Water water everywhere…

Except coming out of our taps.  For the last two days we were working off of buckets from the green-tinted swimming pool and bottled water.   And the adventure continues.

IMG_0924

Tuesday we noticed throughout the day the water pressure was getting lower and lower…until finally, after dinner it was down to a pathetic drip.  Only a few days earlier we had watched Jean de Florette and Manon de Source.  If you know these films you can imagine what silliness was going through our heads (cue visions of Dom setting up explosives to release the hidden water and me seeking revenge on the village for ‘hiding’ the water from us).  We decided instead to be sensible and ask our neighbour Patrick if he was having the same issue.

Patrick, I think, is a farmer – I base that on the two giant tractors I see in his barn/garage.  But, apparently for the last 9 years, he has also been importing and selling German beer (I forget the brewery, I think it is near Dusseldorf).  I think he might have a few other ventures as well.  He doesn’t quite know what to make of us yet, but he seemed pleased when we told him we are planning some significant work on the house.  He said the previous owner only put in a new boiler for the heating….and the ‘Anglais’ owners before her were more interested in playing golf.  Patrick’s mom lives just a few doors down the road (across from the church) and seems very nice- she was recently telling us her husband used to bake bread in our bread oven.  Lots of people seem to know Patrick., our contractor even mentioned Patrick when he was over last week. I get the feeling Patrick is the de facto Mayor of the village….

Anyhow, I digress – when I asked Patrick if he was having issues with his water, his partner broke out into peals of laughter and she just kept saying, ‘ahhhh….l’eau’.  Patrick explained to us this happens occasionally and we just have to re-do the taps….at which point Dom and I were clearly confused so he offered to show us.  ‘Re-doing’ the taps was turning off one of the mains (we have two, one to the village source and one to the SAUR mains), turning on the other, then repeating and supposedly the water just comes back.  It didn’t, which puzzled Patrick.  He said the whole village had the problem that day and the ‘re-doing’ the taps fixed it. Except for us. Of course.

Finally, after a number of frantic garbled French phone calls over two days, SAUR (the ‘collective group’ that manages most of the water in France) dropped by and had it all fixed in about 15 minutes.

Water back on. Yay! Water pressure now AMAZING. Yay! Boiler can’t cope with fabulous water pressure and overflow nearly floods garage. Not so yay. Luckily (depending on how you define luck, but I am trying to be positive here) we are having a new hot water system installed and integrated with the boiler – so whatever is wrong with the boiler/water pressure will be fixed then.

I think part of getting our water back was us agreeing to some sort of long term contract with SAUR (either that or we just signed our house over to them….not quite sure I was so desperate to have water).  Theoretically we have the option to be connected to the village ‘source’ (spring – which runs underground along the back of our property) but the SAUR man told Dom the ‘source’ wasn’t working…strange since it seems to be working for the rest of the village.  Oh, and the SAUR man seemed to know Patrick as well.

Keeping time in France

Who needs clocks!  I have church bells that start with a mad frenzy at 7am, and continue throughout the day on the hour and half hour until 10pm.  For some reason at 7am and then again at 7pm you not only get the requisite x7 bongs, but then a subsequent cacophony of ringing that last about a minute.  If anyone can enlighten me as to why it would be appreciated.

I am pretty sure everyone is aware of the French daily schedule…shops open from about 9 until around 12.  In my region shops are shut until 14:30 or 15:00, and then open until about 7pm. Sunday…some things open until noon-ish…boulangerie, boucherie etc. (one must have a decent meal on Sunday!)  Everything else is shut.  Monday-shut.

If you want to go out to lunch, get to the restaurant between 12-13:30 (or 14:00 if you are lucky) or go hungry until 7pm.  I am very privileged and have a Carrefour Contact (a tardis of a store that has almost everything you might need…including socks!) that is open ‘continuously’ from 8-8. More important, I am figuring out the market schedule: Cahors, Wednesday and Saturday, Lalbenque -Saturday, Montcuq – Sunday, Castelnau Montratrier  -Sunday.

I am still in my ‘France honeymoon period’ so for the moment I enjoy the schedule, but there also the fact that this is one of the reasons Dom and I have moved to France, where there is a slightly different approach to the infamously difficult work-life balance.  AND I have lived here before- so none of these quirks surprises me.

I first lived here as a student and then came back on a short term work permit so was exposed to a different view of daily life. I was living on my own in Orléans student housing, and then a rented room in a flat in Paris.  Very different from living with my English husband in an old house in a hamlet with only 10 neighbours. So, I expect some surprises, and welcome them…apart from the kettle slightly catching on fire due to a faulty adaptor.  That isn’t a good surprise.  And it doesn’t smell very nice either. Which reminds me, I need to chase that ‘devis’ from the electrician.

