K: On Wednesday morning, we stirred about 11.30am, still groggy and travel-weary. I had left a note for our land-lady the night before saying not to worry about breakfast as we didn’t know what time we would wake, but the lovely Madame Pinon had breakfast waiting for us on the terrace when we staggered downstairs about midday. I can’t recommend her little guest house enough: Les Combettes, Gaillac.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the town in blazing sunshine, visiting our soon-to-be second home – the DIY store, Brico Depot. At 4pm we met up with Laurette at the house, and were joined by our new, extremely efficient neighbour, Claude (AKA Monsieur le Mayor), and several other members of his family. We were there to make sure that the house was still in the same order we’d seen it previously, and to read the meters. They kindly allowed us to offload the fridge and freezer from the van, so they would be nice and cold for us the next morning when we started work. During conversation, I asked the mayor how to pronounce the word for people from Gaillac – Gaillacois. Was it a hard “C” or a soft “C”? He told me – hard “C”, then he asked – where are you from? I said Scotland, and he replied… no – where are you from now? Then he told me: you are now Fayssacois, with a hard “C”. My biggest thrill of the visit was realising that fields in the valley beyond our house – our view – were for sunflowers. The whole area is a mixture of vines and sunflowers!
We had an hour’s drive to our notaire’s office, where we met up once more with all the selling brothers and sisters, and once more we trawled through the contract of sale, but this was a more informal episode than the signing of the compromis de vente. Then suddenly it was over, and we were presented with the keys, and hugs and handshakes all round. Claude had said something to me earlier about having his family for drinks the following day at midday, but I didn’t catch whether or not it included us. I set Laurette on the case to ensure our first social encounter was not a disaster – were we expected to turn up or not?? It turned out the gathering was purely for our benefit.
After a quick beer with Laurette and a fancy celebratory meal in Gaillac (where the crisis of the previous evening was quickly resolved), we had an early night to try and prepare ourselves for the following 3 days of hard hot slog. Breakfast and sad farewells to Mme Pinon (she had been with us through every step of this buying process) by 8am on Thursday, a quick visit to the supermarket (we restricted ourselves to 30 mins, and managed to be out in 40 – impressive!), and we were pulling into our very own French driveway at 10am. Claude turned up immediately with recycling information, a quick guide to the water in the house, and where the water “key” for the village was stored. We were timely enough to be introduced to both the bread lady, and the postman, who altered his hand-drawn map of the village to show where we now lived. An hour of unpacking followed, then quick showers to make ourselves presentable for our first “Apero” with Claude and Maryse next door, and their daughter and grand-children. I wasn’t sure of the etiquette, so we took along a nice bottle of Champagne, but before he would accept it, Claude made me promise it was the one and only time I would turn up with a bottle. I nipped off at 1pm to meet Laurette (having been sent off with 2 bottles of Claude’s favourite local reds) to organise water, electricity and telephone, then cracked on unloading the van until about 7pm. The day turned out to be the hottest day of the year in France so far. Readers of this blog will hopefully start to see a pattern emerging. We decided to put everything from the van straight into the stables – it made most sense. Big double doors, with access to the main house, and most importantly on the ground floor – the floor structure between the stable and the roof would help prevent any unseen holes in the roof from causing water damage. Roast chicken salad, and a couple of bottles of wine in the garden – our garden, with its beautiful view! – befriend a stray cat (who had only just given birth to a tiny baby kitten in one of the garden sheds), then off to bed at 11.
Friday pretty much consisted of the same. We had completely unpacked the van into the stable, and now we began to move essential bits into the relevant rooms. We had constructed the beds the day before in the new part of the house, but moved them into the old part so that we could start to spray woodworm killer on the floorboards. Phill dressed up in his CSI suit and mask and got cracking.
It was another blazingly hot day, so I was quite happy to jump in the air conditioned Blodwyn and head off to the airport, 50 miles away, to organise my car parking – Phill needed it for Sunday so that he could fly home. It was an annoying but unavoidable 4 hours out of my day. What made it worse was that I had to return the next day to pick up the entry card! We managed to make a start on constructing the kitchen in the new part of the house which we are going to use whilst we renovate the main house. We had brought it with us from London because it was slightly cheaper, and to save time. No oven installed yet, so supermarket chicken and salad again, accompanied by a couple of bottles of wine.
