EDIT; Just reading through, even though Dan is here in France with us now this still brings a tear to my eye when I read about leaving him, but also some pride in what we have achieved as a family since 2005.
House sold and money in the bank, its only when you move house that you realise how much junk you own, just as you think you've finished packing you find more. Fortunately for me I was still working so most of the hard work was left to Roz. Our plan was to move on to France, staying in a Gite while we looked around for a home, if after 6 months we hadn't found something we would return to the England and find a new home there.
Loading the car was difficult, I had to have room for bedding, portable TV, video player, Mikes play station, clothes and other “essentials”, dogs bed, Roz, Mike, two dogs and myself, if you think back to the old wartime pictures of gas powered cars that will give you some idea of what we looked like.
I think the hardest thing about coming over wasn't loading the lorry for our stuff that was going into storage, it wasn't loading the car with the essentials we felt we needed to keep us going for the first few months, it was leaving our eldest son Daniel in England, pulling away from his house was very emotional, and we nearly didn't get on the ferry, I could have so easily turned round at the port and drove back to the Midlands. On the boat was no better until we remembered we hadn't really committed ourselves to anything and could return to England at any time.
We arrived in France in better spirits, the sun was shining, and we were about to live our dream, before moving into the the gite we were of to “test drive” a house in Gourin, 5 bedroom house, good size garden, over looking the lake and park, how ideal does that sound, what a disaster, The house was a semi, half, the bit for sale was the B&B the other was his bar. Now, at only €50,000, it appeared a bargain, but too much wasn't right, you know when you get that feeling that things aren't as they seem, the wall separating the house from the bar was a plasterboard wall.
Although the owner kept promising to give us access to the cellar he kept making excuses as to why we couldn't go down, usually he was a bit busy “later” he would say. The view of the lake, lovely lake, nice park, except the bloke up the road parked his articulated lorry on the pavement opposite the house every afternoon completely blocking the view. Our decision to leave was made however when we were advised by the notaire not to get involved. We left.
September / October
We arrived at the gite in Lizio, near Serent, we were so happy to arrive there, Roz was so happy to see a proper cooker and washing machine, she has her priority's right.
In the 12 months prior to leaving the UK we regularly scoured the property websites looking for our ideal home, about a month before departure we contacted many of the estate agents (immobilier) who assured us they had lots of property's in our price range perfectly fitting our criteria, it's a shame that wasn't true, houses that we had seen on the websites on sale for the last year all magically sold just prior to us coming over, most had only one or two property's to show us, none not even close to what we wanted, so off we went visiting the Notaires, they also have property's for sale, now whether you buy private, from an immobilier or the Notaire you pay Notaires fees, it's the tax to the government, is a set fee depending on the price of the house, if you buy from an immobilier you will pay at least 4% in commission on top of the price.
Through the Notaire we found a few property's in the areas we wanted to live, none ticking all the boxes, but some ticking a lot of them, so we found what is now Half Acre Farm.
The house was four rooms down stairs and a loft space, and Half an Acre of farm land, with a grape vine, Walnut tree and Bay leaf tree. It also had a well, pig sty and lean to shed. Because of the layout, we couldn't live in the house straight away, so we purchased a mobile home and did a deal with the property owner so we could camp on the land, use the water from the house and start erecting the fence, we wasn't allowed to start any work on the house till the house was ours, but it was a glorious hot summer so we had plenty of sunbathing and exploring to do. We also made our first English friends Paul and Diane who own a bed and breakfast just outside La Gacilly, MaisonClaire.com
November came, and so did winter, the house was ours it was time to start work, we built two bedrooms and a shower room, the frightening part was cutting the hole for the staircase, in England I never did any DIY, now Michael and I were building walls, plumbing in a shower and toilet, fitting a staircase and, with the help of a friend was rewiring the whole house. The outside temperatures dropped to below freezing and although we hadn't finished the walls in the bedrooms or started down stairs work, it was just to cold to be in the mobile, we were going to bed fully dressed, the temperature 1 degree colder in the van than outside.
The end of November our things arrived from England, the deal I had with the removal man was that I would do some work for him in exchange for a cheaper price, he had things for us and another person in his lorry, we would drop our stuff off first then I would help with the second delivery, so after the removal person arrived we unloaded everything into the garden, then I left Roz and Mike to sort it all out while I went off with the driver to his second drop, we started unloading the furniture into the second house and I was carrying a box into the house, “what you got in here, wine”? Yes it was, they had a favourite wine they bought at Asda in England, French wine, and as they were moving to France they wanted to make sure they had a supply, talk about coals to Newcastle!!!
I got home after the delivery and fortunately for me, everything had been put away, Roz had also set up a bed in the house, she had enough of sleeping in the mobile home, the tiny bed and the cold and wanted to move into the house, although the bed was in the way it did make sense, and that night had the most comfortable sleep we had had in ages. We also set up a dining table but as we didn't have a cooker Roz was cooking in the van and carrying the food over to the house, this started to get dangerous as the path we walked started to get wet and muddy, we soon bought a cooker and after we sorted out the satellite dish we started to get a little more comfortable.
