Thursday, 14 May 2020

The customer is always right - unless they are wrong!

Having all this time being unable to work has given me the opportunity to reflect on some of the things that I didn’t like about work.  Namely, certain clients!  I don’t know what the statute of limitations for libel is, so I will try to keep this as anonymous as possible:

Firstly, viewing a villa with a group of 7 people (2 families who wanted to buy a large property together to share holidays).   We arrived at the house of Monsieur Propriètaire in a convoy of cars, I introduced everybody, and the problems started. Two of the group started wandering around the garden and Monsieur P (quite rightly) wanted everybody to stay together for the grand tour.  I rounded everyone up, we started the tour, they began snapping photos (without asking) and two of them stayed downstairs while the rest of us continued the tour.  Monsieur P was becoming more and more agitated and said that if they didn’t stay together he would have to ask me to cancel the viewing.  I explained the situation and one of the couples decided to take this as an insult and said they would go and wait in their car.  The tour continued but then Monsieur P looked out of the window and spotted that they were using a laptop in the car and convinced himself they were part of a gang of international criminals who were checking out his property with a view to robbing it later.  The tour ended.  They did not buy the house - or burgle it!  

Usually I ask as many questions as possible so that I can match the right properties to the right clients, but there are two questions that I would love to ask but daren’t - in this day and age asking about height and weight would not be politically correct but it is actually pretty important!  A few years ago my old agency sent me to meet a couple who had asked to view 2 specific properties they had seen on the website.  To say Mrs Client was plump would be an under-statement, and she also used 2 walking sticks.  The first property just happened to be a bungalow which seemed perfect for them but even that was too much for her and she parked herself at the kitchen table while her husband visited the house with me.  I then very tactfully tried to explain that I didn’t think the second property would suit them (it was a 3 storey village house with very steep steps) but they insisted on seeing it -  she didn’t even get out of the car!  A funnier experience happened with another couple - the husband was an extremely ‘well-built’ ex rugby-player and despite my warning to be careful of the raised doorstep, he toppled over in slow motion and rolled gracefully into the hall.  Luckily his beer-belly cushioned his fall.  (If ever I give up this job I will become an actress as I managed to express concern despite the fact I was inwardly crying with laughter!).  Very tall clients can also cause problems - ‘Character Stone-built Village Houses’ are often a maze of different levels and low beamed ceilings and nobody over 6’ tall should even think about living in one - I now carry plasters and arnica gel in my handbag.

Other problematic clients are the ones who know exactly what they want - they turn up armed with maps, compasses, rejecting anything that isn’t facing the right direction (naturally at my old agency all the properties faced South or South-East…) and one couple were so fixed on buying a house with blue shutters that I was tempted to buy a pot of paint.  And then there are the clients who have no idea what they want - very recently I spent 3 days  with a couple who wanted a 2 bed house near the sea, then decided that because of global warming (ie raised sea levels in 50 years time) they preferred to be in Perpignan centre, then they wanted an extra bedroom for work, then they decided that a smaller town would be better but it had to have a train station, and finally they added that they needed secure parking.  Needless to say, despite several viewings I didn’t manage to find what they were looking for - and I don’t think I ever will!

So that is a brief look at the worst side of property finding; next time - rental nightmares!

Friday, 24 April 2020

Still trapped in Paradise

Confinement started pretty well for me.  I sorted out several cupboards, completely cleaned the kitchen, made 35 face-masks, painted lots of furniture, filed (and read) my bank statements, exercised, weeded the garden and made chicken stock.  Didn’t do so much the next day …  (!) Now we are on Day 40 of lockdown and (to quote my Granny), my Get Up And Go has Got Up and Went.  When you don’t know whether it’s Christmas or Tuesday as every day is the same, it’s hard to get motivated and it is too easy to just put jobs off until the next day, and the next day …

But this is also a time of ‘self-discovery’ - so here is what I have discovered:

