french revolutions

We're making the move back to France to open the best b&b in la france profonde


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The Homing Dogeon

Miserable morning and I drew the short straw of taking the dog for a walk in the drizzle. We trudged to the local rec where the 9 o’clock club hang out – but only on clement days – and where dogs are free to run off the lead. The same rec where Jasper was scouted for the local flyball team because he’s a) fast and b) small (gets lower fences). Where he’s known by name by most other regular dog walkers owing to his excellent, friendly disposition.

But today, for some reason, was different. Hardly any other dogs, owing to the weather, so we trudged round in somewhat bedraggled fashion – past the memory trees, round by the immaculate bowling greens with their sprinkling of hardy all weather bowlers.

And then it happened. Jasper started to bounce and growl and yap. He’d clearly got the scent of something he wasn’t keen on – fox, I assumed. A shaggy, sort of labrador dog made a beeline for him to play, or so I thought.

And that’s when he bolted.

Yapping with fear he went flat out round the rec with the black dog in pursuit. Hell for leather he ran – I know he’s fast but he went off like a small brown and white guided missile, low to the ground, he’d have outpaced the fastest greyhound. The other dog was nabbed as he sped past but not Jasper. He was well and truly spooked and he wasn’t stopping for anybody. I pounded after him, boots clanging on the path, breath ragged, heart rat a tatting and then leaping into my mouth. Because Jasper ran straight past every other dog and hurtled out through the entrance to the rec. And across the road.

So I’m hurtling after him, heart pounding, breath rasping etc etc. And there’s another dog walker by the gate. I stop and wheeze the words “Have you seen seen my dog?

“Yeah,” he drawls “He went out the gate”. Like he could give a shit about my dog.

I think of my fellow dog walkers as confreres, compagnons – a fraternity of dog lovers who will pass the time of day, feed treats, share balls AND TRY AND CATCH MY FUCKING DOG IF HE RUNS PAST YOU LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL, YOU GORMLESS IDIOT! “Did you see which way he went?”

“Nope”

So I did my stumbly half run/half walk in my big winter boots about as made for running as a pair of concrete overshoes out into the road. Relief. No small brown and white carcass. Of my 3 options – home, park, beach – I pick park, we always walk home through the park. And as I pound down the path I see him, I’m yelling his name “Jasper!!!” and then I see the lead and the hand and the owner attached.

“Have (gasp) you (pant) seen (puff) my dog?”

No. No dogs had come running through the park that she’d seen. So I went to the beach and had a full blown Fenton moment screaming “Jasper, cooommmmeeeeee bbbbaaaaaaaaccccccckkkkkkk!!!” like a demented, on the point of being grief stricken, prat.

Which was when I discovered I’d left my phone at home. Bugger. Still charging aimlessly from beach to prom, teetering on the very edge of a nervous breakdown, I finally thought to ask at the Sovereign Light Cafe (as made famous by Keane etc etc) if anyone had a phone I could borrow. 3 were produced but a kindly old fellah pointed out that I might like to use his “idiot proof old persons phone – just big buttons” and he was right. I fumbled out the number, my mum answered.

“Have you seen Jasper?

“OH MY GOD YOU LOST THE DOG”

(Yeah, thanks mum, this is precisely why I hate phoning you in these kinds of circumstances because you always assume it’s all my fault)

“He got away from me…spooked…run off…can you just check if he’s at home?”

(door clicks, sounds of jingling dog tags and excited snuffling and “you good little dog!”)

“Yes he’s here, he was on the doorstep”.

I trudged home, counting the number of roads he would have had to negotiate to get home, wondering how long he’d been on the doorstep. I had a quick chat to one of the taxi drivers who adores him. We figured 5 or 6 roads, most of them busy in the way of small towns, grey haired tootlers and boy racers, each knowing he wouldn’t have stopped for a green light and crossed sensibly but had had the luck of the Irish in getting home in one piece.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about” he muttered with a shake of the head.

 

 

 

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And The Winner Is….

Trawling through property pron is definitely a) my top favourite time waster b) absolutely essential and c) horribly confusing.

