September 28, 2012

Wow, fantastic service!

Where do you go if you want new registration plates for your car? The same place you go for everything else, of course, the Internet! When I searched the Internet to find out how to get my car registered in France, I kept reading stuff about how you take the registration paperwork to some place or other to get your plates made up. Blow that for a lark! Yesterday I just searched – in French of course – for number plate makers, found one, paid by debit card and sent a copy of my paperwork over by email. Then VOILA! This morning at about 10.00am, my new plates arrived by courier. How good a service is that! Later on I replaced my old British plates for these new French ones making my transition to full French resident almost complete 🙂

Now here’s my car with its new French identity! Notice I’m a proud resident of Departement 24, the Dordogne, in the ‘region Aquitaine’ 😉

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Only one down-side. Now I’ve got a French registration, I’ll have to start being much more careful about speed cameras 😀

September 27, 2012

More French stuff

Yesterday I received an official letter confirming the provisional French registration of my car and Mme la Facteuse also left an ‘Avis’ notifying that due to my absence, she couldn’t deliver a ‘Lettre Expert’ which needed signing for. So this morning I nipped down to the little post office in Plazac to send a couple of things off and also pick up the ‘Lettre Expert’ which, as I expected, turned out to be the registration document, the ‘Carte Grise’, itself.

So a big ‘Hooray!’ That’s another box ticked. One of the letters I sent off this morning contained the package of documents needed for my health service registration, so when that comes through I’ll have ticked everything off on my list 😀

Having done the car registration thing, I think I’ll put up a definitive ‘How To’ page on My Trike because there is quite a bit of conflicting stuff on the Internet and even the official French page I found only provided the basics and didn’t include the nitty-gritty, like having to provide a stamped-addressed envelope for the ‘Certificat Provisoire d’Immatriculation’ that came through yesterday.

September 25, 2012

Quick update

My tow bar arrived today. Hats off to Messrs P F Jones who sold it to me and UPS for getting it here from the UK in 3 working days. What great service from both of them. Typical deliveries of things I’ve bought off the internet are 4 or 5 days for France and even longer from Germany. I tried to source a tow-bar kit locally but gave up after searching for a few hours and decided it was quicker, easier and more economical to get it shipped from the UK. Even if I could find one, I doubt it would be less than the £110 including delivery that it came out at. Here’s a pic of it just out of its packaging on my kitchen floor.

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Look, I love France and the French people – I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t – but when it comes to business enterprise, I’m afraid my experience is that they’re a tad lacking compared to their British counterparts. So why aren’t the British taking the European market by storm? I have no idea – I think it’s probably something to do with lack of market or business confidence or maybe even a lack of national pride. Now I understand why, when I had my own small internet-based business, I regularly used to get orders from countries like France and Holland, even as far afield as Scandinavia. The UK market insists on getting quality and service and a good price and there doesn’t seem to be that same urgency over here. Some ex-pats might find it a bit frustrating, I guess, but it doesn’t bother me too much.

We’re expecting a few showers during the rest of this week but I’m hoping to get the tow-bar fitted so I’ll be all ready to pick the X-Air up. Wim’s not back till this week-end and he said he’d like to give me a hand, which I’d appreciate, but we don’t know exactly which day yet. Bertrand is off to England next week so for the moment I’ve pencilled in Sunday 7th October for the big day. I’ve also ordered a large tarpaulin off the internet which I can use to cover the X-Air for the journey and then cut up to make a set of outdoor covers out of. Now this I did source locally as quite coincidentally, the day before Mme. La Poste dropped a little brochure into my mailbox containing all sorts of offers, and lo and behold, there was a good quality 8m x 12m 240 gsm tarp for only 139.99€ compared to £190.58 for a 7m x 11m 250 gsm one from the same source that I got the tarp from that I made MYRO’s covers out of. The French delivery, though, will be the usual 3-6 days (yawn :-|)

