Category Archives: Work

UPDATES on the Ad Lib Artisans website

Interesting how quickly time slides away — and we’re a bit shocked to realise that we are leaving the house that Mark has been working on since November in TWO WEEKS!

We’re headed over to the other side of Normandy for another reno — but it also looks like we’ll be leaving France in mid-June to have some adventures in other countries. Sooooo — it was time to update Mark’s online work portfolio with a LOT of pictures.

Gallery 1 has the images from here in Normandy over the last 5 months. And Gallery 2 is full of the pictures from that huge renovation he did on the Mid Century ranch house in Australia in 2014 through mid-2016.

Want a peek? Then go to Ad Lib Artisans to see what I’m talking about. DOZENS of photos showing the range of the work that Mark does.

Mark inside the Calvados house from the 1400s.

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From AU to the UK to the EU in 5 weeks!

I’m tired just thinking about it — but we have gone from Australia to the UK to France in the very short space of 5 weeks. Seriously — whew!

We don’t bounce back energy-wise as fast as we did 20+ years ago — so we were well into Week 2 in England at Mark’s parents’ house before we started to shed SOME of the jet-lag. But even when we first arrived in France in the 3rd week of November, we were still exhausted.

Once we had the shopping and car insurance and ferry reservations and so forth sorted out, we drove in the wind and rain to Portsmouth to take the night ferry to Caen. I had booked a cabin so we could get some sleep, but the staff hadn’t finished cleaning the rooms when we arrived, so we ended up getting very few hours of shut-eye.

Waiting in a long and very slow line to board the ferry.

Waiting in a long and very slow line to board the ferry.

Waiting for our cabin to be cleaned in the blue-light disco.

Waiting for our cabin to be cleaned in the blue-light disco.

Arriving in France, we drove through persistent rain towards Caen and then south to the town of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives and onward to the nearby village where we will be living for the next several months as Mark does a large renovation project.

The house was built over several centuries — but the oldest section is from the 1400s. And the part we are living in — the red brick section — is from the 1800s. We even have a resident mouser named (badly!) Caramel who SHOULD be named Rocky because he’s such a sturdy bruiser of a cat. However (ahem!) — he has now adopted Mark and he follows him around like a puppy. So much for the cat’s stand-offish reputation!

The Normandy renovation project.

The Normandy renovation project.

Mark inside the renovation project.

Mark inside the renovation project.

Mark's new playmate -- the cat in residence.

Mark’s new playmate — the cat in residence.

The town of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives is quite stunning and given the fact that they were occupied by the German army during World War II — a remarkable amount of truly old and lovely buildings are intact.

Every Monday morning, there is a large local market that takes place both inside the medieval market hall (another post about that coming soon!) and in the nearby street and huge parking lot. The range of fresh produce, cheese, wine, meat, seafood, and more was a wonderful surprise.

The packed Monday market in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

The packed Monday market in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Inside the historic medieval market hall at Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Inside the historic medieval market hall at Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Rooflines show the overlapping time periods of the town.

Rooflines show the overlapping time periods of the town.

Leaning against a wall of the cloister, a statue awaits restoration of the abbey in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Leaning against a wall of the cloister, a statue awaits restoration of the abbey in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

And finally — a hello from our next door neighbours on ALL sides — the lovely cows of Normandy. I’ll be back with more slices of life-in-France in the next few days. Enjoy!

The pretty cows in the fields next door.

The pretty cows in the fields next door.

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Being Brave and Bouncing Back

Global turmoil and sudden economic instability are beginning to feel less like out-of-the-blue events and more like a set of ongoing challenges to deal with in perpetuity.

To look specifically at the UK and realise that the ‘architects of destruction’ — Cameron, Gove, Johnson, and Farage — have ALL resigned in the two weeks since they schemed and plotted to unravel the decades old alliance with Europe — who could have even imagined such a thing? No matter who ends up inheriting the reins of power as the successors to BREXIT, they will need to have carefully considered solutions ready to implement without delay.

Enough of politics for now…

After our ‘body-blow and mental angst’ reaction to BREXIT — my husband Mark thought he was prepared to just summon up a stiff upper lip and stay in Australia even if it wasn’t our first choice. But then, after two or three days of feeling shell-shocked by that decision, he told me that he hadn’t realised how badly he was going to feel if Europe was totally off the table as an option. That was an interesting admission from the sort of man who usually just gets on with things without whinging. I’m going to be honest — we were both wandering around in a fog and deeply depressed.

