4 March 2024

A WEEKEND OF TWO HALVES


On Saturday it rained and rained until early evening.
A beautiful sunset was reflected in the puddles.
Keeping the house warm was hard going with two log fires.


On Sunday it was dry but at only 6°C still very cold.
The brocante at Sepmes was busy, the first big one of the year, but we didn’t linger long.
We spent about an hour seeking out the sunshine when the clouds allowed.

We're ready now, for some real warmth and Spring.

1 March 2024

MOVING TO FRANCE removals and belongings.

For several years our house in France has had everything we need.  When we downsized in the UK in 2014 we moved to a much smaller house and most of the furniture we had was too big so everything came to France.  We then brought all the furniture from the little holiday home we had in the village as well!

Brexit.......

One of the difficulties caused by Brexit is that the days of being able to bring more or less anything and everything from the UK to France are now gone.  Year after year we would bring bits of furniture, tools, paint, plants and gardening equipment every time we came for a holiday.  Since Brexit that is no longer allowed.  Generally we are only allowed to bring the kind of personal items appropriate for a holiday and a limited value of other stuff.  Anything over and above that is subject to import charges.  

This is why many UK companies, especially smaller ones, no longer ship to France.  The paperwork required and duty on goods is often prohibitive.  Equally, anyone ordering goods from the UK is often obliged to pay a disproportionate amount of duty on goods that previously did not apply.

However....... 

Because we are actually making France our permanent residence we have a year from the start date of our visa during which we could bring any of our belongings, just like anyone would who was actually moving house (rather than coming to live in one they have had for years, like us!).

Consequently we had a good look at what we had in the UK that we might benefit from having in France and managed to fill the trailer with a variety of things.  A few tools, some hobby and craft stuff, a few pots and pans, bedding, bits of furniture and so on.  The tedious part was that we had to make an inventory for every item and give its value.  Most of it was stuff we had owned for some time and no longer had receipts for, but the information on the French government website states that a reasonable estimate of the value of used items is acceptable. We spent a lot of time writing a list of everything and its approximate value.

We took the opportunity to being extra pillows and duvets.  The issue with bedding is that French beds, pillows and duvets are a slightly different size to those we get in the UK.  The equivalent items in France vary by just enough that our existing sheets and duvet sets (that we brought from the UK years ago) do not fit them.  

So, in my very last trip with the car I brought a supply of replacement duvets and pillows so that when the old ones are past their best and need changing we won’t have to buy a whole lot of new bed linen as well.  

Next time……..grappling with the French health service.

27 February 2024

PYLONS AND HOLES


In the middle of December last year Enedis (the infrastructure division of EDF)  came and installed several new pylons along our road, one directly outside our house.

We think that the idea is to replace the hotch-potch of existing old pylons that litter the roadside and fields around us with a better integrated system, although that's just a guess based on where they have put the new ones.  None of the new ones are connected to live electricity as yet.



We were not too chuffed when in January one of the wires from "our" pylon broke away and dangled in mid-air, resting on our telephone wire.  We reported it to EDF but they didn't do anything about it until a storm caused the offending wire to take out our telephone line.  When Orange came to fix it they got straight onto EDF who immediately switched off our electricity supply - which wasn't necessary because the offending wire was not live!  

Nick phoned EDF and was transferred to an English speaking agent who found out what was going on.  So while he had his chance, Nick thought he might as well mention another problem.  The dangerous holes.

To erect the huge pylons Enedis had used a machine that made huge holes in the grass verge and these holes have not been repaired.  "So what" I can hear you thinking!




Out in the sticks of rural France the roads are not very busy and in remarkably good fettle but they are very narrow.  Definitely not wide enough for two cars to pass with all wheels on the tarmac.  Consequently the custom is for both vehicles, as they approach each other, to move over a bit and drive with two wheels on the grass verge.  It's a system that works perfectly well.

However, some of the holes left by Enedis are at least 50cm deep and not visible from the road.  It's perfectly possible that if a car wheel dropped into one of these holes the car would at best swerve a bit or at worst end up in the ditch.  This is what Nick pointed out to the English speaking agent a month ago.  Nothing has happened since and luckily no accidents - but it's only a matter of time.

