January 25, 2013

Going up!

No, I don’t mean the exchange rate, but I’ll come back to that later. It’s my fireplace. We had a lovely fine day yesterday but instead of continuing work on my fireplace, I went off to Brico Depot and bought the wood for my proposed temporary work shelter. Wood, and I think most building materials actually, seem to me to be very cheap here and I bought 13 lengths of ‘demi-chevron’ measuring 63mm x 40mm x 3m for only 2.75€ each. I also bought a hefty 2300W angle grinder (‘meuleuse d’angle’). I’ll need this when I start on the floor tiling and I couldn’t see the point of buying a titchy one as in the future I’ll need it for cutting paving slabs and goodness knows what else.

So it was today when I completed the next stage of my fireplace work. I had one more concrete block to go into the base, which I knew wouldn’t take very long, and then I had to put the lightweight slabs on top to get the additional height I need. Getting this next level on was my main aim today. The ‘meuleuse d’angle’ came in very handy making it amazingly quick and easy to cut stuff down to the sizes I needed and having started the job just after lunch-time, I was where I wanted to be in time for Toddie to have his dinner only half an hour late. But from the annoyed grunts from that direction, you’d have thought it was much later 🙂

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I had one ‘You’ve Been Framed’ moment, though. After laying one block onto its bed of soft mortar, I was banging it down to level it up using the handle end of my hammer when I belted it down right onto the tip of my little finger. Fortunately Toddie is quite used to the odd profanity around our house so didn’t bat an eye-lid when I jumped up and down, loudly mouthing the appropriate words 😉

I took another look at the exchange rate today and the Pound/Euro rate had dropped further to 1.17.

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However, I then took a look at how the Pound is performing against several other key currencies.

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This was only a quick snap-shot and a proper analysis would need a good look back at trends over a reasonable period, but on the face of it, in the short term, although the Pound is collapsing against the Euro, it’s moving upwards against all of these other currencies, even including the Australian Dollar which I know has been performing very well recently. So what’s going on? Surely the situation vis-a-vis the Euro can’t just be a response to Mr Cameron’s recent speech on the EU, can it? Or to the noises from the usual voices from within the EU saying that ‘the Euro crisis is now over’ when it plainly isn’t? I don’t claim to know, but I am really cheesed off that the currency markets can be so easily led and volatile and can just hope that things are back onto a more realistic footing later in the month when my next pension payment is due to be made 😐

January 24, 2013

Steady on Mr King!

A few weeks ago, Mervyn King, he of the big mouth and very few other talents, began to talk down Sterling and the prospects for the UK economy proclaiming that he would like to see the Pound depreciate on the foreign exchange markets. Well, he’s got his wish. A year or so ago when I was just thinking about coming to France, the exchange rate was around 1.20€ and I got a rate of 1.22€ when I transferred the cash to buy my house. Remember, this was before the ‘Euro Crisis’ and as it played out, with Greece becoming an economic basket-case and major financial crises in Spain, Italy and Ireland, I had to sit back and watch as the rate moved to 1.25€ and beyond. What a difference that would have made for me at the time! But all the while, even at the higher rates, I’ve found that the major items I’ve needed to purchase have consistently been cheaper in the UK.

Meanwhile, Mr King and the bunch of useless politicians who run the economy of the UK have been sitting back watching as the ‘family silver’ ie companies and businesses that add value and create wealth, has been flogged off to foreigners, meaning that the profits they make in doing so will be sent to foreign investors and not remain in the UK and not only that, presiding over a tax regime that allows foreign owned companies to decide whether or not they will pay UK tax on the profits they make there!

Mr King’s simplistic analysis is that by reducing the value of the Pound, UK firms will export more thus solving the UK’s economic problems. But just how low does Mr King think that Sterling must go before this happens? If at Sterling’s current level, UK prices are already highly competitive, why does he think that by devaluing the Pound the export taps will suddenly turn on?

Today Sterling has fallen to its lowest value for something like 2 years against the Euro.

