Monthly Archive for April, 2010

Moving in

Yesterday was pretty hectic. The first appointment was with the notaire, going through the legal documents to buy the house. She was a neat woman in her forties, her fingers heavy with Taylor-size diamonds. Would I teach her 16 year-old son English during the school holidays?. Certainly, he could teach me French at the same time. While I was there Sam the Van texted to announce that he had arrived with the furniture.

My son, bless him, has come south with me to help me move in. I picked up the keys and hurried to the house. I had 5 minutes to inspect it and then sped to the bank to open an account. My French was inadequate to fully understand it was all about. Their English was inadequate to explain it. Nonetheless I have a bank account. I don’t think it will be operational for 3 weeks as money laundering checks have to be made. In fact I think I have two accounts. One a feeder into the current account. They automatically move money from current to feeder if too much goes into current, but it’s up to me to transfer to current from feeder. And the guillotine awaits me if the account is overdrawn. I can’t have got this right. Once I have a phone line and an internet connection, I’ll be able to find someone to explain what I’ve signed up for. The French utilities can now remove money from my accounts at leisure, even if I can’t.

After this I returned to the house to find the van gone and my knackered son surrounded by piles of junk. I examine the premises that I’ve bought. The grass has not been cut this year. A fair amount of iffy furniture has been left by the previous owner. The hot water supply comes from a combi boiler. There should be oil to fuel it since I’ve paid for some, but the operating instructions are in French and I cannot make the thing produce hot water. The black hole where the system lives has a low door. After bashing my head for the third time, I begin to dislike it. I rely on the web for technical translations but I’m incommunicado here until France Telecom hooks me up. Nonetheless, given a lick of paint over the gloomy brown woodwork, the house looks as if it’ll suit me beautifully.

The neighbours – the canine neighbours, a pack of three – come to visit. The fluffy dog is not impressed and bristles and growls. They’ll come to terms but I note that the friendliest has a large tick on her. Memo to self. Buy anti-tick stuff for dog. It heats up, pushing 28 degrees, close with it and not the ideal environment to be humping furniture about. During the night, rain breaks the heat. This morning it is cool and gray.

Other people must live in this hamlet. I’m told two or three wandered past when the van was being unloaded, but, bar the dogs, I haven’t seen a soul.

Landin

Southern France is a noisy place. When the sun sets the cicadas are joined by the frogs.

The trip down was very painless, purring down the motorways with a the briefest snarl round Paris and watching the temperature gently climb from 9 degrees as the car left the ferry to 30. It was down to a blissful 27 by the time we hit our destination and those many months of grim Scots winter could be forgotten.

In a couple of hours I collect the keys of the house, meet the furniture van and begin to move in. Then it’ll be a case of trying to set up communications, utilities and cautiously begin to inspect the local environment.

Limbo

This is a limbo moment, sitting for a day in London and hoping I’m able to get up at 3am to go and catch a ferry from Dover. The most serious problem I’ve so far during the process of emigration is discovering this morning that I failed to bring my razor.

The fluffy dog is having a lovely time, sitting at the feet of small grandchildren and catching the delicious things that they scatter during the feeding process. The removal man was most concerned that the beast was travelling on the ferry and tried to curdle my blood with tales of dogs that had gone mad because of the noise of the engines in the car deck where it would be confined. I tried to saucer my eyes to avoid being rude but told him that if the animal could cope with a carwash it could cope with almost anything.

My daughter had a mole removed a couple of weeks ago. The doctor sent her the result of the lab test. ‘Histological analysis showed a dysplastic compound melanocytic naevus (mild atypia). There is no evidence of pagetoid spread.’ That’s all right, then.

Juggernaut

At the moment I feel like a mascot stuck on the bonnet of a juggernaut called time. I can either concentrate on what lies ahead or just let time take care of it which it seems to be doing rather well. I drive south on Monday and catch an absurdly early ferry on Wednesday morning and then venture into the unknown or, more accurately, the unconsidered.

