My Head is my Shed by Ralph Edmunds

By Ralph Edmunds
The move that we recently made set my mind thinking, it amazed me just how much essential junk that people can accumulate.  The old saying that junk expands to fill the space available is so true. Most people have an emporium of essential things that just might come in handy, for instance my Dad’s shed is legend amongst those who are lucky enough to know of it. My Dad is often approached by people who ask “Dave have you got ‘so and so’ in your shed?” Or conversations often find the solution “Don’t worry Dave must have one in his shed.” The lack of access to a ‘shed’ of my own was a very serious problem that I had when I first left home.  Where was the drawer full of essential empty carrier bags or the empty jam jars that were always available?  I then realised these things are acquired over many years and cannot be purchased anywhere, although Lakeland come pretty close. My mind started racing (a gentle jog more like). Men seem to prefer cellars and sheds, these are places that hold useful things that do not go well in a family house, however there are houses inhabited by men that boast pieces of car engine in sinks.  Cellars are not places for the faint hearted, they are often dark, damp dangerous places with very differing smells.  I remember as a child I was very wary of cellars but sheds were fine as my Dad and granddad had them. Sheds are places that are readily available to young children but cellars are places of mystery that are only inhabited by adults and gremlins.  My uncle Les had a wonderful cellar full of tools for lorries of the past, he had been a mechanic in the times when tools were not readily available, if you needed something, you had to make it yourself.  Alas as time moved on, Imperial became AF then metric and the tools became useless.   But like so many ½ empty tins of paint and various other things that were either too good to throw away or would come in handy one day, they achieved some sort of immortality and lived on in the cellars of various dads. I realise now that I am not doing proper justice to sheds, not only is there a shed in the garden but also there is the gardening shed.  I am not completely familiar with this icon of English life but I understand that it contains all kinds of garden tools, bags of compost and hosts of drying things ready for next year.  I hope to become more knowledgeable about these things as I now have two in my new garden.  We had a greenhouse as well, but I was so phased by it’s rustic-ness, that we released it.  It now lives happily with Karen’s dad. Another repository for ‘junk’ is the attic, a common occurrence in Enid Blyton stories and  others of that ilk.  After reading such books I demanded to know where our attic was, had it been explored and if so what treasure had been found.  Alas our house only had a loft and had nothing of interest in it.  I was somewhat put out by this but I was to visit my one and only attic soon. At the end of our road was the doctor’s house, a large forbidding house and I was a friend of his youngest son.  This house was a different world, they had an attic and a cellar.  Both of which I visited but alas no treasure. Men do not have it all their own way, Mums are more clever, they have many places to accumulate junk things that might come in useful, the recipe books and cuttings that hold the secrets of many treats and delights.  My Nan possessed a cook book, so ancient, that it had no gas or electric settings, it just said things like ‘build up the fire’.   But in it was the recipe for ‘reesoles’ (my Nan was a master of getting words wrong, she meant rissoles) but reesoles they were and always will be.  We have tried to recreate the wonders of reesoles but like Merlin’s spell book only the master can create.  Bread Pudding,   is a thing of great mystery, there is no recipe, every mum learned it from their Mum.  The only certainty about it is that whoever makes it says “it’s not as good as my Mum’s.” Another wonder that cannot be bought but must be lovingly created is the button tin.  In this are held such wonders. My Mum’s holds three red ladybird shaped buttons from a dressing-gown that I had when I was about 4 years old.  The things in this box are not necessarily to be reused but hold a much more magical and psychological purpose.  The tin can be used by harassed mothers to quiet rowdy kids, when asked where is ‘so and so’?  She can reply “look in the button tin” she knows they will be gone for ages.  Another use of this tin is a party game, ’who can remember which garment did this button come off of?’ The button tin game can be played by adults as well, after all who else would know what a single suspender was? I gained possession of my great grandmother’s tin after her demise. I spent ages going through it; my Mum even remembered some of the buttons. The only thing that I kept was a 5 pfennig coin (my great grandfather must have bought it back from France in WW1); it had no use or value but was too precious for her to throw away. Garages are another place where ‘one-day’ useful items are kept, some unusual people use them solely for storing their cars but I understand that this is rare.  I have been told that they are excellent for storing home-made beers and wines. Again ½ empty tins of paint and part used rolls of wallpaper are favourites for the garage owner. I have little experience of garages; we were too poor down our street to have them (except for the Dr’s house). Needlework boxes and bags of old wool are other fine places to keep junkprecious items, I could continue ad nauseum about these things but I intend to quit while I’m ahead. But as I relate these tales a new phenomenon is arising, now that we have become ‘middle-class’ we possess a utility-room.  It is of fiendish design; it has a sink, a worktop, a cat-flap, a freezer and potential for so much more. This could become a ‘female’ shed as Karen has more input to it than I (my only input is 2 boxes of old LPs, perfectly preserved that are soon to go into the loft.  Don’t worry there will be no treasure there.) The utility-room is acquiring a life of its own; it is already growing shelves of things that are of vital importance.  Karen tells me that it will be very useful in the future for items too precious to be left outside in the shed. Whether it be a shed, needlework box or garage wonderful things appear from them and things that appear beyond hope somehow get  the ‘Lazarus’ treatment and live on. I am often envious of people that create.  I’ve been a wheelchair user for about 13 years and have no ‘shed’.  Then it occurred to me, my head has all the attributes of a ‘shed’.   It has things stored away neatly in places that can be readily accessed and a pile of ‘junk’ in which sometimes I find things of use.  But only rarely do I find things of pith and import though. Has it ever occurred to you that ancient burial mounds and pyramids are really super sheds or cellars for the afterlife. Ralph ‘I’m sure there’s one in here somewhere’ Edmunds Return to Members Contributions Association News