IMG_2539

Franglais brain

The good news is my French is coming back to me….but still a lot of work to do. There isn’t really any bad news – just to note an interesting function of my brain, whenever I get stuck in French I tend to bring out something in German rather than English, and I get a bit of a brain freeze and can’t even find the correct English word.

Some key vocabulary for me this week….

  • Tableau electrique: electrical switchboard or panel. Ours needs to be completely replaced. In the meantime we have had it temporarily fixed so we don’t need to invest in a candle factory. Yes, this is a priority (along with the heating) to get sorted ASAP.

IMG_2434

  • Devis: quote for work. We are building quite a nice collection of these.
  • Cuve à fioul: heating oil tank. No one seems to quite know where ours is…the gauge says empty, but we can’t be sure the gauge is even working. The neighbour says it is somewhere under the house….but no one knows exactly. Errr. OK. So….it will be replaced in a location where we can actually see it (in the garage), and filled….before it gets too cold I hope.
  • Pyrale du buis: a nasty Asian caterpillar/moth that is destroying the box trees. Apparently wasn’t a problem two years ago. Die caterpillar die! That was Dom’s goal yesterday. There are HUNDREDS!

Version 2

  • Cabacou: delicious local goats cheese from Rocamadour. You can get fresh, dry, creamy and aged. So far I like them all. No surprise there.
  • Dégustation: tasting, as in wine. We live in France. I think they kick you out of the country if you don’t do a certain number of tastings a year. 😉

IMG_2474

  • Manifestation: demonstration. I got caught on the motorway today in a protest by lorry drivers…part of a larger set of protests over Macron’s labour reforms. Note to self- read the local news online before you set off to Toulouse.

IMG_2525

‘On arrive!’ …the adventure begins.

Monday morning, off the ferry…into St Malo. We are here. Almost.

Wednesday morning – a visit to the Notaire, to sign the Acte de Vente and get the keys ( a lot of keys). I think we got lucky with our Notaire, he had a very dry sense of humour. At one point noting the ‘out of regulation’ septic tank he noted is up to the Mayor to fine us, and if she fines us she probably has to fine all our neighbours….and then she won’t be Mayor anymore.   He also pointed out that we are paying France a lot of money (the equivalent of Stamp Duty in the UK, and it is a fair amount)…then wished us good luck!

IMG_3995

Thursday morning- moving in! The truck arrived early the guys doing the move were great (Wheadons- highly recommended!).

  • No hot water. Can’t get what I think is the boiler, to start. Slight panic, google the boiler, which then doesn’t make sense, it only focuses on the heating aspect. Call plumber, I think he said call me back after lunch. Email old owner to ask how to light boiler – she answer’s ‘use a match’. More confusing as I can’t find the where the pilot should be. Argh. Neighbour offers to call another plumber – no luck, it is lunchtime.

IMG_3992

  • Meet the neighbours! Met Patrick next door while he was walking down the road trying to find and old access point for the spring that supply’s the commune’s water (commune is what they seem to call this Hamlet of about 10 houses). Turns out his wife is a baker and his grandfather used to use our bread oven to back for the village. He offers to help me get the bread oven going and get some advice from people who know how to se is. Yay! Met Anna across the street (she called the plumber). She grew up in the commune and is now married to an Englishman and lives most of the year in Dover. Really nice. Yay again.
  • Discover the ‘bat cave’. Dom goes down to put the wine in the wine the wine cellar, but comes back to say he has left it in the room in front because he disturbed the bats which were now flying in his face…and they ain’t little tiny bats either!
  • Plumber arrives. Turns out the plumber said, I’ll be there after lunch. Lesson for the day. The boiler is just for the heating and is on a temperature setting and won’t start if when the outside temperature is too hot. The current hot water heating tank that he first has to hunt down because we have no idea where it is, is ‘très vieille’ and will eventually need t be replaced, but he gets it going for us. He is very nice as well, and has a lovely Australian Shepherd that plays with Lupo. He leaves us saying ‘Bon courage!’

IMG_4002

  • Embrace candles. Not surprising –the previous owner has taken most of the light fixtures (this was the same when I lived in Germany). Surprising –a lot of the power points don’t work and even where there are light fixtures, despite using new light bulbs, they don’t seem to work.

