What we thought we wanted – to save time at the immobilier and avoid the stammered, fractured French!
« Une petite maison en pierre, idéalement une petite ferme avec au moins trois chambres à coucher et avec quelques annexes - une grange et un hangar – pour l'atelier et le garage. Je voudrais un grand jardin plutôt que beaucoup de terre agricole. La petite maison devrait être habitable, avec l'électricité, l'eau et des eaux d'égout reliées. Elle devrait être sur la distance de marche ou de cycle d'un village français fonctionnel qui a tous les magasins habituels et un bar etc. C'est important que la petite maison doive avoir une belle vue - je veux revenir à la maison et penser comment chanceux je suis. En outre elle devrait idéalement a un aéroport servi par une ligne aérienne peu coûteuse dans une heure ou deux. Notre budget est flexible et dépend de l'état de la propriété mais devrait être dans la région de 160.000 à 200.000 euros»
Having sold our English house in Wickham Bishops, moved into our caravan and found a small house in Wivenhoe for son Peter to use, we were free at the end of September 2002 to set off on our French house-buying expedition, equipped with a laptop and Nokia card to broadcast these reports.
20 September 2002
We called in on Allison, looked around the area and St Jean d’Angely and left with the impression that all expats in France were blonde and beautiful.
24 September 2002 22:10
Wow! Clare and Rex's pad is something else - never seen an atrium in a 250-year old converted barn before. Enough space to marshal Tony Blair's Iraq invasion force and the anti-hunting lobby. And rolling acres shimmering into the verdant horizon. And lots of honey-coloured stone positively oozing history. I thought the French had given up their monarchy - when all the time their "Rex" was lurking in the Perigord - busy fitting a new double glazed door over his balcony!
After coffee & pleasant chats chez Clare we lunched in Brantome on manchons de canard et frites, where a chilly wind competed with the sunshine and caused passing solid Brantome citoyens, viewing the blatant display of British knees, to mutter "les anglais sont toujours fous" under their bucolic and garlic-laden breath.
A hilarious interview with Christiane et Valerie of Century 21, Brantome's answer to French and Saunders, resulted in an exciting drive to a nearby "bien" - perched on a hilltop it was a 1970's reconstruction with wonderful panoramic views, very solidly built and spacious but with an atmosphere that said "Sunday visit to granny’s". Maybe it was the wallpaper with the repetitive birds of paradise, but one kept wincing in anticipation of a brush with granny's moustache. Unfortunately granny had gone to heaven and granddad was in a home so the ungrateful children wanted to sell the place. There was an incredibly complex mixed-fuel (wood or oil) central heating system with piping that was painted red or blue to indicate the hot and cold feeds, reminiscent of the liner Queen Mary's engine room. All for the price of a two-up two-down mid terrace in perfidious Albion. One to store as a strong possibility but needing an atmosphere transplant first.
25 September 2002 23:33
A bright, clear but chilly (4°C) morning in the Perigord - almost frost on the knees. A frustrating post-petit dejeuner play with the ordinateur portable - back-up to CD of digicam pics ne marchait pas, and our solicitor in the UK is insisting on sending umpteen megabytes of turgid pre-contract guff for me to read - his power of attorney clearly doesn't enable him to muster even a smidgeon of intelligence to use on my behalf. Why do we pay these so-called professionals so much, for them to do sweet FA?
A phone call to the magnificent Dreamers help line came up trumps - Clare was willing to use her precious monthly AOL free bandwidth to download the 20 pages of turgidity for me! Pleasant relief came in the form of a lovely lunch with Clare and Rex at the Ferme de Chabrol, unfortunately truncated by an extra-mural appointment at chez Christiane, to look at the collective refurbishment in progress at a hameau that Christiane's hubby Jack is masterminding. One of the little houses was for sale, together with a mix-and-match selection of adjoining gite and grange. A beautiful setting - with views extending over the vast rolling verdant plains of Rex & Clare's green answer to Texas. The quality of work was to a high standard. But the property was OK for a holiday cottage but a little small for a permanent home, and Christine missed the demarcation lines between property - Jack was trying to recreate the original cooperative spirit of the hameau, where each family had a small cottage and adjoining part of a barn, and the rent was paid by a 50% levy on the crops gathered. But after all, we are British, and the Brits like their fences, albeit low ones so the view can be savoured!
Then it was off to Brantome to French & Saunders Pty Inc, Immobiliers Drôles du Perigord, and another drive past the touristy town of Bordeilles to a magnificent residence set in a 2.5 hectare garden high on the banks of the river Dronne. This was an immaculate property featuring a wonderful veranda on the first story, with motorised sun blinds, overlooking a well-landscaped garden stocked with a variety of decorative and fruit trees. The considerable accommodation measured some 320 sq m and was tastefully decorated and furnished. A path from the garden led down to the river Dronne where there was an interesting mill with an undershot mill race, a weir and a plage on the opposite bank. The lovely, gentle propriétaire who showed us round was clearly in love with his place, but it was clearly too big for two and he had to live near Perigueux to look after aged in-laws. Not given to hyperbole, I could only describe it as paradise. But it was too big for us, too. The garden would be a full time job, as would the cleaning of the house. It was very isolated, no neighbours, a target for cambrioleurs. Running expenses, taxes, were high for France. It was a dream house, ideal for an upwardly mobile family with a need to entertain and impress. But sadly not for us, in any case we couldn't fund it with the change from the UK house purchase, even though it was extraordinarily good value at a price that wouldn't buy a three-bed semi in the UK.
