It is a year since our last visit to France and a lot has happened in my world and the world. Where to begin? – I guess I should complete our European Sojourn and enjoy our adventures in hindsight – ah yes the famous 20:20 vision we have when looking back.
Martin and I returned to France in early September 2019. I arrived with my not-quite-so-broken shoulder – I broke the greater tuberosity and tore the rotator cuff on July 20 in an exercise class, and was in week 12 of recovery. Needless to say it was very weak and I did not feel very confident in my ability to work on the boat. So my son Tim planned to join us to help with Skookum on the river and in the big locks.
The boat was fixed after the prop shaft debacle and we were fixing it up to sell at H2O in St Jean de Losne on the Soanne river. We arrived on time to ready Skookum for her final journey with us. Kerry stayed home for this journey – we would be away 6 weeks but our 12 year old dog was not really young enough to make another transatlantic crossing. She stayed home with a dear friend who took really good care of her.
We arrived in Valence, opened the boat and a couple of days later headed to see our friends in Germany. Freiburg is only three hours from Valence and we always had fun visiting Brigitte and Peter. After two days in Teningen we headed back to Lyon and picked up Tim to take him Skookum. In the meantime we met two younger Rasta Swedes who were sailing their 23ft boat down to the Canal di Midi and then out into the Atlantic. From there they were sailing down to La Gomera in the Canary Islands to start a herbal farm growing medicinal plants. It amazes me; the paths younger people follow. I can only admire their courage and tenacity.
Tim arrived in Valance a bit jetlagged but we immediately set off up the Rhone towards Lyon and beyond. In Tournon sur Rhone we met Martin’s sister and her husband for the night. They travel in France in a VW van – very new and comfortable. We had a super dinner together and went off the next morning in different directions. As we travelled north Tim helped with locks as my broken shoulder was not up lassoing bollards. It took about five days to get to Macon plus stopping for a day or so in Lyon to visit the Roman ruins and enjoy this beautiful city.
We reached Macon, which is an ancient wine centre – a place where the vineyards brought their product for shipment up and down the river – we were in the Cote d’Rhone another of France’s famous wine growing regions. Tim was fascinated with French food (the wine not so much) – for a guy for whom going out to dinner was normally to Montanas, he loved the presentation and the taste, and quantity was no longer an issue. We borrowed bikes from the very modern marina and rode into town visiting many of the places we had seen four years before when we had visited in 2015. The day that Tim and I left for England to see my mum and his grandmother, Martin went back to Valence to pick up Scarlett ready to pick up Paul when arrived.
We took the Eurostar to London – Tim was not impressed. I think he was looking forward to a ride on the Orient Express but it turned out to be a packed train, seats without legroom and rather crap expensive food and beverages. Meanwhile in England my cousin Paul – another frequent visitor to Skookum was preparing to leave for the boat and to hang out with Martin to progress upriver.
Tim and I spent about a week with my Mum and we travelled up to Yorkshire for a week. We booked into an Air B & B in some village in the middle of nowhere. The ‘Tour de Yorkshire’ bike race was on so many of the roads were either blocked off and/or narrowed for the re-routed traffic. The journey was horrendous as British roads are very busy and the weather on that day was miserable – rain and wind made driving intense.
After a couple of days in Hawkshead we ended up in the lovely Yorkshire town of Knaresborough on the River Nidd. It was my mum’s favourite town in the area so she was delighted to be there. We had a nice day wandering around the area. Mum in a wheelchair pushed by her grandson.
Tim left us and returned to Canada via Gatwick and mum and I returned to Norfolk for a week. Paul had gone to France and mum and I spent a couple of days finding respite care for the week my cousin Veronica would be away in December. My mother could not stay alone for a week, so we inspected some of the care homes. The exploitation of the elderly in the UK is very clear in the cost of care. There almost no government care facilities but the government will subsidize poor people. My mother is not rich but neither is she poor by government standards, so the facilities wanted to charge her for £1100 per week (about CND$1900 per week) for care.
She was not impressed, and Lilian being Lilian was not going to waste her money on some private facility. A month after I left France (around early November) my mum called me with a grin so wide she looked like the cat that had just got the cream. She had arranged a holiday with her grandniece in Norfolk for 6 days while Veronica was away so there was no way she would be going to a residential care facility.
I left my mum around the October 4, with the realization that I would not see her again until the Spring Equinox. She was in fine form mentally fit and physically well for a 92 year old. I spoke with her everyday (and had done for 6 years) via Facetime, she was safe and monitored by Veronica.
