Yesterday morning I made my breakfast...sheep's yoghurt, fruit, honey and nuts - which can only mean it's January - whilst simultaneously cleaning up dog sick and conducting an important work call with a potential new PR client as Oscar continued to retch noisily.
Today I received an intriguing invitation to sample the delights of one of China's oldest cities, Hangzhou, this spring. At least I'm hoping it was an invite. I quite fancy the idea of cycling through the cherry blossom and temples on the Yangtze River Delta. It looks AMAZING and quite honestly, gazing at the beautiful images has already cheered up my January no end whether it actually comes off or not.
I was in need of more cheer than usual following a week of domestic disasters surrounding the renovation which is why I have already broken my New Year resolution to blog once a week. How can I blog when I'm on my 100th plus trip to Leroy Merlin to sort out yet another bathroom problem?
After five years with no bathroom (just two very faded shower rooms) we were touching distance away from the completion of our beautiful, spacious and luxury new bathroom pictured above, and the anticipation of running a bath was making everyone chez Kershaw a little bit excited. So when the plumber announced that there was a problem with the new, very expensive bathroom tap, my heart sank. I was despatched to Leroy Merlin in Vallauris to exchange it with the bill. Not a problem, said my friendly plumber Robert, happens all the time and as long as you have the bill they will exchange it for you.
I was pointed in the direction of a sales assistant in the salle de bains section with a face that looked like a slapped bottom. It didn't bode well. I explained as well as I could in my limited technical French that the thermostatic control appeared not to work. 'Where is the packaging and the box?' demanded Happy Face. 'Well, as the tap looked fine and was put in a place a few days ago, we threw it away only to find it didn't work when the water supply was switched back on for final testing,' I explained. I omitted to say that if we kept the box of every piece of equipment we have bought in the last three months, we would be able to build our own cardboard city.
'Well,' she shrugged, 'I can't exchange it as there is no packaging and how do I know your plumber hasn't broken it?' This was despite a guarantee and a bill. She grudging agreed to order a new thermostat only to announce with grim satisfaction that there was a rupture in the stock, meaning that they had no idea when they might receive the part in question and no intention of pursuing it further on my behalf.
I was on the verge of hysteria after weeks of problems, builders not turning up, tilers citing hangovers and then tummy bugs to get out of work etc etc when the two guys behind me stepped in. 'Can I help you,' said Etienne, 'it sounds like you have a problem and she is not keen to sort it out for you is she?'
Etienne became my translator, and while his Brazilian business partner Fabricio had a look at the tap and tried to see if there was a temporary fix, Etienne effected a total mood change in Happy Face, who managed to locate the part I needed at the factory in Marseille and order it for delivery in three weeks time. 'One thing you should know,' added Etienne, who happens to be French, ' is that there is no such thing as customer service in France.'
Etienne was on a one man mission to rectify this problem. 'Can we come over on Saturday and see if we can fix the tap temporarily for you?' he asked. Despite Handyman's poor joke that it was probably my plumbing they were more interested in, they turned up as promised and spent two and a half hours creating a temporary fix. When I asked what we should pay them, they told me not to worry and to recommend their new fit out and bathroom company to friends. Now that's the way to do business. If anyone needs a friendly, honest, reliable bathroom/design team in the Cote d'Azur, let me know and I'll pay it forward.
In the spirit of supporting local business, I took a surfing print that Sarah bought me for my birthday to be framed at our local framing shop. The guy was friendly and had a good selection of frames so I chose two of the simplest silver frames on offer, explaining that I wanted to hang it in the bathroom so didn't need anything grand. Bearing in mind that the print is a little bigger than A4 size, but too irregular to buy off a standard off the shelf frame, I was expecting to pay between €40 and €50. The cheaper frame was €136 and the slightly thicker frame was €156. I left in a daze, and ordered an identical one from Leroy Merlin's bespoke frame service for €44. I have driven past the frame shop four or five times since and the shop is always empty, which tells you everything you need to know. The irony of taking my business from the friendly local artisan to the faceless, unhelpful chain store that had already earned a black mark this week is not lost on me.
I am a London-born journalist, married with two daughters, who one day took a punt and upped sticks with my family, our cats and dogs to start a new life in the South of France.
Prompted by the desire to have an improved quality of life and better manage the balance between working and tasting the coffee, we sold up lock stock and barrel and headed for the little Provencal village of Le Bar sur Loup, 30 minutes from Nice.
Our beautiful Victorian house in Hertfordshire was swapped for a derelict villa on a hillside which represents a huge black hole into which we throw endless fistfuls of money but hey, we have sunshine, views to die for and the best rose in the world to drink.