Back to the caravan to email a one line "yeah, yeah" to the soliciting shark in the UK. A demain - a new instruction, something completely different, near Nontron!
26 September 2002 19:32
So, two houses today: The first was a mainly-restored cottage in 2 hectares in lovely country near Nontron - a well-executed restoration with tasteful little touches such as niches for ornaments, the odd pargetted gargoyle, the pigeonnier bird access holes retained, etc. The salon with a glass-fronted wood burner had a mezzanine floor, giving a high "atrium". The kitchen was pleasantly fitted out and both rooms had large double glazed windows with lots of light. There were effectively four bedrooms in the roof pitch at either end of the mezzanine and two rooms on the ground floor, which had been partly restored. Outside the extensive garden merged into field accommodating two horses and gave extensive views over lovely country. There was an above ground pool (yuk), which was in poor repair. The only outbuilding was a small workshop/tool shed. Both of us loved the house, although there was only one small shower room/toilet in the pitched roof and the house thus needed an extra bathroom, but the asking price would allow us to do this. The killer for me was the almost total lack of outbuildings - I must have somewhere for all my junk, and any extra "dépendances" would have to be built from scratch and would need to be sympathetic to the main house.
Lunch at little restaurant in Brantome. Sympathetic to the need for outbuildings, Valerie arranged for us to see a house with same - and some! A two-story cottage on a 1-hectare plot with nice views near Brantome had an enormous grange and a glazed chais attached. But the house needed a complete makeover - it was dark and dirty, needed a total re-crepi outside and both of us hated it. It was cheap, but we wouldn't like it however much money was spent on it. But, the real killer was that, since the plot was the highest point in the area, the state had thoughtfully provided a revolting, conical, concrete chateau d'eau that loomed over the house, totally dominating it. But all I needed was just some of the barn space from the second house attached to the house of the first. Is it too much to ask? It has to be said that the second house was owned by a lovely French couple - the outbuildings were full of the garden produce that Monsieur had produced, including thousands of jars of jam. Smart-arse here tried showing off his knowledge of the line in the nursery song "Je suis un p'tit garcon, j'aime les confitures" which goes "si vous voulez m'en donner, je saurai bien les manger", so we had two jars of jam thrust into our reluctant paws - which was doubly embarrassing since we didn't want to buy their house!
Demain - off to Vezac and pre-vacance Avis on Saturday! Sorry to leave the area, we liked it and its people. Will we be able to afford the Dordogne river valley?
27 September 2002 22:12
Our day started a trifle brumeuse with some brouillard, then with a visit from Clare, a whistle-stop visit between Alex's school run and her Mrs Mop bit. Fortunately she came after I'd brushed the black pudding from the teeth (I've now upgraded to ethnically correct boudin noir!). Sad "au revoirs" and we hit the road for Vezac, going the poids lourds route round Perigueux and down to Bergerac, then along the Dordogne river valley past Beynac to the "Les Deux Vallees" site. A "route barree" diversion on the N21 meant an interesting session of squeezing large white aluminium boxes along narrow country roads but put us in a good position to bypass Bergerac. At the campsite I'm pleased to report that the donkey has refined his libretto so that it acts as an early warning of the passing train. So you now get "Hee haw, hee haw, rumble rumble clatter clatter" as one contiguous composition. Is the site run down? Well yes, understandably so, with only a few pitches occupied they're only servicing a couple of toilets, showers etc. In any case I only really need a tap and somewhere to empty the portapotty. What I did do was pick a site with a view of Beynac - I know it's a trite and touristy scene that appears in all the guidebooks of the Dordogne, but there was a lovely silhouette of the chateau against the setting sun tonight, and as I write I can see it illuminated against the night sky. Looking forward to meeting Avis & Dave tomorrow. At least I've got a good, solid four-bar signal from Itineris to send this out on!
28 September 2002 19:51
The chilly, misty start gave way to a clear blue sky and it was in warm sunshine that we crawled up from the D703, scanning the letterboxes for Avis & Dave (alias Les & Doris Forts). After a short pause to be gob smacked by the tremendous view (enhanced, of course, by the new pool surround!), we were joined by Brian & Julie from "over the river" at Mouzens and taken on a group house tour. Pre-lunch drinky-poos were taken in the garden, soaking up the sun and the view, and heralded a Wonderful Weberfest barbeque lunch, over which lots of common interests such as motorbikes, caravans, skiing and, of course, living in France were well and truly explored. As there was a "Y" in the day it was my turn to drive again, so I didn't fall over as usual and all too soon it was time to say our "au revoirs" and cruise back to La Caravane a Quatre Saisons for yet another evening omelette by the master chef, Galloping Gourmand Gillis.
29 September 2002 21:02
Today started cold - 3 point something degrees C. The cold porcelain on the usual French loo-less seat nearly paralyzed the necessary muscles. I wish I could go to "hovering" classes for boys!
We went to St Cyprien market - how wonderful - all that marvelous produce - the quality of the fruit and veg - the atmosphere - I thought, "I really want to belong to this society!" Then we went and climbed up to the chateau at Beynac - only a few grockles in evidence and lots of warm honey-coloured stone. In the bright, clear sunshine the views were magnificent, and the 450 metre climb was a fine aperitif for lunch at The caravan. Then a trip to Domme, and another superb view - then a round tour through Sarlat and back to Vezac.
