28 Dec 2006
11 Dec 2006
Sunday, we decided to take a bit of time out from the unpacking and house things. The weather is gorgeous and we decide to head up through to the
Black Mountains and visit the Sunday market in Saint Chinian. Today’s is apparently a special one – the Christmas market.
I decide to take a back road out of Bize and visit a few villages on the way that I’ve not been to before. The countryside is beautiful – there are big ridges of limestone and craggy hills just on the outskirts of the village that I didn’t know existed. Some of the grape vines still have yellow leaves on them, and have yet to be pruned. Lots of forest.
And we come across a group of men at the side of the road in bright yellow safety jackets – carrying rifles. Yes it’s hunting season and there’s a few dogs in a big cage on the back of a trailer. I believe they’re used if a wild boar is found.
Saint Chinian is a lovely village – well, small town really – and the market is lovely. We have a coffee and a snack, and decide to come back to get fresh oysters for lunch (for Janice, not me) and go exploring further afield in the meantime.
We end up on a fairly narrow mountain road, climbing higher and higher, and the views over the countryside are amazing. In the distance the sea near
can be seen. Mild weather and clear blue skies. Narbonne
Lunch back at the house, the rest of the afternoon sorting more rubbish and trips to the recycling bins around the village. Janice has taken that task upon herself and knows where everything goes. I think my newspaper contribution alone has probably filled up the whole bin and I’m not sure when it’s collected.
A last check of all the windows and shutters (interestingly, every set of shutters on each of the eight windows has a different closing/locking mechanism), and an early night.
Alarms set for for the drive through to
for a flight to Gatwick, bus to Heathrow, then a flight to Toulouse . And Christmas with the family. Vancouver
Drove to Susie’s house at 9.30 to head off to
. The plans in the meantime had become more complicated. Apparently 2 years ago, Bruce had given her a soft-top VW for her birthday – one that needed a ‘bit of work’. It was still sitting at the mechanic shop – a whole lot of problems had ensued apparently, and there were disagreements over this and that. A bit of a nightmare apparently. Well Susie had decided that she was going to take it out of there, and drive it to someone she knew in Carcassonne who was more reliable. She was unsure of whether it would make the journey. Could we travel in tandem? She was taking a tow-rope and had I ever towed a car?? I said ‘no’, definitely not. So the tow rope went in my boot, Bruce was put on standby to come to help if a tow was needed, and we went to the garage. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t ready to drive – something needed to be done to ‘make it start’ and the guy who could do that wasn’t there. I’m not sure where this story is heading, but I think it has some way to go… Carcassonne
So we head to
, meet Abdel the car salesman who is very pleasant and helpful. It’s beginning to rain but we look at a few in the car yard. I had already decided I wanted an automatic Renault, a Peugeot or Citroen in any colour but grey – and definitely diesel. Carcassonne
What I bought and will pick up on 9th January (when the damage to the door and rear end and bumper has been fixed) is a manual Suzuki wagon, colour grey – and definitely petrol. Nearly 3 years old, 29,000 kilometres on the clock and one not-so-careful owner.
So after lunch with Susie and Bruce and their son Lucas, a bit of shopping, it’s back to the house to continue unpacking. I try to ring Pascale, using the number Msr has given me. It’s a wrong number. I try the mobile, and go through to the voice mail, and leave a message in French that I doubt will be understood.
I also need to go the Maire’s office to get a Certificate of Domicile, which I need to then fax through to the Abdel at the car yard so he can arrange for the paperwork to be completed. I wasn’t able to make myself understood completely to the very helpful woman behind the desk – in desperation she got her mobile phone and rang her daughter – who spoke very good English, handed me the phone and I explained what I needed. Voila. Problem solved, and out came a small pad of tear-off forms which said I was a resident of the village (I had to produce my passport and paperwork from French Telecom as proof). How is that for service!
This Certificate was more important in more ways than one. Apparently I needed it to produce to get my rubbish tip card.
The following day with my blank credit-card sized card, we go to the dump with a car full of rubbish, and my newly-acquired Certificate of Domicile (duly stamped the Maire of Bize Minervois’ official stamp, and signed).
The dump is about 6 kilometres away and services a few villages around the area. It’s all very well organised – separate areas for every imaginable type of waste disposal. Part of the bigger picture of
’s very strong push to be ‘green’. France
The bulk of my rubbish went into the cardboard box section, but I had a big plastic bag of ‘variables’ – and yes there was a container for variables. I went to the small office, met the man in charge, produced my paperwork, filled in a few details on a form and got my number stamped onto my card. I’m now an official French ‘tipper’.
