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Puppy love

As if life wasn't complicated enough...

Cezanne 1

The house has been in uproar for weeks now. So after three weeks of renovating a caravan, then making a short film, then having our bathroom ripped out five weeks ago (and yes, we're still without a bath), the refrigerator packing up and the kitchen taps falling apart, we decided to complicate matters by buying a puppy. 

The timing's not brilliant, admittedly, but when IS a good time to have sprogs? Not ever, if you stop to think about it.

The catalyst for getting the new pooch was our friends C&G, who lucked onto a beautiful puppy and phoned us to crow about it. His name is Rufus and he is absolutely beautiful - one quarter each of husky, malamute, Belgian shepherd and Pyrenean sheepdog. He looks like a little rust-coloured husky and we were quite smitten. This is how I am with animals - our friends have kids and I couldn't care less, but kittens or puppies, well that's another matter. 

We bought Rufus's brother and named him Cézanne, but while he was still at his original owners' I did some more research on his breed parentage and I panicked - both huskies and malamutes are known cat-killers, and unlike other breeds that are fine with cats they were raised with, they are known to turn on cats they've known their whole lives and tear them apart.  

I joined a husky owners forum in the hopes of being reassured but they all insisted it was a bad mix and that they never, ever turned their back on their dogs. We have three cats and we're cat people - we're known as cat people, sometimes having as many as nine at a time. We can't endanger them for a dog we don't know yet. So regretfully, and I did cry a bit, we decided against the husky cross.

I was bitterly disappointed, as I'd met the little fella and he was gorgeous, but as luck would have it, I almost immediately spotted another puppy, this time a Breton spaniel/Labrador cross - sometimes known as a Labny or Brittador. This one, I thought, must surely fit the bill, and I provisionally arranged to go and see her.

The temperament is perfect, but a brief look at what these dogs look like when they're grown up and the DH lost interest. They are basically Labradors with Breton markings (white blaze, etc), and this is too big and too smooth-coated for us. We love Zola, our Breton/Gordon setter cross, with his big foofy tail and leg feathers and floppy ears - for us, he is the perfect dog - so I set about finding something similar.

Next up was Bella, a gorgeous three-year-old rescue dog down south, who was a spaniel/setter cross of unknown origin, with markings almost the reverse of Zola's - mostly white with black details. But the shelter said she hated cats, so again with regret we gave up on this idea. 

I was beginning to think we weren't going to find anything in the short term. There were several purebred Breton spaniel litters coming up but they either dock them at birth or they're born without tails, and we did specifically want that big flag tail, so I enlarged the hunt to setters of all kinds, French spaniels and Epagneuls bleus de Picardie. But then suddenly I saw an ad on AngloInfo for the last puppy in a litter of Sprollies. 

A Sprollie is a Border collie/Springer spaniel cross. Not a true breed, but those who breed them are hoping to have them recognised as such at some point. I researched them online and got very excited - gorgeous working dogs that are generally rather calmer than collies, but with a long lean body, great leg feathers, short flop ears and an alert, but soft expression. They are good at agility, though not as good as Borders, and any given pup may lean more to one parental side than the other. 

rang for more info and gave our circumstances: childfree, home all day, 1 hectare of wild garden surrounded by farmland, rarely travel and never abroad, lots of time for training and walking, etc, and we arranged to go see him. Within minutes of walking into the room, I could see the DH was in love. He got this soppy expression that I'd only seen before when he saw Zola for the first time, and within minutes we'd made the down payment. 

8 weeks

Cézanne, for thus he is named, is the ugly one of the litter, and since he is beautiful, that might give you an idea of what the others were like. He had four litter mates, plus his mum, five older siblings, his dad and a Border collie named Jenna. They are all beautiful dogs - keen, bright-eyed, lean and full of bounce.

We visited him one more time to take over a towel, fleece, toys and cat carrier so that he could come home with something familiar, but there was no need. When we went to get him for the final time, aged eight weeks (see right), he attached himself to us instantly and doesn't appear to miss his canine family at all, the heartless little sod. He slept on my lap all the way home, isn't travel sick and appears to fear nothing except Zola barking, at which point he heads for the corner.