We’ve had a variety of ups and downs and rapid changes in our 22 and 1/2 years together, so it isn’t surprising that we were able to brush ourselves off, infuse ourselves with some bravery, and bounce back. It is clear now that whether or not BREXIT is ever actually enacted — there are going to be several years of transition. And during that transition period, we still have a chance to get back to Europe, get back ‘in the system’ in one country or another, and sink our roots into a part of the world that brings us joy.

I called our previously chosen real estate agent, he came over on Tuesday night and we signed our listing papers, and on Wednesday he brought the staff of his office through on a brief tour so that they knew what the house looked like and what the pertinent features were.

In the weeks ahead, I plan to keep you apprised of our progress as we hopefully sell quickly because the market is simply plummeting right now. Brexit didn’t just knock the stuffings out of the financial markets in the UK — it bounced half way around the world and punched us in the gut, too. The value of our tiny pensions have dipped, the banks are suddenly tightening up the money supply, and according to our real estate agent — the values of houses here in our town are a stunning 16% lower than they were a mere six months ago. The time to go is now — not a few years from now.

Wish us luck — seriously! Good vibes add to the energy of success and we need to summon up as much of that as possible. And where are we heading? First stop — back to our beloved France!

Watching the Tour de France on television in Australia.

Watching the Tour de France on television in Australia.

And perhaps Mark will be watching the Tour de France LIVE again next year instead of on television. He would love that.

Allons-y!

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A Taxing Situation in France

We still ache for France — we cannot lie about that. And when people here ask us why in the world we returned to Australia, we tell them quite honestly that we were unwilling to throw away any chance of EVER retiring in 20 years simply because the French government wanted 53% of our income in taxes. And so we are back.

The situation is apparently even worse now and we’ve only been gone a few months! This article in The Local from France shares the latest tax rate being imposed on the population — a whopping 56.61%!!! But we had barely finished gasping at that number as I read it aloud to Mark when I added the information about the planned increase in 2014.

How in the name of all that is sensible and reasonable can people survive on less than 44% of their income??? The current French policies are ruining the future of their country. And reading this article today has simply reaffirmed to us that we have made the correct decision for our future.

Yes, we miss our former French life and yes, we might eventually purchase a small house back there for our retirement years, but no, we will most certainly NOT be paying such a huge whopping chunk of our income to President Hollande and his cronies. It’s a personal opinion, but I think the future of France is being washed away as more and more young people leave France as soon as their education is complete and more and more older expats choose to opt for France as their country of residency if and only if they are retired. These trends are sad, chilling, and quite counterproductive for a place that we love so dearly.

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The New Reality of European Economic Life

We are certainly betwixt and between right now and we’re in a rather large boatload of people with the same issues. Just as it happened in France AFTER we had arrived, felt keenly optimistic, and were ready to settle in, things are changing rapidly in England as well.

In France, after President Holland was elected and by the beginning of the new year, it was the hideous tax changes and pensions changes that forced not only us but also many other English speaking expats out of the country. The much-discussed ‘French lifestyle’ allows you to enjoy a less stressful lifestyle than the zoom-zoom patterns in many countries — but with a caveat about making a living. There is a distinct lack of encouragement about entrepreneurial initiative, you are expected to conform to the socialist agenda of poor-but-equal, and even large businesses frequently incur the wrath of multi-nationals who cannot understand why there is not a stronger work ethic or higher productivity as noted in this article in the Telegraph.

Here in England, (and literally in the weeks since we have arrived!) we are watching as the costs of living are going up-up-up every single week whilst the wages are dropping. I have placed quite a few links within this article, so do click on them for a more thorough explanation of the current state of affairs here. Consumers have been warned that their energy bills are about to rocket skyward. And the BBC afternoon news told their viewers that the price to fill up the tanks of their vehicles was about to edge upward again in the coming weeks.

After sending out well over over 40 CVs (resumes) and cover letters in the last three weeks, Mark finally had a job interview yesterday and if it had been a good fit, it might have allowed us to settle down here in Norfolk, a part of England that we dearly love. But what the foreman of the construction company offered was ONE-FIFTH of what Mark made in Australia. It wouldn’t even provide us with enough annual income to meet the requirements for me to get residency. Any extra income that I might produce in the UK would also be on hold for a minimum of 6 months until I got (1) the UK Resident ID Card, (2) the UK tax number, and (3) the UK driving license.