Therefore, in the spirit of research and a commitment to the democratic process, I invite you to let me know which of the following properties should be top of my ‘go see’ list (NOTE: obviously this is entirely spurious as I’ll be going to see anything and everything I can but I thought it would be fun to find out your thoughts):

THE OLD TOWN HOUSE

PROS

Medieval town location

Mentioned in ‘The Blue Bicycle’ – obviously I can see it spruced up with an old bike painted blue with geraniums in the basket (a bit too twee, you think?) propped outside, discreetly noting our establishment

Near the river – how beautiful to see the Gartempe flow past with your morning coffee

8 bedrooms – 8! Including a self contained studio we could rent all year round and a separate wing with 2 bedrooms and a bathroom for visitors

CONS

Over budget, therefore not mortgage free

That riverside location – damp, damp, damp + the garden looks interesting (read: odd) + the courtyard looks like the sun might only peek in for about 5 minutes a day

It’s not in the country and I think we’d like the country, near a village/small town

THE FARMHOUSE

PROS

Countryside location on edge of a village – yay!

Sooo much potential – attached barn, separate field with piggeries that are begging to be a shower block

Under budget

CONS

Work, work work – some is habitable but there’s a lot to be done

Money – barn conversations and the rest take finance and good workmen

THE SMALL HOUSE WITH ATTACHED COTTAGE

PROS

Good location – see farmhouse above

Under budget – again, this works – don’t we all dream of being mortgage free?

Potential, especially for letting long term

CONS

Not the prettiest place in the world – I know, I know, it’s cosmetic but first impressions and all that

Is there a market for long term lets i.e. students year round, gite business in the summer?

Can we do the work ourselves

How much land??

So these are the current front runners, pros and cons, warts and beauty spots. I like them all, even the ugly duckling house/cottage. I love/adore/desire the town house but its age and location murmur one tiny, terrifying word in my


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“Do You Or Your Partner….”

So, I’ve just completed my JSA application.

Not sure whether online was any better than the old days of endless paper forms – and I did wonder about the number of people who really need benefits who don’t have access to a computer to apply for them. Here’s a little ‘did you know’: benefit fraud £1 billion (and most of that is overpayment caused by clerical error), unclaimed benefit £12.3 billion. Seems like the uninformed/unconnected far outnumber the so called ‘scroungers’. But I digress.

It’s always dispiriting filling out that form – whether its paper based or on a screen. It also seems even more hugely invasive than ever – the list of documents to take to interview is like a snooper’s charter: bank statements, mortgage statements, pay slips and on and on. I’m considering taking the results of my last smear test and a dental x-ray. Seriously, I feel probed, kinda dirty. Think I need a shower. OK, I’m digressing again.

It was when I got to the section asking me for my partner’s NI number that I got pissed off. I’ve known my husband for 13 years and never once has it crossed my mind to ask him what his NI number is, or vice versa. Guess we just don’t have the kind of marriage the DWP would approve of, where every nook and cranny of each other’s financial dealings are an open book. Perhaps this should be a mandatory question for a first date?

HIM/HER: I’ve had a really great time (moves in for a kiss)

ME/YOU: (deftly sidestepping) Yes, me too – by the way, what’s your National Insurance number? Just on the off chance that we should end up cohabiting and I might find myself in the position of claiming benefits…

I remember claiming benefits in the long summer holidays when I was a student (ah, heady days) and having to undergo a household inspection because I was living with 3 other students, all male (like I say, heady days…). Yes, I was ‘cohabiting’ with one of them and so was seen as his ‘dependent’ and he claimed for both of us. I was livid. Apart from the fact I was far more dependent on my parents for cash handouts and food parcels it was the principle of the thing. What kind of outmoded system sees a woman as a man’s ‘dependent’?

Fast forward to 2013 and I’m filling out a form asking me endless questions about my husband’s income because, guess, what? I’m seen as his dependent now, even though for the last 4 years I’ve been the major breadwinner (by about £2.50) in our house.

I’m that rare beast – someone who doesn’t object to paying taxes, to paying into the National Insurance system. I believe in there being a safety net. I believe that cooperation is far better than competition to provide services that we can all benefit from and be proud of. I believe in supporting and protecting the most vulnerable in our society (like all the people who don’t claim what they might be entitled to). But I have a huge, massive, major objection to being told that I’m my husband’s ‘dependent’ when it comes time to take something out of the pot I paid into. We aren’t taxed together, we don’t pay NI together, so why do I suddenly become a chattel when it comes to giving back time?

