28 February 2022
26 February 2022
Another horrible journey to Salford and back yesterday and we have our visas.
The weather was fine this time but the UK roads are, without a doubt, awful. Dodging the potholes and sunken manholes, diving into the hedge bottom to avoid oncoming lorries and range rovers, bouncing along the badly maintained bumpy lanes in the countryside and grappling with the traffic in the towns, not to mention the endless roadworks - huge swathes of road turned into single lane carriageways and causing massive inconvenience to motorists - and no visible signs of any work going on.
Over two hours each way to pick up our passports, the whole process taking up two days of our lives. Another Brexit farce, a huge expense and thank goodness we don’t have to do it again until next year.
With just two weeks to go before we leave for the first tranche of our six months in France we will be busy, busy until then. There is much work to do to get the house and garden straight here to leave it for a while and a few loose ends to tie up regarding my father's care. Then we're off.
We came close, very close, to transferring my father to a care home but in the end have bought in carers to visit him twice a day. They give him his medication in the morning and something to eat at teatime, adding to the people who already do his cleaning, shopping and laundry, plus other services, and he's fine. The last year would have been so much better for him and us if we had put all this in place months ago, putting our foot down instead of pussyfooting around it, because in the end he’s accepted all of it. He's taken to his new life of leisure, where someone else does everything for him, like a duck to water!
We reckon he will run out of money in about three years but for now he's safe, warm, well fed and happy and we're free to get on with our lives.
I'm resisting the temptation to write anything about Ukraine. Others are saying plenty and I can’t think of anything I can add that would make a difference. Disgust and outrage not only for Putin but also for the leaders of our own country for making it a safe haven for Russian dirty money whilst not making Ukranian refugees welcome.
For now I'm very much looking forward to being back in France, to sunshine, friends and those beautiful smooth, quiet and delightful country roads that surround our own little patch of paradise.
16 February 2022
Dear Jacob,One EU rule that I would like you to get rid of is the one where the French no longer allow us to freely visit our holiday cottage in France.
Something called the Schengen rule means we can no longer arrive on 1st April and leave on 30th September, even though the French say we are still allowed to spend six months there!
If we arrive on 1st April we have to leave on 30th June and can’t return until 1st October! What’s the point of that? Nobody buys a holiday cottage in France to spend the winters there! We certainly didn’t when we bought ours in 2007!
We have managed to get round the problem by applying for a six month visa but this is a huge palaver. There are only three centres in the UK where you can go to apply, Edinburgh, Manchester and London, and yes, you have to go in person, you can't apply online!
This ridiculous rule by the French is so unfair when we are going to spend our money for six months in their country. We used to be able to just book the ferry, take the passports and go. Now it’s an enormous expense and hassle.
Ironically there are no reciprocal restrictions on French residents who have a holiday cottage in the UK! They can come and go as they wish as long as they don’t exceed six months, which is unfair and ridiculous. The Schengen rules only apply to us!
I would be most grateful if you could do something about this unfair sanction against the British by the French.
15 February 2022
One of our favourite walks, around the château in Le Grand-Pressigny, March 2019.
The last time we were in France in March was two years ago, in 2019. That year we managed our usual pattern of visits, arriving mid March and not finally leaving until the end of November, having spent only 180 days in France by returning for a couple of visits back to the UK over the year.
Just to refresh readers' minds, that is no longer possible due to the Schengen 90/180 rule where we can still spend 180 days in France but only 90 at a time. It's not quite that simple but in reality, however you look at it, the 90/180 rule means that you have to effectively swap three summer months for three winter ones. Gone are the days when anyone who has a house in France can legitimately turn up there on 1st April and leave on 30th September.
The best way round this is to get a visa. A six month visa allows a person to come and go as they please over a six month period. That then gets added onto the Schengen allowance at the end of the visa period, the only stipulations being that you have to physically leave the country when the visa expires before returning and, of course, you can only stay for 180 days in total.
It's the best option we have at the moment for doing what we did before Brexit, but involves a lot of extra expense and hassle. There are three centres where you can apply for the visa, Edinburgh, Manchester (Salford) and London.
Having spent hours, if not days, searching for, gathering and photocopying all the necessary documents for our "interview" at TLS, the people who handle such things for the French Embassy, we set off for Salford Quays yesterday morning.
The journey there was truly horrible. The weather was atrocious and could only have been worse if it was snowing. The traffic was awful, the condition of most of the roads is appalling and there were numerous sets of road works. For the 52 mile journey it took us over two hours.
We arrived early, having allowed nearly four hours, just in case, which is what you have to do when you go anywhere in the UK these days. We parked in a car park just by the Salford Quays tram station and right next to a pub called the Matchstick Man. The TLS centre is literally a two minute walk away. (Five minutes if a tram arrives as you have to walk across the tram lines.) Our appointment was at 1.30pm so we decided we may as well have lunch there. We had the worst cheeseburger we've ever had anywhere. I think next time we'll take a picnic and eat it in the car!
The "interview" turned out to be just an exchange of documents. We waited in a hall something like a post office or bank and looked for our reference number to come up on a screen. In fact more like when you wait for something you've ordered from Ikea!
