Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Moving Tale Part 1 - The Return from France

"Please God, don't let that be our removals lorry" I whispered as I watched a very small box van whining up the hill toward the house.

"Have you seen the lorry?" said the Conquering Hero, "it's a bit small".

So there you have it, conclusive proof.... there is no God!

We arrived in France, flush with money from the sale of our house, our worldly goods packed and boxed by an international mover. Nearly 5 years later we are leaving, our house rented out for several years, with hardly a penny to our name and what worldly goods we are taking will be moved by 'Man and Van' sourced from the pages of a Francophile forum (let's just call it Totale Farce to avoid identification!)

We were sharing 'Man and Van' with some people who have a holiday home near us who were using him to bring down materials for their renovation then we were taking the empty van back.

Their e-mail suggesting that 'some may not appreciate his sense of humour' rang alarm bells. We'd already had to put up with him phoning and trying to bring the pick up forward by a day... I mean who on earth is ever ready to move a day early? His opening gambit about us 'costing him a day' set the tone for the shape of things to come.

I had a look at the van... well, I suppose it was bigger than it looked.. but not much.

We'd engaged the help of a few friends to load the heavy stuff but it soon became apparent that it was unlikely all our stuff would fit. It was also becoming apparent that our supposedly experienced remover hadn't got a clue what he was doing. Things were badly and haphazardly loaded... we have our fridge freezer in the UK but the drawers are in France... and his claim that he had to leave 2 cubic metres free for customs sounded fishy. No doubt the advert on Totale Farce saying that he was doing a return trip to France and had space both ways was a mere coincidence!

Things had got off to an iffy start when he agreed a price then e-mailed me to say we were much further south than he thought so the price was going up. Then we were moving further west than he thought so the price was going up, then I had blonde hair so the price was going up (OK, OK, I made the last bit up!)

We soon tired of his Yorkshire repartee and his assertion that he couldn't fit in DD's mattress when he'd already packed her bed fuelled the first fall out. I told him that if he couldn't fit in the mattress he could offload the bed which was inconveniently loaded at the front of the van.

Finally, with the body of the van practically resting on the tyres we had to call a halt. Roughly half our stuff got on the van, the rest is still in France.

He handed me a customs form to fill in, written in the most laughable French.

It went something along the lines of 'I authorise xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx with a T of check in of lorry of 308D of Mercedes for to transport our affairs to our in England/France of address'

That shouldn't confuse Customs one bit! In a fit of generosity I offered to translate it properly, free, gratis and for nothing. In hindsight I should have charged the miserable bugger!

We'd agreed half of the money in Euros upfront and the rest on delivery but now he didn't want Euros, he wanted sterling. Quite how we were supposed to find sterling on a Sunday afternoon in the 'trou du cul' of La France Profonde is anyone's guess! So that sparked the next fallout. He threatened to offload our stuff. 'Blow yourself away' I said 'but you're doing it on your own'.

Eventually, we agreed to pay a bit extra (deja vu again here!) to cover the exchange rate but hey, sucker, I calculated it on the interbank rate, not the tourist one so we win!!

So finally the van wobbled off with our wordly goods and I half-expected never to see it again.

Will it arrive in the UK or is that new Roche Bobois corner sofa that was given to us - just about our only bit of good luck in the past few months - be featuring on the pages of E-Bay?

If you want to know the answer, you'll have to keep reading.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Moving Tale - Part 2 - River Cottage

Hello interweb, I'm back again. We've finally moved into our slightly more permanent home, broadband is connected (no thanks to the (No) Helpline at Virgin Media) Thank goodness for a techie brother or I'd have hurled the laptop through the window and into the road under the first bus that happened to pass. It's sooper dooperly fast though. I can hardly keep up with it.

I've been going online at the library but when you can access Facebook, Freecycle or Blogger, I mean what's the point really? I'd sign on for my permitted hour and stare at the screen with a feeling of faintly rising panic that I couldn't get my Facebook or Freecycle fix then browse ferry prices or how to breed rabbits or other such useless things.

The lack of broadband should have meant that I could devote quality time to getting my outline book chapters done for my agent but I didn't even manage that. I mean, how weird is that that without the interweb you can still live a busy life! But that's my priority for next week.

So finally after being separated from our most precious possessions which have languished in storage for the past 3 months, we were joyfully reunited. And finally we were able to take stock of the consequences of using the hopeless Mr Grumpy for our move. A tear in back of our Roche Bobois sofa which was also filthy from having been put straight onto the floor of the container, gouges out of our wardrobes, thick oil down the sides of our chest of drawers (which is a total mystery when there was nothing even vaguely mechanical in the van. My bet is that the old git picked up a motorbike or something for someone else. Certainly his story of leaving 3 square metres free for customs didn't ring true) and so the list goes on. The only thing that seems to have escaped damage is our dining table, which is a family heirloom, luckily for Mr Grumpy or he'd find me on his doorstop holding a machete. I would estimate that the damage runs to at least double what we paid him to move us. Still, that old adage is true. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys and we got a flaming great baboon. A hex on the global financial crisis. Without you we could have got real movers in!

