Tuesday, 26 November 2019

The key to my success

When you have guests in a rental property, it is always a good idea to be there when they leave so they drive off smiling and thinking what a lovely polite host you are - and you can check that they haven’t trashed the place!  Obviously when their travel plans involve leaving at stupid o’clock in the morning I tend to trust to luck (and their security deposit!) and ask them to leave the keys in a safe place.  In the case of an apartment in Perpignan, that safe place is the letter-box in the main hallway.  There are 40 letter-boxes, arranged in 4 horizontal rows of 10, and mine is clearly marked as being the one on the top right of the set.  The system has worked perfectly except for 6 weeks ago when I found 27 items of junk mail but no keys.  I quickly got hold of the clients who assured me that they had posted the keys inside and they could not understand what had happened. 

Unfortunately I could.  When you open the letter-box there are 2 holes at the front and I could only guess that the keys had slid off the pile of junk mail, down a hole and into the box below.  Peering in I could see that it was full to the brim with junk mail so obviously belonged to an unused apartment -  so no chance of ringing the owner to ask them to open the box and check for my key.  My next option was to try to open it myself but none of my keys fitted and unfortunately I don’t carry safe-cracking equipment or a crowbar in my handbag. 

I then went upstairs to the apartment (I had the spare keys – I’m not completely stupid!) and panicked for a while, then had the brilliant idea of ringing the Concièrge.  10 minutes later he called back to say he had managed to get into the box below mine and yes, he had retrieved the keys!  I dashed downstairs and nearly kissed him – but he seemed happier to accept a bottle of red wine!

So that should be the end of the story, except I am ashamed to say that this week I found myself in exactly the same situation.  Yes I had followed his advice and stuck tape over the holes, but it was just normal sellotape and the apartment keys are quite heavy so unbelievably they had managed to unstick the tape and drop through again.  But even worse, they weren’t in the box below mine (which was wide open because ‘somebody’ had damaged the lock …).   Cue another urgent (and very embarrassing) call to the concierge who once again saved the day - the keys had somehow dropped all the way down into the 3rd row of boxes!  He accepted my effusive gratitude and several euros, and also very kindly lent me a big roll of orange gaffer tape and some scissors.  I hope never to have to call him out again, but who knows …

Monday, 18 November 2019

Out to lunch

It is very unusual for me to write a bad restaurant review on Trip Advisor but I was so furious yesterday that I could not stop myself!  Just for a change of scene we sometimes go to Narbonne for the Sunday market; there are some great street stalls and also Les Halles, the indoor food market with tapas bars etc.  We then like to have lunch in a nice restaurant on the canal bank.  The restaurants are often busy on Market days so as we were passing one of our favourite places we thought we would stop and reserve a table for 1pm.  It was 11.50, there were tables laid out outside, lights were on inside, but the door was firmly shut.  Another couple turned up with the same idea and we all peered in and could see the staff eating their pre-service lunch at the back of the restaurant.  They could clearly see us and hear us when we knocked on the door to ask if they were open, but totally ignored us.  The other couple started noting down the telephone number so they could ring and reserve but we decided nothing would induce us to eat there after such an unfriendly and rude reaction.

We ended up in a new place that we had never tried before – nothing to write home about, and nothing to write to Trip Advisor about – but a good atmosphere and not bad food.  It was what happened after the meal that made my day.  There was an elderly lady eating alone at the table next to us and when she got up to leave, she flung her scarf around her neck with such a flourish that it knocked my wine glass over, drenching the table.  She was absolutely mortified but we assured her that it was absolutely no problem and when my partner jokingly said that the ‘punishment’ would be a ‘bise’, she kissed us both on the cheek and left the restaurant smiling.  10 minutes later she returned with a little posy of flowers that she had picked in her garden, tied up with a pretty red ribbon! 

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Raining Cats and Dogs

For several days now I’ve been seeing warnings that there was an ‘Episode Mediterranean’ on the way.  To me that sounded like something to do with sun-loungers and a day at the beach but apparently it is some sort of meteorological phenomenon (I had to look that up) involving heavy rain and very serious storms. 

On Tuesday it rained all day.  It was so bad that I didn’t even have to explain to the dogs that nobody was going out for a walk.  Orange sent their usual text message warning that a storm was coming and to unplug the Livebox – seriously, it’s raining and they expect me not to watch tv, work on the computer and make phone calls?

We had been warned to expect 3 months of rain in just 2 days.  In fact, I think we received our quota over a period of just 2 hours.  I was woken at 3am thinking that a helicopter was landing outside.  I have never seen a storm like it – non-stop thunder, constant sheet lightening (think strobe lighting in a 70s disco) and rain lashing down.  I briefly saw the cat waiting to be let in but even in torrential rain, when I opened the door he decided to run off and take his chances! 

