Thursday, 5 November 2020

Let sleeping dogs lie ...

Due to various ‘incidents’ over the years I have had some experience of the french medical system, and the fact that while some doctors will prescribe vast quantities of strong medicines, others will recommend homeopathic and alternative remedies.  Which is why I should not have been at all surprised when the vet suggested I take my dog to a physiotherapist!

I’ve had Loulou, my border collie, for over 8 years now and as she was from a shelter it is hard to know how old she is but the vet reckons she must be at least 12 years old, if not more.  I have no idea how old I am in ‘dog years’ but we both seem to be a similar age.  We sleep more than we used to, have difficulty getting up in the morning, can’t walk as far as we used to, need to get up in the middle of the night, often find ourselves in the kitchen wondering what we went there for, and have a bit of arthritis.  The only differences between us are that I don’t fall over when I sneeze, she has to be lifted in and out of the car (I can do it on my own!), and she has a heart condition.

The last time we went to the vet for her heart pills I asked for some general advice on how to help an ‘old’ dog (obviously not to try to teach it new tricks would be the most important!).  I thought he was joking when he mentioned physiotherapy but apparently it is really a ‘thing’ and he told me about a place which specialises in ‘complementary medicine’ so I made an appointment.

The waiting room was very ‘Zen’ and peaceful - no smell of incense burning but there was relaxing music playing, pictures of nature and happy horses, and potted plants (on shelves, not at floor level for obvious reasons).  We were welcomed by the Dogteur who asked some general questions and then gave her a very thorough 45 minute massage.  At the end of it Loulou was fast asleep and snoring gently - and I was so jealous!

We were advised to keep her ‘quiet’ for the next couple of days, which was absolutely no problem as she showed no signs of wanting to exercise but just seemed to want to sleep under a tree in the garden - which is quite scary as she is also pretty deaf and doesn’t respond when you call so you have to keep going to check that she is still breathing!  I can’t say that she is a ‘new’ dog since the visit but it has certainly helped - and we will definitely be making a return visit as I see they also offer acupuncture, osteopathy, chinese remedies and psychology treatments.  But sadly only for animals…

Thursday, 8 October 2020

A matter of life and death

At 3.30pm yesterday I was doing a property viewing with clients and was showing them the spectacular view from the roof terrace.  I looked down onto the street below where a group of mourners were chatting outside the church, and discreetly waved to my partner, who had also attended the funeral with me….

Yesterday my friend Francis died.  He was the man who persuaded me to start playing tennis with the team of ‘old’ men in the village and made me feel so welcome.  As he lived alone (apart from his dog) I had called him in April to see how he was coping with the ‘confinement’ and he told me that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and that his ex-wife had come back to look after him.  All the family were with him when he died, and they asked us to come to the house to talk about him.  I didn’t want to intrude but they really enjoyed hearing anecdotes about Francis - particularly the time he entered me for the village tennis tournament - in the men’s doubles team!  

There was to be a church service for him at 3pm that very afternoon.  I wasn’t overly keen on the idea as I hate public goodbyes and also had the excuse of a property visit scheduled at 3.30pm but as the house just happened to be opposite the church, I realised that a) I would have time to do both and b) it would look bad if I said no and was then seen sneaking past the church later.  

I wish I could explain a little about what a french funeral is like but due to the fact the two priests were wearing masks I couldn’t understand a word they said and just kept standing up, sitting down and saying Amen whenever anybody else did.  As we were sitting at the back I managed to sneak out as soon as the service ended and walked round the corner to meet my clients. 

So that is how I said my final goodbye to Francis, at a respectful ‘social’ distance - 4 storey’s up - and I know he would have been amused.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Still enjoying Summer!

I have been spending most of September lying on a sun-lounger by the pool (and to be honest, most of July and August too…!).  Normally I think of my September ‘holiday’ as a well-earned break after a hectic summer of running holiday rental properties.  Most Saturdays would find me hurtling between several villas checking that the cleaners had turned up, making sure there were enough basic provisions for guests (loo rolls & washing up liquid for the 3* properties, welcome packs of cheese and wine for the 4* properties), doing ‘meet and greets’ or making sure the keys were hidden in the right place etc.  On Sundays I would usually get at least 1 ‘call-out’ from a guest who had already lost the key or lacked the basic skills to work the washing machine.  During the week I would call in to meet the guests I hadn’t met on the Saturday, picking my way around shiny sun-burned bodies and beer bottles scattered around the pools. But not this year…

To start with I had less properties to run - 2 of the larger villas had been sold and I had resigned from the 3rd because the owner would never pay for any maintenance issues and after ‘sewage-gate’ and an incident with a hornet’s nest I decided to call it a day.  The main flurry of bookings for the summer normally arrive in March, but this year, due to the lockdown, there was just a flurry of cancellations from the few who had already booked.  So, when I could drag myself away from making banana-bread and tidying cupboards I contacted all my ‘owners’ and suggested they drop their prices and offer longer-stay discounts.  Success! Most of the summer visitors were French or Belgian (less affected by travel restrictions) but some of the other renters were what I would call ‘Covid Refugees’ including a family unable to get back to America who were delighted to rent for one month, and a couple whose house purchase had been delayed until September.  