Ageing (and how to stay young) by George Carlin

Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we’re kids? If you’re less than 10 years old, you’re so excited about aging that you think in fractions.
“How old are you?” “I’m four and a half!” You’re never thirty-six and a half. You’re four and a half, going on five! That’s the key. You get into your teens, now they can’t hold you back. You jump to the next number, or even a few ahead. “How old are you?” “I’m gonna be 16!” You could be 13, but hey, you’re gonna be 16! And then the greatest day of your life . . . You become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony . . YOU BECOME 21. YESSSS!!! But then you turn 30. Oooohh, what happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk! He TURNED; we had to throw him out. There’s no fun now, you’re Just a sour-dumpling. What’s wrong? What’s changed? You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, then you’re PUSHING 40. Whoa! Put on the brakes, it’s all slipping away. Before you know it, you REACH 50 And your dreams are gone. But wait!!! You MAKE it to 60. You didn’t think you would? So you BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50 and MAKE it to 60. You’ve built up so much speed that you HIT 70! After that it’s a day-by-day thing; you HIT Wednesday! You get into your 80’s and every day is a complete cycle; you HIT lunch; you TURN 4:30; you REACH bedtime. And it doesn’t end there. Into the 90’s, you start going backwards; “I Was JUST 92.” Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. “I’m 100 and a half!” May you all make it to a healthy 100 and a half!! How to stay young… 1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctors worry about them. That is why you pay “them!” 2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down. 3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” And the devil’s name is Alzheimer’s. 4. Enjoy the simple things. 5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath. 6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person, who is with us our entire life, is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive. 7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it’s family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge. 8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help. 9 Don’t take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, even to the next county; to a foreign country but NOT to where the guilt is. 10. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity. And always remember: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

The Level Crossing Keeper by Peter Sweetman

Level Crossing Keepers are pretty much redundant on Network Rail but not on some heritage or community railways now spread across the UK, even the famous Isle of Man Steam Railway has replaced its expensive crossinq keepers with new barriers and flashing lights.

Like many men, the attraction of the train never really faded away, so on retirement I visited most of the preserved railway communities across southern England. My particular interest was the diesel locomotive and level crossings, a rather strange combination riot readily available south of the Thames.

A sojourn on Alderney with its railway provided me with a diesel engine but no level crossinqs.

In 2003 some prominent business leaders in North Yorkshire fulfilled their dream to re-open the Wensleydale Railway from the East Coast Main Line (ECML) at the Castle Hills junction, north of Northallerton, running the 22 miles west to Redmire in Wensleydale. There was national publicity with one broadsheet featuring this new railway and the ambitions to eventually relay the track to Garsdale on the Settle and Carlisle line thus restoring the original east west rail link

t seemed to me their call for crossing keepers to work with a diesel fleet was too good an opportunity to miss. So I volunteered and was “inspected” then put through the Personal Track Safety (PTS) and Level Crossing Keeper training courses.

In March 2005 I started. working at all five of the currently active level crossings. The raiIway presently only operates a public service over the eighteen miles from Leeming Bar to Redmire, the line from Castle Hills to Leeming Bar carries only military trains to Redmire for Catterick or visiting charter trains off the ECML. It is hoped that a full line public service will be operational from Northallerton within the next decade. Eventually I settled at Wensley where I lease the station during my visits: usually 7 separate weeks in spring and summer. Wensley crossing lies between Wensley and Preston-under-Scar to the west of the market Town of Leyburn on the Bolton estates in truly beautiful countryside.

In peak season we run eight service trains a day, usually the heritage D.M.U. (diesel multiple unit) or from time to time the classic Class 31 or 37 with a rake of five mark 2 coaches, the military trains pass at all hours and charters by appointment. In March we had a twelve coach charter from Cardiff ‘top and tailed’ by two vintage Class 50 locomotives when the railway was criticised in the local paper for lengthy traffic delays due to a level crossing closure.. ….. oops!

Between trains at Wensley we have an abundance of wildlife, a tributary of the river Ure full of fish, movements of animals and farm vehicles and people stopping to chat. It is not unusual for a vehicle to stop on the level crossing only to be reminded with the horn that the train would prefer to pass across and continue its journey, so I must stop talking……..

It is a tranquil life as a rural level crossing keeper and I find the role a real joy with each week passing quickly before I drive south 282 miles to my home in Surbiton. Particularly enjoyable is the warmth of the welcome from local people plus waving passengers on passing trains, it makes it all worthwhile. I hope you have the opportunity of travelling on our railway if you visit North Yorkshire and please wave!

In April, The Wensleydale Railway ( website -www.wensleydalerailway_com) was awarded The Duke of York’s Community Award – 2006 which was presented at a ceremony in Leyburn during May.