  1. I don’t like cleaning!  You make the bed, wash the floors, dust, clean, drag the hoover around, but it doesn’t last for long and just a few days later you have to do it all over again.  I do, however, find myself strangely drawn to the adverts showing miracle gadgets that clean venetian blinds (even though I haven’t got any) and whiten the grout in the bathroom, but more in the way one watches films of people sky-diving - fascinating to watch but not something I would consider doing myself.
  2. I quite like cooking! There is a certain satisfaction in making something from scratch (I have at last mastered apple crumble) but it’s not something you should have to do every day and I miss being able to say ‘to hell with it, let’s eat out’.  It’s also difficult trying to make meals from whatever you find in the cupboard (see Item 5) and I very much regret not labelling stuff I put in the freezer.  (Stewed apple looks very much like mashed potato..) 
  3. I miss my family!  But then again, this applies to everybody and the fact that I am here in France and they are in the UK makes no difference as they can’t see each other either.  
  4. I am becoming English again.  I used to spend most of my time with french friends or french clients or driving around listening to french radio.  Now I listen to UK podcasts and spend a lot of time on the phone chatting to family or english friends (but the chats are becoming shorter and shorter as there are only 3 main topics of conversation now - a) How are you, b) What is the weather like, and c) what are you having for supper!  I should be able to stay fluent as I live with my french partner but we have barely spoken since Day 9….
  5. I don’t like Lentils.  On Day 9 my partner decided to make a rare visit to the supermarket as I think he considers me to be ‘elderly and vulnerable’ so need to stay in the house.  I gave him the list of staples such as cheese, bread, crisps and chocolate but he proudly returned with jars and cans of kidney beans, pois chiches, green beans, white beans (thank goodness I kept a couple of face-masks), and lots of lentils.  Nothing Edible!  I have since taken back control of shopping and normal meal service has been resumed.  
  6. I can’t live without the internet.  Here in our little village, the internet is very much a hit and miss affair and the slightest breeze seems to affect it - and I never understand that when I ring the helpline, their first suggestion is that I go onto their website.  If I could do that I wouldn’t be making the call.  I love the daily contact with friends via Whatsapp, or seeing what everybody is doing on Facebook; I can ‘travel the world’ or ‘see’ plays and concerts without leaving the house, and Google the answer to pretty much anything.  Apparently the most popular Google searches during the confinement have been:  Buzzcuts, Animal Crossing, Tiger King, Banana cake, Bread-making, Coronavirus cure, home workout, Zoom, Home birth and Hair tutorial.  On checking my own search history I see that as well as checking the banana cake and bread recipes (not the others) I have also queried ‘How to remove oil-based paint from jeans’, ‘Recipes using chicken stock’, ‘How to clip dog’s nails’, and ‘What to do with Lentils’ (although I was surprised to see that the obvious response of ‘throw them away’ didn’t appear).  Amazon has also been a lifeline but they are only delivering ‘essentials’ - which for me consisted of Hair Dye (no explanation needed), Vitamins (because I don’t eat Lentils or Beans), Print Cartridge (for all the paperwork you have to print and take out to explain why you are out) and Dog Nail-Clippers (although I have yet to use them as I don’t want to make a mistake and have to go to the emergency vet) (and it is quite useful to be able to hear Loulou the Dog ‘ticking’ down the corridor in the middle of the night to tell us she needs to go out!)
  7. I miss working!  The government may not consider the work of a Property Consultant ‘essential’, but it is to me!  There is only so much that I can do from home - which is essentially ‘Not Very Much’.  I miss driving round the region, meeting new clients, seeing different houses, matching the right people to the right properties and watching them fall in love with the region and starting new lives.  (I can almost hear the violins playing in the background as I write this …!)

I shall sign off now as my Fitbit alarm has just gone off telling me it is time to move.  I thought it was broken as it hasn’t done the buzzing/flashing thing to celebrate the fact that I have achieved my 10,000 steps recently.  Perhaps you are supposed to do them all in one day …!

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Log Blog

At the risk of being accused of ‘stock-piling’ here is my stock of piled wood!  And the best thing about it is that it hasn’t cost a penny.  There was a very high price to pay physically ‘though - sore muscles, broken fingernails, blood, sweat, tears - I was exhausted just watching him!

Apparently I am not very gifted at ‘logging’.  ’Useless’, ‘Incompetent’ and ‘Dangerous’ were just a few of the words that I heard that I managed to translate from ‘shouty’ french.  But despite not having any of the necessary qualities to be a lumberjack (apart from a rather nice checked shirt) I did do my very best to help.  I wasn’t allowed to touch the chain-saw (to be honest, I didn’t volunteer), was briefly allowed to play with the log-splitter, (but was fired from that job because I wasn’t strong enough to lift whole logs onto the table),  and eventually found my true vocation was hurling vine roots on top of the stacked logs.  Unfortunately selecting logs for the chimney has now turned into a very dangerous game of Jenga!
The wood has come from various sources.  The large logs are mainly from oak trees that are cut down by the local farmers and seem to be left lying around (we always ask permission, rather than just turning up with the chainsaw as some of the farmers are quite big and scary looking.)  The twisty ones are old grapevine stumps (souches) - you often see piles of them as you drive by the vineyards, with a sign saying ‘Servez-vous’ - so we do!  The rest of the pile also includes old bits of wooden furniture, fence posts and generally anything we find that can be burnt. 

