Caversham (self-isolation and beyond)

Our last couple of days in Châlons-en-Champagne before leaving for England were very relaxed.  As we’re used to going backwards and forwards we (or rather Karen) knows exactly what’s on the boat and what’s in the Reading flat.  This means we have very little packing to do and the main thing was to make sure the boat was safe and secure for the two or three months we were going to be away.  Mind you, with only an hour’s exercise a day allowed we really had no option but to laze around!  Even though the days were still dry, the November fogs rolled in overnight shrouding us in a blanket until the sun came out later in the mornings.

Our last morning in Châlons-en-Champagne in 2020

A quick trip into town one day led to the discovery that more pavement poles had been recently painted.  We do wonder if this has been actively encouraged to help brighten the mood during the reconfinement.

Freshly painted poles

Our journey back to the Channel tunnel was uneventful especially as there was very little traffic on the roads.  It was a different story when we arrived in Folkestone as the roads seemed to be packed although, to be fair, we never actually came to a stop on the M25.  We brought Paul & Sue back with us and dropped them off at Yateley where they were staying for a couple of weeks or so.  They plan to pick up their car and get back to France before the end of the year like many Brits who are worried about how they’re going to get more than 90 consecutive days cruising in Europe from 2021 onwards.  Once again, other than the checks performed on Buddy’s paperwork, none of the requisite forms and documentation we had all prepared for travelling through and out of France were looked at let alone challenged.   

We went straight to the flat in Caversham to start our two weeks of isolation where we planned to spend the time redecorating.  Lauren & Lewis had arranged for all the decorating materials to be delivered so we had no excuse but to get on with it. We were each contacted once during the fortnight to check we understood the rules of self-isolation and how to recognise Covid symptoms, but no knock on the door to make sure we were in.  The flat wasn’t really in need of decoration, but it gave us a focus and also a chance to decide which items we didn’t really need to keep there.

At the end of the two weeks, we went up to Wendover to have a walk with Ann, Karen’s mum.  She has a passion for bridge and has kept herself and her mind occupied by playing on-line most days.  For most people, being online is no substitute for physical communication so we all enjoyed a walk in Wendover woods.  During the isolation period we also had some online bridge sessions and also video calls with the family and a few boater friends like Ian & Lisette who have been stuck in Australia all year, unable to get to their boat in France and with not much chance of doing the same next year.  We also had good catch ups with Nikki & Gorete who are overwintering in Bruges where we plan to pop in and see them on our way back to the boat.

Ian publishes the Barge Association’s newsletter and also puts together the annual calendar.  We were rather pleased to see that we feature in the 2021 edition with a picture of Chalkhill Blue taken north of Reims in October this year.  The calendar is available for download here.  

After seeing Ann our next task was to move all our excess stuff into a storage unit we had taken in Reading.  As we now have the flat to put some of our belongings in, we only need a small unit compared with the one we had in Solihull and another plus is that it’s only around the corner so easy to pick up stuff if we find we need it.

As usual we had a list of things of things to buy to take back to France but had decided to ignore it until January.  That was until the press started getting extra-negative about Brexit and Covid and the impact on travel to the EU even for those with a valid reason.  Until we bring the boat back to the UK our main place of residence is on the boat in the EU and we now have our certificates to confirm we have applied for five-year residency under the withdrawal agreement and our main home is in France.  Coupled with this is the fact that Lauren & Lewis are having a house built in Wales and are due to complete the sale of their existing house in February making them homeless until the new house is ready later in 2021.  The plan is that they will move into the flat while we are back in France so that with both the Kent house and the Reading flat tenanted, we can still show our main home is the boat.  Knowing this, and having the necessary paperwork, didn’t stop us being concerned so we booked a ticket to go back to France on 30th December just in case we need a plan B.

Lauren & Ellis on the morning of his first birthday this week

All this meant we had to suddenly focus on getting the items we needed, such as eight 15kg bags of dog food, before the end of the year.  Without going into too much detail one of the things we needed was to do with the boat toilet outlet; the bow wave from a very fast and large commercial boat had caused an issue when we were on the Seine and the syphon unit needed replacing.  We had planned on popping up to the Midlands in the new year to pick one up from the manufacturer and also make it a day when we could catch up with other boater friends Mike & Lesley and Chris & Sue who are based in that area - that trip may now have to be postponed.

