May 20, 2012

So here we are

After getting everything in order and making a ferry booking for Tuesday evening, I left the house where I’d been staying for nearly two weeks to pick up Toddie, my dog. My step son had been looking after him since I left to take my furniture and belongings to France and I’d also arranged for my son to be there as it could be several months before I see either of them again. I then drove down to Dorset to see my mother who lives there with my sister and brother-in-law, and after sleeping on the floor on the Monday night and spending the following day with my mother, Toddie and I left to catch the ferry late on Tuesday afternoon. So we left England for our new home in France on 15th May 2012.

I was determined to avoid the tiredness problems that I’d experienced before, the more so as I was now driving a faster vehicle anyway and time was not therefore an issue. So my plan was to drive for two or three hours to get away from northern France and then pull up for the night in a rest area. So that’s what we did, and what a strange experience this led to. The rest areas have trucks parked up in them with their drivers resting at all times of the day and at night, of course, almost all of them are packed, as was the one we stopped at. In the early hours I was suddenly awoken by a truck horn blaring out and a lot of powerful lights being switched on. I looked out of my car to see two or three guys in the lorry park with balaclava masks on who had been stealing diesel fuel by siphoning it out of the tanks of the parked trucks and in doing so had disturbed one of the drivers. They had a small white van and while the others ran to jump into it, one of the thieves made an intimidating gesture at the driver whose truck he was in front of. But he’d totally underestimated who he was dealing with. The driver promptly jumped out with a baseball bat and my gosh, you should have seen that villain run! He only just made it to his van and for a while the driver sprinted after it waving his baseball bat in the air. Luckily for the thieves, they made it to the exit before he caught up with them. If not, I think there may have been a case of a few busted heads that night 🙂

But that wasn’t the end of it. It seems that all of those long-distance truck drivers who sleep in their cabs take their trousers off before retiring. Well, by this time the first driver had been joined by about 10 others and all to a man totally trouserless. What a sight as they all discussed what had happened and spent the next half an hour or so checking their fuel tanks – still with no trousers on. It’s something that’ll stick in my mind for a very long time to come, let me tell you 😆

Toddie and I arrived here in Plazac last Wednesday afternoon but it certainly isn’t plain sailing just yet. We stayed in the new house without services of any kind after picking up the keys and arranging with the agent’s assistance (thank you, Sandrine…) to have electricity, water, phone and internet connected. I don’t know when the last two will go on but I was told that water would be reconnected on the following Friday and electricity on Monday, tomorrow. However, as this is France, the water guys didn’t arrive as promised so I still don’t have any water and do not know when they might arrive to switch it on even, as the appointment was made by the estate agent and they weren’t open on Saturday (I went and checked just to make sure they weren’t there and just not answering their phone 😉 )

But all is not lost – both of my closest neighbours are great. To the rear I have a middle-aged couple from Bordeaux who will be here only until the end of today as theirs is a holiday home. The grass has grown so much that the poor chap has spent the whole of his time since I’ve been here mowing it – with just a few stops now and again for the odd glass of wine I think. I find his wife quite easy to understand and hold a conversation with but less so him for some reason. His accent I find a tad difficult at present – unless it’s the vin rouge of course (his or mine I do not know…) – but I think it will all become easier in time. The neighbours to my left are a brilliant bunch of young French people – guys and girls, about 10 or possibly more I think as they have a house-full plus several tents in the garden – who I think are musicians and have a contract in the area (as I understood it) for 1 year from September. They have been a life saver – after being desperate for water and even washing in bottled stuff from the supermarket, I can now get all I need from them from an outside tap. And they’ve also given me the code for their wi-fi which I can receive either from outside or my bedroom windows. They are a lovely bunch of youngsters, so very friendly and I’m very lucky for them to give me their help without question as they have done, so typical of the majority of the French people, I’ve always found.

I’ve got a generator that I brought from England (fortunately) that I use to run a light, charge my laptop and run a fan heater downstairs from time to time, like now, as it’s a bit chilly and stormy, will remain so until about next Tuesday or Wednesday and the house hasn’t had a chance to warm up inside just yet. I can’t really do anything except get by until I get water and electricity as the house needs cleaning throughout very badly. I can’t use the toilet as it’s full of spiders etc and needs a lot of water down it to clean it out. I’ll say no more except I now know what it was like for the pioneers who opened up the wild west 😉 Lucky I have a sense of humour – and a lot of bushes eh.

But there have been compensations, of course. Alan, an old friend of mine of 81 suffered a stroke a few months ago. I dropped in on him to see how he was and say, ‘Au revoir’, on the Saturday before I left England. He made me the kind gift of a litre of J & B Rare Scotch Whisky and I promised him that on my first night in Plazac I’d toast my arrival and his future health in it. So that’s what I did and much I enjoyed it too. Here’s to you and Margaret, Alan, and may things soon get better for both of you.