By the way, regular readers might have noticed that I’ve already changed the My Trike banner image from a pic of MYRO to one of the new X-Air. I don’t think it’s out of place or too early and just recognises that the MYRO era has ended and it’s time to move on. I’ve been reading some of the recent posts on the BMAA forum bemoaning the state of the Association, the lack of involvement of the membership and the over-regulation that everyone is subjected to over there, so bearing in mind the associations that MYRO had with my own treatment at the hands of the BMAA and the system during not one but two permit procedures, maybe that’s a good thing. I think that my new French X-Air has got FUN written all over it and after my brief flight in Brittany, I can’t wait to get it into the air down here. It struck me the other day that whereas the French microlight scene is all about the personal freedom to have fun, it’s totally different back in the UK, where the philosophy is ‘if you’re having fun we can’t be regulating it enough’. It just isn’t like that here in France, but anyway, I’m out of all that stuff now and glad to be. Vive la Difference 😉

September 24, 2012

Doing the sums

I’ve just transferred the cash over from my UK savings account to my French bank account to pay for the X-Air and including both the sterling to euro foreign exchange costs and the international transfer, the X-Air has cost me the princely sum of £4461. This is not a lot of money in my book for an aircraft with the hours it has on it and a 582 blue top engine, and that even though it needs a little bit of tidying up, is solid and immediately flyable. It doesn’t have any doors on it at the moment but Bertrand has said that they will come with it. The doors are an optional kit and as the climate is so much warmer in the Dordogne compared to the UK, I’m thinking that maybe I might actually leave them off. The elevator trim cable is quite rusty but Bertrand also said that various cables, pulleys etc will also be coming with it, so I’m hoping I’ll be getting a replacement in the price.

X-Airs in the UK were coming out in the region of £6000 and the costs involved in viewing them and if I bought one, getting it over to France, were very high, adding I would estimate somewhere between £500 and £1000 to that figure. So overall I think that things have turned out pretty well. One additional cost that I will have though, will be for some kind of outdoor covers. I can knock some up as I did for MYRO but that will take time and we’re now going into the winter, of course. We haven’t had much rain or wind ever since I came down here, but we’ve had both today as the remains of hurricane Nadine have sent some awful weather scurrying across into Europe. For us in south-west France, the worst has already passed but apparently all areas of the UK are set to be battered by high winds and torrential rain for another two or three days, so we can consider ourselves lucky really. It would be nice to get hold of some second-hand outdoor covers but I somehow doubt that that’ll be possible in the time available, so I have a bit of a dilemma as I could never leave the aircraft tied down outside without doors and with no covers on it at all. As I’ll be bringing it to my house initially, at least I’ll be able to just cover it temporarily with a tarpaulin but then I’ll have to decide what I’ll need to do for the future. And except for the X-Air that I went to see in the UK but didn’t buy, which would have come with a cheap set of outdoor covers, I’d have incurred the same cost anyway.

September 23, 2012

A notable week-end

When I first came to France, I made a ‘To-Do’ list that seemed never to get any shorter because every time I ticked something off, I found something else that needed doing and had to be added to it. I mentioned in a post last month that it seemed to be going on forever, but this week-end all that came to an end. I came to the end of the list at last and I’ve now finally got my life back again!

I found an official translator in Perigueux and at the end of the week sent her off a copy of my birth certificate that I’d had authenticated at the Marie in Plazac. So when she returns the translation to me, it’ll only be a matter of sending it in with all of the other papers that I’ve already got, in order to complete my French health service registration. Then, having got my car CT’d on Monday, I also went into the Prefecture’s office in Sarlat with the huge wad of papers needed to get it registered in France only to find out that (a) I had to provide them with a stamped addressed envelope that I hadn’t got, so my Carte Grise could be sent to me when it was done and (b) even though no import tax was due, I had to provide a certificate obtainable from the Centre des Impots in Sarlat confirming that fact. Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to try to complete the job the following day, which I did and after parting with a cheque for 150.50€ I came away with the certificate confirming that the registration was now proceeding. Result! 🙂