European boating laws mean that we have to have our fire extinguishers serviced every year. Annoyingly it is cheaper to replace them rather than get a pompier to carry out the checks, so we ordered some replacements.  They were nicely boxed up when they arrived, so I was going to put them in the car ready to go back to France when something made me check them.  It was just as well I did because the charge indicators on both were reading fully undercharged.  Not only that but powder seemed to be leaking out all over the place.

No use unless in the green

We had an appointment in Oxford one day and took advantage of the fine weather to take a walk along the Oxford canal while we were there. We’d spent some time moored in the area called Jericho on our old boat so knew where we could leave the car whilst we walked. To our surprise we came across a Victorian post box we hadn’t seen before even though we thought we’d walked all the streets of Jericho.

A ‘Penfold’ box manufactured in the 1870s

We came across two milestones along the canal which also surprised us as we’ve never seen any on the Oxford.  Mind you, they were undecipherable because the cast iron plates that used to show the distances were no longer present.

The four holes would have been used to hold the distance plate in place

At a place called Duke’s a cut, called Duke’s Cut, takes the canal down to join the River Thames.  The area is called Duke’s after one of the Dukes of Marlborough who owned the land when the Oxford canal was built.  The cut is one of two that join the Thames, the other is at the end of the canal in the city centre.  That cut is called Sheepwash Channel and is one of our favourites as it has an out of use railway swing bridge just outside Oxford station.  It’s amazing to think of steam engines potentially held up for canal boats though I doubt that often happened.

It was really quite nostalgic seeing the small narrow locks after having spent two years in France, but we knew one day we would be back and have plenty of exploring to do before then.  This is Duke’s lock, one of the two locks at Duke’s, the other being in the cut and not surprisingly called Duke’s Cut lock.

Duke’s lock

Outside the lock cottage we came across a series of horse troughs that still had the rings for tying towing horses to.  Below the troughs was a cobbled floor so it looked like a building once housed the troughs.

Troughs for towing horses at Duke’s

Other than single examples this was the first long or multiple one we have seen in the UK and also reminded us of the only one we have encountered in France.  In France they are called abreuvoirs and many villages have streets called Rue de l’Abreuvoir where remains of drinking troughs can be found.

l’Abreuvoir at Lamotte-Brebière lock on the River Somme

Under the A34 western bypass is a traditional Oxford canal lift bridge, one that will always stick in my memory.  I can’t remember why Karen wasn’t with us, but Sophie and I were cruising into Oxford one day and Sophie had been doing the lock wheeling and operating the lift bridges.  When we reached this bridge the chain that hangs down to help the operation was missing at the time and the arms were just too high for Sophie to reach to pull them down and the bridge up.  A passing dog walker saw her predicament and helped Sophie pull the arms down but then, as the balance wasn’t quite right, Sophie was too light to keep the bridge up. Fortunately, the dog walker stayed to help as I brought the boat through.

Sophie’s bridge (the chain had been reinstated)

The residential moorings outside the city centre

Like many people we’ve taken advantage of home deliveries so we can avoid going to the shops, not just for food but also for presents and boaty things. We try to buy from independents rather than chains but that can cause problems as we found out this week.  Karen had ordered some crafty items from a person she hadn’t used for many years, but the items never arrived even though the person said they had been delivered.  Upon further investigation we found out that they had been delivered to an address in Nottingham!   We soon worked out that it was one of the places that Catherine lived in when she was at university there eight years or so ago and we must have bought something to be delivered to her and hadn’t checked the address before placing the latest order.

That wasn’t the only mis-delivery.  We had ordered a microwave from a company we hadn’t used for some time.  That order too, was showing as delivered and then Karen realised it had gone to the Kent house where we haven’t lived for over six years.  With new tenants in there we didn’t have their contact details so we will have to wait for the letting agents to get in contact with them to sort things out.