I just hope my clients Mr and Mrs P aren’t reading this as they recently emailed me to ask if I knew where they could buy firewood.  Ironic as they had just moved into a beautiful stone mas with 7 hectares of woodland. To be fair, the previous owner had obviously decided that as the house was going to be sold, there was little point preparing a big stock for the winter, and even if they could find where the removals men had stored their Axe and Wheelbarrow, anything they cut now would not be ready to burn until next year (wow, never knew I would know things like that!).   Luckily I was able to give them a supplier’s number, but it made me realise how important ‘the woodshed’ is - particularly as the boiler is now out of fuel....

Monday, 23 March 2020

Trapped in Paradise

Usually I write about the nice things that happen in the South of France - visits to local markets, restaurants, vineyards, funny experiences etc.  Occasionally I write about the ‘not so nice’ things such as accidents, caterpillars and Brexit.  I could never have imagined I would be writing about something as shocking as Coronavirus.  

Although I was aware of its existence, I certainly didn’t take it seriously enough at first.  It was just amusing that the hugely important french custom of a physical greeting (hand-shake or kiss) was no longer permitted and we had to mutually agree which ‘non-skin’ part of our body to ‘bump’ with the other person.  Even when it was announced that the schools would be closing, all I felt like doing was putting a picture of a large wine box on Facebook, showing how ‘prepared’ I was.  

But that was all one week BC.  Before Covid 19.  Before Confinement.  Who would have believed that we are now in virtual ‘lock-down’,  not allowed to leave the house unless for a very valid reason, risking huge fines if we haven’t printed out and filled in the required form justifying our ‘sortie’.  Even if we could go out, the beaches are closed, bars and restaurants are closed, so there is no reason to go anywhere except for ‘essential’ food shopping, and only 1 person is allowed to go.

It now seems ironic that just a few weeks ago I wrote a blogpost about the difficulties of working from home, as now I have absolutely no choice, and it is definitely not working!  Although much of what I do is for clients at a distance, it is pretty impossible to sell, rent or search for properties without physically being there and with so much uncertainty around, nobody is booking holiday villas for this summer either.

Obviously my main worry at the moment (apart from the lack of work = lack of income situation) is that I have no idea when I’ll be able to see my family in the UK again.  But there are definitely some positives to come out of this:

  • My filing cabinet and paperwork have never been in such good order!
  • The dogs are happy as we are around all day
  • I have enough wine
  • The french have learned how to form orderly queues
  • There is plenty of time to catch up with all the old friends I promised to stay in touch with
  • It is really really peaceful outside with hardly any traffic, no noisy microlights and just the occasional jet passing overhead. 

I realise that there are considerably worse places to be confined than in a villa with a big garden in the South of France, but despite still being able to enjoy the views, the sunshine and the vineyard walks, I can’t help but feel worried.  This is a long way from being over.

Photocredit:  Sumanley at Pixabay

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Troc around the clock

I love a bargain - it gives me a warm fuzzy glow to find something I need at a very much reduced price - but generally if you want something brand new at a good price you need to wait for the ‘sales’.   Sale-time in France occurs just twice a year, and for very restricted periods - Allied Carpets would definitely struggle to hold their year-long closing down sale.  However, if you are looking for a warm fuzzy glow at other times of the year,  may I point you in the direction of the Troc.

Troc comes from the french word ‘Troquer’ which means to exchange or barter goods or services.  Nowadays you exchange money for the goods, but the name remains the same.  These are usually to be found in large industrial units on the outskirts of towns and are full of strange and wonderful things.  Sellers leave their goods ‘on consignment’, the Troc sells the goods and takes a pretty chunky commission, but there is a real mix of second-hand ‘junk’ (old bicycles, large ‘brown’ furniture, kitchen units and appliances), and also some brand new items from (I imagine) bankrupt shops.  If ever you need a rail of carpet samples, a 3 metre run of metal shelving or 50 pots of paint in garish colours I  can point you in the right direction. 

