December 31, 2020

Here we are again

Yes, it’s the end of another year. One that we won’t forget very quickly, although we’d like to. A year that was defined by the Covid-19 pandemic that affected everything that everyone did all over the world.

So not surprising that everyone has their own story, of loss, failure and disappointment. Principally our hearts must go out to those who lost loved-ones to this awful disease, and there were many. But we must also sympathise with those who have lost businesses and livelihoods many of whom may never work again and, may as a result, have even more to lose in the coming weeks and months. As someone who ran a small business in good and bad times I understand that pain very clearly.

I and my friends and neighbours were relatively safe down in this little rural corner of France and I don’t know of anyone who was directly affected by Covid, although I am sure that we will find as conditions ease that many small cafes and restaurants that we knew and loved will have gone to the wall. Luckily, none of my close circle of friends, any member of their families or any member of mine became ill as a result of Covid and I am greatly thankful for that.

My main disappointment was that due to the lockdowns that were imposed on both sides of the Channel, 2020 was yet another disappointing year for flying. I only managed 19 hours and 51 minutes and much of that only as a result of my bringing my ex-pat Xair over to France from the UK. Even so, this was not my lowest total in recent memory – I did far fewer in 2017, the year of my illness and did less in each of 2012, when I came to live in France, 2013 and 2014.

So I can’t really complain too much, especially as there are hundreds, if not thousands of pilots on both sides of the Channel who will have done far fewer hours than me. And, of course, I’m also aware that my disappointment is trivial and pales into insignificance compared to that of people who have lost loved-ones, family, friends, jobs, livelihoods and businesses.

Now we are at the end of 2020 and hopefully we can look forward to the new year with hope and confidence as vaccines come on stream and life slowly begins to return to some sort of normality. There are doomsters who say that it never will but I disagree with them. We humans are incredibly resilient – we have had to be to have been around for so long – and old habits die hard.

We will learn from 2020 and will move ever onwards and upwards as we always have done, armed with the new-found knowledge that the year has brought us. I am also fortunate in having an added benefit to look forward to in the form of my impending house sale and new house build on the land I’m buying in Fleurac. 2021 will therefore be an even more significant and exciting year for me than it would have been were I just recovering like most others from the downsides of 2020.

So let’s wish good riddance to 2020 and raise our glasses to a better, safer, more prosperous and more healthy 2021. And for other Brits who are reading this, let’s also raise our glasses to a Brexit that will return independence and sovereignty to our country and herald a new dawn for a successful, global, outward-looking United Kingdom. But let’s not forget our friends in Europe for they are many – the ordinary people who think like us and want the same things for their families as we do for ours.

Happy 2021 everyone!

December 17, 2020

So…

What’s happening? OK, I’ll go on to explain, but before I do I’ll explain what’s been happening to bring about the quite major changes that are going to be happening in my life over the coming weeks and months.

A short way to the rear of my house is a patch of open land, quite a big patch actually if you also include the part of it that extends right the way up to Le Bos de Plazac. Over several years, the landowner, like many others in this area, has been cashing in on the demand for building land and has sold off several plots that my neighbours have built their homes on. This has never created any problems, quite the opposite actually, as the houses are not on top of each other but are close enough for us all to be in quite a tight-knit little community in which we all know each other.

In the last year, however, the landowner has put the patch I’m now referring to up for sale, which is a slightly different kettle of fish. The access onto it is down the narrow track that runs alongside my garden and forms the entrance to my house and that of my neighbour directly in the rear. Technically the track is a public ‘chemin rural’ but in reality for the most part it is quite a lot narrower than the legal requirement of 4 metres and is also bordered by trees in my garden and that of my neighbour.

In anticipation of wangling a way to sell the land with planning permission, some time before I arrived the owner created an entrance into it and laid down stone to make it suitable to carry light vehicles. However, two problems remained. Firstly the boundary of my neighbour at the rear’s land terminated slap-bang in the middle of the ‘entrance’ leaving only a distance of 2.6 metres available, much less than the required 4 metres and therefore disqualifying the land from being ‘constructable’. The second problem, of course, was that the ‘chemin rural’ leading to it was also less than the legal requirement of 4 metres in width, thus compounding the issues.

However, although the land is classified as ‘agricultural’ and not ‘constructable’ on the local regional plan, I recently heard that the land was being offered for sale in two plots with building permission. And not only that, but this was with the support of the local Mairie at Plazac. The ramifications of this soon became clear to me, but not to my neighbours apparently, and I launched myself into a stiff opposition as I had nothing to lose by doing so.