I’ve got the local supermarket run sorted out now and before I’d got my own out of ‘the cave’ where I’d put it, Bob helped me out with a single burner stove which has been a useful addition. Talking about compensations and the supermarket, a couple of evenings ago, I bought a bottle of Bordeaux there, Chateau Du Bosc 2010 for just €2.95, that turned out to be really excellent. Last night I thought I’d risk it and go for a bog standard bottle of Appellation Bordeaux Controlee ‘plonk’ for €1.55 and had some with my lunch today of baguette, saucisson de porc fumee and pate de campagne. And do you know what, it was pretty good 😀 They have always said that the French keep the best of their wines for themselves and export the rest and I think there could be some truth in that.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I don’t expect to see much of Bob for a while unfortunately as he has some other priorities to occupy him, but I’m very self-sufficient and will get by as I’ve done so far since I arrived. My next purchase early next week will be a heavy duty motorized grass cutter and brush clearer so I can get cracking outside. The greenery is way above the window sills – I’ll post some pics soon so you can see what I mean. In the meantime I shall be exhorting the weather gods to do something about the cold and rain that I’ve been on the receiving end of almost non-stop since arriving here. The car thermometer went up to 26 degrees on one day but that now seems like a distant memory. I just want it to get back up there before I start on the job of cleaning the house as it will take a lot of water, all of which will then need to dry out again. What’s the opposite of a rain dance?

May 12, 2012

And finally…

My move to France has taken so long that when I turned up at the last couple of Medway club meetings, people did a double-take and said, ‘You still here?’ And it happened again today when I went into Stoke with Peter for a final flight (for a few months at least anyway…) in the X’air. But this time it was for real and I was sad to think that I won’t be seeing the old gang again, possibly for quite a while. I’ll miss the customary jokes, banter, insults and leg-pulling and all the little things that make you feel that you’re part of a club. So until the next time, thanks to Chris and Karen, Slip and Claire, Tony and Rosemary, Sue and Steve, Pam, Blow Job, John, Andrew, Paul and Sarah, Kirk, Roger and Roger, Popey, Gary, young Blair and all the other members whose names I’ve missed or forgotten to include. It was great knowing you all and I hope I get the chance to see you all again some time before too long. Until then keep making sure that you fly safe 😉

May 11, 2012

At last – a glimmer of hope

Things have become pretty fraught over recent weeks due to the intransigence of the seller of my new house in Plazac and their refusal to complete the sale in a timely manner. Since returning from France over a week ago I have been dependent on the generosity of a friend who has allowed me to ‘camp’ inside a house that they own on more or less an open-ended basis until I am able to make the final move to France. I’ve also not seen Toddie my dog since I left my old house in the truck on April 26th as I could not have him with me and didn’t want to upset him by letting him see me and then having to leave him again. So one way and another the past couple of weeks have not been any kind of a picnic 🙁

Well, at last after applying increasing pressure on the estate agent in France, who had assured me that such problems would not arise and then seemed incapable of effectively dealing with them when they did, early this evening I received the telephone call from him that I wanted to hear. This was that so long as I took out comprehensive buildings insurance at a cost of €30/month, I could now move into the property whenever I wanted to. So now I can make plans to tie everything up here in the UK and I think that I’ll then be able to get down to Plazac probably by Wednesday next week. One of the reasons for there being a small delay is because I want to see my mum before I go. She’s 93 this month and it could be a few months before I see her again, so I must make the trip down to Dorset, where she’s living with my sister, before I go.

But at least I can now see a light at the end of this particular tunnel, which quite honestly, could not have come too soon 😐

May 5, 2012

Update and latest news

Well, I’ve been back in the UK since last Monday night during which I ended up sleeping in the cab of a truck, but more about that in a moment. The run-up to my house move on 26th April was a bit traumatic and incredibly tiring. For weeks beforehand I’d been de-cluttering and disposing of unwanted stuff by selling what I could on eBay, giving items away on Freecycle.org and, as a last resort, throwing stuff away at the local tip. Even then, as the moving day loomed on which I had to quit my old house, of course, there still seemed so much to pack or get rid of.

I’d reserved a 7.5 ton self-drive truck with a tail-lift for a week to get all the stuff I wanted to take with me down to Plazac and decided beforehand that I’d pick it up and load it the day before the move so as to relieve some of the pressure on me. What I didn’t account for was that despite the best laid plans, I’d be driving around the countryside for some of that time getting paperwork signed by my ex-wife and delivered to my solicitor in time to get the completion through and that I’d still as a result end up under tremendous time pressure.

