Christmas Newsletter 2006D

Dear friends,

This is just a quick newsletter to bring up to date our life since the September one, which ended at the end of the holiday season here. September was quite a nice month, and we were joined at the end of it by Beryl's sister Pam, and husband Bill, from Florida. They spent a quiet two weeks with us and we enjoyed good food, wine, walking down to the village for coffee, and some trips out. While they were with us, I had been following Honda Accords for sale on eBay, and one came up in Toulouse that sounded just what I was looking for, so I bought it and took the train to Toulouse to pick it up and drive it back. That all went very well and I had some repairs done to the car to bring it up to a good standard.

After Pam and Bill had left at the beginning of October, we were off to Italy to spend a few days with Caroline and family. We chose a time when they had a couple of days off school to add to the weekend. Unfortunately, this choice coincided with a rainy spell which rather spoiled some of the trips out we had planned, but we enjoyed seeing the girls, going out with them and doing various things together. We also took the trip into the mountains to lunch at a favourite restaurant, Le Marsiglie, and picked up some wine at the Imola cave cooperative and at Prantoni's vineyard. The new Accord gave us some difficulties on this trip as, after hitting a pothole, we got banging noises from the front, but could not locate the source. The next day I drove around the main carpark in Ferrara to try and locate the source and concluded it must be new brakes grabbing. I turned out to be wrong!

When it was time to return home, on a nice sunny day, we set off and were driving along the main autostrada near Parma when we hit a pothole in the road where it was being redone, and the banging started up loudly with a steering shudder. We pulled over to the slow lane and continued to a service place which was just coming up. There were no mechanics in the service station on this site, so I removed the wheel myself and observed that the balljoint on the upper control arm of the suspension had separated. I put it back in place, replaced the wheel and we set off very cautiously to the next exit 3 km away which was Parma, where we were assured there was a garage with a mechanic. We found the garage which turned out (O joy!) to be the local Honda concessionaire, who took a quick look and told us that they would have to order the parts which would come from Belgium and take three days. We decided to to go back to Ferrara, so they helped us rent a car and we got back to Ferrara a few hours after we had left, where Caroline had found us another place to stay as the B&B we had been in was full that night. So we got the opportunity to spend more time with the family than we had counted on. A couple of days later, the garage in Parma phoned up to say that the parts had arrived early and had been fitted and we could pick up the car when we wanted. The following morning we set off again the in the rented car (Fiat Multipla), got to the Honda dealer and picked up the car, took the rented one back and set off for home. I can't speak too highly of the Honda dealer in Parma, they were efficient and very helpful. The language difficulty was resolved when the chief of the service department went off to find a translator and came back with a charming young man who spoke English and French, after which we had no problems. (We found out later, visiting the dealer's web site, that the young man was the president of the company!)

When we got home, I did some more checking on the car and it seems that we were just unlucky to have a failure which seems to have been very unusual. The man in Parma told us he had never seen that part fail before and so did the local garage who does our maintenance and repairs. Anyway, the car has been fine ever since and I am very pleased with it (its a 1996 2 litre Accord LE automatic).

The next item to be handled was the construction of a low wall in the garden to separate out the lawn from the pool and provide a place to stand flower pots on. Our mason, Benjamin, undertook the work and it now looks as though it has always been there. At the same time there was quite a bit of work to do in the garden preparing for the winter, although the leaves stayed on very late as we had continuing mild and mainly sunny weather (even as I write, the big oak trees in our view have only just started to go brown). Lots of pruning to be done and moving of plants, planting out stuff in pots and so on. In between we swept up and burned those leaves which the mistral had left behind.

Now it is the run up to Christmas and the round of drinks parties that accompanies it. We have been invited to Christmas dinner with two of our friends, Christine and Carrie, and had decided that we were not going out anywhere for New Year's eve, but would stay at home and have a gastronomic dinner. We have invited a couple to join us for that, but otherwise it will be very low key. Both us and Caroline/Francesco are not keen on driving the journey to or from Ferrara to here in mid-winter so we had decided against getting together, nice as it would have been for the girls.

That brings us just about up to date, so I will conclude by wishing all our friends a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and good health and happiness.

Love from Alan and Beryl