Galloping Gourmand job for tonight was a Thai red chicken curry - loads of fish sauce and red curry paste; sometimes it's nice to counter French cooking with a far-eastern oomph! As I "play with my computer" 'er indoors is watching "ER" in French. It can only be good for the future integration. Who knows, if she keeps thinking of all those gorgeous French-speaking surgeons, it might be my lucky day/night/month/year? Demain - immos in Sarlat, maybe Le Trèfle a Quatre Feuilles. Le lendemain - maybe Fumel
30 September 2002 23:04
4°C this morning but warmed up rapidly to be a hot summer's day. Here's an invention idea; a pocket-sized, self-inflating, heated, disposable, anti-hovering loo seat. It could be a plastic thingy, like those "sanitised for your protection" plastic covers that you get in posh American hotels, and small enough to tuck in your pocket or handbag. You'd spread it on the porcelain and break a little vial of chemicals so that the exothermic reaction would both warm and inflate the device. It should be readily water-soluble, so that after use it could be deflated and flushed away. Of course the Health and Safety people would insist on a few precautions - dégonflage shouldn't produce a sudden "whoopee cushion" noise, and it certainly wouldn't sell if the occasional punter got launched into space on a ring of fire!
Anyway, today we went into Sarlat-la-Caneda; got a list of immos and got diverted into doing the tourist walk around the mediaeval city - no matter how many times you do it you'll still find something new in that rabbit warren of honey-coloured stone and slate-black spires. Over lunch we decided that the Dordogne valley, though lovely, is too busy for us. We found the street full of immos and window-shopped, which confirmed that the prices are some 30% up on the Brantome area - another reason to look elsewhere.
Tonight we had a wonderful meal at Dave & Tiffany's place in Siorac, Le Trèfle à Quatre Feuilles - a warm welcome, pleasant ambiance and marvellous food. Although a Monday night they were doing good business - not full but plenty of people there, and not all Brits either. Back to the caravan for a couple of bevvies (there was a "Y" in the day again!). Thinks, maybe I should change to the French days of the week? - I only drive if the day ends with an "i" - cor blimey - roll on Dimanche!
01 October 2002 21:11
We eventually chose a small one-star campsite in Fumel, whose principal attraction was that it was open. A short and pretty journey, after which we found that our choice was inspired - we've got a lovely spot in the sun next to the River Lot which is dreamily drifting past, dragonflies skimming the surface and a nightingale singing its heart out above. On the opposite bank there is a picturesque water mill and some river traffic, mainly consisting of fishermen in inflatables and single and double sculls from the local rowing club. It was really hot in the sun this afternoon and we slurped the evening Pineau de Charente in al fresco mode. I want a river, too, now, please, as long it can be guaranteed not to flood! Ce soir, veau sauté avec ail et sauce au Pineau de Charentes, haricots vert et pommes de terre Ian - yum! There's a "Y" in the day but who cares, we're at home!
02 October 2002 19:10
A veiled night sky meant that the temperature of the campsite loo’s seatless porcelain was a tropical 13°C - bliss. Off to Fumel and its immos. Not too impressed with Fumel - some largely derelict industrial areas and the centre has some nice stone buildings but a lot of tat. I didn't ask why - I usually find that it was the RAF who took out large areas of some French towns! There appeared to be two immobiliers in Fumel. The first came up with some possibilities, so we made appointments for the afternoon. We lunched by the river and the caravan in warm but hazy sunshine.
The first seemed to have everything going for it - converted 2/3 bed stone barn, with view, barn, hangar, pool, commerces not far. But the actuality was disappointing - it was only partly completed and it looked like a project that had run out of funds. The "barn" was of the usual attractive honey-coloured stone, but had only a few original windows. Inside was very dark, the kitchen area had no windows, and some windows looked out on to a neighbour's barn which was of unrestored, dirty render and looked like an industrial building. There was an original barn stone cheminée; there were mezzanine floors at either end and a two further bedrooms on the ground floor. The roof was new and most of the joinery was new deal, with some old oak in the more obvious points. We both tried hard to imagine it completed, but decided that even then we wouldn't like it. It wasn't for us, for reasons that were hard to articulate. And it was at the limit of our budget, anyway - the price was for the completed project
The immo, thinking "if they don't like an old place perhaps they'll like a new one" then took us to a new house (1 year old), in a small "suburb" of a nearby village. It was a very nice bungalow, cheaper than the stone "barn", loads of gizmos such as electric front gates, electric garage door etc, but if we wanted an ordinary bungalow we could have got one in the UK, albeit at 3 times the price! And there was no workshop or heated loo-seat production facility! So it was off to Puy l'Eveque and a small stone conversion with a modern add-on - we didn't expect to like this one, it was in the middle of a hectare of small oaks, such places are usually dark and damp, so was this one. But they were nice owners, they had a pussycat and I had a pat of the pussycat, so all was not lost!
Back at the campsite, M Le Responsable du Camping, knowing we're looking for houses, came round with the news that a friend of his is selling a five hectare farm - arranged to have a look, but I'm not intent on buying the whole of blooming France!
03 October 2002 22:44
A warm night, yet again, and warm porcelain against the nether regions this morning. Received wisdom says that the Lot & Garonne is some 5°C warmer than the Dordogne. My botty thinks it's better than that!