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It would be foolhardy to expect that if there is little current propensity for UK firms to export they will immediately begin doing so because the Pound has fallen in value. Exporting for a company is a strategy which takes time and effort to develop – which products, which markets, which customers etc etc. You have to put in systems and an organisation. It does not and cannot happen overnight. But what does happen overnight is that when you talk a currency down and encourage a collapse in its exchange rate, everything that’s imported from that moment on becomes more expensive. It just so happens that the UK is a very import-dependent country – that shouldn’t be the case but it is – so by opening his big mouth and in effect causing a devaluation of Sterling of something like 5%, the clever Mr King is now importing inflation into the UK and squeezing companies, households and ordinary people and all for no apparent gain. Well done old chap, another own-goal to add to the growing number you’ve achieved over the years and God help us while such people are in positions of power and influence!

Just to finish off with a small foot-note, living in France I’m far from insulated from this, of course. My State Pension is paid in Pounds and converted into Euros before being transferred into my bank account, so unlike people in the UK who will feel the effects of Mr King’s (and Mr Osborne’s, let it be said) enlightened economic management gradually over time, I and others in a similar position have suffered an immediate and painful whack in the wallet. God Bless The Bank of England 😐

January 23, 2013

Everything’s taking so long

And it’s becoming very frustrating. Partly it’s to do with the time of the year and the weather has a lot to do with it too. I’m part-way into the work on my fireplace and the job ground to a halt with the snow which made going outside for materials just about impossible. Since the snow disappeared, apart from a couple of short breaks, we’ve had almost continuous rain which certainly doesn’t help things along. When I took the dog out this morning it was dull and misty and down here it doesn’t take much for that to turn into horrible drizzle. And as I type this that’s exactly what we’ve got and have had for the past couple of hours or so.

I’ve got things in the UK that I bought to help with the work I want to do on the X-Air which I’ve put off having shipped over in case I order anything else that could be added to the parcel. But even if I had the stuff here I couldn’t do anything with it because of the ruddy weather! I think I’ll have to take up Wim’s idea of making a temporary shelter outside to do the work on the X-Air in, when the time comes, but even pushing forward with the construction of that isn’t exactly straightforward all the while it’s raining 😐

I was talking to my mother this morning and she suggested that while I’m waiting, why don’t I start on my kitchen? The problem with that idea is that the first step will be to pull the existing ceiling down which will make a terrible mess and quite honestly, I couldn’t face having a mess in the kitchen and a mess in my living room at the same time, and both jobs only part-done. Looking on the bright side, we really only have February to get through before we can expect the weather to start warming up a bit and then hopefully it will be possible to break what is becoming a bit of a log-jam. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to make what forward advances that I can, in whatever breaks in the weather just happen to come along 🙁

January 18, 2013

Enough’s enough!

I’m not a great snow lover. It’s nice when it first comes but I soon get fed up with it. We had a beautiful sunny day yesterday with a brilliant blue sky and although the sunshine felt warm if you were in a sheltered corner, it didn’t get rid of much of the white stuff. I’m just back in from taking the dog round this morning and I noticed that there was new snow in my old footprints so we must have had a bit more last night, but not a lot. It’s snowing again as I type this so as far as I’m concerned, enough’s enough! I’ve got too much to do and especially work on my fireplace so I can install my wood-burner. The electricity keeping this place warm is costing me an arm and a leg 😡

January 16, 2013

First snow

Well, the first big one since I’ve been here, anyway. And how! We had just a few small flurries the other day and although the forecast that I usually look at said that we should expect to have a couple of cold days, it didn’t say that we would also be almost snowed in! But that’s what has indeed occurred 😐

I happened to be out of bed at about 4.00am last night and when I took a look outside, my garden was completely clear of any frost or snow. But when I got up just before 9.00am it was snowing hard and there was already a covering of at least eight or nine centimeters. Since then it has continued without stopping and although the snowfall is now only very light, at the time of writing it is still coming down. It seems that a large weather system that was moving in off the Atlantic towards the UK decided to turn south during the night and aim for the west coast of France. As it came further south it linked up with another smaller system moving into France at the southern end of the Bay of Biscay setting up a kind of pincer movement. When the two systems had come together, they then dumped their loads right over us 🙂

I checked up to discover where all of this snow had come from and if you click on the image below you can see a short video that I made that shows what happened in the preceding 24 hours.