Whereas in France there were no minimum income requirements for me to obtain residency, here (effective January 2013 JUST as we were leaving France!) the UK citizen (my husband Mark) who is bringing in a non-UK citizen (me!) has to make a minimum of £27,500 per annum which is about $40,000 AU per year and even that figure is ridiculously less than what Mark was earning when we left on this gap-year-plus adventure. What the man offered him at the interview was HALF of the minimum required for my immigration status to be completed! And he had so many job applications that Mark said to me later (even knowing that he would never take that job) that he was one of the ‘lucky few’ who got a call for a face-to-face interview.

It’s only going to get worse and I think this ‘new reality’ extends to most of Europe. Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland are awash with unemployed and increasingly homeless people — but is the UK headed in that same direction? There is this odd going-down-with-the-ship feeling right now — and at the end of the year the flood gates are going to open again when Romanians and the Bulgarians are allowed free entry into the UK job market. Why? There are already too many people on this island and there are far too few jobs for the ones that are here. The wages will plunge yet again since many of these people are willing to work for minimum wage — £6.19 an hour. Here’s an article that explains why. We’re certainly in that ‘incomer’ category to some extent, but Mark is actually British although he has lived in Australia or New Zealand for most of his life. We are thanking our lucky stars that we have choices.

This is not the upbeat England that we knew when we lived here in the late-1980s or early-to-mid 1990s. It feels like everyone is hanging on by their fingernails — the same sensation that we had in the south of France. And it is distinctly uncomfortable. In another blow to people who are struggling as wages actually go down instead of up, it must be horrifying to think that you have the deposit money for a house and then you are unable to buy one because the banks and formerly customer-friendly building societies are shifting their lending practices more toward buy-to-let (rent) landlords who are scooping up investment properties than they do toward people who are trying to get onto the housing ladder. This is both madness and incredibly unfair. England will end up as a nation comprised predominantly of renters.

Seriously, we knew to never say never, but unless something truly amazing presents itself in Newcastle or Scotland in the next few weeks, it looks like we might be going back to Australia. And that is not making us happy little campers on any front except the future-economic one. Yes we love Australia dearly, yes we love all of our friends back there, but yes also — this part of the world has the culture and art and history and architecture that makes our hearts sing. We left Australia over two years ago totally debt free, with perfect credit, and with a deposit for a house still safely tucked away in the bank. But these life changes in Europe have really eaten into the ‘extras’ part of the bank account.

We certainly loved France, embraced it fully with all of the lovely quirks involved, and felt safe sending for all of our household goods to be shipped over from Australia. Then the Monsieur Holland saga arrived and the financial aspect of the country began to shift dramatically within a very few months. We could never have anticipated those events and frankly it’s unnerving to think that we will have to ship everything back across the world, pay for that expense, AND buy a new vehicle in Australia where the costs are half again as much as what vehicles cost in Europe or the UK. We have a storage unit (that is costing us a fortune to rent!) full of packed things that we will have to sort through and sell off some of the items like washing machine and refrigerator and armchairs etc. What a mess! After all of that, we will somehow have to figure out how to incorporate the costs of a trip to the USA to see my family over there on the way back to Australia.

I do understand, we both do, that this is no failure on our fault since we are not responsible for global changes and we have NO REGRETS about the things we have seen and done for the last two-plus years! But here we were, ready to settle down, buy a house, get involved in a community, and get on with our lives and the ground beneath us is shifting as fast as we are making plans. It is truly, truly eerie and stomach churning to watch it unfold.

You might wonder why I am sharing distinctly non-upbeat news on this site. But I am a life-long journalist as much as a photographer and I can be a mirror of the unfolding world — eyes and ears ‘on the ground’ so to speak. The sands are certainly shifting in every part of the world and it is worth staying apprised of the trends from country to country. No matter how hard things might seem at this very moment, other people are in much more dire situation and we do continue to consider ourselves to be amazingly blessed. We’ll remake our lives somewhere new and it will be wonderful once the stressful part of it is over and done with.

