom and I had to scrub the carpet once again.

Fret had obediently stripped their bed. I had not. I said I would deal with Frenchy, I was ready for battle, hangover or no!

As Fret and Fender set off in their car to take the recycling to the skips some ridiculous distance away I told Frenchy that we were ready for inspection.

As I ushered her into our ‘home’ it was clear that she was flustered, worrying about all the work she had to do before the next occupants arrived. The first thing she asked was whether we had stripped our beds. I told her firmly that although Fret had done hers, I was not prepared to do the rest. This did not go down well. ‘Well, we can do it together while we check the rooms’, she tried, very ruffled. I stood firm. ‘You can do it as we go round if you like but please be quick as we have a ferry to catch’. Have you ever seen a teacher flounce?

Things got worse when we got to the girls’ room to discover that they had not kept their sheets on their beds, Frenchy would have to wash the duvet covers as well as the sheets. She was not amused. ‘And was one of them sick last night?’ she demanded. I am slightly ashamed to report that I lied through my teeth, the smell now having been eliminated. Not only did I lie but I then had to make my excuses and rush down to the languishing Queasy to make sure she kept to the story. ‘OK Queasy, just remember this, YOU WERE NOT SICK LAST NIGHT. OK?’
‘Uh huh.’
I rushed back to the fray. Frenchy was counting the boules, all seemed in order.
Down to the kitchen and more counting, she didn’t notice that one of the cups had a missing handle. Phew!

Finally, with some arguing, we were handed our deposit and Whiz, Horace, Mavis, Queasy and I settled ourselves in the car to wait for Fret and Fender to return so that we could all leave together.

We were all chatting when Frenchy came piling round the corner of the house, guns blazing. There had been a set of boules in a cupboard in Mavis’s room. The empty case was there but the boules were missing, we must go back and find them! Even mild mannered Whiz was irritated enough to observe that they were not in any inventory so how could we have known, but he still followed the woman obediently back round the corner to look for the offending articles. I followed, feet dragging. As I rounded the corner two boules had been retrieved from a flower bed and Frenchy was heading inside complaining ‘This is what happens you see, people just don’t look after things and we end up searching high and low after they’ve gone’. As she disappeared up the stairs still in full flood. I leapt into action: ‘Whiz, quick, run for it!’ I hissed and, feeling like a couple of recalcitrant scholars, we charged back to the car where Queasy was out of her seat and getting a bit of fresh air. ‘Queasy’, I yelled ‘Get back in the car, NOW!’ She threw herself in and we leapt into the front. Tyres spinning we reversed out of our spot to see Fret and Fender coming towards us down the drive. I wound down the window ‘Get out of here!’ I yelled and, ever quick on the uptake, they spun the car round and we all left the premises in a less than dignified cloud of dust. I think Frenchy was still complaining, back in the house.

We giggled for miles until Queasy announced rather urgently that she was about to be sick. Having experienced on a previous holiday one of Horace’s friends vomiting in the car or at least out of the window in the one way system of a large city, I was keen to stop. Queasy was dispatched onto the verge with a helpful shove to the rear.

I should explain that the previous puker was not suffering from the after effects of alcohol, I wouldn’t want the reader to think that we are in the habit of allowing minors to imbibe while in our care. No, the previous child was suffering from a breakfast of marsh mallows and love hearts. I can testify to this having scraped the remains from the petrol filler cap and rear wing of my car before filling up with petrol later in the day.

Anyway, once Queasy was emptied of all contents, we resumed our journey and made fairly good progress until lunchtime when we judged it would be safe and advisable to refill her with more nutritious ingredients. Our last meal of the holiday and very enjoyable it was. And long! When we next looked at our watches we had about 40 minutes to get to the ferry port and 100 miles to drive.

The final lap of the journey was fast, exciting and tense. We arrived at the ferry port half an hour late but fortunately for us the ferry had been delayed. We were directed to the end of the still waiting, line of cars. Eventually we trickled toward the waiting ferry still not knowing whether there would be room for us. There was, just, and as the ferry door closed behind us, almost touching our rear bumper, we all agreed that this was a holiday never to be forgotten. And never to be repeated!