Whilst on properties, the flat in reading is all electric and has four storage heaters to supply the heating.  Neither of us have come across these before and with all of them being different and none having any instructions we’ve (not) been having fun trying to understand the controls.  It seems that we need to predict that we may need heat about 36 hours in advance otherwise we end up either sweltering or putting on extra layers.

With an interesting few weeks ahead with the impact of Brexit and Covid we’ll have plenty to keep us occupied.  We have also formed a childcare bubble so we can look after Ellis during the week while Lauren gets ready for returning to work next year so that will keep us occupied too.


Châlons-en-Champagne (two-week quarantine looms)

The wind getting up with us on Sunday morning

We came back from Essen last Thursday and the journey was as uneventful as it had been on the way there just over a week previously.  Other than in the centre of Essen, there were very few cars on the roads; the traffic on the motorways of Germany, Belgium and France consisted by and large of goods vehicles.  It shouldn’t have been surprising really because, as in England and Scotland, only essential journeys are allowed in those countries.  We had all the necessary documentation to travel through the different lockdown procedures in the three countries but weren’t stopped once.  In fact, we only saw one police car during both trips and that was in a layby near Spa in Belgium and the policemen were more interested in eating their lunch than looking out for rogue vehicles or lockdown-busters.

On the afternoon before we left to return to the boat, we noticed a plaque on the building next to our Airbnb.  The building is a bar, although of course under the current circumstances it is now closed, but the plaque explained that it was once a gay nightclub called the Essener Eldorado until 1936 when it was closed down by the Gestapo.  It was interesting as it showed that until that time, those venues had been tolerated. 

It took about six hours to get back to Châlons and we would like to say that Buddy was pleased to see us when we arrived at the port.  He was clearly torn as he was happy to be back with us but knew that it marked the end of his holiday with Paul & Sue which meant the end of all the treats they gave him.  Karen went straight out to get food in for the week while I took Buddy out for a walk.  Soon after I’d set off Karen rang me to check I had my attestation.  Having been away for a week or so I’d forgotten the French rules that meant I had to complete a form for the daily hour’s excursion.  Fortunately, they're now available for completion on mobile phones, so I was able to fill one in and continue the walk.  It was just as well Karen called me because police were stopping people in the park to check their attestations, a couple of lads were also stopped as they had their masks around their necks.

Back home in Châlons-en-Champagne

While travelling back we decided that we should apply for French residency before we go to the UK for the new year break.  The EU withdrawal agreement has a provision that allows people, who apply for residency before the end of the year, to have until October 2021 to complete the process.  Even if we end up not being granted residency it means we’ll legally be allowed to stay in France for longer than the 90 days allowed for non-residents next year.

The first stage of the application process is now on-line including all the submission of accompanying paperwork, of which there is reams as the French love their bureaucracy.  No doubt there will be a back and forth process by email as they decide that further items of documentation are required, but once they are happy, we will then be invited to the local prefecture to complete the process. At least, until then we now both have a permit that states we have applied for a residence permit under the UK's withdrawal agreement from the European Union and that we retain all our rights under the agreement until the application for a residence permit is processed by the prefecture.

On Monday we popped into town to pick up some fruit and veg and it was quite sad to see all the bars and restaurants in the squares were closed down again and their outside tables and chairs stacked away.  Although a few more outlets are allowed to be open compared with the original confinement the streets were still just as quiet.  

Place de la République
Place du Maréchal Foch

Other than a few shoppers scurrying around the only other person we came across was a street artist.  As you probably know from many of our blog entries, street artists are actively encouraged in the town, consequently many items of street furniture are decorated such as manhole covers and street and traffic signs.  This guy was in the middle of creating a large, coloured tree on the cobblestones by a fountain in one of the squares.  Standing next to him was another guy who looked like a press reporter judging by the size of his camera.

Spray can artist with a photographer in the middle of his extensive creation

With the lovely sunny weather continuing we’re still seeing the odd butterfly on our daily walks, mainly the hibernators such as red admirals but we did catch sight of a late large white one day.