I was incredibly grateful to receive the help of my mate Ken on the Wednesday who took me over to pick up the truck and then spent the whole of the day right up until the early evening helping me pack boxes and load them and the large, heavy items of furniture and kitchen appliances I was taking with me, into it for the journey south. I could never have done it by myself and I can’t thank him enough for all he did. I totally underestimated the number of boxes that I needed. I had previously got 17 large, strong boxes off eBay and thought they would be enough. In fact I had to get another 10 locally, that were even larger, together with 2 more rolls of bubble-wrap and ended up using all of them too! And all the time while we ferried stuff from house to truck it rained and rained 😐

On the Thursday I had the help of my son Brad. By that time I was beginning to flag and Brad did me the enormous favour of blindly throwing stuff away into ‘rubbish’ without showing it to me or worrying very much what it was! I needed that by then, actually. Colin the ‘white van man’ who took away the rubbish probably thought he’d struck treasure trove with a lot of the stuff he took away – more than 2 Transit vans-full – but I don’t begrudge him that in any way as he did it all for me as a favour and did me a great service as a result.

Late on Thursday afternoon Ashley, my buyer, and I ended up with our respective solicitors on hands-free on our mobile phones talking to each other to agree what they needed to get the completion done that day and I’m glad to say that they succeeded. I don’t think it would have happened though if we hadn’t resorted to forcing them to talk directly in the way that we did 😀

Come the Thursday afternoon and I still hadn’t booked a Channel crossing for the truck because of all the uncertainty. Because of the size and weight of the vehicle, I had to go out and back as a freight booking which meant going via Norfolk Line, which is now part of DFDS. I did the booking on my laptop and waited for the confirmation before finally packing my printer. It didn’t come and luckily I decided to phone DFDS to find out what was going on. They had no record of the booking but luckily we managed to sort it out and finally I was able to do my print out.

I’d hoped to get away by about 4pm on Thursday for a 10.45pm booking but it wasn’t to be just because of the sheer volume of stuff that I still needed to clear out. Brad worked tirelessly and I eventually managed to get away just after 10.00pm and then only because Ashley came round and kicked me out in the nicest possible way saying that he would get rid of the rubbish that I’d be leaving behind and that I didn’t have to bother. So thanks for that, Ashley.

I was much too late for my ferry booking of course, and was concerned that when I got to Dover, DFDS might hold me back for ages until they could get me on another one. I needn’t have worried though, because their service was impeccable on both the outgoing and the return crossings, the latter of which I also had to get reorganised at short notice, as I’ll explain later. I was loaded onto the 2.30am Dover to Calais ferry and drove out of the port the other side in the pitch dark at something like 5.30am local time. That was when I made my first, and I’m glad to say, only major cock up 🙁

I already had the route programmed into my sat nav from my previous trip down to Plazac so off I went. Unfortunately I’d failed to notice that for some reason the device had dropped its ‘recalculate automatically when off route’ setting and I put down the absence of the lady’s otherwise helpful advice to the fact that I was on the right route. I got a couple of indications that maybe things were not quite as they should have been. The first was that the ‘arrival time at destination’ shown on my sat nav was constantly increasing and this did slightly alarm me, but I thought that this might be down to it being so early in the journey. However, shortly after when the dawn began to come up, it was pretty obvious that the increasing brightness was far too much on my nose! And sure enough, it was, as then I began to see road signs indicating that Belgium was just down the road!

Now I hear you say, how can you possibly be so daft as to end up going totally the wrong way out of Calais, and let me tell you that it’s very easy at that time of the day, in pitch darkness, driving a large, unfamiliar diesel truck! I had been following the signs west towards Dunkirk but what I’d then done was miss a clover leaf at a road junction. And once you’ve done something like that, you don’t get many chances to rectify the mistake as there aren’t that many places where you can leave the road you’re on and turn round. But I did eventually and fortunately not a lot of harm was done as the actual mileage involved was not that great. And once I’d checked and reset the sat nav, off I went again. But this time, instead of taking me on my preferred route to the west, avoiding Paris, because of where I was starting from, I had no choice but to follow where my sat nav led me, south around the eastern side of Paris on the dreaded Peripherique 😐

The Peripherique at rush hour in the rain in a very large diesel truck is not the most attractive proposition, but it didn’t turn out to be too bad. Amazingly, apart from a small minority who seemed to have some kind of death wish and thought that it was quite OK to cut into the stopping distance in front of a very large truck at short notice, most drivers afforded me and the other much larger trucks that I found myself amongst, the respect they deserved. The constant stop-start was a little bit tedious but after a while I emerged on the south of the city and was able to continue my journey south.

