When we moved to France it was done on a whim. I think it was probably my idea.
My husband Al’s parents had bought a mobile ‘ome on the south west coast near Ronce les Bains and we’d already been out there for a two week holiday. The lure of a new adventure beckoned. “Let’s move to France,” I said on Saturday afternoon after a mind-numbing trip to Tesco’s in the drizzle.
“Okay,” said Al. You find out everything we have to do, put the house on the market and I’ll see if I can work from home. Well, that’s the twist I put on his rather more detailed response.
A year later, having given up trying to sell the house, and after I’d checked all the things he’d asked me to check and filled in reams of largely unnecessary forms, and after his company had agreed to his working remotely, we packed a trailer, squeezed into our Rover with our two enormous sons, and set off.
Our friends came to see us off - very sad.
The A14 had never seemed so exciting.
Ten hours later, we rolled up at the gite in the dark, apprehensive and very tired. I’d booked everything through the Internet. We'd chosen our accommodation in a village called le Gua, after sifting through hundreds of places in department 17, and viewing them on Google Earth to detect potentially poisonous emissions from factory chimneys or noise pollution from encroaching motorways laden with juggernauts. Ha!
Let the mayhem begin!
We got out of the car and were assaulted by a German Shepherd and two bouncing Jack Russells, much to the delight of our children.
We’d dissected emails and analysed phone calls for clues as to whether our new landlords would be monsters, but nothing could have prepared us for Jim and Monique, who were the perfect hosts from day one. We were lucky. They were accommodating and fun. Bright and breezy.
Life at the gite was cramped, but there was open countryside beyond Jim's fields. And there were horses, donkeys, dogs, cats…you get the picture... Pulses slowed. We breathed in the clean air and accompanied Jim and his dogs on long walks, gathering mushrooms, walnuts, figs, living off the land.
Al got the Internet sorted out (eventually) and stuck a desk in the corner of our bedroom. Hey presto! He was a teleworker. Paid in sterling, with an exchange rate of one euro fifty to the pound, we were comfortably off.
Our two boys, then 8 and 11 went off to French school with the little French they’d picked up in England and on the Internet during the summer. They coped brilliantly, despite Harry being put into the wrong classes at first and Alfie having a teacher who believed in teaching by decibel.
I didn’t have a job and was charged with finding a house to buy. What fun! I got lots of brochures and started circling ads.
Three months went by and Christmas came. We shared it with Jim, Monique and Paulette, a formidable local woman in her seventies who had only recently given up cycling 28 kilometres to see her relatives on the Ile d’Oleron. She arrived, dismounted in mid sentence and didn’t really let up much. She cornered my husband, hemming him in between the wall and an enormous rubber plant, telling him that she wanted to tour Europe on the back of his motorbike. I could see that he was tempted. At lunch, Paulette said the turkey was dry and tough, but as she'd forgotten to put her teeth in, no one was particularly surprised.
Christmas in Charente Maritime, sitting on the terrace for coffee in the warm sunshine while my boys petted the various dogs, cats, rabbits, donkeys and horses, it was easy to think that we’d done the right thing.
Harry's first riding experience.
(To be continued…)