By now I was on a roll, so I decided to press on and get my UK Self-Assessment Tax Return done as well. After having procrastinated for weeks, I knocked it off in an hour or so and had the unanticipated pleasure of finding out that I can now expect a tax refund of £38! Not a lot, but better than a demand for payment, eh 😉

I can’t say how great this feels, because it means that I really am now properly retired. OK, I’ve got a couple of small things that I want to do to help out the guys who bought my business off me, but officially the period during which I agreed to support them ended last week-end and now there’s no pressure. So now I can turn my mind to my house and the X-Air which I can’t wait to get my hands on, and I don’t have to feel guilty any more that I should really be doing something else. And that’s a great feeling, I can tell you 😀

September 18, 2012

Great week-end!

The last few days have really put a smile on my face. On Saturday I went with Victor to the flying club at Castillonnes where he’s having lessons to get his French microlight licence. We found out on Friday that neither of the instructors who I wanted to talk to about me getting my French ‘brevet’ would be there after all, but I decided to go along anyway to see the place and meet a few of the members. In fact I managed to do more than that because after meeting a few of the guys who were there and having a look around the hangars, one of the members kindly offered me a short flight in one of the club’s Hurricanes that they use for training.

You don’t see Hurricanes in the UK because of the ridiculously prescriptive and over-regulated system represented by BCAR Section S and administered by the BMAA, which in effect means that the UK market is frozen to anything other than the pathetically few microlight models that are currently available. Regis used to have a Hurricane but sold it a few months ago to buy the accident damaged Zenair that he is currently restoring in his garage. They are an open tandem design which I do not much care for because I’m not keen on tandems anyway, but also because of the need to wear a helmet and visor as you would in a flexwing. But if it gets me up in the air, then I’ll fly in it! We had a short flight of about twenty minutes and I was amazed at how even within a distance of about 60 kms the land totally changes, from being hilly and wooded in the Dordogne where I live to open and flat in the Lot and Garonne around Castillonnes.

Here are a couple of shots of the Hurricane I flew in that are of awful quality because I took them on my steam-powered mobile phone (none of those fancy high tech jobs for me…). But just look at the weather in them and weep, all you guys in the UK. The Summer has been like this the whole time down here – just a pity that I haven’t had an aircraft to enjoy it with 😐

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On Sunday I had a fantastic day, driving up to La Bretagne (Brittany) as I’d planned, to see the X-Air I mentioned in my last post. I had to get up and leave pretty early as the drive was about 600 kms (360 miles) each way and I wanted to get there and back in a day. I managed to do it and got home feeling very tired at about midnight, but it was well worth it. The aircraft was just as it had been described to me by Bertrand, one of the owners. It has been used in the last few years for just the summer months for public pleasure flights, flying from a very short runway on the flat sand dunes that comprise the beach at Plouharnel. It was originally a narrow door 1999 model but was modified using parts from another X-Air to be a wide door, although it has been flown with no doors fitted to give passengers a better view. Although it has had people climbing in and out in that time, it’s still a good solid aeroplane and despite its age, compared very favourably to the much younger one that I went to see in my recent abortive UK visit. I had a short flight in it and found that it flies very smoothly and is well balanced with no vices. Unlike X-Airs in the UK which you daren’t touch because of the dreaded mod system that is designed to ensure that that is and will always remain the case, this one has had one or two tweaks done to it. For example, there’s a rudder trim tab which means that at cruise speed, you can trim for pitch and then more or less sit back and enjoy the view and Bertrand demonstrated that because there were no doors fitted, you can then make the aircraft gently turn in either direction by sticking an arm out into the airflow. Very interesting! I’ll give a lot more details in future posts, but suffice to say that after going all over it and giving it a thorough once-over, before leaving to return home I decided I’d buy it and handed over a 500€ cheque by way of a deposit. Now I can’t wait to get it home 😀

Here are a few pics I took of it while I was there.

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And if you click on the image below you’ll be able to watch a short video of it that I also shot.

