October 22, 2014

AN AMBITION ACHEIVED

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Today is a BIG DAY for Nick.

One of the main criteria when looking for a bigger house in France was that it had a garden big enough to require a sit-on mower!

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On Monday Nick cut the grass using the ancient heap of a petrol mower left behind for us by the previous owners.  It was kind of them to leave it but it was hard work to use.  After an hour of heaving the thing around Nick had sore wrists, a sore back and I had sore ears!

So we hopped it over to Loches in search of a new one.  We ordered it from Bricomarché and early this morning they delivered it!

A rather nice young man brought it in a truck and trailer and gave Nick full instructions on how to use it.  Great service.

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A happy Nick with his new boy’s toy!

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Checking it has an engine – with the help of my dad!

October 17, 2014

THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING CAT SOLVED – SHE’S BACK!

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I am delighted to report that Daisy is back home!

The bizarre thing is that she neither left nor came back of her own accord.  She was effectively abducted and then returned.

Our nearest neighbour is one of life’s tragic cases, with severe learning difficulties, an awkward posture and a tottering gait. He ended up by himself when both his parents died prematurely, one being killed when a car struck his mobylette and the other dying of some illness.  Apparently he is not really able to look after himself and survives on a daily visit from a carer and the French equivalent of “meals on wheels”.  His is however quite fit and walks for miles every day, with his little dog.  The previous owners of our house allowed him into the garden quite frequently and gave him food and cast off clothes plus treats for the dog.

We encountered him a few times when we visited the house before the previous owners moved out.  As soon as our car turned up he would walk along the lane with the dog to see what was going on and if the gate was open he would come into the garden.  The previous owners were keen to point out that he is “quite harmless” but they never let him into the house.

Communication with him is virtually impossible as he doesn’t talk, just grunts and shouts.  He sometimes seems to be trying to form words in a way that makes me wonder if he might also be deaf.  The vendors used to speak and gesticulate at him in a mixture of French and English in the way that you might talk to a dog, and he would just grunt back, giving no clue as to whether or not he had understood what has been said.  I have no idea how old he is – he could be anything from thirty to fifty.  He looks rough, unkempt and dirty, always dressed in a random selection of ill-fitting clothes, almost like a tramp.  The previous owners told us they only once called at his house and it was in such a state that they had no wish to ever go again.  We decided that as we would inevitably need to keep the gate shut because of Lulu we would probably not be troubled by him. 

I think that by now you can probably guess what happened to Daisy – but read on if you want to know the full story …….

On the day she disappeared she had followed us to the gate, as she always did – she followed us everywhere. I picked her up and took her back nearer to the house, shut the gate and left her playing at chasing leaves under the lime tree.  As we drove away from the house we waved to the neighbour as he walked along the road with his little dog.  When we got back to the house an hour later there was no sign of her.

The weather had been glorious for weeks and later that afternoon it changed and became thoroughly foul.  We searched all over for Daisy and gradually the awful realisation that she was gone crept up on us.  All along I found it hard to believe that a young kitten would wander off by herself when there is nowhere else to go – we are surrounded by fields and at the time they had only just been ploughed and were just massive clods of earth and mud.  Why would a small kitten, who never normally went beyond the gate, as far as we know, suddenly decide to take off over mountains of mud?  There was plenty to explore and entertain her at home in the barns, not to mention food and a cosy bed.

It crossed my mind that she might have made it to the neighbour’s property and could be sheltering somewhere, but it’s so far away that I discounted the idea.  If a small cat was half way there when it started to rain surely she would come home rather than go further away – unless she was lost.

We searched the ditches all around the house for miles, looking for evidence that she might have been hit by a car.  Then it occurred to me that she might have ventured into the electrician’s van and hidden – he was here on the morning she disappeared – and ended up jumping out the next time he parked with the van doors open, which could be anywhere.  But we had all looked in the van for her before he left, and there was no sign.

I resolved to try to catch a word with the neighbour’s carer by flagging down her car next time I saw her - had identified a car that called regularly but not always at the same time of day and assumed it was hers.  Two days ago I was out hanging some washing and noticed the car so the three of us, including Lulu, loitered by the end of his lane and waited for her.

We waved at her and for a moment thought she wasn’t going to stop but thankfully she pulled onto the grass verge and got out of the car.  We introduced ourselves as the new neighbours and she said she had no idea the house had changed hands.  Her client had told her about a dog and she assumed the previous owners had got a dog, not that there were new owners.  This makes me wonder if the previous owners didn’t tell the neighbour they were going, or maybe they did and he didn’t understand.  He seemed to visit most days so they would certainly have had the opportunity to try.