This afternoon the rain has finally stopped, and apart from spending most of the day mopping up minor leaks, resetting the clock on the cooker (due to a power cut) (and yes I had finally unplugged the Livebox!), sorting out the fact we now have an ‘infinity’ pool, constantly drying wet dogs (and the cat, when he finally turned up) everything is getting back to normal.  But apparently we got off lightly as there were also mini-tornadoes – trees and walls have fallen, roads are closed, rivers have flooded and many people have had to be evacuated from their properties. 

I do feel extremely sorry (and ridiculously responsible) for some clients of mine who had flown over for a 2 day viewing trip.  We had spent Monday visiting properties and I had left Tuesday free for them to drive around the region, visit the beaches and admire our wonderful scenery. This is the sunniest region in France with over 300 days of sunshine here and it hardly ever rains – honestly!

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Ex-pat or Immigrant - my thoughts on Brexit

Shortly after the referendum 3 years ago (for which we had no right to vote) many of us ‘ex-pats’ did absolutely nothing, as we felt there was nothing much to be done.  We would be fine.  Nearly a year later, Article 50 was triggered and it began to feel as if we should start to do something.  Many of us have now gone through the extremely complicated process of applying for french residency to obtain a french passport, many of us have chosen the ‘slightly’ easier option of applying for a Carte de Séjour.  My UK Passport was also due to expire so I managed to get that replaced (no mean feat because I have reverted to using my  maiden name and also changed address), and ditto for my UK driving licence – which has had to be exchanged for a French one.  Anyway, all the paperwork had been done and whenever well-meaning (or mocking!) french friends asked how Brexit would affect me – I could just give a typical gallic shrug and say that I would be fine.

However, with 2 weeks to go until 31st October and the official ‘leave’ date I am starting to feel slightly uneasy.  It started when I was listening to a podcast (if anybody is interested it is an excellent podcast called The Tip Off and you can find it on a player called Acast).  The episode was interrupted twice by an advert issued by HM Government telling me to find out what I need to do to continue living and working ‘here’ (which felt a bit ‘big-brotherish’ – how do they know where I am?).  I then opened the latest issue of PO-Life – an excellent quarterly magazine printed in English full of articles about what to see and where to go in the Pyrénées-Oriéntales -  and there was a full page advert from HM Government saying exactly the same thing.    The final straw was hearing from someone on an ex-pat forum that even with our Cartes de Séjour, we would no longer be eligible to vote in municipal elections.

I was too young to vote in the original 1975 referendum on whether to join the Common Market and I was not eligible to vote in the 2016 referendum on whether to leave, so I am feeling slightly cast-adrift at the moment.

But I am one of the lucky ones, being able to work and contribute to the social system, eligible for health care etc.  I know of several people who have packed up and ‘gone back’ to the UK due to the uncertainty of when the reciprocal health care agreement will be withdrawn, or whether they will continue to receive their state pensions.  When I made the decision to live in France it was never a decision to stop being British, and now due to circumstances beyond my control I have a British Passport but can’t vote in the UK, I have a French Carte de Séjour and can’t vote in France, I have no idea if and when I would get my UK pension and, despite paying years of NI contributions, would be considered a ‘Health Tourist’ if I had a medical problem on my next trip to the UK as I have a French E111 card. 

The term ‘ex-pat’ always sounds slightly glamorous – as if we spend our time at bridge-clubs drinking gin and tonic – but thanks to Brexit, those of us who have chosen to live and work in France are all immigrants. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Last of the summer wine

Much as we love the tourists here (oh yes we do!), there is always a slightly euphoric feeling at the end of the season when you can actually drive from A to B without following enormous camper vans with paddle boards and bicycles strapped to the back or GB registered saloon cars with straw hats and a copy of The Times on the back parcel shelf.  The pleasure of driving on clear roads last for just a few days as then it is harvest-time for the vineyards.

This season I’ve noticed more and more of the big industrial machines and I’m not entirely sure this is A Good Thing.   Being an expert on the subject of grape-picking (having once helped our neighbour) I remember how careful we had to be with the secateurs; to support the bunch at the bottom as we cut the stem, not to fling them into the bucket, and to avoid getting too many leaves in.  It seems obvious that using a machine that travels over the vines and shakes the grapes (and goodness knows what else) into its large steel bins can’t do much for the quality of the wine, however quick and efficient it may be.  Having said that, the Languedoc has generally been known for quantity rather than quality and I believe that most of the machine harvested grapes end up in the local ‘co-operative’ where small producers share their harvest and share the production.  This may sound like A Bad Thing but actually our local co-operative produces some really delicious bottles – as well as some very average 5-litre bag-in-box examples! 

As usual I have not troubled myself with carrying out any research into this subject so it is all just personal opinion and based on my flimsy knowledge of what I consider to be good or bad wine – which is sadly also based on quantity, not quality (and traffic jams)!