Nick went along and marked the holes outside our house by putting a stake in each one so that drivers would avoid them.  At some point someone else has been along and put official metal poles next to one of them - of the kind used to indicate unsafe ground after roadworks.  We don't know who that was.

So.........yesterday I needed to go to the Mairie and thought I might as well mention the holes while I was there.  The lady on the desk was very interested and asked me to write a formal email including photos.  Sure enough, by 10.00am this morning none other than the Maire himself had been to inspect the holes and said he was extremely grateful for us pointing this out.  Sooner or later there is bound to be an accident and what we didn't realise is that the holes are not just along our bit of road, they go the whole way to the next hamlet, which increases the possibility of that sooner or later accident.

The Maire was not happy.  Very happy that we had pointed out the problem but extremely miffed with Enedis.  I felt bound to wonder if he had had run-ins with them before!

We are wondering how many days it will be before Enedis, having had their bottoms kicked by the local Maire, come out and fill in the holes.  Watch this space!

26 February 2024

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR

Well, the day of our fibre installation came and went.  The engineer turned up two hours early but fortunately I had made the shifting of furniture out of the way my first job of the morning while Nick was out walking Hugo.

It did not go well.  First of all the engineer turned too sharply into our drive (which was widened last year) and dropped his back wheel into the ditch.  For some reason he took his ladder out of the van and placed it across the bucket attachment before he tried to drive the van out.  Luckily he managed to get enough grip with the remaining three wheels to drive it back onto terra firma.  Nick stood by to make sure he didn't do any damage to our new gates.

Then the engineer looked at where the unit was to be installed and immediately declared he couldn't do the job because he didn't have drill long enough to go through the wall.  He suggested we get an electrician to drill the hole and he will come back on Friday.

Considering that three quarters of the houses around us all have walls at least as thick as ours, and have fibre already, I find it hard to believe that he didn't have the right kind of drill.  Nick suggested several ways he could get the job done using a drill we have for our walls but he rejected all of them.

He made another appointment for Friday then drove off, almost dropping in the ditch again, with his ladder still perched across the bucket thing.

We look forward to Friday.  He phoned to confirm the time but we think he said it would be someone else.  We rather hope it is!  Watch this space!

23 February 2024

JIGSAW PUZZLE WEATHER!



Last weekend we were fooled into thinking Spring had arrived!  We got the outdoor tables out and I oiled the wooden chairs and benches.  We went to the garden centre for some new plants and even had a barbecue!

This week we’re back to winter.  Yesterday it rained all day and was blowing a hoolie. Our lovely daffodils are blasted to bits and the wind even blew a whole mistletoe plant out of a tree.

Still, Yvonne was very happy to lend a hand with a jigsaw puzzle!

Today I have made a "school cake" and poached some chicken ready for making six litres of cock-a-leekie soup for an event in the village tomorrow.  Time passes pleasantly, in spite of the 'orrible weather!

21 February 2024

GETTING THE CHIMNEY SWEPT third time not so lucky after all and awkward confrontations.

Well, it turns out that the chimney sweeping was not such a good job after all!  Due to the mild weather we didn't light the kitchen fire for several days after having it swept and when we did...............disaster!


On the front of the wood burner there is a lever that sends the heat to mainly the hot plates or around the oven.  When we don't want to use the oven we pull the lever out so that the hot plates heat the room better.

When Nick lit the fire and pulled out the lever smoke was coming out of everywhere, into the room and clearly not going up the chimney!  There was obviously a blockage somewhere.  A hard packed clump of soot can catch fire.

Fortunately Nick had only just put a couple of logs in the fire to get it going and not yet built it up so we decided to just let it go out, keeping an eye on it.


The next morning, when the fire was completely cold, we investigated.  On lifting the largest hotplate we could see that that chamber had not been cleaned out but that would not explain the blockage.  We had no option but to contact the ramonage company and get them back.  

This is something we always find so difficult.  

Normally we are determined to manage by ourselves but we had doubts about being able to get our problem across well enough to get it resolved.  Usually we make sure we are armed with the right terms to explain things but we can easily be bamboozled by someone who does not want to admit they are in the wrong, taking advantage of our limited grasp of the language.  This has happened before.  We called for help! 

Nick spoke to our lovely builder's wife, who had recommended the company as they use them frequently for other customers.  She phoned them and explained the problem and they said they would come the next day which was a relief.  We just had to get through one whole night of worrying about it!