She told us a lot about him, much of which we already knew, and came across as a really nice, caring, dependable person, thoroughly concerned for his welfare.  He should really be in a care home but refuses to go, hence the visits from the carer and the meal deliveries.

As the conversation drew to a close I asked about the cat.  I said we had lost our cat and wondered if she had seen one around his house and that I was worried that she might have accidentally been shut in a barn.  She said “she’s on his bed”.

He had told her that he “found the cat” outside our house and took her home.  The carer, having no idea there were new neighbours next door, concluded that he had picked up an abandoned cat and thought no more about it.  He had kept her indoors and not let her outside at all.

At first I thought she was not going to help us to get Daisy back - she said he would be very upset if the cat went away.  I said “but she’s our cat”.  We must have both looked distraught as she seemed to suddenly change her mind and said she would bring the cat back to us the next day.  She would tell him that the cat had disappeared.  She even reached into the back of the car and gave us a box of cat food she had bought for her.

She was true to her word and Daisy arrived the next day, bewildered and confused, with chronic diarrhoea and riddled with fleas.  Luckily she still remembered how to use a litter tray.

The carer said she had told the neighbour that the cat was ours but she had no idea whether or not he had understood.  Which makes me feel less bad about not venturing down to the house myself days ago to ask after her – if the carer, who probably knows him better than anyone – can’t make him understand, what chance would I have? 

I have no idea what his real motives were.  Did he really not know there were new neighbours next door?  We had waved to him every time we passed each other in the lane and when he came up to the gate, although we never let him in.  Lulu dutifully barked at him every time he passed by.  Did he really think Daisy was an abandoned cat – apparently its common for people to take unwanted kittens a long way from home and leave them to fend for themselves – or did he simply like the look of her and decided he’d take her for himself?  She certainly didn’t look like a stray cat – she was plump, clean and friendly – I imagine that most people would have simply thought that the neighbours had got a new cat, not that she was a stray – she was at the entrance to our drive, not at his door begging for food.

The really upsetting part is that he would have had to be very determined to take her.  When ever we picked Daisy up she would wriggle furiously and was difficult to hold on to.  He must have held on really tight or trapped her inside his jacket.  The carer said he had kept her indoors all the time, and something in the way she said it made me immediately think it was so that she couldn’t make her way home, or to prevent us from finding her.  We will never know.

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It took Lulu a few hours to get used to Daisy again but now they get along fine.  The fleas are gone, Daisy, Lulu and all the furniture being treated, along with our clothes and anything she came into contact with.  The upset tummy has settled down and Daisy is back to her usual self, following us everywhere and meowing constantly, getting into mischief.  I have rediscovered the joy of having a kitten climbing up your trouser leg as you try to peel potatoes!

So Daisy has gone from being a full-time outdoor cat to a full-time indoor cat for the time being.  We will keep her indoors for a few days then let her out and see what happens – we are very worried that if the neighbour spots her he will simply take her again.  Even if she is allowed outdoors we will certainly shut her in when we go out, just in case he walks by and she goes to him.  People who are “harmless” might not be violent or malicious but they might also not realise when they are doing wrong, especially if there’s nobody else at home to ask the right questions.  We will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Nothing is ever easy, is it?  We just wanted a cat to deal with the mice……

October 10, 2014

NEWS, GOOD AND BAD

The good news is that our furniture and other stuff was delivered safely from storage in the UK on Wednesday.  The two lads that came with the van did a fantastic and professional job.

Our house is now full of the furniture and belongings from two houses!

The bad news is that Daisy has disappeared.

She was last seen four days ago, skipping about on the grass, chasing leaves.  We went to the village late morning and one hour later when we got back there was no sign of her.

For the two weeks she spent with us the weather was glorious and then it became pretty foul just as she vanished. Friends reassured us that she would be sheltering safely somewhere and would soon come back.  As we are surrounded by huge clods of ploughed earth and the nearest neighbours are a long way away, it’s hard to see how a small kitten could be anywhere safe, and we have searched every inch of our property over and over again.  We wonder if she could have been taken by one of the hawks that circle endlessly over the fields that surround us.

In any case we have stopped hoping for the best as it’s just too upsetting to keep thinking about it.  I have had cats before that have gone missing and it always ended badly.

We all miss her, including Lulu who spends a lot of time each day looking for her.  They had become good friends.