On Damp

If ever a problem has followed me through life, it’s damp. Not sweaty armpits or monsoons but the unwanted capillary action in the home, type. The first house I ever owned, well co-owned with my last husband (L.H.), was only a few months old when disgusting slimy flowers started growing from underneath the kitchen door mat. This turned out to have been caused by a leaky toilet pipe and was soon sorted out but it was the start of a very moist trend.

As we became more affluent we decided to look for a more interesting house and fell for a Victorian cottage which had formerly been a barn. It was full of charm: low ceilings, sloping bedrooms, open fires and the garden was an English idyll with little footpaths and rock edged flower borders, lawns and two old chimney pots, formerly on the roof, but now attractively filled with flowers. There was also a septic tank which made the vegetable patch bounteous although we tried not to think about that too much, and there was a path across the garden to give access to our adjoining neighbours, who also shared the septic tank.

In our defence we were very young and so were quite happy to ignore the potential difficulties of this arrangement. We blithely made an offer and didn’t really notice how relieved the owners were to accept it.

After sealing the deal with a drink or two we took the advice of our mortgage advisor and commissioned a survey, not a full survey but a middle of the road sort of thing which would identify major defects but would not go into too much detail.

A major defect emerged and guess what it was. You.ve got it, damp. Rising and penetrating, if you’ll pardon the expression.

After two years of replacing floors, plaster, rendering and decor we hit hard times and found ourselves trying to sell the house during a very long and severe property slump. A further two years later we sold it having made no profit at all.

When Whiz and I decided to move away from Byron Cavendish we had a list of requirements for our new home which included a home office, four bedrooms and a family room. After much searching and a fortuitous increase in our price limit through the sale of my former marital home, we found the house, in the village of Pebbleditch, in need of some modernisation.

The vendors were, to say the least, twitchy. They seemed desperate to sell their house and although we were keen to buy it, their anxiety, and my previous experience, encouraged us to commission a full building survey. The house came through the experience with, if not flying colours, then gliding ones. Nothing serious, just a bit of damp at the back, probably due to the ground level being higher than the damp proof course.

I tried to put my reservations to one side. They were, after all, based on intuition and we had checked the facts. It would have been illogical to back out of the purchase (Whiz’s influence can be detected here). We moved in on the Thursday before Good Friday and the move did not go well. The vendors of our house, a fairly large one, had decided in their wisdom to ‘do it themselves’. When our removal van arrived on the scene there was a string of people stretched from the back of the house, through the lounge, across the road to the barn of a neighbour. Articles were being passed along the line and into the barn from the garage, a double width, double height affair which had been packed with stuff when they, reluctantly, allowed us to take a peek before purchase.

Our removal men were not amused. They all had homes to go to and were looking forward to Easter with their families. The Vendors, I won’t try to give them a nickname, suggested that the men might like to help as it would speed things up, but at the suggestion that money should change hands for the favour, The V’s declined.

By mid-afternoon our removal men decided that they would have to cut their losses and help anyway if they wanted to finish work that day. At five in the afternoon our furniture started to move in to a house which had not been cleaned, for months I think. Our tip to the removal men had to cover the work they did for the V’s as well as us.

O.K. so you’re ahead of me here aren’t you. You’re right, the house was riddled with damp. There was a corner of the dining room which wouldn’t take the weight of a toddler, let alone that of an over-curvaceous, middle-aged woman! On further investigation we discovered that the joists supporting the whole of the back end of the lounge floor were so wet that if you pressed them with your finger, they actually dripped. It was clear that a certain amount of Heath Robinson-esque repair work had been done, the extent of which we were yet to discover.

Apart from cleaning, unpacking, trying to cook without any utensils because they had been put in the garage by mistake, reassuring the kids that everything would be fine, reassuring each other of the same; our first task was to contact, in no uncertain terms, our surveyor and some builders and damp proofing companies. All were disbelieving. How could a self respecting professional have missed this soaking, rotting depressing problem? Surely, they all said, even the chief surveyor from the guilty company, surely it didn’t look this bad when he came to do the survey. But surely, it did, we replied.

