Today my brother had to take the incredibly difficult decision to let his delightful Airedale Terrier cross over the Rainbow Bridge. Only 7 years old, Mavis had a big inoperable tumour in her bowels but her suffering was becoming intolerable…such a shame as she was one of those dogs as if she was on 4 pogo sticks and just had an incredible lust for life…got me reminiscing about some of the fur family we have lost over the years and about some of the creatures that our friends & neighbours have had that have touched our lives over the years…then I started to think about friends that have sick pets and are going through the mill with cancer treatments for their dogs, fortunately my cousin who had a sick Beagle has had the all clear, but Jenny in America has another 10 weeks of treatment for her Max to get through.
Some folk look at cats & dogs as just that – a cat or a dog, and then there are the folk like me who’s life is totally dominated up by the little fur darlings!
Christmas presents for the dogs, Christmas stockings for the cats…I cook chicken for the dogs every day, the 8 cats have a running buffet all day – Mike calls it the all day diner for cats…whiskas on tap!
Jack Russell’s are our preferred dog, for many reasons to include as someone described ‘they are the Spitfire pilot or the dog world’ never a truer description, they don’t know fear, they don’t know that they are small, they don’t get that the world doesn’t spin round them! 2 of our 3, a father & daughter couple are complete characters , anyone comes to the house they jump on the table so they have better eye contact and can show off better, Madge the 3rd is a complete ball/stick girl and lives to entertain our guests here! The only way we think this habit of getting up on the table was invented was them watching the cats and as the cats are bigger than them, they don’t get that they are not allowed on the table, so I’m afraid anyone coming to our house please don’t be shocked if you see a Jack Russell on our table singing God Save The Queen…yep, you’ve read right…Mr W’s party piece! Our Mayor even bought some people round the other day to witness this spectacle! Mr W is even on YouTube singing Happy Birthday…(we must do a new one of him doing God Save The Queen as he is much better at that one!).
Every night on Facebook I see all the photos of poor dejected creatures in high kill shelters and every night I am saddened and feel so helpless, I also feel at times how unfair it is when you have a much loved dog or cat and you lose it at a ridiculously young age through accident or illness when these others are thrown out and abandoned by heartless non caring people .
Well, I have come to the conclusion I wouldn’t have it any other way, I’ll continue risking my heart being broken or bruised by my fur persons…I’d much rather have nutty Jack’s on the table, 8 rescue cats mistreating my furniture and keeping the all day diner in business, than live in a sterile clean house without muddy paw prints, or a little paw patting my face very early in the morning trying to get me up, but most of all I just love the way they all think we’re the bees knees, they never judge and they are always pleased to see you…and no I don’t believe it is just cupboard love!
So for all of you that have lost a dearly loved pet, I fully understand your grief, they are part of the family and in many respects the loss of a pet can be equally, sometimes be even harder as the fur family members are with you 24/7.
We lost Johnnie Johnson 6 years ago aged 8 it’s only now can I mention him…so as my little epitaph to my dearly loved & missed pets some photos of past & present and for those with heartache and pain it can only get easier…
We’re now 6 weeks of renting out the Band of Brothers House – each time we go up to visit another little tweak is done…Mike has done a great job on the wall in the hallway with researching & collecting photos, maps and paintings all related to that day 6th June and the village in 1944.
The most interesting that we have been told is this story : quite staggering it happened in this garden of ours & makes me think how fragile it all is…
Sometime in the early hours of the 6th June 1944 , in one of the gardens of the row of the houses you are in, this event took place. A wounded 101st Airborne paratrooper was alone in one of the gardens when a group of German soldiers who were fighting at the rear of the properties came across him and decided to take him with them as a prisoner. He was dragged from garden to garden, was thrown over walls as they were trying to defend themselves from other American paratroopers. At some point they decided that the prisoner was not worth the effort and that they could escape quicker without him. They decided to shoot him. He was already sitting against a wall as the two Germans stood in front of him. He looked at them and knew what their intentions were. He closed his eyes and prayed. He heard them cock their weapons, the next thing he heard was the sound of a Thompson machine gun being fired . When he opened his eyes the two Germans were lying dead on the ground . A paratrooper from the 101st had jumped over the wall and shot the Germans . He kept on his way fighting through the gardens. The injured paratrooper could not believe his luck . He never found out who it was that had saved his life. He was found by Medics , taken to Utah Beach and shipped back to England for medical care and survived his wounds.
