We completed the sale of our UK property on the 16th of December 2013. It was a very stormy, wet and windy day; sad in ways but exciting with the prospect of completing the purchase of our French home. The delay on the sale meant that we would be unable to get our furniture moved over at the same time, as we were nearing the Christmas holiday period, when we get a well deserved winter break. The logistics of getting our furniture moved to France had became too complicated. When we tried to get the dates we needed to fit together with the international removal company, it became obvious to us that it was just too late in the year. We opted to put our belongings into storage and transport them over in the New Year.
We had a booking on “Le Shuttle” for the 18th December, travelling down to Corlay for our appointment with the “Notaire” at 2 pm Thursday the 19th December. He had completed all the preliminary work, so it only took about an hour and a half to complete the remainder of the legal necessities, and with the monies having already been transferred the day before, it was a very smooth process. The “Notaire” wished us well and handed us the keys to our new property, and within 10 minutes we were entering our new home. The house had stood empty for quite a while as the previous owner had returned to the UK in 2012, so as we were entering the winter season the house had a cold, damp feel to it. “Right, we need to get the heating on” we both said simultaneously. I said, “You get the kettle on while I try and get the heating going.” I had been shown how to switch the boiler on by the immobilaire on our second viewing but that was back in the summer. We had particularly specified a clause in the contract to have the boiler serviced before completion so I was confident that it would work without any problems. The heating system is “oil fired” which heats the water and runs the radiators for heating. But even though I am in the business of property maintenance I know absolutely nothing about oil fired boilers, so I just hoped it would work, as it was becoming dark and quite cold. The weather which was over the UK was also over Bretagne.
The basement, or “cave” is the full footprint of the house, and it’s divided up into one long garage/workshop, a laundry room which also houses the electricity meter and fuse box, and another room with the oil tank and boiler. The boiler fired up first time, so all I wanted now was a much needed cup of tea. We had travelled over to France in the motorhome, which had everything we would need. Soon Mrs K had a cup of tea ready for both of us. The previous owner had left a few items behind, and the kitchen table and four chairs were very welcome, tucked up beside the radiator and in front of the window. We looked at each other and smiled. We’d done it! We had none of our possession with us except what was in the motorhome, but it didn’t matter – we had our home and that’s what counted. The radiators was not getting warm and the boiler had been going for about twenty minutes, so I contacted the immobilaire. He made a suggestion of how to get it going, which would have been useful if I had had a plumber’s tool kit with me. I thought that as the house had stood empty for a while the radiators probably needed venting. We’d arranged for the boiler to be serviced and it obviously worked, but no-one had checked to see whether the radiators got hot, and it obviously wasn’t part of the service. I vented the radiators and within minutes we had heating, but it would be a while before the chill left the house. The weather was getting worse; the wind was starting to swirl around and it looked like we were in for a storm. Mrs K had all her cleaning liquids and Marigolds out on the worktops and it was going to be hours before she would stop. There was an electric imitation log fire in a wooden fireplace surround against one of the walls, so I switched it on. It worked and proved to be very efficient, warming the room up quickly. We soon had our gilets off, and Mrs K had the kitchen cupboards open and the drawers out, washing and cleaning every surface.
It was well into the night before she felt as if she’d done enough for the day. We had had a long day and I thought it was, as Zebedee would say, “time for bed”. (If you’re as old as me you will understand.) We couldn’t sleep in the house as there were no beds, so we made our way down the basement stairs and out through the garage to the motorhome. The wind was absolutely howling and the rain, driven by the wind, soaked us just getting the few feet to the comfort of our motorhome. It was going to be a stormy night. The rain had not really stopped since we moved out of our UK home, and staying in a motorhome or caravan when its rains heavily is like being inside a drum with someone beating it. We settled down and I had a couple of well deserved nightcaps. Our home is situated on the side of a valley, the base of which is about 700 – 800 metres away and probably 125 metres below us. The wind and rain were relentless and getting to sleep was almost impossible. The whole of Northern France and Southern England were being hit by a massive low pressure system that was going to last until the New Year with only a few days when it did not rain. We managed to get some sleep but woke early, with both of us eager to start getting the house cleaned. It seemed like every few moments I was being called to remove one spider after another as Mrs K prefers them outside and not in. I don’t mind spiders and I will pick them up and place them outside, but some of these spiders had been well fed and were fairly big, and I mean big, so picking these ones up made me think twice before I did it, but out they had to go.
