Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Ryanair and wild boars

Our 2nd trip to the new house in France has enabled me to feel much more "at home"...and already some of my anxieties about not being settled in either home have faded.

The ease of the journey between homes has helped, and I never expected to be declaring Ryanair to be so good. I keep hearing horror stories, of stranded poorly treated ripped off travellers and await the first time we have a bad experience....but so far.....the company can't be faulted.

Early morning fog in Carcassonne meant our flight had to be diverted to Perpignan....Carcassonne hasn't got the facility required to enable planes to land unsighted. The air crew assurred passengers that buses would be available to take us all back to Carcassonne, and they were. All was well organised, the bus journey from Perpignan to Carcassonne was delightful, and all passengers arrived where they should have been, just a couple of hours later than expected.....and just as the fog lifted to display a beautiful clear warm winter's day.  Basically, whilst the weather is not under Michael O'Leary's control, everything he was responsible for worked perfectly.

The house looked amazing as we approached it.... some of the pine trees and gorse that I  had wanted removed, to give the almond, olive,  and oak trees more space, had gone....so the view from our terrace over the village was even more spectacular than 5 weeks ago.

We turned on the electricity, the gas, the water.... and amazingly ( or at least to me) the TV, the phone and the internet all worked perfectly, immediately. I was expecting all sorts of difficulties.... but we were there, in our own little bit of paradise, and connected to the outside world.

We did all sorts of practical things this time..... put curtains up, delighted to discover an ancient pair from at least 2 houses ago, were perfect for the living room.....bought some decent secateurs to replace the rubbish supermarket ones I bought last time, and made a soul destroying trip to Ikea in Montpelier. We vowed never to go again, but I always say that ... I just hope that this time, I never have the urge to buy something with an interesting Swedish name again. I have to say it is the only place I was able to find measuring spoons !
Curtain framed door to the terrace

New garden tools

We organised logs for the fire.....

and learned that the log burning stove is easy to work, and very very efficient.....it also made our French home look just like Abraham's barn, where we used to live in Mankinholes, before all the selling and buying of new places to live that 2011 has involved.

We did some exploring, went to Citou, a couple of local walks, into Carcassonne, the much maligned Montpelier trip... which was beautiful, apart from the 2 hours in Ikea, Mark played golf a couple of times, we entertained our first dinner guest, I baked a cake, and played in the garden.

The walk into the village

One of the gorgeous Caunes marble statues in the village

We discovered that we had a night visitor....le sanglier.....The hills behind our house, are inhabited by all sorts of wild life..... and we now know, quite clearly, that there are wild boar there. We heard noises one evening, but couldn't see anything, but found irrefutable evidence of snuffling rooting snouts, under the tree where we had hung bird food. When a local gardnener told me that from what he could see near our grape vines, there had been "pigs" in the garden, I thought he meant that the previous owners had kept pigs, which seemed pretty unlikley... but no.... he meant.... we get visitors.....les sangliers..... so I am very excited at the prospect of coming face to face with one at some stage. I did get up at dawn one morning, just to have alook around, just in case one was still rooting around. No luck with les sangliers, but a fabulous dawn all the same.          

So all in all.... yes, this is  already home, just need a few more pictures of the kids around the place.......so that's the next job.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Poppy thoughts

Poppy thoughts:

I am part of that generation, a teenager at the end of the 60s, student life in the early and mid 70s, that shunned poppy wearing. It all felt a bit like remembering war was close to glorifying it, and as I recall, we all wanted to .."give peace a chance".

Gradually, over the years, mellowing politically, as most of us do, I have forgotten some of the reasons I used to give for not wearing a poppy. I think people wear them for all kinds of reasons now, that maybe were not part of the agenda then, when the wars we were remembering were the two world wars, and the one we were trying to see the back of was Vietnam.

So, in recent years, I have bought my poppy, worn it on 11/11, if I've been able to remember where I put it after I bought it, joined in 2 minutes silence, and genuinely reflected on the horrors of war, and been grateful that I have had no serving soldiers within my close family or amongst friends.

This year has been really different.

Last December I finished transcribing the "war memoirs" of a good friend's father. He was in the London Rifle Brigade, and joined up at 19, in 1939. He is 91 in a few weeks time, and still suffers from night terrors. His son wondered if writing things down might help him deal with some of the horrors he still feels on a daily , or rather, nightly basis. He saw dreadful things, close friends killed by snipers, standing next to him, distorted bodies of English and German boys.....tarring and feathering of collaborators,  gruesome sights that I could only imagine, as I transcribed his spidery handwriting.

Today I have been thinking of Mike Hicks and all the friends he lost, and hoping that Mike copes with today as I know that it is always hard for him.

Also, during the last year I have been working on my own family history. My infamous bigamist grandfather who had 3 wives who knew nothing of each other, and 3 sons, the youngest being my dad, who also knew nothing of each other's existence. Grandfather William Murch-Whelen deserted his first wife at the end of the 1st World War. He had married her in 1912, their beautiful curly haired son John was born in 1914, and then he went to war. He never went home. He was awarded medals for meritous service beyond the call of duty, in France and Flanders, but he never went home....he went on to marry and desert another wife and child before he met my grandmother, who he also "married".