It certainly makes you think how close conflict can be…as it is… in our back yard all those years ago
And here we are 4 months after starting our project it’s FINISHED!!!
Back at the end of June Mike decided I should start marketing without any photos with availability from 1st August…not shying from a challenge I went for it using our other properties as a touch stone and a follow up telephone call to reassure folk we were not talking nonsense! Our 1st guests arrived on the 2nd for 1 week…apart from sewing curtains until 11.30 pm the night before we were pretty well on track.
Our date to be able to say finished for fixtures and fittings was agreed as 30th July for us to stay and try the house out…thus the reason for late night curtain making – street light actually attached to our house between the bedroom windows…we never noticed it until we went to bed (the bed a super kingsize & possibly the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on),turned out the light and then asked Mike to turn his light out as it was light enough still to read…a dash up to Cherbourg the next morning to buy blackout material…but for one reason or another I bought 5 meters forgetting there were 2 windows – I needed 10 meters – so a 2nd trip was needed!!!!!!
So here we go – I’ll try to line up the before’s & afters!! The main bedroom started as 2 rooms.
The bedroom at the back was in a dreadful state, broken windows, holes in ceiling and water penetration destroying all the plaster
The bathroom was a kitchen…holes in ceiling.
Kitchen – oh dear, basically falling down! New roof, walls etc.
Today 21st May we went to our 1st 70th Anniversary Ceremony… I felt the emotions starting & the tears started, (note to self must pick up plenty tissues next time at the supermarket!). We were invited by a very dear friend who is serving with The Royal Marines to come and see the 1664 Challenge in Port en Bessin here in Normandy. 350 years ago in 1664 The Royal Marines were founded, so to mark this anniversary what better way to mark the occasion than take 6 men, ski across the Arctic Circle for 1,664 miles, then get on a yacht and sail 1,664 miles through the roughest seas down to Cadiz in Spain, then cycle 1,664 miles to Port en Bessin where the 47 Commando had a huge battle June 6th & 7th 1944 mark that with a ceremony, jump in Kayaks and paddle across the Channel to Eastney, Portsmouth just a mere 100 miles across open sea and then when on dry land run round Great Britain 1,664 miles! Port en Bessin was a crucial point for the success of the Invasion as it was the link between Gold & Omaha plus the point for PLUTO the pipeline under the ocean for fuel to keep the troops going. However the Germans had dug themselves in good and properly over the 4 years of occupation. 47 Commando unit landed on Gold 12 miles away and suffered casualties there, made their way to within 2 kms of the objective by nightfall on the 6th June 1944 when there was another fierce battle with even more casualties, local people helped the wounded that night and in the morning the 7th June 1944 the local Gendarme Henri Gouget acted as guide, the ensuing battle was fearsome with many casualties to include Captain Cousins killed leading his men in the last assault bringing the surrender of the Germans. The Royal Marines had battled machine gun nests, concrete bunkers all surrounded with barbed wire and flame throwers, 46 men killed & 65 wounded. Today’s ceremony was poignant and very moving, we were stood in the shadow of the bunkers they fought so hard for with The Mayors speech really reflecting the bravery and solidarity of the Marines along with the heartfelt thank the town still feels for their liberation. A very gracious and moving tribute, it brings it home we are still in living history especially with 2 Royal Marine veterans in attendance. 92 years of age, ramrod straight, bright as buttons in their British Veteran uniform of grey slacks, blazer, beret, polished medals & highly polished shoes! Make me very proud to be British.