The one thing that has really surprised me this year is the clients’ attitude to the virus.  It doesn’t seem to exist for them.  I have made sure that every property is kept empty for several days between clients, that everything is disinfected and the cleaners wear masks; when I meet the clients I wear a mask and hand over the disinfected keys in a plastic bag and explain all the precautions we have taken - and they cheerfully say ‘oh, we’re not worried’ and seem surprised that I don’t go in with them to show them around! 

 So perhaps I can’t quite justify my September idleness as being a reward for hard work over the summer, but I can at least relax knowing that I haven’t put anybody’s health at risk - and especially not my own!

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Fully 'Fully-furnished'

I have just been asked to put a property on the market on behalf of the owners who live in Scotland.  I’m always pleased to be asked to sell a house (particularly when there are no agents involved!) but this time I’m feeling a bit sad for the owners.  The house was a holiday home and because of Covid-19 and all the uncertainty over travel restrictions they realise they won’t be able to visit and enjoy the house as much as they used to so have decided to sell.  

When I went to check out the house it was as if they had just popped out for a while - the beds were made up, towels were on a drying rack in the bathroom, bicycles in the hall, food in the cupboards and a half-finished book was on the table.  As it is uncertain whether they will be able to come down and recuperate any of their possessions I am selling it fully-furnished, down to every last plate, saucepan, sun-lounger and opened bottle of Gin!  

So, if you are looking for a well-maintained 3-bed, 2 living room 3 storey village house with panoramic views from the roof terrace and a well-stocked drinks cupboard just give me a call.  (And if you're wondering - it's just 155k).


Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Yet another medical story...

During this pandemic it is perhaps best to avoid any public medical facilities, unless absolutely necessary.  That was my plan - but due to yet another alcohol related incident, I can now write about what it is like to have a medical problem during this Covid-19 situation!

When I say ‘alcohol-related’, in fact not a drop had passed my lips, I was just preparing for having the neighbours over for an apero.  I went down to the cellar to bring up some bottles and as I was walking back up I slightly mis-judged the step and my foot slipped a little, twisting my big toe and causing a fair amount of pain.  I sat with my foot in the pool for a while and then when the neighbours turned up applied ice (externally) and alcohol (internally) and for most of the evening it felt better. 

The next morning it was swollen and painful to walk on, so there was no option but to go and see the Doctor.  Normally you just turn up and wait for hours but at the moment she is operating an appointment system only so I rang -  and got a recorded message saying that the surgery was closed all day on the 15th.  As this was, in fact, the 20th, there didn’t seem much option but to just go there and hope for the best.  I prepared well, taking with me a mask, a book, and a big bottle of water.  The book was a great idea but what hadn’t crossed my mind was that if I wanted to drink the water I would have to remove the mask!  This didn’t seem to bother the other people in the waiting room who were constantly removing their masks to chat, drink or wipe their sweaty faces!

Eventually I got to see the Doctor, who took one look and said ‘Ooh La La’ - although I think that was more to do with the state of my pedicure.  She said that even if it was broken there wasn’t much they could do by way of treatment, then she showed me a picture of some very flat and bulky orthopaedic shoes, and we both laughed, and I hobbled out with a prescription for an X-Ray.

Getting anything done in France in August is a trial.  The first place I called  offered me an appointment for a week on Friday, but the 4th one said I could go the next morning at 11am.  They warned me it would be busy as it is holiday  season and tourists seem to spend more time falling over and breaking limbs than lying on beaches.  I turned up imagining I would find a tv ‘sit-com’ style scenario of a waiting room full of people in wheelchairs and full body casts, but in fact, there were just 2 people waiting.  The chairs were taped off so you couldn’t sit too close to anybody, and my partner was ordered to wait outside - which he did with unseemly haste!  As with any medical appointment you are asked to hand over your Carte Vitale - and as usual mine was not ‘up to date’ - apparently you are supposed to regularly insert your card into a machine in the pharmacy so that it remains updated, but as I am British and we tend to treat even a missing limb as ‘just a flesh wound’, I hadn’t used it for a while.