When we arrived back from Germany, we each had one item of post waiting for us, our S1 forms had arrived from HMRC.  This meant we could get on with the application process to register them at the local health institute and obtain certificates enabling us to receive healthcare within the French state system.  Unlike, applying for residency under the EU withdrawal agreement, this process was not online.  To make it worse, far more personal documentation was required, some of which is somewhere back in the UK.  At least we now know what is required but will have to wait until we go back to the UK before we can complete the process.

Missed the sunrise on Wednesday morning

We’ve now booked a tunnel crossing for Saturday and will be going straight into two weeks of self-isolation.  As an example of how daft the English rules are, we are allowed to go into a supermarket on our journey home even though we’re going into self-isolation and home deliveries are allowed.  By the time the two weeks are up we’ll know what the new lockdown rules are and whether or not we’ll be allowed to catch up with the family.

One of the several tasks we had to do before leaving on Saturday was to get Buddy to the vet.  The current travel regulations mean that a vet has to certify both that he is in good health and also that he has had the necessary tapeworm treatment.  This is something we’ve had to do every time we’ve gone back to the UK and at least the vet we use in Châlons knows us and Buddy.  Well, she knows me and Buddy really, as since Covid has been on the scene only one person is allowed in the surgery at a time and that has always been me.  I was a bit stressed about going on Wednesday as I was also getting a French passport for Buddy because the current UK pet passports will not be valid for entry to France from 31st December this year. 

The reason I was a bit stressed was because my veterinary French is very basic, and I knew the vet’s English wasn’t much better.  As it turned out I needn’t have worried and Julie understood our requirements and was happy to issue a French passport and enter the necessary information in both passports until the UK one becomes obsolete.

Buddy’s shiny new passport

One of Karen’s tasks was to get some of her walnut haul cracked and jarred.  Most of the walnuts have been drying long enough so every so often she has a cracking session.  I have to be careful and keep out of the way as broken bits of shell sometimes come flying through the air.  

Just a few of the jars prepared so far

I’m not sure when I’ll post the next blog entry but suspect it’ll be a while as once we’re in the UK on Saturday we’ll be in self-isolation for two weeks so there won’t be an awful lot to write home about!






Essen (Stumbling stones)

The last blog update left us holed up in our Airbnb in Essen waiting for emails to arrive with our Covid-19 test results.  When we got up on Thursday morning, we saw my result had arrived just after midnight and was negative, but nothing had arrived for Karen.  There had been some confusion when my sample had been registered as the guy scanning the various QR codes of the sample and my personal details cocked things up a bit by using Karen's details rather than mine.  He took a while to sort things out but finally said all was OK, so we thought no more about it.  With this now in our minds, Karen got on the phone to find out why my result was in and not hers.  It took a couple more phone conversations during the morning, including during our weekly bridge session, before things were finally sorted out and another negative result ensued.

The current German lockdown means that socialising places like tourist attractions, bars and restaurants are closed but there is no restriction on how long the public can go out for walks, or even how far, as long as social distancing is maintained and no more than two households mix.  This meant we could at least explore while we’re over here.  There were very few people on the streets, so it was easy to feel safe but unlike France there was a lot of traffic; maybe that’s because Essen is Germany’s ninth largest city.

The Rhine-Herne canal and the inland port of Essen lies four miles or so from where we’re staying so it made an ideal destination for a busman’s holiday walk.  The areas we walked through were quite modern, so we were quite surprised when we stumbled across, well Karen spotted them first, a couple of stolpersteine (literally ‘stumbling stones or blocks’).  A stolperstein is a small, inscribed brass plaque inserted in the pavement to commemorate a person who once lived in the adjacent house.  

Two stolpersteine

It’s a sombre subject but as it’s an important part of world history I feel it must be mentioned.  Each person represented by a stolperstein died under Nazi rule because of their ethnicity, belief or some other ‘apparent’ social inadequacy.  As there are over 400 stolpersteine in Essen it wasn’t surprising that we came across these two.      

