11 Dec 2006

The Keys to the House

Arrived in Toulouse about 5.30pm – not 6.40 as I thought! - picked up the hire car (a brand new Peugeot with 3 kilometres on the clock!) and navigated our way out of the city. Arrived in the village of Homps at about 8.30, threw our gear into the gite and headed out on foot to see if we could find some food. No luck – everything closed. So drove to the next village Olonzac and had a nice meal – a good end to a long day.
Still no word about the funds – a phone call from Susie telling me that we’ll go ahead with the 11am meeting at the Notaire’s office, and do everything necessary but actually sign the papers! And reschedule another meeting for when the funds eventually turn up. This is not doing my stress levels any good at all – following a restless night of worry. However, at 9.30am, a text from Susie – “Stop worrying – funds are here!” Where’s the champagne?? So we head over to Olonzac – it’s Tuesday market and the place is really busy. It’s a beaut market – not only food but clothes, hardware, furniture – pretty well everything. A lot of the stall holders hold out samples to try – we’re suckers – we end up buying a slab sheep’s cheese – delicious – but at 20 Euros and nearly the most expensive cheese in the world, it needs to be. Then onto Susie’s office – right off the market place, and walk to the Notaire’s office. Through wrought iron gates, it’s a very grand old building that’s seen better days, set in a beautiful garden.
The owners Madame and Monsieur Colomina are there waiting in a room, with Clare the translator. They are just the most delightful couple – Nic and I took to them immediately, and apparently they thought we were pretty OK too! I had rather long and laboured conversations with them in very bad French, stopping frequently asking the translator for help in conveying my meaning across. Neither of them have any English, but Monsieur had made a supreme effort when he shook hands – he said “Hello” and grinned from ear to ear.
So eventually, in good French time (late), there are eight of sitting around a large desk in an old fashioned office – Maitre Marty (my Notaire), Maitre Louis (the Colomina’s Notaire), Monsieur and Madame, me, Clare, Susie and Janice. Maitre Louis whispers something to the Colominas – I pick up ‘une probleme’, and their faces fall. Surely nothing else can go wrong at the 11th hour. What it turns out to be is a new bit of bureaucracy that all parties thought could be avoided – but it can’t. Apparently at the beginning of November, a new bit of legislation was passed that requires that all properties sold must have an “Energy Efficiency” rating. This means an inspector must visit the house and test it for its ability to conserve energy in all ways, e.g. lights, heating, insulation etc. (I think this is correct – I’ll find out when I see the report). Anyway, the thought was that because the law was passed after the offer and acceptance procedure was commenced, that this inspection was not necessary. Not true, it turns out. So, the downside to all this is that it costs 250 Euros and must be done today. To keep things amiable, I agree to pay half the cost although it is the vendor’s responsibility. And it had to be paid right there and then.
Finally it is all signed and sealed. Madame sheds a few tears and hands me the keys, and says (via the translator) that she hopes I’ll be as happy there as they have been. And so do I. For once I stay dry-eyed – I think I’m a little shell shocked by the whole thing.
I know I’m repeating myself here – but I have been very lucky to have bought the house from such lovely people. They have certainly in a big way contributed to the ‘feel good factor’ of the whole process. In fact, they have offered to come around to the house after lunch and spend time going over everything with me – showing me how things work. Fabulous.
So after lunch at a lovely little restaurant in the town – salads, chicken, tarte tartin, jug of rouge – delicious and affordable (I love this country already….) we head off to meet up at the house at 3.30.
Janice is seeing the house for the first time, and confirms my feelings that it’s a good’un – with lots of ‘potential’. The rooms upstairs are smaller and the layout more rabbit-warrenish than I recall, and so later there’s much talk of which walls need to be or can be knocked through. Similar ideas are thrown around for the downstairs area. And I haven’t even thought about the loft. This is the area that has gorgeous views across the rooftops of the village to the hills.
The washing machine is in the garage – it’s a very old fashioned model that I’m told I mustn’t put delicates into. It will get the sheets very white indeed Mdm assures me – but it gets very very hot! There’s a problem with the thermostat. And it is very small – looks like it would only take a one sheet at a time. So a washing machine is high on my list of priorities when I get back.