By Peter Sweetman

Ikebana by Margaret Jenkinson

Margaret and her colleagues from the Ichiyo School of Ikebana have won many awards including thirteen Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower show. Margaret writes “I was never very interested in Western Flower Arranging. In the late 1960’s a neighbour invited me to accompany her to her Flower Club Meeting, saying that she thought that I would find the demonstration interesting. I did.  The demonstration was by a lady named Stella Coe, and it was she who had introduced Ikebana into the U.K. – I was hooked!
I eventually found a correspondence course (run by a lady living in Devon) advertised in the RHS monthly magazine. I wrote to her and in her reply she told me that she also held classes most months at the RHS Halls in London and could I attend those, which I was able to do, as I was not working full time. From then on I never looked back. I fitted my classes in London and Devon, Symposiums, Chelsea Flower shows and other activities in with a full time job, using vacation time for much of it. When I took early retirement at the end of 1991, I already had a hobby waiting for me to be developed, and to which I would now be able to devote more time. I eventually gained all my certificates and became a Master of the Ichiyo School of Ikebana in 2002. The Ichiyo School is considered to be a ‘Modern School’, having only been started in 1937. There are many ikebana schools and the ‘Classical Schools’ can trace their origins back for several centuries. In 1998, I thought that I should make some attempt to study a Classical School, which has much stricter rules than the modern ones. I have a very good Japanese friend who is a Senior Master of the Koryu School and I started taking lessons with her. I now have a Teachers’ Certificate in that school, but after only six years of tuition, do not consider myself efficient enough to teach it, although I do include some of the arrangements in my demonstrations. Being a ‘glutton for punishment’, the previous year I had decided that I really ought to study some Western Flower Arranging, as I felt that knowledge of one could be beneficial to the other. So I took a 3-year evening class course in Floral Art and Design, which entailed studying flower arranging from the Egyptian era to the 1950’s. It involved a lot of research and I we had to produce a portfolio on each era. This I enjoyed, but not always the practical side of it! I made some good friends and feel that I have been able to make use of knowledge and experience. In the 2001 Chelsea Flower Show, anything associated with Japan was featured. Three of our ladies were televised on their visit to Japan and the stand was highlighted in the televised programmes of the Show. Although I was not involved in the interview with Alan Tichmarsh, some eagled eyed Chevron retirees spotted me working in the background – my one and only claim to stardom! In the 20 years that we exhibited at Chelsea, we were awarded 13 Gold, 5 Silver Gilt and 2 Silver. A worthy record and I am very proud to have helped to achieve 18 of them. It was hard work, not only during the show, but all the planning and preparation before hand and that, before the flower arranging. Every year, we said ‘never again’, but for 20 years we returned, and although the heart is willing, the legs and back are not as agile as they used to be, and I was one of those who felt it was time to put away the hammer, paint brush and staple gun and retire gracefully. I knew that I would miss the “buzz” of Chelsea, the ambience, the camaraderie with the other exhibitors, the common endeavour of the rest of the team (who came from all over the country and abroad) and the sense of achievement when it is all over, but I think that the charm of Chelsea started to fade a little when the old marquee, with all its creaks and groans, was replaced by the modern ‘egg box’. I am secretary to the U.K. Chapter of the Ichiyo School and do a little teaching and demonstration. When we lived in Surrey I belonged to Ikebana International in London, but on moving to Bedfordshire, found it was easier to drive to the Chapter in Leicester than commuting into London (after all it is only a round trip of 146 miles on the M1!). I have retained an associate membership with London and make the occasional trip, but have become a full member of the Leicester Chapter. I have done my ‘duty’ as President for three years and I represented them in Japan at the 9th International Convention and the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Ikebana International, held in October 2006. After the Convention, I was able to travelling across Tokyo on the rail system and visit the Ichiyo School Headquarters for 3 days of workshop – exhausting, but very enjoyable. I have been fortunate to be able to travel to Australia, France, Switzerland and The Netherlands as well as Japan, which of course, is the ‘icing on the cake’. I have many friends spread around the world and although these events are sometimes hectic, it is a good time to renew friendships, and, as I did in 2006, make many new ones. Ikebana has been a great friend to me and seen me through many ups and downs of life and I believe keeping an active brain is an essential ingredient to my, not quite so physically active, twilight years.” By Margaret Jenkinson Return to Members Contributions Association News

Letter from America by Norm Calder

by Norm Calder When I lived in the UK in the 90’s, in common with most Brits, I was mildly critical of the NHS. The usual suspects were the villains of the piece; the whole enterprise was too big, it was underfunded, consultants were difficult to get to and it seemed that doctors’ receptionists were sent to charm school to have any charm knocked out of them, before they were let loose to pursue their main purpose in life – putting obstacles in the way of patients trying to see doctors, ….but when the chips were down the care provided by the NHS was superb. When I moved to Vancouver I was surprised to find that no private health care existed in Canada. Everything was run by a provincial service called the Medical Services Plan. There was enormously high public satisfaction with its performance and with the health outcomes. Canadians seemed extremely health conscious, with the emphasis of the service on prevention. Canadians love their health service – so much so that, in a 2004 poll, they voted as the ‘Greatest Canadian’, the founder of their health service – Scots born, former Premier of Saskatchewan and leader of the Federal New Democratic Party, Tommy Douglas – ahead of world-renowned figures like Pierre Trudeau and Alexander Graham Bell. I remember at the time thinking it remarkable and speculating how many Brits could name the founder of the UK National Health Service, far less idolise him. (Some trivia: Tommy Douglas was also Donald Sutherland’s father-in-law and therefore Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather) Living in the US now, with very expensive health insurance cover, my experience of the healthcare system is mixed. Doctors, nurses and some receptionists are very customer focussed, but you still cannot get a routine appointment in less than five days. When I was detained overnight in hospital last year after being overly enthusiastic in the gym, the care I had was exceptional. I had every test known to man and was declared 100% fit before being released – but the bill, from five separate agencies, for a one night stay in the hospital was $32,000! After a paper blizzard of over 100 documents, my insurance company paid $16,000 and the rest disappeared into the ether. It seems clear to me that one of the reasons Canadians hold their service in such high esteem, is that they have a constant benchmark just over the border here – and it is not a pretty picture. Here are some US Healthcare statistics: The spend is the highest in the world – 34% more than the second place country, Switzerland, and 134% more than the average for the countries of the OECD. Healthcare costs represent 13.4% of GDP, double the UK’s 6.6% Average cost of insurance per family is $13,150 per annum (Minimum wage is $15080 per annum) Costs have risen by 110% in the last decade Administrative costs are more than 20% of total – a large portion on doing what insurance companies do – denying/delaying claims. Out of the world’s 12 most developed countries, the US ranks 11th for men and 8th for women in life expectancy has the highest infant mortality rates has the highest level of premature deaths (before age 65) 47 million US residents (15% of total) do not have any health care cover, not counting the 12 million or so undocu Return to Members Contributions Association News

Note on a Life in France by Vic Bromley

We had been coming to France for years – and gradually getting to know a little about that country.

Our first visit was in 1960 when, having motored in our Triumph TR3 from Luanshya in Northern Rhodesia through the Sahara desert, we landed in Marseilles. From there we drove through France to Calais, fell in love with the country and crossed to the UK.

