Tag Archives: EU

Refresh — Regroup — Relaunch

You may have noticed a significant absence of posts for the last three months — and that’s because Mark has been working away like a busy little bee over in the 1400s house. And I’ve been carefully building a base of clients for my writing and editing business.

We took a much-needed weekend escape at the end of February — over to the far western side of Normandy in beachside Brehal. We didn’t do a lot — ate, slept, read, watched movies, and had a few outings in the icy cold weather. But it was a good break and we came back feeling refreshed.

Mark looking out to sea in Brehal, Normandy, France

Mark looking out to sea in Brehal, Normandy, France

A moules (mussels) farm at the seaside in Normandy, France.

A moules (mussels) farm at the seaside in Normandy, France.

On an afternoon drive along the seacoast, we stumbled upon this medieval chateau ruin from the 14th Century in Regneville sur Mer and had a quick walk around. It’s a tiny but very pretty village facing the sea.

The corner of a 14th Century chateau ruin in the seaside village of Regneville sur Mer, Normandy, France.

The corner of a 14th Century chateau ruin in the seaside village of Regneville sur Mer, Normandy, France.

What was meant to be a short hop back over to England for Mark’s parents’ 40th anniversary party ended up being a two week visit instead. It’s always wonderful to visit with them and see all of the other assorted family and friends, but everyone in the house ended up sick as could be with whatever lurghi was hanging around England at the time and I ended up in A&E getting meds for a chest infection when our local GP couldn’t see me. Aarrgghh!

Margaret & Brian Harmes at 40th Anniversary Party

Margaret & Brian Harmes at 40th Anniversary Party

We arrived back in France exactly 4 weeks after our icy cold visit to the seaside in Brehal — and everything here at the farmhouse in Notre Dame de Fresnay had burst into bloom!

View of the Normandy countryside through the bedroom window in Notre Dame de Fresnay.

View of the Normandy countryside through the bedroom window in Notre Dame de Fresnay.

Daffodils beside the old well.

Daffodils beside the old well.

Down by the duck pond.

Down by the duck pond.

We’re preparing to move on from here in three very compressed weeks. But we’re headed to the OTHER large house belonging to the owners of this house — and we’ll be there for 6 weeks whilst Mark does renovation work on it. I’ll send pictures of that project as it progresses.

The REGROUP and RELAUNCH part of the title refers to us regrouping, going over to England for several weeks at the end of June, and trying to decide if we want to settle down or continue to work and travel for awhile longer. That’s a longer stand-alone post about the turbulent social and political factors at play here in Europe right now, so we’ll save that for another time.

I have to be truthful, it’s one of those things that sneaks up on you a bit as you get older — the mental cushion of a home base. And right now our ‘home base’ is a huge storage unit full of our possessions in England — one we refer to far too often when we reach for something and then realise that it’s in the $%^&£@! storage unit!

In the next couple of months, we will be relaunching ourselves away from here. And I have ALSO just relaunched my personal website — but I’ll leave that for a follow-up post.

Back soonish!

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Ending 2016 with Holiday Good Wishes

We’re feeling quite grateful this holiday season — grateful on several levels.

We are finally back in Europe and living in a country that we love — France. Mark’s health has returned, we are enjoying life again, and we are happily filling our days.

The past week was a bit chaotic, to be truthful — but we managed because we are both feeling more resilient once again — and now we’re having a quiet Christmas. Our household goods somehow managed to leave Australia at the same time that we did at the beginning of November and they arrived in the UK a mere 6 weeks from pick up at our house. That sort of time frame is a rarely-or-never kind of thing.

As a result, we’ve felt a bit roller-coaster-ish for the last 8 days. Last weekend we had the happy highs of the weekend wedding of dear friends — Polly and Vincent. Mark and I both took cameras with us to document the day (as requested by the bride!) — but gads — rather a lot of the photos ended up being either out of focus due to shifting light conditions or being constantly jostled by the phone-camera-clutching throngs who were packed into the Mairie (the mayor’s office) for the wedding. Those group shots where someone always managed to have their eyes shut were a bit of a challenge, too. (smirk!)