Back to France – Martin and my cousin Paul continued up the Soanne river – taking a slight detour for a few days to explore a tributary. The river took them to Louhans at the end of the Seille (as featured in the book “The little Paris bookshop”. They met up with Martin’s nephew Guy along the way and took almost two weeks to do the journey from Macon to Chalon sur Soanne where I met them. Guy and Paul went off to the Lyon Car show where Guy was picking up a McLaren to deliver to Italy. (In a trailer)
On October 4, I took the Eurostar train from London to Djion for our final trip from Chalon to St Jean de Losne and the H20 boat sales yard; our final destination. We had not been to Chalon for 4 years. Having our Paul along on the boat was great – he always volunteered to do the washing up and was happy to go off on a bike ride and explore the surrounding countryside. He was always affable, generous, knowledgeable and very helpful. Paul loved Skookum, he was a frequent visitor – I think if he had had more boat knowledge he would have bought her himself. He hung on for a few days until we reached St Jean de Losne then returned to the UK on his was back to New Zealand.
Skookum was going to be sold in H2O with an asking price of €44,000. I thought it a little low but realistic. We had spent about €60,000 on the boat with all the improvements and used it for 8 years. We cleaned and cleaned, Martin worked on the systems and we had her shipshape. We packed everything we thought we could use in the camper into Scarlett and stored it at the H2O storage facility. Our plan was to sell Skookum and then buy a RV (Mercedes sprinter van) in Germany, bring it back to Canada ( east coast) and drive across. Well we all know what happened to those plans!
The marina at H2O was a busy harbour – it was the confluence of the Soanne and three canals. H2O as a boat yard has a bit of a reputation – long on costs and salesmanship short on negotiation and support. But I had give them credit for honesty – H2O is a place for sales and salesmen – something we should not forget. They had a reputation as the biggest sales marina in France and were very successful. We had come to the end of our Skookum days – after seven summers I was ready to let go and more importantly so was Martin.
Fast forward to Feburary 2020 – just before Covid hit Martin and I went to New Zealand for a vacation. My cousin Paul lives in Auckland on the North Island. It was now so easy to climb on an Air New Zealand flight in Vancouver and arrive on the other side of the world 13 hours later, to be greeted by Paul.
Weatherwise it was lovely –soft heat and gentle breezes, and complaints about the lack of rain. Paul and his lovely partner Emiko were very hospitable to the point that Paul had recently acquired another car, which he allowed us to use. I have another cousin in Napier – not related to Paul but related to me, as he is my father’s nephew. Conrad was living in Auckland and Napier as his work with a large food producing company demanded he work in two places.
Paul Emiko Conrad and I in Auckland
One of our reasons for going down to NZ was to attend the Art Deco festival in Napier. Everyone got dressed up and the whole town was involved.
We arrived in Auckland on February 19 and had planned to go to Napier a couple of days later via Tauranga where we visited Gord and Lynn who had sailed from Victoria BC to New Zealand about 20 years before. Just before we left we received an email from H2O with an offer on Skookum. Negotiation between parties that are 20,000 miles apart are notoriously difficult. At €38,000 the offer was rather low in my opinion and so I rejected the offer with a counter. We eventually agreed on €40,000 – 10% less than our asking price – but we received a lot less – in fact we only received €34, 000 – 10K less than the asking price. This meant €4500 was the minimum commission – about 12% for us (non-negotiable), plus the cost of removal and storage of the boat and its parts and taxes ( 20% Value Added tax on the work done by H2O). Martin was just grateful that we even sold the boat in the time of Covid-19. Apparently that is not the case – recreation anything – campsites, boats, hotels, RV’s campers, tents are all hot commodities as we live in a ‘stay at home’ world. Hindsight is 20/20.
Good Luck to the Walter who bought our boat – he got a great bargain with lots of gadgets and extras, and a word to the blog readers about my experience with H2O.
Negotiating and selling Skookum took some time – we were on the other side of the world with a huge time change, but we did the deal. I really enjoyed NZ – not just because I have family there but because it was so comfortable . We really enjoyed the Art Deco dinner we went to, and our trip down the North Island to Wellington was great but I was unwell. I had ‘plane flu’ – sore throat, very very dry cough, elevated temperature and feeling like I had been run over by a bus. Who knows what it was ( I think it was Covid but was not tested), but it was not going to spoil my trip. We visited with my friend Eva’s cousins ( she understands the notion of important cousins) in Rotarua and Raglan. What a privilege to be invited into the Maori culture by such hospitable people. I learned a great deal about the changes in New Zealand over the last 25 years – Maori was made an official language of NZ in 1987 – very impressive first adopters. Indeed the right to vote by women in NZ has been in existence since the 1870’s .