While I worked in London for Chevron from 1973 we decided to change from dinghies to sailing boats and spent most of our holidays sailing across to France. We sailed along the Normandy coast, the Channels Islands, and the north and south coasts of Brittany really enjoying the lovely coastline and the warmer weather.

A few weeks ago we spent an enjoyable day visiting the Chateau Hunaudaye in northern Brittany.

It is an attractive fortified castle built about 1220 and life in Feudal times was well displayed.

The Chateau had had some unpleasant owners in times past. Geffroi Tournemine pillaged and robbed the neighbouring town of Plancoèt stealing the sacred vessels from the chapel. Pierre Tournemine kidnapped the local Bishop for ransom in 1386 and murdered his own wife, stepfather and brother.

The castle became an object of terror, no one daring to venture into the neighbourhood.

The large hall where the people ate their meals is still in good condition.

The Seigneur sat at the head of the table and lesser mortals sat on either side in order of reducing rank. However all were fed, even visitors.

In feudal times the Seigneur had the power of life and death over all those in his control and the individuals who lived on his land recompensed him in one way or another. They were required to fight for him in times of war.

The “Droit du Seigneur” was also descriptively explained – the lord had the right to sleep with a virgin before her marriage. (There is no evidence that this used to happen).

Life in France is very different now.

The Seigneur’s still have their titles but they are meaningless. They are also known as “Monsieur” or “Madame” as is everybody else. From time to time we meet 2 friends who are Count and Countess. We know them by their Christian names and they receive no different treatment from anyone else. It is well known that they are rich and have inherited a considerable amount of property and land. Our French neighbours give them the same respect that they give anybody else. We notice no class barrier here while we felt there was one of some sort in England. I think Honours Lists, the Monarchy, the House of Lords and personal snobbery keep it going.

The effects of the French Revolution seem to be much in evidence in France and “liberty, equality, fraternity” seems more important than in the U.K.

Disputes result in public protests and the police do not play a domineering role. We signed a petition against an Incineration Plant being built in nearby Plouray. The Police were in attendance to stop the traffic and permit the protesters to have an enjoyable and leisurely march through the streets. The right to “object by striking” is important. I think that Mrs Thatcher’s policy with the miners would not have been accepted in France.

I retired from Chevron in July 1987.

We set off in our sailing boat “Fulmar Fever” at the end of October, just after the hurricane, to travel to the Mediterranean via the French canals. The end of train journeys from Guildford to London and the slower pace of life were agreeable.

I had enjoyed life in England and found my job demanding, absorbing and interesting.

However, I was delighted to end the experience of arriving at Waterloo Station after a long days work to find the train Time Table Board empty because of “Leaves on the Line”, etc.

We arrived in Sete on the Med in February 1988 having travelled slowly and enjoyably through France. The kindness of the people along the canals and in shops on route impressed us. We loved the varied countryside and found many areas of interest along the way.

We spent nearly 3 years sailing in the Med.

A fire on our boat in the south of the Peloponnese resulted in severe repair costs which made it impracticable to continue down the Red Sea as we had intended. In April 1990 I joined Chevron again under contract for 2 years in London helping to check the design of the Alba North Sea platform. We made up our minds at that time to either move to Cyprus or France. The increased population and busy roads in England were unacceptable after the relaxed life we had spent in the Mediterranean.

In July 1991 we spent a holiday in France to look for somewhere to live.

We visited the Charante near La Rochelle but found nothing suitable. Pat loves undulating countryside with trees and the “marais” (swamp area) although attractive did not suit her. On our way back to England she suddenly announced for the first time that she had an advertisement for a home in Brittany that she had cut out of the Sunday Times. We went to look at the house. It was in a hamlet with only 5 other homes at least 100 metres from each other surrounded by fields. The asphalted road in front of the property was once the main road. It had been modified some years previously and was now used only to provide access to the house. We immediately fell in love with the surrounding quiet and lovely countryside with few cars on the roads.

We visited the Notaire without appointment and he called in the Owners. A price and a completion date were agreed within 2 hours. We paid the required 10% non- returnable deposit to seal the deal. We returned on the agreed date in September to pay the balance of the cost. We were astounded at how smoothly the purchase had been completed remembering problems in England with previous house purchases and gazumping difficulties.

The nearest village, Tregornan looked attractive with hydrangeas on the sides of the through road. It is 1 kilometre south, while Glomel, the small communal town, is 5 kilometres by road in the opposite direction. The main shopping centre Rostrenen is 12 kilometres away by car while the larger town, Carhaix, is 18 kilometres. They provide most of our requirements but Lorient, a big city, is about 45 minutes drive.

Farmer Dominique Le Cras and his wife Julienne are our nearest neighbours who have about 40 milking cows. We could not wish to live close to kinder people.

My work on the design of Alba was completed in May 1992.

In the early 1990’s when we first came to live here few shop assistants spoke English.

I found them to be very helpful if you could find one. (Economising on labour happens in most supermarkets).

I speak French but obviously not like a Frenchman. I had some difficulty purchasing the materials needed for the work on the house. I knew the words but getting the pronunciation right took time.

I typed out all requirements in French and learned to ask for a “devis” (estimate of cost).

I would arrange for the materials to be delivered and could either pay the driver or visit the store to pay after delivery even though I had no account and they had little knowledge of me.

The situation has changed a lot as shop assistants now try to speak to you in English even when you ask to speak French.

We started changing the house in August 1992.

A lot of work had to be done to make it suitable to be our home.

It is a typical Breton construction built in 1910. The outside walls are about 90 centimetres thick, the outside face consisting of large, cut, sandstone blocks. The inner face of the walls is also of large stones and the gap between outer and inner stones is filled with sand and other material. The walls provide excellent insulation keeping the house reasonably warm in winter and cool in summer. .

I have been responsible for constructing several types of building as a civil/structural engineer and decided to do all the design/planning and labour myself with Pat’s assistance. Our work on the house was not completed until year 2000. A Shopsmith woodworking machine I had bought served as a power saw, drilling machine, lathe, router etc. and enabled me to do all the jobs with timber.