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I decided that there was no point trying to get anything done today because it would have been a thankless task bringing materials indoors through the snow. Things I left outside are under quite a few centimeters now and I couldn’t face trudging indoors with tons of the stuff on each boot then having it falling off all over the floor. Toddie loves the snow and we’ve been out in it several times, but even he’s found it a bit heavy going now that he’s older. So I decided that I’d just spend the day taking a few pictures around my house and garden to show what it’s like and sticking them up here on My Trike. So here they are.

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And finally, one taken much later in the day looking east out over the field across the road from my house.

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And to round the day off, if you click on the pic below you can see a short video I shot of today’s snowfall.

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The forecast is that over the next couple of days or so we’ll have temperatures as low as -11 degrees C so I guess that we’ll not see much change until things start to warm up again around Saturday. Until then I think the best idea will be to stay indoors and keep warm 😉

January 15, 2013

It’s not yet the end…

To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s immortal words, it’s not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning …of my fireplace, that is. And I’m already totally knackered 🙂 Here’s a pic I took a couple of days ago when I’d finished pointing in the stonework.

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In the meantime, I’ve had a couple of other things to do. For example, after yet more internet searching, I’ve found yet another tile manufacturer about 200 miles away up in the Vendee who has a range of tiles that look the closest yet to what I have on my floor. They also have them in every possible size and yesterday I phoned them to arrange for some samples to be sent down to me. I don’t know whether I succeeded because after I’d told her what I needed and offered to pay for them using my banker’s card, the young lady said she would phone me back but hasn’t. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. I found them while I was looking for tiles for the platform I’m constructing but if their tiles really are as close to my existing ones as I think, I’ll buy some more for the floor and won’t bother using the ones I bought from the Point.P builder’s merchants.

So today I got cracking on the platform itself. I have to confess that I haven’t been looking forward to this job. I have to work to some fairly critical dimensions for the tiling I have planned to work and I always knew from experience that this job would be heavy work too. Anyway, I nearly finished it by this evening but decided to stop with one more block to go, when I ran out of mortar and it had got dark outside. And besides which I was tired with an aching back after lugging the concrete blocks around that I’ve used to form the structure. Here’s a pic that I took after I’d had a hot shower and a meal showing today’s progress.

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I’ll finish off the basic platform structure tomorrow and then it’ll be ‘onwards and upwards’ – literally, as it still needs to be made quite a bit higher. I’ve got the plans for that in hand already 😉

It occurred to me today that in the last few months I’ve spent much more time talking about things to do with my house than with microlighting. In part this has been due to the time of year and the weather especially, which has meant that it’s been impossible to work on the X-Air outside whereas I have been able to do things inside my house. But the way I see it, microlighting and my house are inextricably linked – I came to France for a new life in which microlighting will play a pivotal role, but in order for this to be possible, I have to have a viable home. That’s it in a nutshell really, so although the balance will inevitably alter as the year progresses and circumstances change, while microlighting is ‘on the back-burner’, I’ll be taking the opportunity to devote as much time as I can to working on and in my home and talking about my experiences here on My Trike while I’m doing so. But it’ll be nice to be back up in the air soon, though, which reminds me that I must sort out a doctor and get a letter organised so when the time does come, I can get cracking on my French ‘brevet’ 🙂

January 10, 2013

French lunch break?

If I’m not careful I shall start to adopt the French habit of downing-tools at the drop of a hat for an extended lunch! I began pointing my fireplace this morning but didn’t really get going as early as I should have. When the mortar that I’d mixed ran out at about 12.30pm that was my excuse to wash my buckets and trowels and have my lunch. It’s already nearly 1.45pm and at this rate I won’t get started again until 2.00pm at the earliest so I’ll have had a lunch break of truly French proportions 🙂

Once again, it’s not a very nice day to be doing anything that involves going outside. We’re still stuck in this high pressure ‘anti-cyclonic gloom’ which means that it’s cold and misty and everything is dripping wet. So every time I go outside to get anything it’s like being in a Scotch mist and when I come back indoors I walk in mud and soggy leaves, which is getting very annoying. The last time, it had begun to gently drizzle so I had to cover the new sand, which is still in my open trailer, with a small tarpaulin that I bought yesterday to stop it getting too wet.