After leaving our lovely Maori hosts we travelled back across to meet my cousin Paul . While we were waiting for him and Emiko at the beginning of our camping trip to the Coromandel, I received a phone call from my cousin in the UK, who had been trying to get a hold of me on Facetime. My mother was gravely ill and had only hours to live.
You must know that experience when your mind goes numb and your body stops existing and your heart beats at 150 miles per hour, well that was me when I received the news. I couldn’t have been further away on the planet if I had tried, and there was no way I could get back to the UK. The decision to go to the airport was taken out of my hands as we continued our travel to the Coromandel trying to find better Wifi. I called Tim and told him what was happening and he called the Kings Lynn hospital and was put through to his grandmother’s room. He spoke to her on the phone and she, I am sure, was listening. I also spoke to my mum, as my cousin, who was with her, placed the phone next to Lilian’s ear so she could hear me. We were driving as I blabbed to her the story of my efforts to get her invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden party for the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War 2 in Europe. My mum was in the ATS at the end of the war – the same outfit as Queen Elizabeth. I told her that I loved her very much and that her beloved husband, my dearest father, was waiting for her with open arms.
My cousin came on the phone when I was in mid sentence and told me Lilian had passed over. My lovely mother had died as I was talking to her. I’d like to think that the last thing my mother heard was her daughter, half a world away, telling her how much she was loved.
We were still driving while this was happening. Eventually we stopped and were able to tell Paul and Emiko what had happened – then we all cried. We continued on our journey – I was looking for a church so I could light a candle for my mother, but did not find an open Catholic Church until we returned to Auckland. We stayed in NZ until our set leaving date, I informed my family in different places, we continued our negotiations on Skookum and organized for me to return to the UK within 36 hours after arriving back in Vancouver.
Covid had not quite hit yet.
I arrived in the UK on March 10 to deal with my mothers affairs. Martin and I had planned to arrived in the UK on March 23 and then go on to France to settle our affairs there, sort out and sell Scarlett, our dogged red Toyota and look for a recreational vehicle we could use, then export back to Canada. Tim arrived March 13th, while he was flying to the UK, the Prime Minister – Justin Trudeau told Canadians to get back home again. I had a lot to do and the funeral was already planned for March 24. Martin had decide to cancel his flight to the UK on March 22. Tim and I set to work trying to clear my mums home in Wisbech and took a trip to Hull to see other family.
In the middle of all of this Tim had a birthday.
On March 17 the BBC news had an article that said Heathrow and Gatwick airports were about to close. As private corporations these airports were no longer receiving landing fees as the number of flights into the UK dropped considerably. That scared me.
I immediately looked for flights for Tim and I back to Victoria knowing we would need to go into 2 weeks quarantine. We got an Air Canada flight back to Victoria via Toronto and Vancouver on March 21st . France was locked down completely by March 17 and the UK was locking down as we left – the roads were empty, Heathrow was empty, and I think Tim and I were empty as we were emotionally exhausted. We would miss my mum’s funeral on March 24th and funerals were allowed a maximum of 6 people so my cousins attended as best they could.
Back in Canada Tim and I settled into two weeks quarantine. Martin threw his lot in with us and we settled into the time in our house, reflection and decompression after the drama of the previous weeks. I should have written this final chapter at that point but to be honest my energy level was low and I, like the rest of the world, was gripped in the Covid crisis wondering what would happen next.
Here we are – still in Covid but learning to live with it. Martin and I are well and have adjusted to Covid, while dealing with the consequences of my mothers passing and selling Skookum from a distance. Kerry is still going, albeit slowly and with lots of sleeps in-between sleeps, but at almost 14 years of age (Wheatons live to about 15) we are bracing for her demise too. So three of the pillars of our European Sojourn (Skookum, Lilian and Kerry) will soon be a distant memory but I have my blog and you dear readers who have followed our story.
We are flexible and adaptable people and part of our adjustment is the purchase of a recreational vehicle; a Rialta 21ft VW/Winnebago combo that will take us on our Canadian Sojourn – coming soon. Join me if you want.