Back to the village, my last official job for the day was a trip to the Post Office to get my mail held until my return here in January. Not that I’m expecting much, but my letter box is built into the garage door, and behind the slot is a small box. So if it gets full, nothing else will go in. And here, there is quite a large amount of advertising material. In the few days I’ve been here, there has been so much it’s just been left wedged into the slot i.e. it’s never even made its way inside into the box.
So, the trip to the Post Office was interesting. Saturday morning, open for a few hours. Fortunately when I arrive there’s no one else there. So when I make myself understood what it is I’m wanting (my mail held at the post office until 9th January), I fill out all the forms. And then I add that I also require a 3-page fax to be sent (it’s the paperwork for the purchase of the car), and that seems to stall things.
The man sorting the post in the background, who speaks a little English and who is helping translate for me, appears to be the only one who can send faxes. In the meantime, there are two more people in the post office, both waiting patiently. Interestingly, it appears things work as ‘first in, best dressed’, and at that time it seemed to be me. Figuratively I mean. The lady serving me did her utmost to appear busy, while doing nothing, waiting for the man who did the faxes to finish what he was doing, before he could attend to my fax.
Still there are people waiting. I was feeling a little embarrassed by this stage. Finally he gave up dealing with the post and disappeared through a door. Only to come out 5 minutes later to say ‘it’s not working’. A customer at the counter helpfully clarified the conversation. A few minutes later he tried again, and came out with the good news that ‘it is ok’. In the meantime, the lady who was attending to me has actually served another customer. The old lady who had patiently taken a seat was also seen to – she had only wanted a stamp. Ah, so much patience I must learn …. this is all the norm here it seems.
Oh, and while all this went on, another older woman had come in briefly, heard me struggling with my French and intervened - in very good but heavily accented English – and got things moving. When she departed, she said if ever I needed any help again, I must contact her. Which was so nice. But I don’t know who she is or where she lives. Obviously in the village somewhere.
And this is just a few incidents that have happened in the last few days that have reinforced for me just how very friendly the French are. In my visits here in the last couple of years, I can honestly say that the vast majority of people that I’ve run into have been just so friendly. I know the stereotype, but in my mind it just ain’t true. I’ve come across the odd aloof (ok, rude …) waiter, the odd ‘can’t be bothered’ shop attendant … and so on. But that happens to me in other countries too. I’m so pleasantly surprised by just how friendly and helpful people have been. And I’ve hardly met anyone yet.
Well, actually I met the neighbours on one side. An older couple who Mdm and Msr told me are ‘very nice’ and grow vegetables (must be on some land away from here – they have no back yard). I met them yesterday, as he pulled up outside his house in his little van full of vegetables in the back. I also met his wife as she came out to meet him.
And today, the door bell rang. I opened the door - no one there. But I saw my neighbour walking towards the back of his van and he waved. And then he grabbed the biggest lettuce in the world and came back and gave it to me. ‘From my garden’ he said. As it turned out, it came with ‘un (or is it une?) escargot’. I was unsure of what to do with the little critter that was making a break for it up the side of the sink. I was all for disposing of it quickly and humanely, but Janice would have none of it. She released it into the safety of the courtyard, where it is no doubt living the life of Riley in my geraniums!
Corinne and Pascale came around to the house – I was under the impression that I’d spoken to Corinne on the phone back in September and that her English was very good. It turns out that I had been speaking to Mdm’s daughter-in-law, not Corinne. Neither Pascale nor Corinne speak any English. Their own daughter and a grandson is with them. It also turns out that not one, but two of their sons are pompiers. And perhaps one day the grandson too, they say.
They come inside, and show me how to clear a pipe at the back of the heater, and after about 10 minutes or so, it’s firing up. It stays on until early evening. It certainly doesn’t throw out a lot of heat, but sure takes the chill off the place. Pascale tells me that if I have any other problems, I am to ring them.
There is just more unpacking. We’re trying to get as many boxes unpacked as possible and just put away ‘somewhere’ - with a view that when I return, it will be easier for me to find good homes for most bits. A lot of the time is spent setting up the TV with the video, recorder box and DVD player. We can’t seem to connect the satellite box to my telly (Msr’s telly has gone upstairs into a spare room). So I can play videos and DVDs but not get any TV. So when I return, I’ll have to get the specialists out for a visit.