It soon became obvious that this would be an uphill task, not just because I was an ‘outsider’ fighting against vested interests but also because those same interests knew their way around the system and ways of getting around obstacles. The first shock that I got was that the Mairie at Plazac has refused to respond to any of my letters despite being legally obliged to do so, not the least because I am a resident of the commune, and although the local regional planning office has been tacitly supportive of my efforts, it has repeatedly advised me that I should seek a resolution of the problems through the local Mairie. So not much help there, then.

Things moved on at the end of October when, presumably in response to my complaints, a surveyor was sent to confirm the boundaries in question and place markers, know as ‘bornes’, on the ground. He was supposed to do this with reference to the official government map (called ‘le Cadastre’) that is available on the internet and clearly shows all of the boundary markers across the whole of France together with precise positions and measurements

However, to my astonishment the ‘borne’ at the boundary of my neighbour at the rear’s land that should have been placed slap-bang in the middle of the disputed entrance was omitted and not only that, the ‘borne’ on the other side was moved more than a metre from where it should have been, taking land belonging to my other neighbour and by so doing, widening the ‘chemin rurale’ to more than the required 4 metres.

It was now time to take stock of the situation and I therefore contacted both of the neighbours whose land had been affected by the above and here’s when I was gobsmacked. Neither could be bothered about it, even though each of them would be affected more than I would if the land was sold and built on. And not only would the one with their property on the other side of the ‘chemin rural’ to me be giving up a part of their land, they might also face the possibility once it had happened of being asked to cut down the trees along the side of their garden as they would then be less than 1 metre beyond the edge of the new ‘public’ right of way.

I soon realised that in the light of the above, the chance of my opposition succeeding was more or less zero, the more so when my neighbour at the rear said that they had ‘given’ the land to the Mairie that it required. So it was time for me to come up with a new strategy. Subsequent conversations have shown that my neighbours care far less about such matters than I do, but although it clearly wouldn’t be a total disaster, I didn’t much like the idea of the changes that might happen at some time in the future and it made me start to think a bit more about what I want out of the rest of my life here in France.

And when I did, I realised that having lost two years when I was ill and while I recovered, my original ideas for my house were in tatters. When I came here I had both the energy and enthusiasm to tackle the project and the work that it entailed but now, although I still had the enthusiasm, I no longer had the energy or the time ahead of me to do so. So that made me consider what alternatives were open to me and finally I came to look at the nuclear option of selling up and moving on.

This would be an enormous move at my time of life but the closer I looked at it the more I realised that not only could I do it but that if I did it right, it would afford not only some amazing opportunities but also a much more comfortable lifestyle in these latter stages of my life.

I was initially worried that my house would be difficult to sell because I haven’t finished all of the jobs I had lined-up to improve it but my friends and family have all said that I shouldn’t care about that as it will sell as it is anyway. It was certainly in far worse a condition when I bought it than it is now, so I have to admit that they’re almost certainly right. It also turns out that I had a somewhat pessimistic view of its value and with everything considered, after putting all of the numbers in the equation, it turned out that I could afford to buy a parcel of land (referred to as a ‘terrain’) myself and have a brand-new little house built on it.

I have a somewhat philosophical outlook on life and I’m a firm believer that ‘things happen for a reason’. I’m convinced that what is happening now conforms to this philosophy and even more so by what I’ll now go on to explain. When I told my friends Victor and Madeleine what was going on and what I was thinking about doing, they asked me whether I knew of a certain ‘terrain’ that was up for sale not far from where they live in Fleurac. I did know of it but thought that it would be beyond my price range, but Victor said that I should go and see the seller, who he and Madeleine know, anyway.

So after I’d taken a look at the land, he and I went along and I subsequently made an offer for it. You can probably guess what’s coming next. Everyone’s been telling me that following the Covid scare, there’s a great demand for property and land in our area from people looking to move to the countryside. Victor said that he has seen lots of cars with people looking at the very piece of land in question, but I decided to make an offer below the asking price anyway. And after a couple of minutes haggling, I got it.

I’m in the fortunate position of being able to acquire the land before selling my house, so the purchase is now in the hands of the Notaire. If necessary, I can wait for a few weeks, or months even, to sell my house, although I hope that I won’t have to. Within a day of putting up the ‘A Vendre’ sign outside it, I had a call from someone who’s interested and they’re coming next week to view it. I’ve also got an agent biting my arm off to handle a sale for me saying that they urgently require properties like mine and that it’ll sell very quickly, so I’m cautiously olptimistic.