When you take this 1 story in just one small town here in Normandy and start to equate how many towns and villages there are, with a story, believe me every single one has a story, you start to ‘get’ the size of the Invasion…when I see in front of my eyes old ladies becoming a young woman again giving kisses and flowers to the liberators and the veterans becoming the conquering heroes again, it is incredibly moving…Living History. I feel privileged to be witnessing it. We have just seen the weather forecast for the Channel, it is the worst anyone could have feared…I am thinking of these young men, the 6 keep going, the support do 2 hours on 2 hours off on the support boat. As I head to my wonderfully comfortable bed tonight and snuggle down under my quilt I shall whisper safe crossing & good luck…I may even take my iPad upstairs with me to check in now & then as there is a live link to them see http://www.1664challenge.co.uk
There is just so much going on in this area of Normandy, certainly I have learnt that the British side of the Invasion Beaches whilst busy with parachute displays etc. this American sector seems to making a huge affair out of it all…I’m finding my head is spinning and not able to express myself sufficiently, I’ve decided to try to make sense out of it all and at the same time to kill 2 birds with 1 stone…I’m starting a new blog and as we’re also creating a new web page it makes sense to join the 2 projects together.
Our new webpage will be about Normandy, a lot of it about what this hidden peninsula has to offer, our concierge services, from car hire to bikes, war tours and in depth information plus our houses.
My blog will be following the 70th anniversary preparations and manifestations, the whacky and official ceremonies plus I am researching bits of interesting historical facts – along with Mike’s photographs I hope I can bring this wonderful part of France alive for you all…and of course I’ll be updating about our renovation project in Sainte Marie du Mont plus all our creatures here at Ferme de l’Eglise…watch this space!!
That’s what it feels like now…keep turning the handle, don’t let go now!
In actual fact everything is going really well, but we are tiring slightly…Mike is on a mission saving the original fireplace in the main bedroom…so kind soul has slapped on 2 or 3 coats of what is called ‘crepe’ almost like artex but harder!! 2 electric sanders so far have been burnt out…but as you can see he is half way, when we paint it and get it looking something it will set off the room.
Meanwhile downstairs the kitchen has had plasterboard & insulation put in place, the new window, door and a wall blocked up
We had to lose a window on the left as I want to put in an American Fridge so there is on tap filtered water & ice, no need to buy bottled water!
The electrician plumber is back next week to do 2nd fix, the shower tray is in place, take no notice of the toilet placing here…it’s just out the way!! But between us we’ve designed a great big Italian shower…
So tomorrow, off to choose tiles for the bathroom & kitchen plus the kitchen units, I’ve already bought the cooker which I’m thrilled with!
May is wonderful in Normandy this year the blossom is unreal…the scent is heady – just to give you an idea here is the view from the bedroom now the trees have opened up a bit more … the candles on the chestnut tree are huge!
We’re also starting to see the folk arrive for the 70th anniversary…look what was parked outside the house yesterday! Jeeps all sorts are starting to congregate!
So here we are 3 weeks on…plaster board almost finished upstairs, the electrician is really going great guns with 1st fix electrics and plumbing…we’ve even bought loos now.
I’m being dragged out of bed at 6 am to get to Brico Depot in Cherbourg for doors opening at 7 am with the words ringing in my ears if you want to have a say in how it looks you’ll be in the Landrover ready to go at 6.30 am!
So now the pressure is on me to find the look! It is quite hard as I can’t really see how the light is going to be, especially in the dining room…once the new roof on the kitchen is unveiled I think I’ll be able to judge.
I’ve chosen parquet floatant for bathroom floor and an ultra modern double sink unit with lots of cupboards and draws for the upstairs bathroom…we’ll be building a big shower enclosure in here as well.
The garden has been transformed – over 10 huge sacks of ivy ripped off the walls, poor Mike had 3 trips to the dump with just rubbish from the garden! Hopefully I’ll be able to start planting up in a few weeks once the roofers are finished and there isn’t the danger of building materials, I’m thinking a rose garden with lavender in the 1st flowerbed with a lawn and lots of lovely climbers to enhance the beautiful stone walls.