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When I go down to Montignac, as I did yesterday, I leave the mist behind and it’s just dull but as I come back up the hill to my house, I ascend into the cloud base which must be just about at the level of the tops of the hills around Plazac. I went to Montignac yesterday for the best of reasons. First, I needed to replace the ‘water squirter’ bottle that I’d left behind in England (I’m finding that I could now do with more and more of the things from my old garage that I left behind) because it’s the best way to damp down the joints on my fireplace that I want to point in, and while I was in ‘les Briconautes’ I also took the opportunity to buy a hose pipe. But the highlight of the visit came when I then dropped into Point.P from where I’d received a phone call a little bit earlier to pick up the further four ‘parefeuille’ floor tiles that the lovely lady there had managed to find for me after I’d mentioned it to her the other day. How good of her was that!

So I’ve now got more than enough to do the floor in my ‘sejour’, which is really good news and means that I can now press on at full speed to sort out my ‘cheminee’ and get my wood-burner installed. And the other bit of good news is that as I’ve been typing this, I’ve checked the bit of pointing that I did this morning and it looks as though it will dry out to be the perfect colour. So now I must get off my lunch break and back to work – well, after I’ve had a quick cuppa that is 😉

7.55pm and I’m back to say that although I haven’t finished, the job has gone well today. The mortar hasn’t by any means dried, but the one or two very thin areas which are the most dry have come up satisfying light. The rest still looks pretty dark so I’ll have to wait and see how it looks tomorrow. Although we have had a succession of horrible misty, damp days, we haven’t had rain for a little while. The annoying thing is that this evening it’s decided to give us a hard drizzle, which has resulted in a small amount of water running down the chimney and over an area of the pointing. So far it doesn’t look to have done any harm so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it stays that way 😐

January 8, 2013

WOWzer! It’s a big ‘un

At last! My new wood-burner arrived this afternoon. I was pretty lucky actually because I had to go out today as I’ll explain later, and somehow I instinctively knew that I’d missed something when I got home. Deliveries have arrived several times when I’ve been out and it’s OK when I then find a non-delivery slip left by ‘La Poste’ and can pick the item in question up the next day at Plazac’s little post office. But somehow I sensed that today was different, and sure enough, when I checked my home phone there had been a call from a mobile about twenty minutes earlier. To cut a long story short, when I rang the number, it was from the driver delivering my new wood-burner and I had to explain (in French of course) how to find my house from Montignac from where, coincidentally, I’d just come.

The young driver reversed his truck down towards my house and shortly afterwards lowered my wood-burner to ground level on its tail lift. He was kind enough to then drag it on his trolley across the soft ground and deposit it right in my kitchen, and lucky he did too, because it’s a very large lump of cast iron and weighs a heck of a lot! After I’d removed the protective wood packaging, here’s a shot I took of it.

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Here’s another shot I took with the door open showing the ‘foyer’ which takes logs up to 50cm in length.

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I’ve still got a bit to do to prepare my fireplace to take it and already I can foresee that getting it up onto the platform I’ll be making for it to stand on will not be the easiest thing in the world. Maybe when the time comes, I’ll get an experienced pro in to do it for me, the way it says to do on the label on the door 😉

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The reason I missed the driver’s initial phone call was because I’d been down to the Point.P builders merchants yard in Montignac. Over the week end I’d tried to make a start on my fireplace and the first job is re-pointing all of the stonework inside it to repair the damage done to it in the past when it was used as an open hearth. I’d bought some sand for the job from Brico Depot and was worried at the time about the colour – the existing pointing is a gorgeous pale honey colour and I was worried about the new sand being too dark. And I was right. As soon as I put some against the stonework it was obvious that it was not only much too dark but also just didn’t match the colour of the stone at all. So I’d just used what I’d mixed up to re-cement a loose stone and to do a few small repairs on the front wall of my house, scratching out enough of the cement afterwards so I could eventually point in using mortar of the correct colour. I’d then checked on the internet and the Point.P web site said that they stocked soft yellow sand in 35kg bags. Sorted, or so I thought. I’d then gone to Point.P yesterday only to be told that they didn’t stock bags of sand but could supply as much as I wanted ‘en vrac’ (in bulk) and did I have something with me to put it in? I said that I didn’t but that I’d be back with my trailer today, so that’s where I’d been when the driver had made his call.