IMG_4010

  • Hunt down linens. I thought I put aside a set of linens to make up the bed so we wouldn’t have to hunt through boxes. Oops, forgot the fitted sheet. Dom and I frantically rummage through boxes by candlelight.
  • Plan to find an electrician.
  • Sleep

How not to leave London…or a few tips to avoid the bumps in the road.

So…a few tips to ensure your departure from London is a smooth one…not that you live in London or are leaving any time soon. But just in case, my top 5 tips, in no particular order.

  1. Keep away from narcissistic, delusional people trying to take your money. OK I know this seems like a no-brainer and I throw it in because I haven’t been able to completely avoid this…but I am trying to not let it suck my energy and focus on the positive. Which I imagine is what one should do with all people in their lives who are a massive pain in the booty. That is all for that.IMG_2310
  2. Try not to lose your dog. If you happen to be staying at your neighbour’s house after moving out of your own house…make sure the garden is secure, or lock the dog in the house. I came home after popping out to have my nails done (yes, frivolous I know) to find an empty garden…cue massive heart palpitations…I ran around the neighbourhood, knocking on doors to see which garden he had escaped to …ran to the different parks he visits during the week….asked everyone I could see if they had seen a large husky. No luck. I saw someone coming out of our old house and asked if he had seen large husky ….he said no. So, an hour and half later I am panicked and Dom suggests the dog went ‘home’ jumped the fence and went back through the dog door into the house. The worker hadn’t seen him, but as I had no other options I went to the front door and called him. Lo and behold- there he was. Silly dog. Wouldn’t come out of the dog door, we had to sneak in through the front to let him out. Argh.IMG_2307
  3. Don’t work up until the day you leave. I thought, no big deal, I can juggle. No, you really do need a couple days to focus on the move…so you don’t end up in your new house with a duvet cover but no idea where to find the fitted sheet, and the fuse has blown so you are working by candlelight frantically opening boxes….and all you want to do is sleep.IMG_2287
  4. Try not to schedule your wedding 5 days before you have to move out of your house. No need to expand on that…it seemed like a good idea, and the wedding was fabulous. The following days were a bit frantic.IMG_2340
  5. Do enjoy the ferry ride…pretend it s a cruise, take a ‘promenade’ on deck, have a bon voyage cocktail, and if you are on Brittany Ferries, the self serve resto is actually pretty good and has good selection of wine.

Next up…oh yeah…we bought a really old house no one has lived in for nearly a year. Yay!!

Learning: or, an excuse to do stuff you always wanted to do

Chopping up a pig, and making bread.  Two not entirely unrelated things.  The pig – that is pretty obvious, we will need to have some decent knowledge, and I have always wanted an excuse to take the course.  If you live in London and have even a tiny bit of curiosity about butchering, run, don’t walk to the nearest Ginger Pig and take a course.  They are incredibly informative, great fun and the end of the course is stuffing your face with an amazing roast dinner, chatting with butchers and like-minded people…an all-round great evening.  Dom and I each left the course stuffed, and carrying a 4kg boned and rolled pork loin roast.  I won’t say whose joint was ‘prettier’.

The following week was Sourdough bread at Bread Ahead in Borough Market (any excuse to hang out at Borough Market is good for me).  A great afternoon.  Kevan –my Yorkshire baker instructor was crazy passionate about bread. Not only did he teach me (Okay – and 10 other people) about the joys of sourdough, I picked his brain at the end of the class about dealing with a wood fired oven.  He trained in France and knew exactly what I was taking about when I told him I was planning to move in to a house with an 18th century stone bread oven.  I came home with recipes, two loaves of delicious bread and I am also now the caring ‘mom’ of ‘Louise the London Starter’.  Kevan recommended I begin a separate ‘French’ starter when I move to France- and maintain them both (I am thinking of calling my second ‘child’ Franny).

In addition to the actual hands on course I have been stocking up on books about sausage making, pig and goat rearing, vegetable gardening and ‘French building terms’.  I am making point of reading something in French every day and scouring the internet for all things French/smallholding/cooking classes/running holiday lets.  My brain is filling up and I love it! I smile to myself many times a day just thinking about what is to come.  I know we will have a lot of hard work, but this is so what I really want to do …I almost can’t believe it took so long to get here.

The next big step…I am going to start stalking/reaching out to people who I think are doing wonderful things along the lines of what I want to do. Let’s see how that goes.

We still aren’t there yet…and a couple barriers lie ahead, but I am keeping positive!

Lots of ‘little’ things

Soooo…..house nearly sold, and house nearly bought. And only a million little things to do. It seems every time we add something to the list and partially check it off we discover 3 more things we need to do. Don’t get me wrong I am not at all complaining- conversely, it is driving me at the moment – making me enjoy the journey and tempering my impatience to just get on with the next chapter.