After just 10 minutes I was called into the X-Ray room and had my foot painfully man-handled while they took pictures of various angles, then I was sent back to the waiting room.  The technician made a big show of spraying down the table and chair that I had used, so I made a big show of applying gel to my hands and wiping the door handle on my way out.

10 minutes later I was called to the counter, charged 6€ (the difference between the actual cost and what is included under the state health system) and given the results.  Luckily it turned out not to be broken - which fact made no difference to the amount of pain I was feeling - so no treatment apart from just to rest it as much as possible, and keep applying ice.  So, the point of this story is just to say don’t worry if you need medical attention at the moment - everything is very well regulated and I felt perfectly ‘safe’.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

No News is Good News

Every 2 weeks I write an update of the local news stories, translated from french media, and it is published in a newsletter/facebook page/forum for the english-speaking community.  I do it a) Out of the goodness of my heart, b) It is good for my language skills and c) Because the Editor adds a link to my website at the bottom.  OK, mainly c), but I also enjoy doing it!

The problem is that I am starting to get complaints that there is too much bad news!  We even had to change the title from ‘A Light Look at the  Latest Local News’ to ‘A Quick look’ because someone wrote to the Editor complaining that reporting on crime and violence was hardly ‘light’ (this from a gentleman who lives in inner-city London…).  It also back-fired on me when a client who contacted me to ask for help looking for a property here mentioned he had read the News Reports on the local forum and it seemed to be a dangerous area to live in!

So, are we all in danger of being murdered in our beds? No.  This is usually a peaceful laid-back sort of region where the biggest excitement is the fact that Ikea ‘might’ be opening here (they aren’t) or that somebody ‘might’ have seen a dolphin off the coast (very possible).  Unfortunately, due to ‘circumstances beyond our control’ there is slightly more happening than usual and not much of it is good - there is Covid-19 for a start, it is the peak 
of the Tourist Season so there are more people getting into difficulty in the sea (ok - drownings), and it is very hot so there are more drink/drive car accidents and domestic violence incidents.  Also this Department borders Spain so there will always be stories about drug/tobacco smuggling - even though there were slightly less during lock-down when the border was closed!  

But generally so little happens here that I have had to change from writing once a week to once a fortnight - and even then I am often scratching about trying to find something more interesting to write about than the forthcoming Snail Festival or whether this year’s Cherry production was good or bad. So I can hand on heart assure anybody who is thinking of coming to the area that there is no need to panic, there are not gangs of gun-wielding criminals around every corner, and the only danger is that you will fall in love with the place and not want to leave….

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Suffering from Wind ....

I can only assume there is a website somewhere that says that this region is a hurricane zone because I regularly get asked whether the wind is a problem here.   The answer is not a simple yes or no.  But first, some background information (I’ve actually done some research for once!)

Apparently we get 4 types of wind here (no hurricanes), so in reverse order we begin with:

The Scirocco - This is the hot, dry wind that blows up from North Africa and deposits orange sand on your car.  This very rarely happens so is not a problem - apart from having to clean your car (which I regularly do once a year whether it is dirty or not…)

The Levant - A hot and very humid wind which blows in across the Mediterranean from the South-East.  Again, pretty rare and not a problem (unless you have hair that curls at the slightest trace of humidity …)

The Marin - Very similar to the Levant but this one is more likely to bring clouds and rain with it - and, again, gives me an instant unwanted perm.

The Tramontane - Yes, this is the one that everyone talks about.  Apparently it is ‘powerful, dry and cold and blows from the north or northwest’.  Gusts can reach over 100kmh.

So, the only wind we really need to talk about is the Tramontane, and in fact we are ‘suffering’ from it today as I write.  All it means is that I’ve had to thoroughly peg-down the washing on the line, take down the parasols, and I am making sure that the sun-lounger cushions don’t fly into the pool by regularly lying there to keep a close eye on things (a tough job but somebody has to do it!).  So it is by no means a huge problem, and it only ever lasts for a few days at most.  In fact I would say it is a good thing - we get spectacular sunsets with ‘spaceship’ style clouds, it keeps the skies clear and blue so we can enjoy our reputation as the sunniest region in France - and laundry dries within 5 minutes of being pegged out!

(Thank you to Gilly J-f for the photo)

Thursday, 18 June 2020

It's life - but not as we know it ...

It’s 3 months since France went into Lockdown and we are now in the early stages of ‘Deconfinement’.  I feel like a prisoner who, because of good behaviour, has been let out of solitary confinement and is now on ‘Day-Release’.  And I have been ‘Good’ and followed all the advice and government guidelines because (to quote a well-known song) ‘At first I was afraid, I was petrified’.  The idea that we were in danger of catching a lethal virus with no known cure and it wasn’t just a scary film scenario very much focuses the mind! 