Polly Watt and Vincent Morel exchanging rings on their wedding day.

Polly Watt and Vincent Morel exchanging rings on their wedding day.

Mark with his camera inside the Mairie after the wedding as the crowd began to disperse.

Mark with his camera inside the Mairie after the wedding as the crowd began to disperse.

Deborah, camera in hand, leaving the Mairie after the wedding ceremony.

Deborah, camera in hand, leaving the Mairie after the wedding ceremony.

Two days later it was a leaving-long-before-dawn race back to the UK on Monday, meeting the movers in England on Tuesday, doing catch-up errands on Wednesday, then heading back to France on Thursday. Whew!!! Are we tired? YES! But Mark went straight back to work the next day and part of Saturday and I sat like a little pudding doing editing. Yes — we ARE taking all day Sunday and Monday off though and we’re hoping it won’t be too soggy for some gentle rambles through the lovely Calvados countryside.

Here’s a few more pictures from the last wildly busy week. More soon!

Up and down the stairs between decks on the Brittany Ferry.

Up and down the stairs between decks on the Brittany Ferry.

The Deck 9 wifi lounge on the Brittany Ferry.

The Deck 9 wifi lounge on the Brittany Ferry.

During an afternoon crossing between England and France, Mark is buying 2 expressos at the bar on one of the upper decks of the Brittany Ferry.

During an afternoon crossing between England and France, Mark is buying 2 expressos at the bar on one of the upper decks of the Brittany Ferry.

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Photo Of The Day: Brussels Streetscape in Black & White

Bright sun, deep shade — just made for black and white. Enjoy!

 

Man walks down exterior stairs in deep shade on a sunny day in Brussels, Belgium. B&W

Man walks down exterior stairs in deep shade on a sunny day in Brussels, Belgium. B&W


 

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Photo Of The Day: Tired Tourists in Brussels, Belgium

Today’s photo has an interesting twist. I was concentrating on the architectural shot of the historic Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg on the Place Royale. There at the base of the monument to Godfrey of Bouillon, a crusader knight, were these two people sitting on the steps. I didn’t actually notice them as I was taking the shot, so it was quite a surprise to discover the ‘tired tourists’ when I downloaded the pictures from my camera.

The man looks quite exhausted! It may have only been April, but it was rather hot and extremely sunny on that particular day. I think I inadvertently captured two people who reached their fatigue level before I did on that Saturday afternoon.

 

Tired tourists rest at the base of a monument to Crusade knight Godfrey of Bouillon in the Place Royale in the heart of Brussels, Belgium. The Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg is in the background.

Tired tourists rest at the base of a monument to Crusade knight Godfrey of Bouillon in the Place Royale in the heart of Brussels, Belgium. The Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg is in the background.


 

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Toast The Tax?

Saw this poster in a window here in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK and I thought it was worth following up on. What did it mean? Were toasted sandwiches really going to be taxed on top of the cost of the sandwich?

 

Poster in the window of a shop in Newcastle Upon Tyne protesting the government’s application of a 20% tax on toasted sandwiches!


 

That turns out to be exactly what is happening. As this online e-petition explains, the UK government has decided to apply VAT of 20% onto what is charged for toasted sandwiches even though the other countries in the EU have already done away with it.

What an insane and greedy grab for cash by the government in a time of extreme financial hardship!

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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!

Photo Of The Day: Vast Art Spaces From Re-Purposed Buildings

Stunning open space inside the Tate Modern in London, England. The former Bankside Power Station was re-purposed as the Tate Modern — but it continues to evolve with the Tate Modern Project which will drastically transform the external appearance of this important art institution.
 

An impressive open space in part of the Tate Modern art museum in London, England


 

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