He's had a busy few days in the four days since we got him: travel, visits to the vet, repairmen coming to the house, friends visiting for brunch, a trip to the supermarket to see what crowds look like, a trip to the local park where he struggled to be put down (not allowed until he'd vaccinated). And lots of playing and running about and playing with Kongs and annoying the crap out of Zola.

The cats have decamped to the woods, the kitchen and our bedroom in their respective huffs, but they will come around in their own good time, no doubt (he's already had one claw through the nose for looking at Bembo the wrong way).

And Lord, I had forgotten how full on this is: toileting every hour during the day, and every time he plays, eats, drinks or wakes up (one of which he does at pretty much every given time...). But it's the nights that are the hardest, going to bed at 11.00, setting the alarm for 1.00, and 3.00, and 5.00 and 7.00. Blurgh. 

Roll on 12 weeks of age, at which point he'll be able to hold his bladder for four hours!  




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One step forward

Oh, the wonders of a flushing toilet...

Well, the bathroom refit from hell continues... 

The replacement cistern arrived yesterday, whoop-di-doo. Of course, it had no lid, despite my very specific assertion to that the lid as well as the main body of the cistern had been delivered broken. Undaunted, we glued together the original broken lid and the plumber managed to plumb the thing in, so we have a flushing toilet again, yippee. I can't stop watching it - it feels like a positive thrill to press a button and the machine flushes itself instead of me having to fill a bucket and do it.

So, perhaps we are inching forwards a step at a time. I have, in the past two weeks, become reasonably adept at bathing in a tub on the kitchen floor. Hairwashing is taken care of at friends, or at the swimming pool. The lack of a sink in the bathroom is a bit more of a pain. I'm now trying to figure out some better way of 'washing' our hands than baby wipes and hand sanitizer.  

Last week it was the turn of both the refridgerator - which decided to warm up for no good reason, entailing a replacement part for over 200 euros - and then the kitchen tap literally fell in half, so once again we had no water in the kitchen for three days while we waited for the plumber. We could, however, use the dishwasher and washing machine, so the situation wasn't as bad as the week we had no water at all in the entire house.

I am pretty sick of this, though. It's been going on a month. I am a bath person. It's how I start my day. Out of bed, have a wee, start the bath running... I dearly miss my morning routine, which eased me into the day, and although friends are very kind, you DO feel like you're putting people out by going round - sometimes you have to wait for them to finish their baths, or you have to wait for the boiler to refill, or they have visitors and you feel like a prat standing there in your dressing gown and spongebag. There will be quite a few lunches had on us when all this is over.

Meanwhile, the DH needs his bath to relax at night, and is unable to have one. Yesterday, after mowing for hours and getting sticky and sweaty and covered in grass, he had to lie down on a couple of heated pads to recover instead of having a nice pine bath. It's not the same and he was as stiff as a board this morning.  

Oh well, we are two weeks into the 2-4 week wait for the new bath, so fingers crossed. There is a distinct lack of urgency about these internet firms I've been dealing with, though, and it seems beyond them to understand that WE HAVE NO BATHROOM at present - this isn't a secondary bathroom, or an ensuite, it's the only one we've got. 

Take a deep breath and repeat the mantra: "It'll be nice when it's done, it'll be nice when it's done..." 


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Oh, so thoroughly fed-up

Our bathroom refit from hell is proving a little wearing.

I have not blogged much lately. I have not been in the mood, to tell the truth. 

After doing up my little caravan to make a kitschy palace, we spent a week making a short film, Cigarette, which the DH is now editing (the caravan was a massive hit, btw, and everyone except him loved it).

The next weekend was spent bringing the caravan home and then on the Monday, in moved the builders and out moved the DH and I. The reason was, there would be no loo, no bath and no sink for the next week as our bathroom was finally being refitted after 17 years.

