Manny's Blog

Sharing our French adventure as we live and work and renovate our forever home in the Haute Loire.
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One month almost to the day since my last blog, one month more in ‘confinement’, and how does it feel now? We have definitely settled in to a ‘new normal’ and a slower more conscious rhythm to our life, but at the same time we start de-confinement today, 11th May… my birthday! And whilst it’s exciting to think of things starting to return to (the old) normal, I have to confess to feeling quite conflicted about what the implications are … at the moment we actually feel quite safe in our Solignac bubble, we have seen virtually no-one, and our short excursions are meticulously masked and disinfected, and inevitably more contact will mean more risk for everyone. Only time will tell if it’s the right time to start opening up the country again – (for our ‘green’ zone at least, the ‘red’ North East of France, as I write, is still completely closed until the numbers of deaths start falling).

So anyway, that’s the current state of play (just for the record!)

30 Glorious Years of shared adventures…

April 21st 1990 – princess dress and top hats!

Joe and I were married in the Actors’ Church in Covent Garden on April 21st 1990 – and this year we had hoped to have a big family bash with our four and their wives and partners… not to be of course, but hopefully we will all be able to celebrate together this summer – fingers crossed!

A simple and quiet day was made totally unforgettable by the surprise pressie from Beth and her Bros, delivered by Arty. Beth had written a song imagining the day Joe and I met… recorded it, (including a bass part from Luke and backing vocals from all the boys), then made the most exquisite video… Harry did some beautiful graphics on it – and as Arty was the only one physically with us, it was his job to put it on a usb key and plug it into the TV for us to see in all its glory …. and here it is…

My parents met in the summer of 1989. After knowing each other a few days, they decided to get married. Today marks their 30th wedding anniversary. This is a love letter to my parents.”
Summer of ’89!

Needless to say, we were completely blown away! She’d been working on it since September, and Arty sneakily filmed us watching it (hiding his phone by the TV), so Beth, Harry and Luke were able to share our tearful reaction!! It made the day so so special!

No more teenagers in the house…

The following week was Arty’s 20th birthday … what 20 year-old doesn’t want to spend his birthday with just his parents instead of his girlfriend!! We had a lovely day – mainly focused around food! Birthday pancakes, followed by birthday lasagna and a huge rich cake, which we ate much too late and all felt really uncomfortable after!!

Birthday pancakes –
Special delivery – Birthday balloon from Cass
sooo rich… so delicious…. so heavy!
Late night Birthday darts… now a regular nightly pursuit for the three of us !

Arty’s room – possibly now the coolest room in the house!

view from the bed!

Arty’s back in his room, with just the final coat of paint to do on a couple of the walls, (hopefully we can actually buy it from tomorrow!) and an ingenious copper clothes rail Joe is finishing.

It has all come together so well :

Birthday pressie Dart board… works like a dream!
In all its glory!

A surprise new member of the family…

The most dramatic change to our family pack (see how the vocab is changing already…) has been the arrival of little Nairobi –

Who would have thought we’d be the proud and happy owners of a dog? Not me for sure, considering I’ve been allergic to dogs since an asthmatic bronchitis attack in my teens. We just never thought it would be a possibility… however life often doesn’t go as you expect!

About the time lockdown began, we noticed a little black puppy in our tiny hamlet – little by little it became clear that it belonged to no-one, and seemed to have been abandoned. Our lovely neighbours Jeanne and Laurent, and Roberta, had started leaving food morning and evening. We basically had two options – call the SPA, who we were pretty sure would have her put down during these complicated times, or someone needed to adopt her. Jeanne and Laurent are not here all the time, and Roberta has cats… Joe and I decided that we’d give it a go, at least for the period of confinement. And so it began…

To begin with we were all convinced (I don’t know why!) that she was a he… we named her Virgil (after Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dyke). She kept herself hidden between piles of slate in a little overgrown orchard in the centre of Solignac…

Here’s the ‘respecting-social-distance’ neighbours’ meeting (with wine of course), to decide the best course of action for little ‘Virgil’… (basically establishing that only we would feed her to establish trust and a relationship with us):

Little by little we lured her down towards the house by moving her food bowl a little closer each day – she was much too scared to let anyone approach her or stroke her, and would eat then run back up to her little patch.

