This is it! We have just been given the keys to Les Quatre Chemins – our new home to be in France. We haven’t yet completed on the purchase, but have been given permission to start work on clearing the outbuildings so that all our stuff, when it finally arrives from storage in UK, has somewhere to go. This seems a good point to start the blog.
If not now, when?
For 30 years (it was our pearl anniversary this year) Rod and I have been holidaying in France and dreaming of owning a property here. Many winter evenings have been spent looking at houses online, many summers looking out for “A vendre” signs, followed by lots of fantasising about a new life in France. There have been times ie following a redundancy, when we have seriously considered making the move, but the time never seemed right – the uncertainty and risks too big. However, at 56 and 62 respectively, a series of personal and professional circumstances and events – some traumatic, some serendipitous – came together to create what seemed a “perfect storm”. The time was now. Or maybe never.
So, after Easter, back to school and I gave a term’s notice, Rod resigned and we put the house on the market. The die were cast. Following the gut feeling that “it was meant to be”, we accepted an offer for our house after just 3 weeks and were thrown into a frenzy of planning. Three short months later, at the beginning of July, we loaded up the caravan, put all the rest of our worldly possessions into storage, and, along with the 2 dogs, Monty and Dippy, caught the ferry on a one way trip to France to find our new home and new life.
We had a 3 week schedule of house viewings pre-booked from endless internet research, up to 5 a day. The itinerary was organised on a spread sheet – we had no time to waste. The cost of storage was as much as our mortgage had been – but with no salaries anymore to fund it. We had planned for 4 months of storage, which, naively, seemed to be tons of time! It was a hectic, exciting, tiring, and sometimes dispiriting time. Our criteria were pretty clear, but we saw some horrors – some houses I wouldn’t even put the dogs in. Some of the online photos that we had based our choices on were up to 4 years old – a pool can get very green and overgrown in that time, and, in one case, the barn had actually fallen down since the photos. But we persevered and made new contacts, with different properties, and this is how we found Les Quatre Chemins. On our first viewing we knew that this was where our future lay. Not only was it set in the middle of 3.5ha, it overlooked 2 lovely lakes. Location location location.
Within days we had an offer accepted, and the process started. So did our introduction to French bureaucracy. In order to do the equivalent of exchange contracts, where we pay a deposit and then everyone is legally bound to the sale, there had to be an official inspection of the fosse septique (septic tank) with a certificate of conformity (or non conformity as the case may be) issued. Apparently there are 2 chaps who do this for the whole of the Lot et Garonne – and they were on holiday for July and August! So that put things back by 6 weeks right at the start. By the end of September we had signed the “Compromis”, handed over our deposit, and had our 10 day cooling off period. Completion was set towards the end of November.
The vendor, Monsieur D, learnt from the estate agent that we were to be staying in our caravan until we moved in on completion. Whilst we were perfectly happy with this arrangement, he was horrified and promptly offered the use of one of his 2 gites as it was then empty. To further add to our good fortune, he only asked for a nominal rent “as we were to be neighbours”, which, we came to learn, was typical of his kindness towards us. Even the dogs weren’t a problem as he had a Labrador himself. As the gite was less than 500m from Les Quatre Chemins it was ideal. “Our lake” became our daily walk with the dogs. It also meant that we were able to borrow the key a couple of times and go in, look around, measure up and start making plans. We were very conscious not to do it too often in case we seemed to be taking liberties.
Then yesterday, M.D turned up with the house key and told us to take it. He added that, since the house was now to be ours, we could start clearing out and cleaning up the outbuildings in readiness for the arrival of all of our belongings. He also asked if we would like to buy some pasture seed and the farmer would drill the 2ha which were currently ankle-breaking ploughed field. Bien sur!!! No more killing time and twiddling thumbs – we could start on our new life.
So started the shopping and a broadening of our vocab in a very niche way. E350 of mixed pasture seed from Gamm Vert. The plan was to create a meadow to supply hay, whilst the animals grazed the other 1.5ha. Hopefully we could also create some garden space around the house as it had been cultivated right up to the edge.
A wheelbarrow, dustbins, yard brush and shovel from Bricomarche. And loyalty cards from both. Then back to Bricomarche for a 5L sprayer and some nasty French chemicals to declare war on the weeds which were starting to take over the courtyard.
Walking boots and jeans became work clothes – what we had in the caravan was limited in terms of wardrobe choice!
The morning was glorious, still, with a deep cloudless blue sky. And we set to. The garage, being lockable, was the first job to clear. It housed the huge boiler and oil tank, a wardrobe, ancient fridge, lots of rubbish, dead rats etc. We found the tip’s opening hours online and loaded Ruby (old red Landrover Discovery) up. Getting rid of the fridge was one major nasty smell eliminated – even worse than the dead mammals which were at least so desiccated as to be fairly odourless! Then Rod started in the small barn, which was very dark and spidery. So I elected to start on the weed spraying. Another trip to the tip with everything from ancient sacks of chalk, old kitchen units, rusty metal and some indescribable yellow stuff in kilner jars which, fortunately, R couldn’t get the lids off.
However, as R kept finding “treasures”, there were a lot of things which didn’t (and should have!) make it to the tip. Here is a man who can go to the tip and return with more than he went with! At least, with the size of the large barn, there will be plenty of storage for all of these obscure items “which might come in handy”. Certainly, there were as many exclamations of “ooh, look at this” as there were of “Yugh”. A case of “One bin for me, one bin for the tip!!!!!”
Amazing how big the room looked when cleared.
Having mocked Rod for his salvaging, I did keep one thing – a very lethal looking old horse drawn harrow with wicked looking blades. Not sure what I’ll do with it, but…..
The only thing we couldn’t do anything about in the first room in the small barn is a metal tank, too big to budge. The 2 of us couldn’t even lift one leg. Dipping it with a bamboo cane, it still has fuel of some sort in it, below the level of the tap. Red diesel? What to do with it? Not quite what I want in my freezer and produce room to be. Any suggestions anyone?
A 5l sprayer is no weight and spraying in a sun top in 25C, looking out over the lake, with herons and buzzards as the only noise, was not really hardship. Not quite a fair division of labour really. And to think that I could have been teaching!
To take the occasional break, we moved beams of oak around, laying them in various places to try and envisage things like the pool, the covered terrace – (would it obstruct the view?) – and the veg patch. Happy as pigs in the proverbial! A real feeling that this is about our future.
Today, as a break from the grime, we went for a bit of house related retail therapy. We bought 2 woodburners. I’d done extensive research, both on the internet, and going round all the brico stores in a 30km radius that we could find, pricing up everything from washbasins to tiles and palm trees. As it is now the start of autumn there are lots of offers on winter heating things and we finally found the one that we (I) wanted on offer online through our local store – another loyalty card bonus! It won’t come as any suprise that it is a red one for the kitchen. We are going to have to live with the beige tiles in there, and the units will be neutral, so I wanted a splash of colour. I have already sourced a red range, but we won’t buy that just yet! (Unless it goes on special offer!) The other was also specially reduced, until tomorrow, so it seemed a shame not to get that too. I keep telling Rod how much we are saving. The second is a more normal colour, black and tall and thin to fit in the corner in the living room. The living room has no fireplace, so at the moment seems to lack a focal point – except of course for the lovely view over the lake. But that won’t keep us warm over what we have been told can be very cold winters.