We spent the next few days working our way through the house room by room. We had met an English couple, Laura and Robin, who have been living in France for the last 14 years. They had known the previous owners and kept an eye on the house when they were in the area while it was empty and on the market for sale just to make sure everything was OK. They have become good friends over this last year and have given us a good insight into the French way of life, but that’s getting ahead of myself. As it was Christmas Day tomorrow Mrs K made it feel Christmassy by getting the small front area of the lounge decorated with some cards we had received. We were made to feel at home by the people we came across that lived the village. They were very polite and there was one lady who was very interested in our motorhome, as she had a camping car. She said her vehicle was smaller than ours, and she was very keen to have a look inside. With my limited French and her very complete lack of English we a had what turned out to be very good a conversation using sign language. I wish I had asked for her name but we just used gestures and hand signals. The local farmer Jean Marie Chateau who speaks extremely good English introduced himself to us, giving us an insight into the past history of our house and he has also, over the last year, become a good friend. We have met his parents Guy and Nicole and were invited to look around their bœuf farm. It is very early to make a true judgement, but we think it is going to be very nice living here. Time will tell.
The weather continued to be very wet and windy. A lot of Northern France were experiencing flooding and much of the local farmland and the gullys that run alongside the roads were like rivers. Many trees were blown over which caused road blockages. At St Gilles Vieux Marche, the next village across from St Mayeux, the river had burst its banks and some very unfortunate people were flooded out, causing no end of problems for them. Sleeping in the motorhome was like being in a washing machine. The wind roared down the valley and up the sides, and when it came into contact with the house and tree lined drive at around 4 am one morning, it hit the motorhome with all of its force. I thought we were going to get blown over so I suggested we go inside the house and have a cup of tea, but Mrs K was having none of that, saying, “If I go inside now you’ll never get me to sleep in here again until the weather gets better.” So we stayed where we were in bed and waited until the storm blew itself out. The next day was beautiful sunshine with very little wind, so we decided to remove a conifer tree that had become too big and was blocking the view from our kitchen window. It would not be until the summer that I removed the enormous root from the lawn.
There is a Angloinfo website used by ex-UK residents to discuss topics of interest and a classified area to advertise items for sale. I had seen a ride-on lawnmower for sale so had contacted the seller and agreed a deal subject to a viewing. Everything worked out well and he delivered it into the bargain. It’s in good condition with no rust, and all I needed was some dry weather so I could get out and cut the lawns, but with all the rain it would be spring before that happened.
We had water pouring out over the roof guttering at the back of the house and I thought that the guttering was probably blocked with leaves from the storms that we were experiencing. We had bought a small set of stepladders with us, but they would be of limited use unless we could raise them up a few feet. Moving the sturdy kitchen table out onto the patio solved the height issue, and with the steps on top of the table I could see that the guttering was not blocked at all. It was the downpipe that was the problem. Halfway down the pipe was a connector for a water butt, although it appeared no water butt had ever been fitted. I drilled a hole below this connector to see if this was the cause, and as no water came out of the hole it seemed the blockage was above this point. We made a quick visit to Point Vert for some new downpipe and a few connectors and we were ready to disconnect the pipe. What was to follow left us both covered in the most disgusting smell ever. As I disconnected the pipe from the guttering, this movement caused the coupling of the water butt connection to dislodge and a huge slug of decomposing material shot out from the pipe followed by all the stagnant water that had been above it. It covered us both from head to toe. What a stench! I can still smell it now writing this. We cleaned up as best as we could to enable us to carry on and I renewed the down pipe, which solved the overflow issue. We called it a day, and after a shower a some clean clothes Mrs K cooked us a wonderful meal. We had a good laugh about what had happened. The days were passing quickly and New Year’s eve was here. We had been invited to the village celebrations, but as we had Kindog with us and we didn’t want to leave her home alone, we were unable to attend. It would only be a few days before we would have to return to the UK because of work commitments. Our Christmas was over. We had cleaned the house ready to move our furniture and belongings over and it wouldn’t be long before we returned to our new home.