Bon weekend!

October 4, 2014

SETTLING IN AND CHECKING IN

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So we are in our new house!  Time for me to check in say how we are getting on!

Having signed the compromis on 1st September we then did a flying visit back to the UK to take delivery of some new appliances there, which you can read about here.  Our visit was cut short when we found out that the completion on the French house was to be on 15th September – and we had barely started packing yet!

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We rushed back to France on the 12th, hired a huge van on the 13th and, with a great deal of help from our friends, managed to be out of our little house and moved into our new one on time, leaving the old one nice and clean, too. Phew!

We are not exactly settled in yet, but things are moving on.   After less than three weeks in residence we have got our internet supply up and running, had satellite dishes and a new TV installed – luxury!  The plumber has got the central heating boiler and radiators going (after a bit of a struggle) and, again with the help of friends and their huge trailer, we have done several visits to the tip with the unwanted stuff left behind by the previous owners, who were in a great hurry to move out and didn’t have the time to do it themselves.  We have grappled with old appliances, given up and bought new ones.  Alex and Nicole have done a great job in starting to clear out many of the overgrown trees and shrubs on the boundary and make the place look more open and tidy.

A lengthy visit from a very nice man with a ponytail, shorts and sturdy boots resulted in a devis (estimate) for a new fosse (septic tank) and hope that work for that will begin in December – the one big and expensive job we knew we needed to get organised as soon as possible. 

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We have also acquired a new member of the family – Daisy the kitten.  She’s just three months old and has joined us to deal with the large number of mice – the inevitable result of living very much in the country.  She and Lulu get on extremely well – much more about that later.

Next week is going to be chaotic. On Monday and Tuesday the electrician will be here to change our supply unit for a modern one, fit some more sockets in the kitchen and alter the switching arrangement of some of the lights.  At the same time the plumber will also be here to sweep the chimney, repair the flushing mechanism in the downstairs loo and make some alterations to the pipework under the sink to enable us to have a new tap.  Then our furniture arrives on Wednesday back from storage in the UK.  Somehow between now and then we need to make room for it all!

We have been so lucky with the weather, which has been unusually warm for the time of year and in between all the work we have managed to find some time to enjoy it properly – more about that later, too.

There will be plenty more to report as soon as I get a minute to upload the photos and write the post……in the meantime……

Bon weekend !!

September 3, 2014

TIME TO COME CLEAN

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Two days ago we signed the compromis de vente on this house!

Yes, it’s all the result of putting a cheeky little note in the letterbox.  We looked at the house in July and after that continued to see other houses, just to be sure.  Each one we looked at convinced us that this was the right one!

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It has a proper kitchen.

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It also has a laundry room!

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It has a lovely large sitting room with original beams.

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It has a dining room.

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Upstairs there are only two bedrooms.  Exactly what we need.  Most of the other similar houses we had seen had been altered to make lots of small and pokey bedrooms in the same amount of space.  To have two lovely spacious bedrooms is just perfect.

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It has a bathroom with a bath!

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It has two cosy fireplaces.

It’s in “move straight in” condition – something we thought would never be possible! 

It has a good sized barn with plenty of room for all our stuff and vehicles.  There is also the almost obligatory “little house in the courtyard to do up”!  We may or may not do it up – we’ll see how things work out.  There is just the right amount of garden which is just grass at the moment – a blank canvas to plant with flowers or vegetables or not, as we like.

Ken of “Living the life in St.-Aignan” came along to assist in translation at the signing and afterwards we had a nice lunch with he and Walt, and the vendors, in Loches, to celebrate.

We will be moving in fairly soon so at some point things will go quiet on the blog, just like when we moved house in the UK.

This is it, our house hunting adventure is over and an even bigger adventure awaits us.  I keep pinching myself, just to make sure I’m not just dreaming!

August 30, 2014

A YEAR OF HOUSE HUNTING

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It was this time last year that we first started to believe that we could actually do it – downsize in the UK and upsize in France.  We began talking about it and several of our friends knew of someone who had a house for sale.  Local knowledge is a great asset in house hunting so one very hot day in early September last year we went for a walk with our friends Jim and Pauline to see this house which is not far from the village where they live, called Barrou.

Thinking of how mediocre the summer has been this year, the blue sky in these photos reminded me of exactly how hot it was that day and that it was actually a very good summer last year. 

First impressions of this house were that it might well suit us very well.  It was an old, renovated house, with a good sized garden, two good sized barns and it sat nicely in its plot of land.

