You may well ask how all this came about, for I realise it sounds rather sudden - impulsive even. Well, I have stayed with my friend L in her house in the Correze - a hop and a skip from the Dordogne - for the past three summers, and documented two of these holidays on the blog, eg here. I did actually say even on my first visit two years ago that it felt like coming home. Then this summer a little house popped up for sale a few doors down her street. We had two viewings with the estate agent, and a few weeks later, after consulting a dozen or so friends and associates with experience of owning property overseas, or of legal or financial matters or big life decisions generally - in short, people endowed with a good dollop of common sense as I did not want my friends to act simply as an echo chamber - I put an offer in which was accepted. Including the solicitor's and estate agent's fees (the buyer pays the latter here!), plus taxes and some furniture, the price comes out at just over £40,000. You could buy three such houses for the price of a small terrace in Stafford, so it seemed like a bargain I couldn't let slip away - that was certainly the consensus of the people I spoke to who already had houses in France.
|The house last summer|
As a holiday home I am well aware that it would be rather a luxury, so all being well, I hope to move there full-time when I finally retire, and to keep the place ticking over meanwhile in terms of running costs. I am not ready to emigrate yet, as I have all sorts of ties still in Blighty. Plus my economic status at the moment is too shaky for me to be allowed to stay in France for more than three months of the year - with my current level of earnings I would be considered a burden on the state. That all changes, however, once I hit 66 and am in receipt of a state pension. At that point the French government considers it quite normal for a person to be 'economically inactive'(!), and takes a more benign view of immigrants and the minimum income they must bring with them.
|The other day - those shutters need a lick of lead-free paint! (see below)|
To fund the purchase I broke into a long term investment product I had previously considered strictly as a pension pot. I do see this as forward planning for my retirement though. Yes, the whole thing feels a bit as though I were a student who accidentally falls pregnant at university and decides to keep the baby and muddle through her studies somehow, in the hope that it will all come good in the end. A case of the right decision at the wrong time you could say. But there again, if I set out to look for a house in seven years' time, specifically in my friend's village, never mind her street, I might look in vain - or find something, but not be able to afford it. So I decided to take the plunge, secure my retirement home now, and put it behind my ear for later. Or rather use it as a holiday home to be going on with, and as an opportunity to gradually find out more about the ins and outs of living in France. I did spend an academic year on the Riviera as it happens, teaching English in a school, but that was forty years ago!, so things will surely have changed since then. And I didn't own a home, obviously, so there will be much to learn. As ex-Mr Bonkers' mother advised, my MO will be one of 'creep and go'.
So that is the background...and here is some more on the trip itself...
I had bagged a cheap flight from Bristol to Limoges, and there was the usual mayhem and ground-to-a-halt chaos on the roads around Birmingham, topped off with gridlock in Bristol itself, the centre of which seemed to have been entirely dug up! Then I was next to a baby on the plane, as is always the way - I attract them as a magnet does iron filings - though to the infant's credit it slept much of the flight. At the other end I picked up a gratifyingly tiny hire car, and an hour and a half later was installed in the simple but well appointed studio accommodation I had booked through Airbnb. It was located at the back of the owners' garage, and my hostess kindly showed me a labyrinthine route from my flat to their quarters, in case I was 'ill in the night'.
|My studio accommodation|
The house was situated on a long residential road, high above the little town where the solicitor's office was, and where I was due to do the deed in a couple of days' time. Or not the deed deed, but the earlier one I mentioned, obvs. ;) After unpacking my bulging Ryanair-compliant hand luggage, I scurried down a steep, pitch black road in the general direction of the lights below, and once I reached town, soon ascertained that all the supermarkets shut on the dot of 7.30pm, and I had no supplies bar an apple. Luckily, the barman at the one hotel in town stepped into the breach and sold me a litre of UHT milk at cost price, and I also scored a warm pizza slice from the bakery just as it was closing.
|The patio outside my studio|
The next day I had a productive meeting with that traditional tourist mecca, the water board(!), about how to read the meter at the point of handover from one owner to another. I was even given different models of meter to study, so that I knew which numbers were which on any possible design I might encounter. I also met two lovely ladies at the office of a big French insurance company. One of them normally works mornings in a little branch just behind my house-to-be. 'Oh, we will be neighbours!' she remarked brightly. I am strongly inclined to place my business with her, because at least five times a week she will be able to check my house hasn't burnt down or the roof blown off. It is in her interest to keep an eye on it, after all, to preempt any claims on my side. ;)
After extensive reconnoitring, I can tell you that this little town where the solicitor is boasts not one but two opticians - unless I was seeing double? - a book shop, an abattoir, a wine merchant, a manufacturer of duvet fillings, a flour mill...and that blessed endangered species, a wool shop. Of course I had to go and patronise it, and bought a ball of wool to make wristwarmers with. When I went back a couple of days later, the owner remembered me and said she hoped I wasn't after any more of the same yarn, only someone had been in that morning and snapped it all up! Luckily I was after a different colour...
|Autumn in all its mellow yellowness|
After custom buying a few French foodstuffs for friends, and before I went back up the hill to my digs, I couldn't resist a peep in the windows of two estate agents to check I hadn't missed any other local property gems. But no, I am happy to report that there was nothing that could remotely have swayed me from my choice...