IMG_1830

So what are some things I have been doing ….errr, working full time, buying a wedding dress, reading and/or writing in French every day, getting wedding rings, booking a food truck for the wedding reception, sorting a pet passport, having the swimming pool in France assessed (don’t go there)…a lovely old pool, note the old.

IMG_0924

Oh yes, and garden advice (I’m waiting for that assessment…) chasing quotes from the builder, prepping to get my own Schengen visa (required as a non EU citizen married to an EU citizen to get residency in France)…which means sorting temporary health insurance, and lots of supporting paperwork. I will be cutting it close- it supposedly takes 2 days once you apply, but can take longer. I am applying in August (infamously a slow month for France) and have 4 days to get the visa before we drive on to a ferry. Oh yeah – ferry booking for the car with a roof rack, beds for us and a large dog kennel for Lupo. AND figuring we don’t want to do an 8 hour drive in a day with a big dog after an overnight ferry…sort a place to stay on the way (Tours here we come!)…then a place to stay until we sign the Acte de Vente (studio apartment in Cahors). Good thing the French are pretty cool about accompanying furry friends. HOPING that timing is also enough for the money to cross the channel in time to close the deal.

Eeeeek! I am not freaked or stressed by this…it is really energising and each step brings us closer to this new adventure.

Dom’s night time reading has been ‘pig-keeping’ and ‘grow your own veg’, my night time reading has been ‘running a BnB and gites (and goat keeping), and we have been carefully looking over the local wine map we got when we were last in Cahors. Very important for us to learn as much as possible about the local wine…we need to make suggestions to our future guests.

Next on the list:

  • Sort packing and removal
  • Sort tax/social security payments cross border with UK/France (and the US…ouch)
  • Internet – looks like we will be moving to a broadband black hole…so may have to get an alternate ‘WiMax’ connection

The slightly more fun bits- Dom and I are taking a pig butchery course soon and I just signed up for a sourdough bread course. We have every intention of making the most of the bread oven – which we think is a couple hundred years old! I have a sneaky suspicion Dom and I are going to have ‘bread-offs’.

With all of that there is still – living and enjoying each day. As much as I am impatient to move to France I am also going to miss London and our friends here. We are trying to soak up as much of that as we can, making dates to see friends, eat at fabulously delicious restaurants, drink wonderful cocktails. And. Breathe.

Your initials here, and here, and here…

So I think that means we’ve committed. In France when you make an offer and it is accepted you then sign a Compromis de Vente, which is a binding contract, accompanied by a 5-10% deposit that you lose if you pull out of the sale. The CdV also lists all costs so you know exactly how much you need to buy the house….all inclusive (stamp duty fees etc all to be paid at once)!

All the contracts and ‘conveyance’ searches (land boundaries, electrics, gas, termites, risk of ‘natural’ damage e.g. flood/earthquake, and other odd bits) are handled by a Notaire who is neutral – working more-or-less for the government and not the buyer or the seller.

I am still a little shocked we actually found and fell in love with a house and are on track to buy it and move in about 4 months!! Eeek!

We’ve been really lucky – we worked with a couple really great estate agents who were incredibly helpful. Ludovic, who is the agent we are actually buying the house from, has really gone out of his way to help, even finding a Notaire who spoke English and sitting with us through the signing, taking time to work with the Notaire to explain the whole 20 page contract.

It was a short list of 3 houses- each with great opportunities but our hearts were really with one, so each time we compared we always went out of our way to find the ‘superiority’ and reason to buy…

Ludovic arranged for us to meet with Laurent, a maître d’œuvre, (a builder), to walk through the house with us and develop a quote on the work that needs to be done (mostly cosmetic, and renovating the pool).   We will get the ‘devis’ in a couple weeks and then I will se just how good my French was. I imagine someone watching from a distance might have been quite confused- it involved a lot of repetition, hand waving, some slight interpretative dance and occasional sharing of google searches on our phones, followed by nodding of heads.

The idea is we can make some initial decisions now an then get the worked booked in for September…because if we wait to August to try and get a quote – all of France is on holiday and it just won’t happen.

The final ‘high’ of the trip was finding out just before we boarded our plane back to London that Emmanual Macron had won the presidential election….

So, now we just have to start solidifying our vision…and then bring it to life!

Why?

A very good question, thank you for asking.

In order to answer that I have asked myself these questions:

What really makes me happy? What do I enjoy spending time doing? What small positive contribution can I make to this world? If I could really do anything what would that be?