All outside doors had rotten sections and were not weatherproof. New oak or chestnut doors and frames were made and fixed.

New raised wooden floors were installed over insulation on top of the existing tiles fixed on the concrete floor.

A pine staircase was made and fitted to replace a steep ladder giving the only access to the upper floor.

New plasterboard or wooden panels over insulation were required on all downstairs internal walls.

New oak cupboards were made and installed for the combined dining room kitchen.

Upstairs partitions were flimsy and were replaced with timber framing, insulation and plasterboard.

The roof trusses were in reasonable condition except for two main rafters that were severely cracked. They were strengthened and repaired.

The roof slates were supported by nails that were badly corroded. Regularly slates would come sliding down the roof and had to be replaced to keep the house watertight. In 1999 the roofing materials except the supporting timbers were renewed using stainless steel hooked nails. We paid an excellent French roofer to fix the slates to nearly half the roof and I did the rest.

The small triangular windows in the roof were obviously inadequate. They were replaced with new large dormer type windows made of chestnut.

We had electrical problems almost from the time of our arrival. When raining the power would go and I would find the fuse wire had blown. The whole house was rewired and the wiring was checked by the authority responsible.

I had brought central heating radiators from England. I soon learnt how to braze the copper pipes. Unfortunately I discovered only by trial and error that the diameter of the piping in the UK did not match that in France. French pipes are thicker and 1 millimetre different in diameter, causing problems with the UK radiator connections. New pipes for the central heating and for the hot water were installed. Pat never liked the job of brazer’s assistant being convinced I was going to set the house on fire. Somehow we managed not to do so.

The attractive large sandstone blocks in the walls needed pointing. Fortunately we found a friend who had been a builder in England who did this job very well.

We bought and installed a gas central heating /hot water supply boiler. After installation I had to have it certified so I consulted the Yellow Pages, chose the largest advertisement for a Chauffagiste, in Rostrenen, and made an arrangement for him to visit our house and inspect the boiler and pipe work. He agreed to do this and demanded quite a large cheque as he said he had to obtain the necessary documentation. I explained we would have guests for Xmas in about 6 weeks time and we would like the work completed before their arrival. Christmas came and went but we saw no sign of him. We told Marie-Noelle, another neighbour, and Dominique about our experience with the Chauffagiste. They asked for his name without saying they would do anything to help. A few days later they brought back my cheque and explained that I had chosen an alcoholic. They arranged for an efficient man to do the work which was completed in the New Year.

Our sailing friends Arthur and Dorothy from Canada came to stay with us over that Christmas New Year period at the end of 1992. We had spent a lot of time with them sailing in the Mediterranean.

We were all invited to our neighbour Marie-Noelle for the evening of 24 December “Reveillon.” We expected it was for drinks after dinner.

We had a fair sized meal first before leaving to walk to her house. We were somewhat shaken to find we were joining in a large feast of oysters and sea food, rabbit main course, cheese and salad, dessert etc. with excellent wine to help digestion. Each person sang a song or entertained in some way after the meal. We decided to sing “Away in a Manger” but one of our group changed to “Hark the Herald Angels sing” after the first verse producing much laughter. Walking home at about 3 the following morning took some effort.

Arthur spent a lot of his time with us chopping wood to keep our 2 fire places working. Dorothy and Arthur slept upstairs in an area closed off by cardboard boxes filled with our unpacked belongings as all the flimsy fibre board partitions had been removed and new walls had not yet been built. At that time there was only one bathroom downstairs.

We moved our boat from Cap d’Agde on the Med to Brittany in May, June, July 1993 travelling through the Canal du Midi to avoid the longer journey going via the Straits of Gibraltar.

The canal was one of the first major man-built waterways in Europe. It is very attractive with plain trees planted along the banks and there were nightingales singing night after night.

The canal was constructed at King Louis 14th’s instruction about 1660. At that time France had to pay the King of Spain to use the Straits of Gibraltar for its shipping and King Louis wished to avoid doing this. The journey by boat took over a month. The engineer chosen to build the canal was given 3,360,000 livres but it cost about 20,000,000. He made a good job, ran out of money and went bankrupt. I gather he received no sympathy from King Louis. Evidently things have not changed much for engineers.

In Toulouse in the canal our boat got stuck under each of 16 bridges where the sand had accumulated. This was in spite of being told by the authorities that there was sufficient water depth for our draught of 1.6 metres.

We were caught in a gale in the Gironde estuary after passing Bordeaux. We tied up to a jetty held in place by pylons close to the shore but it was most uncomfortable. A kind fisherman in a small boat came alongside and gave us a bag of prawns he had caught. He advised us to go behind an island a short distance further on where we could find shelter until the wind abated. This we did and were able to wait in comfort. We proceeded into the Bay of Biscay and up the French coast stopping at some of the islands on our way to Benodet on the south coast of Brittany.

We have always enjoyed travelling, generally by car or on our boat.

Living in France makes journeys to other countries in Europe easier and cheaper as the cost of crossing the Channel is eliminated and distance is reduced. The Euro also makes travel much easier. Before its arrival we found we had many coins in currencies we might not use for some time or ever.

We have towed our caravan to Spain (several times), Portugal, Morocco, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Croatia. We do only about 300 kilometres a day travelling at a modest pace, enjoying seeing places on the route.

On the island of Kryk in Croatia we went to a restaurant for an evening meal. Half way through the meal we realised that we had no Croatian money. Visions of washing up dishes to pay for our dinner occurred to us. However, I nervously asked the lady if she would accept Euros. She seemed quite happy to do so.

The roads and public utilities in France are kept in good condition.