The next morning I had an early appointment at the bank in 'my' village, to finalise the paperwork required to open an account. I handed over 75 euros to get it started, and ordered a debit card. The bank clerk sent a temporary access code to my mobile so that I could manage my account online, and seemed frankly astonished that it reached my UK number with a few moments' delay. The last time I had a French bank account - in Cannes in 1979 - there were no such things as debit cards or cash dispensers, and I only had a cheque book instead. I wasn't offered a cheque book on this occasion, times having moved on!
|The solicitor's office|
Then it was back to the town where I was staying, and at noon in the solicitor's waiting room I met the estate agent and the vendor (who lives opposite the house I am buying - it was she and her late husband's holiday home till they retired and moved to the village full-time, rendering it redundant).
The meeting was held in a grand office with extremely tall windows. It was conducted in French, though the estate agent was on hand to help if I got stuck on anything. While the solicitor nipped out to the photocopier, I mentioned to the others the random trivia fact that the date of 8.11.18 was a palindrome - well, it is if you budge the numerals up a bit as you go backwards - which seemed to make the occasion even more momentous.
|I have bought this bed and chairs!|
The only word I had to ask the meaning of in the event was the one for asbestos, which had come up in the French equivalent of a survey. Which fortunately I don't have, along with a very low risk of earthquakes, flooding, industrial pollution, landslides, subsidence, and unsympathetic new developments. There are, however, highish levels of radon gas in the area, though not especially in the village. The solicitor, who was born here, pretended to be alarmed about this, and said she hoped she would live long enough to complete our conveyancing. Then I also learnt that I am termite- and dry rot-free, but there are traces of lead in the exterior paint used on the house - so no sucking the window frames, then, as Val the Cookie Queen observed. And the survey also threw up a few 'electrical anomalies', though to be fair I am still discovering the full gamut of electrical anomalies in my house here in Stafford, six years on. As luck would have it, the next day I bumped into one of the two recommended electricians in the village. I told him about my 'anomalies', and he gave me his card, looked reassuringly unfazed, and said that as soon as I was ready he'd pop up and take a look.
|The house gives good door|
Yes, the community feeling I sensed in the village and neighbouring town where I stayed - after three days of not even being a home owner - was remarkable. The lady in the second hand shop explained how to convert an old fashioned linen cupboard into a conventional wardrobe with the aid of a glide rail or two, and offered to keep an eye out for one for me. She can also organise a van to take away any furniture left behind in the house I don't want to keep, which will go to charity.
And on my last night, my Airbnb host invited me to join her and her husband in the main house to 'wet the sales agreement's head' (roughly translated ;) ) with champagne and canapes. There was a moment of utter confusion when the husband pointed out that a log in the grate looked like a 'chevreuil' (deer), which I got mixed up with 'chevrefeuille' (honeysuckle), prompting me to make an inane comment about its having a sweet smell. We had a wide ranging conversation which covered patchwork families, Brexit, young (and not so young!) people's obsession with selfies, the weather, the soil, views on incomers, tradesmen tips and much more. I learnt the words for 'chimney sweep', 'loophole' and 'up your own a**e'. I do need a chimney sweep as it happens, and am sure I will have much recourse to the 'a**e' phrase. When I retired to my studio two hours later, I felt pleasantly squiffy and not really hungry, so I ended up having my microwavable ham and cheese crepe - and as many other random leftovers as I could force down me - for breakfast the next morning.
I will be back soon, and though it is a while before I would begin to contemplate living here full-time for the reasons I explained, this trip has already had a profound effect. I do believe I could settle there quite nicely, even though the pace of life is very, very slow. My host summed up the village where I am buying with the comment: 'Some nice houses, but a bit dead', adding: 'I guess it depends what you like really!' I would sum up the people in the area as down to earth, warm and kind, and as long as you are not up your own 'a**e' you will fit right in.
So yes, sorry this is far away from perfume - that said, I can report that I wore Aroma M Geisha Botan on the signing day! - but it is a major thing going on in my life at the moment, such that it would have felt odd not to write about it...