When I look at the answers one thing that brings it altogether is (not surprisingly) food:

  • Spending time making meals for friends and family
  • Sitting around the table sharing time and food
  • Helping people (children and grown-ups) understand how their meal got to the table
  • Supporting independent producers who are passionate about what they do
  • Supporting farmers who practice compassion in their every day farming
  • Eating food I have made myself
  • Learning about food, producers, the science of cooking, the art of cooking an the people who do all of this (think, MFK Fisher, Alice Waters and Harold McGee)
  • Spending time with my partner Dominic, whose puerile and dark English sense of humour keeps me laughing and ensures I don’t take myself too seriously.

IMG_3590

So, take all those together, and then layer on the fact that every time Dom and I have been in France we make some sort of comment to the effect of ‘can’t we just stay…’; what else is there to do except pack it all in, move to France and create a place where people (and animals) can spend quality time together, enjoy some lovely food and maybe learn something.   That is the ‘why’ but you also might ask ‘why now?’….well, without going in to too much detail, 2016 was a very shit year which included the death of both my mother and father. I took a cold hard look at my life and my family and realised that despite the awfulness I have experienced, I am very privileged in my life but I need to do something that makes a small contribution, makes me happy and proud, and creates a positive place in the world. AND I should NOT wait until ‘the perfect time’ or when I have ‘finally made enough money‘ and one never knows how long you have…. so you  need to do your best to make your mark and feel you are doing and living how and what and when you want. I know some people are ‘concerned’ but I have never felt so sure about what I want to do in my life before. Yes, it will be hard work (despite what some people may think, Dom and I are not ‘retiring to France’), yes, it is risky and I need to have a ‘plan B’…but I am really quite excited about plan A.

IMG_1672

Now, when I look ahead I see…. France. Gites. House. Food. Animals. Family. Friends. Being together. Sharing. Life. I can’t always just dream it, time to make it actually happen…or at least know I have tried.

Enough philosophising for now. Have a lovely day everyone!

 

 

 

…and now for pigs

Food, poo, sex and a lot of mud.  That pretty much sums up the last two days. Part of the ‘France Plan’ is to have a smallholding – with pigs at the centre (Dom has always had a thing for pigs…and we both love charcuterie). So we figured it might be useful to actually figure out how to manage pigs, and a smallholding in general. We had read some engaging books by Simon Dawson, who moved with his wife Debbie from London to Devon over 10 years ago, starting from no experience and now they are running a successful smallholding/small pig farm in Devon.

The books are a good read, entertaining and informative: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simon-Dawson/e/B003HJE5OS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1489941872&sr=8-2-ent

…so we signed on for the two day smallholding course at Hidden Valley Pigs (http://www.hiddenvalleypigs.co.uk/) and headed off to Exmoor. The weather wasn’t exactly welcoming, but the location was so beautiful we really didn’t mind.

Before lunch on the first day we had learned: male ducks have an insatiable sex drive and won’t hesitate to hop on whatever bird is nearby (e.g. a chicken!), orphan lambs get stressed when they are moved around and their diet changes, which leads to runny poo….and they might poo on you while you are ‘ringing’ them (google it, let’s just say you boys out there might not like it). Also – you can do some amazing things with quail eggs (smoked eggs anyone?). ‘But what about the pigs?’ you say.

Ahh yes, the pigs. Lovely Berkshire Black pigs happily roaming around the woods. We fed, watered, hung out with, watched and even chatted with the pigs. Simon’s passion about the pigs was infectious and if we weren’t convinced before- we definitely want to raise pigs now. There is something very engaging and relaxing about the pigs, on our last day, Dom and Simon and I were just chatting and watching the pigs for nearly an hour…putting the world to right.

Debbie filled our heads with loads of info on breeding and birth, of not only pigs (did you know pigs have kind of a double uterus and so will pass two afterbirths?) but goats, geese, chickens, ducks and turkeys.

Food- apart from feeding the animals (bottle feeding the lambs was particularly fun) we were also fed, and our last lunch of a fried goose egg on toasted freshly baked bread was delicious.

Mud- lots of it, in some places it was nearly to the top of my wellies. I imagine it would get quite tedious after awhile, but I was like a naughty child and enjoyed squidging around.

We are really energised for the next steps…just waiting for an offer on our house. We are thinking we will start with a few pigs and chickens (then goats will likely join the fun!)…and are looking into an old French breed pig, the Black Gascon, which apparently makes a great ham! Now I think we may need to learn a little charcuterie.