A continuous program of constructing new or replacement roads is undertaken resulting in easy fast journeys over long distances. The Auto routes are excellent although we do notice the cost of travelling on them. Their use is generally not necessary as the Route Nationale roads provide good fast travelling but they pass through towns making the journey slower. The “Aire’s” are generally delightful where facilities are provided to have a rest, picnic or restaurant meal. As a result we have enjoyed journeys to many parts of France. It is a vast country with a wide variety of differing landscapes some dramatic, high mountains, beautiful buildings in interesting towns, items of historical interest, etc.

We find the French municipal camp sites compare well with those in other countries. They are generally clean, tidy and pleasant and less expensive than outside France.

Life here has become a lot more expensive since the latter part of 2008.

Fuel costs for travelling have increased significantly. A litre of diesel cost about 70 centimes in 2007 but is now about 50 % more. The charges for a mechanics labour at the garage we use have increased from 38 to 58 euro’s per hour. Food costs have gone up a lot as well. Most fruit used to be less than a euro per kilogram but prices are now generally double that amount. Normal weekly food shopping costs about 150 euro’s for the two of us at the supermarket whereas 2 years ago 100 euro’s would settle our bill.

Our biggest problem is that pensions come from the U.K. and are paid in pounds. The value of a pound is now about 1.1 euro’s while it used to be about 1.5. Costs have increased but income has reduced.

We have made many friends here, some French, but most of them English or other immigrants, who have come to live in Brittany.

Our neighbours have helped us beyond any normal expectation. They frequently give us eggs from their fowls or fruit and vegetables that they have grown and are always ready to help us with any problems we might refer to them.

Properties here were much cheaper a few years ago than in England. However, with the reducing value of the pound the situation seems to have changed. Some of the arrivals have decided to return to the UK. The selling price of property has reduced since the financial problem and they do not find it too easy to sell.

Pat started a “Dinner Club” about 12 years ago.

Anybody can join but the club has few French members. Generally three couples meet for lunch or dinner at the hostess’s house. She provides the main course with wine and aperitif while another couple brings the starter and wine, the 3rd couple brings cheese and dessert. People travel up to 100 kilometres and come from a wide spread area in Brittany.

Pat has also started 2 Art Clubs, the first of which she ran for about 8 years.

She is also a Member of the Board of AIKB, a charitable organisation to help the integration of immigrants into the French system. They assist people who come to live here, possibly not speaking French, and require advice about how to become established. AIKB officials will phone local authorities to organise things like electricity or telephone connections, help with French Tax, and give information about local matters. They organise and run classes to teach French. They arrange visits at least once a month for their members to places of interest such as Chateaus and historical places or fine gardens. The outings often include lunch – sometimes a picnic or restaurant. They also arrange Fêtes where we might enjoy some pig or sheep roasted on a spit.

We have been on several planned trips to sample wine- Loire, Beaujolais region, Bordeaux etc. Members of the dinner club group travel independently by car to producing vineyards that provide free wine tasting. We stay in hotels in the area chosen. One generally ends up by buying many bottles.

We find great pleasure in spending time on the coast of Brittany.

We bought a house about the same distance from the North, West or South Coast, each about one and a half hours away.

There is a fine walk along the coast all around Brittany. Many people enjoy the scenery, fine views and beaches and people are very friendly. Every one says “Bonjour” in passing.

Last Sunday we were near Le Pouldu on the south coast having a picnic. An elderly passing Frenchman stopped to have a chat. He asked Pat (men always seem to prefer talking to her!) “What is the difference between an accident and a catastrophe? The answer he gave her was- When your mother in law falls into the sea it is an accident. When somebody goes to rescue her it is a catastrophe.”

The medical situation here is excellent.

Before leaving England I had a prostate problem. Chevron provided membership of BUPA and I visited a Harley Street specialist. His queue was long and I was not impressed with his service. The delay to have the operation was considerable.

Other medical people in England that I had consulted had generally been satisfactory or better.

After arrival in France I spoke to my doctor about the prostate problem. He did an examination and sent me for X-rays and tests. One I especially remember consisted of spending a “penny” into a large jar while an attractive young lady photographed the progress and recorded the details. Apart from the thrill it seemed to me to be a far more scientific method than the one used in Harley Street where the main criteria seemed to be if one could hit the back of the toilet.

After the tests in France I was asked when I would like to enter hospital for the operation. I had my own room with telephone, television, bathroom, a glass of wine at lunchtime and the operation was completely successful.

I had an operation for piles in Guildford while still at work in the 1970’s. It was also completely successful but I was in a dormitory of about 10 people and it was not nearly as pleasant.

Generally the first 70% of medical expenses are paid by Social Security, a government organisation. We have a medical insurance which pays almost all the remaining costs (including dental). Social Security pays 100% for critical things like cancer, severe heart problems etc. I understand they settle the bill in full for people on low income.

A great advantage here is the medical card one is given which has included in its chip medical details and will one day have medical history.

One has to pay for all items such as visits to the doctor. You will be reimbursed eventually by Social Security if it is a justified expense.

We miss the enjoyable times we had in England going to concerts such as the Proms at the Albert Hall, Musical or Play, Shakespeare at the Globe or Stratford upon Avon.

However I prefer having no necessity to wear ties, suits or dinner jackets which was a frequent requirement when we lived there. I can live in a more relaxed fashion now with those types of clothes all nearly destroyed by the moths!

Pat says it is wonderful to be able to walk outside in the peace of the night and see the sky glistening with millions of stars, even better on a romantic full moonlit night.

The only sounds to be heard are the occasional hoot of the owl or the cry of a fox cub.

The atmosphere is very peaceful. The worst noise is probably the farm tractor. Traffic is increasing from year to year but roads are not yet nearly as crowded as they are in the UK.


What an interesting corner we have found

What a pleasant land to go to ground

To live – to eat – to sup – befriend

In France’s jewel – we gratefully bend.

To live – amongst the pastures pure

To eat – flavours fit for many a cure

To sup – ah! delicious wine abound

And what delightful friends are found.

It is as if we have crossed a bridge

Back toward a bygone ridge

For life is caught at a different pace

And pleasure lies in having space.