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And after such an enjoyable week-end, the good things also kept on coming on Monday. I have to get a CT (French MOT) done for my car before I can get it onto the French register and before I made all the plans for this past week-end, I had made a booking at the local CT test station in Montignac. I would have preferred a lie-in on Monday morning after the Bretagne trip, but I dragged myself and the car down there bright and early and I’m glad to say that after clearing up a few queries that the young test engineer had about some of the English documents, it flew through. So now the way is clear for me to press on with the registration process, and I’m very glad about that as it means that I’m now beginning to get towards the end of what seemed to be an interminable ‘To-Do’ list. And that is a relief, I can tell you 🙂

September 12, 2012

You never know what’s round the corner

Well, you don’t do you? I thought that I’d try a two-pronged attack after my recent buying experience by placing a ‘wanted’ ad in the UK as well as looking out for a suitable new aircraft. It’s been quite effective, as I’ve had quite a few possibles put through to me and they are still coming in. One that I got in almost immediately after placing the ad and which I was very interested in, was then put up on AFORS and sold within 24 hours, so it was obviously as good as it looked. But it’s now gone, so I thought that I’d stop trying to hurry things and just see what turned up. And waddayouknow, I’ve received two rather nice surprises 🙂

Another X-Air I got through yesterday looked pretty much along the lines I’m aiming for – not very much permit left and a price that reflects that – so I’ve asked the seller for some pictures and more information. Very encouraging, and I can’t wait to see what comes through as a result.

But what’s even more encouraging is that after looking out for suitable aircraft for weeks here in France and finding more or less nothing in that time, something has popped up right out of the blue which has really caught my attention. Here’s a pic of it taken from the advertisement.

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It’s a 1999 582 model with only 400 total hours on it and only 30 hours since overhaul on its blue top engine. The sellers, as I know they are having contacted them and spoken to one of them, are two instructors and have only used it for a few hours per year giving ‘baptemes de l’air’, or pleasure flights, to the public during the summer months. They describe it as being in perfect condition, as it would have to be to fulfil the function it has been doing, and they say that in recent years they have dismantled it each winter to thoroughly check, clean and lubricate it and replace anything that needed changing. This year they have decided to sell it with a number of spares etc due to having nowhere to hangar or store it over the winter months and they are offering it at what they describe as a ‘very interesting price’. And it certainly is, working out at only £4400 after converting it from euros to pounds-sterling!

Wim has said it’s obviously too good to be true and maybe it is, but I’ll never know unless I see it. So that’s what I’m going to be doing this Sunday. The sellers are delighted and have given me first refusal on it in case any other possible buyers come out of the woodwork and one of the reasons why they suggested this week-end was so I would get a chance to fly it, which I think is a good sign for starters. It’s based up in Bretagne (Brittany) so I’ll probably be looking for somewhere to stay the night up there and making the drive up on Saturday after having been flying during the day with Victor. I must say, I’m rather looking forward to this week-end and between now and then, I also have the pleasure to look forward to of having Wim and Regis round for a few beers tomorrow. Call it a boys’ night in if you like, and I won’t take bets on what the main topic of conversation will probably turn out to be 😉

September 9, 2012

Wim’s good idea

After enjoying an evening meal with Wim and Sophie on Wednesday, which I always do very much, Wim and I were talking about my plans now that the purchase of the X-Air has fallen through. He said that his friend Victor, who is a Citroen 2CV fanatic and has recently restored one that now looks as though it’s just come out of the showroom, is training for his French ULM licence at an airfield about 60km away where dual tuition is only 60€ per hour. He suggested that I might like to go with him next time and I agreed that it was a good idea, because as well as getting some local flying in with a French instructor and keeping current (remember, I haven’t properly flown since April when I flew MYRO down from the UK), I could use it as an opportunity to get my French licence too.

I’ve since spoken with Victor who has now gone off for a week or so in his 2CV to Spain to visit his son, so we’ve made plans for us to go flying together on Saturday 15th September. This will be subject to weather, of course, but hopefully there won’t be any problems on that score.

