Monthly Archive for March, 2010

Marooned

I suspect I may become very familiar with Toulouse airport but our early encounters are not propitious. It’s a pig to escape from and I ended up in a boulangerie asking directions before I found the right road out. And, alas, French traffic controllers were on strike when I tried to fly back. Easyjet cancelled the flight to London. They offered me a substitute the next week, not much use since the second leg to Edinburgh is BA. The BA desk was swamped. An employee from a rival airline pushed his way to the front trying to squeeze on the last flight of the night although we are told it was both filled and boarding. ‘My people are talking to your people,’ he told the clerk. The queue muttered at him.

The first available plane was the following morning.  My existing reservation was useless. 220 extra Euros it would cost to fly back. The clerk looked at me with alarm. ‘Do not be so angry and impatient.’ But I’m neither, just mildly spaced out and resigned. I imagined she’s pre-empting what must be a common reaction in such circumstances.

Did I look for a hotel? But I was already poorer than I budgeted for and a few hours in the terminal could not be difficult, better than under the rubble of Haiti at any rate. The lounge was comfy, the wifi worked, at least once I’d persuaded the assistant at the kiosk selling the pooter time that a British ordinateur will work on the French system. I exchanged a faint smile with a man squabbling gently over his dinner with his wife. I knew him by sight. Had I met him? Or was he merely famous?

The lounge closed at 11pm and I was reduced to the only padded bench on the premises, set in a small darkened glass box on the edge of the atrium in departures. A noisy trio settle quite close but the building emptied for a few hours and peace was interrupted only by the 15 minute messages telling me not to smoke or leave unattended baggage, else it would be destroyed. Impedimenta delenda est. The terminal came to life once more at 5am and I watched from my bench in the semi-darkness of my box as humanity milled round the check in counters. Nobody wore track suits; very few were fat.

Coffee was at 8am. In front of me was a blocky young man with an Easter Island face and blond hair half way down his back. He was wearing a well-tailored black overcoat, his nationality unfathomable. ‘Bonjour, monsieur, que voulez-vous?’ asked the assistant.

He looked baffled. ‘Tea!’ he bellowed, rhyming it with Tay, as in river. He knew that to shout was to be understood.

‘Milk or lemon?’ asked the girl.

He seemed panic stricken; the accent, I supposed. ‘Tea!’ he shouted once more. Then his face cleared a little. ‘Black tea!’

He sat impassively at a table while two associates played flunky round him.

The tedium of air travel was only broken at Terminal 5 security. I had only a small suitcase as hand luggage which stopped inside the X-ray machine as I was being fondled by the exploding knickers expert. The faintly larky atmosphere amongst the staff suddenly changed and worried faces peered at the monitor.

The suitcase and I were pulled aside. We had three attendants. ‘Is this yours?’

‘Yes.’

‘Don’t touch it!’ So I didn’t. A sniffing machine huffed at it and a swab was taken. ‘Right. Please open it’

‘It’s open.’

‘Oh.’

I was faintly discommoded by the week’s worth of dirty washing inside and prepared to evacuate the contents.

‘Don’t touch anything!’ So I didn’t. Out came my socks and pants. They were swabbed. A piece of protruding wire alongside some camera batteries elicited a sharp intake of breath and a more ginger swabbing before it was revealed to be the lead for a phone charger. Then the object of concern appeared, a foie gras destined for the hosts of the fluffy dog.

The tension evaporated. ‘It looked just like explosive under the X-ray, sir.’  It didn’t stop every item in the case being swabbed and then the case itself, inch by meticulous inch. Then the swab was checked. Then I was allowed to repack my case and catch a plane. I was given a refund of £18.75 by Easyjet in compensation for my cancelled flight.

Calloo Callay

I want a garden for the fluffy dog to strut his stuff. This precludes some half-decent properties.

How about a large house with an adequate patch of land? But it needs some work done. And it’s adjacent to a well-used church with an ominous bell tower.

Open the bedroom window and there’s a tortured saint staring back from his pedestal across the street. The skyline to the east is dominated by two mighty columns of steam as thick as double cream pouring from the cooling towers of the nuke at Golfech across the river Garonne. They’re rather beautiful.

Or can I face living in a picturesque semi whose mouldering other half has a hole in the roof? It faces a vast graveled square in a silent, sun-blasted village with a mairie, half a dozen houses and a few moping hens. The space is for no more than the bi-annual fete, one hopes, but the floodlights are worrying. Given few bars of Morricone, I can imagine Clint Eastwood slitting his eyes at me across the expanse.

It looked as if the choice would be between this and a well-hedged bungalow in a semi-industrial part of one of the least attractive towns in the region. Its owners, anxious ancient Brits, are desperate to sell and collapse into a UK retirement home.

Then – calloo callay – on the last day, a forage on the edge of my search area produced something rather better. Three properties were on offer. One, in town, a pretty town, was sandwiched between an agricultural co-op and les pompiers.

They do ambulance as well as fire – a combination that might be a good idea in this country. In fact when faced by a mad rapist in my bedroom, I have always been advised to 999 for fire rather than police. In a twinkling the room will be filled with half a dozen large men in helmets with axes.

The pompiers sirened their way out of their headquarters twice during my brief inspection of the property. Another bungalow had no privacy and overlooked a mineral lake which was said to be filled with decrepit geriatrics in summer in search of revitalisation, a soggy Lourdes.

At the last, the agent – a Brit, female, 9 years in the country, loves it – and I were greeted by two little dogs. They spent their day in their owner’s garden with free access to the road, an indication of the peace of the village. Good mates for my fluffy number, I thought. Both of us could soon be speaking dog French.

The commune, the equivalent of a parish, holds less than a hundred souls, the village perhaps 20. It’s a few kilometers from Miradoux in the Tarn and Garonne.

The garden is private and the terrace overlooks a 5-kilometer view. In the foreground across a valley is a glorious crumbling chateau nestling amid a hotchpotch of ancient farm buildings. But can a view ever be private? The more you see, the more’s chance of someone looking back. The best one can hope for is that a peeping tom must go to the trouble of a powerful telescope. In this case privacy should at least be proof against the naked eye.

terrace view

The View From The Terrace

Perhaps 150 years old, the house has been restored by a Frenchman rather than been given a TV tart-up by a Brit. Used as a holiday house, it has an open ground floor with a combo kitchen and sitting room, walled with timber interlaced with pink Toulouse brick. Two sets of french windows lead to the garden. Up a charming staircase with worn oak treads is plenty of room for me as well as for friends or visiting kin. Houses are some 30% cheaper in France rather than the UK. My offer is geared accordingly.

Offer made

Offer Made