By Tricia Ley

A Holiday from Hell by Dave Poulter

Thursday was a busy day , loading up our old (10 years) Camper Van, amazingly ahead of schedule and in nice weather we were heading for the Dartford and then Channel Tunnel. What no problems on the road or through the tunnel.

Out in France and off we go, the weather is dull, with the occasional drizzle, we are heading slowly southwest towards Cholet, then Challans picking up food and drink. A wine & food fair but I’m not allowed to stop, head to Ilie de Noirmoutier. We wait 30 minutes and then head across the tidal causeway, leading a convoy between the locals collecting sea food on the mud flats. We make it through the receding water, the first across.

We stay mainly in camp sites, depending on the weather and site for 1 to 5 days, and after visiting a view tourist sites, we retire to for the night, protected by trees. Weather still poor so we head south, this time over the bridge. Towards La Rochelle we head for the Ile de Re. At last sunshine but a cool breeze. Excellent sea food lunch by the port of St. Martin-de-Re look over the port and battlements, more sightseeing. Stormy night.

Head further South but also east, follow the Garonne to it’s source. Then down to Castres and Carcassonne. Tourist visits. Lots of Route Barre, don’t the French love them. A massive pothole hit hard and our main water tank drops to the road. RAC called, triangles out, we get picked up and taken back to Carcassonne, repair (bigger washers) takes a couple of hours, then off we go again.

Head to Narbonne then Narbonne Plage. On the hill top overlooking Narbonne Plage we stop for lunch and the view, the storm really blows us over but it’s warm. Lovely warm but very breeze weather. We follow L’Herault gorge lovely scenery. Then the Tarn, where I nearly go canoeing except it’s pouring down. Then to the Loire gorge. Helen’s worried the dam is not releasing water, but just a little further down there is plenty. Lots of eagles. plus a castle in the lake. Up to near Nevers and trouble!

View a two tier lock and help the gears wont work easily but I manage to get it going, only 15 kilometres to go to the campsite. We make the angling car park just next to the campsite and grind to a stop. No movement! Phone RAC told to ring RAC Lyon, duly do, as it’s late we ask to be picked up in the morning, at nine o’clock. Pleasant night. At 8.45 a phone call they can’t find us!!!! Although we gave the full address and postcode they are at another town with nearly the same name. New collection arranged picked up about 10.50. taken to Nevers. Garage personnel have very little English, explain problems, take limited personal effects, and have two hours to wait for a taxi to take us 30 miles to car hire place. Raining and cold! No restaurants but a patisserie! After an hour stop a cab driving slowly up the road, it’s ours, relief! Get a car told for three days.

Tour round Nevers and find a small restaurant/hotel at Grenouille (everything is frog based!). Next day RAC tells us it’s very expensive, we authorise, they authorise the garage. Next day, mid afternoon RAC tell us the garage will not act unless we go in and authorise. In we go takes about 30 minutes, with the help of a garage sales manager we authorise and the parts NOW get ordered, we are told should be tomorrow! Collect more personal stuff from the van. Next day told Monday van will be ready, so a weekend stay over, and we have to hold on to the hired car. Tour the area.

Monday no message! Ring RAC, they say ready Wednesday. No news so ring RAC Wednesday, more problems. Authorise again ready Thursday. Ring RAC ready Friday.

We were told you can’t pay for the repairs by credit cards even though we got permission for that amount. So we try the five major French banks not one would do a credit card transaction for the amount required. Told by my credit card group 3 different amounts per day I can get cash out, we drain over four days ATM machines of cash (extra expense), so the garage will get it in 20 and 50 euro notes. Have to rebook tunnel crossing 3 times.

Friday 15.00 hire car will not start, and we can’t jump start it. Phone hire place who charge to the rescue. Wait until 16.00 told van will be ready taxi will collect us at 18.00, garage will stay open just for us until 19.00. It’s very hot! We make it, pay, and head off, eleven days late.

Round Paris, nearly completely round, back and make Calais and the crossing two hours early, and home much the poorer, and had only about six good weather days out of over six weeks.

Dave Poulter

A Note about GOGB by Alex Heymer

Gulf Oil GB

The year was 1967, I walked into the Gulf offices at Dagenham dock and saw the traffic clerk and asked if there was any driving vacancies. He said, “when the other two drivers come in we will issue you a donkey jacket and two boiler suits and you can then go home because we have no work “ I said “do I get paid”, and was told “yes“.

I said, that’s ok then because of the pension scheme, He said, sit at that desk and fill in the application forms instead of having to come back with them.

In due course I had a driving test and was given a starting date , on the Saturday prior to me starting on the Monday I had a phone call from the manager and he said, “ Are you still ok for starting Monday”, I was ok, he then went on to say, I am sorry to put you on this but I desperately need an extra driver on nights and as you know we do shift work could you possibly start nights, I said, I could, and he said, we look forward to seeing you at 10 o’clock Monday night.

This happened all the week and I later found out that drivers volunteered for nights because there was little work and they could do their decorating at home.

So much for the extra driver on nights. I decide that I could like this job and stayed for twenty years and ten with Tankfreight when they took over the Gulf contract.