I'm a bit worried about earwigs. When I tried to connect to the mains supply here, there were all sorts of earwigs wriggling away in the covered sockets. I knew that I had innocently imported dozens of Colchester Caravan Park earwigs, all without their certificates "contre la rage" and their vetinarian certificates "du bonne santé". What if they interbreed? How will the little perce-oreilles get on at earwig school? Maybe they will produce an enormous super-earwig! - 'ere mate, lie dahn, I wanna jump in your lughole, dunni" (all said in a deep, estuarial earwig accent).
Maybe it was the earwigs, maybe EDF, but more likely those responsible for the rather temporary wiring to the caravan, but there was a distinct tingle between the caravan aluminium and mother earth. Further investigation showed that not only was the earth lead disconnected but the line and neutral wires were crossed (a common continental problem) - they don't care - all their stuff is double insulated and has switches which break both line and neutral. Along comes Ian Bloggs in his caravan, plugs in his toaster - tries to clear a stuck bit of bread from the switched-off toaster with a stainless steel knife - ZAP! Children curse the "en tontine " clause that denies them their inheritance! He who never applied for his "Eur Ing" letters, but who is nevertheless qualified, made a temporary earth spike, used his "continental buggery box Adaptor MkIIc" to swop line and neutral back again. Result - temporarily disinherited but continuingly ungrateful children!
So we journeyed via lovely countryside, from Fumel through Montflanquin and Cancon to one of Andrew & Carole's houses. A brief pre-lunch meeting sorted one or two minor misunderstandings, like the confusion between our budget (in Euros) and Andrew's assumptions (in Pounds) (whoops!). They were suffering from a disturbed night and an attack of the "Bugbear" virus - nevertheless we were taken (and treated!) to the delightful "Maison Lavendier" restaurant in Le Lédat for the statutary French lunchtime blowout of delicious nosh.
A short drive to St Livrade-s-Lot found Alain Prost masquerading as a provincial immobilier. He was kind enough to take us on a couple of proving runs for his F1 diesel-engined BMW. Unfortunately the narrow French lanes and tractor-infested roads restricted the full potential of his machine, so speeds of only 140 - 160 kph were possible, which was good since Christine only just managed to retain her lovely lunch.
At each of a couple of rapid pit stops we were able to view a property. Pit Stop #1 property was a promising stone ferme, complete with ducks, chickens, goats and sheep, unfortunately no piles of Goodyear slicks in heater blankets and a refuelling crew. We couldn't see the interior (no owner present, no key) but an exterior inspection revealed a substantial and extensive house, unfortunately dominated by a huge and very proximate brick/breeze block and black corrugated-iron grange, owned by the neighbour and used for storing plums. So one could relax with one's G&T, smiling at the belle vue, then turn 45 degrees and scowl at the neighbouring architectural abortion.
Pit Stop #2 property was uncomfortably close to the N21 near the pleasant village of Castelnaud. It was a stone ferme which had been insensitively improved by the covering of any interesting bits by plaster board or tongue & groove. A pleasant view of the neighbouring golf course (down Ian!) had been enhanced by a large breezeblock barn that stood foursquare in the way. There was a wonderful colombage barn, featuring a stored caravan (hint) and some very genuine-looking wattle, straw & daub infill. There was a lot of work required in every area. An efficient project manager with a building team and some heavy machinery and a big skip at his disposal could have sorted it out fairly quickly. This project manager has had his fill of such things and would dearly like to spend the twilight of his years sipping G&Ts and watching the setting sun, not give himself a crise du coeur trying to knock down enormous barns with a chisel and club hammer. On the closing lap Alain Prost tried hard but didn't succeed in catching sight of the inevitably successful Michael Schumaker, so it was with some relief that we staggered, grateful to be alive, but somewhat disappointed, into the warm evening sunshine of St Livrade-s-Lot.
Back at Le Camping, M Le Responsable is still anxious to sell us most of Aquitaine for 50p.
04 October 2002 17:51
Bottom and porcelain had a repetitive interface today, due to a slight case of the Lot Trots. Fortunately porcelain was still warm, even though we had to get up *in the dark* for the first time this year, in order to get to Cancon and meet Andrew fresh from the school run. Can't Perigord and Quercy adopt GMT not CET?
We all went to an immo in Villeneuve-s-Lot, browsed through some pictures and Andrew spotted a "fermette" in an area he knew. A refreshingly slow but capable trundle in The Beast took us up the rolling hills south of V-s-L; the fermette had half a hectare of established garden on interestingly split levels, a two bed plain-pied house and a modest barn with garage, gite potential and an area zoned for the padded loo seat production facility. Since we couldn't get the key we couldn't inspect the "er indoors" territory but it looks a possibility. The only drawbacks I could see was a potential view to die for which was eclipsed by trees below the property, some of which however were owned by it and could be trimmed or removed; also, though within cycling distance on the ridiculous bicycle to V-s-L, the terminal velocity on the down slope would be high and on the return journey would be a get off and push job! Made an appointment to see the inside tomorrow - peut être............... If we buy it my Christmas present will be the biggest chainsaw I can afford!