Although the house is smaller than the one in France we do have a good few outbuildings to use for storage. We have a garage, or at least we will have when the roof is replaced. At the moment it's distinctly seive-like and the recent inclement weather has prevented the roofer from coming round. At the moment I'd not be too inclined to put anything in it that wasn't waterproof or rubber coated. But on the plus side, it has an inspection pit. I mean, what more could a girl want? Well, apart from a decent roof of course.

Then there's the workshop, which is at least watertight. It was full of lots of interesting bits of 'stuff', it having been in the same family for several generations. We put loads of our things in there but hadn't counted on our overzealous landlady who came over to move any extraneous possessions from the workshop into the piggery. I suppose I should have cottoned on when she walked across the lawn clutching a load of fishing rods exclaiming 'I had no idea that we had so much fishing stuff'. It was of course the CH's stuff she was moving but by the time we noticed she had cleared out all our stuff and locked it away with hers.

Then there's the piggery, where we planned to keep, well, pigs of course. I can see this may be the only source of disagreement as she is now claiming that it doesn't form part of the agreement. The poor agent, who had to bring us the bad news, visibly blanched when the CH told him that he had a dozen pigs arriving the following day! Joke!

Anyway, we've negotiated partial use of it now so our pigs will be the most comfortable in the West Country, with real sofas to sit on! I think we may well have to rethink the pig business now unfortunately. Maybe some lambs but I really did fancy a lovely big porker. (Quiet at the back!)

We've really gone from one extreme to the other. Our French house had cathedral ceilings that were 22 feet high at their uppermost point, our little English cottage has a beamed lounge already liberally splattered with bits of the head of the 6 foot 4 CH and DS, now a towering 6 footer as well. It also boasts the most ghastly plastic chandelier thing (perfect for low ceilings) that the landlady thought would add a touch of 'glamour'. More like a touch of chav. It won't be up for much longer...I foresee a nasty accident coming.

It also has the most fabulous inglenook fireplace, a real one with a seat in it. The beam across the front is a constant source of interest as the more you look at it the more you find carved in it. Wait a minute..... does this mean that I am spending part of my new life sitting in a fireplace just, well, staring at it? Note to self: Life really is too short! The only thing it doesn't have is a lovely woodburner but that'll come next.

The cottage has just been newly renovated and the builder was clearly a south-western relative of Mr Grumpy. The new kitchen he put in has one drawer,. one drawer! It had to be a man didn't it? You need at least one drawer just for crap, never mind your cutlery. The said drawer is actually inside a cupboard and he's put the door on the wrong way so that you can't open it properly and pull the drawer out anyway. He also laid a new solid oak floor in the lounge but neglected to check whether there was enough clearance for the door to open. Do you think it does? No, of course not. Kate Moss could probably slip through the narrow gap that it affords but me, not a chance! Still, the joy of renting is that it's someone else's problem not ours. We just have to make the phone call and someone comes and sorts it out. It's a complete joy after the money pit we had in France, which is still getting it's back on us for leaving it.

It's quite a relief to have a smaller house which doesn't require hours of housework everyday although it does have nearly 2 acres of land so there's plenty to do outside to make up for it. Actually, that was the reason we decided to go for it as we fancy a year of near self sufficiency with chickens, pigs (or not) and lots of veggies (as in the ones you grow not the ones that don't eat animals). It has a small orchard which has already yielded several tens of kilos of apples which we hope to use to make cider once we get a cider press and a small area of woodland that leads through to the best bit, a river. You can slip through the little gate and you are on your own absolutely gorgeous bit of English riverbank. I envision hot summer days cooling my toes in the river while the offspring mess around in a boat - ask me again how great it is the first time we are sandbagging the back door though! According to the neighbours, who have already been round to negotiate fishing rights, it's stuffed full of trout too.

The CH is busy scouring books on 'the perfect vegetable plot' and 'Cider Making for Dummies' ready to get started. But I know what will happen. He'll get everything dug and planted and then work will pick up again and he'll be off back to Luvvieland and I'll be doing my own version of 'Land Girls'. Still, anything will be better than another winter spent splitting logs. Here you can buy then in huge quantities for next to nothing, already cut to size and split. Joy!

We've renamed the cottage 'River Cottage' in homage to Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall, who will be our new guru - well the CH's, less so mine. I've come to the conclusion that I love the Country Lite life where you can pick and chose the elements of rural living but never be too far from Waitrose and decent clothes shops. No doubt all the real self sufficency experts will be scoffing and jeering from the sidelines but hey, you are what you are. And I'm definitely a country lightweight!