We also have charity shops here but they are nothing like the lavender-scented shops run by lavender-scented old ladies that you find on every High Street in the UK (obviously I’m talking about places like Dorset!).  These ones are, again, in out of town areas in purpose built units.  The biggest one is Emmaus and the concept is to help people on the outskirts of society (ex-offenders for example) to find their place in the world by living and working as a community recycling people’s unwanted goods.  Everything is neatly presented in 4 large sheds and it is a great place for a bargain (I came away with a rotary clothes dryer for just 4€).  There is also another place I’ve just discovered (the Recyclerie d’Elne) but they seem to go one step beyond recycling - rather than just cleaning and repairing items for sale they completely convert them and I was very tempted by a piano which had been turned into a drinks cabinet.  And if anybody has every heard me play the piano, you will understand!

And finally, we can’t forget the french equivalent of the Car-Boot sale - known as Vide-Greniers (literal translation is ‘empty attics’).  This appears to be a national pastime with lists published in the newspapers of where they will be held.  You don’t have to drive to a muddy field in the rain, these events are held in the streets of the villages (hopefully closed to traffic), (usually on a Sunday morning), and trestle tables are set up on the pavements outside the houses.  These can be very social affairs - sometimes there will be musicians and often there will be the ‘wine-man’ selling plastic glasses of dubious quality wine from a large box. 

So, if you have romantic ideas about strolling around a typical french flea-market with an accordionist playing ‘La Vie en Rose’ in the background, forget it - but if you are searching for a bargain, there are lots of places to choose from.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure - and I am very proud of my clothes airer (and the cushions, the vase, the wine glasses, the slightly cracked mirror, the rug and the pot of shocking pink paint)!

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

(Not) Working from Home

Working from home is never easy, but today looks as if it will be even worse than usual as it is 11.49 and so far I have done just 35 minutes work.  I try to keep the balance right by designating certain days as ‘work’ days, and on those days I aim to be smartly dressed (scruffy jeans for ‘home’ days only), and if I have no appointments, am at my desk by 9am.  My ‘office’ is a room in the back part of the house, just the other side of the living room, next to the laundry/boiler room area. I only mention this so you know that I have the minimum of distractions there (far from the coffee machine and no view of the pool), and that my commute to work is not too arduous.

09.00 - At desk, raring to go.
09.15 - Finish catching up on the gossip on Facebook and Twitter and open email page.
09.25 - Finish deleting all the spam (I don’t want my loft insulating, or to help Reverend Mbawe get his millions out of Nigeria, or have my penis enlarged (?!)), and finally open an enquiry from a client who asks…
09.26 - Dogs want to go outside.
09.27 -  Dogs want to come back inside.
09.31 - Cat appears on window-sill wanting to come in.  Apparently not.  Maybe later.
09.32 - Pick up all the papers that have blown onto the floor when window was opened.  Back to the email from the client who wants to know if…. 
09.34 - Cat reappears and seems to be starving to death.  Apparently his bowl is not completely full.  I remedy the situation.
09.37 - Back to desk and the client who wants to know if I can help with renting out his holiday villa.  Google the address and it looks a good property so I start typing a reply with the list of….  
09.45 - Doorbell rings and I fight my way past the dogs who still believe they can get out through a door before it is fully opened.  Postman is at the gate and needs a signature for a parcel delivery.
09.47 - In bathroom running arm under cold water until the bleeding stops and then applying a plaster to the scratch I received when a dog managed to push me into the rose-bush so he could be first to greet the postman.  NB. Possibly not deliberate.
09.55 - Back to the enquiry and I manage to send the reply, ask for a convenient time to visit, send a list of questions, and also to…. 
10.15 -  Partner turns up as he was ‘just passing’ en route to another appointment and thought it would be nice to have coffee together.
10.25 - Spend 30 minutes sitting in the garden having coffee together (see my Blogpost of 12th Jan re not drinking coffee at desks).
10.55 - Partner leaves, informs me that he will be back for lunch.  How nice.
11.00 - Delete two more spam emails then spend several minutes trying to work out how to block them, discover an important email in ‘Junk Mail’ folder, write apologetic email explaining the delay, continue replying to…
11.17 - Go outside to see why dogs are barking crazily.  Remove frog from pool and return it to pond.
11.29 - Finish last email then print out a document ready for a visit this afternoon.  Google ‘Why is my printer not responding’.  Do not understand explanation.  Unplug printer.  Plug printer back in.  Print document.
11.43 - Telephone call.  Apparently it is my lucky day - a technician is in my area and can give me a quote for loft insulation.  I teach them a few English words they may not have heard before.
11.49 - Give up and write blogpost.