Dropped Andrew at the groaning board and we went back to the caravan for a kaolin and morphine baguette and a porcelain reunion. Back at the caravan we found that the camp washing machine was en panne, so we had a return trip to the Fumel laverie a libre service. The programmes on the little round screens were marginally better than French television, particularly when my briefs got tangled with Christine's knickers. Time to prepare the filet de veau avec sauce Immodium
05 October 2002 23:19
Another morning when we rose while it was still dark - for the first time we put the chauffage soufflante a l'air on in the caravan – 7°C and brouillard over the Lot. A disturbed night, maybe the anticipation? - I dreamed that our prospective purchase had one piscine per person, laid out like bodies in a mortuary - shudder! Pleased to report movements much firmer - more like potage de jour than consommé, but porcelain encore froide! Took a few pics of the mist floating eerily over the river, while the rising sun tinged the top with gold.
Our journey to Villeneuve-Lot was largely in fog, but we arrived in brilliant sunshine, the start of a day that was to be memorable in more ways than just for the weather, which, for October, was incredible - more like a midsummer's day. "Our" house turned out to be considerably nicer than we expected for the residence of a single Frenchman. It was in very good decorative order. The papier peint may not have figured too prominantly in the Laura Ashley catalogue, but it certainly wasn't as revolting as some we have seen. (But why is it apparently fashionable to wallpaper the centre door panels?). There were original poutres apparentes in chène, une belle cheminée, a pleasant lounge and kitchen diner/breakfast room. I crawled through the grenier, poked the laine de verre (never mind the width, feel the thickness), said hullo to all the woodworm trying to chew through 100-year old oak, and tried hard but failed to find any show stoppers. Outside, the wood boundary that was bothering me proved to be further away, so most of the "view-to-die-for-obstructing" trees were on MY side, consisting mainly of ash - quick growing and used for fuel, and chène - eminently saleable. All clearable to expose the view. M Le Propriétaire had been in residence for some 30 years, he was a bricoleur of some competence - I noted the anti-syphon traps on his waste plumbing. In sunshine the whole fermette seemed more desirable than before - there were many potential expansion possibilities - the 350 m2 grange, which was prettier than the house could accommodate several gites, even the grenier would stretch to two good-sized bedrooms for the price of some lining and insulation of the toiture.
So it came to the negotiating phase, with owner and agent, then the agent back at V-s-L, resulting in an offer that was accepted and the signing of the promesse de vente. The agent was an English and French-speaking Dutchman, so at times I found myself speaking French to a Dutch person - embarrassing!
In the meantime we had lunch and took the opportunity to look round the town, which has some very attractive mediaeval properties and commerces bordering the Lot and some dramatic stone bridges arching over and reflecting in the calm and serene river.
And so back to the caravan - yet again a big lunch, so no big dinner - "ham egg & chips" and a bottle de plonk rouge du region. I looked for an open campsite in the V-s-L area so that we could be near our new home, but they all close in August/September. I hope that M Le Responsable du Camping won't be too disappointed when I don't buy his mate's ferme - I couldn't stand the fumes that occasionally come from Fumel's aluminium smelter - have you ever filed aluminium? - it smells just like that!
And finally, the spec:
A Ste Columbe de Villeneuve ancienne fermette en pierres rénovée avec grange et petit dépandances sur un terrain arboré de 5387 m2. Maison de plain pied, vérandas, cuisine équipé, couloir, salle de bain, wc, 2 chambres dont une avec placards, séjour avec cheminée. Grange en pierre de 350m2. Toiture refaite à neuf à la maison et grange. Bon état, quartier calme, stuation dominante. Chauffage central fuel.
There are all sorts of other goodies not mentioned, like a big cistern for surface water with electric pump, an old well with an attractive stone surround, a cave for all the plonk, etc., etc. And so to bed. It's nice to be excited at 63 years of age!
06 October 2002 17:24
Where is it? - about 8 km south west of Vllleneuve-s-Lot - if you leave V-s-L on the D118 through Pujols you can see Ste Colombe-de-Villeneuve on the East side of the D118; however our place to be is on the other (west) side of the D118.
When will we be in? - the vendeur is going diving in Thailand in early January for three weeks, so it'll probably be late Jan, early Feb. A good time to test the chauffage and the isolation! I can't expect days when it's too hot to sit in the sun, like today - in October! I shall take away a wonderful picture of this area - the morning mist over the river, the rolling hills, the wonderful colours now the trees are reluctantly putting on their autumn coats. I shall just have to imagine the rain! No excitement today, a disturbed night with my id going berserk in Quercy with a chain saw, then a lay-in to 8 oclock - a chilly 5°C overnight so the chauffage soufflée was left on to keep us cosy. Off to the launderette in Fumel, walked round the town and bought bread and Saturday's Telegraph, then the caravan to do some internet banking, have lunch and fester in the glorious sunshine.
08 October 2002 23:03
5 degs C this morning, sunshine and just a few misty fairies dancing on the Lot (no, ducky, not that sort!). Cirro-stratus and warm sun all day.
Late morning shopping in Villeneuve-sur-Lot - once again impressed by the town - went into the Tourist Board and came out with "L'Annuaire Practique", a detailed list of everything the town can offer, together with phone numbers and web sites. Also got one of those superb IGN 1:25000 maps that shows "our house" and its barn as separate blobs.
