Well, we’re back. It was nice to get away, but nice to come home too!

So, how was our holiday? Busy, of course! On Christmas Eve we visited Vision Express in Brent Cross shopping centre to see if they could fit us in for an eye test. Not quite the Christmassy thing you were expecting, perhaps! I had found that concentrating for extended periods (for example driving at night) was making me rather tired. I had Lasik treatment some twelve years ago, and have not worn spectacles since then. This visit to Vision Express had been tentatively planned earlier in the year. From conversations with M, we had ascertained that having an eye test in France was not a simple event. She wears contact lenses and her daughter wears spectacles, so speaks from experience. The closest optician is in Orleans, and one needs to make an appointment six months in advance…

So we popped in to see if we could make an appointment. All we really required was to get our prescription (if spectacles were necessary) and we could then have these made up in France. It turned out they could see both of us that same day, as they had a free slot at 12h30. LSS’s checkup was fine. As for me, it transpired that my left eye had become long-sighted, and my right eye short-sighted, so I was fitted for some varifocal spectacles. The good news is that I don’t need to wear them all the time, only for tasks requiring concentration like reading or driving. The spectacles will be manufactured and posted to France in the next few weeks, so there’s no need to visit an optician in France. I suspect this is just as well, as we would probably have been told that the prescription was not valid because it was not written in French.

Other than that, we did vast amounts of shopping, buying exciting things like malt vinegar, HP sauce and baked beans. We also found an Indian Cash-and-Carry in Harrow where we bought lots of curry spices very cheaply. I struck up a conversation with the lady shop-owner whilst LSS was browsing through the racks of poppadums,  and we discovered to our shock that we had the same country of origin. Her entire family was born in Uganda, and was one of those evicted by the dictator Idi Amin in the early 1970’s. Her late husband was born in the same town as I. Small world!

On Boxing Day we visited the shops in Oxford Street, London. They were obviously packed, so this was not really an experience which I enjoyed. LSS managed to get a few items of clothing in the sales though.

The homeward journey was mostly uneventful, except that we missed a vital sign for the motorway and ended up driving through the north of Paris. Luckily it was a Sunday, but the roads were still incredibly busy! Oh – and don’t expect courtesy from Parisian motorists if you happen to be in the wrong lane. No wonder all their cars have dents in them. Fortunately we escaped unscathed; I had started having visions of being trapped in the inner roads of Paris for a week.

On the night of our return the temperature plummeted. I deduced that it had been cloudy the entire time we had been away, as the thermal store was at a miserable 13 degrees. Inside the house it was an equally miserable 5 degrees. My first task was to light both wood stoves, and when we went to bed the temperature outside had dropped to minus 12.9 degrees. Cat was obviously delighted to see us.

When Monday dawned we fetched a reportedly pregnant Mrs Bunny from neighbour J. The hens had been well looked after during our absence and had still been producing an average of 6 eggs per day. I then found that the greywater sump was full, which was further evidence of constant cloud cover during our absence (the solar panel had not charged the battery sufficiently). I plugged in an extension lead and connected the battery to my Optimate battery charger, which restored the battery to full health within 48 hours.

On Tuesday LSS had some bad news; she telephoned the Aged Aunt. Her husband answered instead, and it transpired that the Aged Aunt is in hospital. Apparently she fell down the stairs at home last Friday and has broken her femur. So it would appear that we’ve not quite finished with hospital visits yet.

What about the aged FIL then? Well, he’s not improving. We’ve concluded that he simply takes pleasure at having others at his beck and call; and as a result has decided that he will not make any effort to do anything for himself. An example: LSS bought some goodies for the carers (things like pots of English marmalade and packets of shortbread) and went around to the aged FIL on consecutive evenings to give these presents to the ladies. One had not been at the aged FIL since his return from hospital so was unaware of the current situation. The aged FIL instructed her to feed him, saying he was unable to hold a fork. The carer was about to do this, when LSS interjected that this seemed to be a new development; as far as she was aware the aged FIL was quite capable of feeding himself. So a very disgruntled aged FIL did, indeed, feed himself.