Monday, 27 January 2020

When property finding works too well.

I have just been the victim of my own success  - and it is not often I can say that!  Towards the end of last year I received an enquiry from a client in Australia, wanting help and advice on relocating to Perpignan.  He wanted a very specific type of property, so before making any reckless promises I did a bit of research and was able to confirm that yes, I thought I could find some suitable properties for him, within his budget.  It wasn’t an easy search but I produced a short list of 5 and he flew over for a viewing trip in November.  He actually liked all of them, but loved the final 2 and flew back home to weigh up the pros and cons.  He also needed tax and legal advice as he has triple nationality and wanted to set up his business here too so I put him in touch with two local experts so he could get the right information.  

Last week he was ready to make his offer - and last week the agent told me that the property was sold, and even worse than that, his second choice was also under offer.  Now not only am I furious with the agent, who promised that she would let me know if there was any interest in the properties we viewed, I am also furious with myself - for doing my job too well!  The client admitted that he was very surprised that we had seen so many ‘good’ properties and that he had envisaged that it would take at least a couple of trips to find what he was looking for and had planned to sort out his legal and financial questions in the interim.

So the moral of this story is (Warning - Blatant Advertisement on way!): If you enjoy being frustrated by viewing properties that look nothing like their internet details, working with agents who don’t seem interested, and spending time and money on several trips, then don’t call me.  However, if you want to spend a day or two viewing a small selection of properties that tick all the boxes on your ‘wish-list’, then please call me!

Sunday, 12 January 2020


My partner has just walked into the kitchen and remarked ‘oh, I see you’ve already poured yourself an ‘apero’.   Given that it is 7.45pm and I’ve been cooking for over an hour I see no need to explain that in fact I am on glass number 2, and that ‘cooking with wine’ is a very important English custom!

Drinking is very important to the french and there are many unwritten laws about it, the main one being that you never drink alone but wait to share the moment with somebody.  Even on one of those ‘I’m a celebrity’ type programmes (The Island), I noticed that when a young man won the ‘reward’ of a tropical breakfast, his first reaction on being given a glass of orange juice was to express his disappointment that there was nobody to share the moment with - and this was despite the fact he had been living on water and rice for several days!

But it’s not just aperos that have their little ritual, coffee time can be a nightmare too.  In the UK if you are going to make yourself a coffee and ask if anybody else would like one, it is quite normal just to place the drink next to them and then carry on doing whatever you were doing before.  I like a coffee on my desk while I work, or in the morning while doing my make-up, but oh no, not in France.  When you arrive with the coffee the discussion of  ‘where shall we have it’ begins.  Do we sit in the kitchen, in the lounge, outside in the garden but in the shade or in the sun, by the pool or on the terrace etc etc.   By the time we finally sit down, the coffee is usually cold.  

And back to aperos (I’m assuming that everybody knows this is the shortened version of Aperitif?).  Various ‘rules’ apply here: Firstly, asking for a glass of wine is generally frowned upon, sometimes champagne will be offered but more usually spirits or those drinks we used to enjoy in the 70s (not Babycham!).   Secondly, Aperos are always served with nibbles, which need to involve olives, cheese or charcuterie - and not a packet of crisps. In fact there is a ‘new’ phenomenon here called the ‘Apero Dinatoire’ where you are given more substantial nibbles and this replaces the need to cater for a full-blown dinner party.   But the most important rule is not to drink before anybody else: you should always pour the drink for the other person before filling your own glass, then you must clink glasses and say ‘santé’ before taking a sip while looking the other person in the eyes.  Apparently this is to prove that you haven’t poisoned the other persons drink – and if my partner ever again mentions the fact that I started drinking before him, he is right to be wary…! 

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Happy New Year!

What a lovely start to the New Year.  We were walking in the vineyards yesterday and passed our neighbours farm where they were cutting branches of Mimosa, which is already in full bloom, and they handed us this lovely bunch, together with their ‘best wishes’ for 2020.  

So, this is more of a Greetings Card than a Blogpost today, but I just wanted to share this photo and the little story behind it - and to wish you all a very Happy New Year too.