June 12, 2012

Normal service will be resumed….

I went back to the bank in Montignac this morning to pick up my new ‘carnet de cheques’ and bank card, but no dice. The computer system was down. ‘Come back this afternoon’, the nice chap in the foyer said. So I did. System still down – he was apologetic but couldn’t do anything without reference to ‘the system’. So still no cheque book, bank card and, last but not least, hair cut! I’m beginning to look like the mad professor so I hope that normal service is resumed at the bank tomorrow or else desperate measures may be called for! ‘Why not just get a haircut?’ you may ask. The reason is that the collection of euros in my pocket is now at a low ebb and I need to hang onto it, just in case, until I can bolster it by access to an ATM 😕

Just came back to add this next little bit – while I was getting ready for bed, I came out of the bathroom just in time to see the little brown mouse shoot across the kitchen floor and go under the freezer. So he’s still indoors – can’t blame him because it’s been very cool and showery and we had such a powerful storm today that for a short time there was a little river running down past my back door. I just hope that things start getting back to ‘normal’ soon because although I don’t want to fry, these low temperatures are beginning to get me down a bit 🙁

June 11, 2012

Getting up to date

Wow – I knew it had been some time since my last post but I hadn’t realised it was that long! I’ve kept meaning to do some updates but there have been lots of reasons why I’ve been unable to. The worst was that the PC I was using when I first came to France (my No. 2 machine, my No. 1 having died a death just a week or so before I moved house) also let me down and quite honestly, my old Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop just doesn’t cut it nowadays for anything very much beyond picking up emails and a bit of Internet browsing. And even that was doing the usual irritating Windows thing of not loading up all its services on boot up, making it even more frustrating than usual to use. So now I’m actually using my No. 3 machine which I had to fire up and format after the (partial) death of No. 2, whose hard drive I had to protect at all costs because of the valuable data it contained. Mission accomplished, by the way I’m glad to say.

But anyway, here goes. Because I’m covering such a long period of time in this post, I think it’d be better if I do it in a kind of diary format.

Monday 21st May

I was expecting the electricity company to drop in today to connect me up but by lunch time there was still no sign of them. I must have (ahem…) dropped off and was having a quiet doze after my lunch when I was awoken by a loud rap on the back window! I nearly jumped out of my skin, and sure enough, it was them. Well, they did the usual things that electric guys have to do to get the power switched on and I was slightly alarmed when at one point he said that the trees were interfering with the incoming overhead cable and needed lopping. For a moment I thought he meant that he couldn’t go ahead but I needn’t have worried. After 45 minutes or so when they left I had power. It was lovely to be able to flick switches and have lights come on – one of the simpler pleasures that you take for granted in the modern world and only miss when you can’t do it. And as for having power in the wall sockets so I could plug in things like the vacuum cleaner, fridge, freezer and microwave, well that was almost pure luxury 😉

Tuesday 22nd May

The man from Veolia came to turn on my water this morning. What a nice name that is – so much better than ‘The South East Water Company’ where I came from in Kent. Makes you immediately think that the water is bound to be so much purer and better for you, which it has to be compared to the miserable, chalk-filled apology that South East Water has the nerve to charge good money for, that furs up your kettle in a matter of weeks and chokes you when you make tea with it if you don’t use a filter or water-softener. But I’m getting side-tracked. The man from Veolia was middle-aged and slightly portly in clean brown overalls. He was wearing small, brass-rimmed round glasses and if you met him in other circumstances you could easily think that he’d be an academic or possibly an accountant. But no, here he was to turn on my water. We greeted each other and chatted a little bit. He took an eye to Toddie and asked what breed he was and I explained that he is a ‘Springer Spaniel’ in English and is a retired ‘chien de chasse’, a hunting dog, as my stepson trained him for when he used to go shooting birds. But now I explained, we are two old dogs together, both retired. He smiled and said he recognised the name of the breed, although I don’t know for sure if it’s the same in French, the way that ‘King Charles Spaniel’ is. He had the water flowing in a matter of moments. What we mere mortals hadn’t understood is that there is a second large, master ‘robbinet’ known only to the pros which he located almost instantly with an electronic device like a mine detector that bleeps. As soon as he uncovered it and turned it with his special large red key, the water began flowing immediately. Literally. The outside tap had been left open as had one or two inside the house which operate in the opposite way to what I’m used to 🙂 After I’d dashed around turning everything off, I went back out to my new friend and said, in French, ‘It’s like a miracle’. He looked back at me and replied, ‘No, it’s not’, just like that, in the laconic way that the French are masters of.