I took all the plastic off my kit which has spent the winter in a shed in preparation for a furniture van that turned up yesterday under the control of a gentle soul who criss-crossed the Continent bearing other people’s household goods. I’m due to meet him in France next week. My job was to pull everything into full view for inspection so that the order of loading could be determined. Bar the attentions of an enthusiastic woodworm it had survived the winter pretty well, but I really do own a terrible amount of tat.
The driver whinged softly about it all. Chairs are so difficult to stack. Isn’t one of those tables enough? It’s much easier if you dump stuff before you go rather than dump it at the other end. Not another picture. Can’t you take it in your car? Glass is so vulnerable on a long trip. Do you really need all those books? The boxes are so heavy. I allowed him a few small victories and he departed cheerfully after giving me a lecture on the sanctity of life when he spotted an air gun in the loo. I was supposed to shoot the scruffy town pigeons that come to copulate with the resident white doves but never got round to it.

I have been wintering with my sister-in-law, a teacher. She went to Sri Lanka for the school holidays and never came back. She’s still stuck under a palm tree without a confirmed flight home and she emails that the eyes of the airline’s local representative fill with tears when she drops by. I am in charge of her menagerie of three dogs, eight doves, four hens, one cat and two goldfish.
The hens take up most of the work, all of them bright young things who only started to lay after she’d gone. The main task with the doves is to stop them being eaten by the local sparrow hawk and discourage inappropriate sex. There are already a couple of piebald offspring this season.
Having been told that the goldfish were to be given something called a feeding block, they slipped my mind. I remembered them after I had been in charge for 10 days or so and rushed to their tank. There was a four-inch puddle of water at the bottom filled with water weed. I swithered about giving them tap water but decided that I faced an emergency situation so sloshed in half a bucketful. The weed floated up, but of the goldfish there was no sign. They can’t have evaporated. The cat has no access to them. So I am left with two alternatives. Either my s-in-law palmed them off on someone else before she left, or I did something unspeakable to them whilst sleep walking.
I meet a neighbour on Sunday who will take over the livestock role until the curator of the zoo returns.

Count down

In a fortnight I’ll be in a lawyer’s office in Miradoux in southern France collecting the keys to the house. By then I’ll have found out where Miradoux is. Otherwise things are quite well organised. The furniture van comes in a week and I will see how much can be stuffed inside and what has decayed after spending the winter in a barn. It seems pretty daft to bring a TV and microwave scavenged from a skip but that’s what’ll happen. I’m supposed to turn into a consumer and save the economy by buying new ones, but the rescues work, so why should I?

I have bought some euros for the trip, booked a ferry, started to say goodbyes and been gracious in the receipt of three pots of jam as a farewell gift. I even went to the dentist and was cheered by an astonishing foul-mouthed diatribe from him against the NHS, bureaucrats and politicians.

As well as the fluffy dog, 4 hens, 8 doves, a cat and a brace of goldfish, I’m in current charge of a whippet and an ancient black spaniel-size mutt. The latter is an amiable beast and potters through life 30 yards behind its fellows and me in a world of its own. We all went a walk a couple of days ago round an interesting castle ruin. As we were returning to the car a St Bernard rolled over the horizon behind us with its owner crying faintly from the distance. I ushered the two leaders through a gate, but the ambling mutt was oblivious to the monster that approached it at a full rhino-gallop. There was nothing I could do since the mutt is deaf and was 40 yards away. The St Bernard slowed down, lowered its snout to the mutt’s arse and huffed like a leaf blower. The dog spun round and found its head between the St Bernard’s front legs. After a split second’s of appalled inaction as it tried to compute what was going on, it collapsed onto its belly but was up in an instant and snapping at the St Bernard’s willy. The latter hurriedly retreated with the mutt in pursuit and the rest of us twiddled our thumbs or paws till it came ambling back.

Royal teeth

I was moodily brushing my teeth yesterday and my eye fell on the toothpaste tube. By appointment, it said, to the Prince of Wales. This worried me a bit. I wasn’t up to speed on HRH’s dentition, but I recall that his granny had a set of gnashers that would make a dentist weep. If I was expected to buy the toothpaste on the expectation of ending up with a mouth like that of Prince Charles, it seemed sensible to confirm that his choppers were up to scratch. Ah! The joys of google images.

It was not easy to stalk his dentition down the years and he may well have had one of these great American-style implant jobs at some stage. And didn’t some polo horse knock out a handful of his teeth a decade or two back? However it appears that his upper anterior cuspids and incisors are in pretty good nick. Of course what goes on further back in his mouth remains open to speculation and his bottom set appear faintly yellow but, in general, I decided to stick with the toothpaste brand that he patronised since it seems to be doing an adequate job.