Then a pleasant lunch at Le Ledat, before an appointment at the Banque Populaire to try opening a compte courante. No real problems but the poor girl had to spend some time with us shuffling our feet and looking out of the window as she tried to make the French computer system accept an English address! Then picked up the Dutch immo and went to the Notaire - very French, very formal - like a registry office - Notaire intoned the various clauses suspensives etc. in a loud and sepulchral tone - Dutch immo chipped in where my French faltered and the documents were initialled and signed and annotated in French - Christine's copied handwritten French was really impressive! Notaire relaxed and became human when vendor and I were having a side negotiation about the woodpile and the tank full of fioul, where words like "gratuit" and "cadeau" were encouragingly used. Then the bombshell - how about mid December for the Acte de Vente - gulp - why not? - sooner the better - Christmas in France sounds nice - we don't have to actually move in, but then again, why not? Or maybe we can get a quick Buzz flight and impose on someone? Hands were shaken, and we returned with the vendor to his/our house for another session of photographs - I needed some more to position the furniture *behind* the camera. Then back to the caravan and to break the bad news to M Le Responsable du Camping, i.e. (1) I'm not going to buy his mate's farm behind the aluminium smelter and (2) I'm leaving tomorrow for the "Les Pierres" Three Star Caravan Site.
09 October 2002 23:23
A warm 15 degs C this morning, due to light cloud cover. Woke up early - things unplanned begging to be organised! Possible solution: Christine & I drive out with caravan, car stuffed with tools, prior to the 20th December acte de vente. Chat up departing owner - park on his/our land. After acte de vente, go and buy a new, big double bed, as ours is staying in Essex. Shack up in new bed; Peter flies out, lives in caravan. We have Christmas in France, trois tous les deux! Then Christine and Peter fly out, leaving old fart getting place ready. Back home, Christine directs removalist who transports remaining furniture to France, then, overcome with yearning returns, gratefully, to old fart (I wish). Then there's the "what do we do with" 1750 cu ft of stored furniture, etc., dream - but you don't need that dream - I guess you've all got some of your own.
Pulled up our roots from the pretty little spot by the Lot, and drove through pleasant countryside to get to the Andrew Rest Home for Retired Caravanners; le patron himself, philanthropist and benefactor, arrived as we were levelling the 'van and generously offered us the run of the house on his country estate, including a mains supply with line and neutral in their appointed places. After setting up I rang those holding my euro account and discussed electronic transfer, then filled in the various forms and dug out the printer so that I could apply a covering letter. A sky bothered with an unusual amount of cloud finally rained heavily upon us, as we went to "La Poste" in Cancon to send off the mandate, speaking to yet another nice lady who recommended the "Chronopost" service at €33 -worth it for piece of mind.
As the local Casino was shut we then went to Leclerc in Villeneuve-s-Lot for provisions, then to the local brico to replace the water-filling pipe that someone who shall be nameless left in Fumel. Le soir - shower in the luxurious toilet block and a dinner of "Tournedos Ian with Fromage Cantal".
10 October 2002 21:54
Pitter-patter of rain on the 'van roof most of the night - stayed showery and about 13 degs C most of the day. Looked forward to a comfortable loo seat this morning, but twas not to be - system can now only be triggered by ice-cold porcelain. I must be concentrated, or something. Sorted all of my house pics into Exterieure/Interieure/Localite, named the interior ones by room and "Photoshopped" them where necessary, attempted to deduce house plan for furniture planning. Produced some 96dpi 6" x 4" compressed JPEGs for the "look what we've gone and done with your inheritance" family email and uploaded them - only took 9 minutes for 6.
Andrew introduced me to the head of the local sausage-smuggling mafia; held clandestine meeting to discuss couriers. Some poor lost souls are apparently cooking them, then eating them in their skins to get them through customs. This is a highly dangerous practice - the skins have been known to split while cooking, spraying hot fat on the live coals, and if it happens in the stomach the poor unfortunate will get a bad dose of obesity. Tried to do a deal for some top-quality Cumberland Brown and a few kilos of Columbian Mergez, but the Lancastrian Black Pudding gang have cornered the market.
Some federal anti-sausage agents arrived, pretending to be Dutch house buyers, so we changed the subject to house removals - in any case we didn't have a Dutch house. Apparently there are occasions when the sausage market slackens, mainly due to rain or the worldwide shortage of barbeque brickettes - then it is possible to ship a few cubic meters of poor old pensioners pathetic last remaining worldly goods, then they can pay it off when they collect their pensions every Tuesday, with a free sausage thrown in for every load.
Ce soir chop & chips & peas for me, virtuous holier than thou salmon salad for 'er indoors. Nice to have a no-pressure day pottering in the 'van - 'er indoors didn't agree and will need to be taken out and entertained tomorrow.
11 October 2002 22:05
A mild and misty day, with a few brief showers and a fleeting éclaircie this afternoon. The countryside still looks attractive - rather romantic with the soft autumn colours made even more low-key because of the mist. I forgot to mention that the sausage-smuggler and amateur removalist I met yesterday had a strangely familar accent - it turned out that he'd lived in Kidderminster, my town of birth, for several years. Tracked my chronopost mail on the internet tracking service - it's left La Poste at Bordeaux en route to Blighty. Gave my solicitor in the UK an email prod - he's supposed to be back from hols today. Probably been to the South Pacific judging from what we have to pay him. Then a little internet banking before going into Villeneuve.
Lunch was just the Plat du Jour at a local pavement café - even that was a bit of a blowout - nice but quite a lot.