I will keep everyone posted on the unfolding ‘adventure’ in the coming weeks. We are leaving Norfolk at the beginning of the week for a short work assignment in Newcastle and then perhaps another one in Scotland as we try to wrap our heads around the best way to proceed.

Wish us well!

Hugely Busy — And I Never Left My Chair!

It wasn’t exactly the day I had planned, but we are certainly hoping that it was productive. Since we’ve received the newest information from the immigration department over the last couple of days, we’ve learned that they expect Mark to get straight to work if he is sponsoring me to be a new resident — not travel around on a wee holiday whilst mulling over this spot or that. We may still get to do a bit of that travel in the next few weeks, but it is quite likely to be a very reduced schedule. Ah well…

After writing a new CV for Mark this morning that reflected the last year of working in France and then getting the hang on the online upload functions of several websites, I have managed to upload Mark’s CV and cover letters for 3 positions today. The 4th position was with a town council in North Yorkshire and there was an 8 page application form to fill out that included all sorts of scenarios like how would the candidate respond to this or that situation and whether or not we were related to anyone on the local council. THAT one took hours to complete!

We’re feeling so happy and optimistic right now. And wouldn’t it be simply grand if we landed in a new place that we just loved?

Everything is going well for us personally, we’re finding it easier in so many ways since we are back in a place where we can understand every word that is said instead of straining our brains for a translation, access to something as basic as eye tests and dentists is easy and straightforward (definitely NOT the case in our part of France!), and in spite of the very bizarre food scandal involving horse-meat being sold as beef in the UK, life is good and we are very pleased to be back in England.

There are big FAT snowflakes falling softly outside as I type this. Life is good!

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Editorial Content — Editorial Photography

Ah yes — disgruntled readers and/or people with their own ‘agenda’ or perspective that they expect everyone else to bow down to.

I shall not name the woman who sent me the simply vile letter today regarding my printing of photographs that I took at the Autrefois parade, but I would like to make something completely clear for those who do not have any understanding of EDITORIAL content.

I do not publish pictures of people on this website for financial gain UNLESS THEY HAVE MODEL RELEASES. This site is primarily a platform for my commercial work such as travel photography which I do indeed sell through several agencies.

If I was trying to sell photography of families and children for something like limited edition prints — then that would, of course, require a Model Release for every person pictured. I have been a working journalist for several decades, so I am well aware of what is and is not legal.

Editorial Content includes pictures taken at public events such as the Autrefois Le Courserons and the Tour de France coverage a few months ago. Any journalist or photojournalist is allowed to take pictures AT PUBLIC EVENTS as long as they are used for journalistic content including online news coverage, blogs, newspapers, print media, and stock photography that is plainly marked EDITORIAL USE.

Since the letter writer opened the door to this post, I have removed the earlier article so this white-hot-angry woman can calm the hell down — but to whoever is reading this rebuttal and explanation, I shall continue to post articles that include pictures of recognisable faces of people of ALL ages at public events.

This is quite different to ordinary street photography and France happens to have some bizarrely strict rules about shooting photos on the street without written permission. But even here the law is quite plain that if there is a public event and the camera is not singling one person out, informal street photography is acceptable. So yes, I am quite within my rights to publish event photography.

Let me make this very, VERY clear — my website will not be dictated to by the opinions of anyone else! But I certainly will follow the prevailing law of whatever country I live in.

When people attend an event such as the Autrefois Le Couserons, there are dozens of photographs taken each year that end up on websites all over the world. The people who were actually in the parade certainly expected their photos to be taken. The parents who dressed their children in costume and paraded them through the streets of St. Girons did know that photos would be taken by people from all over the region and overseas. I saw at least a half a dozen other journalists on site that day.

Were all of us photographers standing on the street corner, holding up the parade, handing out Model Release forms for everyone to sign and be witnessed? Of course not! It was a public event.

I have no way of knowing who the people in my photos are — adults of all ages, teenagers, elderly folks, parents, and children included — and I have no contact details for them since they were part of a crowd of hundreds of people in a public place. I am not handing out clues to who any of these people are or where they live. And no, photos of children and parents who are in a group setting at a public event are NOT a no-no. If your mind tends to go straight to deviant possibilities, well heaven help you for being in the mindset that regards every adult as a potential threat.

Whoever you are, Ms. K — if you have issues with my website, why are you even bothering to read it? Lighten up!

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