Our days are like a military exercise …Mike is the go for and the labourer, can’t believe how many times a day he goes to the dump/builders yard or Brico Depot in Cherbourg! Me, I’m in charge of catering as well as everything down here at home, the washing and ironing, day to day running of the other rentals…quite often I’m seen in the boulangerie picking up bread in my pinny en route with piping hot food in the boot of my car at 12.30 (on the dot – I dare you be late for 4 hungry men ).
We’re very glad when it is Friday evening, Mike headed to bed around 8.30 pm and had a very long rest yesterday which enabled me to finally get caught up with all the laundry…today I’m really tired, so I’m having an easy day with tomorrow a changeover, new arrivals and more washing and ironing! Tuesday it big shop for the weeks’ catering & then Wednesday it’s getting the cottage in Ste Mere Eglise I manage ready and opened up for the start of the season.
As I say, sometimes it’s too busy! But wouldn’t have it any other way!
So here we are a week on…all I know is everyone is totally knackered! Mike has had to go this afternoon for a lie down and I was close to tripping him up on the stairs to get there 1st!!
The atmosphere on ‘site’ is fabulous, the macon otherwise known as the chef is 60+, Mike is 60+, the other helper is almost 60…then the various sons’ come into to give the old ‘gits’ a boost! As long as I am on time with the food, coffee & wine we’ve a happy team! Everything stops at 12.30 for at least an hour…but just look what has been achieved in just 4 days! (We are a 4 day week…that is set in concrete!!).
Remember those rooms upstairs? – 1 blue room – wall has come down to reveal the most glorious double aspect, this will be the master bedroom at the front of the house with views across to the church …we are very excited about this.
Remember this room with all the wallpaper hanging off in all directions…all plaster boarded out with masses of insulation… When the old stuff was taken off this fabulous stone wall was discovered…looks like 180 years ago the house was extended and this is the original outer wall…behind the different wallpapers we are finding old newspapers but frustratingly we can’t find a date!
Water and electric are now on, the ‘sparks’ is really cracking on, we’re off on Monday to choose shower, loos, kitchen, taps, collect more plasterboard and other ‘stuff’…will we or won’t we be ready for 6th June…it’s so tempting but I’m still not advertising…yet!
1st April is normally known for All Fools Day or Jour du Poisson here in France…for us it’s Day 1 !!
We signed for the house yesterday afternoon so it is ours now, which is a bit of a relief as we’ve had our roofer mending the leaks and replacing rotten timber all last week…so we now have a leak free roof! But shock horror he told us last night that when he investigated under the asbestos roof he’s found at least a foot deep layer of shells…it must have been some form of insulation, we’re all at a bit of a loss over this – it’s going to be a right mess getting it all down!
When we bought Utah Beach it was a former fisherman’s base, he’d backed in 2 refrigerated lorries and built a garage around them, the floor was sand with thousands of empty bottles laid on their sides…to keep rats away from his fish – we’ve managed to get one of the lorries out by knocking down a wall and rejigging the whole layout…but the other one is there to this day, we keep tins of paint in it!
We seem destined to buy places with a bizarre twist…shells & bottles, wonder what-else we will find…I know Mike would love to find something that sort of declared Rommell took tea in the house…he was here in Sainte Marie du Mont checking the defences so it is possible he came to what now is our house, as it used to be a shop selling vegetables, cream, milk etc. The owner had a big farm in the village so this was the outlet…all way before food miles – how things have changed!
A decision has been made though regarding to layout, we have decided to take the bedroom at the front of the house back to it’s original size, it’s been sub divided with a wooden & hessian back wall, we’ve bought it as 4 bedrooms & bathroom downstairs, but we will end up with a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom upstairs, vacation rental, very much aiming at couples or 2 couples travelling together, or even a small family. The bedroom at the front will be a really great size with 2 windows overlooking the church and a fireplace…Mike want to put a 4 poster in it…we’re thinking on it!
There are plenty, plenty rentals in the area geared up for family groups, we see this house as a grown up’s destination, we want to try to make it just that bit more special, we’re not a Chateau, nor a 5 star place with folk fussing round you and we certainly don’t want to be a soulless rental that feels cold… somewhere that is a real pleasure to stay in with extra touches & good furnishings…my next problem is how to get this across in my marketing!