Sunday, February 1, 2009

Another year passes....

I meant to post this on the 26th of January, the anniversary of our arrival in La Belle France but the great god EDF had other ideas, so, a bit late but as they say, better late than never.

Actually, looking back over the years 26th January has often 'not been a very good day'.

January 26th 1996 - house was burgled

January 26th 1997 - bag stolen in Woking with car keys and house keys in it.

January 26th 2007 - CH made me drive to Toulouse so he could catch a flight back to the UK. It had snowed solidly for two days and with a paucity of grit and snow ploughs, it made for a hairy time

January 26th 2009 - Day 3 of Tempête-imposed black out and SERIOUS BAD HAIR DAY!

Hmm, I'm starting to see a pattern here.

Anyway, back to my story.

On January 26th 2004, after 3 months of living with my parents, which was probably only marginally more traumatic for them than it was for me, we packed the Grand Gasguzzler, bought specifically for this journey from e-Bay, and set off for our new life in La Belle France.

We waved goodbye in brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies for the short journey to the Eurotunnel. The new in-car DVD player worked a treat, the children were happy, the CH and I were excited and all was well in our little Universe.

A short hop under the Channel and we arrived in..... Narnia (but without Aslan and the prerequisite wardrobe). Calais was submerged under a thick blanket of snow, the roads were practically impassable, lorries were jackknifing left right and centre and thus began my long love affair with Meteo France.

We'd planned to stop around Orleans and had booked into a nice looking hotel run by an English couple so we slowly inched our way down the autoroute, wondering as we went where the gritting lorries were. Oh, the naiveté! Outside of a ski resort you'd be lucky to find one, but of course we didn't know that then. It was also my first introduction to the quaint customs of 'pipi à la français', or open air peeing - by the men of course. More than once, whilst stuck on snow bound motorways, we were treated to the man in the car in front nipping to the side of the road (if we were lucky) and making yellow snow.

'Ohmigosh', proclaimed DS loudly, 'you'll NEVER catch me doing that'

'YUCK' shouted very proper DD.

Eventually, many, many hours late, we limped into the car park of the hotel we had booked.

"Hello" said M. le Patron "who are you?"

"Ah", I answered. This wasn't looking good. "We are La Famille VLiF. We have a reservation".

"Yes, for tomorrow night". Bums, after all that, we were early!

"Surely some mistake" I said but he brandished my e-mail reservation which clearly stated that we had booked for the following night. The thoughts of having to take to the road again in the freezing cold and find another hotel were almost too much to bear.

"Well, I do have two rooms but they are not interconnecting as you requested" said M. Le Patron

"That'll do" I said, rather too hastily. "We'll just get our things".

"In the meantime" he said kindly "let me get you a drink. You must have had a hellish journey"

"Oh how kind," we said placing our drinks order. Had we known that he'd charge us Mayfair prices, we might have thought again.

So, duly checked in, we settled down in the bar while he plied us with drinks and peanuts and we consulted the menu for our evening meal.

The rooms were comfortable enough and we slept well, despite the appalling smell of glue coming from a room next door which had just been fitted with a new carpet.

The next morning, we got up early and had a nice continental breakfast, packed up and got ready for the second leg of our journey. While I loaded up, the CH paid the bill. He returned to the car looking faintly pale and sweaty.

" The bill was over 300 euros for 10 hours in his bloody hotel. Every single last peanut he offered us was charged for, the miserable git"

The remainder of the journey was uneventful, unless of course you count the suicidal bird that wandered into the fast lane of the motorway a few metres in front of the car and the suicidal man trying to throw himself off one of the huge viaducts in Correze. Maybe I should have seen it as a sign.

Eventually shortly after dark, tired and hungry, we arrived at our rented house. We'd rented it through the estate agent we were buying the house from. She'd shown us round a half finished house with a garden of mud and a large concrete hole where the pool was going to be.

"Don't worry, it will all be finished by the time you arrive and we'll have it fully furnished" she said cheerily, so imagine our surprise when we pulled into a half finished house with a garden of mud and a large concrete hole where the pool was going to be.

"The key will be in the postbox and I'll put the heating on" she'd told us the day before. Only problem was there was no postbox. Surmising that the lump under the doormat might be said key, we had a quick look and there it was. Hallelujah! (the Leonard Cohen version by the way.... I'm a purist!)

We went inside what was to be our home for the next three months. Now this really was like Narnia.... bloody freezing! 'The heating' turned out to be one small panel radiator to warm (or rather not) this cavernous room.

"Where are the lights," shouted the CH who had started unloading the car. I turned them on and went to explore.

"You're not going to believe this", I shouted to the CH. "There are only two beds"

"But there's four of us..." Well yes I know that!

"Never mind, we'll double up for tonight".

"You're not going to believe this", I shouted to the CH "There are no cupboards in the kitchen".

"Oh bloody hell... well, while you're there, put the kettle on"

"You're not going to believe this", I shouted to the CH, "There's no kettle".