This time just one van arrived with the most charming young man to do the job.  We managed to explain what had happened and what we thought the problem was.  

He got on the phone to the person that had been in charge of cleaning the fire last time and, with the speaker on we could hear that "words" were exchanged, even if we only understood half of them!  My French was good enough to say that the company had been recommended by a friend that uses them for all their clients and that we were very disappointed.  He got the gist!

After a good deal of poking, prodding and serious hoovering the problem was resolved.  A huge amount of extra soot and cinders dropped down the chimney from where they had stuck.   By the time the young man had finished the whole thing was so clean you could have eaten your dinner off it!   He stayed for long enough for us to get the fire going and demonstrate that all was well.  As indeed it was.  Fourth time lucky!!

On our way to the shops the other day, we passed a house that had had a serious fire within the last few days.  The roof was completely gone and burnt belongings including children's toys were scattered all over the garden.  We have no idea what had happened.  It might have been a chimney fire or an electrical fault but we hope that the family and their pets are all safe.  You can't be too careful with fires.

19 February 2024

MOVING TO FRANCE getting the right visa


A display of tulips in our village.

At the beginning of 2023 we started the process of moving to France properly.  To do this we had to get the right kind of visa.  This is a long stay visa that lasts for one year and is called a VLS.

This visa allows the holder to stay in France for one whole year, during which time we could come and go as we please (no complicated Schengen calculations needed) and is the first step to an application for residency.  Getting it was a similar tedious process to getting the VLST the previous year, compiling numerous documents and personal information including evidence of income, of having somewhere to stay and having health cover, then taking them to an appointment at the visa centre.

Regarding health cover, for the previous six month visa (VLST), the UK GHIC card (used to be the EHIC card), is sufficient.  It entitles the holder to basic emergency treatment in other EU countries.  We also bought a private annual health insurance to cover the things that the GHIC doesn't, such as repatriation.  The situation is different when applying for a one year visa.

For people like us who are in receipt of a UK state pension, cover is provided in a form called an S1, which is obtained from the Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP) usually requiring just a phone call.  This is a document that effectively transfers health care from the UK to France.  (France provides the health care to UK citizens living in France and the UK pays for it). To get it we had to give the date of moving to France so we chose a date that coincided with when we wanted the visa to start and about a month after our appointment at the visa centre.

(The health cover situation is different for people who are not in receipt of a state pension or wish to work in France.)

As with the previous temporary six month visa (VLST) we had to compile all the documents and apply online for an appointment with TLS (the agency that handles all applications).  There are only three TLS centres in the UK that do this; in London, Manchester (Salford) and Edinburgh.  On the day we went along for our appointments, the centre in Manchester was crammed with young Chinese people who were all holding UK passports but mostly ill prepared for the process.  Consequently the centre was running very late and - the toilets were closed!

All in all it was a miserable, tedious and expensive exercise, although made easier by the fact that we had been through a similar process the previous year and had much of the information readily to hand.  We had all our documents in order - actually compiled in the correct order for handing over - as per the instructions on the French Government website, including having a set of the right kind of photos.  

As the hours ticked away we sat with head in hands thinking thank goodness we would not have to do this again!  We were full of admiration for the staff handling the applications for their immense patience in dealing with so many people who were not well prepared, short of documents and photos.

Once we finally got to the front of the queue the young woman who dealt with us whistled through the process in under ten minutes.  Then we had to go for "biometrics" - the taking of fingerprints and more photos and then finally, several hours after we arrived there, we emerged into the pouring rain in Salford to search for a public toilet!  The total cost on that day was, from memory, around £300 as we had paid extra for our passports to be delivered to our home by courier rather than have to go all the way back to collect them.

Salford is a devil of a place to get to from where we live but I have read that TLS have moved premises to an address not far from Manchester rail station, which will make life a lot easier for most people needing to go there.  (Assuming of course that there is no rail strike on the day of your appointment!)

Our passports with visas attached were delivered to our house about two weeks later.  They came by Royal Mail.  They also included instructions for the next step in the process which was to validate the visas within three months of arriving to live in France.  This we did a couple of weeks after we got here.  It involved logging onto the French government website and paying a fee of 200€ each.

Kerching!

Next time..........compiling an inventory.