The medical profession has now instructed LSS to commence the paperwork to apply for his admittance to a care home. He has been informed of this. Of course his immediate response was “I AM NOT GOING INTO A HOME! YOU WANT TO PUT ME IN A HOME, BUT I’M THE BOSS! I DECIDE!”

But it’s not his decision to make. Nor is it LSS’s decision. The medical staff have made the decision, because it is no longer practical to care for him at home. One individual is incapable of getting him out of bed; it requires two persons. And considering that his bed linen needed changing twice today, it’s fortunate that LSS was on hand both times to assist. The aged FIL has been fitted with a nappy (diaper if you’re reading this in the US) but despite all instructions to the contrary, is constantly removing it, with the inevitable consequences. An ulcer has also appeared on one of his heels, which is exceedingly bad news for someone with diabetes… (http://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-footcare.html)

Anyway, enough of the medical reports. On a more cheerful note, I would just like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year.


I spent the week clearing another three car-loads of scrap wood from the aged FIL’s ex-shed. This included old fence posts and tree-trunks. It’s all been cut into firewood lengths, but some of the pieces still need to be split. We also had some fairly high winds recently and on the way back home I noticed a couple of trees had been blown down. One was a birch, and the other an oak – which, in falling, had shattered some other birch trees. So that’s gone onto the list of next week’s jobs. As long as it’s not raining, of course.

LSS has now fully regained her voice although she is still coughing like a chain-smoker. This would be fine if she smoked, but she doesn’t. She’s found that chewing cloves seems to help. The good news however is that she was able to obtain the aged FIL’s prescription list in advance of his discharge, so she came home on Friday with a large supermarket carrier bag full of medicines.

The manager of the medical-washing service also organized a prescription for a new mattress, which was delivered on Friday. It’s a really strange-looking thing. There’s a large plastic control box with complicated buttons and LED lights, which hangs over the foot of the bed and is plugged into the mains. From this plastic control box, two tubes run into the mattress, which seems to be filled with spongy pockets. It’s an electrical air-bed! I’ve no idea what it does; I gave the mattress a poke with my finger and then leaped back in surprise when the control box clicked and whirred and then pumped air into the mattress to redistribute the air I must have disturbed.

As the aged FIL is now aware he’s going home, his mood has improved tremendously. He’s now saying things to LSS like “If you’ve gone and ordered a new mattress, I’m not paying for it. You can take it back again. I’m not sleeping on it. I’m going to burn it.”
LSS replied “I didn’t order anything. It’s all taken care of by the health service.”
“I make the decisions! Not you!”
“Actually, you don’t. And it’s not my decision either. The doctors have decided you get that mattress,” she replied sweetly. If he starts complaining about it again once he gets home, she’ll point out that the reason for all this care is to prevent any problems occurring with his diabetic feet; because if there IS a problem in that department he’ll be back into hospital before you can say “Jack Robinson”.

M has settled in to her new place; we were invited around yesterday evening for an apéritif. She asked me to have a look at her new gas cooker; she had not been able to attach the gas hose to the connectors properly. I demonstrated the technique of dipping the ends of the hose into hot water for a few minutes before pushing it onto the connectors. It’s now all securely installed.

Today the last bunny was processed and will be ready to go into the freezer tomorrow, so I also have another batch of pelts to tan. That will have to wait until we get back from our trip to the UK though. Mrs Bunny will be taken to Neighbour J next Saturday for HER holiday.

Speaking of holidays, there will obviously be a break in transmission whilst we’re away; as we’ll be offline I won’t be making any posts on here.


It was minus 5 degrees C on the solar panel when we got up this morning. The hen’s breakfast bucket had frozen solid, so I spent an energetic five minutes breaking up the lumps of iced barley-and-potatoes with the ladle. From tonight onwards, all the hen food buckets will be placed in the outbuilding we call the “ballon room”. This is the insulated outbuilding which houses the pressure vessel for the well. It also contains the washing machine, and our stock of root vegetables.

LSS managed to catch a cold a couple of days ago, with the result that she’s lost her voice. That has suspended the English lessons for a couple of days.