It needed doing. Our old (avocado!) bath was disgustingly skanky; the shower taps hadn't worked in years; the bath tap dripped hot water - luckily into the bucket that we were using to flush the loo because the cistern had clogged up with mud in the recent rains; and the toilet bowl had a crack in it.  

Sadly, moving to a nearby gite didn't prove all that we had hoped. Not that it wasn't warm and comfortable, etc - it was, but we weren't on holiday, we were working, and we couldn't get a wifi connection, which meant coming up here during the day (the gite's only round the corner). The same thing happened when we moved to a B&B - no wifi. And anyway, I had to be back here by 8.00 every morning because of the animals. 

I'd expected noise, disruption, people coming and going, etc, but I'd forgotten that the door would be endlessly opened and closed as people went in and out, so there was no point running the heating and I sat freezing as I worked.

Nor can I remember what was the first thing to go really wrong with the new fittings. The lack of a waste in the sink, which meant that the plumber had to order one? The cistern that was found to be in pieces, and the company (hi, refusing to replace it, so I had to buy another one and pay a second time for shipping? The tiles that weren't delivered? (hi, Bricomarché) The tiles that were delivered broken? (Bricomarché again). The bath and taps that weren't delivered at all? ( 

I was dealing with five different companies, all in French, and getting the Gallic shrug a lot of the time. The bath and taps, which I'd ordered on January 17 and which were meant to be despatched on 6 February, finally arrived on March 18 at lunchtime, when I was paying the plumber by the hour to sit and wait for them. It will take several weeks to replace the broken cistern on the loo, so the plumber has had to plumb in the toilet bowl on its own and we will continue to flush with a bucket. The sink can't be installed until the bath is in place, so we are back to cleaning our teeth in the kitchen sink. And the sanitation people, who are meant to be installing a massive new water filter, still haven't got back with a price.

Just like on Grand Designs (and this room is minuscule), the costs have escalated madly - a new stud wall to take up the depth of the flexipipe required to splice a French toilet to our British fittings; a new stud wall to create a better angle for the new bath; the floor raised to create a drop from the loo to the soil pipe because the outlet was lower than on the old loo; the ceiling lowered to hide the pipework for the new extractor fan; the bath now taking up so much room that the sink unit I'd bought won't fit, so a custom one will have to be made, and more tiles to cover the lot of it. It will be about 1,000 euros per square metre by the time it's done. 

Today, though, I really thought the worst of this would be over. I thought the disruption of living in gites and b&bs, and using a composting toilet in our piggery, and pissing in the garden behind bushes, and strip-washing in the kitchen, and using waterless Nilaqua shampoo would all be done with - our bath was going in. The boys were partway up the stairs with it when I noticed the hole in the fibreglass. None of us had spotted it, nor the blister the damage had caused to the acrylic surface. Completely unusable. 

My heart sank. I was SO looking forward to a bath tonight - I am a bath person and haven't had one since Saturday (it's now Wednesday). My hair is full of this waterless shampoo stuff and I don't feel properly clean.

Luckily, I had no arguments with, which agreed straight away to dispatch a new bath. But it is a 10-20-day wait. It could be another three weeks before I have a bath in my house again. But friends have been great with their offers to use their bathrooms, and I've arranged to go over to a friend's at 10.00 each morning for a bath (I'll work in my PJs till then).

Then the plumber came in and said the loo couldn't be fitted either as the flexipipe had come apart in his hands. I was speechless, but bit the bullet and went down and cleaned the giant mould monster out of our awful cellar toilet. Meanwhile, the plumber found a temporary solution, so we now have one toilet that kinda flushes but has no seat, one toilet that has a seat (the lid was also broken) but no flush, a composting loo in the piggery, and a chemical Thetford loo in the spare bedroom. And no bathroom sink. Or taps. Or bath. And lights hanging out of the ceiling on wires for the NEXT THREE WEEKS. 

Oh la. Worse things happen at sea of course. But I won't be quite myself again until things get back to some sort of 'normal'.  





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Greta the Green Room

My latest project is doing up an old caravan.