Even more time is spent trying to set up the computer. When I was packing everything up, I was so careful to label all the leads and cables with stickers, A to A, B to B. So I figured everything would be foolproof. That was all in theory, and it mostly worked. That is, the printer, speakers, scanner, wireless router and a few other bits all have the correct cables linked into the back of the computer. Steve, who was the ultimate gadget and electronics person, had things wonderfully wired up and working perfectly – but in a way that is beyond my comprehension. And it appears I have failed in labelling things entirely correctly.
Behind the desk is spaghetti junction x 100. And added to this, there are plug boards which have to be re-wired to a French plug (Janice’s department – though she did teach me over a glass of wine how to do this). The bottom line is that at the moment, my computer is not up and running and I will have to get someone to come and see to things when I return.
There is also the added problem of the French-UK-US leads. That has mostly worked. The phone works! But there seems to be a lost lead (the all-important wireless router) that doesn’t fit anything. It’s not one that I’ve labelled (god how did that happen – it’s SO important) – and there’s nothing it seems to fit into.
I have also had an interesting conversation with French AOL. This is the ISP which has been recommended to me, and I was given what I thought was the English-speaking number. Not so. But when I finally got through, it was a very helpful person who spoke a little English, who said I’d come through to the wrong department, but someone would ring me back tomorrow after .
Most of the next day we spend at the house, moving around as much furniture as we can to make room for mine that is arriving the following day. Some of the bedside furniture goes out into the barn, the table and chairs go out into the summer kitchen (a small area off the courtyard that has a built in barbecue, a wood burning stove, and a sink. There is an awful lot of stuff left in the kitchen – crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, lots of ornaments, vases, artificial flower displays, paintings on the wall, clocks, etc. Mdm mentioned that they would probably only have to take it to the tip as they couldn’t take it all. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with it all myself yet. In the meantime, I’ve sorted out a few boxes and bags that really do need to go to the dump, the rest is stored on shelves under the stairs.
The sofa bed and display cabinet in the lounge room, and a large telly, prove too heavy for us to move. We have to leave it and hope the removal men will move it – as my own stuff will never fit in (the lounge room is smaller than I remember!)
The bed frame in my bedroom is too big to move and it needs allen (sp?) keys to be dismantled. So I decide to visit Sandra who lives about 50 metres away, on the main street opposite the Maire’s office. I met Sandra and her husband Patrick when I first stayed in this village in April, and revisited them in September when I bought this place – they’re doing up a grand property which they’re running as a B&B. Sandra knocked the top off a bottle of rosé and we had a celebratory drink to my arrival in the village. We arranged to come back and get the allen keys in the morning, when Patrick returned and dug them out.
The following morning, back to the house to await the removal van which I’m told to expect around lunch time. It’s nearly by the time it gets here – they’re happy to move the bits and pieces that we can’t manage. The road is relatively wide here, it is in fact quite a busy one – the main road around the village. But the truck is large and there is a demolition going on not far away, with large trucks loaded with rubble going back and forward all day. There must be a considerable amount of construction going on somewhere too as a cement mixer has also been passing by regularly through the day. So all of this makes for interesting traffic ‘situations’ as the furniture is unloaded.
There is a gigantic cupboard/wardrobe in my bedroom that is so heavy the two guys cannot budge it. It is beautifully made, with a shiny tortoise shell lacquer-like finish. All the edges of the internal shelves and some of the outside panelling are finished with tiny inlaid wood patterns. No doubt in its time it would have been quite a piece, but it most definitely isn’t me. So the only way to move it is to dismantle it – and although this proves quite easy (it must have been assembled in this room – it could never have come up the stairs in its entirety), it is quite time consuming. We all take panels, mirrors, drawers and shelves downstairs and lean them up against the wall of the garage. The garage is looking very full already. We’ve decided to put most of the boxes there too and move them tomorrow. There are other pieces of furniture in other rooms I would have liked moved, but time has got away, and they’re running late to get to the Spanish border tonight.
There is a charity apparently that will come and collect furniture so I will need to contact them on my return to arrange a collection.