With the water sorted, that meant I could go to the SFR Shop in Perigueux to see if I could arrange for telephone and Internet to be connected at the house. Only problem was that I didn’t have a clue where the SFR Shop was and had no way of finding out without, yes, you’ve got it…… an Internet connection. But no matter! This is France and we are here to engage with folks, so Toddie and I jumped into the car and off we went together for our first trip to Perigueux. We ended up parking the car right in front of Perigueux’s best know landmark – the Byzantine style cathedral with three domes. What a treat, and parking appeared to be free – at least I didn’t see anywhere to pay, anyway. In the UK you’d have paid a small fortune to park in a position like this but here I just pulled up in a parking space and that was that. I left Toddie in the back seat and off I went. Almost the first person I spotted was a skin-head looking type pushing a bike and I asked him if he knew where the SFR Shop was. ‘Of course’, he said, very politely, and directed me to go straight ahead and ask again a bit further on, as it was a little distance away. In the UK you mightn’t have been surpised to get a couple of grunts from a guy who looked like this, but not here – he couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful. I did as he said and a bit further on in the old town centre I asked a chap behind a snack stand the same question. Same response – he told me to keep going in the same direction and ask again a bit further on. So I did. When I emerged onto a busy main thoroughfare, I stopped a young chap hurrying in the opposite direction and asked him the same question. He thought for a moment and then beamed, saying, ‘Yup, it’s just over there in that row of shops’. And then he smiled again and was off on his business.

I arrived outside the SFR Shop and it was all closed and shuttered up. I couldn’t believe it until I read the opening times on the door – closed from 12.30 until 2.00pm. This was slap-bang in the dreaded lunch hour! I’d forgotten how important the lunchtime ritual is here. So I amused myself for a half hour or so, sitting opposite in the now warm breeze (we’d had some very chilly days leading up to today) watching the world go by. When the shutters lifted, I followed another couple of people into the shop and when it was my turn, I explained what I wanted – the home package with unlimited telephone calls and Internet included. And that’s when the fun started. In rural France, there are no such things as house numbers. There are road names, which often describe the locality rather than the road itself, but Mr Le Factuer then knows every resident in the area individually by name, which you have on your mail box, rather than anonymously by house number. I like that – so much more personal – but unfortunately the software used by the SFR Shop assistant was probably written by someone in Paris who doesn’t appreciate such niceties and kept insisting on having both street name and house number before allowing him to proceed. He managed to find a way through the minefield eventually and showed me that the package I wanted would come out at a monthly cost of €36.90. ‘OK’, I said. ‘But’, he said, ‘If I booked it tomorrow, there would be a ‘special promo’ costing only €29.90 per month! So I said, ‘OK, book me that one’. ‘I can’t’, he said, ‘Not until tomorrow!!’

Now who, you might think, would possibly start a marketing promo on a Wednesday, moreover one that isn’t even on a special date? Goodness knows, nobody in my experience that’s for sure, but in any case it meant that I’d have to go back to Perigueux the following day and do the whole the thing all over again!

Later on, on the way home, I dropped into the supermarket. Now that I could connect up my fridge and freezer, I thought I might pick up a few things to put in them. Being a male, on top of the list was a pack of cold beer, which I hadn’t been able to enjoy since coming to France because the local supermarket just stacks it on the shelves and doesn’t chill it. Now guys, tell me this. Where else could you buy 30 x 25cl bottles (24 plus 6 ‘gratuit’) of ’33’ Export beer for only €7.48? DON’T YOU JUST HAVE TO LOVE THIS COUNTRY?

Wednesday 23rd May

Back to the SFR shop in Perigueux in the morning to sign up for my Internet and phone package – and back yet again in the afternoon. As soon as we started the first time, I realised that I’d left my passport and proofs of address behind and had to go back to get them. When I first started driving from Plazac to Perigueux, I needed the satnav. Now I can tell the satnav lady about the little errors she makes along the way where there have been small changes in road layouts etc. Showing off or what?

Thursday 24th May

I bought two cylinders of gaz (butane as they’re to be kept indoors) at the Shopi and a regulator at the Brico in Rouffignac and connected one up under the sink to the old wall-mounted water heater. It began working instantly once I’d mastered the art of starting up the pilot light. Hot water on demand at the sink, hand basin and bath meant that my level of luxury was dramatically increased! I didn’t have a proper cooker yet, of course, but I did have a camping kitchen that had been in my loft since the late 1980s. I set it up and found a plastic ‘T’ in my microlight fuel box that I used to connect in the camping stove to the gas supply, which I immediately tested out by making a pot of tea. Lovely, it went down an absolute treat. This is the life 😀

Sunday 27th May

Things tend to move on slowly in France. In the late afternoon, I was sitting in the car in Montignac outside a hotel using their free internet connection as although I now had electricity, water, gas in a cylinder and hot water, I didn’t yet have a phone line/Internet. The engineer was due to come on 1st June and the Internet was due to be connected within 48 hours or so afterwards. It was 16.40 local time and the car temperature gauge read 31.5 deg C which was a bit different to how it had been up to the day before. The house was now not feeling so damp inside 😉 but was still somewhat cool. Now I had sorted out the services, I could get back to the house cleaning but first I had to finish repairing MYRO’s wing covers that were damaged by winds weeks ago back in the UK and get them on. The reason was that the UV level had to be very high and could do damage to stuff like stitching. The dog was with me and although I had stripped his long hair the day before, he was feeling the heat. I’m glad to say that he seems happy here, which is a relief.