Gunter Demnig, a German artist, started installing these brass plaques in 1996 and worldwide there are now over 75,000.  Most of them are in Europe, mainly in Germany, and around 440 new ones are added each month.  The hand chiselled inscriptions include the name of the victim as well as how and where they died.  We feel the maxim he uses as the reason for their production rather poignant, “A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten”.  For further information on Gunter Demnig and the stolpersteine click here or to read an article about them in the Guardian click here.

Before moving on I will mention the two people commemorated in the picture above, to give an idea of the history.  Aron Leib Steuer was born in 1900 and was one of the Polish Jews impacted by Polenaktion where tens of thousands were expelled from Germany in 1938.  As there were so many, the Polish Government wouldn’t allow most of them into the country, so they ended up in refugee camps on the border; Aron was in a camp in Bentschen (Zbaszyn in Polish). In October 1939 he was arrested and held in Dachau concentration camp until he was killed on 7 August 1942.

Klara Steuer was held in various psychiatric hospitals and on 11 February 1941 was moved to Hadamar where she was killed under the Aktion-T4 program of involuntary euthanasia of the mentally and physically disabled.


When we reached the canal, we sat on the bank for a while as it was such a lovely day and we’d brought a snack with us.  Karen couldn’t resist but spot some metal bars built into the piling on the side that we could moor against if we ever came this way on the boat. 

No boats today

The Rhine–Herne Canal is 45 kilometres long and connects the harbour in Duisburg on the Rhine with the Dortmund-Ems canal near Henrichenburg.  It was opened in 1914, widened in the 1980s, and the locks take boats up to 80 metres long.  It’s a well-used canal with many commercial ports along its length but we didn’t see any boats on the move while we were sitting there.

We set one afternoon aside to go through the application process for the long-term visas required for living in France next year as non-EU citizens.  After getting a lot of the paperwork completed, we were stymied when trying to get an appointment at the French embassy in London.  The post-Brexit long-term visa procedures are still not agreed for UK nationals and therefore our application cannot be accepted yet and has to go on hold.

Most of the rest of our week was spent exploring different parts of the city.  There were plenty of parks to walk around but, as a relatively modern city, there weren’t many old buildings to see.  The city planners had done a good job as walking and cycle routes crisscrossed through green areas meaning we could keep away from the main roads and tramways.  The synagogue built in 1913 was one of the larger buildings and is now a museum and memorial centre.

The synagogue in the centre of Essen

We spent one afternoon searching out sculptures and I’m afraid the only name we recognised was Henry Moore who sculpted this piece called, ‘Knife edge’:

Henry Moore's 'Knife edge' from 1961

And here’s a selection of the others we came across:

And here’s a couple of modern housing developments right in the city centre where we had our Airbnb:

We’ve certainly had a brilliant week weather-wise and haven't had to worry about taking wet weather gear or warm clothes with us on any of our walks.  Although we haven't had any rain yet we forgot that the mornings can be dewy at this time of year.  Even though German's have their Kaffee & Kuchen during the afternoon when the English have their teatime, we stopped for morning cake and coffee on a park bench one day.  It wasn't until we got up that we realised how damp the bench had been!

On Sunday we walked to the Zollverein colliery where coal was mined from 1847 until its closure in 1993 when it was Europe’s largest coal mine.  The colliery and accompanying coke works are now a world heritage site and we felt that we couldn’t have a trip to the Ruhr without exploring some of its industrial legacy.

Although none of the indoor areas were open due to Covid we were able to walk around the extensive grounds which, as they covered such a large area, meant we could easily keep Covid safe from other visitors.  The main shaft (shaft #12) was opened in 1932 and built in the New Objectivity style, a mainly German art movement from the 1920s.

Pit head of shaft #12 in the distance

New Objectivity is a style of art we’ve never heard of before and apparently it was created as a reaction to expressionism, not being artistic we don’t really understand why it’s seen as a reaction.  Anyway, it has led to this pit head having the reputation of being the most beautiful in the world.

The beautiful pit head?

One of the nearby shafts had a similar looking pit head but we assume it's not considered to be beautiful.