It’s looking more and more likely that the aged FIL will be sent home on the 15th. As LSS is working that day, it will probably be down to me to go into town to get all his prescription medicines. Unless they give the list to LSS several days beforehand, of course. We think this is highly unlikely.


The aged FIL is still in the Cardiology unit at the recuperation centre. LSS had a telephone call a couple of days ago. It was the doctor in charge of the Geriatrics unit, who had been asked to look at the aged FIL by the doctor from Cardiology.

“We can’t understand why he doesn’t want to do any exercises. The operation was a success, so he should practically be jumping up and down and running around the block by this stage. Could you perhaps give me some background?”
“Ah! Finally! I did try to tell a member of your staff his background when he arrived in your care, but the person didn’t want to know.”
She then explained his background, and that he had been in bed for the past three years. This was greeted by a stunned silence. Then: “Oh, I see. That explains a lot.”

His date of discharge is apparently set for the 15th; he may just as well be lying in bed at home being looked after by the carers, than lying in bed in the recuperation centre not being looked after by those carers. They would bring him his tray of food, and take it away again whether he had eaten anything or not; the fact that he can’t hold a knife and fork properly seemed to have escaped their notice until a few days ago. Now at least someone tries to help him to eat. Apparently most of the other patients in Cardiology trot off to the canteen on their own, even the aged FIL’s room-mate (74). There seems to be a bit of a lack of common sense in the medical care profession these days. (Well, everywhere, really!)

M has moved into a rather nice little house in a village near by. She asked for our help in unloading a new sofa and gas cooker; but when we arrived everything had already been done – courtesy of some other local friends.

The pumpkin ale has finally been bottled, and I now have a batch of mead bubbling away merrily. LSS discovered several pots of honey in the dark recesses of the pantry at the aged FIL. It’s probably at least 15 years old, because it was given to the late MIL by a long-gone relative. There were 3.5 kilograms of the stuff. It still tasted all right, but as it would take us another fifteen years to eat it all, we decided to make mead instead.


The other evening, once it was dark, LSS went out as usual to give the rabbits their last meal of the day (and overnight snack). When she came back, she was puzzled. “Either a miniature UFO has landed in the garden, or you’ve installed something that I didn’t know about. There’s some sort of light flashing alternately red and blue.”
“Oh good!” I exclaimed. “Or maybe not good. The good news is that it’s working. The bad news is that the flashing light is the water level alarm for the greywater sump.” I went out to check. I had installed a small LED circuit to indicate a high water level in the sump leading to the reedbed (in case the pump fails, for example). Fortunately the pump had not failed; there was just some condensation on the sensor wires. I moved these further apart, so that resolved the issue.

T has become somewhat unreliable lately. He had asked if he could come around this week to crush some malted barley, in order to brew his next batch of beer. I told him Monday would be the best day, as I didn’t have much else planned. He simply didn’t turn up. Unfortunately I’m somewhat busy the rest of the week, so he’ll have to take pot luck. If he turns up at all, that is. Now that M will no longer be paying the bills, he’ll need to find a job PDQ. And good luck with that, in this current economic climate…

The hens now have a penthouse. Their original roosting area consisted of hazel branches fixed to two sloping supports. The problem with this arrangement has become apparent recently; it was too vertical. This means the hens lower in the pecking order become covered in droppings overnight, because they’re roosting immediately underneath other hens. The base cannot be moved outwards to increase the angle because there are two concrete pillars in the way. The chicken coop used to be the laundry area, and these two concrete pillars originally held the washing/scrubbing board.

I therefore constructed a new roosting area, consisting of two slim planks of wood fixed to a frame on the wall. The planks provide enough space for all of the hens, so they can all be on the same level should they so wish. And I reduced the width of the original framework, so they can use it as a ladder to get to the main perches. We’ll see if they like it.

The temperature has plunged recently, not rising above 3 degrees during the day. The house is toasty warm though. Unfortunately we now have a problem with stink-bugs. They seem to have made the wood in the wood-shed their home, so I now have to be careful when filling the wood cupboard. If any are inadvertently brought indoors, it’s not long before they’re flying around the house. And probably because they’re annoyed at being woken up, they tend to produce their characteristic smell. They’re not called stink-bugs for nothing!