I've been off this blog for a while now. Not only am I madly overworked (and recently for the first time in years, actually turned a bit of work away as I just couldn't fit it in), I've also been engrossed in a new project - doing up an old caravan. 

I say 'old' rather than 'vintage' because I think I'd be flattering myself a bit to call her that. Greta, as I've named her, after a friend's child, is a 1986-ish CI Sprite Alpine with polycarbonate windows. I do think it's the old glass windows that make a caravan look really retro, but Greta was available locally, was the right price at 125 euros, and seemed to drop fortuitously into my lap at just the right moment.

I looked for a caravan back in the summer to use as my 'den' in the garden. The DH tolerates this foible but really wants nothing to do with it, feeling caravans are pikey beyond belief. Although his family was working class, they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps a bit and holidayed in B&Bs, which were well beyond my family's purse. Caravan holidays are something I grew up with and he didn't, is the upshot, so our attitudes are different.

Last summer I had no luck at all finding a van. The French like new stuff, not old stuff, and you're more likely to find a 65,000 euro camping-car here than a 500 euro van. So reluctantly, I gave up on the idea until an issue raised its head when we found the location for our next film shoot.

The house is perfect, both in style and configuration, but there is only one entrance, which means that when we're filming in the hallway, no-one can go in or out of the kitchen or living room. The first day, we'll be filming at the 'kitchen' end of the kitchen too, so that's a hot set - no-one can make a cup of tea, etc.

Catering has proved something of an 'issue' with our last two films, with some people bringing food, others assuming it was laid on, people having to share their meagre resources and our producer, Clare, ending up seriously out of pocket. This time we have lined up both a budget and a caterer, Pauline, but she does need somewhere to heat the food up when she arrives on set. Enter the idea of a 'green room', which will also function as a place for cast or crew to hang out when not required on set. 

The caravan I've chosen (on account of I could afford it) was advertised as a 2-3 berther, but the guy I bought it from had obtained it as a shell, and actually I think it's a four-berther. It's about 14ft long and is identical to a 1986 Sprite I saw advertised, with the same configuration of windows but inside, the toilet cabinet had been removed, and the banquettes had been installed by the previous owner. He's put in a good, hard laminate floor, and the banquettes are made of chipboard. We haven't tested the cooker yet, but if it doesn't work, we'll use a camping gas stove, and my friend G has found a caravan table he had stored in his workshop, which we hope will fit the clip at the end. 


My first job was to start stripping off the acres of mid-brown wood-effect Fablon that covered every surface, which I did at great cost to my nails. Sadly, there are no true 'before' photos of this, as the DH took some pix and then found there was no memory card in the camera, but here is how it looked after G, who is a chippie, set to and knocked out the massive cupboard situated halfway down that was blocking all the light. He has built me a banquette extension instead, so we can seat an extra person (there could be up to 14 crew and the van will seat up to 11, or 10 with the table in situ). 

I am a decorator, not DIY-er, so I am not aiming to really treat the damp in this caravan. After the wettest winter for God knows how long, there is a bit of water ingress, but not as bad as it might be, so I won't be stripping panelling and refitting ply, etc. Apart from it not being worth it for a hundred-quid van, and the fact that she won't really be going anywhere, or be slept in, we don't have time, as I only have three free weekends before we start shooting. So Greta has had a sanding down (the previous owner had rubbed a coat of white paint over the interior ply, which has provided a good key), a scrub with washing soda and this is how she looked after her first coat of paint.


I fancied the yellow (Crown Soleil, which I happened to have knocking around in the basement) but decided once it was up that it wasn't relaxing enough (I mean, given my druthers, this van would be pink and floral, with sequins, but I do have to think of other people here...), so I then top-coated it in green. This is a hand-mixed colour based on Soleil, but with some white, black and blue universal stainer mixed in and I've dragged it over the yellow to get a watercolour effect on the walls. 