The fact that I took it all so seriously at the beginning means that for me, not a lot has changed - except I no longer feel the urge to bake bread or tidy cupboards!   I’m still being very careful - wearing my mask any time I go into an enclosed space, not going to the shops unless I have to and just spending time with friends outside rather than in their houses.   Even though the restaurants are now open I have yet to visit (somehow the idea of being served by people in masks doesn’t appeal), I didn’t rush to the beach (because actually it rained for 3 days!), and I am resisting the urge to go to a big shopping centre.  I don’t even know what the exact rules and regulations are at the moment but it just seems to be a matter of continuing to be careful and basically just using your common sense. It doesn’t surprise me that it was a Frenchman (Voltaire) who said ‘Common sense is not so common’ as there didn’t seem to much of it in evidence in London on Monday when hordes of people were queuing outside Primark and the Nike Store.  Is a pair of £5 Lycra leggings (or a £400 pair of designer trainers) really worth risking your health for?  

My only ‘unnecessary’ outing was last Saturday when I decided that I very much needed to buy Geraniums for my terrace planters, so off I went to the local market.   And it was wonderful!  Not a lot different to the way it always is except they had created a sort of Entrance in one corner with a bottle of hand sanitiser on a table and most stall-holders were wearing masks (but kept taking them off to talk to the customers!).  On the way back to my car I spotted a friend sitting at a café table in the square, so I joined her for a coffee, and we sat in the sunshine, and watched the world go by, while we listened to the accordionist …. and I realised it wasn’t Geraniums that I had been missing - I just needed a ‘fix’ of ‘french-life’…

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Call the Manager

I don’t think anybody, whether owners or renters, realise quite how much hard work running rental properties can be.  So I will tell you!

Most of the properties I manage are ‘second-homes’ belonging to people who want to earn a bit of money from them while they are not using them.  They hand me the keys, tell me which months/weeks are available, and I sort everything out for them.  If the properties are empty (ie often over the winter) it is simply a question of making regular visits to check that all is well and to sort out any maintenance issues, summer is a different matter!

As this is such a lovely region, holiday villas are usually pretty well-booked from June to September so I try to prepare as well in advance as possible.  In Spring I take the cleaners to each property to give them a thorough pre-season blitz (the villas, not the ladies!) and to show the new ones what standards we are aiming for (some of the ‘5 star villa’ owners expect their towels to be folded in a certain way!).  The gardeners garden, the pool-men work their magic, the outdoor furniture is jet-washed (or teak-oiled) and everything is perfect for the guests, who will have a wonderful stay, except for ….

  • The lady who sent a long email complaining that there was no upright reclining garden chair for her elderly father, and that there were no UK tv channels (despite the fact this had been highlighted on the booking form).  Within hours I turned up with one of my own chairs, and a gadget to connect an iPad to the TV and left him happily watching the news.  The next day she sent another long email to thank me and apologise for the complaints - she was stressed after a long journey and her mother had died recently so this was her father’s first holiday without her.
  • The client (renting an apartment in Perpignan centre) who complained about the colour of the dust that blew in- it was grey but apparently in Texas it is white ….
  • The clients who asked if it was OK to bring two small dogs, which turned out to be Dobermans, and left the garden in a bad state.  They lost their deposit because of their dogs’ deposits!
  • The family who telephoned me to say they had arrived at the villa but the key-safe wasn’t working.  (Some villas don’t require a ‘Meet and Greet’ service but they keys are left in a key-safe on the wall outside, they dial in the code I have sent them, retrieve the keys and let themselves in).  I went straight over and found absolutely no problem - except that they didn’t realise they had to actually open the box and take keys out rather than just tapping in the code and expecting the gate to automatically open!
  • The group renting a 7-bed villa who pretended not to know that check-out time was 10am -and were splashing around in the pool and in no way ready to leave when I turned up with the cleaners.  Finally managed to evict them at noon, having started to ‘clean’ around them.
  • And last but not least, this one is mainly my fault as I didn’t take proper references - I just believed the story of the  young couple, expecting a baby, who needed to rent the town apartment for one month as they had given notice on their current rental and their ‘new-build’ house was delayed.  2 weeks into the rental one of the neighbours in the building contacted me to let me know that there was much ‘activity’ going on in the apartment and that men were ringing the door buzzers at all times of the day and night, asking for ‘les filles’.  They had been running the place as a brothel ….!  (NB.  This is apparently quite common now, even with bookings taken via sites such as AirBNB - so owners beware - you never know where that money comes from!) 

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.