The helpful young lady in the office had told me yesterday to just drive into the yard, load as much sand as I needed and then come back and pay for it in the office. So that’s what I did today. I asked whether they could supply me with one of the large plastic bags like the ones I’d left behind in England to load the sand in in my trailer and she said that they could, and a ‘Big Bag’ would cost me just over 12€. I expected the sand to be loaded with a shovel by hand but that didn’t happen. Shortly after I’d arrived, a couple of French guys turned up with a van towing quite a large trailer and ordered some gravel. The yard man arrived driving a motorised shovel like a smallish JCB, picked up a bucket load and just shot it straight into the trailer until one of the French chaps signalled him to stop, so that gave me an idea about what to expect. When it came to my turn, I told the man driving the shovel about my wanting a Big Bag. He asked me how much sand I wanted, 500kg? 600kg? I said that I only wanted around 200kg (even that was 6 bags-worth at the internet rate of 35kg/bag) and he laughed and gestured with his hands to show me how much of a Big Bag that would take up. So I had to laugh too, and just told him to drop it straight into my trailer. The shovel has a weighing scale attached to it, and after he’d dropped some in he told me that it was actually 300kg. So that’s what I told the young lady in the office, and she made me out an invoice for the princely sum of – wait for it – 8.53€ including tax. That’s about £6.45 and I was gob-smacked. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money to me, and the sand is an absolutely perfect match from what I can see. There were two sands to choose from, one a deep yellow and the other very pale in colour. I chose the latter and found out afterwards that it’s just called ‘sable a batir’ or building sand, and the deep yellow one is the one described as ‘sable jaune’.

While in the office, I also bumped into the lady who’d got hold of my floor tiles for me. I asked her if there was any chance that she might be able to find three or four more, and she said that although she didn’t think so, she’d ask the question and let me know. Do you know, I just love the people down here because they are so friendly and so helpful.

As the delivery driver was getting ready to leave, my friend Wim turned up for a cup of tea together. We chatted about this and that and I said that I’d give my right arm to have a covered workshop like the one Victor is building at his place, because the way things are going with the weather (yet another dull, foggy, dripping-wet day again today) I’d never be able to make a start on the X-Air at this rate. Wim then had a great idea. I still have the huge black tarpaulin in my ‘cave’ that I’ll be using to make covers for the X-Air out of. Wim suggested that what I should do is buy some timber, which is not expensive here, and make a temporary covered workshop using the tarpaulin to cover a framework made as a kind of lean-to against the side of my house. Pure genius. The vertical poles wouldn’t need to be fixed permanently in the ground and I could run a cable from the house into it for lighting and power. All I’d need would be to position it over the flattest area of grass possible, which would unfortunately make it cover my bathroom and toilet windows, but that wouldn’t matter for a few weeks. So that’s something I’m now seriously going to look into – what a really useful conversation, eh?

This morning I also managed to get up to Rouffignac to buy two more gas bottles for my hot water and cooking. One had been empty for some time and I’d been meaning to go for quite a while but hadn’t got around to it. The second one began to show the tell-tale signs of running out last night, so today was a good opportunity to replace both of them, which I managed to do without hic-cup. So today turned out to be an all-round good day, which was very nice. But I still gulp a bit every time I go into the kitchen and walk around my new wood-burner. In the flesh it sure is a bit of a whopper 😕

January 6, 2013

My old friend Vin

I’ve never met my old friend Vin, not in person anyway. Yet I feel that I know him well and have a great affinity for who and what he is and the life he has lived. Vin is now 80 and after bringing up a large and extended family, has given up his past life in New York State and moved with his wife of many years to a retirement home in Florida. It was Vin who, when I expressed my fears about moving from my life in the UK to a new life in retirement in France, told me to put aside my reservations and ‘follow my bliss’, so I am one who owes him a genuine debt of gratitude. I know that Vin deeply misses his old life and every now and again it stirs him and we are privileged to share a few glimpses of it with him. Vin has a knack of expressing the truths of life in a very human way with which I, and many others I suspect, truly identify and he did it again earlier today with a posting on a forum of which we are both members that harked back in a beautiful way to his past life in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. I have reproduced it below exactly as he wrote it and I hope others will enjoy it as much as I did.

