Archive for June, 2008

Buying a house in France – a cautionary tale!
June 27, 2008

How would you feel if you bought a house in a quiet, rural location and on moving in a year later found another house ‘under construction’ in the field next-door? What if you had bought the property for its ‘privacy’ and had been assured by the previous owners that the surrounding land, which they owned, would remain as farming land.  Now imagine if that house had been built by the previous owners, who in the process had dug trench (large enough for a small army) in your back lawn, taking out a large portion of your mature boundary hedge, to tap into your water and your electricity supply! Better still, what if on moving in you found that they were still living in your house, as theirs -a shimmering, aluminium eyesore wasn’t quite ready. Naturally, you would take pity on them and let them stay in your house indefinitely until they could make other arrangements? Probably not, but we did! Perhaps it was their kind offer of, ‘You can sleep upstairs in our bed (they forgot to mention the fleas), we’ll sleep downstairs on the fold-out sofa’ that did it. Then again, it might have been the farmer proposing that his wife cook for us, ‘it will be like a holiday for you!” that swung it. No. In reality, we were just exhausted from the journey, utterly relieved that we had arrived (we had broken down on the way and had to spend 2 days in a Tours waiting for a part for the van) and quite frankly, gobsmacked at what we had arrived to. Not wanting to ‘start off on the wrong foot’ with our new ‘surprise’ neighbours also had a part to play.  If only they had thought the same!

 

So how had they been allowed to get away with this? When we bought our farm in 2001, part of the deal was that the previous owners could carry on living there until we moved in a year later. This seemed like a good idea at the time as we didn’t like the idea of the place being empty for such a long period and they weren’t quite ready to move out: their ‘barn conversion,’ which was supposedly 15km away, being ‘a long way off completion.’ As they had a 3-year-old son (Damien, as he later became known) and nowhere to go, it seemed like the right thing to do. Looking back, the funny thing is, we had been in contact with them on a regular basis prior to moving and had often enquired as to how their new house was coming along. They never once told us it was in the next field. Their response was always the same, a very jovial, ‘you will see’ – and didn’t we just!

 

When we arrived they were not in the least bit bothered that they were still there.  It was as if we were just ‘coming to stay’ for a while. All our furniture, which had been out there for months, was still in the barns (some of it mouldy) and the house was very much theirs. I had a 5-month-old baby and not being able find an empty cupboard, remember setting up a temporary trestle table in the kitchen to put all the bottles and other baby paraphernalia on. After several days I managed to pluck-up the courage to ask the ‘lady of the house’ (for it was most definitely not me) for some storage space. She was not happy, but finally agreed to concede a cupboard – one down, six to go! Several hours later, after much huffing and puffing, the task was complete and I was the proud owner of two shelves and a door. I had finally managed to claim some territory and went to bed that night victorious – today a cupboard, tomorrow…the fridge?

 

By the third week, enough was enough. I had learnt a few words in French and was prepared to use them – primarily non, non et NON. The last one came in particularly handy when I caught little Damien thrusting a 7cm plastic tube down my little one’s throat. This was the turning point for me. I could just about put up with the fleas and the bad cooking but trying to kill my baby was not acceptable. I couldn’t turn my back for a second. Damien was driving us insane. He spent every waking minute running round the house like a wild animal, destroying everything in his wake. He spat and screamed and rarely slept through the night. He was very much a ‘disturbed’ child. To be honest, we did feel a bit sorry for the little lad. It was clear his parents loved him (there were lots of tender moments with hugs and kisses), but they had no idea how to discipline him: always pulling him around by the ear for not listening, or slapping him if he misbehaved or soiled himself. Once, when he was playing-up at the dinner table, they threw a glass of water in his face then laughed. It was a truly awful moment.

 

Unable to tolerate either party’s behaviour we had words – well, my ex did, as more than a firm ‘non’ was required on this occasion. He thanked them for their hospitality (we didn’t want to be too rude, as we were going to be neighbours after all) and told them in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t working and they would have to go. Remaining silent, I put on my best sympathy face and shrugged my shoulders a few times – i was livid, but it seemed the right thing to do under the circumstances. They put on their best hard-done-by faces, shrugged their shoulders a few times, had a little grumble, then did the right thing and left. Finally, the house was ours!

 

Even though we had forced them to move into an unfinished house, it was difficult to have any sympathy for them. They may not have had a finished bathroom but they did have plenty of water and electricity – ours! It was also very interesting to see how quickly their house progressed when they were no longer ‘tres comfortable, chez nous.’