We decided to treat ourselves to Saturday night dinner at our local cafe, Cafe Jaubert. Phill booked a table for 7.30, and with that in mind (and the chance to eat something other than chicken and salad), we were spurred on with renewed impetus to finish the essential wood worm spraying and kitchen fitting. We turned up promptly, just as the skies were getting heavy and grey, and were welcomed at the front door and led into the garden. The waiters were extremely friendly, and happy to find out we’d just moved in. One of them explained how and where the old Madame Barthez had died in our house – information I had been trying to avoid! Phill and I popped into the bar to choose a rose and as we came back out to the garden, a simultaneous dagger of lightening and blast of thunder appeared from nowhere. It made everyone jump and I yelped. It was right above us and we were sitting at metal tables! No thank-you. We removed ourselves into cafe interior, just as the heavens opened and the rest of the crowd followed. I have only ever seen rain that heavy and sudden in Bangkok, when unfortunately I was caught in the middle of it. This time, though, I was dryly inside, watching the spectacular lightening show outside. Upon asking for a menu, our friendly (of the literal and Dorothy variety) waiter explained that on evenings such as that one when there was a live band playing, the cafe got very busy, and so the offering was a set menu – tonight it was chicken, and salad, and some rice. Mmm… rice. I’d missed it.
We got stupidly excited by the offer of a wifi connection! Bernard, the owner (and grandson of the original owner who ran it, and shut it finally in 1950), came and said to me: Ah, so you are the new Fayssacois? Then he gave me a piece of paper with a ridiculous 30 character access code. We all greedily sat and entered it on our various devices. Our first attempt took 5 minutes because someone kept losing their way. Grrrr…. I want internet. Feed me! Our second attempt actually got completed, but the devices failed to connect. What is going on?!? I want information…. now! Perhaps, the spaces on the page were to allow dumb humans to follow the letters. Let’s take a deep breath, and try again, this time without spaces. 1, 2, 3, 4… character 30. CONNECT. Woo-hoo! Success. We’re on……. Then all the lights and music went out. And the internet router with them! The whole village was to be without electricity for the rest of the evening.
We were happily resigned to spending a fourth day without internet, and left the cafe earlier than we would probably have done – all the bookings for the garden tables were turning up and they were running out of space inside. The rain eased off and we decided to wander home a different way. We passed some beautiful houses, and at the end of a dead end road, bumped into Christine. She is a transplanted New Yorker, who might live between Fayssac and Florida, but who certainly has not lost any of her Manhattan qualities! We were dragged into the garden, and within minutes we had a glass of wine thrust in our hands. The rain had stopped, so we sat outside – we couldn’t see inside because there was still no lights. 40 minutes of excitable and pleasant chatter passed, the sky started to dim again, and the lightening increased. We decided it was time to head home, with promises of more interesting evenings to follow.
It was completely dark when we stepped in the front door, about 10.15pm. We had to be awake at 4 the next morning to begin our mammoth, slow plod back to England. Our electricity was similarly missing, so we hunted for candles and candle holders. Still in the stables….. splash! About 6 inches of water had flooded in through the outflow, and seeped up boxes and work surfaces and furniture. I’d never tried to clear a large room with a slightly inebriated, panicking, tired foursome, and I was quite impressed that we had rescued the essential items in about 30 minutes. We had been so obsessed with water coming in the roof that we completely forgot about rising flood water.
I’m midway through a 12 hour drive north, writing this, and I’ve just found out that the storm has made the front page of the FT! Paris ahead, Calais, ferry, Reading (to meet up with Phill, who’s just been given a nice seat on his 75 minute flight home) then bed in Wales. I don’t think we could have received a warmer welcome anywhere. There are so many exciting aspects of this move which are only just revealing themselves. I can’t wait to explore some more. Roll on 3 weeks till we’re back!