Question 1 - when the French eat a full lunch, what do they eat in the evening - surely not a full dinner!
Question 2 - I've never had a house with shutters before - how do you use them? - the security aspect is obvious, as is the removal of light to improve sleep. But do you open them in the morning to let the cool air in then shut them against the heat of the day? If so do you use the electric light?
After lunch went to EDF to check on how we can ensure that we don't spend Christmas without power - tried to get a leaflet about Tempo, Heures Creuses, etc., but without too much success. Our house is on Heures Creuses at the moment, which we'll probably stick with. Looks like the EDF website is more informative than the local office. Then off to Leclerc to stock up on booze, a look round "GiFi" (mainly tasteless crap but the French were there in droves buying silk flowers for Toussaint) then back to the caravan - Madame could only manage a boiled egg for dinner - I made an effort and had a few chips and a veal & Emmenthal thingy.
12 October 2002 22:13
Woke up at 4am again in a muck sweat from simultaneously wielding the chain saw and chipping crepi off walls - then realised it was dark, the caravan had no crepi on the walls, I didn't own a tronçonneuse and I'll bloody well have to wait before I can start playing with my big Christmas present. Yah boo sucks! After some time went back to sleep and woke up at a disgraceful 09:15 CET to another mild but misty morning.
So off to Agen - made a bee line for the Musee des Beaux Arts - set in a lovely building with some wonderful stone staircases and original carrelage floors, a special expo on Mesopotamian glassware and a few good impressionist paintings - a couple of Sisleys and some by a painter I hadn't heard of - Lebache (sp?) who had an almost Canaletto-esque grasp of the effect of light on a scene. We spent so much time pouring over these riches that we forgot the rumbly tummies - when we got out it was Saturday Afternoon and everything was conspicuously closed - found an "Irish Bar" that had the effrontery to allege that there was no Guinness or Murphy's on tap - had to settle for an Amstel and a coffee! At least the sun had made a welcome appearance and I wished I'd put the shorts on as opposed to the track pants. Then we browsed through a couple of daringly-open department stores and returned to the caravan, lunch-less, for a couple of bevvies and a packet of crisps, prior to a weird dinner of mergez, mash and haricots vert.
Agen did not impress me - it seemed to have no definite centre, the banks of the Garonne and the canal could have been more interesting, and though there were some beautiful mediaeval buildings they were diluted by lots of indifferent architecture. Villeneuve is far nicer IMHO. There was, however, a good range of shops, particularly for ladies keen to shop until they drop.
19 October 2002 09:52
It was a straightforward trip via Bordeaux on to the RN10 and up to Rodville. We successfully passed Hazard #1 (crossing the culvert without dropping a caravan wheel in the ditch) and reached base camp for Hazard#2, the final assault on the summit of the Salles-de-Villefagnan Matterhorn. The Beast buckled down, pawed the ground with its 265R70 16's and pulled the ton and a half of caravan up the slope without even bothering to engage the two differential locks or select low reduction, as befits the vehicle of a founder member of the Foulness Island Mountain Rescue Club.
At this point, a young Englishman dashed out to greet us - when asked if he knew where Old Mr Rod lived, he alleged that he was Rod and has been maintaining that pretence ever since. All I can say is that the picture of Dorian in the attic (grenier?) must be looking a bit past it! After parking the 'van on the summit, next to the woodpile and using my entire stock of blocks to level the thing, we repaired to the house and introductions to June, and drinkypoos before The House Tour. A sensitive and skilful restoration, the house is furnished with flair and taste (including THE magnificent biblio!). We gained lots of ideas for sorting out our house. We were billeted in the gite - were I to arrive there on holiday I'd be pinching myself to see if I was dreaming - attractive, spacious, well decorated, well equipped and including all those careful extra touches that make such a difference. For dinner June served a scrummy spread of "squash" soup followed by chicken and tarragon, cheese and apple lattice pie, all washed down with excellent wines - the anticipated heady blood didn't appear next day, doubtless because of the quality of the wine. I must go and send this (I can only get enough signal by standing by the upstairs window with the laptop pressed against the glass - stone houses seem to make good Faraday cages!).
19 October 2002 21:41
A chilly, misty morning in the Charente Maritime - we're definitely moving North now! I finally managed to send yesterday's report by going outside and balancing the laptop on the woodpile! Today we lunched with Rod and June at their favourite local restaurant, the "Au Cheval Blanc" - lovely food and pleasant, relaxed conversation in relaxing surroundings. Rod drove, so I was allowed to imbibe, even though there was a "Y" in the day. This afternoon the lovely Allison zoomed over from Courant with her boys Tyler and Callum - she was in very good form and excited that she was helping out at a local immos with Brit clients, with a possible view to a job, if an appropriate way round the work permit problem could be found. With her bounce, wit, personality, intelligence and friendly nature she will do really well. Rod & June hadn't met Allison before, but everyone got on like a house on fire.
21 October 2002 20:49
We chose a quiet aire de repos north of Orleans - in fact I'd hung on to the A10 as long as possible in order to be able to stop at an aire before branching NW to Chartres, Dreux, Evreux and Rouen. It was a good choice - no noise and we slept well - only one camion shared our plot when we awoke. A straightforward journey with heavy rain to start with which cleared to be warm, bright and sunny; no contretemps in Rouen this time and we got to our scheduled stop south of Abbeville in such good time that we decided to press on a little further.