The worst bit of it all is that I really, really, really, really, REALLY don’t want to have to be claiming it at all.


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Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life

  Don’t you hate that expression? I loathe it, for all that it contains more than its little grain of truth – especially today.

Today I was made redundant.

I don’t feel any different. I’m not any different. Except that I’m no longer the mum who turns up at the school gate in make up and decent clothes a couple of times a week because I’m on my way into the office. I’m one of them now. A statistic. A number. On the big unemployed scrap heap.

And time is ticking.

I should be able to eke out my redundancy for about 6 months. Which means I have 6 months in which to a) sell the house b) get a decentish job or c) both.

This is the point where the dream and the reality meet. Where I have to be careful with the pennies, tighten the belt, cut my cloth according to my means.

And I have to fight the entropy, the comfort of being at home, the desire to do nothing but the things I’m comfortable with – a bit of blogging, a spot of candy crush, a tad of property pron and a sprinkle of head in the air dreaming. I need to look for jobs, grind out the applications, clean the house top to bottom, find a buyer quick. But where will I find the time when I could be tweeting, or walking the dog, or indulging in any of a hundred thousand little displacement activities?

I’m naturally a sloth – a sloth with a big dream and a minuscule budget to achieve it. A budget that doesn’t actually exist until the house is sold and converted into capital and the housing market is crawling and….

STOP

Focus. There are always enough hours in the day. You can write when the kid’s at school and in bed. You need to browse property websites and make appointments to view. Research English businesses in the area and approach them to meet and discuss. Keep on top of twitter. Start getting the house straight one room at a time. Make some lists – lists are good. You have a deadline for the Tour Tales and some exciting possibilities because of it. You love writing this blog and getting your thoughts straight and dreaming about the Big Idea and how it’s going to be when you welcome your first guests and pour some drinks on a warm summer’s evening and you can properly, genuinely relax…

So today is the first day of the rest of my life – and so is tomorrow and the day after. But the future is only important if you can do what you need to do in the now.


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Love It When A Plan Comes Together…

Over the next few weeks I shall mostly be a) blogging about the Tour de France 100tours100tales.wordpress.com and b) making plans for our research mission in La Belle France and c) browsing French property prawn (but when don’t I find myself spending an hour or two sighing over properties that I know I could make gorgeous with a lick of fake Farrow & Ball?)

Obviously with redundancy and tightened belts we’ll be fact finding on the cheap – no overnight stays but I’ll be contacting B&B/gite owners in the Montmorillon area to try and arrange to have a chat with them and get a flavour not just of the commercial possibilities but the lie of the land in the area. I’ll be making appointments to view (of course!) and sounding out the possibilities for doing estate agency work (did I mention I absolutely adore nebbing at houses?). And we’ll be having a holiday – visiting Snake Island and Monkey Valley and Eagle Chateau and all the other cool tourist stuff – especially Futuroscope.

I still can’t believe I lived 1 hour away from the ‘French theme park of the moving image’ and never visited. I drove a thousand times through the park itself, a collection of extraordinary buildings united loosely by the brief ‘space age as imagined in the 1970s’. I watched a Tour de France prologue there. I had summer visitors who went and raved about it, especially the evening show that featured a gigantic projection of Gene Kelly singing in the rain, his phantom tap shoes exploding fountains of water wherever they touched. So I’m stupidly excited about spending a day there (budget be damned – at least for a day).

But more, much more, I’m stupidly excited about taking our first concrete steps to shifting the big idea from page to paysage. To standing inside a building and saying ‘you know what…’ To finding the right place in just the right spot. To talking to other Brits out there about the detail stuff – the schools and the doctors and the amenities. To establish the sense of community and the place we might take in it.

So we have the tent (we’re confirmed Glampers now), the Big Idea, and the freedom (summer holidays, redundancy) – I love it when a plan comes together and I’m more excited by this plan than anything for a very long time. The feeling of knowing you’re close to sloughing off the dead dullness of the 9 to 5 in favour of a driving your own destiny is euphoric, like being just nicely pissed on the very best champagne/great G&T/Belgian beers (delete as applicable – or not), like feeling your shoulders drop and the knots in your muscles that you didn’t even know you carried unravelling. I am so incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to do this – for all the uncertainty about our financial future, I know for certain that the road ahead will take us into the heart of la France profonde, to a lovely farmhouse/townhouse/barn conversion with fake Farrow & Ball on the walls and 4 very happy and contented people waiting to greet you at the door.