 

 

*I later found out why she gave me this cupboard in particular, it was haunted. But that’s a another story for another day.

 

 

 

That was then, this is now – an introduction
June 17, 2008

“It all started with the van not starting. Fully loaded with anticipation, two anxious adults, a teething baby, one fidgety dog and mountains of badly packed furniture; key in ignition…nothing. A flat battery meant everyone out and a two-hour delay while it charged enough to take us to the channel tunnel. Broken windscreen wipers and heavy rain as soon as we crossed the channel nearly finished us off – literally. Looking back it was the perfect prediction of how our new life in France was to be, full of non-starters, disappointment and danger. There has been some joy on the way, but generally the bad has out weighed the good.  Four years have passed since my ex- partner, son and I moved to the Tarn and Garonne in the south west of France. We are still here, but as the ‘ex’ implies, no longer together. Underlying problems in our relationship before we left made our eventual separation a possibility; the stresses that came with living in France made it inevitable. This is not a cautionary tale to anyone thinking about moving abroad in an attempt to solve problems in their relationship. Perhaps if we had made some wiser decisions, or even had a bit more luck, the outcome would have been very different. Who is to say? But there are lessons to be learned from mistakes and out of hardship comes an appreciation for the truer things in life, like health, love, family and friendship. Thankfully, I still have these and treasure them more than anything financial – though a bit more money would be nice. I think my parents would agree!”  Nov 2005 

 

I wrote that when things were pretty tough. I had just left my partner, moved into a new flat with my 4-year-old son and been told the job I was due to start at the local crèche (my lifeline) was no longer available – apparently there had been an ‘oversight’ in the contract. This news arrived on the morning I was moving. I was stunned. I had plucked up the courage to leave my partner, changed my son’s school and chosen to live in a village I didn’t know for this job. It felt like some kind of bad joke. Things couldn’t get any worse. I had suddenly found myself alone in a strange village, with no reason to be there. I was 40 minutes from the nearest big town and the chances of getting another job (especially one where I wouldn’t have to travel or rely on childcare), were slim. The days were long, money was tight and the opportunity to converse (in either language) was scarce. I needed to vent my feelings and writing became the perfect outlet – along with some very, very long walks. A lot of people have since asked me why, at this time, I didn’t just up-sticks and move back to the UK. It may have seemed the easier option, but the reason I chose to stay then still applies now: I just can’t bring myself to separate my son from his father – he lives nearby, they spend a lot of time together and they adore each other. For me, there was no other option. 

 

Luckily, the job at the crèche came good in the end! The Directrice and my social worker wrote some very angry letters to a government official (it was a state funded post), and the decision was overturned. I had to wait 4 long weeks to hear the outcome, but it was worth it in the end. My new role as ‘Aide Maternelle’ gave me a sense of purpose and belonging and the confidence to start again on my own. In the past, I had always relied on my ex (who spoke fluent French) to take the lead when it came to sorting anything that required a good command of the language. Assuming we would be together forever, I didn’t feel the pressure to become ‘fluent’ straight away. I knew if I immersed myself in the local community it would come with time, but didn’t feel the need for any formal lessons. Consequently, when my relationship broke down, I had only ‘mother-and-baby group,’ conversational French to rely on. It was far from perfect, but evidently enough to get me financial help from the state and through a 2hr job interview!

 

With the job things began to improve. 2006 saw me participating in village life and making new friends. I had a very active social life and even managed to get myself a French boyfriend (an interesting experience which I don’t intend to repeat, but a great way to learn ‘street’ French). Sonny was happy in school and relations with my ex had become amicable.  Having been forced to move house 3 times in 10 months (not something I would do again in a hurry), I finally struck gold and found somewhere I could stay indefinitely. I am still here now and it feels like home. It is a charming little flat where I can grow tomatoes on the terrace and because of its proximity to the local Maternelle, get my son from bed to classroom in under 30 minutes – as we are not the earliest of risers this is heaven! It also provides the perfect place to sit and write, or rant, as I am sometimes compelled to do! It is from here that I will post my thoughts on subjects such as friendship, separation, relationships, values, single parenting, childcare, employment, education, cultural differences, money and the politics and idiosyncrasies of French village life. On a lighter note, there may also be the odd tale about dog poo, partying, shopping, eating and the joys of exercising on a big, silver ball with rubber nipples. Stories from the past will be interspersed with snapshots from the present.  I hope they are of interest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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