He was an old ( not actually very old...only 60 ) man during the 2nd World War. He became a firewatchman, until he had a complete breakdown, and was sectioned. He died in a mental hospital at the end of 1945.

So, I have also been thinking about my grandfather. The cousins I have discovered that share the same bigamist grandfather, and I have forgiven him for what he did to the women and children he deserted. I expect they were thinking about him today as well. I can only guess at what he saw in the trenches, and I am unable to judge him for what at first seemed to be unforgiveable actions in his relationships "at home".

I have also spent today thinking about Luther Adolphus Dawes, Herefordshire Regiment, born 1896, died 1917, buried in a war grave in Beersheba ( now Israel), that no family has ever been able to visit. He was one my other grandfather's older brothers, one of my great grandmother Mary's babies.

 Luther's grave

So, Mike, William and Luther..... today I wear my poppy, maybe for the first time ever, in real remembrance of you, but also because I think my youthful feelings about it all were basically right. We must hate war, and what it does to our children. Mike and William and Luther were children, no matter how old they actually were.

The road on which our new French house is situated is called "Rue du Maquis de Trassanel". Les maquis were the resistance fighters that lived in the mountain areas of southern France under the Vichy government. Just a few miles from our house, 48 resistance fighters were killed in cave in Trassanel, where they were hiding, in 1944. Most of them were..... young boys..... just children.

                  The memorial to the members of the Trassanel maquis.

I am so happy that Kieron is no longer in the army, I am so happy that Jan and Mick's son Peter changed his mind about joining up. I understand people's pride in what their children do when fighting for their country. I am proud of Mike and William and Luther.....but I am devastated by what war does to people, and families....and by wearing my poppy in remembrance, I am also childishly, teenagerishly wishing for peace.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Abroad thoughts from home......

We’ve been back in Yorkshire for 2 weeks now, and are busy planning the next visit to the house in France. People have warned us that splitting living between 2 places means we’ll never quite feel at home in either place..... I just hope we can make it work. Watching the weather forecast for Carcassonne, while avoiding puddles in Hebden Bridge has had me wishing I was there at the moment...there is so much I want to do in the garden. I want to explore the abbey, not as a tourist, but as someone who lives close to it. I want to have a better understanding of the Cathars, I want to practice my French....not with Mark, for fun, but for real. I want to watch French TV, and actually understand what is happening in the build up to the elections next spring ( and discover French soaps !).

However, seeing Jess twice last week as she came home to do some work on a couple of essays, meeting her in Manchester later this week to see Arctic Monkeys, having lunch with a Sharon, from ward 4c, on Wednesday, Matt, Sarah, Dexter and Clark coming for tea on Thursday, coffee with Carole on Friday, and spending nearly a whole day with Liam...feeding ducks, collecting autumn leaves, playing traffic jams with the toy cars underneath the pew in the back room..... none of these things can be done, when we’re a 2 hour flight away. Even though it actually takes less time to get to the house in France than it does to drive down to London......all these very important people wont be able to pop in for coffee, or make spur of the moment decisions to call in for a natter.

“Home” still feels like here in Yorkshire..... but I am hoping so much that home will become wherever we are when we are there. I want Jess and Jodie and Sarah ( and their men ! ) to feel they can hop on a flight and come for a few days, not just a long time planned prearranged “holiday”.

It is all a bit confusing, but incredibly exciting...... I am very hopeful.....all will be well.
                       Matt, Clark & Dexter with Mark,earlier this week.
                                               Sarah and Clark

Sunday, 16 October 2011

How did we get to this point ?

Having been back in England for 5 days, I'm still pinching myself, wondering how we have actually reached the point of having set up a new home in France. So this second attempt at blogging is really just a retrospective look at how it all came about...just for the record.

Glorious summer holidays with the kids, in the Dordogne, in Gascony and then in an amazing spot in Provence, called Bargemon, have always included wine enhanced conversations about living somewhere in France. The last couple of French vacations have been spent searching for a financially realistic alternative to Bargemon. (We realised it was out of our price bracket when the Beckhams bought a summer place  half a mile up the road from the house we had rented so regularly!)

Last year led us to the Carcassonne area, and we started to get serious about it all. Some internet research led to contact with an agent in France who seemed to offer a kind of " A Place in the Sun, Kirstie and Phil " service of arranging property visits, and in May this year, Mark and I embarked on a week's trip, with house viewings arranged with 5 different agents in 5 different areas, all within reasonable driving distance of Carcassonne.

In 5 days, we saw 26 houses.....some amazing and some which would have become lifetime restoration projects. All the houses we saw acquired nick names so we could remember them..... "Rising damp", "Yellow Shutters", "Rock Chick", "Scary forest " " Playmobil house" etc. etc.

We had based ourselves in one of the Minervois towns, staying in a house owned by one of Mark's work colleagues. It was a lovely village, with a 12th century abbey, just below the Black Mountains. Sitting in the bar in the evening of our first day of viewing, we thought that actually this was exactly the kind of village we wanted, boulangerie, boucherie, tabac, bar, a couple of other eating places, in fact the setting was a bit Bargemon like. Looking at our schedule of viewings we saw that we were meeting one of the agents in the village, but not until the Friday, the last day of our trip.