This is because the fabrics I've chosen for the banquette covers all have a watercolour look. Once again, my budget is basically zero, so I've just used what I had in. Yellow and orange fabrics, Le Spot by Prestigious Fabrics, were something I bought from John Lewis at £2.50 a metre about 17 years ago. The yellow was once our curtains, and the orange was never used. I also have a patterned fabric called Central Park by Fairford Mills, which was a gift from a friend. I'm aiming to dye the existing curtains dark green for now,  and my sister is sending me her old kitchen curtains in Jane Churchill's wonderfully retro Picture Book, which I will make into new curtains when I have time. I am also thinking of throw cushions in Sanderson's Spring Flowers - a sunny yellow covered in bright primroses. 

Central ParkPicture Book


Spring flowers

The original covers are hideous, but well-made purple Dralon jobbies. However, they're not the correct cushions for the van, and have some strange contouring to go around curves that aren't there, as well as complicated profiling from front to back and end to end. Consequently, I decided not to make 'proper' covers with piping, etc, but to simply wrap and pin the new covers over the old ones, at least for the time being. I've also had a couple of bits of foam cut to fill in the gaps.

Butterfly plates

When it came to accessories, I could afford to spend a little money, as these can always be reused in another van at a later date. I tracked down melamine bowls at our local discount store, Noz, along with orange and blue spotty beakers. My friend K furnished an orange daisy jug with daisy beakers, and pink floral melamine plates, while my sister will send me, as a late Christmas present, the money for these lovely butterfly plates, which I've bought in four colours. I've also bought a bunch of coloured paper napkins, paper cups etc but since 14 crew could go through about 45 cups a day, this seems a very un-eco option and long-term I'd like to get enamel mugs instead. 


I have also bought Greta a little crochet throw, without which no caravan is complete.  

It is fun planning this little interior. Being a caravan, and separate from the main house, there is no need to tie in with any sort of theme, and it can be as kitschy and fun as I like - hence the use of orange, which is a colour I'm not sure I could fit into our real house, which is aqua, lemon, white and pink, and features a lot of chintz. A van also comes together pretty quickly - a coat of paint on all the walls takes only about two and a half hours and you get a finished product very quickly. 

There is more still to do, which I will post at a later date - new Fablon on the cupboard, decorative bits and bobs such as bunting, a big plastic mirror to go up to increase the light levels, and possibly a bit of laminate for the floor - and then, of course, the exterior - but I'm very pleased so far with how it's coming along. Watch this space.  




Makeup for the over-40s

If you've never worn makeup at all, your 40s and 50s is a good time to start.

Graftobian colour palette

Recently I had to make up someone for a film role and that was an interesting experience. 

M doesn't usually wear much makeup other than mascara and I had to make her look unflatteringly older, so basically did the opposite of what you'd do normally. But that led to some discussion about how to do her makeup in everyday life - she liked mine but didn't know what to do for herself - and it made me realise that there must be many women out there who aren't au fait with makeup. 

Makeup can be a good friend to you as you get older. At 50, I'm now at the stage where I think I look a bit ill without it. Days that I don't wear it - and I don't wear it every day, on principle - if I catch sight of myself in the mirror I often feel I look a bit tired and grey. At this age, makeup isn't about looking sexy any more, it's about looking healthy.

Given that M was also astounded by some of my kit, such as the length of my makeup brushes (she was using the tiny ones supplied with products), I thought I'd write a quick guide to making up in your 40s and older, and the key equipment you might find useful.

Here are my key makeup items, though you don't by any means need all of them and I don't use all of them every day. Some of the multiples of an item are products I bought to test, or for my 'professional' kit. 