“BUBO VIRGINIANUS”

Bethel Catskill Mts. NY 1970s

Horned Owl

AKA the great Horned Qwl…A Magnificent Bird of prey.a Silent Assassin of Varmints!One of the good guys! I go back with them for many years!

Every January, in the afternoon,in deep winter,in the big woods.on Snow shoes,my Beagle and I,pursuing the Show Shoe Rabbit…Always very cold, Heavy Snow bending the conifers into a cathedral like effect, Dark Slate Grey cold Sky..and very still.

Nellie my hound would start cold trailing,then would burst forth with her singing saying I’m on him. Then round and round in great circles ,the Rabbit would run,Dog in chase!!..Tough on the dog,the deep snow,but for a Rabbit with Snow Feet? No Problem.But the end is always the same!

After we got the big White Rabbit,I would take what I needed.For the six of us Three would suffice.

I would make a fire of the dried evergreen limbs…Soon a roaring fire.The tidbits s from the dressed Rabbitt were welcome by Nelli.

While it may have been 15Deg..We were Wet,and sweaty,making it feel colder1..so Off with the heavy clothes,festooning them on limbs around the fire.Down to my shorts,except for my Sorel boots…Standing there .getting warm,and the clothes steaming in that cold air.A shot of booze helps!

It was moments like this the Great Horned Owl,would stat their Hooting.
would make the hair stand up on the back of yer neck

It was then I felt in harmony with nature, fire,dog, game,relieving the continuity of countless previous generation..A very familiar and gratifying feeling…Who knows..Neanderthal may live in me…

Owls lay their next generation that time of the year.And 26 to 35 days later,The chicks are born.In the Woods,March and April are a time for starvation.The deer getting heavy with fawn,food scarce.But the owl takes advantage,desperate Varmints throw caution away..results the chicks growing fat.

Then its home,retracing my trail,Snow shoes swishing,the added weight of the Rabbits,the thought of "Hasenpfeffer" in the pot.

Soon the unmistakable smell of wood smoke, wafting threw the fridged air ..Home is over the next rise..and its warmth,and glow make me go faster…

Then like the Great Hunter I ARE!, Bursting threw the door,covered in frost,I am received in the adulation of my Wife,and the kids…Who want to stroke the white fur..Of which it was used!

.I used to save and cure the foot of rabbits…A Rabbit Foot is a "LUCKY CHARM" whos power never should be never discounted!

But these memories are years ago !,The single memory I have,is hearing the distant hooting of lord of the winter woods..The Great Horned Owl!..I’m sure he will be always there! so will I as long as I can remember!! 😉

January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

My goodness, here we are again, at the beginning of another year. The last twelve months seem to have gone by in the blink of an eye but I cannot remember a year in which so many changes have happened in my life in such a short time. It seems extraordinary that in a few days time, it will be exactly 12 months since I saw my house in Plazac for the first time and now here I am, living in it, and for over seven months too!

But as everyone knows, my plans didn’t all come successfully to fruition in 2012. My adventure flying MYRO almost the whole length of France in questionable visibility and arriving safely at my intended destination, a tiny grass strip in the middle of nowhere, was followed by the massive disappointment of an accident on take off that mercifully left me and my passenger uninjured but MYRO badly damaged. But this disappointment was more than offset by the support I received from the amazing new friends I have made here and with their encouragement I determined that I would only allow this to be a temporary setback. And that’s how it’s now turning out as I have since got back onto track with the purchase of a replacement aircraft, a French built 582 X-Air, that I plan to be flying early in 2013.

Sadly, I was let down badly by one person in 2012 who I had thought was a friend but turned out not to be, but the warmth, generosity and goodness shown to me by others who have since become true friends has more than made up for the spitefulness demonstrated by the one other.

I hope and believe that 2013 will be an exciting year for me and I look forward to sharing whatever it brings with my friends both here in France and back in the UK and also with my family. I doubt that everything will go to plan, things never do, but that won’t be important. What I’ve learnt as I’ve got older is that sharing the ups and downs with your friends and loved ones is what really matters. So as well as wishing everyone a happy, prosperous and peaceful 2013, may I also wish you all the good fortune of being able to do exactly that with those close to you in the coming year.