The outcome is obvious I suppose. We met with Paola, the agent for "Allure France" in the bar in Caunes,( see above ) early on the Friday morning. The 20 houses we had seen up until then were carefully ranked in our minds, and we were fairly sure we would be putting in an offer on a "the pink house" in a small village called La Vallette. It was near the golf course ( plus point), had a stunning garden and large pool ( double plus point)....but the village itself had few amenities.....no bar for a start ( serious negative ), but weighing it all up, it seemed to offer the best combination of what we wanted.

Paola and her little dog, Bruno, spent some time with us in the bar, talking about what we wanted, and before long she had determined that we needed " views".... so she would take us to see some houses with views. This had not been our main criteria, we had talked about village amenities, number of bedrooms, size of land, pool...... but Paola decided it was "the view" from the property that really mattered.... and we soon discovered that Paola knew best. 

We followed her, driving up a quite steep road , out of the village, but stopped at a house just on the edge of Caunes. Before we had looked inside, before we knew about the pool size, number of bathrooms/bedrooms, or even price..... we pretty much knew that this was the one. The view over the village was stunning, the olive and fig trees, the wild irises, the little vineyard, and the beautiful south facing terrace won us over as soon as we saw them.

Paola and her dog led us around the house, warning us that we had to look beyond the dated decor, beyond the "shit brown" colours of the wood and the furniture, she even referred to the kitchen sink as "urine coloured".

Everywhere she showed us she talked about how we could change this or that, and how "the views" made up for the shortcomings of the house, currently owned by an eighty year old couple who wanted to downsize.

Mark and I saw no shit brown, no decor to be replaced.... and I even thought the kitchen sink was quite nice. We adored it at first sight.

As the nickname the house acquired for our record keeping as "Bargemon", there was probably little point in looking at the other houses Paola had selected for us. It was perfect, and within a couple of days, our offer was accepted and our relationship with the wonderful Paola was confirmed. In a remarkably short and stress free time, Paola led us through the buying process, providing answers, translations and her always hilarious commentary on the French legal system....and a few more opinions about decor and design.

So... that was it, we bought the house with the view.... and the shit brown decor...... which looked a lot less so when the previous owners' brown sofas and dark furniture was removed.

Janice And Mark in Caunes Slideshow: Janice’s trip from Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom to Caunes-Minervois, France was created by TripAdvisor. See another Caunes-Minervois slideshow. Create a free slideshow with music from your travel photos.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Trying not to be a tourist

We knew we could manage to buy food in supermarkets ( often no language exchange required) and to buy bread from the boulangerie...but actually negotiating over model, price, spin speed and delivery of a French washing machine, in French, from a French electrician, seemed another prospect altogether.

Monsieur Chaubert, the electrician, was delightful but spoke at the rate of a gattling gun. Various requests using the word "lentement" did mean we finally worked out what he was saying about price, tax, water and energy efficiency etc. and the deal was done. We even managed to explain how the Marie and the Post Office disagreed about our address, one saying we lived at number 5, the other insisting it is number 8. The last person we had explained the confusion to had merely said " Welcome to France".

We were amazed that he could deliver it straight away, but as we had plans to try to get the phone and internet organised by visiting Fr. Telecom in Carcassonne, we said we would not be home for a few hours. delivery was arranged for 4.00 -4.30pm.
So, we set off for Carcassonne, thrilled that our first non touristy encounter had been successful. Further thrilled occurred at the Fr Telecom offices. The man in front of us in the fairly long queue was told to wait for an English speaking assistant, whereas our French was deemed acceptable enough to be dealt with by a non English speaking assistant. Again, some repetition, some sign language and lots of French, led us to set up our French landline and our internet connection. Our pleasure at the ease of the transaction faded  a little on being told, as we were leaving, ....it would take up to 15 days to activate.
Oh well, in the scheme of things and after what we had been told of the strong possibility that the process would take hours of waiting, discussions and more waiting, we still felt good.
Our address caused some chaos again though. Neither 5 nor 8 were recognised, but then neither was our road.... the nearest we could get was the road that our road comes off from.... that seemed to satisfy them, but I have no idea how anything they send by post will ever reach us.

We returned to the house planning a quick swim before the washing machine was to be delivered. However a somewhat cross Frenchman phoned us ( on the mobile ) ...landline still 15 days away. We thought he said he was lsot, and couldn't find the road or the house number . Mark went off to look for him while I tried to explain the confusion over the phone.

Mark and a white van man appeared minutes later. We worked out that he wasn't lost, he had tried to deliver at 2pm. We explained we had been told 4pm. he huffed and puffed and eventually manhandled the washing machine up the front steps and into the utlility room. 10 minutes later it was installed and he went to leave. We suddenly realised that perhaps Monsieur Chaubert had said he would arrange delivery for "quatorze"... not "quatre heures" as we had thought. So I explained this to our delivery man, who did actually smile at this stage and said it didn't matter...... so a mostly successful day, with a little hiccup.