Elf Studio colour corrector palette


* BB cream: currently Diadermine Lift+ BB Mousse in Nude.
* Primer: Smashbox Photofinish original (black tube); Monistat Chafing Gel (a dupe for Smashbox); Bourjois colour-correcting cream; Boots colour correcting cream.  
* Foundation: Clinique Superfit (discontinued) in Neutral (used as a concealer); Clinique Redness Solutions in Calming Ivory; Graftobian HD cream foundation neutral colour palette 1; Beauty UK cheapie foundation from a discount store.
* Concealer/corrector: YSL Touche Eclat in 01 and 02, Maybelline Dream Lumi Highlighting Concealer in nude, Diadermine + Retouche Jeuness BB Crème Pinceau; Shamy six-colour concealer palette (part of box set).
* Blusher: Maybelline Dream Touch Blush in Apricot, Peach and Prune; Shamy six-colour powder blush palette (part of box set). 
* Powder: Yves Rocher loose translucent powder; Corn Silk loose translucent powder; ELF Studio High Definition Powder in Shimmer; Dior pressed translucent powder; Rimmel Stay Matte pressed powder; ELF Studio Tone Correcting Powder; Ben Nye Luxury Powder in Banana.
* Makeup fixative: ELF Studio Makeup Mist n Set. 

ELF 144-colour palette in neutrals

* Mascara: La Roche-Posay Respectissime Ultra Doux, black; La Roche-Posay Respectissime Densificateur, black; Ben Nye mascaras in plum and clear; L'Oréal Voluminous x 5, carbon black.
* Eyeshadow: Maybelline 4-colour Smokey Eyes palette; Terre d'Oc mineral eyeshadow; various cheapies; ELF 144-colour neutrals palette; ELF 100-colour brights palette; Shamy 112 colours in four palettes (part of box set). 
* Eyeliner: Revlon Dipped End Pencil in Underwood.
* Kohl eye pencils: Revlon Crayon Eye Liner Suede Brown; Revlon Wet n Dry in brown; several cheapies from a discount store in black. 
* Eyebrow colour: Ultima eyebrow pencil with built-in brush (discontinued) in Dark Blonde; HB pencil.

Chanel Rouge Allure 14 Passion

* Lipsalve: Klorane raspberry flavour; Carmex; Elevation 3196 Mallow Soothing Balm; Vaseline. 
* Lip liner: Yves Rocher and Terre d'Oc - half a dozen different colours; eye liners by Arcancil in pink and orange. 
* Lipstick: various, by Chanel, Maybelline, Revlon, Serge Lutens, Yves Rocher, Cien etc, mostly in shades of red and pink, decanted into a colour palette. 
* Lip gloss: 16-colour palette in Shamy box set; flavoured lip glosses.  

The tools I use to apply these are:

ELF studio flat topped powder brushFACE
* Sponge wedges: Alcone and ELF
* Beauty blender: Camera Ready Cosmetics
* Foundation brush: ELF, Nocibé, Yves Rocher and cheapie TomTop from Ebay
* Stipple brush: ELF
* Fan brushes: Tomtop 
* Flat topped powder brush: ELF 
* Powder puff: ELF, Boots' own
* Concealer brush: ELF Studio line 
* Blusher brush: Nocibé  

* Eyelash curlers: Boots own-brand, ELF own brand
* Eyeshadow brushes: Nocibé, ELF Professional and Studio lines and TomTop 
* Eyeliner brushes: Nocibé and TomTop 
* Eyebrow brush: Ultima, TomTop, spoolies (disposable mascara wands) from Camera Ready Cosmetics. 

* Lip brush: retractable from Nocibé, TomTop 24-piece and 22-piece sets.

In Part Two, I'll look at how to apply a daily makeup.  


Review: Lipikar Gel Fluide

Lipikar Gel Fluide by La Roche-Posay is a wonderful, lightweight moisturiser.

A learning curve

I'm on a steep learning curve when it comes to makeup.

The wonder that is Noz

Is it really worth paying thirteen times more for a near-identical product? Two facial scrubs I found at a discount store seem near-enough the same.

Christmas bouquet

My Christmas bouquet from the garden this year.

Christmas cheer

A tiring day but a rewarding one.

Fun with cars

We've managed to have both our cars off the road at the same time.

The UK's property-serfdom

Is the UK really becoming a country of the landed and the landless?

Staying warm this winter

Tips for staying snug as the temperatures drop.

Covered in bees

It's like Wildlife on One in here.