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We didn’t get to see the inside but in many ways it ticked most of our boxes and with hindsight, and lots of house viewings under our belt, this is very much the kind of house we have been looking for.

One of the reasons we rejected it was that although not that far from the village in miles, it was in fact quite isolated.  There were no neighbours nearby and it was at the end of the road that leads to it, which meant that nobody would ever pass by unless they were visiting us.

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Another reason was the welcoming committee!

Cows can be, in my experience, noisy, smelly and very inquisitive animals and this lot were grazing in the field that was right up against the property.  There were cows in the field behind the house we left in Derbyshire only three months ago, so we had no illusions about what it could be like to live right next door to them.

Here we didn’t know who owned the field, if it belonged to the property and was rented out, or if it belonged to the owner of the cows.  In the first case it might be possible to reclaim the field for personal use but that wouldn’t be a good start in relationships with the farmer - “English couple buy French farmhouse and evict local tenant farmer”!  In the second case we would simply have to put up with the cows.

We continued with our house hunting properly in March this year and as well as those we have seen with an agent, we have looked at several other houses that were known to friends and neighbours.  It would have been in appropriate to show photos of them but amongst them was a fabulous “maison de maître”, built in 1820 and barely changed.  It had beautiful high ceilings, original floor tiles, casement windows, barns, an orchard and 12 hectares of land, some of it occupied by sheep.  We rejected it because it was too big and Nick felt he would probably have to dress for dinner every evening!

Another was a classic longère in bustling little hamlet, with multiple bedrooms, two sitting rooms and a swimming pool.  We rejected that because it was too big.

We looked at a beautiful modern house on the edge of the village, built in 1980 to a lovely traditional design and high standard.  The house and garden by themselves would have been perfect but it came with several hectares of orchard, a long stretch of river bank and an enormous hangar which we just didn’t know what to do with.

It seemed it was becoming almost impossible to find the perfect house with all the character that we liked and none of the drawbacks – we have looked at twenty two so far.  None of the agents had found the right one for us, but each time we rejected one, the idea of what we really wanted was getting clearer in our minds.  So one day, all by ourselves, armed with just a map and our intuition, we stumbled across this one, and put a cheeky note in the letterbox ………..

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Bon weekend !!

August 20, 2014

THE COMICE AGRICOLE

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According to our neighbour, Mme André, the Comice Agricole comes to Le Grand-Pressigny every six years.  We somehow managed to miss it last time so this year we were keen to get the full flavour of the event.

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By Friday the whole village had been decorated with paper flowers.  There must have been thousands of them and they looked fantastic.  No property was left unadorned, regardless of how dilapidated it was.

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Without a doubt the main event was the grand procession on Sunday afternoon.  This was to be at 3.30pm, preceded by a parade of Cadillacs.  The Cadillacs were late but after a while one turned up, lost, and was given directions to the start!

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There turned out to be only three Cadillacs and a trike in their parade but they were jolly and got the crowd interested.  More and more people arrived to fill the village square.

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The balloon seller turned up, and didn’t seem to have sold too many,  Except to one little boy……

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I was in danger of having the large white balloon in the corner of all of the photos I took of the parade.  After a while I pushed it gently out of the way of my camera.  Later on I batted it out of view and even later still I came close to pricking it with a pin….

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The Comice Agricole is a celebration of rural life in South Touraine and the theme for the procession this year was “La Forêt Tourangelle”.  Each village decorated a float (tractor) to represent their interpretation of the theme.  First to arrive was a brass band.

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All aspects of forest and country life were represented on the floats.  They were magnificently and flamboyantly decorated, in a woodland kind of way!

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Children played a huge part in the event, including a brave demonstration by this little one in a troop of dancers.

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The adults were having a pretty good time, too! And half way through the procession there was more music.

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Some of the floats had taken a huge amount of skill and effort to create, such as this one with a hunting horn, deer and dogs created from flower petals – not dissimilar to the well dressings I am used to in Derbyshire.

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I liked the name of this float – there used to be a sign at each end of the village showing that you were entering “Pressigny le Grand”.  Then one year I noticed they were no longer there.

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It was a fantastic event.  I loved the fact that all the floats were home made.  Not for us the glamorous dancing troops from all over France and the exotic displays from the colonies.  This was a pure and simple celebration of rural life in the villages within a few kilometres of Le Grand-Pressigny, just local people taking part and having a wonderful time.  I felt proud and moved to have been there.

I loved every minute…….apart from that balloon seller………