The not-so-pretty pit head of shaft #1/2/8

Extracted coal was taken to the coke production plant in trucks towed by cables along aerial trackways from each shaft.  Some of these trackways have been adapted so visitors can walk along them, thus getting good views of the colliery and associated coke works.

One of the aerial trackways

We couldn’t find out what this contraption was

We did learn that even though the mine is closed, mine water is still pumped out into the River Emscher, a tributary of the Rhine.  Six pumps operate over a kilometre below ground and extract water at the rate of over 17,500 cubic metres a day.

Our walk took us back through the massive coke production plant which is also closed but the various parts of the plant are being converted inside to house a museum and exhibition centre.

Coke drying towers, lined and unlined

On Monday we went to Grugapark, the home of Essen's botanical gardens.  Although it wasn't the riot of colour that would be expected in summer we found it very peaceful and couldn't believe we were in the middle of a city.  Just outside Grugapark we came across a strange looking house called the Ronald McDonald Haus:

Many people would immediately think of the global fast-food chain, McDonald’s, but thanks to our daughter Sophie she was able to explain otherwise.  Ronald McDonald is a German charity that runs a couple of dozen houses across the country where families can stay whilst their seriously ill children are being treated in a local hospital. [Edit: I misunderstood my daughter.  It is a charity run by McDonald's and not just in Germany.  Also, she knows this because she worked for them for 10 years, not just because she studied German!] 

Before I finish this update I want to include a few more harrowing stories of some of the stolpersteine we came across.  We totally understand if you don't want to read any further but feel it important to include this section for our own thoughts about such unimaginable atrocities.

Dr Rosenberg was banned from practising in 1938 and died on 20 May 1955 after escaping to Uruguay in 1939 with his wife Anna and son Werner.


Georg Friemann committed suicide when his wife and young children (aged 6 & 9) were deported to the Izica ghetto in Poland.


The Bachrachs were just over 60 years old when they died in the Izica ghetto in Poland. Minna Benderski was 77 and Erich Langer 60 when they were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in the town of Terezin in Czechoslovakia.


Doctor Heinemann and his wife Anna died during one of the pogroms in Essen during 1938 when many Jews were massacred. 

Essen (where?)

We’ve quickly fallen into a routine since the start of reconfinement, back here in Châlons-en-Champagne.  By the time we’ve had breakfast and read the latest French and UK news it’s getting on for 11 o’clock which leaves us time to have our once-a-day, one-hour, signed-attestation-holding, pre-lunch walk up the River Marne and back down the canal.  After lunch we split the time between doing those jobs that we’ve put off for months and getting ready for going back to the UK.  It always amazes us how much planning goes into leaving the boat for a couple of months working out what to take with us and, just as importantly, making sure we know what we need to bring back with us when we return.  Although we’ve been living fulltime on the boat for over six years there always seems to be something we need and usually that means getting it from the UK where generally boaty things are a lot cheaper.

Our daily walk takes us across the passerelle (footbridge) at the far end of the park where we are moored.

Looking west from the passerelle

The canal runs down the left to Châlons lock in the far distance.  The island in the middle contains a heronry that provided endless hours of fascination for us during the original confinement.  We are moored in the port which is just out of sight to the right under the cathedral.

We had a small change to the routine on Monday with a visit to the out of town Leclerc.  Karen popped into the supermarket while I filled the car up with diesel.  A couple of rows of pumps at this particular Leclerc are of the pay at the kiosk type which means the garage is manned.  During the last lockdown these pumps were converted to pay at the pump, so no one was needed in the kiosk.  The trouble with that was that the racks of gas bottles were inaccessible as they had to be opened by the person in the kiosk.  This time, automatic gas bottle dispensers have been installed which rather piqued my interest.

You may remember that we've got a third gas bottle that I've been unable to trade in for a full one because it’s a practically unheard-of brand.  I checked out the automatic dispenser and found that one of the options during the purchase is to say that an empty bottle is being dropped off thus avoiding the need to pay a deposit on the new bottle.  I thought I’d take advantage of this and returned on Tuesday to dispense with the old, esoterically branded, bottle and pick up a full one from a popular brand.  Another bit of good news is that with a bit of fiddling around I managed to fit all three bottles in the gas locker so we now have a supply for eight or nine months rather than the usual five or six.  This also means we no longer have an empty bottle rolling around in the back of the car. 