France Telecom arrived earlier in the day and installed the phone line. After opening many boxes in the garage to locate the BT phone I’d bought with me, I now have a working telephone. I’d read on a forum that I needed adaptors to be able to use a
phone. Not one, but two. Apparently there isn’t an adaptor that is France-UK. I needed to buy a France-US plug, and then a US-UK plug. So I bought a couple of sets before I left, and voila, it all works! The internet connection will have to wait until I return. UK
By early evening, it was getting really cold and we decided that we would have a crack at lighting the oil heater in the kitchen. I got out the instructions I’d written on the back of an envelope and followed them to the letter. I got a can full of oil from the courtyard, and three quarters filled the reservoir. Turned all the right buttons (supposedly), but nothing happened. No oil appeared in the bottom of the well. So I didn’t even get to the stage of throwing in the alcohol and striking a match. Even dropped a fire lighter in which burned for about 5 minutes – in the hope that it would ‘warm things up’ (!!) and perhaps make things happen. Nope.
And then the door bell rings. Two local firemen, in uniform, selling their calendars. Not the cheese-cake sort – but one with pictures of bush fires (yes, Bize is surrounded by quite a bit of forest), rescues, lots of local information, adverts of local businesses etc, and photos of the whole fire brigade team of the area. A fund raising exercise, the cost being a ‘donation’. As well as the calendar, I get a lottery ticket with the prize being a box of lamb and a turkey and some pork.
Well, as I’d been told that you call the pompiers for all sorts of things (even before the police and ambulance apparently), I figured I’d ask them about my problem with the oil heater. In the meantime, I’d ascertained that the young boy of about 18 was in fact the son of Pascale, also a fireman, and whose radiators I had on loan for the winter. And of course he was also the grandson of Msr and Mdm. They came inside, shone a torch inside, twiddled some knobs and said they were ‘desolate’ … but they didn’t know the problem. But Msr had previously said that any problems, I was to call Pascale and he would help. So that’s a phone call for tomorrow.
about – 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 Toulouse 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. village of Homps
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 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 before I called it quits and put the cork in the second bottle? I think it was.
4 Dec 2006
OK so I’m sitting here at Gatwick Airport typing on my laptop.... 6.10am flight out of Glasgow, with connecting flight to Toulouse not until 3pm – arrival 6.40, then a 2 ½ hour drive to destination. So a long day. Janice my friend from London fortunately is able to join me on this trip down – so that is taking some of the pressure off – especially getting into Toulouse when it’s late and dark, and then navigating out of the city in the hire car. And a helping hand to unpack all my worldly goods, should they arrive in the removal van on Thursday as planned!
The removal van arrived early last Wednesday – stress levels gearing up for this move are not unexpected – sky high. I will be so relieved when I’m sitting in the house, surrounded by boxes, and whipping the cork out of a bottle of red. A positive side of the moving out day was that the two removal men were real gems – it’s a Welsh company that I’m using – so I had two strong Welshman doing a great job of loading my gear, only stopping long enough for a few cuppas and Scotch pies, pasties and sticky buns I’d got from the bakery down the road. And it is the same two that will be arriving on my doorstep in France in a few days. So I’ll make sure there’s some pastries ready, together with whatever the French equivalent of a Scotch pie is.
Hopefully that will happen this Thursday – though there’s no guarantee at this stage that it will. A small matter of a hiccup with the finance arriving from the currency dealer here in the UK into the Notaire’s account in France – nothing major there of course – just the funds to pay for the house! I’m waiting for a phone call here at the airport from Susie Walters who is dealing with the paperwork for me. Worst case scenario I guess is that it’s delayed for a day or two. Hopefully by Thursday – I’m not sure what I’ll do with all the furniture if I don’t have the keys to the house.
After the formalities, Susie wants us to have lunch then head straight off to Carcassonne to look for cars. She knows several English speaking dealers and I’m hoping to have found one before I head to Canada for Christmas on the 11th December. As I have a hire car for the next week, I’m hoping to just pick up the car from the dealer when I arrive back on the 6th January.
So, three night’s accommodation (in the same place that Nic and I stayed at in September) and then into the house. Assuming all goes according to plan, it’s signing of all the paperwork on Tuesday at 11am – a very formal affair with all parties present – the two owners with their Notaire, me with my Notaire, Susie and Bruce, and also an official interpreter who will interpret every word to me to satisfy all the legal requirements. Susie and Bruce are fluent, but they recommended I should get an accredited interpreter to be sure that everything’s done by the book – so important in France of course!
Ah, and this is just the beginning.
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