We were held up by the other people who were already being dealt with. Every single booth occupied was dealing with someone who was struggling with lack of the correct documents and they ranged from the ill prepared to the totally clueless. Waiting in the hall we could hear a lot of what was said and the lack of preparedness in some cases was shocking. The staff deserve a medal for their patience!
This did not help us feel any more confident that we had got things right as we sat there nervously waiting our turn and wondering what we might have got wrong. The English couple at the counter next to us had been there for an hour by the time we arrived and were still there when we left.
Thanks to Nick's superb preparation, we sailed through. We handed over the relevant documents in the order they were asked for, first Nick then me, and left the whole lot, and our passports, with them to be sent to the French Embassy in London. There the decision is made whether or not to grant us a visa and the passports are returned to Salford for us to collect, with or without the visa.
The centre no longer offers a courier service to return the passports so we have to make the journey there and back again to fetch them.
On leaving the building we found that the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. We took a different route back which was about ten miles longer but much more scenic, less fraught and took about the same amount of time. Now we know where we're going we'll use that route next time.
A friend once told me that the only time anything is hard to do is the first time. After that it becomes easier and easier. I think we were discussing serial murderers at the time but it's very true and applies to most things in life, I have found.
I am going to write to the Right Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, who has been given the post of Minister for Brexit Opportunities, and put forward my idea for one of the bits of EU red tape he has asked readers of the Sun newspaper to identify to see if he can remove them. The red tape that the French have obliged us to conform to that denies us the freedom to visit our French house when we please and requires a huge palaver and expense in getting a visa. I wonder if he will reply!
If anyone else would like to write to him the address is: email@example.com
The article in the tabloid paper can be seen here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/17603553/sun-readers-tell-me-of-eu-regulation-abolished/
12 February 2022
Apéros on the deck chez nous soon after we arrived last summer.
Not long now. Until our visa application meeting that is. It's on Monday, 14th February. Getting it over with will be the best Valentine's gift to each other, ever, I think.
For the last few days the dining room has been under a sea of paperwork as we gathered together all the documents we will need to take with us to the meeting.
The application form, passports, extra passport photos, a declaration of purpose of our stay, decalration of our socio-economic situation, marriage, divorce and birth cerificates, bank statements both French and English, proof of income, proof of ownership of our French house, French utility bills, proof of health insurance.
Every item has to be provided in original forms and with photocopies. Each of us has to have a copy of everything in our own dossier. No doubt having done it once and, hopefully, succeeded in being granted a visa, next time will be easier. At least we haven't had to do it all in French!
The visa itself will cost us £117 each. We have opted for a six month visa and this will allow us to spend up to 180 days in France over a nine month period. This is because the Schengen allowance is on top of the visa period.
I was pleased to see this confirmed in actual words on the Government website here:
The relevant paragraph says this:
· if you stay in France with a residence permit or long-stay visa, this does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit
On top of the cost of the visas we have spent another £80 or more on certified copies of marriage certificates as we couldn't find the originals. Another £38 on photographs, passport style. (We weren't happy with the first set so got a second set done, just in case.)
All this so that we can come and go to France and live in our French house just as we did PB (Pre-Brexit).
We are hugely grateful to our friend Gaynor who paved the way for us in being the first of our friends to go through this process. She gave us many hints, tips and pointers. We are also very grateful for the people who write a couple of facebook pages on owning a second home in France and how to avoid the pitfalls of the visa process.
Nick has done 99% of the work for our visit. I have been solely preoccupied with arranging care for my dad, who has gone downhill rapidly over the last three months. His mental capacity is now very limited and he forgets to eat or thinks he has already eaten. The same goes for his ablutions and taking of medication. All of these things were being managed by me until carers could be engaged to take over. We are using agency carers and I'm not completely happy with them. I suppose they get most of it right most of the time so that's the best I can hope for. The crisis in Social Care is making life very difficult and beggars can't be choosers.
The facility where he lives has on-site carers but they are short staffed and have no extra capacity. If he was applying for a flat now he would not be accepted because they do not have the staff to look after him - he was much more able and independent when he moved there eighteen months ago. Lucky for us that we encouraged him to go down that route when he did. We are currently addressing his problems with daily carers visiting him in his own home. There are one or two serious issues which may lead us to place him in permanent residential care (a care home) if there is a crisis and the bought in care doesn't adequately deal with it.
The sixty four thousand dollar question is - when will we be able to go to France? We have asked for a start date for our visas of 7th March as that, added to our Schengen allowance, will give us all the time we want for this year. Nick may well go on ahead with Daisy and Hugo to get the house open and gardening started, if I'm still trying to get Dad settled.
As always, we will have to wait and see! Fortunately the requirement for testing for travel has been removed and that's a blessing - more expense and hassle that just adds to the whole process being a nightmare.
Tomorrow we will recheck the paperwork all over again, check our route and decide when to leave the house in order to get to our appointment in good time. As always in the UK you have to factor in extra time for traffic hold-ups, accidents, road works and general volume of traffic. A Monday morning is never a good time to travel anywhere.
Now that it's within our grasp I feel my excitement and longing increasing all over again, just like it has in previous years. It's been masked so far this year because of my dad; I seem to spend every waking hour thinking about him, trying to work out how I can improve his situation and how to navigate the complicated dealings with all the agencies and organisations involved. Without a doubt, looking after the needs of a very old person is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.