We’re moored in the same spot as we were earlier in the year which means we catch the sunrise but lose it later in the afternoon as it sinks behind the trees on the island.  This was a welcome relief in the hot days in Spring but doesn’t matter so much now the evenings are drawing in.

Our reconfinement mooring

I had said the port was full when we arrived last Friday but as you can see there is a vacancy between us and the next boat.  There was a large boat there originally, but Stéphane left early on Sunday morning.  He’s a soldier in the French army and was moving to Nancy as he’s going to be based there for a few months for some sort of tank training.  At least this meant that we were on our own and wouldn’t be dwarfed by a boat alongside us taking even more light away.  It’s also most unlikely we will get another neighbour for a while as pleasure boating has been stopped during reconfinement.

While on reconfinement, we’ve heard about the new lockdown in England and were pleased to hear that, unlike in other countries, the English Government showed their caring side and gave their constituents practically a week’s notice so they could plan and hold plenty of parties.

Our morning view as the sun comes up

One of our priority tasks over the next few weeks is to sort out what we’re doing boat-wise next year.  We know we want to carry on cruising in Europe especially as we lost the first few months of this year but also realise that this is quite problematical because of Brexit.  This is now further complicated as extra scenarios have been added since the advent of coronavirus, just think of the different combinations of a deal or no-deal Brexit with either or both France and UK still in lockdown on January 1 2021.

As we don’t want to apply for French residency, we’re currently working on obtaining a 12-month visa for next year.  This means we have to come back to the UK in order to visit the French embassy but at least we can do that over the new year break when (hopefully) we can catch up with the family.  Whichever solution we go for in order to legally stay over here for more than 90 days next year we will have to arrange health cover.

I've now been an old age pensioner for a week which apparently is politically incorrect as I am meant to say I'm a state pensioner.  As an old age pensioner, or OAP, the UK state provides me with an S1 certificate which allows me to receive health care in France with the same rights as French nationals.  It was confirmed this morning that my S1 certificate has been posted and should be with me soon and it was also confirmed that it provides cover for Karen as my spouse.  The S1 will no longer be available after the transition period for new applicants but it has been agreed that those holding an S1 will retain them in perpetuity.  From a selfish point of view this is all good news for us.

Talking about items in the post, seven of our nine children have moved over the last six months or so thus skewing the house buying statistics in this strange year.  Steve, the latest to move, has settled down near Chichester and has found it a rich hunting ground for Victorian post boxes.  Over the weekend he came across an example of what is called the First National Standard.  These boxes were produced from 1859 and were so called because the design was the first to be used nationally; until then the postmaster in each region was responsible for their own design and procurement.  The nuances in the design of the box that Steve found date it to 1859 so one of the first to be manufactured.

Steve’s 1859 First National Standard in Worlds End

The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that this blog entry is coming from Essen.  This is because we've come over to Germany for a week or so for medical treatment as it‘s a lot closer than any other country that offers the treatment and has current capacity.  We 've had to jump through hoops as far as making sure we have the right documentation in place and also had to get a Covid test as we drove into Germany.  

Germany has been very organised with its testing facilities and we popped into Dusseldorf airport to get ours done.  The airport car parks were practically empty as was the airport itself and even the testing centre.  We had to pre-register to say we were coming and, at the time, were told it would be a free test as we were travelling from a high risk area.  As it turned out, we arrived on the day after they introduced fees for people like us but at €59 they were still reasonable compared to many we have seen advertised across Europe.

Eurowings flight check-in desks converted to Covid-19 check-in desks

We have to remain in our Airbnb until we receive the results which should be available within 24 hours. Even though tourists are not allowed into Germany, we’re still allowed to enter the country as foreigners as we’re going there for medical reasons.  Of course, like France, no tourist attractions will be open while we’re here so there may not be another blog for a week or so.