Montreuil-sur-Mer is a pleasant little town - we spent Christmas 1990 there - so we decided to break our autoroute journey to stop at the municipal campsite, which happens to be open all year. An additional benefit was that Ian could go into town to seek out some French plugs to attach to Brit multi-way adaptors as a temporary measure when moving in to the French house - having done the same exercise twice when moving from England to Australia and then Australia to England I know just how many plugs we have and what a pain it is to change them. I found one of those small town hardware stores that stock absolutely everything, complete with a helpful assistant, and came away with some three-pin and some two-pin French plugs. We wanted to eat at a restaurant we know, but it was predictably fermé le lundi, so it was back to the caravan for a Spag Bog Christine. Demain - The Norfolk Line Ferry and the Off-White (Nick?) Cliffes of Dover.
05 November 2002 00:44
Our anniversary got off to a peculiar start. Scarcely had I made her ladyship's tea in bed and exchanged soppy cards when the mobile phone rang, with only strange noises and muttered male conversation on the end. I tried yelling, then blowing a whistle down the phone, to no avail. So then I tried ringing the number and, strangely, it connected me with the French-based removalist who had arrived in Colchester and had just punched my number into his phone, then shoved it into his pocket. So it was encouraging to know that someone was, in fact, on his way. We went into Colchester and picked up the keys to UK Base and rattled around in an empty place, which inevitably seemed bigger but dirtier than we remembered it. The phone rang again and we were summoned to a remote place in darkest Essex where our worldly goods were stored.
The removal van was backed up to the store and stuff was unloaded from the storage containers, with Xine & I each having a container and the Valkyrie-like job of consigning everything to either Paradise in France or Eternal Perdition in England. The latter category was loaded on the lorry and taken to Wivenhoe, where a whole load of kitchen and garage boxes were unpacked for a continuation of the Paradise/Perdition selection process.
This had just been completed when the lorry full of Paradise items turned up with the bad news that a local weighbridge had reported that the truck was overweight and that some Paradise items had to be left in store and that some of the repacked and reprieved Paradise items in UK Base were doomed to clutter up the vast halls of our imposing new stately home until the lorry could next return from Paradise. So instead of beavering away and missing our lunch we could have had a whole week to sort the damned things out.
So I unloaded some extra stuff from The Beast, tinkered with the central heating (which worked OK), measured up for a new washer/dryer, cooker, etc., and we both returned, knackered to "home" in Colchester Caravan Park. Neither of us was prepared to dress up and do the town, so we went up to the local pub; I had some barbequed ribs and herself had a knuckle of lamb, washed down with a respectable St Emilion - the food and the wine were surprisingly good, we were pretty satisfied with our days work, so it was in a contented frame of mind that we returned to the caravan and Magic the lonely pussy cat who is anxious to move into her new house. But, of course, he had to play with "that computer", and upload his horrid little news on a wireless link at enormous expense when he should have been using his new landline courtesy of British Telecom! Tomorrow - the inquest on all the things we consigned to Paradise that should be helping us to survive Perdition!
This is where disaster struck – the purchase money for the French house was incorrectly sent by a slow route and we had to postpone the Acte de Vente until after Christmas, so we prepared for an impromptu Christmas in the little Wivenhoe house.
28 December 2002 11:26
We had a quiet Christmas day, just us three both. Peter had a "stocking" as usual, although he now goes to bed so late that Father Christmas can't wait until he goes to sleep, so one of Santa's little helpers has to throw the stocking in at the recumbent, snoring monstrosity next morning. At least he actually got up before midday for once! I cobbled up a bit of my website update, then Xtine, Peter and I walked down to the river front pub for a pint - the weather was very mild and quite sunny for once.
Back home we had smoked salmon, then a small boned & rolled turkey washed down with some nice St Emilion, platefuls of Brandy Butter and cream with a token spoonful of Christmas Pudding, then Stilton & Port. It was early evening before we got round to pressy opening; I had a vacuum wine saver, a wine bottle foil cutter, a wine mulling spice container (note the common theme so far!), a corrugated frying pan, a stainless steel fork & trowel, CDs (Fleetwood Mac & Norah Jones) and a DVD (The Office). I bought Xtine a jade pendant to match last Christmas's earrings, a silly soft cuddly sheep masquerading as Rudolph the Reindeer and some Lancôme face-repair compound; Peter got a Zip drive to go with his new computer. Boxing Day enabled a few little jobs to be done (new taps for the bathroom, etc) and finished web site update.
So how did we do against the spec?
√ Une petite maison en pierre, idéalement une petite ferme
X avec au moins trois chambres à coucher
√ et avec quelques annexes - une grange et un hangar.
√ Je voudrais un grand jardin.
√ habitable, avec l'électricité, l'eau et des eaux d'égout reliées.
X Près d'un village français fonctionnel
√ la petite maison doive avoir une belle vue.
√ Une ligne aérienne peu coûteuse dans une heure ou deux.
√ dans la région de 160.000 à 200.000 euros
So 7/9 isn’t bad; we’ve only two bedrooms but our floor area isn’t much less than our five-bedroomed house in the UK. The small villages with toutes commerces are getting harder to find as the supermarkets take over, and once you’re in the car it matters little whether the journey is 3km or 10km; as it happens we’re only 5km from Auchan but, since we’re up high, in a rural and tranquil area. Anyway we love it!