My Hobby by Lesley Hays

By Lesley Hays After taking early retirement from my job as Credit Manager with Chevron and Texaco, I followed one of my hobbies and became an archaeologist. Not only getting involved in the practical side on excavations, but also completing a degree in Classical studies and Archaeology. This hobby has now become a major part of my life and I am closely involved with local societies; taking part in, mainly, rescue archaeological excavations where a site may have been designated for building or development and any history or archaeology has to be examined before the site and information are lost, perhaps for ever. Whether professional or volunteer, most experienced archaeologists will say that our “treasure” is the knowledge that we uncover which helps us to define our past and possibly colour our future. Archaeology should not be confused either with metal detecting or treasure hunting. Some metal detectorists work closely with us on site as part of our team, but unfortunately there are other less scrupulous folk in the world who think nothing of using a metal detector without the landowners consent and in some cases have dug on the site of a National Monument in the search for their own monetary gain wrecking the history and site for everyone else. These people are known as Night Hawks. I hasten to say that not all metal detectorists are treasure hunting Night Hawks, many use their detectors responsibly with the full agreement of the landowner and correctly report their finds to the local Portable Artefacts Officer.. Those who have watched Time Team on Television will be familiar with some of the archaeological terminology and the scenes one might find on an archaeological site. What cannot be sensed on television is the smell. Last year in the UK it was particularly wet and muddy. Many sites are situated a mile or so from a road, so walking there carrying a back pack is a dampening process even when wearing appropriate clothing. Standing on a muddy site is indescribably uncomfortable, the mud sticks to ones boots making walking difficult; and the smell of rotting vegetation needs to be smelt in person and the accompanying midges and other biting insects need to be felt. A few weeks of this can give a new insight into what the trenches in the first world war must have been like. They mention the mud, but not the stench or discomfort which were suffered by the soldiers for years. So far this hobby is not sounding very glamorous is it? Wet, muddy, smelly and insect ridden with mosquitos and midges. On a sunny day there is nothing to compare to sitting with colleagues enjoying a break and chatting about the days events and finds, often in beautiful surroundings with a background of simple birdsong. On training digs where students or novices are on site seeing the look on their faces when they discover their first find; be it a piece of worked flint, roman pottery, or other artefact is sublime. Being able to pass on skills and knowledge to a new generation is also what gives one a buzz; but perhaps the biggest buzz of all is knowing that the artefact one has just discovered was last handled by someone maybe hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Hold a piece of worked flint in the knowledge that it probably predates the Roman period. Some Roman pottery has makers marks on it so its manufactory can be pinpointed giving knowledge about trade patterns. If very lucky, the piece of pot may have a fingerprint embedded in it from the manufacturing process all those years ago. Put ones finger where someone put theirs thousands of years ago and that gives one a connection to the past and ones forbears that cannot be obtained from books or television. This year I also joined an excavation team at the Villa Oplontis in Pompeii which was great fun and I plan on joining the team next year (if they will have me). Maybe this will whet the appetite of others and encourage them to get wet and muddy or baked and sweaty in the interests of history and knowledge… Lesley Hays Return to Members Contributions Association News  

ROAR- Reflections Of A Retiree by Ken Bridgford

When asked if I would write an article for an edition of “Insight” my response was yes; I can do that. I have been retired for three years and surely, perceptions of retirement versus the actuality should provide ample fertile ground for an interesting amble through my retirement period so far. Fine, seems ok, then reality!

How to go about it. I have never written an article before – only reports. Why not try the same structured approach as I would when working. Ok, here goes with a list. Better do a planning bullet point list- but of what?? Oh why did I say yes to this article??

Just get started Bridgford! Here goes.

• How did I feel approaching retirement at the end of August 2009.

• Desires when retired?

• Reality – What happened after stopping work

• That dreaded to do list of long awaited jobs

• Firm up those promised visits to friends and relatives.

• Eventually go on those impromptu short breaks, and mini holidays

• Don’t forget the “Bucket List” of preferred activities (This is more like it!)

o After years of threatening, come out of the closet, and take part by singing songs at the local Folk Club

o When the weather is good, just get up and go fishing.

o Clean the garden pond

Ok that’s the planning out of the way, now for an interesting article – Tongue firmly in cheek. I was always better with figures!

Having worked for 47 years I was ready for retirement. Although I have to say, the last 5 years were the best years. I think I am fortunate in having that experience.  None the less I was on my way and I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to do.

Now, what really happened? The first few weeks just went in a blur. Did not have to start the day at 5.30, so get up at 7.30 ish! Catch up on the news and, hey, where’s the morning gone? Does not matter you are retired, enjoy. Ok so play the guitar for a couple of hours. Is that the time, oh well it’s a late lunch today. Fiddle around sorting a bit of paperwork. Oh, I was going fishing when the sun was shining. No matter plenty more sunny days coming along. I probably got under my wife’s (Margaret) feet, as I have never spent so much time at home. A hint was when she found me in ‘her study’ and suggested I got my own computer!!!! Weekends worked fine before retirement, but now they tend not to be so recognisable. I think you may now be seeing something of a familiar trend!  Yes, No?

I have retired, and I suspect my brain has as well, but do I care, enjoying it too much? Come on Bridgford get your act together.

Well three years on, life has never been so busy! The Diary has never been so full. People are constantly wanting me to get involved in activities, an aspect of retirement which did not cross my mind before retiring.

I have managed to complete about 10% of what I imagined, – Note:- do not plan too much – but a very interesting, and generally intriguing time, none the less. The big plus is that my wife and I can go out mid week, visiting, lunching, and sorting out our respective Mums and avoid the busy times of schools/commuter runs.

The achievements. I now visit a few folk music clubs to play the guitar and sing a few songs, as well as helping to get another one off the ground. All good fun apart from the politics!  I have become the Treasurer of our local angling club. This also has its unexpected spin offs. Such as negotiating a merger with another club. Great, except the merger failed to materialise and yes you guessed it, politics!! Should have stayed working. Ah well too late now. My wife and I did manage a long overdue trip to Ireland. So we just had to stay for 4 weeks. Ah, such a strain, but we braved the Guinness, excellent food, music, and lived to tell the tale.  Another long awaited trip was to Australia to celebrate Margaret’s Sister’s 60th, Tinnies and BarB’s ticked off the list, with no rushing off to the Airport to get back to the office.

The greatest consistency though has been a monthly GOM meeting with two retired work colleagues, Barry and John. What’s a GOM you wonder? It is a Grumpy Old Men’s meeting held monthly in a pub in Canary Wharf. I can thoroughly recommend it, and I am off there tomorrow. Cheers!!!!

Enjoy yourselves folks.

Ken Bridgford