The next door neighbour had arrived back the previous evening having been away for the week, leaving their Internet switched off. I was hoping they’d be here for the coming week as it would be great to have an easily accessible Internet connection until I got my own as for starters Skype is much cheaper for calling the UK than either of my two (French and English) mobiles. I had bought a French mobile last week, put €15 on it, made one (longish) call to a friend in the UK and it was all gone immediately 😐

Jean Claude, my neighbour on the other side, whose family have lived in the same house since the 1600’s, did me a great service the day before by coming in with a tractor with a mower on it, as he said he would when we had met earlier in the week, and chopped down all the grass in the front and rear of my house. I had told him how grateful I was and he simply said that that’s what neighbours do around here. When I got back from using the Internet in Montignac, I had spotted Jean Claude in his garden next door and when I went across to see him he had introduced me to Chantalle, his wife. What lovely people they both are and I think I’m very lucky to have them as neighbours.

Here’s something else that reallysurprised me! I was sitting outside using my laptop, in the afternoon and I spotted a snake almost a metre long slither past my car and into the brush next to where I was sitting. When I asked Jean Claude about it, he told me that there are hundreds of them in the grass around here 😕 I asked if it was dangerous (thinking more of Toddie than me) and he said that it wasn’t if it was a metre long. It’s the little buggers that you need to look out for – they are vipers which are venomous. But there you go, it’s the same with them in the UK. Even so I’m not used to seeing snakes right outside my back door 😐

More on the local wildlife. I brought a few old DVDs with me to play on my laptop in the evenings to tide me over until I’ve got things more organised with satellite and a TV. Just a few minutes after I’d had breakfast I was checking a couple out that hadn’t played properly and out of the corner of my eye I saw a little brown shape nip out under the open door of my bathroom, whose entrance is off my kitchen, and into the stuff I’ve got piled on the floor under the table. Toddie had found a little dead mouse or vole a couple of days before and I guess it was one of them. It came as a bit of a shock coming from the UK where having something like that running round your house would be totally unacceptable and lead to a call for traps to be laid all around to get rid of the little varmint. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as here my kitchen door leads straight in from the outside and if any little critter wants to, it can just walk in when my back’s turned. Looks like there’s going to have to be a little bit of live-and-let-live around here – and making sure that there’s not too much stuff lying around that the little chaps like this would like to get their teeth into 🙂

Friday 1st June

The SFR engineer came on the dot! He had phoned first on my new SFR mobile to ask directions (old problem – no house numbers, see…) and when he arrived, he thanked me for them. Nice chap! While he worked, I said that I’d heard that the Internet runs very slowly in these parts. ‘Oh no’, he said, ‘You’ll get over 2000 KB/s!’ Blimey, I was getting over 4700 KB/s back in the UK (but paying for 8000 of course), and that was slow enough. Going back to 2000 KB/s would be a real step backwards, but there was no choice 🙁 At the end of all his efforts, despite the ’48 hour’ thing, I had both phone and Internet working. He made me sign the job sheet and showed me my new number before he left. It took me a little while to configure my new SFR Neuf box that connects you to the Internet and also gives you a home wi-fi signal, TV and an open public unsecured wireless connection the same as my neighbour’s one that I’d been using on and off up to then. My old Philips DECT set that I’d brought with me from the UK worked a treat but I couldn’t get it to ring when I dialled in, even after I’d gone through the diagnostics in the Neuf box. The reason was actually very simple – my real telephone number was totally different to the one shown on the paperwork! The local area code is 0553 but my number starts with 0524. I have no idea what that is the area code for but I was reminded yet again that you shouldn’t let anything in France surprise you 😉

Tuesday 5th June

While the UK was enjoying its second day of the Jubilee Bank Holiday, I was off to Perigueux (Trellisac actually) to the Brico Depot there to check out the kitchen designs. I found the one I like and will almost certainly fit, the Mila in genuine ash. While I was there I bought a glass shower screen for the bath (a ‘pare baignoire’), a bathroom cabinet and a pair of lights for the landing (one of the existing ones was missing).

Wednesday 6th June

Fitted the shower screen today. Hurray! Now I could have showers whenever I wanted without having to worry about water flying all over the floor. Not quite actually, as at 80cm, it could do with being a bit longer and also there is a gap along the bottom that allows water squirted directly at it to go underneath and onto the floor! But never mind, these issues will be overcome somehow or other.

Thursday 7th June

I’d bought a complete bathroom kit, consisting of toilet roll holder, towel rail, soap dish, toothbrush holder etc when I got the gaz cylinders from the Brico at Rouffignac and today I fitted it together with the bathroom cabinet I got from the Brico Depot. It was a great feeling having something like a proper bathroom. It’s all to do with making the place into a home I think.

Well, that more or less brings everything up to date. A few days ago, I received notification from my new French bank of the pin number of my new bank card so I thought I’d nip into Montignac today to pick up the card and my new cheque book, which together will make day to day living so much simpler and less expensive. Up to now, I’ve been using my UK bank card which incurs a heavy exchange rate loss and a foreign transaction charge each time I use it so being able to use my French account will avoid much of that. I also thought I’d get my first French haircut while I was there. I found that unlike in the UK, the bank doesn’t actually open on Mondays. Why should I have been surprised? So I think I’ll try again tomorrow, and also get my haircut at the same time 🙂