Toy Story 5

You are more used to reading my dear wife’s amusing and engaging anecdotes of our life in France.  We are sat here chez nous No. 21, in our exceptionally warm house, and probably out of sympathy Tiina has given me permission to break into her site and write my first ever blog.

My beloved spouse has previously regaled you with tales of renovation, of puppy love, of a near-continuous whirlwind of travel, work, art, relationships and history, all bespattered with the plaster dust and sugar soap of our magnum opus.  I’m not going to tell you about all that.  At least not really.

I hold the reins of the chariot that is our lifestyle. I am the only one with a drivers’ licence.  I currently have three vehicles to my name, and have had five at one point, and this extraordinary behaviour needs explanation.  Spoiler alert – I am no petrolhead – I choose cars based on how I want to use them.  This led me to purchase the very utilitarian Renault Laguna I have in France – I’ve had it 4 years and have doubled the mileage to 280,000, and it has served us well in transporting a tonne of tiles from Arles, getting us across Central Europe to Finland the back way (Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) on our epic road trip to collect local foods for our wedding feast, then returning via Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium.  A true workhorse.  Vehicle count 1.

As regular vingt-et-uners will know, our home is in Mazamet, yet I work in the UK.  If you’ve ever tried to circumvent the traffic queuing at the confluence of the M5 and M6, chances are you have driven past my current workplace in Tipton.  About 13 months ago, I decided, as we could afford it, that rather than keep paying for hire cars, I would buy a car to keep in the UK.  And I thought I’d spoil myself, by going for a soft-top.  Now I should explain something.  Whereas my much-loved elder brother has few qualms about spending plenty on achieving the right level of engine throatiness, I work to budgets that are probably a twentieth of his outlay.  So I trawled the West Midlands budget car ads and security-fenced compounds, and found Hazy.  And fell in love.  A beautiful, slightly worn, high mileage Saab 9-3 convertible.  Not much money.  Sold. Vehicle count 3, of which more later.

Saab 9-3 Cabriolet. Dream car

One sunny June day last year, I took Hazy on our maiden voyage into beautiful Gloucestershire to a team-building event in a brewery.  What could possibly go wrong?  We did the worky bit, then had a trip around the brewery, before all jumping into our cars to get to the laser wargaming that had been planned.  Top off, early summer sunshine, gorgeous.   20 minutes in to the first war game, having just scored a palpable hit on Rupert (the Boss), I moved forward to establish a better position.  One innocuous slip later, and I’m flat on my back, my left ankle at right angle to a severely broken leg.  War game over.  My dear colleagues, robbed of their chance to shoot each other and not go to jail, went to the pub instead.  I was placed in a ketamine-induced trance whilst emergency doctors put my limb pieces broadly into the right place.  Hazy stayed put, until returned to the office car park by persons unknown.

Hospital teaches you to be thankful for small mercies – there is always someone worse off than you.  Good job it was my left foot, so I could still potentially drive an automatic.  After rehab at aforementioned brother’s house, where my only transport was an electric scooter hired to protect my mobility and sanity (still managed to pull a wheelie mind!), my workplace, evidently feeling some manner of guilt over my injury, found me a small Lexus automatic.  This was a perfect runabout for a couple of months, but I needed more.  That summer we were due to undertake another trip to Finland, and it would have been rude to take the company vehicle on such a jaunt.  I once more set about the small ads to find a car capable of lasting 6 months until my leg was fixed, and making the journey from UK to France to Finland and back.  Tiny budget, so I went for a high spec wreck – an S-Class Mercedes with all the bells and whistles you could imagine.  No name this time, as the emotional connection was non-existent.  A good cruiser, less than £1500.  Car count peaks at 5.   By the way, how can annual insurance premiums for a middle-aged man with a sensible driving history possibly be a third of the value of the car he drives?  Disgraceful. 

Anyway the Merc served its purpose – plenty of room for my plaster-encased leg, a whole back seat for Rusty and a vast expanse of heated heaven for my tiny wife.  Got us to France.  Then got us to Finland, with a few engine coolant changes. 

Rusty and his daddy taking a nap in the merc

And back to the South of France.  Finally, as I left Paris, something went in the suspension, and the front end sat down, giving us a profile as tough as the toughest Thunder Road combatants without the flames.  We limped up to and across the Channel, where after 100 or so more miles, she died on the side of the M42.  Her final days were spent being repatriated to my office car park (growing collection now) before being hauled to hear the final verdict from a Mercedes specialist, who wrote off his bill in exchange for the vehicle for parts. Felt a bit like recycling.  At this point I tried to drive my Hazy Lady again, only to find my foot simply wasn’t up to it.  A further prognosis of at least 6 months, and probably another operation or two.  Back to the ad sites. 

This time I needed to work quickly – the courtesy car from my insurers was time-limited to 3 days.  A trawl round the used car websites a bit further afield, and I found Festy, a lower mileage Saab 9-5 Automatic, with a few home comforts in Smethwick (the car, not Smethwick).  I am insistent on cruise control these days, as the French motorways offer the joyous luxury of low traffic density over really long distances.  Seat warmers are a distinct advantage on cold mornings.  This was last August, since when we’ve enjoyed a period of relative calm – most things on the car work perfectly, it combines comfort with enough utility to really not have to worry about life too much.  She is my 4th Saab, and I have to declare that there is a “hygge” element to our love affair – I look after the car, the car looks after me.  Or maybe I’m just becoming a bit more Scandi by dint of a weird osmosis from my Finnish family.  Vehicle count 4.