When she was happy to eat right by the house, we decided it was time to try and contain her – Joe had a brilliant plan, and on April 14th we put it into action with 100% success! It was really nerve-wracking, as we knew if we got it wrong and she got away, we could be back to square one, and we may never persuade her to come down the path again!

The cunning plan involved a pivoting door…
held open by a peg in the wall, attached to a long piece of string…

We put her food in the piggery, (she’d already braved eating in there before the door was put in place) – Joe hid holding the string, and when I signaled she was safely in and eating, he pulled out the peg, the door pivoted shut, and she was safely inside!

She was pretty indignant and scared for an hour or so, but slowly perked up…

For the next few days, we fed her and spent time in there with her, and she played with balls and sticks and slowly gained confidence. Our next goal was to get a collar on her, so that she could come out of the piggery… first attached on a long lead, and finally to be free to run around as she pleased!

She is clearly an outdoor dog, and while the weather was fine she seemed perfectly happy in her new space. We knew she was going to need shelter soon though – so Joe built her the most beautiful kennel!

Kennel building …

We put it down in the piggery… first she wouldn’t go near it! Then we managed to get a collar on her (no mean feat!) which meant we could attach her and open up the piggery. We moved the kennel out next to the house, and she fell in love with it – It’s her safe place. She has slept in there every night since!


On Arty’s birthday, we took her to the vet – again a carefully detailed plan to get her into the boot of the car – where once in she behaved impeccably! And so it was, we discovered she was a girl... she wasn’t chipped so we were allowed to adopt her! Now she’s micro-chipped and registered to us, has had her first vaccine, and we have renamed her… Professor Nairobi.

Needless to say, she is bringing us untold joy every day!

Little Nairobi! in her field of dreams!
gentle and loving…
One man and his dog!
Birthday walk down to the river this morning!

And Finally… ‘The Good Life’ 2020

We’ve had a huge stroke of luck, with the offer to use a section of amazingly fertile vegetable patch from our neighbours Jeanne and Laurent – we have long admired their walled veg garden, and when they kindly said we could take over the end they no longer use, we jumped at the chance! The deal is veg-growing lessons in exchange for English lessons – win/win… my favourite kind of deal!

The patch is now rotivated and seeded and planted… so watch this space! Nairobi came up and sat with us (on her lead, so she doesn’t dig anything up!), quietly surveying and snoozing in equal measures!

Next morning we turned the soil a few more times and a little deeper…

Then we got planting!

So now we just need to see what survives our tender care!!

Outside prep

This welcome mild spring, and the extra time with Arty’s young strong arms has given us lots of opportunities to get ourselves organised outside – wood cutting and clearing and generally getting prepped for summer, and indeed next winter!

And I got sewing …

And there I’ll leave it – you’re up-to-date with most of our news!

Next time I’ll give more studio and office news, but for now I’m off to enjoy a birthday glass of bubbly!! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope this blog finds you safe and well and optimistic for the gentle ease back to social-connecting!

Bye for now!

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  1. Moir says:

    Oh Manny so lovely to have a catch up on your news and see that fabulous wedding photo. What unexpected joy to see myself at the end with a little blonde angel of a Charlie.
    The video from the boys and Beth’s song is quite extraordinary. Such love, such talent. Loved seeing the flashes of Walberswick, the beach, the stables. What a wonderful time that was for us all.

    1. Manny says:

      Thank you Moir – I know…you and little Charlie! And of course there were lots of Walberswick memories in the vid! Happy Times indeed! xxx

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