"Well use a saucepan then" he replied.

"You're not going to believe this....."

"Well what the hell is there then?"

"Err, there's a gas hob" I answered


"Err, that's it"

"Right, get me the bloody agent's phone number"

He's usually a calm sort, the CH, but he wasn't a happy kangaroo at this stage.

After a terse conversation with the agent, who apologised profusely and explained that there inventory lady had been ill, more stuff was promised for the next day, including extra beds.

We slumped down on the sofa and took stock of our surroundings.

"God, it's arctic in here. Shall we turn on the other heaters?" asked the CH.

I contemplated the blackened, frostbitten ends of my fingers and agreed that this would be a good idea.

So, on went the one in the bathroom and the one in the bedroom....... and off went the power. We found the fusebox and reset the trip switch.

On went the heating, off went the lights. So, we can have heat or light but not both. Evenutally, after several goes of trying different combinations of light and heat, the power went off for good.

In desperation/frustration/depression we decided the only thing was to go to bed. Which we did... all in the same bed and fetchingly dressed in hats, coats and gloves. It really was that cold! (6 degrees we later discovered).

The next day, we were roused from our near cryogenic state by rays of wintry sun streaming through the window. We hacked off the icicles and got up to have a better look at our surroundings.

The view from the windows was stunning, although having to chip off the ice from the insides of the glass spoilt it a bit and chattering teeth made it hard to hear the birdsong.

A knock on the door heralded the arrival of 'the inventory lady' with extra beds, a kettle and some saucepans. Sadly, no oven or microwave was forthcoming.

We explained the problem with the electricity and she promised to get someone round to look at it and true to her word, within half an hour, a lovely man with a big droopy mustache (who unknown to us would eventually be our next door neighbour) and a big smile was on the doorstep brandishing his toolkit.

I tried to explain in my best rusty French what the problem was but I hardly know my disjoncteur from my fusible in English, never mind French, it took a while. Eventually he understood what I meant and showed me where to find the main junction box. Outside in the garden on a lamp post. Of course! Silly me. How could I not have thought to look there? He fiddled around a bit (in a manner which I worried was totally illegal!) and the power came back on.

He promised me everything would be fine now and true to his word, we could have light and heat at the same time. Result!

The lounge had the biggest stone fireplace I'd ever seen so that seemed like a good bet for extra heat. We phoned the estate agent again who confirmed that the fireplace was working and even sent someone with a pile of logs for us.

Having managed to heat the house up to a heady 9 degrees, we couldn't wait to get the fire going. Now if there's one thing I know how to do, it's how to lay a fire. I just knew it would come in useful one day.

Fire duly laid, I struck a match and lit it. Within minutes the house had filled up with thick smoke. We opened all the doors and windows to let it out and with it the little bit of heat we had built up. After a while, the smoke subsided a bit and while it was always a pretty smoky fire, it did give off a bit of extra warmth.

DS, while out shopping, once commented "Isn't it strange how everywhere smells of woodsmoke?"

"DS, I think you'll find that it's us!" I replied.

So that was home for the next three months during which time our savings ran out, the CH had to return to the UK to work and we managed to heat the house up to a tropical 15 degrees!

Ahh! Living the dream!


softinthehead said...

You make sound so enticing - I cannot wait to get there ! :)

Completely Alienne said...

Don't you just love the french! I'll remember the ideal fusebox location - it's bound to come in handy sometime.

Shakespeare's Housekeeper said...

It never fails to amaze me how you manage to make the most unbearable situation sound like a comedy farce VLiF!
You honestly must have the patience of a saint and the sense of humour of the whole of the monty python team.
Or is time a great healer, and you can look back on this with almost a fondness now?

Ali said...

Sounds simply magical!

Working mum said...

Oh, dear, that wasn't a great start, was it?

And have you noticed that 26 is double 13 so that's twice as unlucky as 13? Don't do anything on Jan 26 next year!

BTTEF said...

So why are you selling up and moving?

(Very) Lost in France said...

SITH - I'd have thought it would have made you want to sell up your Limousin dream - it's even colder there! VLiF

CA - Just remember in France think of the most unlikely/ridiculous place and that's where it will be! VLiF

SH - actually, I think I've just got mad cow disease from my blood transfusion when I had DS. It's turned my brain to sponge so everything seems... well... mad! VLiF

Ali - what are you, nuts?!! Hope you aren't anywhere near these dreadful fires. Some friends just left Victoria and said it was horrendous. VLiF

WM - next year I'm not moving for the whole of January just to be on the safe side! VLiF

BTTEF - I know. How could I leave all this? VLiF

KatduGers said...

Hi, stop my my blog to pick up an award!

(Very) Lost in France said...

Kat - you're a honey. Thanks very much. I'll pop over shortly. VLiF x

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Loved the description VLiF. More of the same please! Thank you for your great comment over at mine. :)

(Very) Lost in France said...

Hadriana - belatedly glad that you enjoyed the post. Glad to see you haven't left us totally. VLiF