The more observant of you will have noticed that there is a phantom vehicle lurking in the Stygian gloom behind my vehicle counts.  Let me introduce Colin. 

Campervan, Camping Car
Colin the Camper

Another budget purchase, We picked Colin up in Spring 2017, for Tiina to use as additional studio space whilst we were living on a narrowboat.  He is the same age as Tiina, considerably larger and in need of substantially more maintenance.  He has also beaten my record for the least driven vehicle of any that I have owned.  Whereas my one true love convertible Saab has had me sit on her once.  Aside from a test-drive, I have never, no never, driven Colin.  He is currently being prepared for repatriation to the South West as we will use him! Someday!

After a period of calm, I have had further car-tharses.  A dear friend of long standing needed an emergency replacement for her car, and I offered her my Hazy Lady.  She too fell in love, so my caramour now sits on her drive overlooking the Mendip Hills.  We shall stay in touch, meeting as we do to walk the dogs or drink wine.  I’ve also had two further operations – one to remove the diseased metalwork from my lower leg, and a second to replace the internal stiffeners with an exoskeleton designed to adjust and stretch the leg bones whilst they reform and strengthen.  It’s like Robocop’s leg without the hydraulics.  And I’ve tried to drive with it.  And I have.  And it hurts.  Because although I can drive, getting RoboLeg under the wheel to the far side of the cockpit, requiring Elastagirl-style contortions without the actual superpower, there’s something else.  When turning a sharp corner, and without remembering, you catch your fingers between the wheel and the sharp edge of the upper frame sitting just below the knee.

So I’m now on the lookout for a left-hand drive automatic with Headroom and Cruise control – the Laguna’s in intensive care and we’re not sure if she’ll pull through.  Vehicle count 3 and rising…..

boys are back in town banner image

Boys are back in town…

Little did I know that spring would be sprung and long gone before my next post, but here we are!  My husband and I decided to spend a few months in the UK: my (soul)mate had his leg operated on and the best place to be was surprisingly not by the foot of the Montagne Noire, in a house consisting mostly of stairs.  However, we are back Chez Nous for the summer and I’ve got so many things to write about!  There will be more projects executed in varying degree of success by yours truly, Cowboy Builders – Mazamet edition (spoiler alert, I become the restoration charlatan) and so much whinging about la canicule.  Yesterday the record for the highest temperature in France was broken twice, finishing at a scorching 45.9 °C, observed just outside Nîmes.  Our region has enjoyed sunny days of around 35-39°C and quite frankly, that is hot enough for me.  I blistered my bum on a car seat the other day and the poor dog is boiling in his furs.  If you know a witchdoctor specialising in weather magic, have a word.

Anyhow, before I start to unload the latest from our hellishly warm building site, here’s a wee tongue-in-cheek picture post of the top 3 reasons why I have been too busy to blog.  Enjoy!

  1. We are now living on the outskirts of Wells, the smallest city in England. Population density ’round these parts is measured by cows per person and everyone drives a combine harvester. Posh people hire chauffeurs for their combines and they have gold-alloy wheels.  Pip pip! The social calendar revolves mostly around the Royal Bath and West Show and consuming copious quantities of cider.If you don’t know who this man is we cannot be friends.

    Roger Wilkins, the maker of the worlds best cider

  2. There are too many great walks in the West Country…I left the house to take the dog on a quick piss and got lost once on the footpaths near our house.  Three hours and around 17k later we ended up home.  My alsatian loved it all, but I still have flashbacks to being chased by a herd of cows.  For my fellow townies out there, cows are much bigger than you would expect.West Country Cows

    Much, much bigger.

    About half a tractor, I’d say the official unit of measurement in Somerset.

    Another funny thing about walking…  Watch your step!  I made the mistake of letting Rusty off the lead once without checking my surroundings properly.  He took off like a rat down a drainpipe, towards a field in the distance.  There was a waft in the warm evening breeze – a familiar scent of the countryside.  The time stood still when my pup took a leap toward the stinking ground.  I let out a shriek, but it was too late: Not a day had passed when I observed a farmer spraying these field with something that stank suspiciously like fermented cow shite.

    Funny that, I thought to myself when on closer inspection my sweet dog turned out covered from the tip of the nose to the end of his waggily tail in exactly that, – fermented cow shite.  Despite two baths Rusty smelled like a thousand burning landfills for at least a week.

    Clothes were burned, lessons learned etc.

  3. We were busy hunting essentials in the UK.The place we rent was unfurnished and having moved our stuff to France we had very little in the UK.  The houseboat we used as a base had built-in furniture so beyond cooking stuff and bedding we had very little to set up home with.Luckily family stepped in and helped us out and we were able to get some good deals on gumtree and carboot sales.  A daunting task, but an interesting one.  Put in that situation, what would you buy first?

    We got a baby grand piano.

    He is called Graeme – free to a good home so we only paid for the delivery and he’s the centerpiece of our front room.  A logical purchase, really.  Oh, and did I mention, I when we got him I could not play to save my life.  Few months later I am learning Beatles and stuff, but mostly Graeme the Baby Grand serves as a three-poster-bed for Rusty.


Here we are – a little catch up before the work begins.

I’m off to find some rosé now – gotta keep hydrated during a heatwave!  Keep cool and see you later – à plus tard!

T xx