Waiting

I can imagine that sellers of property to foreigners may easily find themselves dealing with fantasists or those whose feet become cold as soon as they return home. The money for my deposit on the house did not arrive at the notaire when expected which gave rose to mild panic in France. So much for my self congratulations on the money broker. I chased him up and it went through.

It took a fortnight before the Compromis de Thingummy…

I really ought to get a grip and remember all these terms that are meant to be so important. Am I taking this leap into a different kind of life sufficiently seriously? I don’t suppose it really matters whether I am. Why should it be taken seriously?

…arrived. The French were keening about its absence because its signed receipt by me led to a unbreakable contact between the vendor and myself – or my heirs – once the 7-day cool off was complete. It turned out that the notaire had forgotten to put the thing in the mail.

Here, the postman customarily signs for anything before stuffing it through the letter box, probably not a good thing in these circumstances. I intercepted the vital envelope a little late but decided to countersign the flowery French receipt. The addition of the postie’s signature might help a legal paper trail some day. Scots were automatically citizens of France until 1903, so it seems right that the document describes me a citizen of Scotland with a Scottish passport.

The Compromis says the house is termite-free and that the electrics are a bit dodgy. A photograph showed a bulb dangling from a bare flex in the loft. I can live with that, having dangled a fair few in my time, but I hadn’t realised the house had a loft. I wonder what else I have overlooked. A cellar? There was certainly a large shed that I never got into.

French bureaucracy looms – banks, communications, utilities, insurances. Apparently such organisations have open access to one’s account and take what they like. You’re road kill if you dare have insufficient therein for their desires. British bureaucracy can be handled at leisure through mail redirection.

We’re supposed to be worrying about the election. I feel semi-detached as I’ll be in France on polling day. Do politicians think we don’t notice that they fail to answer questions? Their evasions makes them look sleazy, untrustworthy and all the things that they’re suspected of being. Even the Green spokesman is at it.

The weather girl gives a little moue and talks about Claudia Skyes, a great name for a porn star.

A swallow twittered from a phone wire on the 7th; they aren’t usually checking their nest sites here for another month.

Sniffing

They don’t hang about when a sniff is made at a property in France. An offer 10% below the asking price was accepted. The next step was the signing of the Compromis de Vente. After that a 7-day cooling off period passes; then I would be committed to buy the place with completion at the end of April.

Although it would be nice to have another look at the house which I had seen for little more than 20 minutes and forgotten much of it, another churn through the airports was not attractive and I passed a power of attorney to the notaire to sign on my behalf.

When the document arrived it was well beyond my French. My translator was on holiday. Steam appeared to be coming out of ears at the French end in their urgency to secure my commitment. Times must be very hard.

Inspiration struck and I emailed a man I hadn’t seen for 40 years who is now a property lawyer in Paris. He was be delighted to help and I passed the documents over for his inspection. He saw snags and made contact with the notaire in the south and sorted things out.

The pound was busy crashing against the euro. Unless I was careful the house could have ended up costing more than I bargained for. I could not see the pound rising before the election. So, feeling very grown-up, I phoned a currency dealer and bought the euros forward. Whatever happened to exchange rates, at least I would know where I stood.

A drizzle of correspondence came from the agent. Would I want to buy anything in the house? I plumped for sofas and bedframes. No, I did not want to pay great sums for an ancient TV, microwave and an exercise bike. The local recycling centre offered them for nothing and, as far as my memory of those in France went, in rather better condition.

It became apparent that the cost of taking furniture will see little change from £2k. But I had a lifetime of books, nuts, bolts, tools and screws, fuses, wires and tapes as well as more significant items that I was unwilling to face the need to replace. One day I hoped to build a Spitfire from all the bits.

I intended to drive down with the fluffy dog.

The Fluffy Dog

Fluffy Dog

It’s a 9 hour trip to the Channel and another 9 hours south from Calais. I would hold on to my diesel estate car for the time being. It has 160k miles under its belt and not worth very much, but French cars are pricy and I can surely cope with the steering wheel on the wrong side, at least until the first crash. And diesel prices are well below a pound a litre.