I’m really looking forward to it and the chance to meet some other ULMistes and get involved in the local ULM scene 🙂

September 8, 2012

OK, now let’s have another go…

I’m glad to say that the seller of the X-Air that I went to see in England last week has replied by email today saying that he’s now reconsidered and will be returning my deposit after all. I’m very pleased about that because on a personal level I thought he was a very nice chap and I didn’t relish the thought of all the nastiness that would have ensued if we’d had to take the matter to Court. Anyway, that now won’t happen and I sincerely hope that he manages to sort the engine problem out and find another buyer for his X-Air.

So now it’s time to have another go and try to find the right aircraft. I placed an ‘X-Air Wanted’ ad on the AFORS web site a couple of days ago and have already received information on some interesting aircraft. One in particular is very interesting but it’s early days yet. Wim tells me that winter flying down here in the Dordogne is lovely because it usually isn’t that cold (last winter was a bit of an exception) and compared to the summer with its strong sun and resulting thermic activity, the air in the winter is very smooth and great to fly in. So I’d love to have an aircraft by then but I don’t intend to go rushing into anything for the moment, and certainly not after my last experience. In the meantime I’ve got lots still to do, to do with the move to France and also on my house. For starters, there’s a little bit of wind damage that needs to be fixed on my roof and I also need to install a wood burner before it starts to get cold. Know what? There’s never enough time, is there 😯

September 5, 2012

What the heck’s going on?

Well, I returned to England as planned with a view to completing the purchase of the X-Air. I’ll not go into the full detail but once more it appears that I managed to get involved with yet another awkward person who has managed to disrupt my plans yet again. I’d put up the whole of the agreed price of the aircraft so I could fly and evaluate it on the French 3rd-Party Only insurance that I’d taken out before leaving for the UK and ensure that it was as the seller had described it in his advertisement. Full risk cover is only available in France on aircraft valued at 10000€ or more, which excluded the X-Air, so putting up the money would have indemnified the seller of all risk while I was flying his aircraft. But the advantage would also have been that if the aircraft had checked out OK and was ‘as advertised’, I could then have quickly concluded the sale and made plans to depart for France at the earliest opportunity. On the other hand, if it had not, I would have had the strength of the law behind me to ensure that I got my money back.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to fly it even, because when I started it up (I’d even filled it up because the seller had said that it was ‘Ready to fly away’) I’d got the biggest mag drop that I’ve ever seen at any time on any aircraft – about 600 RPM on one side. The other side checked out fine so I even then went to the lengths of removing, cleaning and re-gapping the plugs before trying again. But to no avail because the mag drop still remained, indicating that the engine was unserviceable and unsafe to take off with. After all, that’s why we always carry out mag checks, isn’t it.

The aircraft has had something of a history of this according to its log books, so having concluded that it was not ‘as advertised’, I did what I was legally entitled to do, rejected it and asked for the return of all the monies I had paid. I would have had no intention anyway of continuing with the purchase after that as a further consideration was that even if an attempt had been made to rectify the problem, there is no way that I would have been prepared to take off and do a water crossing immediately afterwards followed by a flight of almost the length of France over terrain much of which, especially further south, is quite hostile.

It’s then that things became nasty. If the seller had started and checked the engine before he put his aircraft up for sale, he would have discovered the mag drop for himself and it was because he had not done that it was left for me to do so. Nevertheless, he then took it upon himself to retain my deposit. As the problem that resulted in the cancellation of the sale was of his own making, he cannot do that of course, but I now have the tedious matter of mounting an action against him in the Small Claims Court if he does not comply with my request to return the money.

What the heck’s going on that I keep getting involved in all this aggravation? All that I want to do is retire quietly and enjoy flying microlights in France but it seems that I’m being thwarted at every turn, by events, circumstances or awkward people. I had no idea that I’d be on the receiving end of all this stuff and I have to confess that it’s all now beginning to get rather tedious 😐