Msr is obviously quite a handy man and appears to have done a lot of the electrics himself. There are double switches everywhere which is actually very handy. One at the entrance to the garage which can then be turned off inside the passage when you’re inside. Another at the back of the garage that turns an outside light on and (I think) can also be turned off inside. I’m shown all the fuses and what is for what – all neatly labelled in French. I know nothing about electrics and such and am feeling a bit overawed by it all. Mdm shows me where the candle is on the mantelpiece in the kitchen. I must scatter a few more around the house when my boxes arrive.
The house is left in immaculate condition – clean as a whistle and everything is shining. Mdm has bought coffee and shows me how to work the yellow coffee machine – it’s exactly like one of the many Dad had over the years. Though none of his were yellow. But he had many of them! In fact he used to keep new spares in the bedroom cupboards ‘just in case’. So we sit around and have coffee – and Mdm folds back the top layer of plastic table cloth so as not to mark it, and we can put our cups on the underneath one. I wonder if she would be upset to know that things probably won’t be much like that in the future.
They have left quite a few items of furniture - they know I won’t be keeping it all – but have said they would only have had to take some of it to the dump. Hopefully I can find a good home for bits of it. Besides furniture, there are some pots and pans, plates, glasses, cups, and many many ornaments scattered around all the rooms – and even on the landing on the staircase I have an arrangement of pink flowers in a miniature wine vat. Again, some of these things will go to good homes. In fact, some might make damn fine Christmas presents. I think that packages under the Christmas tree at Nic’s will hold some surprises. I already have someone in mind for the wooden crocodile on one of the bedside cabinets.
So, upstairs. In the passage way, there’s an oil heater. Msr has donned thick rubber gloves, filled a watering can with oil from the tank in the courtyard, and gives me instructions. I take notes on the back of an envelope and draw diagrams of all the dials. And watch carefully. One you see oil trickling into the bottom, you squirt a good amount of pure alcohol from a squeezy bottle on top of it. Then drop in a match. Poof – it’s away. And it smells strongly of the alcohol. If it goes out, repeat. I’m a little frightened of it. Later Janice and I decide I will never light this one. Msr tells me the one in the kitchen is ‘less complicated’. And so it is – but only slightly. So perhaps in a cold snap I may get up the courage to light this one.
In the meantime, there are two mobile electric radiators on loan from their daughter Corinne who lives in the village with her husband Pascale the pompier (fireman). I’m to have them for all the winter if I like, until I work out what heating I will be using. One is in my bedroom (that comes with instructions as to how many minutes before bedtime I’m to turn it on) – and one in the lounge room. And they do a fine job of heating – the lounge room is steaming and I quietly turn it off. They have left the satellite dish and box and a telly – so I have French channels to watch already. But I will get the satellite people in to get me hooked up to a few more channels – I don’t think I can do without at least some English language programmes.
The man arrives at 5.30 pm to do the Energy Efficiency test, and Janice and I depart, leaving Msr and Mdm to take him through, and with a key to drop through the garage door when they depart. There are fond farewells, much cheek kissing, and promises to drop by and have a coffee when they’re back visiting their daughter. Which I hope will be often. I have a gift of a nice selection of Scottish whisky and other bits and pieces as a thank you for leaving the furniture. His face lit up indeed when I said they would need to come back to collect it as it was on the truck heading south at the moment.
And so after a very full and mentally exhausting day – back to the gite – a dinner of olives, priceless sheep’s cheese, tapenade and bread heavy enough to use as a doorstop (what DID Janice buy?) and vin rouge. And an early night – or was it really 11pm before I called it quits and put the cork in the second bottle? I think it was.

Moving sideways

Future posts on Bize-Bytes can now be found on Facebook. Link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bize-Bytes/895137113876897