Diesel fuel is much cheaper in France than in the UK but even so, the cost when I came to fill up further south was a shock to the credit card. And as I’d decided to keep to the autoroutes to save time, the additional peage costs also soon began to add up. But no matter, driving myself was still considerably cheaper than doing the move any other way and I just had to swallow whatever of such costs were thrown at me. And there were quite a few, let me tell you. I seemed to be constantly stopping and jumping out of my cab to run around to the left of the vehicle and stuff my card into yet another peage machine for the next bit of my journey south 🙂

Apart from stopping for fuel and to grab the odd snack, I drove constantly all day. The truck had a speedometer marked in km/hr and was governed like all the others in France to a speed of 90. This meant that you couldn’t build up speed on a down-grade so you could whizz up the other side. Instead, because of the weight on board, I was constantly changing down whenever I got to even the slightest up-hill stretch and was even being overtaken by some of the many giant trucks with trailers that had the power to pass me, sometimes at a mere snail’s pace that kept them alongside me for a minute or more! I felt like a real trucker at the end of it 😆

The day began to catch up with me, though, some distance south of the city of Limoges. By then my eyes were feeling very heavy and although I’d been on the mobile and given Bob an ETA, after I’d nodded off at the wheel three times, just for a moment each time mind, I knew it was time to stop for a break. I pulled into one of the many rest areas that you find every few kilometres along the major roads in France, arranged my sleeping bag under my back to give me a little bit of something to lie on and fell asleep within seconds.

I woke up after about an hour to the sound of my sat nav lady announcing that she was ‘recalculating route’ and after a brief trip to the loo, hit the road once more. The short break had done wonders for me and it didn’t seem that long before I was calling Bob up at Montignac to tell him when I’d be arriving at the house. We met up and all that was left for me to do that Friday was to park up ready to unload the next day. Unfortunately, because of my tiredness and carelessness, I managed to touch the guttering when reversing the truck into position in front of the house, but luckily the damage was not that great and will be easily fixed when I get in for good.

Saturday 28th April was a very productive day, despite it being cool, dull and damp, unseasonably so for the Dordogne at this time of the year. I had to sign some final papers at the estate agent’s in Montignac and open a French bank account. Then we managed to get in to see a new notaire who will hopefully be able to get behind the seller’s existing one, who is useless quite frankly and a total disaster, to push the purchase forward so I can get into the house as soon as possible. Having done that, Bob and Jude then gave me a hand to unload my stuff off the truck into the house which, as it had taken two days to load up, surprisingly only took a few hours to get off. And that was after Jude had very kindly given the inside of the house a clean-through as well, using stuff Bob and I had had bought at the local Leclerc supermarket a bit earlier.

In my plans, I’d allowed a couple of days for this so that left Sunday 29th April free. Bob and I went up to the piste so I could check MYRO, which was fine despite the large amount of rain that had fallen in recent days. Its wheels were invisible, though, because of the length of the grass and after strimming around MYRO quite a bit, Bob gave me a go to finish off. I’ve not used a petrol strimmer before and I now know that I’ll have to get one to clear the grass and scrub in my garden when I move in.

My original plan was to start the drive home on Tuesday 1st May but it seemed pointless to delay when I’d done everything I’d needed to. So I decided to leave on the Monday and return the truck on the Tuesday morning rather than on the Wednesday that the hire company had said would be OK. This time I did head around to the west of Paris, although funnily enough on a different route to the one I’d taken before, and having learnt the lessons from the outward journey, this time I stopped and rested three times when I felt tiredness overtaking me. DFDS were totally un-fazed when I arrived at Calais a day early! In fact, they said that as the departing ferry had been delayed, if I hurried I’d be able to get straight on, which I did despite having my empty truck searched by the French security! I was directed straight up the ramp and while I waited for directions on where to park by the loading crew, was told just to cut my engine where I was. So I did and the ferry door was closed behind me, and mine was the last vehicle to board.

The empty truck was searched again by the UK Border people but pretty soon I was on the M2 heading towards home, but this time I had no home to go to! So I found somewhere to park up, just like all the other truckers, made myself comfortable as best I could and fell asleep in the cab with the constant rain drumming on the roof. And surprisingly, I managed about 5 hours sleep, which felt wonderful afterwards!

I’m now ‘camping out’ in an empty house owned by a friend with little by way of heating and hot water but that’ll do me fine until I can leave for France for good in, hopefully, a few days time. I’m putting pressure on the estate agent and pushing to get access to my new house in Plazac even if between them the notaires haven’t managed to complete the Acte de Vente, by paying the full amount due for the purchase and the legal fees, into my notaire’s account. I’ve been assured that it will be possible, but typically they will not say by when. My confidence in the French system has, to say the least, been somewhat dented by these experiences. I’ll let you know what happens next – when it happens 😐