The next step was to put the insert fire in, and this is how we did it, first of all we did it the wrong way, we bought one metre lengths of tube that slotted together and started putting them up the chimney, we put the first one in, then lifting it, added the next, then the next, it was hard going, everyone we added made it heavier to add the next, it was only after we had them in with found out to things, one, you don't use the solid pieces all the way up the chimney, you drop flexible pipe down from the top, and secondly the arrows on the tubes should point down not up, we had put it in upside down, Mike had to stand inside the chimney, holding one smooth slippery tube while I tried to pull the one below out, the weight of the tubes on top of each other had made them fit very tight together. After we had finished I looked like a coal miner, a black sooty face with a clean area round the eyes where I had been wearing the goggles, Mike looked like a poor Victorian boy who had been sent up to clean the chimney. After we turned them round, refitted them and connected the fire at least we had some warmth, but not a lot, the fire we had chosen is a poor fire and most of the heat goes up the chimney not into the house, but at least we could disconnect the very old and dangerous looking central heating system that was in place.
We found then we had a problem with the fosse septic, the toilet was backing up and we obviously had a blockage, the first problem we had was, where is the septic tank, a lot of searching later we found what we thought was the tank under a hedge, the local farmer came and emptied it, and we though problem over, well no, it seems we had two tanks, one for “grey” water, and the one connected to the toilet, we had emptied the wrong one, we assumed that the tank must be between the house and the other tang and started digging, we found it and lifting the lid, well its difficult to describe, but it was full and overflowing, another arrangement with the farmer out he came to empty the tank, this was on my birthday, Roz's birthday is the day before mine so she was in the house preparing a special feast to celebrate our first birthdays in France, I was outside with the farmer staring into a septic tank, with my poor French I explained what I thought was the problem, the farmer started his machine and the contents of the tank were sucked up, as soon as it was empty I stepped forward to inspect the work, at the same time the farmer decided that one way to clear the blockage was to blast everything back into the tank, even after three showers I could still smell the sewage on me after I had been covered in it, the house stunk, the feast Rosalyn had prepared was spoiled by the smell which soon replaced the aromas from her cooking.
December also bought our first guests, Daniel came out for Christmas, his fiancée going to her parents, also Roz's brother came with his wife Liz and stayed at Paul and Di's B & B. although we could have done without having guests at this time, it spurred us on to get the bedrooms, if not finished, habitable, the first thing we needed was to fit the staircase, heres another of our mistakes, we started to fit the staircase in place, it was only when we tried to finish the last step that we realised you built the staircase first then put it into the gap, so another job we ended doing twice.
The stairs now ran from the downstairs bathroom to the landing, and meant that if anyone was in the toilet or bath no one could go up or down stairs. The bedrooms are in the roof space, the grenier as its called in French, we had divided this up into two bedrooms and a toilet / shower room, we had put the plasterboard walls up and put in the wiring but not connected it. The roof above our head was the roof tiles, no insulation, but that would have to wait till everyone had left, the priority was fitting the lights, switches and plug sockets, Dan who had arrived for a holiday was soon recruited into helping and the work was done very quickly, all that remained was to get the electrician in to replace the original old fashioned fuse box and connect everything up, it was here that the electrician found that the cable that connected the house to the barn next door had been disconnected from the barn but not from the electric and had been left, live, rolled up in what was now our bedroom. We took a few days off and enjoyed Christmas, having the family back together again, Roast turkey and all the trimmings, a proper English Christmas.
We had a surprise for Daniel, on the 28th of December his Fiancée arrived, I picked her up from the airport, and when we got back to the house she telephoned him, while he was talking to her from up stairs, I called him down , he came down still talking to Hannah, the look on his face was a picture, he was so surprised when he saw her. A surprise to us, 8am boxing day, the fitter arrived to fit our new Velux windows, we had booked him for the 28th he got the dates wrong, we hadn't even bought the windows, but as the shops were open Dan and Mike went out to Bricomarche to buy the windows, while the rest of us had a glass of wine before starting work, Dan and Mike got back with the windows and then had to back to the shop to buy the fixing kits, by now the first hole had been made in the roof, about the same time as snow began to fall, but the fitter proved that not all you hear and read about French work men is true and he and his young assistant carried on working, the first window was put in and a very professional job done, the fitter then went off for his lunch leaving his assistant to cut the hole for the second window, mistake, after he returned he tried to put the window in and realised the young lad had cut the hole to big, and he spent the next hour repairing the mistake, it meant that he was unable to finish the job in one day, but was back early the following day, to complete the job, anyone moving to this area I can recommend this man for any roofing, window, or chimney work and will happily pass on his details.
New Year's Eve
Turkey curry, rice and chips, Jeff and Liz, sitting on the settee with there coats on there laps, bitter cold, yet we had a fire going, and the electric heaters on, but I think we were starting to get used to the cold. Fireworks at midnight, 2005 came to an end.