We gained a small amount of enjoyment, jointly wondering with these professionals at such gross ineptitude. When we were told that the ground outside could not breach the damp proof course for the simple reason that a house this age would not have a damp proof course, our temperatures rose.

We had quotes for the work, which ranged from £30,000 to £50,000. Gulp! We decided we needed the services (£400 per hour) of a barrister. We were advised not to do any work on the property so that the evidence could be seen by all who needed to see it.

Thus we spent two years in our ,dream home, with a brown 1960s carpet on the floor of the lounge, a kitchen from the same period with ripped lino held down with parcel tape and the permanent smell of damp pervading the air, our clothes and, eventually, our asthmatic lungs.

Finally we were asked to send photographs to support our impending court case and lifted the 1960s carpet to see, what we had only felt before, the reason for a certain rockiness underfoot. There before us were large pieces of chip board and ply wood. These had been cut to fill in the holes in the floor boards where they had been sawn through and removed because they were rotten. Holding up these replacement floor sections were, not joists, but piles of breeze block. Once they had seen the photo’s, Council for the defense buckled and made us an acceptable offer

We moved upstairs and the Damp Proof Company, Rentokil, proceeded to gut the downstairs of our house and rebuild it to our specification.

I can’t praise this company enough. We had plasterers, brickies and damp proof experts. They actually talked to our plumber and electrician! They cleaned up after themselves and they finished when they said they would. Well, we did deserve something to go right after all we had been through.

I have only one complaint: Observing the Rentokil vans parked outside our house, the village was convinced that we had rats the size of elephants!

On Village Life

I’m not a Townie I’m a country girl at heart. My mother was raised in the Sussex countryside and as a child I learned from her the names of most common wild flowers, trees and birds.

That being said, I had never lived in a village and I had never been a full time mother until I met my present husband, The Whiz Kid. Not that he was a villager, far from it, he was living in West Ealing when I met him. His family live in Welling, in Kent and his mother was a true Cockney, born in Bow.

I had lived for many years near Mold in beautiful North Wales but when Whiz and I first lived together, it was in the concrete jungle of Byron Cavendish. We chose BC because of its accessibility to the M99 and its sympathy to family life. Continue reading On Village Life

On Memory

Do you ever have that fantasy, you know, the one about being offered one wish by the good fairy? I’ve spent many happy daydreams working out how to get health, wealth and the body of a model in one wish and picturing the looks on people’s faces when I met them with my new, svelte figure. Of course the fairy never came neither did the wealth or the Twiggy shape. The truth of my life is a whacking mortgage and a figure which owes much to an enthusiasm for extravagant cooking and a gregarious nature.

But as I contemplate the disappearing navel of my middle years the thing I would wish for from that elusive fairy, above anything else, is a good memory. Any memory actually but preferably my husband’s memory. To find in your declining years that your already woolly brain is getting woollier and your new, younger husband can simultaneously watch the telly, read a book, surf the internet and remember everything he’s read and watched, is not only demeaning, it’s also guaranteed to reduce your confidence to the size of a new 5 pence piece, a dull one.

My mental ebb started as soon as I had my first daughter. I ran a delicatessen at the time with shelves full of exotic foodstuffs. Indian pickles rubbed shoulders with Italian sun dried tomatoes, a truly multi-racial assembly. If you were to ask me the location of any item I would go to it without wavering. I would identify missing items instantaneously.

I got through my pregnancy without too much trouble, apart from a weekend in hospital when my blood pressure rose after heaving sacks of potatoes up stairs to the stock room all morning. Then I had the baby. Continue reading On Memory

Welcome

This is my magazine, I call it Sue’s World. If you enjoy reading it, hate it, wish to make some constructive criticism of my writing style then please add your comments. I just enjoy writing and would like to improve my skill.