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Country Living

I sat in my brother’s garden this morning, drinking coffee, listening to the birdsong and watching the friendly robin bob in and out of the back door picking up crumbs.

I love the country – I grew up in a little village in Bedfordshire where we’d go and feed the donkey after school and spend our weekends and those endless summer holidays making dens in the spinney and the abandoned quarry over the fields and far away. We’d picnic by the oak that John Bunyan used as a pulpit and climb through and round it’s hollow trunk. We were always outside, up to no good, living charmed lives. One afternoon we had a ride in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – no joke, friends of my friend’s parents had acquired one of the cars used for the film and were kind enough to ferry hoardes of giggling, over excited 7 and 8 year olds around the village. Later, my son was christened in the old village church on the day a stained glass window was dedicated to the grandfather he’ll never know.

I vowed that any child of mine would have a similar childhood – little village school, fresh air, part of a gang of tousle headed boys making dens. If we’d stayed at La Croix Haute he might have had that – and been a fluent French speaker by now – but stuff happens and you find yourself in Warminster on sea with the dog shit on the pavemetys and the ongoing battle for supremacybetween the buggies and the mobility scooters and a secret cache of middle class chums who couldn’t quite afford Brighton and pretend otherwise and salt of the earth working class school run mums who’d do anything for you. It’s not a bad place to live but it aint the country, Because in the South you can’t afford the country.

It’s another thread in the tapestry of reasons why France is the attractive option – we can trade our big old Victorian semi for a farmhouse, with land, and barns and have cash in the bank to create something special – for ourselves, for our guests. Where you can have coffee in the morning and hear nothing but birdsong.


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Displacement Activity

Well, it’s happened.

Just as I feared, the energy I had several weeks ago when I first lost my job has dissipated. I’ve stopped looking for jobs – let lone applying for them – too many rejections for stuff I know I could do standing on my head. And I like not working – at least, not having to go into an office and deal with all that that entails. I’ve lost some weight, started doing yoga again (thank you pocket yoga), seen friends, been camping, had time for my family, made plans, looked for tents, blogged – classic displacement activity behaviour. And I love it.

The thing about the ‘big idea’ is that I can coast on my local knowledge and previous experience of living in France. I’m so super confident that the plan will just work that all I need to do now is put it into operation because, you know, all those loose ends and pesky niggles like, um, earning money will just sort themselves out when we get there…I keep telling myself to be sensible, that this is no ‘magic bullet’, that times will be tough but I am so damned excited at the prospect of going and never having to work for anyone else again that heart is not just ruling head but pummelling it into acquiescence. It steamrollers all doubts and gives me the falsest sense of security possible – and hallelujah for that. I need some sense of certainty, however wobbly the foundations.

But where was I? Oh, yes, thinking about displacement activity – see how easy it was for me to slack off from my main subject? I used to think of blogging in those terms – something to take my mind of the yawning chasm of ohshitIhavenojobness that occasionally opens up beneath me and threatens to swallow me up in its big black maw. But now I’m not so sure. Now I spend my days either thinking of things it might be fun/interesting to blog about and then actually doing it. Scarily enough, blogging seems to have become the job….

And I love it. It makes me realise that writing is what I really wanted to do all along, just like when I was 7 and stayed in the classroom at break so I could fill exercise book after exercise book with my sloping, untidy scrawl and my inspirational, wonderful, brilliant teacher Mrs Briggs (wherever you are, I salute you – you were the real deal and I was lucky to know you and be taught by you) would tell my parents ‘it’s not how she writes it’s what she writes that’s important’. I won a Whitbread Prize for poetry in my teens (haha, offered by the local brewery, £25 and a tour of the facility). I was always scribbling stuff. And then I stopped because life took over and that’s the thing with life, isn’t it? The habit it has of just taking over and making the important ephemeral, peripheral, inconsequential.

When my dad died I made a promise to him. I sat next to his body on the bed. It was Christmas Day, his favourite day of the year. I found the soft place on the crook of his arm – the part of him that still felt human, that could be warmed by my touch. I told him I’d write for him.

Sorry it’s taken such a while, dad – but I’m glad I finally kept my promise.