So what about my future plans? I’m very excited and can’t wait to start putting them into effect. First the ‘terrain’ that I’m buying. It’s fantastic, about 30% larger than what I’ve got now in an excellent position on a local road that’s no busier than the one my present house is on, mainly farm traffic and local residents. I’m not going to say where it is until things have been wrapped up even more than they are except that it is clear on all sides, with an adjoining ‘terrain’ that may or may not be sold for another house in the future but would not be too close to mine anyway. In fact if I’m as lucky as I am with my neighbours now, it’d be nice to have someone next door.

The plot is about 100 yards long of a width that will allow an excellent entrance and is about 30 yards in width at its widest point, which is at the other/far end. It slopes downwards very gently from the road and the slope increases slightly from about its mid-point. Here’s what the plan looks like.

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There are trees running alongside the road on the adjacent strip at the western (road) end and due to special circumstances, they will always remain there. That will be great because I love having trees close by my house, as I have at present. There are also trees at the bottom of the plot beyond which it says that there’s a ‘chemin rural’, but even if there was once, there’s nothing there now. So there should never be any threat in the future of my new home facing problems such as encroachment or loss of privacy, which will be a great relief.

So what of my ideas for the new house itself, which I’ve indicated on the plan above? I’ve already been asked whether, having gone for a traditional stone French house I’ll do the same again, and the answer is ‘No’. I’ll be going for a brand new, modern little single-storey house that will require little or no further effort or input from me when I move in and will allow me to concentrate on the more pleasurable things in life, like flying and enjoying time with my friends.

There are many house builders in south-west France offering a wide portfolio of ‘off-the-peg’ house designs making it easy for people like me who can search and browse the internet. I’ve already chosen what I think will be the design that I’ll go for – it’s called the ‘Floride’ and its availabe in several alternative sizes and layouts. The following picture gives a very good idea of its style but is of either the 95 or 104 sq metre model, I’m not sure which, rather than the 102 sq metre one that I want.

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The plan shows my original thinking for how it will fit on the ‘terrain’, with a long commanding entrance and front parking area all in rolled stone. Water and electricity are conveniently available at the top-most corner next to the road so they will be easy (and cheap!) to run.

As usual for this area, there will be no mains sewerage and I’m thinking that rather than have a septic tank (‘fosse septique’) I’ll go for the more environmentally friendly, natural Aquatiris system that I was going to install in my current house when I did the extension. This uses special flower beds to biologically filter and purify the waste water and is totally maintenance free once it’s running. It also has the advantage of not needing to split the ‘clean’ waste water (kitchen, bath etc) from the ‘dirty’ water from the toilet and as the ‘terrain’ slopes away from the house, it will be a perfect fit.

To finish off, although I don’t yet have a proper image of the 102 sq metre ‘Floride’ design, here’s a plan of its layout, which I doubt I’d want to change even though you can customise it within reason.

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So there you have it. There’ll be much, much more to come over the coming weeks and months and I’m super excited. Things like this don’t happen quickly in France and for now I’m just going to be concentrating on doing things in my present house and making it better until its sold. I’ll need to respond to requests made by the Notaire regarding my land purchase as the process proceeds and make a non-refundable 10% payment when the ‘Compromis de Vente’ is raised. It’d be very nice if my house sale is also underway by then so here’s keeping my fingers crossed 😉

December 14, 2020

Something unexpected

Here’s a sight that I didn’t expect to see after I came to France and had settled into my little house in Plazac. Photographs taken outside my house this afternoon.

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I thought that I’d be here for the rest of my retirement and that this would be the last house that I’d ever live in. But it now seems certain that that is not to be. However, I’m not disappointed or downhearted and I’m looking on the prospect of selling up and moving as more of a new beginning than an end of something. And let’s face it, even at my age you can’t have enough new beginnings, can you 😉

I’ll tell more in my next post.

December 1, 2020

Autumn shades

Here’s another one of my ‘Covid lockdown videos’ that I shot on Sunday from my garden and uploaded to my Youtube channel tonight (Monday evening).

This year’s autumn colours are magic. Maybe they are every year but I haven’t noticed and it’s taken Covid to make me take the trouble to look more closely.

I also received a bulletin from my ULM insurer on Monday telling me that as from 28 November, limited personal flights will be allowed until lockdown is lifted in France on 15 December. Maintenance and training flights will be permitted but for me the relevant information is that solo flights together with another person from the same household will be allowed for a distance of 20km from one’s home base and for a maximum of 3 hours. The reason my insurance broker sent it was to say that all of the insurance companies have said that they will definitely not pay out for any incident involving a pilot who fails to observe the rules.

OK, it’s a lot better than nothing so if the weather continues to hold (we’ve had a month of calm, high pressure, windless, perfect flying days during the current lockdown) I should at least be able to get a few hours in in both my Savannah and my Xair. Let’s see…